Mons. Tony Anatrella, Psychoanalysist and expert in Social Psychiatry.
Professor of philosophy and psychology in a Jesuit University. Consultant at the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pastoral of Health Care.
The Congregation for Catholic Education has just published the instruction that reminds the constant requirement in the Church not to accept seminarians who present homosexual tendencies.
1. A long awaited and commented document
This document was demanded in many ad limina visits by bishops from all over the world, from vocations directors and seminaries who are facing the problem of homosexuality brought in by candidates to the deaconate and priesthood and with the behavior that derive from some priests. Nevertheless, it seemed necessary reminding that homosexuality always made it difficult, with many other reasons, that prevent the access to the sacred Orders.
For many years, experts in psychology, psychiatry and theology, instructors as well, have been regularly consulted on the matter. The plenary assembly of the Congregation mentioned, has studied many times the issue, in collaboration with the Congregation for the Divine Cult and the Discipline of Sacraments. Also many other congregations and the Pontifical Council for Legislative texts were consulted. The instruction just published sustains that the Church “cannot admit in seminaries nor give access to the sacred Orders to those who practice homosexuality, who present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or supporting the so-called gay culture.” Pope Benedict XVI, on August 31, has approved this instruction and ordained its publication. This one has been signed on November 4th, 2005, on the memory of Saint Charles Borromeo, Saint Patron of seminaries, by his Eminence Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, and his Excellency Msgr. Michael J. Miller CSB, its Secretary.
This document prepared for a long time under Pope John Paul I, shouldn’t be interpreted as a reactionary text, composed in a few weeks, but rather as the fruit of a vast study and a profound reflection, that allows to consider the measure of the amplitude of the problems questioned.
2.The Church and Homosexuality.
During the past years, homosexuality has become a phenomenon with growing concern and has been considered in various countries as a normal attribute, although it always presented itself as a problem in the psychic constituency and has never been determinant in the options of a society. It can be referred to as a destabilizing reality for persons and society. It is not a basis of which we can educate youth. Homosexuality is not significant in any human symbolism or religion, that makes people and societies between relate to each other. It compels the Church to reassert that homosexuality is contrary to conjugal life, family life and priestly life in the name of arguments that are mainly anthropological, confirmed by reason based on Christian faith.
The Old Testament as the New Testament and the whole ecclesial tradition as well as the common sense of the peoples always thought in the name of arguments linked to reason, that homosexuality is a disorder. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the distinction between a deeply-seated homosexual tendency, which isn’t a sin per se, but an objectively disordered inclination, and homosexual acts, intrinsically contrary to the meaning of human sexuality, based on sexual difference. “There are not the fruit of a true affective and sexual compatibility.” They figure on the list of grave sins contrary to chastity. In any cases this form of sexuality would be an alternative, even less a reality equivalent to those shared between a man and a women committed in matrimony. It can not be fostered and sustained by pastoral initiatives. In compensation, the persons are welcomed and accompanied in pastoral activities. They have their place in the life of the Church to live faithfully to their baptism and assume all the moral consequences of Christian life, but they can not be admitted to the Sacred Orders.
From a psychological point of view, homosexuality is part of the different sexual tendencies that can develop in human psychic. It manifests, moreover, a necessary primary identification of the child with the persons of same sex to consolidate his own sexual identity (we talk here about option of homosexual object, an option that does not constitute for this reason homosexuality.) For the better, the original approximation are elaborated and coordinated with the sexual identity. But the subject can meet serious difficulties to reconstruct his infantile identifications: there exists the risk that these become permanent tendencies, sought after, in disharmony with the sexual identity. Nevertheless, whatever might be the complex origin of homosexuality, it is necessary to remind that there are only two sexual identities (masculine and feminine) The identity is given that the person, along his subjective history, has to integrate, recognizing its sexual difference that is one of its psychic fundaments to difference himself and accede to the sense of alteration.
On the Contrary, a sexual tendency, in disharmony with the sexual identity, is the result of representation of the subject based on a partial tendency that doesn’t consent to accede to a global vision of the proper masculine or feminine identity, and to the sense of sexual alteration. The stubbornness in the search of the same sex represents the negation of all difference and certainly not, as it is often complacently affirmed, an alternative sexuality, which instead of being recognized for its difference, ignores it. The language manipulation seeks to reduce the reflection and above all eliminate all the questions suggested by this sexual tendency. Homosexuality ought to be placed in the category of sexual tendencies and is not an identity. It remains a personal problem that can be dangerous and futile to bring to social thought, that would allow matrimony and the adoption of children.
