On Priesthood and Those With
Instruction From Congregation for Catholic Education
VATICAN CITY, NOV. 29, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of the new
Vatican 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 was published today by the Congregation for Catholic
Education, which oversees seminary formation.
* * *
In continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and, in
particular, with the Decree "Optatam totius"(1) on priestly formation,
the Congregation for Catholic Education has published various documents
with the aim of promoting a suitable, integral formation of future
priests, by offering guidelines and precise norms regarding its diverse
aspects.(2) In the meantime, the 1990 Synod of Bishops also reflected
on the formation of priests in the circumstances of the present day,
with the intention of bringing to completion the doctrine of the
Council on this theme and making it more explicit and effective in
today's world. Following this Synod, Pope John Paul II published the
Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Pastores dabo vobis."(3)
In light of this abundant teaching, the present Instruction does not
intend to dwell on all questions in the area of affectivity and
sexuality that require an attentive discernment during the entire
period of formation. Rather, it contains norms concerning a specific
question, made more urgent by the current situation, and that is:
whether to admit to the seminary and to holy orders candidates who have
deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
1. Affective Maturity and Spiritual Fatherhood
According to the constant Tradition of the Church, only a baptized
person of the male sex validly receives sacred ordination.(4) By means
of the sacrament of orders, the Holy Spirit configures the candidate to
Jesus Christ in a new and specific way: the priest, in fact,
sacramentally represents Christ, the head, shepherd and spouse of the
Church.(5) Because of this configuration to Christ, the entire life of
the sacred minister must be animated by the gift of his whole person to
the Church and by an authentic pastoral charity.(6)
The candidate to the ordained ministry, therefore, must reach affective
maturity. Such maturity will allow him to relate correctly to both men
and women, developing in him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood
towards the Church community that will be entrusted to him.(7)
2. Homosexuality and the Ordained Ministry
From the time of the Second Vatican Council until today, various
documents of the Magisterium, and especially the Catechism of the
Catholic Church, have confirmed the teaching of the Church on
homosexuality. The Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and
Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture presents them as grave
sins. The Tradition has constantly considered them as intrinsically
immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under no
circumstance can they be approved.
Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men
and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people,
often constitute a trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect
and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard
should be avoided. They are called to fulfill God's will in their lives
and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they
In the light of such teaching, this dicastery, in accord with the
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,
believes it necessary to state clearly that 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
Such persons, in fact, 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.
Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing 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.
3. Discernment by the Church Concerning the Suitability of Candidates
There are two inseparable elements in every priestly vocation: the free
gift of God and the responsible freedom of the man. A vocation is a
gift of divine grace, received through the Church, in the Church and
for the service of the Church. In responding to the call of God, the
man offers himself freely to him in love.(11) The desire alone to
become a priest is not sufficient, and there does not exist a right to
receive sacred ordination. It belongs to the Church -- in her
responsibility to define the necessary requirements for receiving the
sacraments instituted by Christ -- to discern the suitability of him
who desires to enter the seminary,(12) to accompany him during his
years of formation, and to call him to holy orders if he is judged to
possess the necessary qualities.(13)
The formation of the future priest must distinctly articulate, in an
essentially complementary manner, the four dimensions of formation:
human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral.(14) In this context, it is
necessary to highlight the particular importance of human formation, as
the necessary foundation of all formation.(15) In order to admit a
candidate to ordination to the diaconate, the Church must verify, among
other things, that the candidate has reached affective maturity.(16)
The call to orders is the personal responsibility of the bishop(17) or
the major superior. Bearing in mind the opinion of those to whom he has
entrusted the responsibility of formation, the bishop or major
superior, before admitting the candidate to ordination, must arrive at
a morally certain judgment on his qualities. In the case of a serious
doubt in this regard, he must not admit him to ordination.(18)
The discernment of a vocation and of the maturity of the candidate is
also a serious duty of the rector and of the other persons entrusted
with the work of formation in the seminary. Before every ordination,
the rector must express his own judgment on whether the qualities
required by the Church are present in the candidate.(19)
In the discernment concerning the suitability for ordination, the
spiritual director has an important task. Although he is bound to
secrecy, he represents the Church in the internal forum. In his
discussions with the candidate, the spiritual director must especially
point out the demands of the Church concerning priestly chastity and
the affective maturity that is characteristic of the priest, as well as
help him to discern whether he has the necessary qualities.(20) The
spiritual director has the obligation to evaluate all the qualities of
the candidate's personality and to make sure that he does not present
disturbances of a sexual nature, which are incompatible with the
priesthood. If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents
deep-seated homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, as well as
his confessor, have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from
proceeding toward ordination.
