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 CNS Special report:
 Coverage of John Jay report, National Review Board study.

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Transmitted 03/02/2004 4:37 PM ET

Sex abuse report pays special attention to homosexual priests

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When the bishops' National Review Board issued its report Feb. 27 on the causes and context of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, it paid particular attention to a long-controversial issue -- the ordination of homosexually oriented men.

The all-lay board, headed by Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne M. Burke, was formed by the bishops in 2002 to monitor their compliance with their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and to make recommendations on ways to prevent future clerical sexual abuse of minors.

The board's 145-page report is to serve as a framework for an academic study, which is expected to take about two years, probing more deeply into the issues raised by the board.

A four-page section of the report is titled, "Special Issues Relating to Sexual Orientation."

"That 81 percent of the reported victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy were boys shows that the crisis was characterized by homosexual behavior," the board said.

In light of that, it said, "the current crisis cannot be addressed without consideration of issues related to homosexuality."

The report drew the 81 percent figure from the John Jay study on the nature and scope of clerical sexual abuse of minors, which was released at the same time as the report.

The study said 22 percent of the alleged victims were under 11 years of age. It said about 51 percent were 11 to 14 years old and 27 percent were 15 to 17 years old. It said male victims tended to be older than female victims, and "over 40 percent of all victims were males between the ages of 11 and 14."

While the board found a homosexual dimension in the preponderant abuse of young males by Catholic clergy, one of the John Jay researchers who specializes in issues of sexual anti-social behavior said the board was correct only in part.

The researcher, Louis Schlesinger, said the real problem is in the disorder of pedophilia or ephebophilia, adult sexual attraction to young people, not in the person's sexual orientation as such. "Some married men prefer adolescent males," he said, repeating "married men" to emphasize the heterosexual character of their adult relationship.

In addressing homosexuality in the priesthood, the board drew the classic distinction between homosexual orientation, which the church teaches is a disorder but not sinful, and homosexual acts, which in church teaching are always sinful.

It commented, "We do not seek to place the blame for the sexual abuse crisis on the presence of homosexual individuals in the priesthood as there are many chaste and holy homosexual priests who are faithful to their vows of celibacy."

The board said that in interviews with church officials and a wide range of experts in various fields it was told that "in some areas, the large number of homosexual priests or candidates had the effect of discouraging heterosexual men from seeking to enter the priesthood."

"In the 1970s and 1980s, in particular," it added, "there developed at certain seminaries a 'gay subculture,' and at these seminaries, according to several witnesses, homosexual liaisons occurred among students or between students and teachers. Such subcultures existed or exist in certain dioceses or (religious) orders as well."

The board said it believes a failure to take disciplinary action against that conduct "contributed to an atmosphere in which sexual abuse of adolescent boys by priests was more likely. ... It is vital that bishops, provincials and seminary rectors ensure that seminaries create a climate and a culture conducive to chastity."

Noting the current debate going on in the church over the acceptability of ordaining homosexually oriented men, the board said it spoke with some bishops who do not accept homosexual candidates and others who do.

The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees seminaries worldwide, has been working for more than two years on a document addressing the question of whether homosexuals should be accepted as candidates for the priesthood, and a couple of high-ranking Vatican officials have said publicly that they should not be accepted.

The board said decisions whether to accept homosexual candidates or not "are the prerogative of the bishop."

It added that in its view "the paramount question in this area must be whether a candidate for priesthood is capable of living a chaste, celibate life, not what that candidate's sexual orientation might be."

"But given the nature of the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors, the realities of the culture today and the male-oriented atmosphere of the seminary, a more searching inquiry is necessary for a homosexually oriented man by those who decide whether he is suitable for the seminary and for ministry," the board wrote.

"For those bishops who choose to ordain homosexuals," it added, "there appears to be a need for additional scrutiny and perhaps additional or specialized formation to help them with the challenge of chaste celibacy."

The board quoted one of the bishops it interviewed: "Training for celibacy is different if someone is homosexually oriented or heterosexually oriented. The occasions of sin are different. The danger flags are different."

The board report addressed a wide range of issues in the clergy sexual abuse crisis, focusing much of its attention on the history of the crisis and the need for better formation of priests and more oversight following their ordination.

It also gave an extensive critique of the bishops' role in the crisis, calling them to greater accountability in preventing sexual abuse in the church, dealing firmly and decisively with priests who offend and responding promptly, sensitively and pastorally to victims when they come forward with an allegation of abuse.


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