Posted December 1, 2005
Bishop Says Edict Allows Some Gay Priests
U.S. Catholics at Odds Over
Interpretation of Vatican's New Directive
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 30, 2005; Page A01
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said yesterday that
under a new Vatican directive on homosexuality, men with a lasting
attraction to members of the same sex can still be ordained as priests, as
long as they are not "consumed by" their sexual orientation.
Bishop William S. Skylstad's flexible interpretation of the document, which
was officially issued in Rome yesterday, was sharply at odds with the
position of some other U.S. bishops. They said the Vatican intended to bar
all men who have had more than a fleeting, adolescent brush with
William S. Skylstad, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said a
gay priest-to-be must show that he "can minister celibately and chastely."
(By Manuel Balce Ceneta -- Associated Press)
"I think one of the telling sentences in the document is the phrase that the
candidate's entire life of sacred ministry must be 'animated by a gift of
his whole person to the church and by an authentic pastoral charity,' "
Skylstad, the bishop of Spokane, Wash., said in an interview. "If that
becomes paramount in his ministry, even though he might have a homosexual
orientation, then he can minister and he can minister celibately and
Skylstad's comments are the opening salvo in what promises to be a
wide-ranging battle within the U.S. church over the document's
implementation. Bishop John M. D'Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., said
yesterday that Skylstad's interpretation is "simply wrong" -- a rare public
clash among bishops, who usually go to great lengths to preserve an image of
collegiality, even when they disagree.
"I would say yes, absolutely, it does bar anyone whose sexual orientation is
towards one's own sex and it's permanent," D'Arcy said of the document. "I
don't think there's any doubt about it. . . . I don't think we can fuss
around with this."
Although each bishop can apply the document as he sees fit in his diocese,
the fallout could reach thousands of Catholic schools and parishes as gay
men who are considering the priesthood -- and some who have been ordained --
reevaluate their place in the church.
"I think every gay seminarian faces a question of conscience now," said a
33-year-old gay seminarian from New England who requested anonymity because
he has not yet decided whether to leave his seminary. "There's no question
of leaving the church. I'll die a Catholic. The question is whether I can
with integrity be a priest."
The six-page instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education, the
Vatican department in charge of seminaries, was leaked by an Italian news
agency a week ago. But most bishops were silent about it until its official
publication yesterday. As soon as it was released in Rome, many U.S.
dioceses posted statements on their Web sites, and many bishops held news
The document says that "the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons
in question, 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.' "
It adds that men can become priests if their "homosexual tendencies . . .
were only the expression of a transitory problem -- for example, that of an
adolescence not yet superseded." But those whose homosexuality is
deep-seated "find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from
relating correctly to men and women," the official English translation says.
Several prelates, including Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington,
indicated that they will continue to ordain seminarians regardless of sexual
orientation, as long as the candidates are committed to live in celibacy and
to uphold church teachings.
"It is important to look at the whole person. One issue of many that are
looked at in the overall evaluation process is in the area of human
sexuality," McCarrick said in a written statement. "Applicants for the
Archdiocese of Washington must have a demonstrated commitment to living a
chaste life and must fully embrace, through belief and action, the Church's
teachings, including those on human sexuality."
Bishop Says Edict Allows Some Gay Priests
Asked whether that means the archdiocese will still accept gay seminarians,
the cardinal's spokeswoman, Susan Gibbs, said: "We don't anticipate our
admissions policy changing based on the document. There can be people whose
orientation is homosexual if it's not such a strong part of their makeup
that it interferes with their ability to live out church teaching. It's part
of the larger picture we have to look at."
Skylstad took a similar approach. He said the barring of men with
"deep-seated homosexual tendencies" refers to those who are "principally
defined by" or whose "primary identification" is their sexual orientation.
Although the document does not say so, he said, the same implicitly applies
to men who have deep-seated heterosexual impulses.
"Absolutely, it cuts both ways. . . . I think if the orientation dominates
one's personality, whether that be homosexual or heterosexual," then the
candidate is not suitable for ordination, Skylstad said. "You know, a
heterosexual person who cannot live the celibate life in fidelity to his
mission, in fidelity to appropriate boundaries, is not going to be called by
the church to priesthood, either."
The same point was made by Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, N.Y., in a
statement on his Web site; it noted that the Vatican's instruction requires
all candidates for the priesthood to show emotional maturity.
"I must concur, and add that such criteria also would be applied to a
heterosexual man whose sexual behavior would in any way interfere with his
celibate service to the Church and to those to whom he would minister,"
But in Rome, the head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Cardinal
Zenon Grocholewski, said that the problems of homosexual and heterosexual
candidates are not equivalent. Although many people think homosexuality is a
"normal condition of the human person," he told Vatican Radio, it
"absolutely contradicts human anthropology" and violates "natural law."
For the church, denying ordination to gay men is no more discriminatory than
"if a person who suffers from vertigo is not admitted to a school for
astronauts," the cardinal said.
The Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the conservative Catholic journal
First Things, said that "human nature being what it is, those who want to
evade the clear statement of the instruction will have ample opportunities
to seek loopholes, evasions and rationalizations."
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and generally a liberal commentator
on church affairs, agreed.
"Over the next few months we will hear from plenty of canon lawyers and
theologians and bishops, as we have already, arguing, out of a genuine and
compassionate desire to help the church continue to accept celibate gay men
into the priesthood, that the document needs to be interpreted in the most
positive light possible," he said.
"But it is impossible, after reading the Instruction, to escape the fact
that when the Vatican says men with 'deep-seated homosexual tendencies,' it
means what it says."
Special correspondent Sarah Delaney in Rome contributed to this report.