WASHINGTON — The bishop overseeing a Vatican-ordered inspection of U.S. seminaries said there is no room there for men with strong homosexual inclinations. And an apostolic visitation that begins this month will seek to determine whether seminaries are enrolling them.

“I think anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity, or has strong homosexual inclinations, would be best not to apply to a seminary and not to be accepted into a seminary,” Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, who's coordinating the visits of more than 220 seminaries and houses of formation, told the Register.

Archbishop O'Brien, who heads the Archdiocese for Military Services USA, said even homosexuals who have been celibate for 10 or more years should not be admitted to seminaries.

“The Holy See should be coming out with a document about this,” Archbishop O'Brien said.

The visitations were sparked by the sexual abuse scandal that hit the U.S. Church in 2002.

In a 2002 speech, Pope John Paul II linked the abuse scandals with seminary instruction and called for the exclusion of seminary candidates with observable “deviations in their affections.”

“It would be lamentable if, out of a misunderstood tolerance, they ordained young men who are immature or have obvious signs of affective deviations that, as is sadly known, could cause serious anomalies in the consciences of the faithful, with evident damage for the whole Church,” the Holy Father said.

His words echoed a 1961 instruction to the superiors of religious communities on “Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Orders.”

That document states: “Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.”

A February 2004 report commissioned by the U.S. bishops' National Review Board noted that 81% of the reported victims of child sexual abuse by clergy from 1950 to 2002 were boys. The findings strengthened the argument made by many observers that at the heart of the sexual abuse problem was a strong presence of homosexuals in the priesthood.

In his address to U.S. cardinals called to a special summit on abuse at the Vatican in 2002, Pope John Paul II said Catholics “must know that bishops and priests are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renewal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life.”

The U.S. bishops have directed that the visitations pay special attention to areas such as the quality of the seminarians' human and spiritual formation for living chastely and of their intellectual formation for faithfulness to Church teachings, especially in the area of moral theology.

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees seminary formation around the world, has appointed 117 bishops and seminary personnel as visitors — all from the United States. They are to visit each college- or theology-level institution, working in teams of three for smaller programs or four for the larger ones.

Pittsburgh Bishop Donald Wuerl called the new visitation's focus on celibacy a “significant difference” from the last such visitation in 1981.

Writing in America magazine when the new visitation was first proposed in 2002, Bishop Wuerl cited the abuse charter that directs bishops: “These new visits will focus on the question of human formation for celibate chastity based on the criteria found in Pastores Dabo Vobis (1992).”

Wrote Bishop Wuerl: “It is clear that the visitation will not encompass all the areas recognized in Pastores Dabo Vobis as points of development: intellectual, pastoral, spiritual and human formation,” as the last one did. “Rather this visitation will address human formation for celibate chastity.”

The de-emphasis on chastity in the 1981 visitation led some to call it a “whitewash.”

Archbishop O'Brien disagreed. He participated as a visitor in the '80s, while serving as rector of the New York archdiocesan seminary, St. Joseph's in Yonkers, and said it was a net plus for participating seminaries.

“Probably the most valuable work is done in preparation for the visit,” Archbishop O'Brien said. “Seminaries know what the Holy See is looking for, and they have ample time, if they're not meeting some of the standards, to make those standards a reality, and that's what happened in the '80s. Once the visits took place, most things were in place.”

Archbishop O'Brien said that in the new visitations, interviews will be conducted on an anonymous basis in order that truth can be told without fear of retribution.

“The seminarians themselves will be key players to this whole thing,” Archbishop O'Brien said. “They'll be questioned individually, and if we get 50 out of 60 saying this was the case when I came in and this is the way it is now, there's reason for credibility there.”

Ultimately, the visits and individual reports will culminate in a final overview report that will be published by the Congregation for Education and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Archbishop O'Brien said the final report may come several years after the visits are completed.

Archbishop O'Brien said neither he nor the rectors will see the individual reports from the seminaries going to the Vatican.

He then added, “Rome will review it, and if they have concerns they'll be in touch with the bishop or the religious superior about it.”

Wayne Laugesen is based in Boulder, Colorado.

Seminary Visitations: Who, What, When

Timetable. The visits will begin in late September and continue through early May of 2006. Each visitation team will draw up a report on each visit, based on interviews with seminarians, rectors and priests who have been away from the seminary for no more than three years. The reports will go to the Vatican's Congregation for Education.

Seminaries. Last year there were 229 U.S. seminaries or formation houses at the college or theology level. They had a total of 4,556 students — 3,308 at the theology level and 1,248 in college.

A seminary covers all aspects of formation, including the academic. For students in a house of formation, the academic program is run by a neighboring college, university or theological consortium.

Seminarians. About one-third of U.S. seminarians in graduate studies are preparing to be priests in religious orders; the other two thirds will be parish priests attached to dioceses.

Visitors. Archbishop Edwin O'Brien was named coordinator of the visitations last year but will not be a visitor. He was rector of the North American College, the U.S. seminary in Rome, from 1990-1994. For five years before that and two years after, he headed the New York archdiocesan seminary. A New York archdiocesan priest, he was ordained a bishop there in 1996 and became head of the military archdiocese the following year.

In selecting the visitors, the congregation consulted with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Committee on Priestly Formation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Objectives. The visitation objectives designated by the education congregation have two main functions:

“ Ensure celibacy is properly taught. “To examine the criteria for admission of candidates and the programs of human formation and spiritual formation aimed at ensuring that they can faithfully live chastely for the Kingdom.”

“ Ensure seminaries teach the authentic Catholic faith. “To examine other aspects of priestly formation in the United States. Particular attention will be reserved for the intellectual formation of seminarians, to examine fidelity to the magisterium, especially in the field of moral theology, in the light of Veritatis Splendor,” Pope John Paul II's 1993 encyclical on Catholic moral teaching.

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.