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No Gay Priests





Pharsea's commentary is given in orange.

In continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and, in particular, with the decree Optatam totius on priestly formation, the  Congregation for Catholic Education has published various documents to promote an adequate integral formation of future priests, offering guidelines and precise norms concerning its different aspects. The Synod of Bishops in 1990 also reflected on priestly formation in the current circumstances, with the intention of complementing the conciliar teaching on this issue and make it more explicit and incisive in the contemporary world. Following this Synod, Pope John Paul II published the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis.

In light of this rich teaching, the present Instruction does not intend to dwell on all the issues in the affective or sexual realm that require attentive discernment throughout the entire period of formation. It contains norms regarding a particular issue, made more urgent by the current situation,

What "current situation"? The catastrophic shortage of priests? The decay of every aspect of Catholic life in the Northern hemisphere and - increasingly - in Latin America too? The general excellence of the ministry of gay priests? Perhaps the connivance of many bishops in covering-up the priestly child-abuse scandal?

Gay priests are being scapegoated for the clergy sex abuse crisis battering the U.S. Church. I know many gay bishops and priests who are carrying out their vocations admirably, often offering a depth of compassion not always shared in a comparable way by heterosexual priests.
[Thomas J. Gumbleton, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, in "America Magazine" (2002)]

and that is the admission or not to Seminaries and Holy Orders of candidates that have deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

1. Affective maturity and spiritual fatherhood (paternity)

According to the constant Tradition of the Church, only baptized males validly receive sacred Ordination. Through the sacrament of Orders the Holy Spirit configures the candidate, with a new and specific designation, to Jesus Christ: the priest, in fact, sacramentally represents Christ, Head, Shepherd, and Spouse of the Church. Because of this configuration to Christ, the entire life of the sacred minister must be animated by the gift of his entire person to the Church and by authentic pastoral charity.

The candidate for ordained ministry, therefore, must attain affective maturity. Such maturity will allow him to relate properly with men and women, developing in him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood for the ecclesial community that will be entrusted to him.

2. Homosexuality and Ordained Ministry

Since the Second Vatican Council up until today, various documents from the Magisterium - especially the Catechism of the Catholic Church - have confirmed the Church's teaching on homosexuality.
"Confirmed" only in the sense of repeating again and again the same nonsense. No coherent justification or explanation or even excuse has ever been offered. In fact the state of affairs is getting so bad that paganism is being incorporated into the heart of Catholic Doctrine in order to bolster what are otherwise unsustainable positions.
The Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies.
Previous official teaching on a higher level than this document has acknowledged that some people are characteristically homosexual, that they are not just confused heterosexuals with "homosexual tendencies" but in fact "homosexual persons" with a "homosexual orietation". The present document conflicts with this previous and more authoritative teaching.
Regarding acts, it teaches that, in Sacred Scripture, these are presented grave sins.
Chapter and verse, please.
Tradition has always considered them as intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law.
Citation from particular Fathers, please.
Citation from Oecumenical Councils, please.
As a consequence, they can never be approved under any circumstance.
Just like usury, slavery, antisemitism, contraception, worshipping with protestants, and cremation, then?
As regards to deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are present in a certain number of men and women, these also are objectively disordered and are often a trial for such people.
Only because of documents like this pernicious text!
They must be accepted with respect and sensitivity; every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
But "just discrimination" is quite OK, of course. Oh dear, but what could I possibly mean by "just discrimination"?

"It's the worst kind of prejudice. You take one small segment [paedophiles -Ed] and you assume every member of the population has that trait. The catechism says, 'Every sign of unjust discrimination should be avoided'. This is unjust discrimination and once again, it's going against the catechism. The second reason is homophobia: people in the Vatican and bishops who are just afraid of homosexuals. The third reason is a misunderstanding of sexuality and what homosexuality is, and equating it with child abuse. The fourth reason is a desire to find blame.  Anywhere but the bishops. A fifth reason are members of the Catholic right who are homophobic. It allows them to be rid of priests that have always made them uncomfortable and they have never liked, and to find a scapegoat for the crisis." [A Catholic priest: ""]

These persons are called to fulfil God's will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter.
And indeed we do, even when the difficulties and burdens are handed out to us by popes and cardinals and archbishops that "sit in the seat of Moses".
In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, together with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, deems it necessary to clearly affirm that the Church, even while deeply respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to Seminary or Holy Orders those who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.
This text is technically unclear:
  • In previous teaching the distinction was made between homosexual acts and orientation.
  • In this document, following the wording of the Catechism, a distinction is made between homosexual acts and tendencies, with no hint of the idea that someone could "be a homosexual person".
  • It is legitimate to equate tendencies with orientation or "being a homosexual person".
  • It is also legitimate not to do so: after all, none of these terms has been even roughly defined.
    • So: suffering from deep-seeted homosexual tendencies might be a constant battle with barely resisted urges which is a cause of anxiety and stress:

    • this is the line taken by at least three british Bishops;
  • whereas having a homosexual orientation (or having shallow homosexual tendencies) might be
    • possessing a well-integrated and calmly controlled mature sexuality, entirely compatible with the living of a celibate life.
"['suffering from deep-seeted homosexual tendencies'] could also be interpreted as having a permanent homosexual orientation. But this cannot be correct since, as I have said,

there are many excellent priests who are gay and who clearly have a  vocation from God.

Perhaps it is best understood as meaning that someone whose sexual orientation is so central to his self-perception as to be obsessive, dominating his imagination. This would indeed pose questions as to whether he would be able to live happily as a celibate priest. But any heterosexual who was so focused on his sexuality would have problems too. What matters is sexual maturity rather than orientation." [Rev. Timothy Radcliffe OP in The Tablet (November 2005)]

"This document is going to be read very differently by a conservative African Catholic than, for example, a bishop here in Britain. There were a lot of battles over whether to have the document and what the document would say. Presumably this is reflected in the lack of clarity... If the Vatican wanted a ban on gay seminarians, they would have made it clear." [Rev. Timothy Radcliffe OP reported by Brian Murphy, AP religion writer]

"... no one knows for certain what the entirely un-professional term "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" means. It is not a term that appears in psychological literature with any fixed meaning. So it will be interpreted, as is usual in matters vocational, by religious authorities according to what they want it to mean. Some will interpret it to mean "all gay men", some will interpret it to mean "any gay men who seem to have a strong sex drive", some will interpret it to mean "the sort of gay men who I don't like having around". In short, it will make little difference to the arbitrariness with which gay men are treated by the formational structures of the Church, so often at the behest of other gay men." [Rev James Alison (2009)]

      For my comments on this piece see later.
Hence, it is possible to interpret this document as meaning that it is acceptable to be a priest if you "have a homosexual orientation" as long as you don't "suffer from deep-seated homosexual tendencies", whatever these might be.

Now a second question arises: "Did the Vatican mean to introduce this three-fold distinction of 'action', 'deap-seated tendency' and 'orientation'?"

  • I think that they didn't mean to do any such thing!
  • I think that the ambiguity present in this document is a product of carelessness or incompetence.
    • I think that the authors of this text believe that it is impossible for anyone to have a "well-integrated and controlled mature homo-sexuality entirely compatible with the living of a celibate life".
    • However, even if I am right, this will not stop Bishops from making use of. the loophole that the unintentional ambiguity provides them.
It is, however, possible to take another view and think that the ambiguity was intentional. This involves adopting a very low view of Curial Cardinals! On this view, the authors of this document crafted it cunningly, with the following political purposes clearly in view:
  1. Be seen to outlaw gay priests,
    • in order to pacify the Conservatives - possibly including the pope.
  2. In fact do nothing at all,
    • so as not to upset the Liberals
    • and to avoid further depopulating the European seminaries.
Such a scheme would, of course, be deeply dishonest. Its only purpose would be to avoid any blame attaching to them for whatever happens in practice! The flaw in this plan is that it would inevitably become apparent that many Bishops would not implement the strict interpretation of the Instruction. This had already happened by the end of December 2005. The Vatican now has the unenviable choice of either disciplining various Cardinal Archbishops or acquiescing in the fact that their interpretation of the Instruction has become a "probable opinion".
Unless the Vatican issues an "authoritative clarification" of the Instruction, the net effect is going to be almost the opposite of what the conservatives wanted. While they now have an instrument that they can use to justify whatever action they care to take against gay seminarians; the liberals are already responding by making it clear that they welcome gay men - who are willing to embrace 'celebacy' (actually: "sexual continence") - in their seminaries. This means that it will soon be very clear to any gay man wishing to explore a vocation to the priesthood where he will be welcome and where he will not be welcome. The result will inevitably be that gay men who are called to the priesthood will flock to certain bishops and seminaries, leaving others with far fewer applicants. This will, in turn, lead to some diocese experiencing even more difficulties in recruiting priests than others and, in the long-term, pressure on the conservative bishops to moderate their policy.

