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Catholic World News News Feature

Vatican document bars gay seminarians November 22, 2005

The full text of a long-awaited Vatican document on the question of admitting homosexual men to the priesthood has been released by an Italian news agency.

The Instruction, issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education and approved by Pope Benedict XVI, affirms that men who identify themselves as homosexuals should not be ordained to the priesthood or admitted to seminary training. (The full text of the Vatican Instruction, in an unofficial English translation, is available on the CWN web site.)

The Vatican document had been the subject of intense speculation since mid-September, when the I Media news agency revealed that Pope Benedict had approved an Instruction barring gay men from the priesthood. (The first English-language report appeared on CWNews.) Later reports indicated that the Instruction would leave some room for men who have homosexual impulses but remain chaste.

In fact, the Instruction indicates that a man who is an active homosexual, has "profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies," or identifies himself as homosexual, should not be ordained or admitted to seminary training. A candidate could be admitted, the Congregation says, if he experienced some same-sex attraction as a "transitory problem" in adolescence, but has demonstrated that he has overcome any homosexual tendencies by remaining chaste for at least 3 years.

In the most basic finding of its study, the Congregation for Catholic Education announces that:

the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.

The Vatican document instructs bishops and religious superiors to use "painstaking discernment" in appraising the candidates for priestly training. Candidates who are identifiably homosexual are not qualified for ordination, the Vatican says. "In the case of a serious doubt in this respect, they must not admit him to ordination," the document states.

The Congregation goes on to say: "The negative consequences that may derive from the Ordination of persons with profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies are by no means to by ignored."

The 5-page Instruction is divided into 3 sections, on "affective maturity and spiritual paternity;" "homosexuality and ordained ministry;" and "the discernment of the suitability of candidates." In an introduction, the Congregation for Catholic Education points out that the document is intended to focus specifically on the question of whether homosexual men are appropriate candidates for priestly ordination.

The first section sketches the Church teaching on the priesthood, noting that candidates for ordination should possess the maturity to have "proper relations with men and women," allowing him to act as a father to the Church community.

The second section outlines the Church's teaching on homosexuality. While homosexual acts are gravely immoral, the document notes, citing the Catechism, in inclination toward homosexuality is not itself immoral. However, that inclination is a disorder, which would disqualify a candidate for the priesthood.

The third and longest section deals with the responsibility of bishops, religious superiors, seminary rectors, and spiritual directors to judge the quality of candidates for the priesthood. Anticipating the argument that homosexual men should have the "right" to priestly ordination, the Congregation notes: "The desire alone to become a priest is not sufficient and there is no right to receive Ordination."

The document stresses that bishops and superiors have a duty to ensure the stability and emotional maturity of seminarians. Even spiritual directors, who may be bound by the secrecy of the confessional, have a moral obligation to dissuade men from pursuing priestly training if they are homosexual, the Vatican says. Candidates themselves are exhorted to be honest, and the document notes that it would be "gravely dishonest if a candidate were to hide his own homosexuality." The Instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education is the first such document released during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. It reflects a long process of study, and testimony from experts in psychology and sacramental and moral theology. The document was circulated among the offices of the Roman Curia in draft form, so that suggestions from various Vatican officials could be incorporated into the final version.

The final Instruction was circulated among the leaders of the Roman Curia on November 9, and to papal nuncios all around the world, to be relayed to national bishops' conferences. Immediately afterward leaked portions of the document began to appear in the Italian media. The daily newspapers Il Giornale and L'Indipendente published excerpts on November 11. The Adista news agency was the first to release the entire text.

The Vatican document, which was scheduled for release in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano on November 29, was released on November 22 by the Adista news agency. (The full text, in Italian, can be found on the Adista web site.) The text was released in the evening, after Vatican offices were closed, but knowledgeable sources acknowledge that the document is authentic.

The 5-page document was approved by Pope Benedict XVI on August 31, and signed on November 4 by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski and Archbishop Michael Miller-- the prefect and secretary, respectively, of the Congregation for Catholic Education. The official date, November 4, is significant: it is the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, the patron of seminarians.

Pope John Paul II had called in 1994 for a study on the admission of homosexual men to the priesthood and seminary training. The document made public today is the product of a long study, and consultation with other Vatican dicasteries and with the world's episcopal conferences.

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