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US leaders hint at flexibility on gay clergy

Officials respond to Vatican decree

NEW YORK -- US Roman Catholic leaders praised the contributions of celibate gay priests in response to a new Vatican pronouncement against homosexuals in the priesthood, a move that could imply some dioceses and religious orders want flexibility in applying church policy.

Two key American statements -- one from the president of the US bishops and the other representing religious orders -- followed the Vatican's instruction on gay clergy and supported it on several points: Priests should uphold the church's teaching against gay sex, personally maintain a celibate lifestyle, and avoid support for ''the so-called 'gay culture.' "

The potential question involves what happens to candidates who meet those requirements but also have a continuing gay orientation.

The Vatican policy insists that men who ''present deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should not be admitted to seminaries or ordained as priests. The ban does not apply if men had ''transitory problems" with such tendencies.

Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., and leaders of the conference for men's religious orders replied with statements that supported the Vatican decree. But they also sidestepped endorsing a ban on gay-oriented candidates.

Skylstad, the bishops' president, said the answer to the question ''whether a homosexually-inclined man can be a good priest" lies in the lives of men who ''have truly been dedicated priests."

Leaders of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men -- representing 210 religious orders such as the Benedictines, Dominicans, and Jesuits -- stated that priests ''have become concrete examples of Christ" through their work, regardless of their orientation.

The conference's executive director, Franciscan priest Paul Lininger, said the policy's application is ''best understood and defined by major superiors in dealing with individuals in their communities."

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