Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P.

by Fr. Alphonse de Valk, C.S.B.


In blatant contradiction to the Vatican's document on "Persons with homosexual tendencies and the priesthood," which explains the dangers of ordaining homosexuals, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe published an article in The Tablet affirming that homosexuals are indeed called by God to be priests. In this article Fr. Alphonse de Valk, C.S.B. responds to Fr. Radcliffe's challenging comments.

Larger Work

Publisher & Date, April 2006

Father Timothy Radcliffe is a former Master-General of the worldwide Dominican Order of Preachers and still carries a lot of "clout." He has the reputation of challenging established ideas. He has done so again in a 1500-word-long article in the magazine The Tablet entitled "Can gays be priests?" (Nov. 26, 2005). He affirms that they can.

The affirmation contradicts the Vatican's document on "Persons with homosexual tendencies and the priesthood," which warns about the risks. So how does Fr. Radcliffe proceed?

He relates how, when he was giving a retreat in Nova Scotia, an anonymous priest sent a note with the question: "Will this document mean that I am not welcome anymore? Does it mean that people like me are second class priests?" He states that he has heard the same question, "in one form or another, all over the world." He then makes this assertion:

A vocation is a call from God. Having worked "with bishops and priests all over the world, I have no doubt that God does call homosexuals to the priesthood, and they are among the most dedicated and impressive priests I have met.

"So no priest who is convinced of his vocation should feel that this document classifies him as a defective priest.

"And we may presume that God will continue to call both homosexuals and heterosexuals to the priesthood because the Church needs the gift of both."

For all practical purposes the discussion ends here. What more is there to say? The remainder is a questioning of two of the document's three points, namely that the Church "cannot admit to the [priesthood] those who (1) are actively homosexual; (2) have deep-seated homosexual tendencies; (3) support the so-called gay culture."

Fr. Radcliffe concedes the validity of point one; active homosexuals are not suitable. Point 2 is disproved because he has already said that there are many good gay priests. He pushes the Church's specific concerns about homosexuality aside by saying it has no more to do with homosexuality than with heterosexuality, because in both cases the priest must reach affective maturity. That is what matters, not "orientation."

As for point 3, what does "gay culture" mean? Yes, seminarians should not frequent gay bars, but at the same time they should not support "a macho subculture filled with heterosexual innuendo" either. Here, again, he pre-empts concerns about homosexuality by referring to possible problems of those who do not have homosexual inclinations.

After a few flippant remarks about not understanding the term "spiritual fatherhood" (he is "not familiar with the concept;" he does not see a "muscular Christianity at the Vatican;" and, anyway, he doesn't see a difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals), he warns against the danger at the seminary of "racialism, misogyny, homophobia," as if to say it is those who oppose the homosexual culture who must be watched.


The article has done a disservice to the Church. Fr. Radcliffe wishes to assure priests who battle homosexual tendencies that they can still be good priests. Fair enough. But he does so by attempting to deconstruct the Vatican warnings, and by whose authority? His own. He knows that God calls homosexuals to the priesthood. He has traveled around the world!

He uses the ambiguous term "gays" without quotation marks as if they were born that way. Later on he hints we can't speak about homosexuals and heterosexuals as if "they are virtually two species of being," yet that is exactly what he does.

When the Vatican explains that its document has been made "more urgent by the current situation," Fr. Radcliffe presumes this refers to the sex-abuse scandals. And it does. But he misses the wider context. Scandals are not causes, they are results. Results of what? Of the justification of homosexuality, a justification which began in earnest 50 years ago with Kinsey and has today blossomed into a massive propaganda campaign in the presses and on the airwaves to tell all of us that the homosexual lifestyle is distinct, normal, natural, "equal to heterosexuality," nay, a gift from God!

In unjustly deriding the Vatican warnings, Fr. Radcliffe has given succor to other detractors. For example, the nineteen Quebec priest dissenters of February 27, 2006 (described elsewhere, see "Vatican document and dissent," pp. 15-17 and quote him and his article as their intellectual authority in denouncing "Rome" and its instructions.

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