Muddled Thinking Behind Targeting Gays in Seminaries

Article excerpt

In fulfilling its pledge to respond to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the Vatican last month began its apostolic visitations to U.S. seminaries to evaluate their admissions procedures, whether they are properly preparing seminarians to live chastely and whether there is any evidence of homosexuality in the seminary.

The Vatican will also soon release a document cautioning seminary officials from admitting gay candidates who have not shown a capacity to live celibately for three years, who are part of a "gay culture," or whose sexual orientation is sufficiently "strong, permanent and univocal" as to make living in an all-male environment problematic (NCR, Oct. 7). As a former seminarian and present-day sociologist, I'm troubled by these developments, which are likely to promote discrimination and perpetuate the myth that gay priests caused the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

NCR reported that the forthcoming document will attempt to clarify this by stating that candidates and seminarians who participate in a "gay culture"--for instance, attending a gay pride rally--should be denied admission or barred from ordination.

But what is "gay culture"? There are numerous, diverse cultures within gay and lesbian communities. Certainly some subcultures among gays and lesbians fit the stereotype of being hypersexualized or lacking restraint. Many others are characterized by a conviction that sexuality is a God-given gift, by a moral framework that values love, commitment and family, and by a vision of sexuality that is rooted in spirituality. Included here, for instance, are more than 35 diocesan-sponsored gay and lesbian ministries and more than 50 chapters of Dignity/USA.

Another troubling feature of the forthcoming document is the Vatican's apparent discrimination against gays by asking seminary officials to apply a three-year celibacy requirement to gay seminary candidates. Perhaps the Vatican doesn't intend the requirement to pertain only to gay candidates. However, by making this requirement explicit only with respect to gays, the Vatican is fostering a stereotype that gay men are somehow less able than straight men to live celibately. To date, I haven't come across any social science data to support this stereotype.

The implied connection between homosexuality among priests and sexual abuse of minors appears to be based on the recent study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice showing that a majority of the victims of clergy abuse were boys. Before leaping to any causal conclusion, however, one must explore alternative explanations and deficiencies in reasoning that might account for the apparent connection. …