The Vatican issued new psychological screening guidelines for seminarians Thursday — the latest effort by the Roman Catholic Church to be more selective about its priesthood candidates following a series of sex abuse scandals.
The church said it issued the new guidelines to help church leaders weed out candidates with “psychopathic disturbances.” The scandals have rocked the church in recent years, triggering lawsuits that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.
Three priests cross St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, in this
Oct. 18, 2002 file photo.(AP Photo/Luciano Del Castillo)
“(The guidelines) became ever more urgent because of the sexual scandals,” Monsignor Jean-Louis Brugues told reporters. He stressed, however, that psychological testing was used in some seminaries as far back as the 1960s — or at least a decade before the sexual abuse scandals exploded in public.
“In all too many cases, psychological defects, sometimes of a pathological kind, reveal themselves only after ordination to the priesthood,” the guidelines said. “Detecting defects earlier would help avoid many tragic experiences.”
The guidelines said problems like “confused or not yet well-defined” sexual identities need to be addressed.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the Vatican needs to go beyond screening seminarians to end what the group calls the church’s “virtually unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy” that left dangerous priests in parishes.
“Every barrel will always have some bad apples,” the Survivors Network said. “Real change requires effectively reforming the barrel and those who oversee it.”
Vatican officials conducted an evaluation of U.S. Roman Catholic seminaries in response to the abuse crisis to look for anything that contributed to the scandal. The evaluation was completed in July of 2006, but the results have not been made public.
The bishops and seminary staff who conducted the onsite reviews gave special attention to what seminarians are taught about chastity and celibacy. The Vatican also directed the evaluators to look for “evidence of homosexuality” in the schools.
Studies commissioned by the bishops’ conference have found that the majority of known victims of abuse by priests in the last 50 years were adolescent boys. In response, some Catholics have blamed gay clergy for the scandal; experts on sex offenders contend homosexuals are no more likely than heterosexuals to molest children.