There's fresh news on the status of gay men in the priesthood. Of course, as usual, the actual document has not been released, and we have to rely on "a Vatican source." Still, the information is very detailed and looks like something that has been intentionally leaked to head off rumors. There is good news, bad news, and good news.
The good news is that there will be no absolute ban on gay men in seminaries. This will be a great relief to gay men who feel they have a vocation to the priesthood, and seminary faculty and administrators whose ministry is to prepare and not exclude those men. It is also good news to the rest of us Catholics, since we do not have to feel that our Church has denied us ministers for bigoted and reactionary reasons.
The bad news is that there are still conditions under which gay men are not to be admitted to seminaries:
Although this is presented more as a guide than a rule, it is still terribly insulting to gay Catholics. It implies that homosexuals are somehow less capable of celibacy then straight men (despite certain scandals). In fact, according to this document, if their orientation is "strong, permanent and univocal" (whatever that means), they can put "an all-male environment" at risk. Has anyone ever suggested that straight priests whose heterosexual orientation is "strong, permanent and univocal" avoid working in all-female environments, such as convents or certain parish offices?
- 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.
The prohibition of priests participating in "gay culture" is also problematic. While recognizing that certain priests may be gay, they deny they right of these priests to negotiate their identity as gay men in our society and they imply that their identity is something to be hidden away and closeted. It also restricts the ability of priests to participate in their community in areas with a large gay population and thus minister effectively to gay Catholics.
The news on the whole, however, is as good as we can expect from a hierarchy which is this defensive about its power. If the document follows the line described by the Vatican source, it means the most intransigent, homophobic and exclusionary voices in the hierarchy have lost their battle. Although the document may be insulting in the conditions discussed above, it does not take the fatal step of declaring being homosexual as intrinsically sinful, and thus it is a building block upon which to slowly eradicate homophobia from the Church. Also, the document allows a certain about of maneuvering room for seminary officials, saying of the three conditions:
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...As long as there is the space for applying criteria on a case-by-case basis, there is still autonomy for different seminaries and different orders to approach this question in a more sensitive manner, allowing officials to follow their consciences and preventing an exodus of the best seminary officials from the field. If the Vatican document comes out as described by the source, it will be very far from a step forward. It will, however, not be such a step backwards as to cause irreparable damage to the Church.