Vatican Outlines Opposition to Gays in Priesthood

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A much-anticipated Vatican document says sexually active gay men should not be allowed to become Roman Catholic priests. The official document was expected to be released next week, but was leaked early.


A much-anticipated document from the Vatican says sexually active gay men should not be allowed to become Roman Catholic priests. The document was scheduled for official release next week but was leaked onto the Internet. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.


The backdrop to the document is an open secret in the Catholic Church. Seminaries have become something of a haven for gay men. Researchers estimate some 40 percent of Catholic seminarians are gay, though most are celibate. Michael S. Rose, author of "Goodbye, Good Men," says he interviewed 150 priests in training for his book about seminaries, and he says almost all of them described a gay subculture that pervaded the schools.

Mr MICHAEL S. ROSE (Author, "Goodbye, Good Men"): They came up with nicknames such as `Notre Flame' or `the Pink Palace,' so I'm not talking about just a few gay-oriented individuals, but more of an active culture that takes over and drives heterosexual men away and also drives chaste homosexual men away.

HAGERTY: Keenly aware of such reports, the Vatican decided to clarify its stance on homosexuality in the priesthood. In its long-awaited instruction, the Vatican called homosexuality an objective disorder. It said if a man's homosexual tendencies are merely the expression of a transitory problem, like an adolescent fantasy or action, that person could still be ordained if he's been celibate for three years. But, it said, seminaries cannot admit gay men who are sexually active, who support the gay culture and who have, quote, "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies."

Father JAMES MARTIN (Author, "In Good Company"): I really can't see how it could be any more restrictive.

HAGERTY: James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author of "In Good Company," a book about the priesthood.

Fr. MARTIN: I mean, that line that says `deeply rooted homosexual tendency' is basically saying, as I understand it, anyone who understands themself as gay is not allowed to enter the seminary.

HAGERTY: And, he says, any gay man in the seminary is encouraged to leave.

Others, like Father Richard McBrien at Notre Dame University, say this document is not what some had feared, a full-scale campaign to root out all gays from the ministry. He says the heads of seminaries can interpret it any way they want, and ultimately the document is unenforceable.

Father RICHARD McBRIEN (Notre Dame University): Nobody applying to seminaries or preparing for ordination in the priesthood checks a box saying, `What sexual orientation do you have?' We don't do that. And so it's anecdotal evidence or whether or not an individual has openly expressed his sexual orientation. It's a very, very nebulous area that we're dealing with.

HAGERTY: And that's what worries Fred Daley, an openly gay priest at St. Francis de Sales parish in Utica, New York. He says the document has extra punch because right now, American clerics are investigating all 229 seminaries in the US, asking about the moral and sexual climate of the schools.

Father FRED DALEY (St. Francis de Sales Parish): My fear is putting out documents that borders on witch-hunting is going to, in a sense, literally put men who are discerning priesthood back in the closet.

HAGERTY: But Father Joseph Fessio, provost of Ave Maria University, says the document merely reiterates hundreds of years of church teaching.

Father JOSEPH FESSIO (Ave Maria University): This isn't just some kind of prejudice. The Catholic Church may be wrong--I think she's right, of course--but she's not wrong with mere bias and bigotry. She has deeply rooted principles by which she makes her proclamations and decisions.

HAGERTY: And, he says, people who don't like the teachings of the church may not be suited for priesthood, anyway.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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