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In denial about not ordaining homosexuals?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Sep 18, 2018

I won’t bore you with the details, but every time the Vatican issues an instruction stating that those with clear homosexual tendencies should not be admitted to the priesthood, there follows a plethora of articles—including some in L’Osservatore Romano itself—in which the writers fall all over themselves to make sure that we understand that there must be (undoubtedly frequent) exceptions to every rule.

Now, I invite you to compare this with one response to my recent commentary proposing Five things every Catholic can do to end the abuse crisis. I argued that “the root cause of the abuse crisis is our distorted view of human sexuality” and “the specific cause of the crisis is the combination of such disordered affectivity with the widespread denial that homosexual inclinations are fundamentally disordered, and that homosexual acts are fundamentally evil.” And further:

One cannot credibly hide its [the abuse crisis’s] homosexual character by subdividing homosexual behavior into target age groups and obfuscating its reality with clinical names. One cannot credibly refer to “clerical abuse” in general today (as the secular press would like to do) without identifying its overwhelming homosexual nature.

Our readers are generally solid on these points, but a few contrary voices opined that I had cast far too wide a net, that homosexuals were not necessarily or even largely “pedophile monsters”, and therefore my assessment was grossly unfair. These comments arrived complete with references to all the gay men the correspondents knew who were in long-term relationships with other gay men of similar age.

Fallacies upon fallacies

Before proceeding to the Church’s repeated rulings on this question, I would like to clear away three other fallacies which lie at the root of this challenge, a challenge which is more emotional than analytical, and more culturally-conditioned than genuinely emotional.

  • Fallacy 1: Unprovable Assumptions: When we see gay men in what we might call committed equal relationships, this tells us nothing about other manifestations of their fundamentally disordered affectivity, manifestations which may be deliberately kept dark. This is true of any situation, of course, but it is far more significant when we are dealing with people who are deliberately indulging a truly disordered affectivity of any kind, especially in a culture which condemns as deeply unfair the restriction of consensual fulfillment of any form of sexual desire. (In any case, it is fair to say at least that a strong connection between homosexuality and pedophilia has been recognized for millennia.)
  • Fallacy 2: Cultural-Conditioning: Even the righteous indignation over “pedophile monsters” is culturally-conditioned in that it singles out pedophilia alone as distinctively evil. There have been cultures (including ancient Greek culture) in which pedophilia was not considered monstrous in the least. There have also been cultures in which consensual homosexual activity between adults has been considered monstrous. The critical question is neither our instinctive nor our culturally-conditioned emotional response to a behavior but that behavior’s morality or immorality. Nor should our view of sexual morality be exclusively or even primarily dependent on free informed consent.
  • Fallacy 3: The Nature of the Abuse: Contrary to the convenient picture, the abuse crisis is neither both hetero and homosexual, nor primarily a crisis of pedophilia. The overwhelming majority of cases are between priests and older pubescent boys or young men between the ages of about thirteen and eighteen or so, including seminarians, where the “abuse” often continues as consensual homosexual relations, and later manifests itself in active rings of homosexual clergy. But at a certain age, all of this (in our culture) ceases to be classified as abuse. For again, we are preoccupied with consent—lack of consent, the diminished consent of an inferior with a superior, and the “free” consent of those with “fully adult” disordered affectivity.

Interlude: The Very Real Cross of Homosexual Desire

Many readers are uncomfortable with this stress on disordered homosexual affectivity because they fear it masks a total lack of sympathy for those who suffer from it. It does not. I call the attention of readers once again to the very pertinent essay I wrote on this question in 2010: Homosexuality: A Special Call to the Love of God and Man. I urge everyone to read that before making any assumptions.

Those who suffer with this affliction and seek to remain chaste deserve our wholehearted sympathy and support. But what I am considering here is the clerical abuse crisis, its causes, and the path to a resolution. And this path takes us right through the reordering of our culture’s attitudes toward sex, beginning with the nuptial meaning of the human body and the gross distortion of that meaning in both artificial contraception and homosexuality—endemic problems which fuel the particular gay pattern of abuse which has brought the Church to the edge of the cliff, if not rapidly sliding off that edge.

