August 17 (AP)-- A survey of U.S. clergy has shed new light on the extent of homosexuality in the priesthood, increasingly a subject of debate amid the sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church.

Many Catholic priests say there's a gay subculture in their dioceses, religious orders or seminaries, according to the mail survey, released Friday.

Nineteen percent of respondents questioned said there was "clearly" a gay subculture in their dioceses or religious orders, and 36 percent said there "probably" was. Asked the same question about the seminaries they attended, 15 percent said "clearly" and 26 percent "probably."

Many of the victims of abuse by clergy have been young males, leading some high-ranking Catholics to conclude that actively gay priests are an important aspect of the church's problem. However, experts note there's no evidence that homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to molest children.

The survey of 1,279 priests was conducted last year by researchers at the Catholic University of America. It was reported by Jacqueline Wenger of the Catholic University at a Chicago convention of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, a group of Catholic sociologists.

Wenger and colleague Dean R. Hoge conducted the study for the National Federation of Priests' Councils. Their survey not ask the priests whether they were gay.

Hoge and Wenger wrote that in personal talks with 75 priests ``we heard numerous negative reports about homosexual subcultures in seminaries.'' One priest said he was "shocked," another said that some fellow students were "kind of predators."

The survey also asked about celibacy. Fifty-six percent said marriage should be a matter of personal choice for diocesan priests and 52 percent said the church should welcome back priests who have resigned, whether married or single. But only 12 percent said they'd likely marry if the discipline changed.

The Secretariat for Priestly Life and Ministry at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it had not seen the report.

Homosexuality was not specifically addressed in the policy on sexual abuse the U.S. bishops approved in June, or in the final communique from American cardinals at their April conference at the Vatican.

However, the cardinals said priests ``need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the Church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.''

The U.S. Catholic hierarchy also is planning a review of the nation's seminaries, focusing partly on ``a deeper study of the criteria of suitability of candidates to the priesthood.''

Conservative Catholics contend tolerance toward homosexual priests underlies the current scandals, while gay clergy say they have been unfairly blamed for the situation.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls and Philadelphia's Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua are among those who said this year that men with a homosexual orientation should be kept out of the priesthood.

The Hoge-Wenger survey was mailed to 1,200 randomly selected priests in 44 dioceses, with a 71.5 percent response rate, and 600 men in 45 religious orders, with a 70.2 percent response rate.

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