Therefore, homosexuality results as a lack of plenitude and an immaturity of human sexuality. Respecting those persons in their dignity, it is not acceptable to instrumentalize, that would make think that equality between the persons, implies for them to obtain the same rights, it is rather indispensable to seek that each one finds himself in the conditions necessary to reach its plenitude as a person. In other words, homosexuals are not in the adequate position to marry, to adopt children and to accede to deaconate and priesthood (only men in coherence with their masculine identity are able to receive the sacrament of the order in the name of theological and anthropological arguments, and not according to the historic and cultural determinism of a specific time.)
3.Homosexuality and Priesthood.
In an individualist and subjectivist society, the personal desire has become one of the requirements that justifies all the options possible and specifically, the access to the Sacred Orders. The mere desire to accede to the deaconate or priesthood is not sufficient. It ought to be object of discernment before being corroborated by the Church. Those who asks themselves whether to commit into the diaconal or priestly ministry, have to give proof of their openness of spirit before God, and of interior freedom in order to accept, before their bishop and diocese or the superior and instructors, to which is entrusted the pastoral service of vocations and education of the seminarians, if one has the required attitudes. Priesthood is a vocation (Hb 5, 1-10), a call confirmed by the Church and recognized as originating from God for the service of the Gospel. It is not a right, nor a subjective claim, nor an election in the name of a specific group. No one becomes priest on his own. The claims voiced by different categories of persons to accede to the deaconate or priesthood are not acceptable and are often contrary to the proper identity of the Church and Priesthood. If all persons are equal in dignity, this does not mean that they have the same statue, the same qualities and the same competence to accede to the Orders.
Commitment in holy orders presupposes that the candidate has attained a sufficient affective and sexual maturity coherent with his masculine sexual identity. He must, in principle, be suitable for marriage and able to exercise fatherhood over his children. And it is under those mature conditions that he renounces exercising them in order to give himself to God in the priesthood. It is precisely finding himself in these mature disposition that he can renounce, to give himself fully to God in priesthood assuming therefore a spousal relation with the Church and spiritual paternity. It is indispensable that the psychological, affective and sexual characteristics be in harmony with human maturity, as required priestly identity in order to assume and translate symbolically all what this represents. It would be difficult for the homosexual person to incarnate effectively this symbolic reality of spousal tie and spiritual paternity. Experience shows us that this often involves a diversion towards narcissistic ends, where pastoral activities are limited to surrounding oneself with a limited group of persons, in a context of seduction and presenting notable difficulties to position themselves institutionnaly. Some adopt questionnable affective conducts, express harsh critcs against the essential reality of priesthood that go against truthgs taught by Church.
The church has the right to refuse holy orders to those who do not have the requested attitudes or who, in one way or another, are not in harmony with the teaching it has received from its divine master. Christ entrusted the proper powers to His Church under the responsibility of Magisterium of the successor of Peter and the Episcopal College to guaranty the continuity of the ordained ministry, which are not at the free disposition of anyone, of claims or the mood of the times.
It is interesting to note briefly that different Catholics, during the history of the Church, have condemned and severely sanctioned the practice of homosexuality for the clergy. The Lateran III Council in 1119 was, without doubt, one of the most important to recall that requirement in front of many social problem that appeared, to striping clergy for their state. The Lateran IV Council in 1215 presided by Pope Innocent III, enunciated norms and sanctions ever more precise. It is necessary to remark also other documents who point in the same direction as the Decret of Graciano, the formation manual for clergy, composed from 1155 up until 1158 by Pedro Lombardo, Bishop of Paris, and for the most recent times, the canon 1371 of the former Code of Canon Law and the Instruction of the Sacred Congregation for Religious in 1961, etc, Therefore, without having to remind the long list of documents published till today on the Clergy and homosexuality, the Church, depending on the social conditions of a specific period of history, we find that we often have to face with the same unknowns (incognitas), of which it has to be answered manifesting, once more, the criteria to discern the call to the Sacred Orders.
4. Homosexuality is a counterindication of the call to the sacred Orders.
The priest acts in persona Christi and the Church, to the image of Christ, has wished to always call to the diaconate and the priesthood, men mature in their masculine identity and refuse the admittance when the subject doesn’t posses, among others, moral and psychic relevant with the order about to be received. There is also a contradiction and preventions to the sacred Orders that are not exposed in the present article in respect to the incompatibility between homosexuality and priesthood.
