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Posted December 7, 2005

Vatican letter says norms on priesthood must be 'faithfully observed'

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A cover letter accompanying the Vatican's instruction on homosexuality and the priesthood said the new norms must be "faithfully observed" and taken into account in the drafting or updating of each country's seminary guidelines.

The letter also made clear that, while the text does not apply to those already ordained, priests with homosexual tendencies should not have educational roles in seminaries.

The letter from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education went out to bishops in early November along with the nine-page instruction. The instruction was made public Nov. 29 but the cover letter was not; Catholic News Service obtained a copy of the letter.

It was signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the education congregation, and by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, congregation secretary.

The Vatican instruction 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."

The accompanying letter said it should be "clear that the aforementioned norms are to be faithfully observed by all superiors" involved in admission of candidates to the priesthood.

The instruction, the letter said, "does not call into question the validity of the ordination and the situation of priests who, in fact, have been ordained with homosexual tendencies" or of priests who have manifested homosexual tendencies after ordination.

"Like all other priests, they must remember the promise that they made on the day of their ordination, to live perfect chastity in celibacy," the letter said.

Such priests should continue in their ministry, it said, but added: "Because of the particular responsibility of those charged with the formation of future priests, they are not to be appointed as rectors or educators in seminaries."

The letter offered a brief genesis of the instruction, saying the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- headed at the time by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the present pope -- had a key role in its inception and development.

It said that in 1996 the doctrinal congregation invited the education congregation to prepare an instruction on the topic. As the work went forward, the doctrinal congregation "forwarded abundant documentation on the question," it said.

The draft texts were circulated and evaluated by the doctrinal congregation and six other Vatican departments, including those dealing with clergy, sacraments, Eastern churches, evangelization, religious orders and canon law.

Drafts of the instruction were presented at plenary sessions of the education congregation in 1998, 2002 and 2005. The congregation members approved the final version in early February 2005, convinced that it was "helpful and very useful," the letter said.

The letter did not say whether the text had been reviewed by Pope John Paul II, who was too sick to meet with participants of the education congregation plenary last February and who died two months later. Pope Benedict XVI approved the text Aug. 31 and ordered it published.