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A witch hunt among men of the cloth

Illustration by Jennifer Kearney
By Ella Peterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 30, 2005
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Gays, liberals and proponents of equal rights are already railing against the imminent Vatican instructions banning gay men from entering seminaries. However, this ban has been well-received by certain conservative priests, some of whom claim that the restriction on gay seminarians is "for their own good."

Just as church authorities once banned epileptics from the priesthood, they assert that years of studying in the presence of only other men would be too much of a strain on the celibacy of a homosexual man.

Apparently, according to the esteemed clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, everyone knows that sexual orientation has a tremendous effect on the control of one's sexual impulses, and gay men cannot be expected to make such an intense commitment of faith as celibacy.

By this logic, too, perhaps we should keep women out of traditionally male-dominated workplaces because the strain would be too much, despite any demonstrated level of determination. Allowing people in wheelchairs to attend public schools would definitely be too demanding, regardless of their actual abilities. Children should obviously be separated by the color of their skin to prevent any acceptance or normalization of cultural difference.

Essentially, the Vatican is stating, in no ambiguous terms, that a man's ability to uphold a vow of celibacy is directly associated with his sexual orientation. The "for-their-own-good" justification is deeply insulting and amounts to nothing less than a falsely magnanimous, backhanded gesture of persecution.

In the past, seminaries have made case-by-case attempts to determine the ability of each individual to live the celibate life, rather than enacting an outright ban on homosexuals.

Beginning this month, a system of interviews and scrutiny will be put into place that will be used to investigate educational policies and root out "evidence of homosexuality" in American seminaries.

Not only does barring gay entrants to seminaries deprive an already shorthanded priesthood of willing, dedicated ministers, but it places current gay priests in the distressing position of belonging to an institution that does not welcome them, one that looks on their close-held vows of celibacy with suspicion and concern.

Ella Peterson

Previously ordained gay priests will not be directly affected by the ban; only those entering seminaries will be interviewed in the proposed screenings. However, such decisions may force gay priests to retreat from total disclosure, hiding their sexuality for fear of further persecution. Many will certainly view the decision as a judgment on their years of service and dedication to their calling.

This development is sure to raise concern and controversy among Catholics around the world and will begin to shape a new generation's opinion regarding the authority of the church.

In the waning days of the previous papacy, there was a call for a more new-age administration, for expanded dialogue with contemporary society, and for progressive changes in the church. Discussions upon the death of Pope John Paul II inclined toward a hope for more liberal leadership.

With the selection of Pope Benedict XVI, however, Vatican policy seems to be taking unfortunate steps backward, shrinking from such challenges as moral relativism and demoralizing scandals.

In fact, the sexual abuses of recent years have prompted the new pope to speak of a need to "purify" the church. While these tragic sexual exploitations have been damaging to the image of the Catholic Church, the response to the crisis should not be sweeping, blanket change.

Rather than focusing these proposed interviews and questionings of potential seminarians on discerning homosexuality, a more pertinent gesture would be to prevent pedophiles and child molesters from the entering pool of potentials that will eventually come into contact with a trusting, faithful public.

Even as recently as 40 years ago, all homosexuals were assumed sexual predators and deviants. Without any evidence, these prevailing sentiments of fear and hatred were spun into myth and cultural associations for generations.

In recent decades, contemporary society has begun a long-awaited journey toward acceptance and understanding of homosexuality. However, the Vatican's new policy promotes a revival of painfully outdated modes of thought, repeatedly invalidated and downright dangerous.

Statistically, most sexual predators and child molesters are, in fact, straight men. It seems evident that the real solution to the incidences of sexual abuse is to ban straight men from entering seminaries, alongside the gay men and women already excluded.

Granted, it will be difficult to preach the unconditional love of God from a priesthood of none, but anything in the name of exclusion.

Ella Peterson is a creative writing junior. She can be reached at

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