updated 11/30/2005 10:59:54 AM ET 2005-11-30T15:59:54

In the summer of 2002, at the height of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal, I covered the U.S. Catholic Bishop's Conference in Dallas.

There were easily more protesters and activists on the hotel grounds than priests and bishops.  Even then, while the media was focused on tales of child molestation, Catholic activists wanted to move the discussion in other directions--namely to the issues of celibacy and homosexuality in the priesthood.

The Bishops Conference seemed less inclined to tackle the bigger question--whether or not priests should be allowed to marry or have open, normal sexualities.  For critics, the two issues were inarguably intertwined.

Some believe that the reason the Church has had its share of sex abuse issues has to do with the "unnatural" expectations of celibacy in the first place.  That simply opening the doors to men, and dare I say women, who have open and healthy sexualities and wish to marry could solve a centuries old problem.

But just as the problem has taken centuries to see the light of day, it generally takes centuries for the Vatican to make sweeping change.  We all spoke Latin until just a couple decades ago, after all.

But today, a document years in the making has been published by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education specifically dealing with the issue of gays in the seminaries.  Its contents were leaked about a week ago to the Italian media, so there were no real surprises.

Essentially, the plan calls for expulsion or denial of acceptance to seminary to any man with "deep-rooted homosexual tendencies."  It gives a pass to men with only "transient tendencies" who have conquered them for more than three years.

By "transient" tendencies, perhaps they mean only having sex while traveling.

Not to make light of this very serious issue, but many critics see this plan as lacking any depth of understanding of what it means to be gay, and also being merely another band-aid for a much bigger crisis in the Church.

As I am prone to do, I turn to the blogs for guidance.

It seems that for most American Catholics, the issue isn't really about gays but about celibacy.  Blogger Mark Shea says that regardless of your take on gays, this policy reaffirms celibacy for the priesthood and that true Catholics will respect that.

Cynics say that it merely lays out a plan that most seminaries will not abide by.  For example, Extreme Catholic is not convinced that homosexuals will be excluded if the seminary staff doesn't desire it to be.

The blogger at Catholic Analysis is more optimistic, saying that Bishops and ordained priests will now have the power to push out gay seminaries, and will do so.

According to some studies, about 40 or 50 percent of priests are gays.  One of them, a celibate gay priest going by a pseudonym in this Rights & Liberties blog entry, expresses deep sorrow over this policy.  He writes:

For me, this document is an occasion of deep sadness--for those men who will never enter the seminary, for those men who will feel forced to leave after years of discernment and prayer, and for those celibate gay priests who will feel great anguish over their treatment by the Vatican. And I feel sadness for the people in the pews, too, who will be deprived of something simple: good men.

The issue he raises is a real one--there is a shortage of men who want to be priests.  Part of that has to do with changing social norms.  Homosexuality is more accepted now, so there is less of a reason for closeted men to run to the sanctuary of the Church.

But that also means that the men who are freely choosing this calling at this point in time might actually want to be priests.

Imagine that.

Today on the show we'll take a look at the President's new plans to tackle illegal immigration with two Congressmen from different sides of the aisle.  We'll also take a look at the last days of a bad hurricane season.  Tune in.

Check out the English translation of the Vatican document here.

And here's a great site for surveying Catholic opinion.

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