“Pope Francis has a lot of explaining to do,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a nominally Catholic LGBT organization.
“Had the document not been approved by Pope Francis, it could easily be dismissed as the work of over-zealous Vatican officials,” he said. “But the pope’s approval of this text is a great disappointment to many people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual supporters—who held out greater hopes for this pontiff.”
In Thursday’s document titled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy laid out broad guidelines for priestly formation including a section devoted to “Persons with Homosexual Tendencies.”
The document, personally approved by Pope Francis, draws extensively from a 2005 text issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stating that men “who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’” are ineligible for the Catholic priesthood.
Such persons “find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women,” the text states. “One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
DeBernardo wasn’t alone in criticizing the new document.
Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA, another “Catholic” gay advocacy group, called the document “extremely disappointing” and “a tremendous insult” to the thousands of gay men who serve as Catholic priests.
“It is not at all what anyone expected from the ‘Who am I to judge?’ Pope,” she said in a written statement.
David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) also lashed out at Pope Francis, saying that by excluding gay priests, the Vatican was “scapegoating” rather than protecting children from abuse. “It’s just wrong to assume or claim that most victims of child molesting clerics are boys.”
Nonetheless, studies on the clerical sex abuse crisis revealed that over 80 percent of the victims of clergy sexual abuse were in fact male.
In 2004, the research committee of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People prepared a comprehensive report on the crisis. The head of the committee, Washington lawyer Robert S. Bennett, said that any evaluation of the causes and context of the crisis “must be cognizant of the fact that more than 80 percent of the abuse at issue was of a homosexual nature.”
“That eighty-one percent of the reported victims of child abuse by Catholic clergy were boys shows that the crisis was characterized by homosexual behavior,” the report stated.
Bennett warned that formation personnel had not screened candidates for the priesthood properly, “allowing many sexually dysfunctional and ‘immature’ men into seminaries; and seminaries did not adequately prepare students for the priesthood, particularly for the challenge of remaining celibate.”
The original Vatican guidelines of 2005 barring gays from studying for the priesthood was drafted as part of a Church-wide effort to address the problem of abuse.
The Vatican has insisted that that seminary personnel need to look more closely at “areas of immaturity” that could make candidates unsuitable for the priesthood, including “strong affective dependencies,” “uncertain sexual identity” and “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
Thursday’s document states that homosexual tendencies that are only the expression of a “transitory problem” do not constitute an insurmountable obstacle to the priesthood, but “such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”