Pope Francis, who once famously said “Who am I to judge?” on the subject of gay priests, has approved a new Vatican document reaffirming that “persons with homosexual tendencies” are barred from Roman Catholic seminaries and the priesthood.
The document, called “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” was released today, Catholic magazine America reports. It was written by the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, and Pope Francis signed off on it.
Francis has often been perceived as more LGBT-friendly than his predecessors. In 2013, asked by a journalist about the presence of gay priests in the church, he said, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?” He has said the church should apologize to LGBT people for mistreating them. A group of LGBT Catholics making a pilgrimage to Rome in 2015 received VIP seats for his weekly general audience. He has met with a transgender man from Spain, who described the pope as warm and supportive, and while in the U.S. last year he met with a gay former student and the man’s partner and friends.
But Francis has not changed church doctrine; indeed, only the most wildly optimistic would expect him to do so. The church continues to consider same-sex relationships unequal to heterosexual marriages (and sinful as well), and the concept of gender transition or fluidity a violation of God’s plan for humanity. And even though it’s widely acknowledged that there are gay priests, who like heterosexual priests take a vow of celibacy, “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation” makes clear that the official line is they’re not welcome.
It quotes from a 2005 document on the same subject, saying the church cannot admit those “who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’” to seminaries or holy orders, the latter of which includes the priesthood. “One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” it continues.
It does say that men — the Catholic priesthood is limited to men — who have experienced “transitory” same-sex attractions can be admitted to seminaries, but “such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.” A deacon is a ministerial position that ranks lower than priest.
LGBT Catholics and their supporters were disappointed by the document. “The writers of the document seem to have closed their eyes to the fact that thousands upon thousands of gay men are already serving faithfully and effectively in the Catholic priesthood,” said a statement issued by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT equality in the church. “Indeed, without gay men, the Church would not be able to operate. (Add to that the multitude of lesbian women who serve in diverse ministries in the Church, whose service allows so much good to happen.)”
“Had the document not been approved by Pope Francis, it could easily be dismissed as the work of over-zealous Vatican officials,” DeBernardo continued. “But the pope’s approval of this text is a great disappointment to many people — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual supporters — who held out greater hopes for this pontiff who had done so much to open church discussion on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. So much of the language about gay men is simply a restatement from the 2005 document issued by Pope Benedict XVI. In his three-and-a-half years as pontiff, Francis has shown that he has moved away from Benedict’s approach to issues of sexuality.”
DeBernardo called on Francis to either retract the document or at least “explain exactly where he stands, given the blatant contradiction between ‘Who am I to judge?’ and this most recent document.”