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About the Roman Catholic Church

Excluding homosexuals
from Catholic seminaries

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Overview:

A Vatican document of 1961 bars persons with homosexual orientation from ordination and religious vows. However, this document appears to have been almost completely ignored. 1

A new, ambiguously worded "instruction" dated 2005-NOV appears to restrict most persons who have a homosexual orientation, whether sexually active or celibate, from entering seminary in the future. Its effect on ordination of homosexuals who are currently in seminaries is unclear.

The basis for the Vatican's position appears to be its belief that:

bulletA homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered and often constitute a trial" for the person.
bulletIt is rarely, if ever, changeable.
bulletPersons with a homosexual orientation should not be unjustly discriminated against. However, some forms of discrimination are justified.
bulletA person with a homosexual orientation who engages in a same-sex act is committing a grave sin -- one that is intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law. It does not matter whether the act is a "one night stand" or is activity within a loving, committed relationship.

In contrast, the vast majority of religious liberals, mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers, human rights promoters and others believe that:

bulletA homosexual orientation is one of three normal, natural, unchosen and unchangeable sexual orientations for adults -- the others being heterosexual and bisexual orientations.
bulletNo form of discrimination is justified on the basis of sexual orientation.
bulletHomosexual, heterosexual and bisexual orientations are morally neutral. The moral and mental health status of sexual acts, whether same-sex or opposite-sex, is dependent on the nature of the relationship, freedom from manipulation and coercion, and safety.

The document's covering letter received little attention in the media. It stated that homosexuals may not have positions as seminary rectors or professors.

Some definitions:

Terms like "Gay" and "homosexual," are ambiguous. We will most frequently use the rather awkward term "person with a homosexual orientation," in this essay to avoid confusion. Such a person is sexually attracted only to members of the same sex. They may be celibate or sexually active. Roman Catholic spokesmen often use the term "inclination" or "tendency" to apparently refer to one's orientation.

A "person with a bisexual orientation" is sexually attracted to both men and women, but not necessarily to the same degree. Again, they may be celibate or sexually active.

Earlier attempts to exclude persons with a homosexual orientation from the seminary:

bullet1961: According to a Vatican document approved by Pope John XXIII on 1961-JAN-23: "Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers." 2 The document "was promulgated by the Vatican�s Sacred Congregation for Religious on February 2, 1961. The same document is published in its entirety, in English, in the Canon Law Digest, Volume V (Bruce Publishing Co, 1963), pages 452 to 486." 3

The wording of the report is ambiguous, because it is not absolutely clear whether its use of the term "homosexuality" refers to the candidate's sexual orientation or sexual behavior. Irrespective of which is the intended interpretation, this exclusion seems to be totally ignored at most North American seminaries.
 
bullet2002: In March, the chief spokesman for Pope John Paul II, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told The New York Times that better psychological screening and upgraded training in church seminaries would do little to reduce the number of priests with a homosexual orientation. He appears to propose that homosexuals be refused ordination. He suggests that the church become "less welcoming" of gays...People with these inclinations just cannot be ordained. That does not imply a final judgment on people with homosexuality. But you cannot be in this field." 4
 
bullet2003: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document homosexuality was described as a "troubling moral and social phenomenon'' The congregation at the time was headed by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.
 
bullet2005: Starting in September Vatican inspectors visited all 229 American seminaries. Religion Link writes:

"Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services is organizing the work, which could continue into 2007. The "visitors" include 117 bishops and seminary personnel, working in small teams. Neither their names nor schedules are publicized. Their work is confidential. They'll inquire into a seminary's "formation" program, the training that prepares men - personally, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and communally - for a priest's life. They will include questions about sex and chastity. Although just one question directly touches on homosexuality, gays are a big undercurrent of the visitation." 5

Vatican "instruction" of 2005-NOV:

The Vatican is scheduled to issue a document on NOV-29 concerning the eligibility of homosexual candidates for seminary. However, a copy appears to have been leaked on NOV-22 and posted on the Adista news agency. It is called an "Instruction" and is five pages in length. It was signed by the prefect and secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education and approved by Pope Benedict XVI on 2005-AUG-31. It has been many years in the making.

It says, in part:

"Concerning profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, that one discovers in a certain number of men and women, these are also objectively disordered and often constitute a trial, even for these men and women. These people must be received with respect and delicacy; one will avoid every mark of unjust discrimination with respect to them. These are called to realize the will of God in their lives and to unite to the Sacrifice of the Lord the difficulties that they may encounter."

"The church, while deeply respecting the people in question, cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture.''

"Those people find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies.''

"If instead it is a case of homosexual tendencies that are merely the expression of a transitory problem, for example as in the case of an unfinished adolescence, they must however have been clearly overcome for at least three years before ordination as a deacon.'' 6

"If a candidate practices homosexuality or present profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, like his confessor, must dissuade him, in conscience, from proceeding towards Ordination."

