Seminaries, celibacy and doctrine

When it comes to nightlife in Washington, D.C., Dupont Circle is one of the places where people go to be seen.

So Amy Welborn wasn’t surprised to see familiar faces while visiting the hot spots with a friend in the late 1970s. It was easy to spot the Catholic University seminarians — with their girlfriends — even though the future priests were not wearing clerical garb.

“It was the spirit of the times,” said Welborn, now a popular Catholic writer and online apologist. “Dating was pretty normal for seminarians and some seminaries did little to discourage it. Some actually encouraged dating because that was supposed to help seminarians get in touch with their sexuality. …

“People thought celibacy would take care of itself and, of course, some people thought the whole celibacy thing would disappear at some point in the future.”

Times change. One thing is certain as teams of Catholic examiners begin a wave of confidential “Apostolic Visitations” at the 229 U.S. seminaries. While rumors swirl about a Vatican crackdown on homosexuality, the insiders who examine seminary life will follow 12 pages of guidelines that repeated focus on preparing priests for life without sex.

The celibacy issue is hot, according to the “Instrumentum Laboris.”

While the document — as posted on the World Wide Web — contains one or two clear references to homosexuality, there are a dozen or more direct or indirect references to mandatory celibacy and its role in the training, or “formation,” of priests.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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