Vatican ruling to have little impact

Area seminary already in compliance with `Instruction' on homosexuality and priests

November 30, 2005|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

The new Vatican ruling that men with "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" should not be considered for the priesthood will likely have little impact on the church here, according to local Catholic leaders.

St. Mary's Seminary and University was already in compliance with the long-anticipated "Instruction" issued yesterday by the Congregation for Catholic Education, its rector said, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore has long required men to have been celibate for at least three years before they may enter the seminary.

"The goal of the Archdiocese of Baltimore has been and will continue to be to find applicants who are psychologically mature men, faithful to the teachings of the church and who possess a clear understanding of celibacy and the spiritual and emotional capacity to commit to a celibate life," Cardinal William H. Keeler said in a statement.

"This screening and formation process has led to the ordination of countless priests who, like those currently serving God's people in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, are committed to a healthy ministry of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the faith communities they serve."

Keeler's statement came after the release of the first major ruling by the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI, an eight-page document intended to guide church leaders in vetting candidates for the declining ranks of the priesthood.

The document restates church teaching that homosexuality is "objectively disordered."

"The church," it reads, "while deeply respecting the people in question, cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture.

"Those people find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies.

"If instead it is a case of homosexual tendencies that are merely the expression of a transitory problem, for example as in the case of an unfinished adolescence, they must however have been clearly overcome for at least three years before ordination as a deacon."

The ruling, divulged in a series of leaks, has drawn a wide range of reactions, including praise by those concerned about an encroachment of "gay culture" in Catholic seminaries, criticism by those who see it as unfairly discriminatory and questions about what phrases such as "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" mean.

"This doesn't provide any clear definitions of the terms that it uses," said Paul Griffiths, a professor of Catholic studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "That means that applying a document like this is going to be entirely local - it will be up to local seminary rectors and bishops."

Keeler called the document "helpful," saying it presents the church with a "teachable moment" to give clarity on its views on sexuality and priestly formation. The Rev. Robert Leavitt, rector and president of St. Mary's Seminary and University, said the institution's admissions and formation policies are "fully in accord" with the instruction.

"The seminary places particular emphasis in its priestly formation program on affective maturity, chastity and the ability of seminarians to relate pastorally and spiritually to both men and women," Leavitt said in a statement.

Griffiths said the impact of the ruling will be difficult to predict.

"If it's right that a fairly substantial proportion now in seminaries and/or already ordained are gay, and it may well be right, a document like this may well discourage some gay people in the future from considering a vocation to the priesthood," he said.

"It would be hard to say, because the document leaves it quite open as to just how the decision should be made. It's up to the decision of the individual, the confessor, and the seminary rector to think this through. So it's not that in principle any legal ban is placed. It's a question of discernment and discretion."

The head of the Congregation for Catholic Education stressed yesterday that the ruling was intended for candidates for the priesthood, and not priests who discover their homosexuality after having been ordained.

Such a priest "has to try to live in chastity," Polish Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski told Vatican Radio. "Maybe he will need more spiritual support than others, but I think he should be a priest in the best way possible."

The former superior of the Dominican order has written in support of ordaining celibate homosexuals.

"Having worked with bishops and priests, diocesan and religious, all over the world, I have no doubt that God does call homosexuals to the priesthood, and they are among the most dedicated and impressive priests I have met," the Rev. Timothy Radcliff wrote in the British Catholic weekly The Tablet.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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