The new document from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education says the church deeply respects homosexuals, but adds that it "cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture."
"Those people find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies," the statement read.
"If instead it is a case of homosexual tendencies that are merely the expression of a transitory problem, for example as in the case of an unfinished adolescence, they must however have been clearly overcome for at least three years before ordination as a deacon."
The new policy booklet is approved by Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2003 described homosexuality as a "troubling moral and social phenomenon." Instruction does not make references to current priests, but is instead directed to people entering seminaries and preparing the ordination.
New gay priest edict widely condemned
VATICAN CITY (By Philip Pullella - Reuters) - A new Vatican document on homosexuality in the Catholic priesthood touched off a storm of criticism on Wednesday from those who say the Church is missing the point and using gays as scapegoats for its sex scandals.
The document, which says the Church can admit those who have clearly overcome homosexual tendencies for at least three years, is due to be released officially next week.
But it said practicing homosexuals and those with "deep-seated" gay tendencies and those who support a gay culture should be barred, a stand which was welcomed by conservatives both in the Catholic Church and in other religions.
Instruction concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies, considering their admission to seminary and to Holy Orders (document on the web site of the Vatican)
"This looks like a diversionary tactic to deflect public attention away from the Vatican's real problem which is child sex abuse by clergy," said Peter Tatchell of the British gay pressure group OutRage!
"The Pope should be tackling pedophiles within the Church, not witch-hunting gay people," he told Reuters.The document re-enforces standing policy that many in the Church believe has not been properly enforced. Its urgency has been highlighted by the 2002 sexual abuse scandal in the United States, where some 80 percent of the victims were boys.
While the Vatican has said the document was drafted to deal with the scandals, some critics saw it as a diversionary tactic.
Gay Catholic Group DignityUSA Challenges Vatican Seminary Admission Instructions
Calls on Seminaries to Continue to Welcome Gay Students
Statement of Debra Weill
Executive Director, DignityUSA
Washington, DC - The leaders of DignityUSA strongly condemn new Vatican admissions instructions which discourage gay men from applying for admission to Catholic seminaries worldwide, citing several problems with the forthcoming communication. The official document, expected early next week, has been reported in the New York Times and other news outlets to advise seminary directors against admitting any candidates for the priesthood "who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.'"
The Vatican continues to erroneously focus on gay men as the cause of the Church sexual abuse crisis while neither addressing the root causes of the crisis nor disciplining in any fashion the bishops who share responsibility for it, instead choosing to issue a blanket repudiation of gay priests and gay seminarians,
These instructions discuss sexual orientation in ways which contradict contemporary understanding of human sexuality and clearly indicate Church leaders are ill-informed on the subject. This willful ignorance of human knowledge about sexuality by anyone claiming to be a moral teacher is morally dishonest and incredibly harmful to the entire Church and must be condemned.
Gay men have served the Church well as priests and bishops since the early days of the Church and will continue to do so. This new instruction will lead to a more secretive, hostile environment in some seminaries and throughout the Church which will be harmful in many ways, including driving gay men even deeper into the closet.
The continuing inability of seminary preparation to help our future priests and bishops integrate an understanding of their own sexuality into a mature
emotional and spiritual life is another example of the Church's adolescent understanding of all sexuality. Catholic seminaries should be looking at the sexual maturity of the seminarian not the sexual orientation and should apply the same criteria to everyone regardless of perceived sexual orientation.
We look to the Church for leadership regarding sexual theology and there is none. The Vatican is taking another misguided, self-destructive step at this
very critical time. The priest shortage is severe not only in America but also in many other countries. Discouraging gay seminarians and telling all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics -- including gay religious and currently ordained priests and bishops -- how little we are valued further harms the entire Church. The Church will lose many good priests and members in the future because of this statement.
In the face of this latest move by the Vatican, we remain hopeful that many Catholic seminaries will continue to admit and provide a welcoming
environment for gay candidates for the priesthood. Many American bishops recognize the outstanding contributions faithful gay priests and bishops have
made and continue to make in service to the Church. We encourage gay men who have been called by God to courageously respond to their calling and apply
for seminary admission. It would be another step backward for our Church if the antiquated Vatican views and fear of human sexuality kept well qualified
and sexually mature gay men from serving the Church as God has called them to serve.
DignityUSA works for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the Church and Society. www.dignityusa.org
"At a time when the Church should be taking responsibility for the harm created by a devastating sex abuse scandal, they are instead using gay people as scapegoats," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a U.S. gay rights group.
"This decree is a diversion that neither keeps children safe nor holds criminals responsible," he said.
Conservative Catholics have cheered the document, as did some sectors of the Anglican Church, which itself has been split by over the issue of ordaining openly gay clergy.
"That's a policy that we have been promoting and that we support whole-heartedly," said Canon Tunde Popoola, director of communications for the Anglican Church of Nigeria. "It gladdens my heart to hear others coming up with such a policy."
But Father Tom Reese, a U.S. Jesuit scholar and author, said the Vatican had not necessarily done its homework on the issue.
"The Vatican is making decisions about the appropriateness of ordaining homosexuals in total ignorance of how many current priests are homosexuals, how well they observe celibacy and how well they do ministry," he said.
Reese, who lost his job as editor of the U.S. Jesuit weekly America because the journal displeased Pope Benedict, said the Vatican appeared to be missing the point.
"If someone is called to the priesthood by God but denied it by church officials, then it is not a violation of a human right, it is a violation of a divine right--the right of God to call whomever he chooses to the priesthood," he said.
