Posted December 2, 2005
Bishops, seminary officials react to
document on gays and priesthood
By Agostino Bono
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) A Vatican document putting restrictions on admitting
homosexuals to seminaries and ordaining them to the priesthood has drawn
both praise and criticism from U.S. bishops and seminary officials.
While some praised it as a reaffirmation of church teaching on sexual
morality and the need to assure the commitment to celibacy by candidates to
the Latin-rite priesthood, others said the document is also hurtful to
priests and seminarians who are homosexual and celibate.
Several bishops and seminary administrators said that the criteria in the
Vatican document about judging homosexuals is already compatible with what
is being done in the United States and noted that the document does not
offer any specific procedures for screening seminarians, leaving bishops and
religious superiors with flexibility in applying the criteria.
The document, called an instruction, was issued by the Vatican Congregation
for Catholic Education Nov. 29. It said that the church cannot allow
priestly ordination of men who are active homosexuals, who have
"deep-seated" homosexual tendencies or who support the "gay culture."
Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Garcia of Sacramento, Calif., said that
screening processes and procedures for discerning people with sexual
problems have toughened since the clergy child sex abuse crisis erupted in
the U.S. church in 2002.
These procedures include a second evaluation several years after a candidate
has entered the seminary, he told Catholic News Service.
Bishop Garcia is a former professor and dean of students at two seminaries.
Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George in a prepared statement said that the
document's criteria is "entirely consistent with the teaching of the church
for the past 2,000 years. To portray the instruction as 'gay bashing' or
'gay banning' is to misrepresent it."
Father Robert Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests
Councils, said the document "is very hurtful to priests who are celibate and
The Vatican instruction says that homosexuality impedes their ministry and
that they would have trouble relating to men and women, Father Silva told
Dominican Father Charles Bouchard, president of Aquinas Institute of
Theology in St. Louis, said that he agrees with the criteria in the document
but the tone is "needlessly offensive" to seminarians and priests who are
homosexuals and celibate.
"It has raised doubts about their vocation," he told CNS.
At the same time, "there is no new teaching or norms in the document," said
"Twenty years ago we wouldn't accept homosexual candidates as described in
the document," he added.
Father Bouchard said that a weakness of the document is that it focuses on
homosexuals without pointing out that there also are strict requirements for
heterosexual candidates who would have problems with celibacy.
"It almost makes it sound like, 'If you are a heterosexual, you are home
free in the seminary.' And that is not the case," he said.
Dominican Father John Farren, rector of St. John's Seminary operated by the
Boston Archdiocese, said that the document does not put into doubt the
vocation of a seminarian with a homosexual tendency.
"It says the vocation needs to be considered fairly and honestly. Each
individual has to be judged on the merits of his own case," he told CNS.
Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNS that the document has to be
understood within the context of criteria applied to all seminarians aimed
at producing well-integrated personalities ready for church service and
aimed at "screening out persons oriented in ways that cloud their ministry."
If a candidate "has a deep-seated heterosexual impediment" to ministry, he
should also be excluded, said Bishop Skylstad.
In a prepared statement, Bishop Skylstad agreed with the restrictions
contained in the Vatican document and called it "timely" and an expression
of "Christian realism about what is expected in candidates for the
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee, former rector of the North
American College in Rome for U.S. seminarians, said that a homosexual who
exhibits none of the criteria opposed by the Vatican document and feels he
may have a vocation "shouldn't be discouraged" from becoming a seminarian.
He told CNS that it is often hard to judge if a person has "deep-seated"
homosexual tendencies and noted that the Vatican document offers no
definition or specific way of determining this.
Discerning such a tendency is a delicate task that needs to be done in
confidential sessions that seminarians have with their spiritual directors
and confessors, he said.
One sign of this tendency is "someone constantly plagued by temptations,"
said Archbishop Dolan.
Several other bishops said that homosexual orientation alone would not
disqualify a priesthood candidate.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark of Rochester, N.Y., said in a prepared statement
that the main issue in judging whether a seminarian can live a celibate life
is "sexual maturity, not sexual orientation."
Any candidate who meets the requirements for ordination is accepted
"regardless of orientation," he said.
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., said that in his diocese "priests
with homosexual orientation have exercised their priestly ministry in a
chaste, faithful, loving and pastorally effective manner."
The Albany Diocese "will continue to assess each candidate on his ability to
measure up to all the expectations of an affectively mature person and
public minister of the church," he said in a prepared statement.
Several people said, however, that seminary and priestly life presents more
dangers to a homosexual than a heterosexual.
"The heterosexual man who enters the seminary does not enter a school with
attractive young women," said Bishop John M. Darcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend,
"The homosexual candidate, however, is forced to live closely with other
males. In fact, he will live most of his life with males," he said in a
prepared statement. "This is not fair to him for his spiritual growth."
Agreeing with the bishop was Father Richard John Neuhaus, editor in chief of
the monthly magazine First Things and a New York archdiocesan priest.
"The all-male environment of a seminary is not only a great risk but also an
enormous burden" on a homosexual, he told CNS.
The issuing of the document by the Vatican "is clearly a sign that a number
of priests and seminarians are not living according to church teaching," he
Bishop D'Arcy, who was seminary spiritual director for 15 years, said one of
the reasons for a focus on homosexuality and the priesthood is the clergy
child sex abuse crisis.
He said that a 2004 statistical study commissioned by the U.S. bishops'
National Review Board "found that 81 percent of the abuse took place against
males" and that "a large number of victims were post-pubescent males."
This means that "a large portion of clergy sex abuse did not involve
pedophilia," said Bishop D'Arcy.
Bishop Skylstad said that there is "no empirical evidence" that
homosexuality in the priesthood is directly responsible for the sex abuse
He said that is why the bishops support a "causes and context" study of the
crisis to better understand sexual tendencies that could be risk factors.
The study is expected to be completed in three years.