WASHINGTON -- A Vatican probe of U.S. Roman Catholic seminaries that was ordered after the clergy sex abuse scandal has concluded that "difficulties" related to "homosexual behavior" have been largely "overcome."
"Of course, here and there some case or other of immorality -- again usually homosexual behavior -- continues to show up," reads the report, published Monday (Jan. 12) near the start of National Vocation Awareness Week. "However, in the main, the superiors now deal with these issues promptly and appropriately."
Overseen by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education with help from American bishops, the investigation was ordered in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal exploded in the U.S. church.
The yearlong probe of the nation’s more than 220 Catholic seminaries began in 2005 as the Vatican published new rules barring men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" or who "support the so-called ‘gay culture,’" from the priesthood.
The U.S. Catholic bishops responded by promising to intensify the screening of candidates for ordination.
Gay-rights activists and scholars say the Vatican is using gay men as scapegoats for the sex abuse scandal, and argue that pedophilia is not connected to sexual orientation.
The Vatican’s broad, and at times blunt, evaluation touched on a number of facets of seminary training, including concepts of the priesthood, curfews and theological education.
But because of the abuse scandal’s heavy toll on the U.S. church -- thousands of victims, several bankrupt dioceses and more than $2 billion in legal and counseling fees -- the section on sexuality is sure to gain outsized attention.
The church investigators "were obliged to point out the difficulties, in the area of morality, that some seminaries had suffered in the past decades," the report says. "Usually, but not exclusively, this meant homosexual behavior."
The report then says that "in almost all the institutes where such problems existed, the appointment of better superiors (especially rectors) has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome."
But in schools run by religious orders, which operate largely out of the control of U.S. bishops, "ambiguity vis-à-vis homosexuality persists," the investigators reported.
"Laxity of discipline," unmonitored off-campus trips and use of the Internet were additional concerns, according to the report.
In addition, the declining number of applicants for the priesthood poses a problem, the reviewers said. "Clearly, in some places, lack of vocations has caused some lowering of standards. Such a strategy risks possible wretched consequences."
Fr. Thomas D. Williams, an American who teaches theology at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University, praised the report’s "blunt tone" but doubted it would have much effect in the U.S.
"I suppose it could be used by individual bishops who are more proactive as justification for action in areas they were already concerned about," Williams said. "But I doubt that will be the case, because that kind of bishop wouldn’t need the document anyway."
Marianne Duddy-Burke, who heads DignityUSA, a pro-gay Catholic group, said the Catholic Church has "reinforced a climate of secrecy" in the seminaries that existed in the 1940s and 1950s.
"It’s not that gays aren’t going into seminaries," she said, "it’s that closeted gays are going into seminaries."
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said "the central problem is, and always has been, chancery offices, not seminaries."
"Arguing that some Vatican ‘probe’ of seminaries is needed is just more of their finger-pointing and blame-shifting," said SNAP President Barbara Blaine.
(Francis X. Rocca contributed to this report from Rome.)