Evidence of conflict within the Vatican is provided by the text of the cover letter that was circulated to the Bishops alongside this Instruction.

The remainder of my commentary takes the document at face value, on the basis that no significant distinction is to be drawn between a seminarian with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" and one with a "homosexual orientation".

It is good to see that the ex-superior of the English province of the Dominicans knows and is willing to put on the record that "there are many excellent priests who are gay and who clearly have a  vocation from God". I wish that I could agree with the rest of what he says. I think that the intentions of this document are manifest. Jesuitical speculations about how it might be spun are inappropriate - especially from a Dominical! This teaching is not infallible and there is simply no need to ask what the text itself must or can be taken to mean. The only issue is the practical one of what it will in fact be taken to mean and how it will be implemented. The document makes no mention of "deep-seated heterosexual tendencies" and no Vatican document ever will make mention of such. The issue here is not a man's commitment to celibacy, but of his self-identification as definitely being gay.

"[this] has its roots in the stereotype of the gay man who is incapable of controlling himself. Ironically, there's a quote from Cardinal Ratzinger in a 1986 document, 'The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons', that says, 'What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexuals is always and totally compulsive'. So, this notion that gay men can't keep celibate is a stereotype, it goes against the catechism, and against what Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, says... It has to repeated over and over that the vast majority of gay priests, like their heterosexual counterparts, are celibate. I don't know of any in my circle of friends that are sexually active. If they are, they leave."
[A Catholic priest: ""]

Such people, in fact, find themselves in a situation that seriously obstructs them from properly relating to men and women.
Oh really! This is the most absurd, puerile and arrant nonsense. I find no such difficulty at all, whereas it is manifest to me that some of my heterosexual acquaintances have just such a difficulty and do indeed suffer because of it greatly. Not because they are heterosexual - !!what a silly idea!! - but just (surprise, surprise) because they are not perfect individuals, unlike the authors of this drivel who obviously account themselves as having "attained affective maturity, such as allows them to relate properly with men and women, and has developed in them a true sense of spiritual fatherhood for the ecclesial community that is entrusted to them". I suppose that all this sentence means by "properly" is "heterosexually", which makes it trivially true and trivially unimportant.

"There might be a ray of light shining through the publication of this document: I think it brings to light in a very public way the fact that the Vatican really doesn't know what it's talking about when it comes to gay people. We are "seriously obstructed from properly relating to men and women." What the hell is that supposed to mean? To extract but one small example from my own life, I am more comfortable confessing my sexual sins to a gay priest, as it makes it easier for him to properly relate to me in the person of Christ because what I've done doesn't have the potential to interest him quite so much as it might a (turning my own irony on) healthy, well-adjusted, virile, heterosexual priest (turning it off). Lord help us!"
[A female correspondent (November 2005)]

The negative consequences that can result from the Ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies should not be obscured.
So let's have them stated openly. This document proceeds to say nothing on the matter whatsoever!

In the course of time there have been very many celibate priests who felt attracted to other men. A man with a life-long homosexual orientation can still be a very good priest.
[Bishop Niederauer of San Francisco, California, in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, 2006]

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.
Note that the authors of this document can only conceive of "homosexual tendencies" as problematic! What about "heterosexual tendencies that might only be a manifestation of a transitory problem, as, for example, delayed adolescence"? Obviously, this entire mode of thought is silly!

3. The Church's discernment of the suitability of candidates

There are two inseparable aspects of every vocation: the free gift of God and the responsible freedom of man. The vocation is a gift of divine grace, received through the Church, in the Church, and for service of the Church. By responding to the call of God, man offers himself freely to Him in love. The mere desire to become a priest is not sufficient and there is no right to receive sacred Ordination. It rests with the Church - in her responsibility to define the necessary requirements for reception of the Sacraments instituted by Christ - to discern the suitability of the one who wishes to enter the Seminary, to accompany him during the years of formation, and to call him to Holy Orders, if he is judged to possess the required qualities.
Over recent years a very bad job has been done in this regard. The Church is largely staffed by "yes men" who simply do whatever they are told: for fear of the consequences of standing up for what is right. The episcopate and presbyterate is full of relativist-liberal-synchretists with no respect for authentic doctrine or the Apostolic Tradition and no sense of liturgical propriety.

"My question here is who discerns the suitability of those who are discerning everyone else?  Is it men like Cardinal Law? Where was this discerning when he was coming up through the ranks to end up in the biggest scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in America? The clear intent once again is to say that the church must weed out gay men and women, although le5bians are never addressed in this matter, from the process that leads to ordination or reception into a religious community. Does that mean that Fr. Mycal Judge, who gave his life serving God at the World Trade centres should not have been a Priest? What of the gay priests who have died in battles around the world ministering to our nations soldiers? Should they have not been priests?"
[Old Catholic ArchBishop Bruce J. Simpson, OSJB (November 23, 2005)]

The formation of the future priest must articulate, in an essential complementarity, the four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral.
In fact, it has not done, over the last half century at least.
In this context, it is important to recall the particular importance of human formation as the necessary foundation of all formation. To admit a candidate to diaconal Ordination, the Church must verify, among other things, that the candidate for priesthood has attained affective maturity. The call to Orders is the personal responsibility of the Bishop or the General Superior. Keeping in mind the view of those to whom they entrusted the responsibility of formation, the Bishop or General Superior, before admitting the candidate to Ordination, must arrive at a morally certain judgement regarding his qualities. In the case of a serious doubt, he must not admit him to Ordination. The discernment of the vocation and the maturity of the candidate is also the grave duty of the rector and other formators in the Seminary. Before every Ordination, the rector must give his judgement on the qualities of the candidate required by the Church.

In discernment of the suitability for Ordination, the spiritual director has an important task. Even though he is bound by secrecy, he represents the Church in the internal forum. In meetings with the candidate, the spiritual director must clearly recall the Church's demands regarding priestly chastity and the specific affective maturity of the priest, as well as help him discern if he has the necessary qualities. He has the obligation to evaluate all the qualities of the personality and assure that the candidate does not have sexual disorders that are incompatible with priesthood. If a candidate is actively homosexual or shows deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, as well as his confessor, has the duty to dissuade him, in conscience, from proceeding towards Ordination.

The validity of all the above is totally dependent on the unjustified premises implicit in the earlier parts of this text.
It remains understood that the candidate himself is primarily responsible for his own formation. He must offer himself in trust to the discernment of the Church, of the Bishop that calls him to Orders, of the rector of the Seminary, of the spiritual director, and of any other educator in the Seminary to which the Bishop or General Superior has given the task of forming future priests. It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality, regardless of everything, to arrive at ordination.
This is outrageous! This document insists that not only must a man tacitly accept the Magisterium's cruel, un-Christian and unjustified condemnation, but that he is expected to condemn himself when he honestly believes that he is guilty of nothing! It is most gravely unjust and wicked - amounting to material mortal sin on the part of those individuals doing so - for the Magisterium to teach the poisonous doctrine that it does. It is most gravely unjust and wicked - amounting to material mortal sin on the part of those individuals doing so - for the Magisterium to demand that those targeted by this teaching to "out" themselves so that a clearer aim can be taken at them!

"Are we indeed going towards 'Zero-risk Brave New Church'? The thought is horrendous. How do they propose to implement this policy? Depth psycho-analysis, lie detectors, getting confessors to betray the seal of confession, betrayal of the internal forum, summary denunciations, intrigue, blackmail, etc.? I have seen seminaries 'purged' by those who are truly more bent than those they were expelling. The Mafia thrived on Prohibition in America in the 1930's! Such a system would keep the twisted manipulators in and the sincere men out."
[A priestly correspondent (July 2005)]

"... if the criteria of this document are interpreted in a narrow sense to mean that no one who is gay can be ordained, then some seminarians would find themselves to be in an impossible situation. If they speak openly, then they may not be accepted. If they do not, then they are failing in transparency. The danger is that the most honest may therefore leave and the less truthful stay, and so we would form a priesthood that was immature, ill at ease with itself, and more liable to continue abuse. It is therefore most important that these criteria are not interpreted in a way that drives people into concealment. That would actively impede the formation of priests who are affectively mature."
[Rev Timothy Radcliffe OP: in The Tablet  (November 2005)]

I know many priests and bishops who are gay and who are good priests and bishops. In terms of implementing the  Instrumentum Laboris [the goal of which is to] identify and remove same-sex oriented seminarians [I think] that is an impossible objective. One of two things will happen: either you'll find candidates who have so severely repressed their sexuality that they really haven't come to a clear determination whether they're homosexual or heterosexual, they're repressed, and that's very dangerous. People that do that, sooner or later are going to break out, in a sense, and they won't be able to maintain that severe repression that is required all their life - and so you get problems. Or people will not tell the truth, they'll just go deeper into the closet, as they call it, and will evade those kind of questions. So we're still going to be ordaining homosexual people, only they won't be identified, they won't be comfortable with themselves, they won't be at peace with themselves, they'll be living a dishonest life. [Thomas J. Gumbleton, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, in a radio interview (2006)]

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.
For "loyalty and availability" mean "willingness always to do exactly as you are told without any thought or question".


