It would probably come as a surprise to few to find out that there are many gay Jesuits. And so when the 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 came out in November of 2005, it also came as no surprise to most that the interpretation given to the instruction by most Jesuits was not the same as was given by everyone (though it seemed to represent the majority interpretation). For example, the Swiss Bishop’s Conference explained that “a homosexual tendency lived out in sexual abstinence does not exclude one from pastoral ministry.” The Belgian bishops: “The Vatican instruction makes a point of recalling that if the homosexual orientation of a candidate proves to be an obstacle with regard to freely chosen celibacy, or in terms of right relations with men and women, this candidate may not be admitted to the seminary.” And Bishop William Skylstad explained that document was directed at a man entering seminary who is “so concerned with homosexual issues that he cannot sincerely represent the church’s teaching on sexuality.” As long as he can so represent, then it is ok for a priest to be gay.
Not everyone interpreted the document this way. Bishop John D’Arcy stated emphatically: “I would say yes, absolutely, it does bar anyone whose sexual orientation is towards one’s own sex and it’s permanent. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. … I don’t think we can fuss around with this.” And of course Pope Benedict in an interview with Peter Seewald, quoted in an excellent article by Ross Douthat today:
PS: It is no secret that there are homosexuals even among priests and monks. Just recently there was a major scandal on account of the homosexual passions of priests in Rome.
B: Homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation. Otherwise, celibacy itself would lose its meaning as a renunciation. It would be extremely dangerous if celibacy became a sort of pretext for bringing people into the priesthood who don’t want to get married anyway …
PS: But there is no doubt that homosexuality exists in monasteries and among the clergy, if not acted out, then at least in a non-practiced form.
B: Well, that is just one of the miseries of the Church. And the persons who are affected must at least try not to express this inclination actively, in order to remain true to the intrinsic mission of their office.
So the question on everyone’s mind has been, did Pope Francis say anything new yesterday? I would say No, and Yes. For the most part he just reaffirmed the Church’s constant teaching on homosexuality. But in an important way he may have added something new. If he did indeed speak approvingly of gay priests who live a healthy and mature life of celibacy, then he was certainly not just saying the same thing as Benedict. He was rather coming down on the side of the interpretation of the 2005 Instruction offered by the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, i.e., that the Instruction is aimed at “men who are well integrated and psychologically mature, faithful to church teachings, and who posses a clear understanding of the meaning of, as well as the spiritual and emotional capacity to commit to chaste celibacy for life.” If that is indeed the case, then from a pope that is new.