"It would be gravely dishonest if a candidate were to hide his own homosexuality to enter, notwithstanding everything, to Ordination. An attitude so inauthentic does not correspond to the spirit of truth, allegiance, and availability that must characterize the personality of he who believes to be called to serve Christ and His Church in the priestly ministry." 7

Implications for candidates who wish to enter seminary:

Their fate depends upon exactly how the Church interprets the key phrase: "those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture.''

bullet"...those who practice homosexuality" would apparently include people with either a homosexual orientation or a bisexual orientation who continue to engage in same-sex behavior or perhaps have only become celibate in recent years.
 
bulletThose who "present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" are more difficult to define. Essentially all mental health and human sexuality professionals believe that an adult's sexual orientation -- whether homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual -- is fixed. Every adult's sexual orientation can be described as "deeply rooted."  It is their sexual behavior that is controllable; a person can decide to remain celibate. If the Church interprets a person's sexual "tendencies" to mean their sexual orientation, then few if any candidates with a homosexual orientation could ever be knowingly admitted to any seminary. Further, because their sexual orientation is fixed in all or essentially all cases, they could not hope to be admitted to seminary in the future, even if they had remained celibate for years or decades. However, the phrase might imply that bisexuals might be allowed in seminaries because their same-sex attraction is moderated by their attraction to women and is thus not so "deeply rooted."
 
bulletThose who "support so-called gay culture" are even more difficult to define. In some areas of the world, this might include individuals  of all sexual orientations -- homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual -- who advocate political change so that gays will no longer be actively persecuted in their country. In the U.S. it might mean anyone who advocates for same-sex marriage or civil unions, for laws to prevent discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, for laws that would protect persons of all sexual orientations from hate-crimes or for health insurance for employees' same-sex partners and children.

We are surprised that the Vatican would come up with such vaguely worded criteria for admission to seminary. As written, the instruction can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Religion Link states:

"Some Vatican-watchers argue that the statement amounts to an outright ban on gay men entering the priesthood. Others predict more of a 'don't-ask-don't-tell' policy, leaving room for authorities to screen out candidates who they feel are not appropriate. Another view is that the policy will force gay men who want to be priests to either lie about their orientation or repress it."

Thomas Plante is a psychologist who has had more than 15 years experience evaluating prospective students applying to American seminaries. He said that the Instruction would have an "enormous" ripple effect if followed. He continued:

"Sexual orientation in almost all the evaluations I've done over 15 years hasn't really mattered. Now what's coming out of the Vatican is that it matters in a big way. That's a real challenge because we think that there are many, many, many gay men who are fabulous priests." 8

The full, although unofficial, text is available online. 9

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Implications for existing seminary students:

Their status is unclear. The Instruction test states that it deals with the "...admission or non-admission to the seminary and Holy Orders of candidates who have profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies." However, Section II, the document goes further. It states:

"....this department, in agreement with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, holds it necessary clearly to affirm that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, 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. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies.....The negative consequences that may derive from the Ordination of persons with profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies are by no means to by [sic] ignored." 8 [Emphasis ours]

Section III states:

"If a candidate practices homosexuality or present profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, like his confessor, must dissuade him, in conscience, from proceeding towards Ordination." 9 [Emphasis ours]

One possible interpretation of this Instruction is that seminary officials may be expected to be on the lookout for students with a homosexual behavior and consider expelling them.

The Instruction's covering letter; further exclusions:

According to LifeSiteNews:

"A part of the Vatican's instruction on banning homosexuals from Catholic seminaries that did not gain widespread media attention was a covering letter accompanying it that specified that 'gay' men must not be allowed to be seminary rectors or professors."

"Signed by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the education congregation, and Archbishop J. Michael Miller, the congregation's secretary, the letter specified that the instructions 'must be adhered to faithfully,' a stipulation expected to rankle among North American and European bishops who have long been accustomed to a creative interpretation of obedience to Rome."

"The letter made it clear that although there are no current plans to remove from ministry those homosexuals who have already been ordained, such men cannot be allowed to participate in the formation of seminarians."