This Congregation reaffirms that it is necessity that Bishops, Superior Generals, and all those responsible carry out an attentive discernment regarding the suitability of candidates to Holy Orders, from the admission to Seminary to Ordination. This discernment must be done in light of a concept of ministerial priesthood that is in conformity with the teaching of the Church. Bishops, Episcopal Conferences, and Superior Generals should assure that the norms of this instruction are faithfully observed for the good of the candidates themselves and to always assure for the Church suitable priests, true shepherds according to the heart of Christ.
My personal experience of Catholic priests in the contemporary Church is that they are
  1. generally philosophically illiterate,
  2. often ill-informed theologically to a degree amounting to material heresy
  3. and have no semblance of piety whatsoever.
Certainly not "true shepherds".
The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, on 31 August 2005, approved this Instruction and ordered its publication.

Rome, 4 November 2005, Memorial of St Charles Borromeo, Patron of Seminaries.

Zenon Card. Grocholewski

+ J. Michael Miller, C.S.B.
Titular Arch. of Vertara

Cover Letter that accompanied the Instruction

The first few paragraphs of this letter seem to be of little interest, however there is a bomb-shell towards the end.
The new document is the result of a long process of preparation. Already in 1996, in fact, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith invited this congregation to prepare an instruction concerning the criteria for the discernment of vocations with reference to those with homosexual tendencies. Subsequently, the same congregation forwarded abundant documentation on the question.

The draft versions of the document were submitted, for examination, to the fathers of this congregation at the plenary sessions held in 1998, 2002 and 2005. Furthermore, the texts were sent for evaluation to the following dicasteries: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. In the plenary assembly of 2005 the fathers approved the instruction, acknowledging it to be helpful and very useful.

The Holy Father Benedict XVI, on Aug. 31, 2005, approved and ordered the publication of the present document, which had been presented to him by the prefect of this congregation.

The instruction is based on the conciliar and post-conciliar texts concerning the priesthood, as well as on those texts that refer to the problem of homosexuality, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The document does not treat all questions in the area of affective maturity and sexuality that require an attentive discernment during the entire period of formation. It only contains norms concerning a specific question, made more urgent by the current situation, and that is: whether to admit to the seminary and to holy orders candidates who 'practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.'

The aforementioned document does not call into question the validity of the ordination and the situation of priests who, in fact, have been ordained with homosexual tendencies or of priests in whom such tendencies have manifested themselves after ordination. Like all other priests, they must remember the promise that they made on the day of their ordination to live perfect chastity in celibacy. They are to continue to exercise their ministry, taking care to live with integrity the mission they have received, in faithfulness to the Gospel and to the magisterium. Because of the particular responsibility of those charged with the formation of future priests, they are not to be appointed as rectors or educators in seminaries.

This paragraph brings to the fore the basic contradiction within the Instruction. It suggests that it is all right for gay men who has been ordained (but by implication shouldn't have been) to continue in his ministry because it is possible for them "to live perfect chastity in celibacy" and "to live with integrity the mission they have received". This is at odds with the premise of the Instruction:
"Such people, in fact, find themselves in a situation that seriously obstructs them from properly relating to men and women."
The only way to avoid this contradiction is to highlight the subtle change in terminology here. In this text of letter the words "deep-seated" are never prepended to "homosexual tendencies", so it can be made out to refer to a wider category of persons than does the Instruction. In which case the following would appear to be the full story:
  • No "practising homosexual" should be ordained.
  • If a "practising homosexual" has been ordained, he should be defrocked.
  • No man of a homosexual orientation should ever be ordained, in any circumstances: no matter what his belief, spirituality or level of psycho-sexual maturity.
  • If a man of a homosexual orientation has been ordained, he should be debarred from any seminary position: no matter what his belief, spirituality or level of psycho-sexual maturity.
  • No man - of any sexuality - who 'supports gay culture' should be ordained.
  • By implication: any priest - of any sexuality - who 'supports gay culture' should be defrocked for heresy.
It should be noted that this letter was not subject to the extensive process of consultation outlined in its own first few paragraphs, but rather was issued personally by its two signatories alone. Hence it tells us more about them and their attitudes than about the "teaching of the Magisterium". Moreover, the difference in terminology between this cover letter and the Instruction suggests what the effect of the extensive consultation: namely an insistence that the Instruction should only address the undefined category of persons who have "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" and should not debar anyone from teaching in seminary.
The Congregation for Catholic Education, in publishing this document, wants to offer bishops, major superiors and all superiors whom it may concern, a useful tool for carrying out an attentive and prudent discernment regarding the suitability of candidates for holy orders, from their admission to the seminary until their ordination. The norms of the instruction, therefore, must be taken into consideration in the drafting or updating of the 'Ratio Institutionis Sacerdotalis' of every country. Moreover, it is clear that the aforementioned norms are to be faithfully observed by all superiors to ensure a suitable preparation of future priests in view of the good both of the candidates themselves and of the church.

The text of the document will be published on Nov. 29, 2005, in L'Osservatore Romano. Until that date, it remains strictly confidential.

Hoping that this latest document will contribute to an even greater improvement of the formative path to holy orders, we willingly take the opportunity to express to you our sentiments of highest esteem, remaining Yours most devotedly in Christ,

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect
Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, secretary

Gland Inquisitor

By William Saletan, Slate's national correspondent (Nov 29 2005)

The Vatican's new policy on gay priests has been leaked. Officially, it proposes the incorrigibility of deeply rooted gay tendencies. Unofficially, it exposes the deeply rooted, incorrigible antigay tendencies of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI. For decades, while moderate clerics defended celibate gay priests, Ratzinger pressed for a purge of homosexuality not merely as an act or a lifestyle but as an orientation. Now he's in charge, and he's got ambitions beyond the church. He wants to cleanse us all, inside and out.

To its credit, the Vatican has sought to incorporate modern psychology and biology in its discussions of homosexuality. The first document to do so was the Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, issued in 1975 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Declaration tentatively accepted that some people were "definitively" gay due to "some kind of innate instinct" for which they weren't "personally responsible." Nevertheless, it maintained that according to scripture, "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." The solution was to separate the involuntary from the voluntary "the inclination from the acts" by helping homosexuals to "overcome" their "condition." Eight years later, the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, acknowledging the role of "physiological or psychological factors" in homosexuality, drew the same conclusion.

But in 1986, the CDF changed its tune. In its Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the CDF said that liberals had twisted the meaning of the Declaration, applying "an overly benign interpretation "to the homosexual condition itself", as opposed to homosexual acts. The condition was the problem, said the Letter: When people "engage in homosexual activity, they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent."

Masquerading as a clarification, the Letter turned the Declaration upside down. On the old view, the inclination was disordered insofar as it tended toward the acts. On the new view, the acts were disordered insofar as they "confirmed" the inclination, and the inclination was "essentially" self-indulgent, regardless of its manifestation in acts. What had happened to the CDF between 1975 and 1986? Ratzinger had taken charge of it. His name, absent from the Declaration, was on the Letter.

But Ratzinger didn't control the whole Vatican, and other departments continued to distinguish homosexual acts from the inclination. In 1990, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes, the first Vatican document on gay priests. It called for the exclusion not of celibate gays but of those who defended a non-celibate life and did "not seem to be able to overcome their homosexual tendencies."

In 1992, Ratzinger upped the ante. In an analysis of Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons, the CDF repeated that "the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder" and extended this principle to civil law. "'Sexual orientation' does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination," said the document. "There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account." The obvious areas were adoption and education, but the CDF sought broader precedents for antigay legislation in housing and employment, noting that "the state may restrict the exercise of rights, for example, in the case of contagious or mentally ill persons."

If homosexual orientation was sick and infectious, why should purification stop at the priesthood? Three months later, Pope John Paul II released the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ratzinger had chaired the Catechism's drafting committee beginning in 1986, the same year he issued the CDF's hard edged Letter. But the Catechism, unlike the Letter, was a six year product of "consultation among all Catholic Bishops, their Episcopal Conferences or Synods, and theological and catechetical institutes". John Paul called it the "symphony of the faith" and the difference showed.

The Catechism dealt with "homosexual acts" and "homosexual tendencies" in separate paragraphs. It framed gay tendencies as a "trial" for their bearers and concluded, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity". This would be hard for them, but it would be morally sufficient. Through "self-mastery" and "prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection," it said.

