The Catholic Church in America has been accused of effectively barring celibate gay priests by asking new recruits a battery of deeply personal questions about their sexuality.
Prospective priests are being asked the questions in an attempt to weed out those with paedophile tendencies but the church has been accused of “scapegoating” gay men in the process.
According to the New York Times, the questions range from asking about sexual experiences to whether applicants like children more than people their own age.
Other questions include “Do you like pornography?” and “When was the last time you had sex?”.
The questions, coupled with psychological testing, are designed to root out those with a sexual interest in children and were implemented following worldwide child molestation scandals in the church.
Although studies have found no evidence that gay priests are more likely to abuse children, there appears to be some confusion over how the new guidelines should be applied to homosexuality.
The church rejects priests who are having gay sex, but 2005 instructions on those are celibate are ambiguous. Recruiters are told to reject candidates who “show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.”
However, “transitory” homosexual tendencies are acceptable, provided they have been “clearly overcome at least three years before ordination”.
In 2008, this guidance was updated to say that abstaining from sex was not enough and interviewers must evaluate an applicant’s sexual orientation and whether he sees himself as a gay person.
Applicants are also tested for HIV and screened for conditions such as depression, paranoia and ‘gender confusion’.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, a Catholic gay rights group, said it was “impossible in this atmosphere” for celibate gay men to apply to the priesthood.
“The bishops have scapegoated gay priests because gays are an acceptable scapegoat in this society, particularly among weekly churchgoers,” she said.
The church has never estimated how many of its priests are gay. Some Catholic scholars say that between 25 and 50 per cent of priests are gay, although other studies have found lower rates of homosexuality.
Few dioceses would speak to the New York Times about the screening process and the paper reported that no one interviewed was able to divulge how exactly screeners or seminary directors were able to ascertain whether applicants say themselves as gay.
However, Brooklyn diocese’s director of vocations, the Rev. Kevin J. Sweeney, told the paper the rules were not about creating a witch hunt.
“We do not say that homosexuals are bad people,” he said. “And sure, homosexuals have been good priests.”
“But it has to do with our view of marriage,” he said. “A priest can only give his life to the church in the sense that a man gives his life to a female spouse. A homosexual man cannot have the same relationship. It’s not about condemning anybody. It’s about our world view.”
Dr Robert Palumbo, a psychologist has screened candidates in the diocese, added: “We have no gay men in our seminary at this time. I’m pretty sure of it.”