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Outcry greets Vatican decision to reaffirm ban on gay priests

Pope Francis (third from right) arrives to lead a Mass for the Jubilee for Priests at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on June 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GAYPRIEST-BAN, originally published on Dec. 8, 2016.

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)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • However one may oppose it, the position of the RCC and other Christian sects on this question is in undoubted conformity with 2000 years of Christian practice and teaching, and properly so from the clear interpretation of the Bible, despite those who perform linguistic gymnastics to affirm otherwise. To those who will decry my remarks as hate mongering, you mis-understand, it is not from a spirit of hate that I defend the traditional teaching and practice, but a matter of honoring the doctrine of the faith I revere.

  • Sorry, but “gay” is a left-wing political identity. The center of a person’s identity is not sexuality. Furthermore, there is no gay gene. The science is settled.

  • Prevent homosexuals from entering the priesthood, and you’ve already taking care of the pedophile problem.

  • Just love the closet cases with their little “don’t tread on me” logo. They just get all worked up with the homoerotic nature of the musket and the long rifle along with the snake all which are phallic symbols! They may soon even have a prick in the White House if he can managed to avoid the Electoral College and impeachment. These are the same folkes who believe women were created from men and that women caused sin and humanity’s expulsion from a mythical “garden” but usually fail to mention it was because of woman, St Mary, that salvation came to us. When I see their frothing at the mouth posts I just think “my oh my why do the heathen rage !?”

  • It’s good that the pope is more accepting of gays in general, but that doesn’t mean they should then automatically become priests, no more than his becoming more accepting of divorced people then automatically means we’re having divorced priests. The Episcopal Church would argue that the community of the divorced and single needs a priest that’s like them in order to fully understand and serve their needs. This was a strong attraction for me years ago when I was newly divorced, and my divorced priest was a huge help in my adjustment..

  • Unfortunately, the Vatican does not have a governing structure worthy of the name. To call it a monarchy or a dictatorship would be too kind. That inbred clique can spout whatever deplorable nonsense they want with no restraint, supposedly in the name of the universal Church. It must be embarrassing to those still sitting in the pews. By showing themselves to be misogynistic and homophobic, they are advertising their brand. Jesus would be appalled. The celibates want the freedom to live according to their asexual nature. Maybe give the gay people the freedom to live according to their nature and stop discriminating against them? Anyone can be a priest when there is a community that is a priesthood of all believers (1Peter 2:5,9).

  • Edward, no “linguistic gymnastics” are required. Every archeological find, coupled with further study on those already available, sheds more light on an ancient and dead language. Improving the accuracy of the translations is an ongoing process. Because the error became “tradition” or was made in good faith with the best information available at the time, does not make it less an error.

  • You cannot be a priest without a vocation, a literal calling from god. The church has its methods to determine who has such a calling. So, either the vocation is bogus, or the test for the vocation is. Take your pick.

    But gay men will continue to join the priesthood in order to try to escape their sexuality. pedophiles, attracted to male children or female children or, as is usually the case, either sex, will continue to join the priesthood, either to escape their sexuality or to embrace it. There are centuries of experience with the Catholic Church on this issue,

    But really, why?

  • Thank you. We are in total agreeement.

    Except that most pedophiles are just that– attracted to children,

  • Without rancor, I’m afraid we cannot agree on the question of error, or the accuracy of past translations. Time and more study does not always evidence change in any case. Of course, the most difficult thing for me is that sincere and genuine believers in Christ cannot always bridge the gaps that separate them.

  • “You cannot be a priest without a vocation, a literal calling from god.” Female priests and pastors prove you wrong on that all the time Ben.
    Secondly, it isn’t only the RCC who get all of the child molesters.

  • Where does it say that women caused sin? Eve was deceived; Adam sinned.
    Where does it say that through “St Mary” that salvation came to us? Salvation is through Jesus.
    Yes, we do wonder why the heathen, and apostates such as you rave.

  • From the Family Research Council:

    Pedophiles are invariably males: Almost all sex crimes against children are committed by men.

    Significant numbers of victims are males: Up to one-third of all sex crimes against children are committed against boys (as opposed to girls).

    The 10 percent fallacy: Studies indicate that, contrary to the inaccurate but widely accepted claims of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, homosexuals comprise between 1 to 3 percent of the population.

    Homosexuals are overrepresented in child sex offenses: Individuals from the 1 to 3 percent of the population that is sexually attracted to the same sex are committing up to one-third of the sex crimes against children.

    Some homosexual activists defend the historic connection between homosexuality and pedophilia: Such activists consider the defense of “boy-lovers” to be a legitimate gay rights issue.

    Pedophile themes abound in homosexual literary culture: Gay fiction as well as serious academic treatises promote “intergenerational intimacy.”

    Homosexual apologists admit that some homosexuals sexually molest children, but they deny that homosexuals are more likely to commit such offenses. After all, they argue, the majority of child molestation cases are heterosexual in nature. While this is correct in terms of absolute numbers, this argument ignores the fact that homosexuals comprise only a very small percentage of the population.

    The evidence indicates that homosexual men molest boys at rates grossly disproportionate to the rates at which heterosexual men molest girls. To demonstrate this it is necessary to connect several statistics related to the problem of child sex abuse: 1) men are almost always the perpetrator; 2) up to one-third or more of child sex abuse cases are committed against boys; 3) less than three percent of the population are homosexuals. Thus, a tiny percentage of the population (homosexual men), commit one-third or more of the cases of child sexual molestation.

