THE Vatican directive issued recently barring gays from the priesthood was an apparent attempt to address the scourge of the sexual abuse scandal that has shamed the church. But in many respects it was a cop-out.
If the document, begun years ago by Pope John Paul II, is held up as a way to "purify" the church, as Benedict XVI suggests, the focus of the church's "purification" efforts are misdirected.
The alleged and admitted sexual abuse by clerics at parishes throughout the country and around the world was perpetrated by pedophiles - not homosexuals - who preyed on trusting children. What made the abomination worse was the tendency of the church hierarchy to, in many cases, overlook the sins of the Fathers and allow them to continue in parish ministries.
To put the onus now on gay priests instead of focusing on the perverted behavior of a few priests that was permitted to flourish under many a bishop for many years, is to suggest that a homosexual orientation is the root of all evil. It is not, but the Vatican doctrine, published on an Italian Catholic Web site, casts most gay men as a dangerous lot unworthy of serving as priests.
The directive would exclude from the priesthood men "who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.'●" Presumably, those who have deep-seated heterosexual tendencies or support the "straight culture" would therefore make excellent candidates for a lifetime commitment of celibacy and priestly service.
Interestingly, men who the Vatican said had "clearly overcome" what the directive deemed "transitory" homosexual impulses over a prescribed period before ordination as a deacon, the final step before priesthood, could pass the test to become priests. The meaning of "overcome" is undefined, but what is clear is the picture being painted of gay men as inherently risky in ministerial roles.
The implication, of course, is that gays and celibacy are just incompatible. The same presumptions apparently do not apply to straight men with heterosexual impulses. The notion set forth by the Vatican must be extraordinarily insulting to gays who have long served the church as celibate priests dedicated to building strong spiritual communities.
Catholics themselves are divided in their reaction to the directive. Some strongly support it as a preventive measure against the kind of sexual abuse that mostly affected young boys. Others strongly oppose it citing the lack of a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. Many simply see it as a way to scapegoat gay men rather than confront the root causes of sexual abuse and the sins of the bishops and archbishops.
But a church with an acute shortage of clergy does not need to summarily force out good priests or reject quality seminarians because of their sexual orientation. Pope Benedict is right that the church needs purifying, but this sounds more like persecution.