Pope: Bar deviants from priesthood
VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II says that to preserve itself, the Roman Catholic Church has to be much more careful not to let men with "deviations in their affections" enter the priesthood.
The 82-year-old pontiff also re-affirmed the Church's rule on celibacy, saying it should not be seen as a "useless" imposition but a vital part of a tradition in which the priest offers himself unconditionally to God.
The pope made his comments, his latest in a series on the crisis rocking the Church, in a speech in Portuguese to Brazilian bishops visiting his summer residence south of Rome.
He said the Church had to be careful not to allow men who had what he said were obvious "deviations in their affections" from entering seminaries to train for the priesthood.
Though addressed to the Brazilians, the pope's comments were for a world audience, coming as the Catholic Church is reeling from the tidal wave effect of sex scandals in the United States and elsewhere.
The pope, who has said before he felt personally wounded by the child sex scandals, told the Brazilians he felt "a duty" to remind all bishops they had to use "all means" at their disposal to keep unqualified men out of the priesthood.
Candidates, he said, had to be screened "above all from the standpoint of morals and affections."
He said those who should never be allowed to make it to ordination included "young, immature men or those with obvious signs of deviations in their affections."
"As we sadly know, such men can cause grave deviations in the consciences of the faithful, with obvious harm for the entire Church," he said.
The various sexual scandals have led to calls for a change in the rule on celibacy. A debate has raged in the Church, with critics of celibacy saying it was ultimately to blame.
Supporters of celibacy say linking it with paedophilia in a cause-and-effect relationship is plain wrong.
The last time the pope publicly spoke about the sex scandals was in Toronto, Canada, last July, when he said the sexual abuse of children by priests was a source of shame and sadness to Catholics, and asked church members to rally behind the "vast majority" of virtuous clerics.
Last April, the pope summoned U.S. Catholic leaders to the Vatican for an emergency meeting to confront the scandal of sexual abuse of children that has severely damaged the Church and undermined the credibility of its leaders.
At that meeting, the pope said there was no room in the priesthood for anyone who would harm the young.
U.S. Roman Catholic bishops agreed in June to bar paedophile priests from acting as clerics in a move some churchmen described as a "one strike you're out" policy.
But the Vatican must approve the proposals before the U.S. church can implement them because they involve changes to canon law.
The Vatican is expected to announce is ruling on the document by the end of the month.
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