It goes without saying that the candidate himself has the primary
responsibility for his own formation.(21) He must offer himself
trustingly to the discernment of the Church, of the bishop who calls
him to orders, of the rector of the seminary, of his spiritual director
and of the other seminary educators to whom the bishop or major
superior has entrusted the task of forming future priests. It would be
gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality in
order to proceed, despite everything, toward ordination. Such a
deceitful attitude does not correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty
and openness that must characterize the personality of him who believes
he is called to serve Christ and his Church in the ministerial
This Congregation reaffirms the need for bishops, major superiors and
all relevant authorities to carry out an attentive discernment
concerning the suitability of candidates for holy orders, from the time
of admission to the seminary until ordination. This discernment must be
done in light of a conception of the ministerial priesthood that is in
accordance with the teaching of the Church.
Let bishops, episcopal conferences and major superiors look to see that
the constant norms of this Instruction be faithfully observed for the
good of the candidates themselves, and to guarantee that the Church
always has suitable priests who are true shepherds according to the
heart of Christ.
The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, on 31 August 2005, approved this
present Instruction and ordered its publication.
Rome, 4 November 2005, Memoria of Saint Charles Borromeo, Patron of
ZENON Card. GROCHOLEWSKI
+ J. MICHAEL MILLER, C.S.B.
Titular Archbishop of Vertara
1 SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on priestly formation
Optatam totius (28 October 1965): AAS 58 (1966), 713-727.
2 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION, "Ratio fundamentalis
institutionis sacerdotalis" (6 January 1970; second edition 19 March
1985); The Study of Philosophy in Seminaries (20 January 1972); A Guide
to Formation in Priestly Celibacy (11 April 1974); On the Teaching of
Canon Law to Those Preparing to be Priests (2 April 1975); The
Theological Formation of Future Priests (22 February 1976); "Epistula
circularis de formatione vocationum adultarum" (14 July 1976);
Instruction on Liturgical Formation in Seminaries (3 June 1979);
Circular Letter Concerning Some of the More Urgent Aspects of Spiritual
Formation in Seminaries (6 January 1980); Educational Guidance in Human
Love: Outlines for Sex Education (1 November 1983); Pastoral Care of
People on the Move in the Formation of Future Priests (25 January
1986); Guide to the Training of Future Priests Concerning the
Instruments of Social Communication (19 March 1986); Circular Letter
Concerning Studies of the Oriental Churches (6 January 1987); The
Virgin Mary in Intellectual and Spiritual Formation (25 March 1988);
Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Doctrine
in the Formation of Priests (30 December 1988); Instruction on the
Study of the Fathers of the Church in the Formation of Priests (10
November 1989); Directives Concerning the Preparation of Seminary
Educators (4 November 1993); Directives on the Formation of Seminarians
Concerning Problems Related to Marriage and the Family (19 March 1995);
Instruction to the Episcopal Conferences on the Admission to Seminary
of Candidates Coming from Other Seminaries or Religious Families (9
October 1986 and 8 March 1996); The Propaedeutic Period (1 May 1998);
Circular Letters Concerning the Canonical Norms relating to
Irregularities and Impediments both "ad Ordines recipiendos" and "ad
Ordines exercendos" (27 July 1992 and 2 February 1999).
3 POPE JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Pastores dabo
vobis" (25 March 1992): AAS 84 (1992), 657-864.
4 Cf. e.Le., can. 1024 and e.e.E.O., can. 754; POPE JOHN PAUL II,
Apostolic Letter "Ordinatio sacerdotalis" on reserving priestly
ordination to men alone (22 May 1994): AAS 86 (1994), 545-548.
5 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on the ministry and
life of priests "Presbyterorum ordinis" (1 December 1965), n. 2: AAS 58
(1966), 991-993; Pastores dabo vobis, n. 16: AAS 84 (1992), 681-682.
With regard to the priest's configuration to Christ, bridegroom of the
Church, "Pastores dabo vobis" states that "The priest is called to be
the living image of Jesus Christ, the spouse of the Church. [...] In
his spiritual life, therefore, he is called to live out Christ's
spousal love toward the Church, his bride. Therefore, the priest's life
ought to radiate this spousal character, which demands that he be a
witness to Christ's spousal love" (n. 22): AAS 84 (1992), 691.
