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 CNS Story:

SEMINARY-VISITS Sep-16-2005 (890 words) xxxn

Homosexuality question for seminary visitations sparks flap

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Of 56 questions that will serve as the framework for apostolic visitations of U.S. Catholic seminaries this academic year, one -- "Is there evidence of homosexuality in the seminary?" -- sparked a big media flap in mid-September.

One of the main purposes of the visitations is to assess how well U.S. seminaries are preparing their students for a lifelong commitment to celibacy as priests.

"The church is trying to put out a very clear signal" that those seeking ordination "must embrace a life of celibate chastity," said Father Stephen J. Rossetti, president of St. Luke Institute, a facility in the Washington suburbs that specializes in treating priests and religious who suffer addictions or behavioral, emotional or psychological problems.

"The question of homosexuality is an important one," he told Catholic News Service Sept. 16. He said there is a need to determine when it is appropriate and when it is not to ordain someone who is homosexually oriented.

"Certainly someone who has a problematic history of sexual acting out, or an orientation that is so powerfully homosexual that it really overshadows the person's relational life, then those would not be appropriate people" for priesthood, he said.

The Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education -- which oversees seminary formation worldwide and is in charge of the visitations -- outlined the nature, purpose, procedures and topics of the visitations in a 13-page "instrumentum laboris," or working paper. The working paper has been distributed to the 117 bishops and seminary personnel who will conduct the visitations, in teams of three or four per seminary or formation house. It has also been sent to the seminaries and formation houses for distribution to their faculty, students and recent alumni.

The education congregation named Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, a former rector of two seminaries, as coordinator of the visitations.

The media flap over the working paper began just as the Vatican-appointed visitors were attending a two-day preparatory session in Baltimore Sept. 15-16, meeting with Archbishop O'Brien and Archbishop J. Michael Miller, secretary of the education congregation, to review the topics and procedures for the visitations.

Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco, communications secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who is serving as Archbishop O'Brien's media liaison for the visitations, told CNS that the question about homosexuality "is just relevant to the current time in which we live."

He cited recent trends in gay rights advocacy, more tolerance of a gay lifestyle and arguments that homosexual and heterosexual relations are equivalent.

"We do live in an era in which these questions are raised, and the seminary is a place that is preparing men for the priesthood and for a lifelong celibate commitment," he said. "So anything that affects that commitment, whether it relates to heterosexual behavior or homosexual behavior, I think, is appropriate to ask."

Sulpician Father Thomas R. Hurst, rector of Theological College, the U.S. bishops' national seminary in Washington, said consideration of an applicant's sexual history is an important part of the admissions procedure.

He said it would be a shame if the homosexuality question became the main focus of people's perception of the visitation program.

The decision to conduct U.S. seminary visitations was made in April 2002 at a summit of U.S. cardinals and bishops' conference officers with top Vatican officials in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. From the start its chief goals were to assess how well the seminaries are preparing their students for chaste, celibate living and how well they are preparing priesthood candidates to know and follow the church's moral teachings.

Within that "relatively focused" framework, Father Hurst said, "out of 56 questions there is only one on homosexuality."

He said the faculty at Theological College received copies of the working paper in July and used it immediately to review the areas of their program that it addresses. He said the seminary had already been attending to those areas, but they found places where they could sharpen their focus and have already made some modifications in their program.

Msgr. Maniscalco pointed out that there are also questions about the seminary's programs of spiritual formation, and formation in prayer, liturgy and sacramental life.

Here is a sampling of some of the other 55 questions posed by the working paper:

-- "Are the church's liturgical norms faithfully observed? ... Does the seminary reflect a prayerful atmosphere?"

-- "Do the formation faculty members have responsibilities outside the seminary which detract from their primary duties?"

-- "Is psychological testing employed in the admissions process? If so, give full details."

-- "Do the seminarians know how to use alcohol, the Internet, television, etc., with prudence and moderation?"

-- "Do the seminarians show an aptitude for and dedication to intellectual work?"

-- "Does the seminary present a sound spirituality? ... Is the seminary free from the influences of New Age and eclectic spirituality?"

-- "How does the formation integrate harmoniously the spiritual dimension with the human one, above all in the area of celibate chastity?"

-- "Do the seminarians receive a substantially complete and coherent grounding in Catholic dogmatic and moral theology? ... How are the seminarians helped to integrate their theological studies with their spiritual life?"

-- "Who is responsible for the pastoral experiences of the seminarians? How are the seminarians' pastoral experiences evaluated?"


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