Other bodies within the hierarchy defended this view against the CDF. In 1995, the Pontifical Council for the Family declared, "A distinction must be made between a tendency that can be innate and acts of homosexuality that 'are intrinsically disordered.'" In 1998, the Congress on Vocations to the Priesthood and to Consecrated Life in Europe said the crucial test for a prospective priest was to be "able to control these weaknesses." The 1998 document, circumventing Ratzinger's 1986 and 1992 pronouncements, invoked the recommendation of the 1990 Directives "to reject not [candidates] who have such tendencies but
rather 'those who cannot manage to control such tendencies.'"

Ratzinger never believed such control was possible. Two years ago, under his signature, the CDF examined Proposals To Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons. It urged governments to "contain" gay unions "to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon." Even in latency, homosexuality, like smallpox, would always be a threat.

Now comes the Instruction Concerning the Criteria of Vocational Discernment Regarding Persons With Homosexual Tendencies, issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education. This is the same Vatican department that said 22 years ago that "homosexuals must be received with understanding and supported in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties." But the new document, unlike the old one, carries Benedict's imprimatur. And its message couldn't be more different.

The Instruction says the church "may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture. The above persons find themselves, in fact, in a situation that gravely obstructs a right way of relating with men and women." It says a would-be priest must be turned away if he "practices homosexuality or presents profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies."

Notice two things. First, deep-rooted "tendencies" are now independent and automatic grounds for dismissal, regardless of whether you "practice" homosexuality or "support" gay culture (whatever that is). Second, even if these tendencies are merely a "situation" in which you "find yourself," they "gravely obstruct" you from relating properly to men and women. Through no fault of your own, you're doomed.

The Catechism's paths to perfection: "self-mastery, chastity, prayer, and grace" no longer suffice. The church won't settle for your self-restraint, even with God's help.

One part of the Instruction permits ordination of priests whose gay tendencies have been "overcome at least three years before ordination." But this rule applies only to immature candidates passing through a "transitory" phase, not those with "deep-rooted" homosexuality. The policy also says it's "gravely dishonest", and therefore disqualifying, to "hide" your homosexuality to get into the priesthood. You're damned if you show it and damned if you don't.

The facile defence of Ratzinger's campaign against gay inclinations in the clergy is that the Catholic sex-abuse scandal proved these inclinations were too dangerous to tolerate. But even if you buy the argument that the abuse stemmed from homosexuality rather than pedophilia and sexual segregation (I don't) it doesn't explain why he targeted gay inclinations in 1986, long before the scandal exploded. Nor is it comforting that his Instruction applies only to priests. As he made clear 13 years ago, if homosexual tendencies are a contagious disease, the infection (and the purge) will go on.

Responses to the document

"The instruction is not saying that men of homosexual orientation are not welcome in the priesthood. But it is making clear that they must be capable of affective maturity, have a capacity for celibacy and not share the values of eroticised gay culture."
[Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor: quoted in the Guardian  Newspaper (30th Nov 2005)]:
I challenge the Cardinal to explain how someone of a "homosexual orientation" can be said not to have "deep-seated homosexual tendencies", without descending to the most deplorable jesuitry?

The Cardinals distinction between "gay culture" (what ever this is - which he seems to think it is OK to support) and "eroticised gay culture" (which is a "no-no") is fascinating, but not in keeping with the document which makes no such distinction. I suppose that its use of the epithet "so-called" might serve the same function. I wonder what would count as OK and what wouldn't? This is simply embarrassing!

On November 29th, 2005, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, said that the document only establishes "behavioural" tests for admission to the priesthood, leaving open the possibility that a homosexual candidate without behavioral difficulties could still be admitted. On the same day, bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, endorsed an intermediate reading saying that the instruction would rule out a candidate "so concerned with homosexual issues that he cannot sincerely represent the church's teaching on sexuality." The question of whether "homosexually inclined men" can be good priests, Skylstad said, therefore depends on how they live and what they teach. He continued: "The answer lies in the lives of those men who, with God's grace, have truly been dedicated priests, seeking each day not to be served but to serve their people, faithfully representing in word and example the teaching of the church in its fullness, including God's revelation that sexual expression is intended only to take place between a husband and a wife in a loving, faithful and life-giving marriage."

The United States Conference of Major Superiors of Men, issued a statement indicating that the aim is "men who are well integrated and psychologically mature, faithful to church teachings, and who posses a clear understanding of the meaning of, as well as the spiritual and emotional capacity to commit to chaste celibacy for life."

Interview with ArchBishop Niederauer of San Francisco

A vocation to priesthood is a call from God to a unique identification with Christ the Priest through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Priesthood is a vocation, not a job. It is meant to be life-long, and meant to engage and fulfil the whole human person. This truth has many implications. One implication is the need for what this document calls "affective maturity"; meaning that all the loving and relating that a priest does must be centred in Christ and consistent with the priest's commitment to Christ and the Church. This kind of single-heartedness does not allow for a relationship in any priest's life that would weaken his commitment to Christ and his Church. 

Another implication of this affective maturity is that every celibate priest needs to be free to relate in a warm, human way to the men, women, and children to whom he ministers, in a manner that is genuine and still consistent with his commitment to Christ the Priest. If any priest has the affective maturity described above, and in the document, then with God's grace, he can effectively minister as a priest. What the Church, the bishop, and the seminary must determine in the course of a priestly candidate's formation is whether the candidate has the gifts of affective maturity, has made them his own, and is living them out faithfully.

Any Catholic priest's identity must be centred in Christ the Priest. Thus, a priest cannot think of himself or present himself as mainly something else: a Democrat, a Republican, an American, a Frenchman, or as someone who has a particular sexual orientation. As important as sexual orientation may be in the structure of human personality, the priest must be principally "of Christ". In addition, it would be inconsistent for the priest and confusing for the Catholic faithful if a priest differs from the Church in any of its moral teachings.

There have been in the course of time very many celibate priests who have felt themselves attracted to other men... a man with a life-long homosexual orientation can still be a very good priest.

Interview with Cardinal Rosales of Manila

On May 21st, 2008, Cardinal Rosales of Manila, speaking on Radio Veritas in the Philippines, said that homosexuals who do not "act out" can be good priests and can be ordained to the priesthood. His statement came immediately after the release of a letter in which Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, confirmed that a Church policy barring homosexuals from priestly training applies to all the world's seminaries. He said that: the Vatican did not intend to ban chaste homosexuals from the seminaries. "A homosexual inclination is not bad but acting it out is an entirely different matter, and that is what is written in the sacred scriptures..

"The Roman Catholic Church is full of gay men at all levels of the church. From the Seminarian to at least two Popes in the 20th century, if not more, were gay. There are multitudes of gay bishops, gay cardinals, and tons of gay priests. If the Vatican is serious about not wanting gay men in the Church, than it should order all of its clergy to undergo testing to determine which clergy are gay. That way, they might be able to free the church of all of the talented, creative, compassionate men that they want. Of course, if they do this, they will close 70% of their parishes and the College of Cardinals will become a mere supper club." [Old Catholic ArchBishop Bruce J. Simpson, OSJB (November 23, 2005)]
"From what I've read, only the most reactionary conservatives are applauding this thing. Several so-called conservative journalists out there (including the once-mentioned-on-this-list David Morrison) have already decried the intent to publish it as ill-informed. I would imagine that there are some folks out there who might be conservative minded and inclined to accept what the Vatican says is true, but who are intelligent and open minded enough that, when they reflect on this document honestly, they might come to question the whole issue of the Church's pronouncements against homosexuals at its roots. I have an uncle in that category who already has." [A lay female correspondent (November 2005)]
The general tone of the Instruction, and the introduction of such ill-defined concepts as the distinction between "transitory" and "deep-rooted" homosexual tendencies, and "support of gay culture," will undoubtedly be as red meat to the true homophobes out there, in the first place intolerant and bigoted bishops and seminary rectors and clerical commentators, such as my old friend Archbishop Maguire, and after them the socially conservative, activist laity. In order to overcome the many, cruel and hateful obstacles that such Catholics will place in their paths, it is excruciating to consider what horrible extremes of deviousness gay men seeking ordination, and gay men already ordained, will now feel tempted to cultivate.
[A lay male correspondent (November 2005)]
"If this is to be the future policy in the Roman Catholic Church, then I throw Benedict XVI a challenge. Extend this new disposition to existing priests and make absolutely no exceptions whatsoever! Purge the Vatican, every single diocese and religious order. Then, having decimated the numbers of priests, get on with a new 'ultra pure' elitist seminary programme - why not put Opus Dei and the 'Legionaries of Christ' in charge, perhaps the SSPX to boot, and really tighten up the screws!!!? Perhaps he could kill the defrocked priests to make certain they will never function as independent priests!"
[A priestly correspondent (July 2005)]

Drivel and hypocrisy are indeed the best words to describe the ''most profound respect'' with which the Vatican Church regularly treats us. This profound disrespect masked with a pretence of love and caring makes me even more angry than the unabashed hatred spouted at us by the Coptic Patriarch, the Mohammedans, the Protestant. Fundamentalists and the Muscovites. The same expression of ''profound respect'' is used in the Catechism and in the JP-II anti-homosexual documents, wherein gay people are accused of recklessly infecting the whole of society with aids, of being guilty of causing our own persecution and discrimination just by the fact that we exist,  and of being fundamentally disordered.

