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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 18:10 GMT
Vatican to reinforce Catholic orthodoxy
Pope John Paul II
Pope's advisors say traditional values have weakened

For months it has seemed to liberal Roman Catholics that the sex abuse scandal that has affected the Church in many parts of the world, must lead to radical reforms.

The ordination to the priesthood of homosexual men... is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent

Holy See's Congregation for Worship
There was speculation that it could include an end to compulsory celibacy for priests, and perhaps even the ordination of women.

But the signs are that the pope's advisers have come to precisely the opposite conclusions - and intend to reinforce traditional standards and discipline.

They plan to crack down especially hard on homosexuality in the Church.

'Anglo-Saxon' problem

In St Peter's Square in the Vatican, a group of children waiting to tour the towering basilica, tightly gathered around a smiling young priest.

In many countries it is difficult finding enough recruits for the priesthood
It is almost impossible for a homosexual to be ordained as a priest
There is no sign here of the awkwardness that some American priests have reported feeling with children since the sex abuse crisis has unfolded there during the last year.

Indeed, here in Rome, many see the scandal as what they call an "Anglo-Saxon" problem.

Gerry O'Connell, the Vatican correspondent of the Roman Catholic journal The Universe, says that some of the pope's chief advisers have analysed the American cases and concluded that the problem is not paedophilia, but homosexuality.

"When they analysed these cases, they discovered that the vast majority involved not priests and little children, that's children under the age of 11 or 12, but rather priests and teenagers," Mr O'Connell says.

"So it had more a homosexual dimension to it."

That conclusion is having far-reaching effects.

'Inadvisable and imprudent'

Liberal Roman Catholics have argued that the scandal was caused by too much emphasis on hierarchy and the priesthood, and that the answer is to ordain women and end compulsory celibacy.

The issue of paedophilia and abuse may have homosexual aspects but it is simply not to be identified with that orientation

Monsignor Roderick Strange
The sex abuse scandal has served to reinforce that view.

But conservatives - and there are many surrounding Pope John Paul II - believe the crisis has been caused by a weakening of the Church's traditional values and standards, and specifically a tolerance of homosexual priests.

The Vatican correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen, says a one-page letter from one of the Holy See's departments, the Congregation for Worship, graphically demonstrates the shift against homosexuals.

He quotes the letter: "The ordination to the priesthood of homosexual men, or men with homosexual tendencies, is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent, and from a pastoral point of view, very risky."

"To me, that's a pretty clear statement of position," Mr Allen says.

According to him similar language is likely to be used in a more substantial document expected from the Vatican department in charge of education in the next few months.

"There seems to be a clear thrust here towards making it more difficult, if not impossible for a homosexual to get into a seminary and ultimately to be ordained as a Catholic priest," Mr Allen says.

Crisis in morale

Another important clue is contained in the words "homosexual tendencies".

The Church has always said that active homosexuality is a sin. But not necessarily homosexual tendencies.

Ending that distinction would represent a significant crackdown on gay men in the priesthood.
Cardinal Law
Resignation of Cardinal Law raised liberal hopes

At Beda College, a seminary for mature men in the St Paul's area just outside Rome's old city walls numbers of students are falling.

The college's rector, Monsignor Roderick Strange says that the crisis in morale caused by the sex scandal can only make the situation worse.

He thinks that whether or not a man has homosexual tendencies is irrelevant, provided he is sufficiently mature and socially well integrated.

Barring them from seminaries would be a big mistake.

"The issue of paedophilia and abuse may have homosexual aspects but it is simply not to be identified with that orientation," Monsignor Strange says.

"If it were the case that people were using homosexuality to say that by banning this we will solve that then we wouldn't be getting any further forward at all."

Reinforcing orthodoxy

The resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston encouraged liberal Roman Catholics to believe the pope might find some relaxation of the Church's traditional disciplines unavoidable.

But there is a tendency in Rome for America to seem far away, and to put its sex scandal in a wider context.

For Vatican conservatives the priority seems to be to reinforce Roman Catholic orthodoxy in the Church as a whole, rather than indulge liberals in its unruly provinces.

The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

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