VATICAN CITY (RNS) A Vatican decision to reaffirm its opposition to gay priests has angered activists who thought Pope Francis was changing Rome’s attitudes toward homosexuality.
In a new document on the priesthood, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy reiterated a 2005 statement declaring that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or those who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’” cannot be priests.
“Pope Francis has a lot of explaining to do by approving the newest Vatican instruction,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which campaigns for LGBT rights in the church.
“Francis’ famous ‘Who am I to judge?’ statement in 2013 was made in response to a question about gay men in the priesthood,” DeBernardo said. “That response indicated very plainly that he did not have a problem with a gay priest’s sexual orientation.
“It’s not too late for the pope to retract this document.”
The new document noted that the church’s policy on gay priests has not changed since the last Vatican pronouncement on the subject in 2005.
Many have been hoping for a new approach from the church toward gay priests because of Francis’ statements and the fact that he has gay friends and has spoken against bias toward gays. He has even used the label “gay” rather than the more clinical term “homosexual” that many church officials view as less likely to appear to approve a gay orientation.
“This document is extremely disappointing in its approach to gay men called to be priests,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an organization of Catholics committed to equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“These guidelines are a tremendous insult to the thousands of gay men who have served and continue to serve the church with honor and dedication,” she said. “They undermine decades of commitment by these men, and they fail to acknowledge that God calls a great variety of people to the priesthood.”
The document, titled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” was due to be published on Thursday (Dec. 8 ) but was posted online earlier. It covers many aspects of the priesthood, only touching on the subject of sexuality on a few pages toward the end of the lengthy report.
It includes several quotes from Pope Francis and excerpts from the writings of St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
The document says that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.'”
It says such people are “in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”
“One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily newspaper, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, head of the Congregation for the Clergy, said the guidelines for training priests needed to be “revamped” to take into account developments in society and the pope’s concerns about the priesthood.
He said special attention was given to Francis’ concerns about “temptations tied to money, to the authoritarian exercise of power, to rigid legalism and to vainglory” among clerics.
The document also emphasizes the need for dioceses and religious orders to guard against admitting potential sex abusers to the priesthood.
“The greatest attention must be given to the theme of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults,” the document says, “being vigilant lest those who seek admission to a seminary or a house of formation, or who are already petitioning to receive Holy Orders, have not been involved in any way with any crime or problematic behavior in this area.”
(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)