LGBT advocates express frustration over Vatican document barring gay priests

Groups that advocate for LGBT persons in the Catholic church are expressing frustration with a new Vatican document that reaffirms a 2005 instruction banning gay men from entering the priesthood.

The document, released by the Congregation for Clergy on Monday and given the title "The Gift of the Priestly Vocation," is a detailed set of norms and guidelines for priestly formation.

The document draws heavily on Pope John Paul II's 1992 apostolic exhortation on priestly formation, as well as on the teaching of and norms issued by now-retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and by Vatican offices over the past three decades.

It reaffirms an instruction approved by Benedict in 2005, which said, "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.'"

Following are excerpts of the responses to the new document from three U.S.-based groups: DignityUSA, New Ways Ministry, and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

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From DignityUSA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke:

"This document is extremely disappointing in its approach to gay men called to be priests. It is not at all what anyone expected from the ‘Who am I to judge?’ Pope.

"These guidelines are a tremendous insult to the thousands of gay men who have served and continue to serve the Church with honor and dedication. They undermine decades of commitment by these men, and they fail to acknowledge that God calls a great variety of people to the priesthood."

From New Ways Ministry executive director Francis DeBernardo:

"Pope Francis has a lot of explaining to do by approving the newest Vatican instruction that reaffirms a 2005 ban on gay men becoming priests. Pope Francis’ famous 'Who am I to judge?' statement in 2013 was made in response to a question about gay men in the priesthood, and that response indicated very plainly that he did not have a problem with a gay priest’s sexual orientation, as long as 'he searches for the Lord and has good will.'

"The newest document ... contains three sections about gay men as candidates for the priesthood, and all of the messages are negative. The writers of the document seem to have closed their eyes to the fact that thousands upon thousands of gay men are already serving faithfully and effectively in the Catholic priesthood. Indeed, without gay men, the Church would not be able to operate."

From Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests director David Clohessy:

"Vatican officials are re-affirming their so-called ban on gay priests. Scapegoating some adults protects no children. Behavior, not orientation, is what matters.

"Half of our 20,000 plus members are women who were sexually assaulted as kids by priests, nuns, bishops and seminarians. It’s just wrong to assume or claim that most victims of child molesting clerics are boys.

"This will almost certainly have no impact whatsoever on the church’s continuing child sex abuse and cover up crisis. Those who hope this will make kids safer will be disappointed."

A report from Religion News Service adds that in an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily newspaper, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, head of the Congregation for the Clergy, said the guidelines for training priests needed to be “revamped” to take into account developments in society and the pope’s concerns about the priesthood.

He said special attention was given to Francis’ concerns about “temptations tied to money, to the authoritarian exercise of power, to rigid legalism and to vainglory” among clerics.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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