The document does not affect those men who are already priests, but some said it could hurt future vocations.
"If these regulations had previously existed, many existing archbishops and cardinals would have never been allowed to enter the priesthood .... this edict is pure hypocrisy," said Tatchell. "The Church will not survive without its gay clergy."
The document, an "instruction" by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education which has been approved by the Pope, distinguishes between "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies and what it calls "the expression of a transitory problem."
But John Allen, a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter in the United States, said this would give seminary directors latitude to continue to make individual judgments.
"Canon (Church) lawyers have told me you can slice and dice this thing a thousand different ways," Allen said.
(additional reporting by Estelle Shirborn in Lagos and Paul Majendie in
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"We're not exactly in a buyer's market here," the Rev. James Bretske, chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco, said this week. "If you're not going to ordain gay men and not going to ordain married men and not going to ordain women, well then, who's left?"
Valid point, says Ted Schmidt, editor of the progressive Catholic New Times newspaper in Toronto: "We're fishing in an overfished pool and some of the fish we have are jumping out."
The major reason the church doesn't have enough clergy is the requirement of celibacy, he says.
"It doesn't work and it has never worked. It is the elephant in the sacristy, the biggest hypocrisy of the church. Celibacy is an impressive ascetic discipline, but it has to be a choice."
Only those prepared to undergo three years of celibacy to prove their same-sex "tendencies" were "transitory," or "a case of unfinished adolescence," will now be ordained, according to the directive, which appeared on an Italian Catholic website this week.
Calling homosexuality "intrinsically disordered," it explicitly bars those "who are actively homosexual, have deeply rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called `gay culture.'"
It also says those who "hide" their orientation are "gravely dishonest."
The language of the instruction is deeply offensive to Roger LaRade, a gay former Jesuit priest who is about to become a bishop with the Eucharistic Catholic Church (which is not in communion with Rome).
"If you are a self-affirming homosexual with a vocation, you are being told you are disordered and have to recant," he says, adding that "self-affirming" does not automatically mean sexually active.
When LaRade was a seminarian, he came out to his classmates. "Were the supportive ones what they mean by a `gay subculture'?" he asks dryly. The question was left unasked by his bishop when he was approved for ordination.
Only when he became a priest and university chaplain, a "representative of church teachings," did LaRade experience a crisis of conscience. He could not stay silent about his orientation, he says, and chose to leave the church, though not the faith.
Although the new directive isn't retroactive, "what is it saying to the already ordained? This is so damaging, so hurtful," he says. "It will lead to more secrecy, self-doubt and neurosis."
Analysts say the instruction is in line with official church teaching, if not practice. A 1961 Vatican instruction prohibits all homosexually inclined men, whether the tendency is transitory or deeply rooted, from becoming priests.
It was widely ignored.
Former priest Martin Rovers, now a psychologist teaching pastoral studies at Ottawa's Saint-Paul University, is willing to defend, in part, the directive. Work on it began with John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI approved it.
"In 1961, a gay man couldn't be ordained period," says Rovers. "Now, you are welcome if you are celibate, and not openly espousing the lifestyle, not seen in a gay parade. I see it as opening the door, not closing it."
Rovers is the author of Who's in the Seminary? His 1996 examination of 206 Canadian seminarians found 25 per cent ("perhaps a bit more") were gay or bisexual. He argues the directive should not be aimed solely at gay clergy.
"That is scapegoating. The church needs to update its psychology. Orientation is not a choice, and the percentage of pedophiles is the same in hetero- and homosexuals. The issue is celibacy. So it should say that heterosexuals also should live celibate for three years before ordination."
Neither the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops nor the Toronto archdiocese would comment before the new instruction is officially released and translated. Some American church officials, reacting to earlier leaked versions, say they will not change how they evaluate those with a priestly vocation.
Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, N.Y., says he'll continue to consider gay young men: "We treat all inquiries fairly. You will be no exception." Echoing other commentators this week, he said the key for a life of celibacy is "sexual maturity, not sexual orientation."
Last month, Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote in his Spokane diocese newsletter: "There are many 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."
Do remarks like these mean flexibility will be allowed at the diocese level?
Yes, says Ted Schmidt: "Some bishops are gay themselves."
No, says Roger LaRade: "There is always wiggle room in how a directive is implemented. But this one says seminary spiritual directors have a `duty to dissuade' those with a gay orientation."
Kevin Simpson, past-president of Dignity Canada, a lay Catholic group, asks why devout gays with a priestly calling are to be kept out, "when the higher-ups involved in the scandals are kept in and rewarded? Like Cardinal Law, who was the lightning rod."
Bernard Law was Boston's archbishop, who stepped down in 2002 after facing 500 lawsuits charging him with tolerating sexual transgressions by his clergy. Since 2004, the cardinal has been "archpriest" at Rome's prestigious St. Mary Major Basilica, answerable only to the Pope, at a stipend of $12,000 (U.S.) a month.
Simpson says rigid and entrenched church rules "don't allow for the participation of so many" that there has to be change. Schmidt recalls that in the late 1950s, Pope John XXIII said he knew celibacy was a "terrible burden," and that, "with the flick of my wrist," the requirement could be changed.
"But it didn't need to be changed," says Schmidt. "Back then, the parishes were full of priests. Back then."
Dignity Canada Dignité is Canada's organization of Roman Catholics who are concerned about our church's sexual theology, particularly as it pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.
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