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CURRENT ISSUE:  October 3, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 17Oakland, CA

Pope to consider excluding gay men
from seminaries and priesthood

VATICAN CITY—New rules that would bar gay men from the Roman Catholic priesthood have been submitted to Pope Benedict XVI, but they lack final approval, according to a Vatican official.

Prepared by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, which has oversight of seminaries, the guidelines are based on long-standing Church teaching, repeated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that homosexuality is an “objectively disordered” inclination.

Critics, however, say homosexuality should be a non-issue since all priests—gay or straight—are called to celibacy. Some accuse the Church of using gay men as a scapegoat for the clergy sexual abuse scandal.
A Vatican official, speaking to RNS on the condition of anonymity because Vatican policy prohibits public discussion of internal matters, confirmed that a document containing the new regulations had been submitted to the pope for final approval.

However, he stressed that the document could still be returned to the Congregation for revision. If that happened, its publication could be years away.

A Sept. 22 report in The New York Times quoted an unnamed “church official” as saying the document’s release was imminent and it was not a question of “if it will be published, but when.”

The Catholic World News (CWN) agency reported earlier that the pope had already approved the guidelines in the form of an “instruction,” signed by the Congregation’s top two officials, Cardinal Xenon Grocholewki and Archbishop Michael Miller, an American.

The official who spoke to RNS called the CWN report “fabricated,” describing it as an effort to pressure the Vatican to release the long-awaited document.

If issued, the worldwide guidelines would be the Church’s most definitive instruction on homosexuality in the priesthood, and would apply to all Catholic seminaries.

Work on the document began in 2001 at the request of the late Pope John Paul II amid concerns that gay seminarians were struggling to maintain their vows of celibacy in exclusively all-male environments. Since then, numerous published reports have claimed release of the document was imminent.

Current speculation about the document’s release comes as the Church begins a nationwide investigation of 229 U.S. seminaries. Referred to as an “Apostolic Visitation,” the probe was requested by American bishops in 2002 out of concern that inadequate seminary training was partly to blame for the child sex abuse crisis.

A 12-page working paper, or “Instrumentum Laboris,” directs investigators to review behavior inside the seminaries, including alcohol, Internet and television use as well as “evidence of homosexuality” and “particular friendships” among seminarians.

Both the U.S. investigation and the worldwide guidelines reflect Church teaching that has been in place for decades, but seldom enforced. In 1961, the Sacred Congregation for Religious, a Vatican department in charge of religious orders, recommended that “those affected by the perverse inclination to homosexuality or pederasty should be excluded from religious vows and ordination.”

In December 2002, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments weighed in on the issue. Responding to a query from an unidentified bishop, then-prefect Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez called the ordination of gay men “very risky.”

“A homosexual person or someone with homosexual tendencies is not, therefore, suitable to receive the sacrament of holy orders,” Estevez wrote in a letter that appeared in the congregation’s publication, “Notitiae.”

Observers note that the severity of the ban will hinge on how far the document goes in defining homosexuality, and whether chaste priests who admit to having homosexual impulses—but not actions—would be tolerated.

Given the volatility of the issue, some have wondered if the pope will actually sign the document or simply let the guidelines be issued by the Congregation for Education without his official endorsement. If Pope Benedict personally signed off on the guidelines—an endorsement known as “in forma specifica”—it would make the document’s teaching more difficult to reverse.

Under the new rules, gay men who have already been ordained would presumably be allowed to continue working as priests. Although some fear that Church leaders are intent on routing all gay men from the priesthood, others say the Church is aware that this would raise problems, for instance in judging the legitimacy of past sacramental acts by a priest whose ordination was later declared invalid.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, which works with gay Catholics, said the Church should instead remove bishops whose “cowardice, secrecy and dishonesty” sheltered abusive priests.

“Leaders with these moral faults do much more damage to the Church than gay priests ever could,” DeBernardo said.


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