NEW YORK – A Vatican office that evaluated U.S. Roman Catholic seminaries in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal concluded that administrators have been effective in stopping "homosexual behavior" in the schools although the agency said the problem still exists.
The Congregation for Catholic Education sought a broad review of how the schools screen and educate prospective priests, but gave special attention to teachings on chastity and celibacy. The Vatican also directed evaluators to look for "evidence of homosexuality" in the schools.
In a report U.S. bishops released this week, the Vatican agency noted past "difficulties in the area of morality" within seminaries that "usually but not exclusively" involved "homosexual behavior." The evaluators said the appointment of better administrators in diocesan seminiaries "has ensured that such difficulties have been overcome."
"Of course, here and there some case or other of immorality — again, usually homosexual behavior — continues to show up," according to the report. "However, in the main, the superiors now deal with these issues promptly and appropriately."
The evaluators had no such praise for schools run by religious orders, which critics consistently condemn as too liberal on celibacy, homosexuality and church teaching in general. The report said "ambiguity vis-a-vis homosexuality persists" within institutes run by religious orders. The report also cites those schools for failing to fully adhere to Catholic theology.
Nearly one-third of the 40,580 U.S. priests are members of religious orders.
Past studies commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have found that the majority of known victims of abuse by priests in the last 50 years were adolescent boys. In response, some Catholics blamed gay clergy for the scandal; experts on sex offenders argued that gays are no more likely than heterosexuals to molest children.
The Vatican ordered the review at the height of the abuse scandal, which erupted in 2002 with the case of one predator priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, then spread throughout the U.S. and beyond. American dioceses have spent more than $2 billion since 1950 on settlements with victims, legal fees and other abuse-related costs. Bishops and seminary staff conducted the onsite evaluations between 2005 and 2006 and sent their findings to the Vatican.
The agency said teaching on celibacy and chastity appeared to be "adequate" in all of the more than 220 U.S. seminaries. Still, the evaluators recommended stronger oversight of students during their free time, including monitoring their use of the Internet.
The report expressed approval of the screening criteria for seminarians, but said some schools still feel pressured by the priest shortage to hurry students toward ordination before they are fully prepared.
"Clearly, in some places, lack of vocations has caused some lowering of standards," the report said.
The scandal added fuel to long-simmering debates within the U.S. church about whether seminary faculty truly adhered to Catholic teaching and whether the priesthood was becoming a predominantly gay vocation. There is no exact figure of the number of gay clergy. Estimates vary from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to a review of research on the issue by the Rev. Donald Cozzens, author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood."
The same Vatican agency that directed the evaluation has in recent years emphasized the Vatican policy that men with "deep-seated" attraction to other men should not be ordained. Gay priests have protested, saying they have serve the church faithfully and are no more likely than heterosexual priests to break their vow of celibacy.