BY ED WEST
AMERICAN seminaries are now generally taking prompt action against "immorality", a major Vatican inquiry has concluded.
Released this week, the report by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education stated that the US Church had largely overcome "difficulties in the area of morality" in seminaries that "usually but not exclusively" involved "homosexual behaviour".
The evaluators said the appointment of better administrators in diocesan seminaries "has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome".
The report, published to coincide with National Vocations Awareness Week, came after a review of how seminaries in the US were screening and educating prospective priests, and how well they were succeeding in looking for "evidence of homosexuality" as the Vatican had directed.
The report, issued by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation, stated: "Here and there some case or other of immorality — again, usually homosexual behaviour — continues to show up. However... the superiors now deal with these issues promptly and appropriately."
Seminaries run by religious orders, which train one-third of the United State's 40,580 priests, came in for harsh criticism. The report claimed that they were too lax on celibacy, homosexuality and Church doctrine, and that "ambiguity vis-a-vis homosexuality persists" within institutes run by religious orders.
The report also stated that teaching on celibacy and chastity appeared to be "adequate" in all of the 220 American seminaries. However, they recommended more monitoring for students, including their use of the internet.
While it approved new screening rules for seminarians it also said that a shortage of priests was threatening the process. "Clearly, in some places. lack of vocations has caused some lowering of standards," the report said.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, chairman of the US Bishops' committee on clergy, consecrated life and Vocations, said it was "gratifying to read in the report that our seminaries are generally in a healthy condition that strongly promotes the formation of men for the sacred ministry in this country".
"The general conclusions of the visitation are positive," he said, "I am sure that all bishops and religious superiors will take seriously the observations and recommendations of the congregation that will further strengthen our seminaries and houses of formation."
According to studies, the majority of abuse victims have been adolescent boys, although most psychologists who have studied sex offenders say that heterosexual men are as likely as homosexuals to abuse children. Many US dioceses have faced huge lawsuits as a result of abuse cases.
The Vatican issued a new Instruction in November 2005 stating that bishops should not ordain men with "deeply rooted" homosexual tendencies, referring to the "negative consequences" of previous practice. The Congregation for Catholic Education stated in the text, which had taken eight years to prepare, that it was prepared to consider men with a "transitory problem" so long as they had overcome it for three years.
The original document, entitled An Instruction Concerning Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders, was criticised by gay rights groups, which claimed it barred homosexual men from the priesthood. However, Bishop William Skylstad, then president of the American Bishops' Conference, said at the time that priests and seminary students with "homosexual inclinations" can be good priests and should not fear discussing the issue with their superiors.
Fr Donald Cozzens, author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood, estimated that between 25 and 50 per cent of American priests are gay.