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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 men with strong homosexual tendencies, the Vatican said on Thursday.

In a new document -- the second in three years to deal with the effects of a sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church six years ago -- the Vatican said the early detection of “sometimes pathological” psychological defects in men before they become priests would help avoid tragic consequences.

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 virtues, 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 qualified 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,” the document said.

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

At a news conference, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Vatican department that prepared the document, was asked why a man with deep-seated homosexual tendencies could not become a priest while one with deep-seated heterosexual tendencies could.

He said homosexuality was “a deviation, an irregularity and a wound” that he said did not allow priests to carry out their mission properly.

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.

SNAP, a U.S.-based group of victims of sexual abuse, said the document did not go far enough.

“Catholic officials continue to fixate on the offenders and ignore the larger problem: the Church’s virtually unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy. These broader factors are deeply rooted in the Church and contribute heavily to extensive and on-going clergy sex abuse and cover up,” it said in a statement.

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 the 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.