I studied and was ordained in Roma, Italy and believe me - most priests in Italy are gay. I now live in Holland, and most priests here are gay. I have long had the feeling that there are more gay men amongst us european preists than amongst american priests. The crackdown in America is most likely [due to]: a deep-seated protestant and american homphobia in general, and the pedophile scandals for which the bishops will not take any responsibility, the need for scape-goating.

At the Dutch Catholic internet forum Rorate my reaction to a news item was posted in which I deplored the recent Instruction. That was followed by a comment that ''I should re-read the Instruction, as it is not directed at homosexual persons only but at all candidates to the priesthood: both hetero and homo are reminded that they should be able to live a celibate life'', and that the Church's negative characterization of the homosexual  orientation is merely based scientific fact and not meant personally - after all, homosexuals are flawed as human beings in this way, just as others are flawed in other ways. My answer to this comment was not posted. But the Vatican's anti-gay stance is itself flawed and invalid in principle because it is not based on anything scientific. And that we are flawed persons just as the rest of mankind is obvious. What people do not wish to understand, is that the condemnation of our orientation as ''inherently disordered tendency to an evil'' does not make us merely ''flawed like the rest of mankind'', but denigrates and illegitimizes the most basic goal of all human beings: to love and be loved.

I am now no longer being silent. I am telling anyone who will listen precisely what I think of the recent Vatican instruction, even people for whom I celebrate Mass. I realize that I risk being eventually left without any public Masses to celebrate. But I am not incardinated here, receive no stipend from this diocese, and if the people who know me and would like me to continue saying Mass for them will not protest loudly against the injustice of the recent Instruction, then they do not need me as their priest. Nor, in my opinion, do any Catholic Bishops or Faithful deserve the services of a priest whose sexual orientation they are not willing defend. [A priestly correspondent (December 2005)]

Yes, I am bitter. I am even bitter that I am bitter, for, looking back, being bitter most of one's life makes one's life seem a waste. Especially as one finally realises as life is entering its last phase, that this bitterness is probably not going to go away soon enough to matter, and that life did not need to be like this at all.

The cause of my bitterness is not the unfortunate circumstances of my birth and childhood, nor the decades marred by illness (alcoholism): I have survived these things and worked through them.  The lasting ''Causa meae tristitiae" (Cause of my sadness) is the Vatican, which has for several decades now taken captive the Catholic Church, which was and is supposed to be an anchor of certititude, a spiritual home, a source of comfort, hope, strength and joy, a loving Mother reflecting a good and merciful God. Since 1970, I feel caught between the anvil of persecution of the Roman-rite liturgical and spiritual tradition by the Insitution charged to defend and pass on that tradition (something unheard of in the history of mankind), and the hammer of increasing demonisation of the homosexual orientation and those priests and faithful who own it.

And in November 2005 one was made to drink the last bitter drop: the final, utter and public rejection by the Church's Magisterium, which I now choose to call ''the Vatican Church''.  And still I call myself catholic, because, in spite of everything, I know that I belong to the Communion of Saints, a long line of catholic people who believed and  worshipped just as I do, who are awaiting me in Heaven, who better represent the Church than does the post-conciliar Magisterium (the Vatican Church), which has betrayed the Church's Tradition and Spirit, and has sacrificed the Church's gay sons and daughters upon the altar of Moloch.

Suffering for and with the Church can indeed be sweet, because one is suffering for and with one's Holy Mother, Christ's Bride. But suffering because of the Church makes one very bitter indeed, because She is our spiritual Mother, and we cannot defend ourselves against Her. I am working on a solution to this dilemma. I think that it will involve distinguishing between the Vatican Church and the Roman Catholic Church. I read something like this at the gaypriest2 forum.  The solution seems to try to distinguish in my mind and heart and soul between the very human and fallible Vatican Burocracy (which is universally but unjustly referred to as ''The Church''), and the true Church, which is the Communion of Saints, the Mystical Body of Christ, as manifested on earth in the the confession of the orthodox apostolic faith, the celebration of the traditional liturgical rites, and the communion of with the successors of the Apostles and with fellow believers/worshippers. These make up the Church's divine nature.

I must keep reminding myself that the Vatican burocracy is not THE CHURCH, anymore than I am ''THE CHURCH'', The Vatican Burocracy is only a part of The Church - and, as we are now and again during the past 2000 years painfully reminded, not always the best part of the Church. I must keep reinforcing the idea that The Church is not limited to the Vatican burocrats, but surpasses time, space, hierarchical position, the faults and misconceptions of Her members, and is thus big enough and divine enough  to include me as well as all others how identify themselves with Her, in an unavoidable process which will lead to final victory in sptie of the temporary setbacks, which, in cases such as ours, span the whole of our lives.
[Added (February 2006)]

I find the future cardinal Levada's reasoning behind his claims that gay priests who have come out of the closet (!) cannot represent Christ in the liturgy because a gay man cannot play the role of Christ as the Bridegoom for the people of God, who are the Bride, and because paedophile priests are gay, to be based on several fallacies:

  1. That he mentions  the priest who has come out of the closet, reinforces the perceived hypocracy of the hierarchy and puts pressure upon priests not to come out of the closet. Thus, ''we shall tolerate you as long as you pretend that you are straight, otherwise, no''.
  2. Levada calls it a theological reason to exclude gays from the priesthood, becaues only striaght men can represent Christ as the Bridegroom. This is plain grabbing at straws! Does he really believe that a metaphor such as this must be taken literally? The Lady clad with the sun in the Apocalypse is also explained by the Fathers as both a sign of the Blessed Virign, the Mother of God, and the Church, who bears Christ just as Mary did. Thus, if we wish to take things literally, Christ is the bridegroom of His own Mother, the Church which bears Him. This reminds me of the laughable argument that only hetero marriage reflects the Divine Love of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity for each other. It seems to me that gay love would reflect the Love of the Three Divine Persons much better, if we insist upon taking analogies so literally.
  3. there is no proof that most paedophile priests are gay. Indeed it seems more likely that a majority of the paedophile priests are immature straight men who themselves were abused in childhood. It is easier for themselvs - and for the Bishops and the public - to consider them gay, as that offers an easier explanation.
I agree with Bishop Gumbleton. There are many fine gay Bishops and priests. The problem is not their orientation, but the terrible pressure put upon them to constantly hide and deny their orientation because of age-old prejudice and the Vatican's increasingly vicious condemnations of homosexual 'tendencies', and because of the often impossible dilemma caused by obligatory celibacy.  In order to ward of any permanent threat to the preservation of the unmarried state of the cleric, confessors
would regularly advise that to engage in promiscuous sexual activity is a lesser evil rather than to form a stable relationship. Relationships of any kind, even friendship, were (are?) considered dangerous to cultivate in many many clerical ambiences (my own seminary included), and left no other choice to many clerics in need of love, affection and intimacy than to sneak tastes of it in occasional, brief and often anonymous encounters. [Added (March 2006)]
The Church's promulgating rules about gay priests, and investigating of American seminaries are, in my opinion, examples of REACTING. What is the Church reacting to and even SCAPE GOATING? I don't think it is so much a reaction to sexual activity and abuse, which has gone on forever in the Church. Even Saint John Chrysistom complained about it in his day. The reaction, I believe is to the fact that the sexual indisgretions of priests have become public here in a big way, are generally not tolerated well by the American public, and are costing the Church billions of dollars. Since the Church wants to be seen as doing something, it just blames the gays for the whole thing, and makes moves and noises to suggest that it is doing something to correct things by punishing gays.

The reality is that there are more gay priests and seminarians in Europe and Latin America than there are in the United States. This will become evident by even a casual reading of the posts to gay priest's websites in those places. Even after the 'Instrustion,' our Mexican brothers continue to advertise call boy service and 'Orgie Fiestas' on their site, and from European sites, and even in the mass media we learned that there were gay clerics even in Pope John Paul II's household. And Rome does not seem to have come down as hard in those places as it did here. The difference, I believe is TOLERANCE.

