In an interview published in Sunday's New York Times, a spokesman for the Vatican noted that many of the recent cases of sexual abuse by American priests involve teen-age boys, while typical cases of pedophilia involve younger children. The discrepancy, Vatican conservatives say, is caused by the presence of gay priests.
"People with these inclinations just cannot be ordained," said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, spokesman for Pope John Paul II.
"That does not imply a final judgment on people with homosexuality," he added. "But you cannot be in this field." To rectify the situation, Navarro-Valls suggested that ordinations of gay priests be nullified, as marriages are annulled.
"If they were to eliminate all those (priests) who were homosexually oriented, the number would be so staggering that it would be like an atomic bomb; it would do the same damage to the church's operation," said A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest and psychotherapist.
"It would mean the resignation of at least a third of the bishops of the world," Sipe said. "Discriminating against orientation is not going to solve the problem."
Mary Louise Cervone, president of the GLBT Catholic group Dignity/USA, predicted that Navarro-Valls' remarks would not influence many American Catholics.
"Members of our church know the difference between abuse of children and a healthy, mature sexuality," she said. "They see the sex abuse issue for what it is -- a symptom of a repressive, arrogant system that sees self-preservation as more important than caring for individuals."
In recent weeks, dioceses of Boston, Los Angeles and St. Louis, among others, have suspended or forced retirement on priests who have been accused of sexual abuse with minors. The Boston Archdiocese alone may pay up to $35 million to settle more than 86 pedophilia cases linked to one priest, John Geoghan, according to the Boston Globe.
On Monday, a Boston priest, accused of sexual misconduct with a 14-year-old boy more than 30 years ago, revealed that he had two gay affairs during a prior leave of absence.
"Being gay doesn't mean you're a pedophile," Rev. D. George Spagnolia, 64, told reporters after acknowledging the affairs. "I am saying, yes, I have had gay relationships, but I have never harmed a child."
Spagnolia, who has said he'll fight to clear his name, has decided not to oppose being placed on administrative leave from his parish in Lowell, Mass.