Saturday, November 01, 2008

Vatican issues screening guidelines for priests -- and not soon enough!

This week the Vatican released its long-awaited Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood. Published by the Congregation for Catholic Education, these guidelines are a response to the sex scandals that have plagued the Church. Under the new guidelines, candidates for the priesthood will undergo rigorous psychological testing aimed at eliminating those with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies". Other traits that might make a candidate unsuitable for the priesthood include "uncertain sexual identity," "excessive rigidity of character" and "strong affective dependencies".

The document also recommends that seminarians be barred if testing makes it "evident the candidate has difficulty living in celibacy: That is, if celibacy for him is lived as a burden so heavy that it compromises his affective and relational equilibrium".

But maybe in addition to screening for psychosexual fitness, the Church should also be screening for moral fitness for service. During the last week we have also seen a string of stories that illustrate why the Church needs to do a much better job if it really wants to clean up the image of the priesthood:

  • In a recent post we discussed the situation of Fernando Cristancho who was suspended from the priesthood in 2004 in Maryland after it was discovered that he had fathered triplets via IVF and anonymous donor eggs with a surrogate mother. Before his last assignment at St. Ignatius parish, Cristancho was at Good Shepherd in Alexandria, VA and was removed from that post after being involved in improper sexual behavior with a woman. Now SNAP is demanding that the Archdiocese of Baltimore investigate Cristancho for sexual abuse.

  • Today also brings the news of the conviction of former Catholic priest Rodney L. Rodis on 10 counts of embezzlement in Louisa, VA. Rodis stole more than $1 million from Immaculate Conception and St. Jude Catholic churches. Among the uses he found for the embezzled funds: maintaining his family. Rodis had married in 1987 and lived a double life with his wife and 3 children in a nice house near Fredericksburg. None of his neighbors knew that he was a priest.

  • And out of India, a truly bizarre story of a bishop suspended for adopting a 26-year old woman. Bishop John Thattumkal of the Kochi diocese adopted 26-year-old Sonia at the office of the sub-registrar in Mattancherry on September 15, saying that the relationship had given him a "spiritual renewal.". He had become close to Sonia during a foreign tour. Thattumkal, who holds a doctorate in canon law, first spoke about the adoption at a monthly recollection of priests under the Kochi diocese. He reportedly said he enjoyed a special relationship with the woman who had extraordinary spiritual powers. He is believed to have told the meeting he was convinced of Sonia’s powers to cure.

  • Last, but not least, the New York City tabloid press has been having a field day with Fr. Elvis Elano (seen above in photos that were filed with the lawsuit), a Filipino priest formerly working at Our Lady of Snows Church in Floral Park and Benedictine Hospital. Elano is being sued for $25 million by Judith Rodrigues-Lytwyn who claims Elano seduced her after she confessed to him in March of this year that she was divorcing her husband for abuse. Rodrigues-Lytwyn charges that Elano began "courting" her, "encouraging her to engage in a sexual liaison with him to assist her in overcoming her pain associated with her husband and because it was 'ordained by God.'" According to the lawsuit, Elano even bought some Viagra (the receipt is with the court filing), in case "divine" inspiration wasn't enough. The relationship soured when Elano sent Rodrigues-Lytwyn an e-mail because he was worried that he had contracted a sexually-transmitted disease. Elano has been suspended from his priestly functions.

The one thing these guys have in common is that they're all in their fifties, which makes us think that maybe the Catholic Church should also consider periodically re-testing their priests for psychological and moral fitness. But then what would they do if someone failed the test? Send him back to seminary?

And why do we air this stuff? It's not because we want to tear down the Catholic Church, but to emphasize that the code of silence and shuffling priests who are not able to comply with their vows to other positions is not working. What would have happened if each of these guys had been free to marry? Would they have abused their positions and the trust of the faithful? I don't know the answer to that question but I do know that these cases are symptomatic of a system that is working less and less well.

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