WASHINGTON (September 30, 2005)—The Most Reverend Edwin F. O'Brien, Archbishop of Military Services, the Coordinator of the Apostolic Visitation of U.S. seminaries and houses of formation by the Congregation for Catholic Education of the Holy See, has issued the following statement:
"As the Apostolic Seminary Visitation gets underway, it has attracted a great deal of attention from the public and the media. As a result I want to emphasize several points with regard to the Visitation.
"First of all, the Visitation is an activity of the Congregation for Catholic Education of the Holy See, planned in consultation with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The role of the teams of Visitors, who were selected and appointed by the Congregation, is to gather information for the Congregation which will review the information and issue a report with regard to each institution. This report will be sent to the bishop or the religious superior with jurisdiction over that institution. An overall report will be given to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. As Coordinator, I simply oversee the logistics. I do not see the reports sent by the teams of Visitors to the Congregation.
"The entire Visitation process is confidential to allow the Visitors to be as free of outside pressure as possible in preparing their reports to the Congregation which alone will write the final evaluations. Neither the names of the teams of Visitors nor the schedule of visits is being made public.
"The Visitation is an assessment of institutions and not of individuals, to see whether our seminaries and houses of formation are doing the work they were established to do -- to train men to be Catholic priests who accurately and fully convey the Church's teachings to their people and who live out their life-long priestly commitments, especially with regard to celibacy.
"The Visitation does take up the issue of homosexuality. It is one of the issues of our times. Within this cultural environment, there can develop, even among men preparing for the priesthood, an ambiguity both about the Church's teaching with regard to homosexuality and even whether some homosexual activity could be compatible with celibacy. Such ambiguity is not consistent with helping men to develop a mature commitment to living out celibacy every day for the rest of their lives. The Catholic Church is not alone among Christian faiths in finding a great deal of concern within its community with regard to homosexuality and the clergy.
"Recent news stories claim that the Holy See may soon issue a document on the admission of homosexual candidates to the seminary. Such a document has been said to be in preparation for several years as a policy directive for the whole Church. Connecting the possible release of this document to either the Visitation or the sex abuse crisis in the United States in 2002 ignores these facts.
"With regard to comments of my own which have appeared in the media about not admitting to candidacy for the priesthood adult men who have engaged in homosexual activity or who have strong homosexual inclinations, I was reflecting my personal opinion and offering a prudential practice based on twelve years experience as rector (president) of two U.S. seminaries. As Visitation Coordinator, I do not speak in an official capacity for either the Holy See or the USCCB on this matter.
"It is an extremely serious error for the media or any segment of the public to reduce the Visitation to only one issue. The Visitation is meant to look at the life of each institution as a whole to see whether it is helping to form men who, from a human, intellectual, and spiritual point of view, will be faithful to their commitments as Catholic priests and worthy leaders of the communities for which they will eventually be responsible."