In Strong Terms, Vatican Document Bans Gays as Priest

By REUTERS

New York Times

November 29, 2005

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - In the first major ruling of Pope Benedict's reign, the Vatican on Tuesday imposed restrictions on homosexuals entering the Catholic priesthood, saying men must first overcome any ``transitory'' gay tendencies.

The ruling came in a long-awaited eight-page document that has already sparked controversy after widespread leaks in the past few weeks.

Its strict line on the place of gays in the clergy has won praise from conservatives and condemnation from liberals, and set off heated debate beyond the Catholic Church by confronting an issue that has divided Christian congregations worldwide.

The document says practicing homosexuals should be barred from entering the priesthood along with men with ``deep-seated'' homosexual tendencies and those who support gay culture.

The urgency of the document has been highlighted by a sexual scandal in the United States three years ago, involving mostly abuse of teenage boys by priests.

Gay groups accuse the Church of using homosexuals as scapegoats for the abuse scandals.

The ``instruction'' by the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education makes a distinction between deep-seated homosexual tendencies and ``the expression of a transitory problem.''

It says homosexual tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before admission to the deaconate, a position one step short of the priesthood.

The document, released some seven months after Pope Benedict was elected, reinforces standing policy that many in the Church believe has not been properly enforced.

It does not affect men who are already priests but only those entering seminaries to prepare for the priesthood. The paper also calls on the faithful to show respect for homosexuals.

GAY GROUPS FURIOUS

``Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial,'' it says, repeating a phrase that has angered gays in the past.

``Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,'' it adds.

Conservative Catholics have welcomed the document as an important step in the reform of the priesthood, particularly in the United States, where they allege some seminaries have become venues for a thriving gay subculture.

Gay groups around the world were furious. The U.S-based Human Rights campaign called on Catholics of all sexual orientations to complain to their local pastors.

``We're speaking to Catholics in the pews and urging them to consider what Jesus would do if he saw his neighbor treated this way,'' the group said in a statement.

South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said the document was not just.

``For me, to make someone suffer penalties because of their sexual orientation is on the same level as making people be penalized for their gender, or race,'' he told Reuters.

Many in the Catholic Church have said the document risks alienating men who would be good priests and would be able to honor their vow of celibacy.

``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,'' said Father Timothy Radcliffe, former master of the Dominican order.