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Seminarians must be capable of celibate life, Pope says February 01, 2005

Candidates for the priesthood must be psychologically capable of living a celibate life, Pope John Paul II has reminded seminary leaders.

In a message to the Congregation for Catholic Education, made public on February 1, the Pope recommends that seminary rectors enlist the help of psychologists in screening candidates for the priesthood. John Paul II urges that seminary officials pay careful attention to the aptitude that young men show for celibate life, and eliminate any candidates for the priesthood who seem clearly unable to fulfill that commitment.

The pressures upon celibate priests are considerable in today's society, the Pope observes. He suggests that "in the light of current social and cultural changes," seminary officials should "avail themselves of the work of competent specialists" in order to select and train candidates for ordination. "At the moment that young men are admitted to the seminary, their suitableness for living a celibate life must be carefully verified," he says, "so that, prior to ordination, they achieve a moral certainty concerning their emotive and sexual maturity." The Pope's message to the Congregation for Catholic Education was addressed to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski. In it he asks the members of that Congregation-- who are meeting in Rome this week-- to reflect seriously on the psychological requirements of the priesthood. The Congregation is due to produce a document on that topic, although no release date has yet been made public.

Two key questions about the forthcoming document are the role of psychological testing that might be required of seminary candidates, and the attitude that seminary officials should take toward applicants who are attracted to members of the same sex.

Psychological tests are routinely used to screen candidates for American seminaries. But in some countries, notably in Latin America, there is considerable resistance against the use of such tests.

As for homosexual candidates, the Church teaches that although a same-sex attraction is disorder, those who experience such an attraction are blameless as long as they resist the temptation to homosexual activity. However, current Vatican policy-- which is widely ignored in some countries-- holds that men who have homosexual tendencies should not be admitted to priestly formation.

"The ordination of homosexual men, or men with homosexual tendencies, to the diaconate or priesthood is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent, and from a pastoral perspective it is very risky," wrote Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez in May 2002. The Chilean cardinal was, at the time, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, which supervises priestly ordination. Now the subject is in the hands of the Congregation for Catholic Education, which is responsible for the training of candidates for ordination.