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Posted March 4, 2006

Doctrinal head: Openly gay priests
make it tough to represent Christ

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Cardinal-designate William J. Levada said a priest who publicly announces he is homosexual makes it difficult for people to see the priest as representing Christ, the bridegroom of his bride, the church.

A public declaration of homosexuality places a priest "at odds with the spousal character of love as revealed by God and imaged in humanity," said the U.S. cardinal-designate, who is prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal-designate Levada made his remarks during a Feb. 26 homily as he presided over a Mass for the installation of the new rector of Rome's Pontifical North American College.

In the presence of some 170 seminarians, Msgr. James F. Checchio made a formal profession of faith and promised his fidelity to Catholic Church teaching as he took over as rector of the U.S. seminary in Rome.

In his homily, Cardinal-designate Levada reflected on the challenges priests face today and on the Sunday Scripture readings, which described God's love for his people as the love of a husband for a wife and described Jesus as the bridegroom of the church.

Referring first to "the tragic problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy," the cardinal-designate said, "thanks be to God, it is now possible to say that the measures taken by the bishops on behalf of the church have put into place a comprehensive program of education, prevention and care for victims, as well as measures to ensure that abusive clergy are not returned to ministry."

"One of the more immediate challenges facing seminaries," he said, is the implementation of the Congregation for Catholic Education's November instruction that men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should not be admitted to the seminary or ordained to the priesthood.

The instruction, however, made clear that the church was not questioning the validity of the ordinations of gay men who already are priests.

The cardinal-designate said the instruction "is not directly related to the U.S. sexual abuse crisis, but it is not without relevance for it," insofar as a study commissioned by the U.S. bishops identified homosexual behavior as a component in many clerical sex abuse cases.

Beyond the issue of psychosexual maturity, Cardinal-designate Levada said, "the question also needs to be viewed from its theological perspective," particularly in light of the biblical images of God's spousal relationship with his people and Gospel passages in which Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom.

The doctrinal chief said he wanted to look specifically at "the situation of the gay priest who announces his homosexuality publicly, a few examples of which we have recently heard reported" in reaction to the Vatican document.

"I think we must ask, 'Does such a priest recognize how this act places an obstacle to his ability to represent Christ the bridegroom to his bride, the people of God? Does he not see how his declaration places him at odds with the spousal character of love as revealed by God and imaged in humanity?'" he said.

"Sadly, this provides a good example of the wisdom of the new Vatican instruction," he said.

The cardinal-designate also told the seminarians: "It is important for our people to hear us priests preach and teach about the fundamental character of God's love imprinted upon humanity in the original act of creation: 'God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.'

"It is here that we find the basis for church teaching about marriage and about the family," he said. "It is here, too, that we find the basis for church teaching about homosexuality and the reason why proposals for recognition of homosexual marriage are contrary to sacred Scriptures and the natural law."