By John L. Allen Jr.
NCR Rome correspondent
Candidates for the priesthood who are "actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture" cannot be ordained, according to a leaked version of a long-awaited Vatican document on gays in the priesthood.
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"Such people, in fact, find themselves in a situation that seriously obstructs them from properly relating to men and women. The negative consequences that can result from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies should not be obscured," the document states.
"When dealing, instead, with homosexual tendencies that might only be a manifestation of a transitory problem, as, for example, delayed adolescence, these must be clearly overcome at least three years before diaconal ordination," it says.
The document does not apply to already-ordained gay priests.
Issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, the document is set to be officially published on Nov. 29, but a leaked copy appeared Tuesday night on the web site of the Italian news agency Adista.
NCR originally reported the content of the document on Oct. 7, and various news agencies have subsequently provided summaries and quotations.
While clearly rejecting the ordination of persons with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies," the document nevertheless falls short of an outright ban on gay candidates. Aside from making a distinction regarding "transitory" tendencies, the document also specifies that it is still up to bishops and religious superiors to make judgments about whether individual candidates have obtained the "affective maturity" to be priests.
The document states that "it remains understood that the candidate himself is primarily responsible for his own formation."
The document also calls upon priestly candidates to be honest about their sexuality.
"It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality, regardless of everything, to arrive at ordination," it says. "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 and his Church in the ministerial priesthood."
The 1,300-word document is titled "Instruction Concerning The Criteria Of Vocational Discernment Regarding Persons With Homosexual Tendencies In View Of Their Admission To Seminaries And Holy Orders."
One Italian church official has denied that the document amounts to discrimination against gays.
"The word discrimination can be used where there is a right," Monsignor Giuseppe Betori, secretary general of the influential Italian bishops conference, said in a press conference last week. "Vocation is not a right but a gift."
Taking into consideration the "negative consequences that can derive from ordination of priests with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" represents an important part of assessing future candidates for the priesthood, Betori said.
At least some bishops, however, don't see things this way.
In a Nov. 12 column in his diocesan newspaper, Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, New York, wrote, "The fundamental concern of formation for a life of celibate chastity is for sexual maturity, not sexual orientation. Good seminary formation needs to provide an environment in which both heterosexual and homosexual candidates can grow to commit themselves wholeheartedly, even joyfully, to chaste and faithful celibacy."
Addressing himself specifically to gay candidates, Clark wrote: "We try to treat all inquiries fairly. You will be no exception."
Some observers note that because the document does not define what "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" means, rectors and directors of formation may find some "wiggle room" in application.
That seems cold comfort, however, to critics.
"An honest reading of the document shows that the Vatican is simply banning gays," said Jesuit Fr. James Martin. "The ‘application' of the document, even the portion of the document that says that rectors are ultimately responsible for their men, will be meaningless: No emotionally mature gay applicant these days will want to enter."
"The passage that states that gay men per se are cannot ‘correctly' relate to men and women will certainly cause anguish to the many celibate gay priests already working in ministry in the church," Martin said.
Experts on church documents note that this instruction was not explicitly published in forma specifica, which would mean that although a text was prepared by a Vatican office, the pope has invested it with his personal authority. Arguably, therefore, the instruction remains a document of a Vatican agency, and in that sense slightly more open to future revision.
In terms of how absolute the effect of the instruction will be, some canon lawyers point to the similar case offered by recent Vatican rulings on the ordination of men who are coeliacs, meaning wheat-intolerant, or alcoholics.
On August 22, 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a seemingly absolute ban on such candidates, stating, "Given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of the priest, candidates for the priesthood who are affected by celiac disease or suffer from alcoholism or similar conditions may not be admitted to holy orders."
After much reaction and debate, however, the congregation issued a new document on July 24, 2003, which softened the ruling: "Given the centrality of the celebration of the Eucharist in the life of a priest, one must proceed with great caution before admitting to Holy Orders those candidates unable to ingest gluten or alcohol without serious harm," it stated.
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November 23, 2005, National Catholic Reporter