The Vatican issued new psychological screening guidelines for priesthood candidates on Thursday designed to screen out men with strong homosexual tendencies or an inability to control strong sexual urges.

The Vatican issued the guidelines in a document drawn up to help church leaders weed out candidates with "psychopathic disturbances," said the Vatican.

Highly publicized sex-abuse scandals involving pedophile priests have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in recent years, triggering lawsuits that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements, leading some dioceses to file for bankruptcy protection.

"[The guidelines] became ever more urgent because of the sexual scandals," Monsignor Jean-Louis Brugues, Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican, told reporters in Vatican City.

The document stressed the importance of preventative measures in avoiding future sexual-abuse cases.

"In all too many cases, psychological defects, sometimes of a pathological kind, reveal themselves only after ordination to the priesthood," the guidelines said.

"Detecting defects earlier would help avoid many tragic experiences."

The guidelines in the document said problems like "confused or not yet well-defined" sexual identities need to be addressed.

The document is the second in three years to address questions of the Catholic church following a series of pedophile scandals, most notably a scandal involving the Boston Archdiocese that was made public in 2002.

In January of that year, The Boston Globe reported that former Boston priest John Geoghan had sexually abused more than 130 people since the 1990s. The Boston Archdiocese reassigned him to different parishes rather than removing him from contact with boys, despite being aware of the abuse of other boys at his hands in previous years, the Globe reported.

The church has since apologized for the scandal, and engaged in extensive navel-gazing over its screening processes.

U.S. bishops issued a report in Feb. 2004 on abuse of children by priests over 52 years beginning in 1950. It found that 10,667 people accused priests of child sexual abuse from 1950 through 2002, and more than 17 per cent of the accusers had siblings who were also allegedly abused.

Homosexuality warrants suspension from seminary: Vatican

The new guidelines, which stress that a future priest's seminary training "would have to be interrupted" if he shows "deep-seated homosexual tendencies," reinforce attitudes outlined in earlier literature released by the Vatican in the wake of the scandals.

The Vatican, in a 2005 document, said men with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies shouldn't be ordained, but that those with a "transitory problem" could become priests if they had overcome them for three years. The Vatican considers homosexual activity sinful.

The new guidelines say priests must have a "positive and stable sense of one's masculine identity" and the capacity to "integrate his sexuality in accordance" with the obligation of celibacy.

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Vatican department that prepared the document, said Thursday that homosexuality was "a deviation, an irregularity and a wound" in response to a question about why a man with deep-seated homosexual tendencies could not become a priest, while a man with deep-seated heterosexual urges faced no such restriction.

Homosexuality would not allow priests to carry out their mission properly, he said at a news conference in Vatican City.

Gay rights groups have accused the Church of using homosexuals as scapegoats for the abuse scandals.

The church is struggling to provide enough priests for parishes in many parts of the West because of waning vocations. But Pope Benedict XVI has said it is more important to have good priests than a greater number of priests.

With files from the Associated Press, Reuters