A new Vatican document on the priesthood, approved by Pope Francis, has reaffirmed a ban on gay men entering the seminary or being ordained. New Ways Ministry has responded with a call to the pope to retract this document.
The document from the Congregation for Clergy, titled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” includes language from a 2005 document on priestly formation that addressed persons with homosexual tendencies. This latest document quoted the 2005 text directly, including these words:
“The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’. Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”
The 2016 document goes on to warn of the “negative consequences” of ordaining gay men, and said men who can “clearly overcome” homosexual tendencies for three years could be admitted. Troubling, too, are paragraphs which say a seminarian is “obliged to reveal to his formators. . .doubts or difficulties he should have in this regard,” formators who in turn “have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding in ordination.” To remain closeted would be “gravely dishonest.”
This latest document affirming the 2005 ban was approved by Pope Francis, reported Michael O’Loughlin of America. Its treatment of gay men who wish to become priests is perhaps oddly placed between “a section about seminarians suffering from mental illness and seminarians who are considered threats to children”–further revealing the authors’ negative bias. The 2005 document had come in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and was recognized by many as part of efforts to blame the crisis on gay priests.
What this reaffirmation means exactly is unclear, given the disparate ways the 2005 document had been implemented. O’Loughlin wrote about these responses, offered by bishops and religious superiors at whose discretion seminarians are accepted:
“In some instances, those in charge of entrance to seminaries and religious orders as well as those in charge priestly formation have interpreted it to mean that gay men are prohibited from entering Catholic seminaries.
“In others, men who have made homosexuality their primary identity, or have been outspoken in supporting what the Vatican calls the ‘so-called gay culture,’ are barred.
“But a third interpretation has been that men who identify as gay can enter so long as they do not act on their desires, and maintain their vows of chastity or promises of celibacy. (Though there are rare exceptions, such as married priests from other faith traditions who become Catholic, priests are required to practice celibacy.)”
While the effects may be unclear, questions are already being raised about why Pope Francis, who in 2013 said of a gay priest his famous line “Who am I to judge?”, would approve this new document. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented in a statement:
“Had the document not been approved by Pope Francis, it could easily be dismissed as the work of over-zealous Vatican officials. But the pope’s approval of this text is a great disappointment to many people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual supporters—who held out greater hopes for this pontiff who had done so much to open church discussion on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
DeBernardo suggested Francis could withdraw the document and seek to heal the damage already cause, or at a minimum explain where he stands. That would be a start, but not an end.
I know and have worked with many gay and bisexual men in the priesthood and in Catholic ministry. They are some of the most faithful and dutiful ministers in our church. With the many gifts they have offered to us, we must now be in solidarity with them. We must let gay priests know they are welcomed and appreciated by us despite the Vatican’s ill-informed policies.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 8, 2016