VATICAN CITY -- A top Vatican official has advised against bringing gays into the priesthood, saying their ordination would be imprudent and "risky."
Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez's letter, reproduced in a church publication, comes as the Vatican is drafting new guidelines for accepting candidates for the priesthood. The guidelines are expected to address whether gays should be barred.
His position reflects what appears to be the Vatican's emerging public stance on the issue. Medina Estevez was the prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments when the letter was written, although he retired in October.
Ordination "of homosexual men or men with homosexual tendencies is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent, and from the pastoral point of view, very risky," Medina Estevez wrote in a letter to an unidentified cleric that was reprinted in the congregation's main publication, Notitiae.
Adding fuel to fire
Medina Estevez's letter will likely fuel the debate about homosexuals in the priesthood -- a perennial Vatican issue that has received new attention following the clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States.
News reports in Italy and the United States in recent weeks have said that according to initial drafts of the new guidelines under consideration, the Vatican has decided that seminaries should bar men with homosexual tendencies.
That document is being prepared by another Vatican office, the Congregation for Catholic Education, and isn't expected to be released until next year.
A leader of an American organization of gay Catholics accused some Vatican officials of using the scandal to further an anti-gay agenda.
"What proponents of this policy are playing into is an old, long-disproven belief that gay men are more promiscuous and molest children. That's it, plain and simple," said Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA.
"There's nothing that says that gay men are any more sexually active than their straight counterparts or that their ministry is in any way compromised by their sexuality," she said by phone from Boston.
In another indication of Vatican thinking, a member of another Vatican congregation, the Rev. Andrew Baker, an American in the Congregation for Bishops, argued in a September article in the Jesuit magazine America that gays should not be ordained.
If a man is gay, Baker wrote, "then he should not be admitted to holy orders, and his presence in the seminary would not only give him false hope but it may, in fact, hinder" the therapy he needs.
The magazine issued an editorial a few weeks later saying healthy and dedicated gay priests make an important contribution to the Church.
On Thursday, the Italian gay rights group Arcigay condemned Medina Estevez's position, saying the Vatican was using gay priests as a scapegoat in the sex abuse scandal.
The Vatican is "hiding behind restrictive measures against gay seminarians their own incapacity to resolve the scourge of pedophilia in the clergy," Arcigay president Sergio Lo Giudice said in a statement.
The group also said a ban on gay priests would amount to a "hemorrhage" in the priesthood, since it's already battling against a drop in vocations.
The issue of gays in the priesthood has gained attention following waves of accusations especially in the United States that priests molested children, and that Church leaders tried to cover up wrongdoing by moving known abusers from parish to parish.
Most of the victims in the United States appear to have been adolescent boys. Several church leaders have argued that gay clergy are to blame for the scandal, but experts on sex offenders say there is no credible evidence that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to abuse children.