Monday, April 15, 2002

Priests: Homosexuals not necessarily excluded

By James Pilcher,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Straight or gay? It's one of the questions facing potential entrants into the nation's Roman Catholic seminaries, and for the church itself.

        The Vatican says gay men should not be ordained priests. But local seminary leaders say gays can be good priests — if they live celibate lives.

        Applicants with homosexual tendencies are not automatically precluded from admission at the Athenaeum of Ohio-Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, the Tristate's only Catholic seminary.

        “We look at everyone and try to determine whether or not they can live with their own sexuality in a celibate and chaste way,” says the Rev. Gerald R. Haemmerle, president and rector of the Athenaeum in Mount Washington.

        “That's either homosexual or heterosexual. To me the emphasis is on "celibate' and "chaste,' ” he says. Regardless of sexual orientation, applicants must show that they've been celibate “for a number of years” before entering the seminary, he adds.

        The issue of gay priests has come to the forefront in the wake of the church's continuing sex scandal involving priests and teen-age boys.

        Critics of allowing gays to be priests say it conflicts with church teachings that homosexuality is a sin. Others say the church teaches that homosexuality is not a sin, but homosexual activity is.

        No one knows for sure how many gays are priests. Estimates range from 10 to 40 percent of the U.S. priesthood.

        Father Haemmerle says that in the five years he's been rector, only two seminarians have said they were gay or had homosexual inclinations.

        “From what I've seen since I've been here, I simply don't believe there is a gay culture in the seminary,” Father Haemmerle says.

        The policy of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, which oversees the Athenaeum, is the same as that for the Diocese of Covington. That's according to the Rev. John Sterling, director of the Covington diocese's vocation program.

        Both dioceses require seminary applicants to be tested for HIV, although the Cincinnati archdiocese has yet to craft a policy for what happens if someone tests positive, since no one has yet.

        If an applicant from the Covington diocese tests positive, he is not admitted to Mundelein Seminary outside Chicago, where Covington sends its seminarians.

        “People with (homosexual) inclinations just cannot be ordained,” Joaquin Navarro-Valls, a U.S. spokesman for the Vatican, told the New York Times last month.

        “That does not imply a final judgment on people with homosexuality,” he said. “But you cannot be in this field.”

        Local seminary officials say their different approach works.

        “The teaching is that just having a homosexual inclination is not sinful, it's disordered,” says the Rev. James Walsh, who served as rector and president of the Athenaeum from 1984 to 1990, and later as executive director of the seminary department for the National Catholic Educational Association.

        Father Walsh, now pastor of St. Dominic in Delhi Township, says he knows of “a few” gay priests who were ordained under his watch, and they've turned out to be fine ministers.

        “It's really commendable in the way it's handled here,” he says.


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