The fourth fallacy

There is a fourth fallacy in objections to my portrayal of the abuse problem, and it is simply this: Those who think my emphasis on homosexuality casts too wide a net either do not realize, or feel constrained to deny, that those with clear homosexual tendencies are not supposed to be admitted to the priesthood in the first place. The Church has not ruled that pedophiles must not be admitted to the seminary. It has ruled—and ruled repeatedly—that those who are clearly afflicted with the disordered affectivity known as homosexuality must be judged to lack a priestly vocation, must be either never admitted to seminary formation or dismissed from it, and must not be ordained. Period.

The modern story of this prohibition, which is still far too widely ignored in practice by those who claim to know better, begins with Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on the priesthood, Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds), on March 25, 1992. The Saint included a significant section on affectivity, connecting it clearly to the theology of the body. This is the contemporary foundation, so I will excerpt the most important passages:

44. Affective maturity presupposes an awareness that love has a central role in human life….
We are speaking of a love that involves the entire person, in all his aspects, physical, psychic and spiritual, and which is expressed in the “nuptial meaning” of the human body, thanks to which a person gives himself to another and takes the other to himself…. We need to be aware that there is a widespread social and cultural atmosphere which “largely reduces human sexuality to the level of something commonplace, since it interprets and lives it in a reductive and impoverished way by linking it solely with the body and with selfish pleasure”….
In such a context, an education for sexuality becomes more difficult but also more urgent. It should be truly and fully personal and therefore should present chastity in a manner that shows appreciation and love for it as a “virtue that develops a person’s authentic maturity and makes him or her capable of respecting and fostering the ‘nuptial meaning’ of the body”.128
Education for responsible love and the affective maturity of the person are totally necessary for those who, like the priest, are called to celibacy, that is, to offer with the grace of the Spirit and the free response of one’s own will the whole of one’s love and care to Jesus Christ and to his Church. In view of the commitment to celibacy, affective maturity should bring to human relationships of serene friendship and deep brotherliness a strong, lively and personal love for Jesus Christ….
Since the charism of celibacy, even when it is genuine and has proved itself, leaves man’s affections and his instinctive impulses intact, candidates to the priesthood need an affective maturity which is prudent, able to renounce anything that is a threat to it, vigilant over both body and spirit, and capable of esteem and respect in interpersonal relationships between men and women.

The Prohibition

Now we turn to the prohibition of admitting to the seminary and to priestly ordination those with a clear homosexual affectivity. In other words, if there is clear evidence of it, this affectivity must be considered grounds for refusal. This contemporary issue was first settled in 2002 in response to a question from a bishop, which was answered on May 16th by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:

Ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood of homosexual men or men with homosexual tendencies is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent and, from the pastoral point of view, very risky. A homosexual person, or one with a homosexual tendency is not, therefore, fit to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Then, clearly reflecting the thought of Pope Saint John Paul II, in the first year of his pontificate Pope Benedict XVI approved an instruction On Priesthood and Those with Homosexual Tendencies issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education (November 2005). This text addressed the question of homosexual affectivity in relation to spiritual fatherhood, ordained ministry, and discernment of the selection of candidates. It is very clear:

[T]his dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly 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.”10
Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem—for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.

A little later, in the section on discernment, the instruction states:

In his discussions with the candidate, the spiritual director must especially point out the demands of the Church concerning priestly chastity and the affective maturity that is characteristic of the priest, as well as help him to discern whether he has the necessary qualities.20 The spiritual director has the obligation to evaluate all the qualities of the candidate’s personality and to make sure that he does not present disturbances of a sexual nature, which are incompatible with the priesthood. If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, as well as his confessor, have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding toward ordination.

The document goes on to say that the candidates for ordination bear a grave responsibility in this matter themselves:

It goes without saying that the candidate himself has the primary responsibility for his own formation.12 He must offer himself trustingly to the discernment of the Church, of the bishop who calls him to orders, of the rector of the seminary, of his spiritual director and of the other seminary educators to whom the bishop or major superior has entrusted the task of forming future priests. It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality in order to proceed, despite everything, toward ordination.

The Rule Today

Despite this ban in 2005, the deliberately-fostered confusion continued to reign and the ban had to be reaffirmed in a letter to the world’s bishops from the Vatican Secretary of State in May of 2008. Apparently, no matter how clearly the Church makes her point on this, a great many culturally-conditioned Churchman cannot believe it is really true. In fact, the situation has been even worse: Despite such rulings, those who are clearly and openly homosexual have been ordained all too often without hiding that reality in any way!

