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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 27, 2002

Gay Catholics decry link to abuse

By Cathy Lynn Grossman
USA Today

Gay Catholics were livid this week when some church leaders meeting in Rome appeared to blame the sex abuse scandal on homosexual priests.

After the two-day crisis meeting among America's top clerics, the pope and Vatican officials, two cardinals and the top U.S. bishop detailed the "skeletal outline" of a proposed policy. It would set nationwide procedures for rapidly defrocking serial pedophiles and assessing the danger of new abuse cases with local review boards led by lay people.

When asked whether allowing homosexuals in the priesthood might foster a "bumper crop " of abusers, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., said no "active homosexuals" should ever be admitted to seminary.

The president of the U.S. bishops' conference, Wilton Gregory, who already was on record as saying that it was a "struggle to make sure that the Catholic priesthood is not dominated by homosexual men," said the question would get "comprehensive study."

These remarks angered Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, a nationwide group of gay Catholics.

"There is no link between homosexuality and child molestation," she said.

"And this negates any pretense by the church that they will treat us with respect. The church hierarchy is refusing to acknowledge their own failings in moving abusive priests from parish to parish, and protecting criminals instead of children."

She noted that last October, New York firefighters presented to the pope the helmet of their chaplain, the Rev. Mychal Judge, a gay priest who was killed while ministering to victims at the World Trade Center. His funeral was at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, where he headed Dignity/USA's AIDS ministry.

"Can you imagine a church that would toss someone like Mychal Judge out if he were still alive?" Duddy asked.

Catholic doctrine says homosexual orientation is not a sin, but homosexual behavior is "disordered." Some church experts estimate that 20 percent to 50 percent of the current 45,000 U.S. priests are homosexual. The pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, in February was quoted as saying homosexuals should not be in the priesthood, even if they maintain celibacy.

Former priest and psychotherapist A.W. Richard Sipe says his study of priests from 1960 to 1985, when many of the abuses now coming to light took place, found only about half of all priests maintained celibacy. He estimated 30 percent of all priests had a homosexual orientation.

Sharon Sherrard, 62, of San Rafael, Calif., a Catholic lesbian, says she's sickened and saddened by church leaders' remarks. "It is so easy to use us as scapegoats. It's so easy."

Paul Wilkes, who studied 600 parishes for his book, "Excellent Catholic Parishes: A Guide to Best Places and Practices," has argued that most Catholics don't care about their priest's sexual orientation. "They just want him to be a decent human being, a good honest pastor," he said Wednesday.

He cites studies showing that "through all this scandal, people's love for their parish has not changed. Their faith in the hierarchy has been decimated, but I don't hear people running away from Catholicism."

The bishops' remarks especially sting gay priests.

"It makes me angry. They are trying to take the blame away from those truly responsible and put it on an exclusive class of people. It's wrong," says a gay priest no longer in active ministry, who asked that his name be withheld.

He left his diocese after more than a decade but still attends services with the Dignity group.

"We have to meet at an Episcopal church because the bishop won't let us use a (Catholic) church."