"The letter stated that as with all priests, they must continue in their calling to celibate chastity but, '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'." 13

Some responses to the Instruction:

Some comments posted by visitors to the Catholic World News web site are:

bulletjchrysostom: "Profoundly deep-rooted tendencies" = "no controlling legal precedent." This document, to my myopic eye, not only leaves the door ajar, as some pro-homosexual commentators claim, but has flung it wide open. The anticipation of this document seems laughable.
 
bulletIgnacio: "When it says: 'It would be gravely dishonest if a candidate were to hide his own homosexuality to enter, notwithstanding everything, to Ordination.' Does that mean that it would be a mortal sin? If one commits a mortal sin in order to receive a sacrament does one validly receive that sacrament? [Editors comment: if a priest is not actually ordained, what is the status of the congregation who receive the sacraments from the "priest?"]
 
bulletdominic: "I was deeply distressed that our Holy Mother Church has not reflected upon its own historical consciousness in light of this controversy. The issues of exclusion and lack of dialogue that mark this present dilemma have been part of the many controversies in the history of the Church, which have contributed to the inhumane treatment of people who are different from us. Can events of the protestant reformation offer us clues to how we can solve this problem through dialogue, rather than division." 9

Impact of the priest shortage:

The United States is short of priests. Further, the priesthood is aging. At the end of the year 2000  "The average age of diocesan priests in active ministry in the United States is 59. For religious priests, it is 63.") 10 Another source gives the ages as 57 and 63 as of early 2003. 11 By the end of 2005, these values may have increased by one or two years. Priests who have resigned, retired or died are simply not being replaced. The Boston Globe reported in 2003-MAY:

"Nationally, the number of new priests ordained each year has slowly declined since peaking between 1965 and 1970, said Dean Hoge, a sociologist at The Catholic University of America. Ordinations dropped by 7 percent in the 1980s and another 7 percent in the 1990s, with five to 10 seminaries closing each decade, he said. Seminaries are currently replacing just 30 to 40 percent of priests who are retiring or resigning each year. "People say the decline is over -- don't believe it," Hoge said. "There's no reversing it in the short run." 12

By refusing to admit gays into seminary, and by refusing to ordain existing gay seminary students, the priest shortage will become critical in a few years. There might only be about 1 new priest for every 6 or 7 resigning or retiring priests. Further, the rejection of persons with a homosexual orientation by seminaries will probably demoralize existing homosexual priests; this could lead to increasing numbers of resignations.

Many solutions have been suggested to reverse this trend:

bulletMany nuns who feel called to the priesthood and would welcome the opportunity to be trained and ordained to Holy Orders. But the Church excludes them because of their female chromosome structure. Further the church refuses to consider changing its position, and even prohibits discussion on the matter among its theologians and clergy.
 
bulletMany priests resign in order to marry. By allowing priests to marry, more could be encouraged to remain in the priesthood. Discussion of this option is also discouraged.
 
bulletThe church could continue to accept gay students into its seminaries, perhaps after more intensive screening to confirm that they would be able to remain celibate during their education and after ordination. However, this would require the Church to reverse its 2005 decision.
 
bulletTransfer a major part of priestly functions to the laity and deacons. However, there are limits to the activities that they are permitted to perform.
 
bulletThe church could import large numbers of priests from Africa, South America and other countries in the world where the number of priests is increasing. However, this would rapidly cause a major change in the U.S. church's culture.

Associated essays:

bulletRoman Catholic seminary students with a homosexual orientation.
bulletRoman Catholic priests with a homosexual orientation.

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders: (S. C. Rel., 2 Feb., 1961)." Online at: http://www.rcf.org/
  2. "Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders: (S. C. Rel., 2 Feb., 1961)." Online at: http://www.rcf.org/
  3. John Vennari, "Found: 1961 Vatican Document Barring Homosexuals from Ordination and Religious Vows," 2002-MAY-28, at: http://www.rcf.org/
  4. "CATHOLIC CHURCH: Homosexuals and the Catholic priesthood," 2005-AUG-22, Religion Link, at: http://www.religionlink.org/
  5. "Catholic Seminary Admissions Tighten in Scandal," The Data Lounge, 2002-MAR-27, at: http://www.datalounge.com/
  6. "Vatican takes tough stand against homosexuals in priesthood," Associated Press, 2005-NOV-22, at: http://www.startribune.com/
  7. "Vatican Document on Admitting Homosexual Men to Priesthood Released by Italian News Agency. Affirms Church Teaching That Homosexuals Must Not be Admitted to Seminaries," LifeSite, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  8. "Vatican sets policy for gays to be priests," Associated Press, 2005-NOV-23, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  9. "Vatican document on homosexuals and seminaries-- full text," 2005-NOV-22, Catholic World News, at: http://www.cwnews.com/
  10. Russell Shaw, "The priest's confused identity," at: http://www.catholic.net/
  11. "Survey Says," Boston College magazine, 2003-Spring, at: http://www.bc.edu/
  12. Jenna Russell, "Amid decline, nine ordained as priests. Drop in enrollment worries Catholics," The Boston Globe, 2003-MAY-25.
  13. Hilary White, " 'Gays' cannot be Seminary Rectors or Professors says Vatican Document Cover Letter," LifeSiteNews.com, 2005_DEC-02

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 or Home page > Religious Info. > Basic info > Sex abuse > here

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Copyright © 2002 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-MAY-14
Latest update: 2009-APR-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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