A Vatican document will be released in the coming weeks that reaffirms the Catholic Church’s belief that homosexuals shouldn’t be ordained priests, a Vatican official said Thursday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the document has not been released, said the “instruction” from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education would contain “some new things and some old things” and would be released well before the end of the year.
That timeframe means the document will be released just as a Vatican-mandated evaluation of all U.S. seminaries, ordered in the wake of the U.S. clergy sex abuse scandal, gets under way.
Several Vatican documents and letters over the years have said gays or men with homosexual tendencies should not be ordained, regardless of whether they can remain celibate.
A Feb. 2, 1961, Vatican document, “Instruction on the Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Orders,” made clear homosexuals should be barred from the priesthood.
“(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,” said the document from the then-Vatican’s congregation for religious.
A 1997 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments says “admission may not take place if there exists a prudent doubt regarding the candidate’s suitability.” It does not specify that homosexuality constitutes a “prudent doubt,” but an American official at the Vatican, the Rev. Andrew Baker, has suggested in an article in the Jesuit magazine America that it does.
'Absolutely inadvisable and imprudent'
In 2002, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, then-prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, advised against allowing gays in the priesthood in a letter that was published in the congregation’s publication Notitiae. He said their ordination would be “absolutely inadvisable and imprudent, and from the pastoral point of view, very risky.”
The Vatican press office announced in November 2002, at the height of the U.S. clergy sex abuse scandal, that the Congregation for Catholic Education was drawing up guidelines for accepting candidates for the priesthood that would address the question of whether gays should be barred.
Catholic World News, a conservative news agency, reported earlier this week that the document had actually been in the works since 1994.
The agency said the new document would indicate that men with homosexual tendencies shouldn’t be ordained even if they are celibate “because their condition suggests a serious personality disorder which detracts from their ability to serve as ministers.”
In an apparently new element, the agency said the document would also say that already ordained priests, if they have homosexual tendencies, would be “strongly urged to renew their dedication to chastity and a manner of life appropriate to the priesthood.”
The American prelate overseeing the evaluations, Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, said earlier this month that most gay candidates for the priesthood struggle to remain celibate and the church must “stay on the safe side” by restricting their enrollment. He stressed that the church was not “hounding” gays out of the priesthood, but wants to enroll seminarians who can maintain their vows of celibacy.
The document has been controversial from the start, and there had been speculation that it may never be released because of its sensitive nature. Some priests have said the document is sorely needed. Others say it will do more harm than good, antagonizing existing homosexual priests and driving others underground.