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Posted November 30, 2005

Vatican says no ordaining homosexuals,
men who support 'gay culture'

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A long-awaited Vatican document said the church cannot allow priestly ordination of men who are active homosexuals, who have "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies or who support the "gay culture."

Such people have serious problems relating properly to men and women and present a risk of "negative consequences" that should not be underestimated, the document said.

The Vatican published the nine-page instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education Nov. 29 after more than eight years of internal discussion and debate.

The document did not define what it meant by "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies, but contrasted them with the "transitory" problems of adolescence.

Such transitory tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination as a deacon, it said. It did not explain what was meant by "overcome" or how that could be determined.

The document was leaked to the Italian press earlier in November.

In the United States, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement Nov. 29 that the instruction showed a "Christian realism" about what is expected in candidates for the priesthood when it comes to their "affective maturity."

Bishop Skylstad urged bishops and major superiors to have a "prayerful and honest" discussion of the new norms with their priests and seminarians. He also made a point underlined by several other bishops: that many homosexually inclined men are, in fact, good priests.

The Vatican document was signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the education congregation, which prepared the instruction for use by bishops, religious superiors and seminary rectors around the world.

The instruction, dated Nov. 4, was approved Aug. 31 by Pope Benedict XVI, but not in "forma specifica." That means the document carries the authority of the education congregation and does not have precedence over the existing Code of Canon Law, an informed Vatican source said.

In a letter accompanying the document, the Vatican made it clear that the instruction does not challenge the validity of previous ordinations of priests with homosexual tendencies, Vatican sources said.

The Vatican also communicated to bishops and seminary officials that homosexuals are not to be appointed as rectors or educators in seminaries.

"This is a logical consequence of the instruction, that those involved in formation of seminarians should have a personal situation in conformity with the norms," a Vatican official told Catholic News Service.

The document cited the church's teachings that homosexual acts are gravely sinful and that homosexual tendencies are "objectively disordered."

In the light of those teachings, it said, the church, while deeply respecting homosexuals, "cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.'"

"One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies," it said.

"Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem -- for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded," it said.

"Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate," it said. Ordination as a deacon precedes priestly ordination by at least six months.

In an interview with Vatican Radio Nov. 29, Cardinal Grocholewski said "transitory" homosexual problems might include episodes of youthful curiosity, accidental acts related to a state of drunkenness, behavior by someone in prison for many years, or acts committed in order to "please someone in order to obtain favors."

"In such cases, these acts do not originate from a deep-seated tendency but from other transitory circumstances," he said.

The instruction emphasized that the final judgment on ordination of candidates for the priesthood fell to bishops and to major superiors of religious orders. The bishop or major superior must arrive at a "morally certain judgment" on the candidate's qualities, it said.

"In the case of a serious doubt in this regard, he must not admit him to ordination," it said.

The document also said seminary spiritual directors have an important task in discerning the suitability of priesthood candidates. While respecting their relationship of confidentiality with seminarians, they should seek to convince those with "disturbances of a sexual nature" to abandon a priestly vocation, it said.

"If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, as well as his confessor, have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding toward ordination," it said.

The document said the candidate himself also has a primary responsibility for his own formation. It would be "gravely dishonest" for a seminarian to hide his homosexuality in order to reach ordination, it said.

The text urged bishops, bishops' conferences and seminary officials to make sure that the norms are faithfully observed "for the good of the candidates themselves and to guarantee that the church always has suitable priests who are true shepherds according to the heart of Christ."

The document said the need to issue specific norms on admitting homosexuals was "made more urgent by the current situation"; it did not elaborate on that statement.

The full title of the document was "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations With Regard to Persons With Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Sacred Orders."