Monsignor's Remarks on Homosexual Priests 'Inaccurate, Unfair'

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - A leading homosexual advocacy group denounced as "inaccurate, unfair, mean-spirited and quite unfortunate" remarks by a prominent clergyman that the Catholic Church made a mistake by allowing some homosexual priests into seminaries in the 1970s and 1980s.

Against a background of highly-publicized sex scandals in the Catholic Church, Monsignor Eugene Clark on Sunday blamed the sex abuse in part on homosexuality, which he termed "a disorder" and reiterated the church's position that homosexuals should not be allowed to become priests.

"The tendency to homosexuality is a disorder, not a sin," Clark said in a 15-minute homily in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. "But the practice of homosexuality is truly sinful."

Allowing homosexual students to pass through seminaries was a "grave mistake," Clark said. "Not because homosexuals in any way tend to criminality, but because it is a disorder and, as a disorder, should prevent a person from being ordained a priest."

David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual advocacy group, said Clark's remarks did a disservice to homosexual people in general and to homosexual Catholics in particular.

"His comments don't reflect reality and are certainly not consistent with science and medicine," Smith said.

The main psychiatric institutions, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association, no longer classify homosexuality as a disorder, he said.

Rather, they see it as a "normal, healthy sexual orientation in a percentage of the population it occurs."

"That's why the monsignor's comments are inaccurate, unfair, mean-spirited and quite unfortunate," Smith said.

Clark's comments also rekindled the debate on celibacy, the perceived strictness of the Catholic Church and whether to allow women to become priests.

Dr. Frederick Berlin, founder of the Johns Hopkins Sexual Disorders Clinic and a consultant on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' ad hoc committee on sexual abuse, said vows of celibacy were not a factor in child sexual abuse.

Other institutions, such as the Boy Scouts, had problems involving adults who had not taken vows of celibacy molesting children in their care, he said.

"If you look at child sexual abuse, sadly it crosses all lines [and] is committed as much by heterosexual males as by homosexual males, as much by non-celibate as by celibate individuals. It's committed in settings ranging from the home of the child to day-care centers to schools, and so on," Berlin said.

"I think it's been important that we focused in on the church, but it's also important to then step back and look at the bigger picture so that we don't come away with false conclusions," he said.

A percentage of priests are homosexuals, Berlin said, but it is not clear whether that percentage is higher than in the general population.

"There may be more homosexual men in the priesthood, but that's not to say that more homosexual people become child abusers than heterosexual people," he said.

"A homosexual man is no more at risk to a boy than is a heterosexual man to a girl. The problem here is those homosexual and those heterosexual men who act improperly," Berlin said.

He also said he knew of no evidence to support theories that the priesthood attracts more people with troubled sexuality than other professions. The overwhelming majority of priests are responsible and dedicated and hard-working people, Berlin said.

Greek Orthodox priests are allowed to marry, and Roman Catholic priests who had married as Episcopal or Anglican ministers before they converted to Catholicism may remain married. Married men also may become deacons in the Catholic Church.

Patrick Scully, a spokesman for the New York-based Catholic League, praised Clark for putting on the table the role of homosexuality in the scandal.

"The data show that the people who are offending are offending with teenage boys. You can spin it any way you want, but it's homosexual behavior," Scully said.

"That's not to say that someone who has homosexual orientation can't be a good priest, because if he's celibate, he can be. Parishioners are not worried about what people are, they're worried about good committed priests," he added.

Besides cases of pedophilia, in which offenders target prepubescent children of both sexes, the vast majority of instances of abuse involves grown men - priests - and adolescent boys.

"Now if we're going to address the scandal we have to put this in the mix. To leave the homosexual aspect out of this is to be intellectually dishonest," Scully said.

"The problem here is sexually immature men not prepared to accept celibacy. A disproportionate of that group is homosexual. Monsignor Clark had the courage to bring that out and talk about it," he said.

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