Among some Pre-Colombian American people, homosexuals were seen as important members of society, and in Europe the Church itself became a refuge for gays and their lifestyle early on. John Boswell goes into this in some depth in his works.

This would be a wonderful opportunity for our Church leaders to reach out to the faithful, particularly here in the Untied States, to teach a little love and tolerance, and the important contributions continually made by gays - yes even gay priests and religious. Instead it is joining the Conservative Protestant Right, and beating up on the gays in an attempt to divert attention away from its failures of leadership. Just one priest's thought.  [Another priestly correspondent (December 2005)]

"It hits different groups with varying degrees of severity. The worst group is celibate, gay seminarians preparing for ordination. Here are men who have been told for years that they have a legitimate and real vocation to the priesthood who will now be told they are not to be in the seminary. They will be faced with a very difficult choice. Either they will have to leave the seminary and deny their vocation or they will stay in the seminary and lie about being gay.

The next group affected are celibate gay priests who are very hardworking and already being blamed - even though a minuscule percentage are sexual abusers - for the crimes of a few. This group is going to be more demoralized and stigmatized. I think quite a number of them will leave, not because they can't stand the stigma but because with any integrity how can you stay in an organization that tells you it will no longer accept people like you?

Another affected group is men who are gay and considering a vocation. They will, most likely, just not apply. Archbishop O'Brien said that he thinks that even someone who has lived celibately for 10 years should not be ordained, so imagine you're a gay man who has a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. You've been celibate for 10 years and you apply and are told no. There's no way you're going to apply. No self-respecting, healthy person who understands their sexuality as homosexual is going to enter.

The fourth group would be Catholic gays and le5bians for whom this will be another slap in the face. They are basically being told they can't live celibately. If they're living in an environment that is designed to be supportive of celibacy and are being told they can't live celibately, then what hope is there for the regular gay person? I think they'll also see it as another affront.

Finally, you have the regular Catholic lay people who accept and know their gay priests and see them as loving, holy and dedicated men. They will be angry that their priests are being treated like this and will find in a couple of years even fewer priests since priests will leave the priesthood and seminary or will simply not apply. I think it's going to an utter disaster for the Church.

It will also drive underground any discussion of sexuality in the seminaries. If you do have a seminarian who is gay he is not going to discuss his sexuality in any healthy way and it will create this unhealthy environment which gave rise to the environment of the sexual abuse crisis. That's not to say that not talking about your sexuality makes you a pedophile but it makes it harder to weed people out like that and makes it more difficult for people to lead emotionally mature and psychologically healthy and integrated lives. The best way to screw up a person's sexuality is to tell him he can never talk about it, he should be afraid to talk about it, or if he does talk about it, he'll be punished - because of this silencing and the inability of gay priests to speak openly about their experience - the only model of the gay priest that the people in the Vatican and in the public see is the sexually abusive priest. It's not surprising that they would draw this conclusion that we have to get rid of the gay priests. Unfortunately, they are not looking at the vast majority of gay priests. It's the worst kind of prejudice."
[A gay Catholic priest: ""]

"The wording of the text is significant. It presumes that homosexuality is not a permanent identity but a set of 'tendencies' or an inclination that can, in fact, be overcome. But the instruction makes no attempt to define the difference between 'deeply rooted' or 'transitory' tendencies. Nor does it say what criteria would be used to determine whether a candidate had overcome such tendencies. Further, the text does not spell out who should determine whether a candidate for the priesthood has homosexual tendencies. It says not a word about psychological testing of seminary applicants, which is another key and controversial issue at the Vatican. In fact, in late 2002 the education congregation was concluding work on a separate document on psychological testing in seminaries. But that text disappeared from the radar, and congregation officials today refuse to comment on its status.

The new text addresses exclusively the question of homosexuality. That bothered some people even inside the Vatican. 'They should have written a more general document on self-control or on chastity', said one bishop who advises the Vatican on doctrinal and other issues. 'This instruction says very valid things, but there are many temptations or instincts that need to be controlled before ordination', he said. 'Instead, they have written an instruction that singles out homosexuals, which can create misunderstandings.' The bishop said it was clear the Vatican was not taking a 'don't ask, don't tell' attitude on homosexuality. The document urges bishops and seminary officials to 'be vigilant' in applying the norms, which underlines that the Vatican is serious about this, he said.

Three years ago, in the first story published about the Vatican document, Vatican officials described its content in much the same terms to Catholic News Service. Why did it take so long for the document to appear? 'The core of the document never changed, even as the text evolved', the education congregation official said. 'Initial drafts took a wider view, saying much more about homosexuality in general. But after the complexity of the question was seen, it was decided to stick to the essential question of ordination', he said."
[John Thavis, Catholic News Service]

A protest from a heterosexual Catholic Priest

It is estimated that anywhere from 15 to 45 percent of ordained Roman clergy in the United States are homosexuals. The vast majority of these men are dedicated, hard-working individuals who have given their lives to Christ and his church. There is no proof that their struggles with celibacy are any more difficult than any of their brother priests. Archbishop O'Brien states that there is a danger in having them in an all male environment where the temptation would be too great for them. Using that logic, since most parishes have all female staffs, heterosexual men would be bad candidates because women surround them all day.

Priests fall in love. It is simply a fact of life. I have and others have and you simply pray for the grace of God to know what to do. That dilemma has lead nearly ten thousand men to leave the priesthood in the United States in the last forty years. The conferral of the Sacrament of Holy Orders is not a magic bullet that eliminates human emotion or desire. If anything it should open the human heart to the deeper realities of love. Celibacy is a choice made, not a mystical gift of the Spirit that makes it easier to be isolated or alone.

Homosexuals are no different in this than heterosexuals; in the words of St. Thomas, human beings are made to love. However, since the language of the Church recognizes that homosexuality itself is "intrinsically disordered," this must mean that they are unsuitable for the priesthood. Well, we are all intrinsically disordered; we have all been touched by original sin and will never be fully whole until we achieve perfect union with Christ.

If the Church pursues its present course in this matter how far can we, should we take it? Should we ban any individual that may have had a sexual relationship in their life? Archbishop O'Brien has said even homosexual men who haven't been active should be banned. Do we remove the men, who may be homosexual, who have already been ordained? Those individuals would obviously present a threat. In one brief statement the Archbishop has managed to insult and devalue all those men in active ministry who have been celibate and faithful to the teaching of the Church. And if they are truly looking for the root causes of the scandal then perhaps they should dissect a dysfunctional and top-heavy organization that has tried to protect its reputation more than it tried to protect its children.

Not an easy reality to face but one that has to be addressed. To use any group of individuals as scapegoats, ban them from the Church, and then say we are all better now simply won't work.

There was an old saying in the Church: error has no rights. Whenever the Church found itself in positions of power it has pulled this concept out to defend its position. Now it must realize that the saying applies to the Church too. The responsibility for the crisis cannot be swept under the rug or shifted to a "homosexual subculture" whether one exists or not.

I am not a major advocate of gay rights. However, I cannot stand by and watch the Church use homosexuals as a scapegoat for a scandal that had more to do with ignorant or arrogant prelates. The hierarchy of the Church was fully informed to the depth and nature of this scandal almost 20 years ago. In the early 90's they had to deal with this scandal and the National Bishops Conference assured people that it was taken care of. No one in a position of power in the Catholic Church can say that they didn't know. After 1992 the people who had the priest personnel files did know and simply did little or nothing that was effective. It appears now that they may have found a different way to shift the blame: ban homosexuals and we can get back to having a safe church. If they go through with this they may find that they will lose much more than they know.

The fact of the matter is that the child 5exual abu5e scandal has nothing to do with either homosexuality in the priesthood or celibacy. For the Vatican or Archbishop O'Brien, or any other person in a position of authority to shift the focus to those issues simply illustrates the point that they have failed to grasp the issue. If we continue to make the outside of the cup and dish look clean without truly cleansing the inside then we have failed at a true chance at renewal and reconciliation with our people and our God.

Testimony of a Gay Catholic Priest

Commonweal January 28, 2005

If the Incarnation shows us anything, it is that God loves us in our humanity, even in our weakness, as St. Paul says - perhaps especially in our weakness. We all have a need to see ourselves as loved by God as we are, even in those parts of ourselves that embarrass or sadden us. Perhaps we think ourselves too plain, too unintelligent, too untalented, or too unsuccessful to warrant God's love. But God's love is always far greater than we can imagine, and embraces our entire selves.

In my own life, one of the most profound experiences of God's love came when, after many years, I finally accepted that I could not change myself into a straight man: I was gay and that was simply the way God had created me. Encountering God's love as I am was a transforming experience, one that I have wanted to share with parishioners not as an example of any personal sexual liberation, but as a sign of God's infinite, and always surprising, understanding. Does this basic acceptance of God's love seem like a commonplace sentiment? For most straight men and women, yes. But for gay people, it can be a profoundly difficult proposition to come to believe.

