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Gay priests not part of pedophilia problem: official's statement suggests Rome clings to deceit that no valid priest abused a child. (Column).

There are many adverse effects of the current pedophilia crisis: the demoralization of clergy and laity, the damage done to the reputation of the Catholic church and its hierarchy, the high costs of out-of-court settlements and their impact on the funding of the church's social and educational ministries, the further decline in vocations to the priesthood, and, most serious of all, the grave, long-term harm done to its innocent victims and their families.

In recent weeks a new item seems to have been added to the list: increased expressions of antipathy toward gay priests, of whom there are surely thousands in the United States alone. What is remarkable but not surprising -- is that these criticisms are coming from both sides of the ecclesiastical spectrum: from progressives who view the inordinately high percentage of gays in the priesthood as lessening the pressure for a change in the law of obligatory celibacy, and from homophobes who look upon gays as disreputable souls held in the grip of the worst sort of moral perversion.

Even though prominent psychiatrists and psychologists have been reminding us on television and in news interviews that there is no necessary link between homosexuality and pedophilia, the popular view to the contrary still holds sway in many parts of the church and in society at large. In such precincts the solution is easy: Get rid of gay priests and we'll finally be rid of this horrible problem of sexual abuse of children.

Surprisingly, the starkest expression of this view emanates from one of the highest sources in the central administration of the Catholic church: Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the pope's official liaison with the media and a psychiatrist by training.

The Vatican spokesman has questioned whether homosexuals can validly be ordained, comparing the situation of a gay priest who may not realize he is gay to that of a gay man who marries a woman while also unaware of his sexual orientation. Navarro-Valls pointed out that just as such a marriage can be annulled on the grounds that it was invalid from the start, so, too, the ordination of a gay man might similarly be declared invalid.

A few priests have privately observed that, if this were actually to happen, the Roman Catholic church might lose two-thirds of its priests under the age of 45 and some bishops as well. At the same time, many of its seminaries could be emptied of all but a handful of students.

The most incisive comment on the Navarro-Valls remark came from Eugene Kennedy, a noted psychologist and author of The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality, which has just appeared in a paperback edition. His central criticism, in a recent column for Religion News Service, bears repeating:

"These are unjustified and inexcusable statements whose real intent is obvious. ... If the Vatican concludes that homosexual ordination is invalid, then it can boast that no valid priest has ever been guilty of pedophilia.

"[It] used the same technique when it began to compile statistics on heterosexuals applying for permission to marry, telling them that if they admitted they never wanted to be priests or had severe psychological problems, their permissions would be granted quickly. Officials could then claim that no real priests ever sought marriage, only those who were either disturbed or had never had vocations.

"Dr. Navarro-Valls is close to malpractice in floating this trial balloon ... [which] is breathtaking in the depth of its insult to the many wonderful homosexual priests who serve with such integrity, to all homosexuals, and, indeed, to heterosexuals whose good common sense rejects such theorizing."

Navarro-Valls may have some corn petition, however, in the category of most wide-of-the-mark statements on this tragic crisis. Also vying for this dubious honor is Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran minister who managed almost immediately upon joining the Catholic church to insert himself into its centers of power

For this papal confidant the explanation is simple: The liberals did it. According to his analysis, the counterculture had made significant inroads in the 1960s and 1970s, and seminarians were being encouraged by their faculty to believe that celibacy was about to go the way of the buggy whip and to behave accordingly.

Fr. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer who worked closely with the bishops in the 1980s and urged them -- unsuccessfully -- to adopt a national policy on pedophilia, characterized this view as "nonsense." Pedophilia, he said, is a deeply ingrained disorder having nothing to do with ideology.

Perhaps the two papal insiders, Navarro Valls and Neuhaus, need to talk.

Fr. Richard McBrien teaches at the University of Notre Dame.
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Author:McBrien, Richard P.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 5, 2002
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