As if this were not enough, in 2016 the Congregation for the Clergy had to make the point yet again. In December of that year, Pope Francis himself ordered the publication of the Congregation’s new “ratio fundamentalis” (fundamental rationale) which guides all of priestly formation. This was a revision of the previous rationale issued in 1985, which in turn had been a revision of the rationale of 1970. This current governing document was issued on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, just under two years ago, and is entitled The Gift of the Priestly Vocation.

In addition to covering the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral dimensions of priestly formation, the Congregation felt it necessary, for obvious reasons, to include specific notes in the “Criteria and Norms” section not only on psychological health (VIII, b.2) but on “Persons with Homosexual Tendencies” (VIII, c). Here, in 2016, the preceding text from the 2005 instruction is quoted nearly verbatim, and with no change in meaning whatsoever (see numbers 199 and 200).


It is important for everyone to realize that the current discipline of the Church, based on acknowledged deeper natural, psychological and theological principles, bans from ordination not only those who engage in homosexual acts but those who have a deep-seated homosexual tendency. I have used the term “clear” to describe such a homosexual tendency because the expressed purpose of the prohibition is to eliminate from consideration anyone who exhibits more than a passing tendency that resolves itself in the normal course of human growth, and that is established to be no longer present in any form several years before ordination even to the diaconate.

I hope that having the relevant texts at one’s fingertips is useful. But in the context of this particular commentary, my aim is call attention to the fourth fallacy of those who argue that I have spread too wide a net in insisting, as a response to the abuse crisis, that homosexuals be eliminated from the priesthood. For the critics seem to have forgotten—or have refused to acknowledge—that homosexuals are prohibited from receiving ordination in the first place.

Surely, then, the refusal to enforce this rule sends exactly the wrong message, and rather deliberately fosters the very atmosphere which the Church officially seeks to eliminate. As both the 2005 instruction and the 2016 ratio fundamentalis state point blank: “One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Dlukenbill2151 - Sep. 19, 2018 10:51 AM ET USA

    Great job, and I agree with Monserrat, great beginning for a book Dr. Mirus.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 19, 2018 9:25 AM ET USA

    Thank you for quoting all the documents. For these regulations to "have teeth" and actually achieve the desired goal, they would have to be paralleled by strict ban on homosexually oriented vocation directors, novice masters, seminary rectors and faculty. And, since the presence of homosexual Catholic bishops is no longer a secret, all such bishops and cardinals should be officially asked to step down from positions of Church authority. Ongoing scandals would perfectly justify the radical steps.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 18, 2018 11:26 PM ET USA

    Jeff, I don’t usually do this but - you’re wrong. The problem is not clerical homosexuals. Right, they should not be there; reality is they are there. ...been there for decades. There is/was knowledge of their presence but never used to confront & remove. In fact, “Gay” subculture was hidden, ignored & given de facto tacit approval. Until full confrontation & removal, the organizational rot will continue. The fact of the accepted “hidden” culture w/ in the Church should give pause. Secrecy is the problem. The prayer and sacrifice part is correct, of course; we have to pray and seek the Holy Spirit.S’s strength and courage to remain steadfast.

  • Posted by: Kansas Girl - Sep. 18, 2018 6:48 PM ET USA

    We need clergymen at every level to band together and publicly demand a cleansing of the Church of all active homosexual clergy and a ban on ordination of men with such proclivities. A public statement by such clergymen would also incite the laity to action. I can see that many laity still wish to deny the reality of sexual deviants in the hierarchy.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 18, 2018 6:10 PM ET USA

    Thanks for gathering all the references in one place.

  • Posted by: tmschroeder2790 - Sep. 18, 2018 5:53 PM ET USA

    This is, as you know well, a pernicious and even deadly issue that divides many peoples and not a few religious orders. Sadly, the evil one often wins today with silence, which stands proxy for assent. Well, silence can no longer be tolerated. The Paulists order, Congregation of Saint Paul, is clearly violating this church teaching. And many others as well, most certainly.

  • Posted by: Montserrat - Sep. 18, 2018 4:47 PM ET USA

    Amen! This is a seminal basis of a book. As Bishop Morlino stated, only a heterosexual male can truly serve in persona Christi. There is a theology behind this that space does not allow to expound.