I have long hoped to testify before my parish to this foundational experience of God's love in my life, but I am of course forbidden to do so. And when a minister of the Word cannot publicly proclaim the freedom that the Word brings to his own life, it is a real loss for a community of faith.

My own path to the priesthood is similar to that of many gay men. In the American Catholic milieu in which I was raised, the pressures against coming to terms with my sexual identity were overwhelming.

Growing up, I told no one that I was gay. Entering the seminary in my twenties, I was, as a gay man, fearful of not receiving eventual permission for ordination, so in the initial interviews, questionnaires, and psychological tests required of applicants, I denied my homosexuality. (Later I sought forgiveness for this in the confessional.)

Eventually, though, I came to feel secure enough to reveal this facet of myself to my superiors. Doing so seemed a deepening of my original "call," an invitation to spiritual growth, and a way to allow God to love me as I am. Further, I realized that my decades spent fearing rejection and feeling marginalized had fostered within me a deep love for the materially poor of this world, who are marginalized and rejected in far worse ways.

Fortunately, and to my surprise, my honesty was welcomed by my superiors and my fellow seminarians. Many conversations about sexuality followed - with seminary rectors, spiritual directors, other seminarians and priests, as well as with psychologists and pastoral counsellors. Over the years, my growing understanding of who I was helped me live a life of celibacy with more honesty and comfort. Priestly celibacy, of course, is not easy. Making this total offering to God requires honesty, patience, and sacrifice. It also requires the willingness to engage in an honest and open discussion of one's sexuality, something a Vatican ban on homosexual priests would make impossible.

Few doubt that priestly celibacy and chastity within religious communities have long appealed to gay men and le5bians. Although the concept of "homosexuality" is a relatively new one, the phenomenon is not. Throughout the history of the church, homosexual men and women have found the priesthood and religious life both a refuge and a fulfilling way of life. As Richard John Neuhaus noted (First Things, June-July 2002): "It would seem more than likely that, in centuries past, some priests who have been canonized as saints would meet today's criteria as having a 'homosexual orientation'." For many Catholics, the only surprising thing about gay priests is that we are still thought to be a source of shame whose existence must be kept secret.

Many years ago I felt the first stirring of a vocation to the priesthood. It was an enormous gift in the order of grace. I believethe priesthood is the vocation for which I have been born, and this belief has been confirmed again and again over my years of active ministry. I am celibate and hardworking and healthy and loving and faithful. I am also a gay man. Why is this wrong?

Open Letter from some Italian Gay Catholic Priests

"Do Not Negate Our Existence"

[Adista, number 88 (17 December 2005)]

A member of Pharsea's World Yahoo! Group has translated the original Italian into the following English text.
Pharsea believes that this is a huge improvement on the original transliteration that he received.

We have nothing to hide, do you? This question arises from the open letter that a group of homosexual priests is submitting to the Christian community and to the Catholic hierarchy; the latter, through the recent Instruction of the Congregation for Catholic Education, means to have them disappear from ecclesiastical "presentability."
Ours are not your instincts that cannot be restrained but only hidden behind a forced chastity,
ours is not your pedophilia,
ours is not your obsession with sex,
we do not identify ourselves with a sexual tendency.
We consider ourselves persons, and that is what we want to be, just persons.
The homosexual priests who have entrusted this open letter exclusively to Adista do not wish to have anything to hide. And it is precisely for this reason that this Church forces them to remain hidden, to keep their face concealed: they are forced to ask for an assurance of anonymity, even though they have had the courage to sign their names openly in the text of the letter given to Adista's editors. The following letter was signed by 39 priests: 26 diocesan and 13 religious, coming from all regions of Italy (altogether 18 dioceses and 6 religious institutions).
The recent Instruction of the Congregation for Catholic Education, concerning the criteria for the discernment of vocations with regard to persons with homosexual tendencies, moves us to offer some reflections on this matter. We address ourselves to our brothers in the priesthood, to Pastors and religious Superiors, to consecrated men and women, to all men and women in society.

We are Catholic priests, diocesan and religious, of homosexual tendency; and that fact has not prevented us from being good priests. Some of us have spent our lives in mission work; others of us are parish priests and pastors of souls, beloved and respected by our people; still others of us pass our lives as priests in teaching, which we do with dedication and professionalism.

  • In spite of what the document would have one believe, our homosexual tendency has not prevented us from so living the lives of our sacred ministry that they are animated by the complete gift of ourselves to the Church, and by an authentic pastoral charity (1).
  • Our homosexuality does not amount to anything like a grave obstacle to our relating correctly to men and women, as the document asserts in the second paragraph; as men and priests we feel wounded by this absolutely gratuitous assertion.
  • We do not have greater difficulties than heterosexuals in living a chaste life, because homosexuality is not synonymous with lack of self-control, or with instincts that cannot be restrained. We are not sick on account of sex. Our homosexual tendency has damaged neither our mental health (2) nor the moral faculties that belong to us as human beings (3).
The document establishes as conclusive for each candidate the fact that possible homosexual tendencies that are transitory be revealed and overcome three years before he is ordained to the diaconate. As things are now, the majority of priests have experienced their time in the seminary as a peaceful moment with respect to sexuality. In fact, when we priests meet in various contexts, such as retreats and spiritual exercises, and compare our experiences, we report that such disturbances, for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, came later, and were caused not by sexual tendency, but by loneliness, by the absence of friends, by feeling unloved, and, sometimes, by feeling abandoned by our own superiors, by our brother priests, by our communities. Furthermore, with respect to us in particular, some became aware of their homosexuality only after they were ordained.

One suspects that this document originated in reaction to recently reported cases of pedophilia, especially in the Church in the United States and Brazil. But the homosexual tendency is not simply synonymous with pedophilia. One receives from the document another impression: that its authors think that homosexuals are inevitably part of a gay culture, exhibitionist, seeking to offend, recognizing no boundaries, a philosophy of life which often appears in the eyes of many as opposed to every moral law, and in which everything is allowed. Certain manifestations of the gay world have their origins in a reaction to the years of ghettoization and persecution in which the homosexual world was imprisoned; but it is not true that such manifestations are joined in by the entire gay world. In any case, not a single one of us has adopted any extreme behavior, nor does any of us believe in a hedonistic permissiveness in which moral laws do not exist.

The document seems to say that the greatest difficulty to be overcome in order to be a good priest is one's sexual tendency. But then it passes lightly over certain styles of life which, though they are beyond reproach with regard to sexuality, create scandal among the faithful. We are referring to luxury and pomp, to the attachment to money, to positions of influence and power, to remoteness from the people's problems. By contrast, we consider our homosexuality a real treasure, because it helps us share in the marginalization and suffering of so many people. To paraphrase Saint Paul, we can thus become all things to all people, powerless with the powerless, marginalized with the marginalized.

Experience shows that the fact of our homosexuality, when it is lived in the light of the Gospel and under the action of the Spirit, gives us the opportunity to support and encourage our brothers and sisters with homosexual tendencies in their way in the faith, thus effectively carrying out the pastoral mission that the Church regards as necessary and desirable.

The very Church which has received the ministry of reconciliation (4) needs itself to be reconciled with homosexuality. For that is reality, for so many believers: sons and daughters of God, men and women of good will, who have the right to find the Church to be the roof that shelters their souls.

To be sure, like all honest people, we cannot deny our fragility, which is a condition of our human nature. We carry the gift of God in vessels of clay (5); but this circumstance of ours is not an obstacle to our being shepherds after God's heart.

At this time, following the publication of the document to which we have referred, we are feeling great sorrow, at the suggestion that our vocation is not authentic. We feel like children abandoned and unloved by that very Church to whom we both promised and gave fidelity and love. We feel ourselves to be "fratres minores," the least of brothers, in a house of priests which we could have got into only by sneaking.

(1) Cf.. Presbyterorum Ordinis, n.14.
(2) Cf.. C.I.C., can 1051.
(3) Cf.. Pastores dabo vobis, n.35.
(4) Cf.. 2 Cor. 5,18.
(5) Cf.. 2 Cor. 4,7.

A letter that I wrote to various UK newspapers

Dear Sir,

              the letter just published by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education is liable to bring the Catholic Church into widespread disrepute as one of the last European bastions of homophobia and bigotry.

The text claims that the decision to instigate a witch-hunt of gay seminarians is based on the teaching of Scripture and Tradition. This is contentious. Any fair reading of Scripture must conclude that the "homosexuality proof texts" are anything but clear and that many other much clearer injunctions (such as calling no-one but God "father" and never swearing an oath) have been set on one side by the Catholic Magisterium since earliest times.  Moreover, there is a substantial testimony within Catholic Tradition (most recently popularized in the works of the late Prof. Boswell) which conflicts with the modern teaching of the Vatican.

