An upcoming church document does not decree a sweeping ban on gays in seminaries, allowing those who have lived chastely for at least three years to become priests, a senior Vatican official said Friday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Vatican (search) document has not yet been released, confirmed a report in the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that men who publicly show their homosexuality and those who reveal an attraction to the gay lifestyle should be refused admission to the clergy.
The report, by the newspaper's chief Vatican correspondent, Luigi Accattoli (search), cited sources who spoke to him about the document from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education. The Italian weekly Panorama said Friday that Pope Benedict XVI (search) approved the document during the summer.
One Vatican official said the document would be published very soon but refused to discuss the contents.
The senior official said, "Anyone who knows Catholic teaching should not be surprised by what the document says."
Several Vatican documents and letters over the years have said gays or men with homosexual tendencies should not be ordained, regardless of whether they can remain celibate.
The key one is a Feb. 2, 1961, document, an "Instruction on the Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Orders," which made clear homosexuals should be barred from the priesthood.
"[Advancement] to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers," the document from the then-Vatican's Congregation for Religious said.
Vatican teaching holds that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." The church, however, says homosexuals should be treated with compassion and dignity.
The senior official said there is a lot of "ambiguity" about the term homosexual and therefore much depends on the individual in question, therefore making it difficult to come up with an "absolute, sweeping policy."
The new document has been in the works for at least three years. The issue, though, has long been a subject of debate at the Vatican. It received renewed attention after the U.S. church sex-abuse scandal that erupted in 2002.
A study commissioned by U.S. bishops by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice after the scandal broke found most abuse victims since 1950 were adolescent boys. Experts on sex offenders said homosexuals are no more likely than heterosexuals to molest young people, but that did not stifle questions about homosexual seminarians.
Professor Dean Hoge, a Catholic University of America sociologist who studies the priesthood, says that if, as reported, the forthcoming document emphasizes "responsible living and not flaunting," then "most seminary rectors would agree with this and it should be seen as good news for everybody. ... This is not too far from present policy."
In Hoge's view, "an outright ban is not possible. There is no way of enforcing it."
Philip Lawler, conservative editor of the U.S.-based Catholic World News Web site, urged caution because he had been told the document as approved by the pope "did not have that sort of maneuvering room."
Lawler believes "people who have homosexual tendencies, whether or not they're active, should not be in seminaries." He said that "what the document says ends up as much less important than how the document is followed up and enforced."