The Cardinal Explains His Document

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski is in the center of a storm.

As the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, it is he who signed, sealed and delivered the document banning homosexual candidates from being ordained to the priesthood. He spoke with Register Correspondent Edward Pentin in Rome.

Your new document is called “Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations With Regard to Persons With Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.” Does the document provide a new standard?

It's not a new norm. Practically, it's a simple conclusion of all that the Church has taught. It's been said many times by the Congregation for Divine Worship that homosexual candidates cannot be admitted. It's not a novelty. We simply want to recall this, to highlight the teaching of the Church for all and to those who might have doubts. Probably most people haven't had doubts about this matter.

How much is this document aimed at preventing sexual abuse by priests?

This document isn't about other questions outside the issue of ordination of candidates with homosexual tendencies. It isn't about the problem of someone who has abused children, but probably it is more difficult for them to relate correctly to both men and women. But per se, this document doesn't deal with that.

How optimistic are you that this document will put an end to a homosexual subculture among clergy? Will it change the so-called “pink palaces,” those seminaries where there is a prominent homosexual culture accepted by students and professors?

I think the situation that you speak about concerns certain regions. It's not something that can be applied to the whole Church. In most nations, this problem doesn't exist in the Church. Evidently, erroneous opinions are given concerning homosexuality. We know that for many years there has been the opinion that homosexuality is a normal condition, that it's natural, that it's an alternative to being heterosexual and to say that it's a disorder is a defamation, a discrimination against the person. It's then said that homosexual acts are completely justified, that there are rights to having homosexual acts. In this sense, this culture has created some confusion in the ecclesiastical environment.

To address this, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has already produced many documents.

In 1975, it published a declaration called Persona Humana that deals with questions of sexual ethics and homosexuality. Then there was a beautiful document from the congregation [1986's Homosexualitatis Persona] that called homosexuality a problem and was about the pastoral care of homosexuals — it was given to every bishop.

There were also two documents from this congregation — one of which made proposals concerning regulations concerning the non-discrimination of persons, and the other which concerned the legal recognition of unions between homosexual persons. Our document is a simple conclusion of these previous documents, a coherent statement of the position of the Church.

This clear position of our congregation should help solve problems where they exist. Certainly one cannot deal with every case because homosexuality can appear in adult life, even after ordination.

But at least one has to be able to realize the nature of homosexuality which is, above all, expressed in the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is a summary of the doctrine of the Church which distinguishes between homosexual acts that have always been considered in the Bible and the tradition of the Church to be sins because they stop the complementarity of the sexes and the transmission of life. Speaking about homosexuality as a tendency is, per se, not a sin, but it's an inclination towards behavior which is sinful and for this reason the Church says it's a certain disorder.

How would you define the difference between a deep-seated and transitory tendency?

For people who have a transitory tendency, it's not the fruit of an internal inclination — there's a difference. For example, he might be a curious adolescent or someone tempted by someone else to try it. It might be something accidental. He might have felt an inclination under the influence of alcohol; or in certain circumstances, someone might have had such a tendency who, for many years, has lived in a prison, in the company of men, and had not had even the possibility to have sexual relations with a woman. It may have been about pleasing a superior or someone he knows, or to earn money.

These don't originate from an internal tendency but from other circumstances, those that are external, per se.

Who will be responsible for applying this instruction?

In the first place, the bishop is responsible; the bishop is responsible for ordaining candidates to the priesthood. They should have a moral certainty that the candidate is suitable. If there are established doubts, then canon law says he shouldn't ordain the candidate. But it's not only up to the bishops. In a certain sense, all the moderators in a seminary are involved — rectors, above all spiritual directors, are obliged by conscience to tell a candidate that has a tendency towards homosexuality to interrupt his seminary studies.

If a spiritual director believes a candidate has deep-seated tendencies, will he have to break the confessional oath of confidence?

A spiritual director cannot reveal what was said during confession; he cannot use what is an internal matter outside, but he can encourage the candidate to realize that he has an obligation to break off his formation. All of these issues should remain within the internal forum, they cannot be used externally.

So the spiritual director mustn't tell anyone the reasons why such a candidate must end his studies?

No. To the candidate he can explain the reason, but not to others. He has an obligation to tell the seminarian himself that he should interrupt his studies.

What happens if the candidate refuses to end his formation?

If he refuses, then the confessor can refuse to give him absolution because it's a serious problem.

What do you say to those priests who have deep-seated tendencies and are perhaps now questioning whether they ever had a vocation?

Our declaration absolutely doesn't deal with the validity of ordination. It's about the opportuneness of ordaining men for whom such problems might arise. It's our experience that these people have much more difficulty in their pastoral apostolate. If so, for those priests who are already homosexual, their ordination is valid and so they should serve as the Church says, in celibacy, in chastity.

They might have to try harder than others to avoid occasions [of sin], they might have to go more often to receive the sacrament of penance. They should use all these means. All priests should be celibate or they will have problems. Homosexuals may have more of a problem living in chastity, but they must live in chastity, uniting their difficulty with the suffering of Christ and take up the cross.

The Gospel is very clear: Jesus said, “If any one would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” He also said, “Whoever doesn't take up his cross isn't worthy of me” — he was very clear about that. Therefore, the priest is invited to take up the cross in order to exercise his ministry as well as possible.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.