By Elise Harris
In a closed-door speech to Italian bishops on Monday, Pope Francis spoke about the number and quality of seminary candidates, including concerns about their sexual orientation.
At the start of his May 21 audience with Italian bishops, Pope Francis voiced three areas of concern for the Church in Italy, the first of which was the lack of vocations.
Francis’ brief remarks on his concerns, which also touched on evangelical poverty and transparency and the incorporation of Italian dioceses, were televised; however, his discussion with the bishops afterward was not.
In his public remarks on vocations, Pope Francis lamented the culture of the provisional, of relativism, and of the dictatorship of money, which hinder young people from discerning consecrated life. He also proposed that Italian dioceses with an abundance of vocations lend some of their priests to those Italian dioceses lacking in priests.
But in the discussion that followed the pope told the bishops to care more for the quality of seminary candidates than the quantity. Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia-Citta della Pieve, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, confirmed Francis’ comments about homosexuality in a May 24 press conference.
The Pope touched on the topic of homosexuality, particularly when it comes to individuals with “deep-seated tendencies” or who practice “homosexual acts”, yet who want to enter the seminary.
In these cases, “if you have even the slightest doubt it’s better not to let them enter,” Francis said, according to Vatican Insider, because these acts or deep-seated tendencies can lead to scandals and can compromise the life of the seminary, as well as the man himself and his future priesthood.
Pope Francis’ comments were made during the opening May 21 session of the 71st general assembly of the Italian bishops’ conference.
However, the pope’s statements on the issue of homosexuality and the seminary reflect the Church’s teaching on the topic.
In the 2016 edition of the Congregation for Clergy’s ratio on priestly formation, the dicastery had written that “in relation to people with homosexual tendencies who approach seminaries, or who discover this situation in the course of formation, in coherence with her own magisterium, ‘the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.’”
The ratio quoted from the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2005 instruction “Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.”
The instruction noted that those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the gay culture “find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”
It distinguished those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies from those “with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem – for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded.”
Men with transitory homosexual tendencies could be admitted to seminary, the congregation wrote, though “such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.”
The instruction drew, in turn, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a 1985 memo from the Congregation for Catholic Education, and a 2002 letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Though Pope Francis has not addressed the topic publicly, he alluded to problems of homosexuality in seminary formation during a recent meeting with Chilean bishops.
In a letter written to the bishops which was leaked to Chilean media, the pope issued a sharp correction of his brother prelates for a systematic cover-up of clerical abuse in the country.
One footnote in the letter noted how abuses were not limited to just one person or group, but was rather the result of a fractured seminary process.
In the case of many abusers in Chile, Francis noted how problems had been detected while they were in seminary or the novitiate, but rather than expelling these individuals, some bishops or superiors “sent priests suspected of active homosexuality to these educational institutions.”