    Men Account for Almost All Sexual Abuse of Children Cases
    An essay on adult sex offenders in the book Sexual Offending Against Children reported:”It is widely believed that the vast majority of sexual abuse is perpetrated by males and that female sex offenders only account for a tiny proportion of offences. Indeed, with 3,000 adult male sex offenders in prison in England and Wales at any one time, the corresponding figure for female sex offenders is 12!”[1]

    Kee MacFarlane, et al., writing in Sexual Abuse of Young Children: Evaluation and Treatment report:”The large majority of sexual perpetrators appear to be males (Herman and Hirschman, 1981; Lindholm and Willey, 1983).”[2]

    A report by the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children states: “In both clinical and non-clinical samples, the vast majority of offenders are male.”[3]

    A study in the Journal of Sex Research states that “pedophilia does not exist, or is extremely rare, in women.”[4]

    A Significant Percentage of Child Sexual Abuse Victims are Boys
    According to the Journal of Child Psychiatry: “It was commonly believed fifteen years ago that girls were abused in excess of boys in a ratio of about 9 to 1, but contemporary studies now indicate that the ratio of girls to boys abused has narrowed remarkably. . . . The majority of community studies suggest a . . . ratio . . . in the order of 2 to 4 girls to 1 boy.”[5] Another study found that “some authors now believe that boys may be sexually abused as commonly as girls (Groth, 1978; O’Brien, 1980).”[6]

    A study of 457 male sex offenders against children in Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that “approximately one-third of these sexual offenders directed their sexual activity against males.”[7]

    and on, and on…..

  • Sandy-Babe, your anti-male biases are showing! I was a high school administrator once, and knew first-hand of female sex offenders who were equal opportunity offenders!

    I’ve continued to track on this for a couple of decades now, and female sex offenders are solidly in the majority when it comes to high schooll-aged victims. Men have finally gotten the message: “Don’t screw the pretty, sometimes-willing girls!” Those women offenders are likely hoping to either the female gender card with male victims, or else the lesbian card and claim the student came on to her. The fact that you still hear about these female offenses, is just more evidence that the “system” still favors women and shelters them from facing just censure and punishment.

  • Well congratulations! But you’ve proven nothing. Nothing that I submitted said it was only 100% male. A bit anti-female are you?

  • There is no rancor. It’s scientific evidence, but extremely difficult to accept because it’s about such a personal and intense subject. Thus some may never accept it and those gaps will persist. Still, there is much Christians can and should share. I hold no ill will toward those who deny accurate revisions, except when they use their understanding as a cudgel to beat those who disagree with them.

  • Tell that to the Catholic Church, not to me. I’m an atheist.

    But then, you really don’t care what your bible says,do you.

  • When are people going to stop “sweating the small stuff”? There have been infinitely worse things to object to in the Roman Catholic church than its gay problem, many of which I lay out at my http://JesusWouldBeFurious.Org/MoralRelativism-RC-Style , none of which is “defamatory”, because it simply lays out unpleasant historical FACTS. If Catholics find those facts offensive, they should take it up with those responsible for those facts, not those who REPORT THEM!

  • I guess my contention is that any revisions thus far with respect to the context of the text are in fact not accurate and though we may not agree on that, that is, what the text is actually saying, I always try to frame my arguments civilly since we are all fallen individuals and I have issues of my own with respect to consistent obedience, understanding, and practice of the faith.

  • Yes, I understand what you are saying. My hope is that you will give yourself time to consider what I’ve told you. More accurate translations do not make the bible any less god’s inspired word. It does not diminish the value of what lies within the covers.

    As always, I appreciate your civility, thoughtfulness and humility. Best to you as you wrestle with this information.

  • If they apply their standard too rigorously as to who is gay, they will cut the number of males willing to be priests in their church by at least half.

  • Edward Borges-Silva and Her Leftness:
    I don’t understand why you spend time and effort discussing the accuracy of the multiple translations the Bible (specially the Old Testament) has undergone. You are talking about form when what really matters is the content. How much credence can you give to a compilation (made by human beings with an agenda) of texts written over a span of a thousand years by a multitude of different writers, many of whom are unknown? The older texts were originally written in Biblical Aramaic or Classical Hebrew then translated to Koine Greek and Latin Vulgate by another multitude of people some of which weren’t as qualified as others. Some would translate literally while others were creative and paraphrased. As a result there has been a multitude of translation errors detected throughout history but that is the least of your problems when trying to proof the Bible’s veracity. You see, we also know that many of the original writings were not written by those they are attributed to. The gospel of Luke was written by an anonymous author who also wrote the Acts of the Apostles around 90 AD but there’s evidence it was still being revised well into the 2nd century.

    But all this doesn’t matter that much. Even if the Bible, as we know it today, were a perfect representation of what was originally written by the alleged prophets (they always proclaimed themselves to have received a message from God to be transmitted, no credible independent proof of this fact was ever provided) and apostles (we still don’t know their real names or number as they vary from gospel to gospel), the bottom line is that the Scriptures are simply a compilation of human works and, as such, are likely to be full of errors and, possibly, exaggerations or plain lies.

    Has anybody ever questioned why the OT or Hebrew Bible only talks about Yahweh as the God of Israel? Does it make sense that we believe in an exclusionary God that only cares about the well being of one single ethnic/religious group…the chosen people? How fair is it for a God to make a covenant with the patriarchal leader of just one group, and present him with a vast expanse of land as a gift for him and his descendants to own and enjoy forever? Wouldn’t you think that Philistines, Amorites, Babylonians, Edomites and every other nation must have felt extremely dejected at receiving nothing from a Father who supposedly should love all his sons equally?

    So my guess is the Roman Catholic Church (which is nowhere near catholic or universal btw) or any other Christian denomination may feel entitled to follow the Lord’s example and choose to love just some of their children while discriminating against other…like the gays for example.