Home > Archives > 11 - 2005 > When it is not proper to admit to the priesthood
from issue no. 11 - 2005

DOCUMENTS. Homosexuality and admission to the priesthood

When it is not proper to admit to the priesthood

An interview with Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education on the subject of the Instruction about the criteria of selection for vocation of people with homosexual tendencies in view of their admission to the seminary and to Holy Orders

Interview with Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski by Gianni Cardinale

Young priests walking on San Peter's square

Young priests walking on San Peter's square

On 29 November came the publication of the Instruction of the Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education «on the subject of the criteria of selection for vocation of people with homosexual tendencies in view of their admission to the seminary and to the Holy Orders». The document, approved in simple form by the Pope on 31 August, bears the signature of the Prefect of the department, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, and of the Secretary, Canadian archbishop Michael J. Miller, a member of the Congregation of Saint Basil.

To learn the main points of the Instruction, 30Days asked some questions of Cardinal Grocholewski. Born 66 years ago in Poland (archdiocese of Posnan), he has worked in the Roman Curia from the time of Paul VI. After studying in Rome, Grocholewski began working immediately as a simple priest in the Apostolic Signet, of which he became Secretary in 1982 and Prefect in October of 1998. The following year he was called to head the Congregation for Catholic Education, and in 2001 was created cardinal.

Your Eminence, what reasons lie at the origin of the Instruction?
ZENON GROCHOLEWSKI: In recent years there has been a spread of mistaken or ambiguous opinions whereby homosexuality is alleged to be a natural tendency, inscribed in human nature alongside the heterosexual tendency. It has been claimed that considering homosexuality as a disorder is discrimination and that homosexual acts are justifiable. Not only that. People are said to have the right to perform such acts. The spread of these ideas has already provoked repeated interventions by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. These are, in fact, opinions that find no justification whatsoever in the doctrine of the Church: they are contrary to natural law, they are contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture and to the constant Tradition of the Church. And given that these opinions have in some way penetrated even into certain ecclesiastical circles, our Congregation has been invited to intervene by many bishops, by many superiors of seminaries and by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith itself.
Was this intervention determined only by the spread of mistaken opinions or also because the phenomenon of homosexuality has reached considerable scale in the seminaries?
GROCHOLEWSKI: It would be wrong to say that it is a considerable problem on the level of the universal Church. One can say, however, that in certain geographical areas the problem is more worrying.
Did the crisis of the priests accused of paedophilia that has struck the Catholic Church in the United States also play a role in the creation of the Instruction?
GROCHOLEWSKI: In some way yes, even if the document is previous to the explosion of the American crisis, which thus can’t be considered the reason for the document.
The Instruction has been criticized even within the world of the Church. The former Master General of the Dominicans, Father Timothy Radcliffe, wrote in The Tablet that he has no doubt that God calls homosexuals to the priesthood and that they «are among the most committed and dedicated priests I have met»…
GROCHOLEWSKI: We know that every priestly vocation is a call from the Lord, but the call comes through the Church, in the Church and for the Church. For that reason the Church has the right, indeed the duty, of determining the requisites necessary for being admitted to the priesthood. One cannot deny that certain people with homosexual tendencies can carry out their priesthood in exemplary manner. The purpose of our document is the fact that it is nevertheless not proper to call these people to the priesthood. I understand that it is a grave decision, but it was not taken lightly.
Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski

Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski

In what sense?
GROCHOLEWSKI: We did not take it from one day to the next, with nonchalance. We consulted several Congregations of the Roman Curia: that for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Society of Apostolic Life, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for the Clergy, for the Eastern Churches. We discussed the document in three Plenary Assemblies of the Congregation, up to the approval reached at the plenary meeting this year, in which around thirty cardinals coming from all corners of the world took part. The document is the outcome of reflection and discussion also with experts in the field. In the end it was decided, as said, that it is not proper to admit to the priesthood those who practise homosexuality, who have tendencies rooted in homosexuality and who encourage the so-called gay culture. For practical reasons, based on experience and founded on the doctrine of the Church, we believe that it is not proper to admit these people to the priesthood because of the difficulties that can arise, and experience has taught us that arise they do!
What is the meaning of the expression «deeply rooted tendencies»? What can a homosexual tendency that is not «deeply rooted» be?
GROCHOLEWSKI: No scientific instrument exists to measure how deeply rooted a tendency may be. Our document helps however to discern whether it is a matter of a deeply rooted tendency, that is permanent and generated by an inner need, or whether it is a matter of a transitory tendency caused by external conditions. As an example of transitory tendency our document lists the case of incomplete adolescence. But there can also be other cases. For example the case of those who have performed homosexual acts in a state of drunkenness, or of those who did so as a result of determined circumstances, such as having spent many years in prison. Or of those who have done so out of obedience to a superior or to earn money. In these cases, however, for the sake of prudence, to check that it is a matter of a truly transitory tendency, it is well that a fitting period of time be allowed to pass, which the document establishes as three years, before proceeding to ordination as deacon.
The Instruction deals with the seminaries. What about already ordained priests with homosexual tendencies?
GROCHOLEWSKI: Obviously, those ordinations are valid: one can’t claim them to be invalid. Also when a person discovers his homosexuality after priestly ordination, he must obviously carry out his priesthood, he must strive to live in chastity, to be faithful to the commitment made and to the doctrine of the Church, like all other priests. He may perhaps need greater spiritual help than others.
The Instruction has been sent out with an accompanying letter which states, in fact, that the validity of prior ordinations of candidates with strong homosexual tendencies is not in question. But it is requested that these people not be allowed to work in the seminaries…
GROCHOLEWSKI: In this case also it’s to do with a question of what’s proper. Seminaries house lads, young men. So for a homosexual it’s a very provoking setting, so to speak. Not counting that some eventual slackness by one of them would have a very deep impact on the life of a seminarian. One of the fundamental problems for the Church is the training of priests: of good priests who can be of help also in the apostolate of the laity. That is why we must be very careful about what happens in the seminaries. That is the reason why we ask the bishops to avoid having homosexual rectors and teachers in the seminaries.
A priestly ordination in Saint Peter’s Basilica

A priestly ordination in Saint Peter’s Basilica

In the Instruction you ask seminarians with rooted homosexual tendencies to declare their condition…
GROCHOLEWSKI: The wording of the text is very clear: it would be «gravely dishonest for a candidate to conceal his homosexuality in order to accede, despite everything, to ordination. Such insincere behavior does not go along with the spirit of truth, fairness and openness that must characterize the personality of those who believe they are called to serve Christ and his Church in the priestly ministry». Should a spiritual father or confessor learn of the fact that a seminarian has rooted homosexual tendencies, obviously they can’t denounce the fact publicly, but they must do everything possible to persuade the seminarian to leave the path he is launched on.
Again according to Father Radcliffe, self-declaration as homosexual runs the risk that the more sincere candidates will leave the seminary by their own decision, while the more devious won’t…
GROCHOLEWSKI: It would be a tragedy. I truly hope that an atmosphere of trust and collaboration is created in the seminaries so that it doesn’t happen. It’s a question of fundamental honesty for those who want to become priests.
The Instruction makes no mention whatsoever of the use of psychology…
GROCHOLEWSKI: The document did not aim to deal with all the problems linked to the emotional and sexual maturity of a candidate to the priesthood. Psychology and psychiatry can help a person rid himself of homosexual tendencies or live his condition chastely. These sciences may also be of a certain help to those who have incidentally had homosexual relations without having a deeply rooted tendency. But our document did not aim to deal with those topics.
There has been talk for years of a specific document from your Congregation devoted precisely to the use of psychology in the seminaries…
GROCHOLEWSKI: I have nothing to say on that matter.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português