Can a gay man become a priest?

An important question to be addressed in this context is “Does a man, whether straight or gay, who feels called to priesthood, have the capacity to live chaste celibacy? Can he live as an affectively mature person, capable of forming healthy relationships?”

In Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I will give you shepherds”), published in1992, Pope John Paul II says that human formation is the basis of all priestly formation. “The whole work of priestly formation would be deprived of its necessary foundation if it lacked a suitable human formation.”(123). It follows that all those preparing for the priesthood, whatever their sexual orientation, are expected to devote themselves to their human development, which is foundational for the others. The elements of formation for priesthood are human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual.

Affective maturity, “the result of an education in true and responsible love” (Pastores Dabo Vobis), is essential for every priest. Growth in affective maturity, also described as psychosexual maturity or healthy sexuality, takes place during priestly formation, which normally takes a minimum of six years.

Rev. Thomas Krenik, in his book “Formation for Priestly Celibacy” outlines the “Guiding Elements in formation for celibacy” as follows: Internalisation of religious values; Pattern of contemplative prayer, Capacity for solitude; Age-appropriate psychosexual development, Capacity for intimacy, Experience of community support and Accountability to others.

It is necessary to distinguish between a person’s sexual orientation and his capacity to live celibate chastity as a priest. So, can a gay man become a priest? A Vatican Instruction in 2005 named three criteria for excluding a gay candidate from seminaries. It says that “those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture should not be admitted to the seminary or holy orders”.

It is important to note that this 2005 Instruction does not exclude all gay candidates from entering seminaries. The criterion of ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ has been interpreted by many bishops and directors of seminary formation, as referring to men who are unlikely to be able to live a chaste celibate life. The years of formation for priesthood both enable and test a man’s capacity to live as a chaste celibate priest.

There are many priests and religious with a homosexual orientation who are emotionally mature, psychologically healthy, genuinely loving, living contented celibate lives, and loved by those to whom they minister. In recognizing their historical contributions, many bishops and directors of seminary formation have interpreted the Vatican Instruction of 2005 to mean that if a gay man feels an authentic call to the priesthood, is emotionally mature and can live a celibate lifestyle, he can be admitted to the seminary. As the formation programme progresses, enabling spiritual, pastoral, intellectual and human growth, a man’s capacity for chaste celibacy will grow, be tested, and discerned.

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