Archbishop of Montreal defends new HIV screening for seminary applicants

Candidates for the priesthood would not be rejected based on their sexual orientation or the result of a positive HIV test, said Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte at a packed pressed conference Jan. 12 at the archdiocesan center.

The archbishop of Montreal called the press conference to clarify a report, published two days earlier in the local press, that the Grand Seminary of Montreal will screen seminary applicants for HIV, beginning this fall.

In the report, seminary rector Fr. Marcel Demers suggested that the test helped to assess whether an applicant would be able to live a chaste, celibate life, as required of seminarians and priests.

However, at the press conference Cardinal Turcotte underlined that the medical exam is conducted to assure an applicant’s state of health.

A medical exam has always been required from seminary applicants, explained the cardinal. When the criteria for admission were reassessed last spring, it was decided to “adjust the criteria tot he reality of society” and request that prospective candidates undergo a HIV test as part of the medical examination.

Candidates to the priesthood are generally older now, explained the cardinal. The average age of seminarians in 38. Many have had sexual relationships; some have even been married.

If a candidate has HIV, added the cardinal, he must discern, along with diocesan officials, the impact the virus may have on his life as a priest. But it would not necessarily mean that the candidate would be refused entrance tot he seminary, Turcotte emphasized. The same procedure applies regarding the presence of other serious illnesses, life cancer or degenerative diseases, said the cardinal.

“If an illness is present, it will have an important influence on the candidate’s choice in life. We have to examine that carefully,” he said. “The priesthood is not a job, it’s a state of life. It’s an entire life project.”

The cardinal insisted that the HIV test was not being done to determine the sexual orientation of the candidate. “For me, the criteria is not about the man’s sexual orientation,” he said. “It’s how they live their celibacy that’s important,” he insisted.

The Archdiocese of Montreal is not the first to implement such a policy. In Canada, the dioceses of Edmonton and Vancouver also require a test for HIV. As well, many diocese in the United States and Africa require it, said the cardinal.

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