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Posted Friday Oct. 7, 2005 at 8:27 a.m. CDT

No ban on gays expected
in Vatican document;
will advise 'prudential judgment'

By John L. Allen Jr.

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A forthcoming Vatican document on homosexuals in seminaries will not demand an absolute ban, a senior Vatican official told NCR Oct. 7, but will insist that seminary officials exercise "prudential judgment" that gay candidates should not be admitted in three cases.

Those three cases are:

  • If candidates have not demonstrated a capacity to live celibate lives for at least three years;
  • If they are part of a "gay culture," for example, attending gay pride rallies (a point, the official said, which applies both to professors at seminaries as well as students);
  • If their homosexual orientation is sufficiently "strong, permanent and univocal" as to make an all-male environment a risk.

In any case, the Vatican official said, whether or not these criteria exclude a particular candidate is a judgment that must be made in the context of individual spiritual direction, rather than by applying a rigid litmus test.

This language is in contrast with earlier news reports that had suggested a much more sweeping ban on gays in the seminary.

The senior Vatican official spoke with NCR on background, after an Oct. 7 report in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera listed the first two, but not the third, of the conditions noted above for exclusion of gay candidates.

The Vatican official said that given the ambiguity of the concept of "homosexuality," meaning the difficulty of providing a precise definition of the term, an "absolute policy" is impossible.

The official said the document is expected to appear in early November.

The pope gave his final approval, this official said, in a Sept. 15 audience at Castel Gandolfo with Archbishop William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Archbishop Angelo Amato, the secretary of that office; and Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education.

The document will likely be approved in forma specifica, the official said, which means that although it is a document of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the pope has nevertheless imparted his personal authority to it.

"The pope wants to sound an alarm bell," the official said, "in part because of perceptions that some American seminaries are predominantly gay."

The Vatican official emphasized that the document is not concerned with "sacramental theology," and hence does not express a theological judgment that homosexuals are unworthy of the priesthood. In fact, this official said, Vatican officials are aware that there are a number of gay priests who live celibately and do fine work.

The document, he said, has nothing to do with priests who are already ordained.

Instead, the official said, the document reflects a "prudential judgment" that in the three cases noted above, admission of a homosexual candidate to a seminary constitutes an unwise risk.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

October 7, 2005, National Catholic Reporter

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