Vatican sources told United Press International Friday the guidelines would include significant departures from current standards, but they would not elaborate. The new rules will be released early in 2003.
According to Italian news reports in recent weeks, the new guidelines are likely to include regulations banning gay men and sexual deviants from the priesthood, but the Vatican refused to comment on speculation related to that point. "The revised guidelines are expected to address most aspects that determine who should and should not become a priest," an official said, declining to elaborate.
According to a Vatican spokesman, the document is being drafted by the Congregation for Catholic Education, a group that oversees the rules governing Catholic seminaries worldwide.
Since most of the victims of the U.S.-based sex scandals were young boys, some church leaders have been quoted as saying that the problems can be traced to the proliferation of gay clergy, though media reports have said that so far no clinical studies have been able to prove that homosexual men are more likely to be abusive than heterosexual men.
Though most Catholics believe the Holy See should take more aggressive steps to curb or eliminate the sex-related problems in the United States and elsewhere, the move to tighten the standards for seminary candidates have drawn criticism from many sides.
Gay rights groups, for example, say rules against gays would help breed intolerance of the gay lifestyle. "Anti-gay policies have always proved to be contrary to the Catholic teachings of love and understanding," the Rome-based Organization of Homosexual Catholics said in a statement. Other gay-rights groups have said a mentally healthy and celibate gay priest should have the same rights as similar heterosexual priests.
And even some conservative Catholic groups have said that by universally restricting access to the priesthood the Vatican runs the risk of filtering out heterosexual men who would make good priests at a time when the number of priests worldwide is declining.
But despite those critics, the initiative appears to have support where it is needed -- among the Vatican's powerful hierarchy. A recent editorial published in America Magazine, a publication of U.S.-based members of the Jesuit order, the Rev. Andrew Baker -- a member of the American Congregation of Bishops -- wrote that a gay man's "presence in the seminary would give him false hope ... (and could) hinder the therapy he needs."
Similar statements have been made by leading Catholic publications in Italy and from other top church officials.