“Archbishop’s Column,” Denver Catholic Register
Published Week of Nov. 30, 2005
New Vatican instruction applies common sense, Church’s wisdom to priesthood question
Church seeks to ordain only those men who can joyfully accept Catholic teaching on human sexuality
The Vatican’s new instruction on the admission of candidates to seminary and the priesthood has fewer than 1,500 words. That works out to about an average Sunday homily. And like many of the best homilies, it seeks to apply common sense and the wisdom of the Church to problems of the day.
But we live in a culture where common sense can be rare. Thus, nobody should be surprised at the pre-emptive criticism and anxiety already directed at a Church document that deals with homosexuality and the priesthood.
Dated Nov. 4 and released to the public on Nov. 29 by the Congregation for Catholic Education, the new instruction says the following.
In accord with constant Catholic teaching and tradition, the Church sees the ordained priesthood as a vocation — a unique calling from God confirmed by the Church that Christ founded. The desire for ordination, no matter how unselfish or well intentioned, is not simply in itself a sign of vocation. The Church always plays a vital role in that discernment.
At ordination, every priest takes on a spiritual fatherhood to believers. As a result, candidates for the priesthood must have an “affective maturity” which will allow them to relate effectively to both men and women and to the community of faith entrusted to them. Living the vocation of a genuinely holy priesthood can only be accomplished by a man who possesses a firm Catholic spiritual foundation, and who is supported in his maturity by the Church.
How does this relate to the issue of homosexuality?
The new document from the Holy See, which has been under development since 1996, reconfirms the distinction Catholics must make between homosexual acts, which are always gravely sinful, and homosexually oriented persons, who have the same God-given rights and dignity as heterosexually oriented persons. The document specifically repudiates all unjust discrimination based on sexual orientation.
At the same time, it is neither unjust nor discriminatory for the Church to insist that candidates for the priesthood meet the demands of the ordained ministry. Those demands include and require, in the words of the Roman document, that:
“(The) Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, 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.’”
The Roman text adds, however, that, “Different (would) be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem — for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”
While persistent homosexual tendencies never preclude personal holiness — homosexuals and heterosexuals have the same Christian call to chastity, according to their state of life — they do make the vocation of effective priestly service that much more difficult.
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. The Church seeks to ordain only those men who can joyfully accept both 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. This is simply common sense.
The official Vatican publication date for this latest document on priestly formation — Nov. 4 — is the feast of the great patron saint of seminaries, St. Charles Borromeo. Borromeo dedicated his vocation to renewing Catholic life by renewing the priesthood and restoring — through the witness of holy priests — the mission of God’s people.
In issuing this month’s instruction on the admission of candidates to seminaries and the priesthood, the Holy See is continuing the same, on-going task.