There are personal situations contrary to the Presbyterian ministry and some in which certain subjects don’t present the disposition to represent sacramentally and to act in Persona Christi, and much less to be truly placed in the spousal relation with the Church and spiritual paternity. It is remarkably the case of homosexuals. This is a counterindication to enter seminary and to be ordained priest. It was always this way in the evaluation of vocations and in the formation of future priests, when this tendency was recognized in a candidate. This entered in the category of “affective and sexual maturity,” that different institutions had to remind frequently. This criteria is legitimate and non-negotiable, even though a right selection could be made during the seminary time, because the problem didn’t manifest in a blatant way in the candidate. Nevertheless, when the instructors have a doubt, they should apply this principle objectively.
Unfortunately, for many years in some countries a permissive attitude has allowed people to think that candidates (for the priesthood) who have this tendency could be ordained as long as they assumed perfect continence," or remained celibate, unless they took the measures to achieve perfect continence. In reality, many priests frequently experienced strenuous psychological tensions that limit his availability of spirit, deviated pastoral relations, dubious affective elections and some times sexual experiences, leading including to militate in favor of homosexuality.
The problems that result subsequent of homosexual practice, and the scandals that have impacted the ecclesial community, are proof of the lack of lucidity and wisdom. If we observe infidelity, a loose approach and a lack of loyalty facing these commitments, we can asses that beyond the sexual aggressions, expressions and behaviors characteristic of this personality are contrary to the pastoral mission and Christ’s teaching to the Church.
The experience proves the complexity of the relations that are often tight, that implies closing oneself off in a clan of persons of the same type; exaggerated affective choices; [becoming] a narcissistic position in front of a community that [the gay priest] disturbs even to the point of dividing it; a mode of vocational discernment that seeks candidates in his own image; relations with authority based on seduction and rejection; an often limited vision of truth and a selective way of presenting the Gospel message; particularly in the areas of sexual and conjugal morality, these are habitually zones of relational and intellectual confusion and ideological combat, disapproved by a correct search for truth and the wisdom of God On the other hand, before a multiplication of unacceptable situations, bringing ordained ministries and religious that scandalize the ecclesial community and society, the Church had to remind one of its constant criteria to discern the call to sacred Orders.
4.1 Fidelity and Homosexuality.
It is necessary to free ourselves from the idea, that basically states that to the extent that a homosexual person respects the commitment to continence lived in chastity, there will be no problems and he can therefore be ordained priest.
In the actual context, in which homosexuality is trivialized in a provocative way, based on controversial thesis, presenting it as a new sexual norm, it can be more difficult and illusory for those who remain faithful to their own commitment. If it is acceptable that a candidate just promises fidelity, it is not enough. Because, adding to this problem that would spring in pastoral life, we know too, as we underlined, that these persons will often experience personal issues. They will need a special care, and regular interventions on part of the authority, and a life set in a constant medical and psychotherapeutic cure.
4.2. Priests should remain in accordance to the Doctrine of the Church.
If certain priests feel such an inclination, these are priests and remain in priesthood. The validity of their ordination is not questioned by this instruction. They have to continue exercising their ministry, having the concern to be coherent with the mission entrusted and the doctrine of the Church. They should have the concern to transmit integrally the evangelical message, for which the Church is responsible, and to dispense a pedagogical rectitude to present the moral consequences of the teaching of the Church. They should also remind the same word given the day of ordination to live in the perfect continence through chastity, striving to develop an authentic spiritual and sacramental life, being in relation with a approved and stable spiritual director. They will have to control thoroughly their behavior, being conscious of the implicit effects that their behavior can engender in their relations with others. These basic norms are reminded in the Code of Canon Law.
Commonly, it is required of them, to abstain from living in a community of priest or religious that gather very similar personalities, not to fulfill a specialized ministry involving persons interested in homosexuality, and not to participate in homosexual associations that manifest an open hostility in confronting the Church teachings, act in contradiction with the Gospel requirements, and militate in favor of homosexuality. As a counterweight, there are sometimes other associations, recognized by the Church , that help these members to live a fully Christian life, faithful to the Church teachings, with the commitment to guide humanly and spiritually, in an atmosphere of true friendship, lived through chastity.
Finally, it would inappropriate, that priests and lay, develop a behavior, suspect toward any priest, of a homosexual tendency, that they assume and dominate psychologically, morally and spiritually. It is important one vigorously must oppose denunciations and all forms of suspicion and innuendo which could attack the personal dignity of ordained ministers.
