The Vatican published its long-awaited document on gays in the clergy Tuesday, saying men with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies should not be ordained but those with a "transitory problem" could be if they had overcome them for three years.
The official release of the "Instruction" from the Congregation for Catholic Education came a week after an Italian Catholic news agency posted a leaked copy on its Web site. As a result, the document's contents were already known.
Reaction has been mixed, with conservatives saying it may help reverse the "gay culture" that has grown in many U.S. seminaries. Liberal critics have complained that the restrictions will create morale problems among existing priests and lead to an even greater priest shortage in the United States.
Some observers also have raised questions about just what the document means by a "deep-seated homosexual tendency," since a definition isn't provided.
The Rev. Timothy Radcliff, former superior of the Dominican order, wrote in the British Catholic weekly the Tablet that the phrase could be interpreted as concerning men with a "permanent homosexual orientation."
"But this cannot be correct since, as I have said, there are many excellent priests who are gay and who clearly have a vocation from God."
"Having worked with bishops and priests, diocesan and religious, all over the world, I have no doubt that God does call homosexuals to the priesthood, and they are among the most dedicated and impressive priests I have met," he wrote.
Pope Benedict XVI approved the "Instruction" on Aug. 31 and ordered it published — one of the first major documents he has approved for release since being elected pope April 19.
The document has been years in the works, but its existence came to light in 2002 at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States. A study commissioned by U.S. bishops found that most abuse victims since 1950 were adolescent boys.
Experts on sex offenders say homosexuals are no more likely than heterosexuals to molest young people, but that did not stifle questions about gay seminarians.
The document restates church teaching that deep-seated homosexual tendencies are "objectively disordered" but that gays should be treated with respect and shouldn't be discriminated against.
"In light of such teaching ... 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,"' it says.
Such men can't be priests because they are in a situation that "gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women," it says.
But it distinguishes such men from others with homosexual tendencies "that were only the expression of a transitory problem — for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded."
"Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate," it says.
The document is short — nine pages including the title page and footnotes that make up the bulk of the text.