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Spotlight Report

  M. Thomas Shaw and Bud Cederholm  

Affirming gay and lesbian priests


MORE THAN ONCE in the past year, religious leaders in the Roman Catholic Church, and in other Christian churches, have said that gay men and lesbians should be barred from ordination because of their sexual orientation. Such assertions have usually associated gay sexual identity with pedophilia, as part of an effort to account for pedophilic behavior.

The latest published statement came from Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, in a letter written while he was a Vatican official. According to a news story published Dec. 6 in the Globe, Medina Estevez said that ''a homosexual person ... is not suitable to receive the sacrament of holy orders.'' The article also suggested that new Vatican guidelines, to be released next year, may bar men with ''homosexual tendencies'' from seminaries.

We recognize that faith communities have the right to ordain whomever they choose, but we reject the exclusion of any person from holy orders on the basis of sexual orientation. We also object to articles that leave unquestioned and even perpetuate the idea that there is a relationship between pedophilia and gay sexual orientation. The article concludes: ''The issue of gays in the priesthood has gained attention following accusations ... that priests molested children.''

Suggestions that gays molest children lead to homophobia and create a dangerous atmosphere in which hate crimes flourish. They are irresponsible.

Numerous studies have shown that there is no link between pedophilia and gay sexual orientation. According to one study, ''the belief that homosexuals are particularly attracted to children is completely unsupported by our data.'' (Groth and Birnbaum, ''Adult Sexual Orientation and Attraction to Underage Persons.'') Other studies confirm these research findings.

It is simply wrong to conclude that one's sexual orientation is the cause of child abuse. Mental health professionals agree that pedophilia is a disease. Homosexuality is not. None of what makes homosexuality a normal variation of human sexuality applies to pedophilia.

The conclusions drawn by church leaders and others who want to exclude gay men and lesbians from ordination are based on centuries of fear, prejudice, and ignorance.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has been enriched by the ministry of gay and lesbian priests and deacons, some of whom are celibate and some of whom are committed to faithful relationships. They serve in parishes and in other capacities. Along with their heterosexual sister and brother clergy, their commitment and care is visible in extraordinary ways. We affirm the ministry of all baptized people as well as those lesbian and gay priests and deacons who faithfully live out their vocation in this diocese.

Sexual misconduct by clergy, or by anyone in authority, should be addressed firmly and immediately when it occurs. But more important, we believe that religious leaders have a responsibility to educate the members of their communities about the causes and prevention of misconduct.

Every denomination and religious organization has had problems with leaders who have taken sexual advantage of those in their care. None of us is exempt.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has worked hard in the past few years to establish and maintain congregations where children and adults can be safe from emotional and sexual predators. We train our clergy and our lay leaders in appropriate behavior and how to recognize abuse and respond, refer, and report when signs of abuse are evident; we have procedures in place to address accusations in a just and responsible way. We have made it clear that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated.

Maintaining safe congregations is about caring for the least of those among us. It is a way of saying that we stand with the victims of abuse, whoever they are and wherever they are. Blaming a category of people, such as gays, for abuse when it occurs not only avoids the hard work of creating safe communities, it makes our communities less safe.

The Rt. Revs. M. Thomas Shaw and Bud Cederholm are bishops in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.

This story ran on page A27 of the Boston Globe on 12/10/2002.
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