4.3. the Distinction between a “transitory problem“ and “deeply-seated homosexual tendencies.”
The instruction invites the instructors, speaking of a transitory problem, to distinguish a temporary attraction in the relation with the same sex; a behavior that we find sometimes during adolescence for various reasons: attraction, esthetic, identification with the same sex to comfort ones own identity, narcissist fixation, or regression after a psychic conflict, etc.. Commonly this problematic is overcame on its own, and the person can be helped by an expert or educator in order to solve it. The instruction requires, quit reasonably, that the problem be solved at least three years before acceding to the Sacred Orders.
On the other hand, candidates that present a “deeply-seated homosexual tendency,” that means an exclusive attraction with regard to persons of the same sex (a structural orientation)--independently of whether or not they've had erotic experiences--They cannot be admitted into seminary nor have access to sacred Orders. The problems that we face, as we mentioned, do not only refer to the risk to act sexually, rather the collateral effects inherent to this tendency that produce a behavior contrary to the diaconal and priestly ministry .
4.3. Invitation to a right and true behavior.
Finally, the instruction asks the future candidates to adopt a honest straight behavior in their way of living. It wouldn’t be morally honest that some candidates conceal and undermine their own homosexual tendency, experiences in this field and the proper support to the so-called “gay culture”, in order to accede, in spite of all, to the priesthood. A duplicity and a lack of authenticity is not acceptable for those who wonder whether they have a vocation to be priest or deacon, or who are studying for it. It doesn’t concord with the spirit of truth, loyalty and availability that characterizes the personality of those who consider being called to serve Christ and his Church. Those who conceal their own homosexual tendency, in order to receive the sacred Order, wound the good of the Church. The Church can call to the priesthood, only those who love and honor the truth. The directors of vocations, seminaries, and religious novitiates should be wary to the diverse qualities, as the history and social components of the affective life of the candidate. A genuine spirit and a behavior that prepares to a better understanding of oneself before God.
An essential work awaits the spiritual director, in the discernment of the behaviors of the candidates for the access to Seminary, in places of priest formation for religious and ordain ministers. He has the right to raise doubts when he observes that various questions on the issue celibacy lived in chastity are not mentioned or elude, respecting the affective maturity and possible changes. As the instruction mentions: “In discussions with the candidate, the spiritual director should explicitly remind the Church requirements on priestly chastity and the affective maturity for priesthood, as well as help him discern if he has or not the requirements. He has the obligation to evaluate all the qualities of the personality and make sure that the candidate doesn’t present any sexual trouble incompatible with priesthood. If a candidates practices homosexuality or presents deeply rooted homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, as well as his confessor, have the duty to talk him out, in conscience, of the process of ordination.” In other words, the candidate will not be accepted for formation, or, if not done before being conscience of this situation, interrupt it.
In his discernment, the instructors will be especially careful of the candidates who have had difficulty identifying with their own father, who remain in a relative doubt in their identity, who have a tendency to isolate, who close as they question their own self, who are rejecting any question regarding sexuality, who have the propensity to idealize or to mask an existence distance between their words and acts, who retreat into an imaginary and narcissist sexuality, who have had sexual experience in their childhood and adolescence, with other of the same sex when they tend to minimize it, who visit pornographic sites, who manifest a sense of guilt, who complain about others, and act as victims, etc.. These are some of the symptoms, among others before which must be acted swiftly without isolating a specific factor. Such a list is not exhaustive, it should be useful only in order to lead to a reflection and discernment for the good of the candidate, and the good of the Church who needs mature and coherent men. The ecclesial community have the right to have ordained ministers who are authentic, honest and corresponds to the requirements of the Church.
The Church has the right to recall once again that homosexual tendency is a counterindication to the call to the holy Orders. It would not be rational to change this principles under the influence of the ideas of this time.
Love is possible only in freedom and truth. It is important to be free to engage into priesthood in the name of truth and the love of God, and not depending on a partial tendency. The call to priesthood is authentic when the candidate is recognized by the Church as apt to assume it. Nobody becomes a priest on its own, or for its own. The man who is preparing for priesthood in the image of Christ’s humanity, in a spousal relation with the Church and in spiritual paternity, has to be free of everything that would harm the fruitful exercise of his ministry. The spousal relation and spiritual paternity are strange to homosexuality and cannot incarnate nor represent conjugal life and priestly life. This is a counter indication for priesthood for which only men and stable men, mature in their masculinity, have to be call to act in persona Christi.