Homosexuality and Holy Orders

FAIRFAX STATION, VA. — Bishops and seminary rectors would do well to follow the Vatican's new instruction regarding admission of homosexuals to seminaries, said veteran vocations director Father James Gould.

“Instruction 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” was released by the Vatican Nov. 29. It states that the Church “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.’”

According to Catholic News Service, a cover letter accompanying the document said the norms must be “faithfully observed” and taken into account in the drafting or updating of each country's seminary guidelines. It further states that while the instruction does not apply to those already ordained, priests with homosexual tendencies should not be appointed rectors or have teaching roles in seminaries.

Father Gould led one of the more successful priestly formation programs in the United States, overseeing the ordination of more than 100 priests In 15 years.

“We never saw homosexuals, or men with homosexual tendencies, as fit for the seminary, and we didn't admit them,” said Father Gould, who now is pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort parish in Fairfax Station, Va.

Father Gould said bishops and seminary rectors who implement the instruction will probably initiate fierce conversations with prospective seminarians.

“I was known for sitting the prospective seminarian down and asking a series of questions,” Father Gould said. “I asked, ‘Have you ever been married? Are there any kids out there who look like you?’ That always broke the ice.

“Then I’d say, ‘I'm sorry, but I have to ask you some serious questions now. Have you had any problems with homosexual attractions? Are you a homosexual?’ A lot of them were up-front and honest with us, and if they said Yes we didn't take them.”

Father Gould said applicants who lied were often flagged during psychological screening, and then asked again about homosexuality.

Several U.S. bishops said the document would result in no changes at their seminaries because they already prevent homosexuals and those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” from attending seminary.

“I don't think this will change anything in the present policies of the Lincoln diocese,” Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., said. “We have used this policy already.”

“My reaction to the document is favorable,” Bishop Bruskewitz said. “At least for now it goes far enough in giving direction to bishops, rectors, spiritual directors and potential seminarians about what the Church expects in the discernment process and admissions process for vocations to holy orders.”

In Denver, home to two successful seminaries that have recently been expanded to accommodate growing enrollments, Archbishop Charles Chaput praised the new document and called on fellow bishops to implement it.

“It falls to every bishop — supported by seminary rectors and formation teams — to examine and discern the suitability of every candidate for priesthood on a case-by-case basis that respects the dignity of the individual,” he wrote in the Denver Catholic Register.

Archbishop Chaput said the Church desires to ordain only those men who can joyfully accept the theology and personal practice of Catholic teaching on human sexuality.

“Those who cannot do so should not be burdened with demands they cannot honestly bear,” he wrote. “This is simply common sense.”

Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne, Ind., also reacted to the Vatican's instruction by making it clear to his flock that nothing would need to change in Fort Wayne. At a Nov. 30 press conference, Bishop D’Arcy said he has been turning homosexuals away from priestly formation for 20 years.

He explained that one reason he has forbidden admission to homosexuals is his concern that they will scare away the more numerous heterosexual seminarians.

“You're very close together all the time,” D’Arcy said. “When you're living that close together it does cause turmoil, and some have left for that reason.”

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., also welcomed the statement and said it would cause no changes in admissions policies or procedures in his archdiocese.

“The seminary admissions policy of the archdiocese is in conformity with the new guidelines and has been so for many years,” Cardinal McCarrick said in a prepared statement. “The archdiocese does not accept as a candidate for seminary admission someone who is sexually active, advocates homosexuality or has ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies,’ as the document notes.”

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men — which represents 210 religious orders — issued a statement calling the Vatican's new instructions “consistent with the tradition of the Church.”

“It is important to remind all of us that a religious vocation, including one to the priesthood, is indeed an invitation by God to commit oneself to an evangelical way of life,” the statement said.

Wiggle Room?

Shortly after the document's release, in fact, Bishop William Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Washington Post that the instruction is open to interpretation and would allow admission of homosexuals into seminaries. He told the Post that the document explains how a candidate's life of sacred ministry must be “animated by a gift of his whole person to the Church and by an authentic pastoral charity.”

“If that becomes paramount in his ministry, even though he might have a homosexual orientation, then he can minister and he can minister celibately and chastely,” he said.

Bishop D’Arcy said that some bishops and seminary leaders will misinterpret the instructions.

“We've already heard some indications of that, and we will see some people leaving seminaries because of this,” Bishop D’Arcy said. “In the long range this instruction is going to have a terrific effect on the church. Seminaries have improved greatly in recent years, and a lot of people working in seminaries are going to take this document seriously.”

Wayne Laugesen is based in Boulder, Colorado.