The Vatican says homosexuals who are sexually active or support "gay culture" are unwelcome in the priesthood unless they have overcome their homosexual tendencies for at least three years, according to a church document posted on the Internet by an Italian Catholic news agency.
The long-awaited document is scheduled to be released by the Vatican on Nov. 29. A church official who has read the document confirmed the authenticity of the Internet posting by the Adista news agency. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the document has not yet been officially released by the Vatican.
The document said that "the church, while deeply respecting the people in question, cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture."
"Those people find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies," it said.
"If instead it is a case of homosexual tendencies that are merely the expression of a transitory problem, for example as in the case of an unfinished adolescence, they must however have been clearly overcome for at least three years before ordination as a deacon."
Vatican prohibitions on active homosexuals becoming priests are not new.
A key 1961 Vatican document on selecting candidates for the priesthood made clear homosexuals should be barred.
However, the sex abuse scandal among priests in the United States and elsewhere has led some to call for new restrictions.
Estimates of the number of gays in U.S. seminaries and the priesthood range from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to a review of research by the Rev. Donald Cozzens, a former seminary rector and author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood."
The Vatican press office announced in November 2002, at the height of the clergy sex scandal in the United States, that the Congregation for Catholic Education was drawing up guidelines for accepting candidates for the priesthood that would address the question of whether gays should be barred. However, the document reportedly had been in the works well before then.
The document, called an "Instruction" is only five pages, including footnotes. It was signed by the prefect and secretary of the congregation on Nov. 4 and says it was approved by Pope Benedict XVI on Aug. 31.
The sex abuse scandals have forced an unprecedented introspection into the clergy and how to train future priests.
In September, Vatican-directed inspectors started visiting all 229 American seminaries. Part of their mission is to seek any "evidence of homosexuality" at a time when some Catholics have put forward the highly contested premise that gay priests were more likely to be responsible for criminal behavior such as serial, same-sex molestation.
The Vatican has often visited the issue of homosexuality, reflecting an unbending theological opposition but also an acknowledgment that discrimination based on sexual preference is not justified.
In 2003, homosexuality was described as a "troubling moral and social phenomenon" in a document by the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict this year.
Vatican teaching also holds that homosexuals are "intrinsically disordered." The church, however, says gays and lesbians should be treated with compassion and dignity.