The document insinuates, but does not say, that the reason for its publication is the prevalence of child molestation amongst Catholic clergy, until recently "hushed up" by conservative Bishops such as Cardinal Law. However, it puts forward no evidence that gay clergy are more likely to be responsible than others; and - of course - no significant disciplinary action has ever been taken against any Bishop who acted to suppress the truth in this regard.

The document compromises previous official teaching by repeatedly talking of "people with homosexual tendencies" rather than "homosexual persons". Its claim to treat gay people with respect need hardly be commented on. It is a clear example of "unjustified discrimination", because it is not concerned with whether a seminarian is orthodox in belief, charitable and pious in disposition and generally fitted for priestly life in the Roman Church: but only whether he "has deep seated homosexual tendencies". Manifestly, a man with "deep-seated heterosexual tendencies" would be welcomed with open arms!

The document is profoundly insulting to all gay men, because it insists on treating "homosexuality" as a developmental disorder indicating psychological immaturity and resulting in an inability to relate "properly" to either men or women!

It is outrageous that the document insists that not only must a gay seminarian tacitly accept the Magisterium's cruel evaluation of his life and being, but also that he must condemn himself as essentially depraved when he honestly believes that he is guilty of nothing!

What now is the status of the very large number of gay catholic priests and bishops? This document makes it clear that it is not enough that they are celibate, not enough that they refrain from speaking against the official line, not enough that they believe in their hearts that the official line is true, not enough that they believe that they are themselves intrinsically disordered, not enough that they believe even that they are psychological cripples. No! No matter what he believes or does - or does not do - no gay man is fit to be a Catholic priest.

These are dark days for the Church. With falling congregations and fewer and fewer priests; and with a faltering message that often amounts to little more than a twisted and self-obsessed puritanism, with little "Good News" for anyone, what hope is there for the barque of Peter?

A letter that I wrote to the Bishops of England and Wales

Your Grace,

                  I write in the aftermath of the publication of the recent Instruction of the Congregation for Catholic Education.


  • Sacred Scripture has very little to say on the subject of "homosexuality", and all that it may seem to say is difficult to understand.
  • The Fathers have nothing to say on the subject of "homosexuality" that can be distinguished from secular prejudice.
  • There is no significant Conciliar teaching on the subject of "homosexuality" prior to the Second Vatican Council.
  • There is no Papal teaching whatsoever on the subject of "homosexuality" prior to the Second Vatican Council.
It would seem that the present official teaching of the Church has no substantial basis in Scripture or Tradition, but is a novelty quite foreign to the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in whose sacred name the Apostle Paul proclaimed:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free,
there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."

Moreover, because:

  • The present official teaching is a cause of great anguish and distress to many.
  • There is little evidence that conformance with the Church's official teaching helps

  • anyone to live a wholesome, happy, fulfilled or holy life.
It would seem that the present official teaching of the Church is pastorally inept and hugely counter-productive.

Finally, because

  • There is no scientific evidence to suggest that "homosexuality" is associated with any pathology.
  • The arguments adduced by proponents of the present official teaching in order to justify its conclusions are becoming increasingly extravagant and incredible.
  • The Church is becoming more and more isolated from civilized, informed and educated opinion on the subject of "homosexuality".
The Church is looking more and more like a reactionary institution that is not interested in rational dialogue.

I therefore suggest to Your Grace that the present official teaching is:

  • Philosophically unfounded.
  • Theologically mistaken.
  • Scientifically falsified.
  • Politically damaging.
  • Pastorally harmful.
  • Unsustainable in the long-term.
I therefore advise, urge and implore that your Grace:
  1. Interpret the recent Instruction along the lines indicated in public by His Eminence, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.
  2. Make representations to the Roman Curia, that the present official policy and teaching: is mistaken and unsustainable; and will eventually have to be overturned, to the great embarrassment of the Magisterium. That that the Church's credibility is on the line; and that the longer the inevitable is postponed, the more damage will be done to the Vatican's credibility.
  3. Work towards implementing a fully inclusive Equal Opportunities employment policy in your diocese.
  4. Require that negative and discriminatory messages are not promoted within the Catholic Schools of your diocese.
  5. Offer encouragement and support to those individuals, groups and organizations seeking to provide wholesome and affirmative council, guidance and help to those thrust into uncertainty, doubt and self-destructive distress by their understanding of Rome's present official teaching. I appreciate that in the present climate your ability to do a great deal in this regard is limited, but I urge you to follow the courageous example of  His Grace, J. Terry Steib, S.V.D Bishop of Memphis.

  6. PastoralLetter.html
Should you be interested in discussing these matters further with me in person, I would be honoured to meet with you, at your Grace's pleasure.

Pending that day, I ask the prayers of the Blessed Mother of God, her Holy Spouse Joseph, the Holy Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus for your Grace's well-being and salvation, and remain your brother in Our Common Lord Jesus:

A reply to this letter

[The Bishop] has asked me to reply to your recent email about the Instruction concerning the criteria for the discernment of vocations with regard to persons of homosexual tendencies. The Instruction is intended to help bishops in their task of ensuring that men who are admitted to seminary are able to embrace the challenge of living in celibate chastity. Catholic lay people have a right to expect that when a man commits himself to celibacy for the rest of his life, he will do everything that he can to live chastely in this state of life. Also, prospective seminarians have a right to expect that the Church will assist them in their process of discernment and alert them about personal issues which may cause them to be unhappy were they to be ordained as priests.

Hence the Instruction is not discriminatory; rather it is an expression of the Church's maternal solicitude for men who feel called to the priesthood but who need to address the issue of the way they live out their sexuality before they can be considered for admission to a seminary. You will note that the Instruction identifies three categories of persons whom it suggests would encounter problems in formation; it most certainly does not suggest that all men who have a homosexual orientation are unsuitable for Holy Orders.

The three categories are as follows: those who practise homosexuality; those who present deep-seated homosexual tendencies; and those who support the gay culture. The reason for the exclusion of those in the first category is self-evident: a man needs to prove that he can live chastely for a good period before he can be admitted to seminary. Those in the second category, as I understand it, would experience particular difficulties in refraining from homosexual acts (the sexual drive connoted by "deep-seated tendency" is of a stronger nature than that evoked by the phrase "homosexual orientation"). Those in the third category promote what is a deeply hedonistic culture and so would be similarly unhappy in embracing celibate chastity.

I hope that this response helps. Certainly, the Instruction expresses "profound respect" for all those who would identify themselves as belonging to one of the above categories.

A reaction to this reply

This is just a way of  limiting the liability of the Church as a whole, and passing the 'bucks' onto the local Bishop. It enables the Church to say: 'we instructed you, now if one of your priest fondles anyone you are responsible for the law suit, not Rome'. It's a money saving strategy. Besides the fact that whatever 'lip service' they spew about respect and dignity, the Church stills holds that everyone is created straight, and because of poor fathering or 'lack of rough and tumble play' or some other Victorian psychiatric nonsense, we are mentally ill. We aren't shown respect, we are pitied as mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed in need of 'special' help and rides on the 'little bus'.

As with heliocentricity and the spherical shape of the Earth, the Church is again making an enormous fool of herself and causing untold pain on her 'beloved children'. The church also feels that a great injustice was done to us by the removal of homosexuality from the Psychiatric societies list of mental illnesses in the '70's because we can no longer see ourselves as ill and in need of treatment.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for the leaders of your Son's Church, His Bride. Save us from those who would 'save' us by destroying us. Save us from men who view what God has created and call it evil. Lord Jesus, accept our imperfect gifts of love, and allow us to be in complete Communion with You, One Body One Blood One Mind and One Spirit in You."

Another reply to my letter

My reaction to this reply

I am personally taken aback by the tone of this note. On the basis of Archbishop Smith's track record, I would have expected him to ignore what the English Cardinal had said and adopt a much more hard-line stance. The ideas that the matter is "delicate" and requires "reflection" is quite amazing. A face-value reading of the Instruction and Cover Letter (it seems to me) leaves no space for delicacy or reflection! Is this arch-homophobe about to repent and see the error of his ways?  Personally, I cannot believe so!

Another reaction to this reply

This is really interesting. One thing is sure:  response to this Instruction is, as I pointed out before, going to clearly indicate who stands where in terms of Church politics. It is going to be a open self-identification and the polarisation within the Church will become clearer. It is simply not possible to NOT be affected by this document and, way or another, one's response will be:
  1. observed by Opus Dei,
  2. recorded by the Inquisition,
  3. remembered for all time and eternity!
I see some kind of schism coming, but certainly not a notable or important one. Most will endorse the status quo, as always. Many gay Priests will go even further "underground" and God alone knows what the result of that is going to be.