6 Cf. "Presbyterorum ordinis," n. 14: AAS 58 (1966), 1013-1014;
"Pastores dabo vobis," n. 23: AAS 84 (1992), 691-694.
7 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE CLERGY, Directory on the Ministry and Life
of Priests (31 March 1994), n. 58.
8 Cf. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ("editio typica,"1997), nn.
2357-2358. Cf. also the various documents of the CONGREGATION FOR THE
DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH: Declaration "Persona humana" on certain
questions concerning sexual ethics (29 December 1975); Letter
"Homosexualitatis problema" to the bishops of the Catholic Church on
the pastoral care of homosexual persons (1 October 1986); Some
Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on
Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons (23 July 1992); Considerations
Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between
Homosexual Persons (3 June 2003). With regard to homosexual
inclinations, the Letter "Homosexualitatis problema" states that
"Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a
sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic
moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an
objective disorder" (n. 3).
9 Cf. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ("editio typica," 1997), n.
2358; cf. also c.I.c., can. 208 and C.C.E.O., can. 11.
10 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION, A memorandum to bishops
seeking advice in matters concerning homosexuality and candidates for
admission to Seminary (9 July 1985); CONGREGATION FOR DIVINE WORSHIP
AND THE DISCIPLINE OF THE SACRAMENTS, Letter (16 May 2002): Notitiae 38
11 Cf. "Pastores dabo vobis," nn. 35-36: AAS 84 (1992), 714-718.
12 Cf. e.Le., can. 241, §§ 1: "A diocesan bishop is to admit
to a major seminary only those who are judged qualified to dedicate
themselves permanently to the sacred ministries; he is to consider
their human, moral, spiritual, and intellectual qualities, their
physical and psychic health, and their correct intention"; cf.
e.e.E.O., can. 342, §§ 1.
13 Cf. "Optatam totius," n. 6: AAS 58 (1966), 717. Cf. also e.Le., can.
1029: "Only those are to be promoted to orders who, in the prudent
judgment of their own bishop or of the competent major superior, all
things considered, have integral faith, are moved by the right
intention, have the requisite knowledge, possess a good reputation, and
are endowed with integral morals and proven virtues and the other
physical and psychic qualities in keeping with the order to be
received"; cf. e.e.E.O., can. 758. Not to call to orders those who do
not have the necessary qualities is not an unjust discrimination: cf.
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Some Considerations
Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on Nondiscrimination
of Homosexual Persons.
14 Cf. "Pastores dabo vobis," nn. 43-59: AAS 84 (1992), 731-762.
15 Cf. ibid., n. 43: "The priest, who is called to be a 'living image'
of Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the Church, should seek to
reflect in himself, as far as possible, the human perfection which
shines forth in the incarnate Son of God and which is reflected with
particular liveliness in his attitudes toward others": AAS 84 (1992),
16 Cf. ibid., nn. 44 and 50: AAS 84 (1992), 733-736 and 746-748. Cf.
also: CONGREGATION FOR DIVINE WORSHIP AND THE DISCIPLINE OF THE
SACRAMENTS, Circular Letter to the Most Reverend Diocesan Bishops and
Other Ordinaries with Canonical Faculties to Admit to Sacred Orders
Concerning: Scrutinies regarding the Suitability of Candidates for
Orders (10 November 1997): Notitiae 33 (1997), 507-518, particularly
17 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR BISHOPS, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of
Bishops "Apostolorum Successores" (22 February 2004), n. 88.
18 Cf. e.Le., can. 1052, §§ 3: "If [...] the bishop doubts
for specific reasons whether a candidate is suitable to receive orders,
he is not to promote him." Cf. also e.e.E.O., can. 770.
19 Cf. e.Le., can. 1051: "The following prescripts regarding the
investigation about the qualities required in the one to be ordained
are to be observed: [...] there is to be a testimonial of the rector of
the seminary or house of formation about the qualities required to
receive the order, that is, about the sound doctrine of the candidate,
his genuine piety, good morals, and aptitude to exercise the ministry,
as well as, after a properly executed inquiry, about his state of
physical and psychic health."
20 Cf. "Pastores dabo vobis," nn. 50 and 66: AAS 84 (1992), 746-748 and
772-774. Cf. also "Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis," n.
21 Cf. "Pastores dabo vobis," n. 69: AAS 84 (1992), 778.