The Vatican has ordered an inspection of Roman Catholic seminaries in the United States to look for "evidence of homosexuality" and for faculty members who dissent from church teachings, according to a document containing guidelines for the year-long review.
The inspections of more than 220 seminaries and theological schools, set to begin later this month, was authorized in the wake of the church's child-molestation scandal. It will be carried out by a committee of 117 bishops and priests, who will break into small teams to visit each seminary for at least four days.
The Vatican's instructions are in an 11-page document detailing how the visits should be conducted. All faculty, students and graduates from the past three years are to be interviewed. Areas to be examined include whether "there is a clear process for removing" dissident faculty; if seminarians "know how to use alcohol, the Internet, television, etc. with prudence and moderation," and how students' "behavior outside the seminary" is monitored.
A copy of the document was obtained by The Washington Post from a priest. The instructions were reported in yesterday's New York Times.
The mandate to look for "evidence of homosexuality" reflects a concern among some church officials and members that Catholic seminaries have become too tolerant of a gay lifestyle. It also reflects the contention by some Catholics that the pedophilia scandal grew out of lax moral discipline and the presence of gay men among the clergy. Other Catholics dispute that view, saying there is no evidence that homosexuality leads to sexual abuse of children.
The review begins as Catholics await a new Vatican directive on whether gays should be admitted to the priesthood.
Some church scholars fear that directive may ban gay men from seminaries; others say a ban is unlikely but the directive may make it harder for gays to enter the priesthood.
"I think it's certainly going to raise the bar" for seminary entrance, said the Rev. Stephen J. Rossetti, a priest and psychologist who heads St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, a facility that treats psychologically troubled clergy.
"I think there are some unique challenges for individuals with homosexual inclinations, and I think the church needs to face that," Rossetti said. At the same time, he added, the inspection should make clear that the standard for all seminarians is "chaste living."
Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, who will oversee the seminary review, recently told the National Catholic Register that "anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity, or has strong homosexual inclinations" should not be accepted into seminaries, even if their last gay sexual activity was a decade ago. The Washington-based O'Brien, who heads the Archdiocese for Military Services USA, also said that the Vatican would be "coming out with a document about this," referring to the directive.
O'Brien was unavailable for comment yesterday.
The Rev. Frank Maniscalco, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the inspection guidelines are saying only that "seminaries should train priests for the job which the men want to take on, which is priests of the Catholic Church." And that, he added, means "making a lifelong commitment to celibacy."
The emphasis on homosexuality drew fire from the Catholic gay community. "The investigation of U.S. seminaries for 'evidence of homosexuality' continues the pattern of smoke-screening that Church leaders have employed since the clergy child abuse crisis began," said a statement by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., a group advocating for justice and reconciliation for gay Catholics.
"Why not look instead for evidence of cowardice, secrecy, and dishonesty -- the traits displayed by so many bishops which magnified the crisis into a public scandal?" DeBernardo said.
Mark Serrano, regional representative of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victims advocacy group, echoed the criticism.
"This is part of the long-term campaign on the part of the bishops to distract from the truth: that the bishops themselves are responsible for the devastation of thousands of lives through their negligence," he said.