The Pope’s plan for psychological tests to purge gay men from the priesthood is a new low, writes UK human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
The Vatican has announced the “psychological screening” of all new applicants for the priesthood, in a bid to weed out men who are deemed to be psychologically flawed. It has taken this initiative following the widespread sexual abuse of children by its clerics.
In a diversionary tactic to deflect attention from the child sex abuse scandal, one of the main aims of these psychological tests is to weed out gay men, not paedophiles.
The Vatican identifies homosexuality as a deep-seated personality disorder and psychological flaw; condemning same-sex acts as “grave sins,” “objectively disordered”, “intrinsically immoral” and “contrary to natural law.” Even men who have a gay orientation but abstain totally from sex are condemned by the Pope as possessing a “tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil.”
Accordingly, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education has issued a new document, Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood.
It proposes psychological tests to root out men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” from seminaries.
Estimates of the number of gay men in Catholic seminaries and the priesthood typically range from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to a review of research in the US by the Rev. Donald Cozzens, author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood. A similar proportion of priests is thought to be gay in the UK and Europe, including a number of bishops and cardinals.
The new Vatican document states that seminary candidates should undergo psychological evaluations whenever there is a suspicion of personality disturbances or doubts about their ability to live a celibate life, such as any manifestation of masculine weakness or a homosexual orientation.
When assessing a candidate’s ability to be celibate, the Vatican document insists that “it is not enough to be sure that he is capable of abstaining from genital activity” but that it is also necessary “to evaluate his sexual orientation.”
It advises that would-be priests must have “a positive and stable sense of their own masculine identity.”
Surely all this makes Pope Benedict himself a prime candidate for psychological testing and exclusion? After all, he wears a dress, loads of jewellery, Prada shoes and has a penchant for high church, high camp ritual and theatrics. While I don’t want to indulge in stereotypes, Benedict is not exactly macho. In fact, he’s quite effeminate. He is also surrounded exclusively by men, has an unusually young and handsome male private secretary and has no known close friendships with women.
The Vatican’s new policy aimed at excluding gay men from the priesthood is bigoted and hypocritical.
He would not be the first gay Pope. There have been several others, most scandalously Pope Julius III (1487 to 1555), who was more a pederast than a homosexual. He took a 13 year old boy as his lover and made him a cardinal at the age of 17, showering him with such wealth that he became one of the richest men in Europe.
Anyway, I digress.
Commenting on the new Vatican document, Cardinal Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, advises:
“The candidate does not necessarily have to practice homosexuality. He can even be without sin. But if he has this deeply seated tendency, he cannot be admitted to priestly ministry precisely because of the nature of the priesthood, in which a spiritual paternity is carried out. Here we are not talking about whether he commits sins, but whether this deeply rooted tendency remains…It’s not simply a question of observing celibacy as such. In this case, it would be (required for him to have) a heterosexual tendency, a normal tendency.”
This indicates a serious hardening of Vatican homophobia. It reverses the previous Catholic stance that only same sex acts are wrong, not the homosexual condition itself.
Cardinal Grocholewski elaborated:
“In a certain sense, when we ask why Christ reserved the priesthood to men, we speak of this spiritual paternity, and maintain that homosexuality is a type of deviation, a type of irregularity, as explained in two documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith….Therefore it (same-sex love) is a type of wound in the exercise of the priesthood, in forming relations with others. And precisely for this reason we say that something isn’t right in the psyche of such a man. We don’t simply talk about the ability to abstain from these kinds of relations.”
The Vatican is recommending that the people who do the testing should have “solid human and spiritual maturity”, and a “Christian concept of the human person, sexuality, the priestly vocation and celibacy”. In other words, conformity to homophobic Catholic doctrine takes precedence over professional qualifications.
It is now revealed that the Catholic Church in England and Wales has jumped the gun. They have already introduced psychological tests for candidate priests.
Who conducts these tests? What are their qualifications? Have the tests been vetted and approved by a professional psychological authority? What is their scientific validity and reliability? Do they operate within a professional code of conduct? Is there sufficient protection for vulnerable applicants exposed to these procedures? Even if candidates consent to being tested, is that sufficient? These are questions the Catholic Church has not answered.
The Vatican’s new policy aimed at excluding gay men from the priesthood is bigoted and hypocritical. It will encourage dishonesty, fuel homophobia and lead to Vatican sex spies snooping on trainee priests.
If these rules had existed in the past, many existing archbishops and cardinals would have never been allowed to enter the priesthood. Given the high proportion of gay clergy in senior positions in the Vatican, this new policy is rank hypocrisy.
Instead of paving the way for witch-hunts and purges of gay seminarians, the Pope should concentrate on rooting out child sex abusers. Sadly, the fundamentalists in the Vatican have often chosen to protect paedophile priests, while hounding gay clergy. Shame!
By Peter Tatchell
Originally published in The Guardian – Comment is Free – London – 20 November 2008
Peter Tatchell’s website