IF ITS PURPOSE IS TO UNDERLINE the church's stance that homosexuality is immoral, then the Vatican's policy barring many gays from the priesthood counts as a success. But if its aims also are to stem sexual abuse and make priests more effective chaplains, as it implies, then the directive is both illogical and ill-informed.
Most of the molestation cases in the Roman Catholic Church have involved male victims. But that's a far cry from indicating that most gay priests are potential molesters.
Beyond that, the new church instructions create artificial definitions of homosexuality. The ban on gay priests extends only to those with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies or those who support a "gay culture" in the form of movies or books. There are no such tidy lines in the world of sexuality. Even if there were, they wouldn't necessarily say anything about a man's chastity or empathy.
Focused on homosexuality rather than on sexual behavior, the instructions leave plenty of room for criticism that they are inconsistent about sexual morality. Heterosexual intercourse outside of marriage is also frowned upon by church doctrine. But there are no explicit requirements that straight men must not support the widespread culture of movies or literature that depict such behavior.
The church will also now require men with a history of gay sexual relations to show that they can obey the strictures of priesthood by remaining celibate for three years. But it does not formally outline the same requirement for straight men. (The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has had a more consistent two-year celibacy rule for both.) The document implies that gay priests cannot make good counselors because they are less able to form "correct relationships" with men and women. That's a slur to the many gay priests who have offered heartfelt help to their parishioners.
The guidelines allude only briefly to the sexual abuse scandal as the "present situation" that made the new policy an "urgent" matter. A more urgent issue for the Catholic hierarchy to consider is this: The public astonishment and outrage at the scandal was directed not only at the molestations -- there are pedophiles in all walks of life -- but even more at church leaders who protected the molesters and stonewalled their victims.