Presenting more evidence that it just doesn't get it, the Vatican recently issued new so-called, "psychological screening guidelines" to weed out priest candidates with "psychopathic disorders," but only those related to sexual misconduct — specifically homosexuality.
This announcement ironically came on the heels of an Associated Press report about another massive sex abuse settlement. This time, the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado, will fork over $4 million to settle claims by 23 men who accuse a religious brother at a Catholic high school of having sexually abused them.
Such settlements are now so routine they get only page five mentions, often below the fold, in major newspapers. The Vatican has good reason to be concerned: if only it were concerned about the real problem!
The new guidelines hope that "detecting defects earlier would help avoid many tragic experiences." They go on to specify they will now target would-be priests with, "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" while allowing to go forward those with a "transitory problem" (those who have overcome "it" for three years).
If this sounds like a page from the book of "a little bit pregnant," it is.
The idea that gayness might be measured in degrees — manageable to deep-rooted — is absurd. It's telling that monitoring heterosexual perversion is not mentioned. The premise that priests who sexually abuse children are routinely gay in their orientation, when experts consistently say that pedophiles are just as likely to be heterosexual as homosexual, shows Rome's myopia.
The Vatican's latest treatise on homosexuality also echoes the evangelical Christian belief that gay men and lesbian woman can be "changed" through prayer. Married senators in airport men's rooms and married preachers having gay trysts prove that no amount of prayers, novenas, or hymns can change the leopard's spots. (They may prove leopards ought to be leopards, however, and not chameleons.)
The Vatican guidelines also insist that priests must have a "positive and stable sense of one's masculine identity."
Has the pope seen Brokeback Mountain? Those guys were rodeo riders, hunters, and boozers. It doesn't get much more "macho" than that. Still, after herding livestock all day, and surviving the elements in a tent, they'd put out the campfire and make love under the moon. Were they not "real men?"
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) commented on the guidelines appropriately. It called for a necessary shift in the Vatican's centuries-old "unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy," saying that this is what allows dangerous priests to exist without scrutiny in parishes.
From that culture of secrecy and unchecked hierarchical power spring many of the church's warped views on gender and sexuality. Of greater concern is the chilling effect of such a culture on the mandate of Christ to love and minister to the poorest and most helpless among us, whoever and wherever they may be.
Seminaries and bishops need to report pedophiles to the police. They also need to recruit and welcome priests, gay or straight, male or female, whose legal sexual lives remain private while their ministries stay true to Jesus' greatest commandment.