In Strong Terms, Rome Is to Ban Gays as Priests
By IAN FISHER and LAURIE GOODSTEIN
November 23, 2005
ROME, Nov. 22 - A new Vatican document excludes from the priesthood
most gay men, with few exceptions, banning in strong and specific
language candidates "who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated
homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.' "
The long-awaited document, which has leaked out in sections over
the last few months, was published Tuesday in Italian by an Italian
Catholic Web site, AdistaOnline.it.
The document appears to allow ordination only for candidates who
experienced "transitory" homosexual tendencies that were
"clearly overcome" at least three years before ordination
as a deacon, the last step before priesthood. It does not define
"overcome." Several critics worried that that language
would make it nearly impossible for men who believe their basic
orientation is gay - but who are celibate - to become priests.
The anticipation of the document has divided Catholics, especially
in the United States, igniting contentious debate over whether this
is an appropriate response to the recent sex scandals and whether
celibate gay men can still be good priests.
On both sides of that divide, there was general agreement on Tuesday
night that the document presented a strong deterrent to homosexual
men, but with some limited room for seminaries to make exceptions.
The document puts the onus on bishops, seminary directors and the
spiritual advisers "to evaluate all of the qualities of the
personality and assure that the candidate does not have sexual disorders
that are incompatible with priesthood."
A candidate, in turn, would have to be honest about his sexuality.
"It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his
own homosexuality, regardless of everything, to arrive at ordination,"
the document states. "Such an inauthentic attitude does not
correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty and availability that
must characterize the personality of one who considers himself called
to serve Christ."
Vatican spokesmen refused to comment Tuesday, saying the document
would be published on Nov. 29.
But an Italian reporter, Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican specialist
for Il Giornale who saw the entire document two weeks ago, said
the Adista document matched the one he saw. An anonymous church
official was quoted by The Associated Press as saying the document,
a short five pages with footnotes, was genuine.
While church documents as early as 1961 banned homosexuals from
the priesthood, conservative Catholics complain that the ban has
often been ignored. Some liberals say the priesthood has been enriched,
and amplified in numbers, by gay celibate men.
Thus many conservatives called the document a necessary correction,
saying the number of gay men in seminaries has deterred heterosexual
men from applying.
"I don't think it's anything new or different from the church's
constant teaching, but it's new in the sense that the teaching has
been widely disregarded in seminaries," said the Rev. Joseph
Fessio, editor of Ignatius Press, which published many of Pope Benedict
XVI's books before he was elected last April.
The document draws a clear line at banning active gays, and what
many experts said was a less clear one banning candidates with "deep-seated
homosexual tendencies," while leaving the term undefined. Generally,
it says, homosexuals "find themselves in a situation that seriously
obstructs them from properly relating to men and women."
"It's a clear statement by the Vatican that gay men are not
welcome in seminaries and religious orders," said the Rev.
James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of "In Good Company:
the Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and
Obedience" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000).
"It raises the bar so high that it would be difficult to imagine
gay men feeling encouraged to pursue a life in the priesthood,"
he added. "It's a very stringent set of rules they're applying.
Really the only people that would be able to enter, according to
the document, would be people who had a fleeting homosexual attraction."
Francis DiBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which
advocates the inclusion of gays in the Catholic Church, said, "It
seems that its intent is really to keep homosexuality quiet, to
silence gay priests and gay seminarians." Such secrecy, he
said, will make it even harder to find candidates who are well adjusted
and sexually mature.
But the Rev. Mark Francis, superior general of the Clerics of Saint
Viator, a religious order based in Rome, said the document appeared
to allow the leeway to ordain a candidate who believed he was gay
but also believed he could be celibate.
"You could say, 'I believe I am gay, but that the tendencies
toward being gay are not deep-seated,' " he said. "What
constitutes deep-seated homosexual tendencies?" he said. "How
does one judge that?"
Critics complain that by discouraging gay men from applying, it
will alter the makeup of the priesthood, and possibly reduce its
numbers at a time of an already acute shortage. Supporters maintain,
however, that the priesthood needs to change, though Father Fessio
said he worried whether that would actually happen.
"It depends on whether it's implemented or not," he said.
"Will it be obeyed? I don't know. I've read a lot of documents
in the past that weren't."
The document is marked as signed on Nov. 4 by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski,
prefect for the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican
department that oversees seminaries. It says that on Aug. 31, Benedict
"approved the instruction and ordered its publication."
While the document has been in the works for years, begun under
Pope John Paul II, its release marks one of the most significant
acts in Benedict's seven months as pope.
A doctrinal conservative who served as John Paul's defender of
the faith for two decades, he spoke out before his election against
"filth" in the church, which many observers speculated
was a reference to the need to clean up the church after the scandals
involving sexually abusive priests.
Some critics both in and out of the church have accused the Vatican
of using gay priests as a scapegoat for that scandal, a charge the
church has vigorously denied. Experts have noted that is incorrect
to equate pedophilia with homosexuality.
The document concerns only candidates for the priesthood, not already
ordained priests. But in anticipation of the document's release,
a handful of priests have publicly declared their homosexuality,
and a few bishops and leaders of religious orders have spoken out
in defense of their gay priests.
The president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,
Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., wrote in his diocesan
newspaper in October: "There are many wonderful and excellent
priests in the church who have a gay orientation, are chaste and
celibate, and are very effective ministers of the Gospel. Witch
hunts and gay bashing have no place in the Church."
Bishop Matthew H. Clark, of Rochester, addressing any "gay
young men who are considering a vocation to priesthood," wrote:
"We try to treat all inquiries fairly. You will be no exception."
Ian Fisher reported from Rome for this article, and Laurie Goodstein
from New York. Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome.