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Vatican urges psychological tests on future priests

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Candidates for the Catholic priesthood should undergo psychological tests to screen out heterosexuals unable to control their sexual urges and those with strong homosexual tendencies, the Vatican said on Thursday.

A new document was the second in three years to deal with the effects of a sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church six years ago.

It said the early detection of “sometimes pathological” psychological defects of men before they become priests would help avoid tragic experiences.

Seminary rectors and other officials should use outside experts if they cannot handle the screening themselves, it said.

“The Church...has a duty of discerning a vocation and the suitability of candidates for the priestly ministry,” said the document from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education.

“The priestly ministry...requires certain abilities as well as moral and theological virtures, which are supported by a human and psychic -- and particularly affective -- equilibrium, so as to allow the subject to be adequately predisposed for giving of himself in the celibate life,” it said.

Vatican officials told a news conference the tests would not be obligatory but decided on a case-by-case basis when seminary rectors wanted to be sure a man was qualfied for the priesthood.

The testing by a psychologist or psychotherapist should aim to detect “grave immaturity” and imbalances in the candidates’ personality.

“Such areas of immaturity would include strong affective dependencies; notable lack of freedom in relations; excessive rigidity of character; lack of loyalty; uncertain sexual identity; deep-seated homosexual tendencies, etc. If this should be the case, the path of formation will have to be interrupted,” it said.

A sexual abuse scandal that was first uncovered in the United States in 2002 and then spread throughout the world involved mostly abuse of teenage boys by priests.

The document said it was “not enough to be sure that (a candidate) is capable of abstaining from sexual activity” but also to “evaluate his sexual orientation”.

Gay groups have accused the Church of using homosexuals as scapegoats for the abuse scandals.

The document said men with strong homosexual tendencies should not be admitted to the priesthood but it also made references to control of heterosexual urges.

Men should be barred from entering the priesthood if psychological testing makes it “evident that the candidate has difficulty living chastity in celibacy: that is, if celibacy, for him is lived as a burden so heavy that it compromises his affective and relational equilibrium”.

Rectors could not force candidates to undergo psychological testing, but the main purpose of the document seemed to be to encourage its use to avoid future scandals.