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Can a gay man become a priest?

Pope John Paul II says that human formation is the basis of all priestly formation. It follows that anybody who wants to be a priest, whatever their sexual orientation, is expected to devote himself, not only to his spiritual, pastoral and intellectual development, but also to his human development, which is the basis for the others.

In this context – the ability to relate to others in appropriate, loving and responsible ways – is of special significance. Since sexuality is an important aspect of our lives, the challenge for all of us, whatever our vocation, is to integrate our sexuality into our day-to-day living in the light of our faith convictions and our personal commitments. This holds true for those of heterosexual orientation, as well as those of homosexual orientation.

The integration of our sexuality into our lives can be particularly challenging for those who commit themselves to a celibate way of life – that’s why Pope John Paul insists on ‘a suitable human formation’ for those preparing for the priesthood. Young people today grow up in a world where sexual norms frequently do not support a Christian world-view, and where casual sexual relationships are accepted as normal. Coming from this background, future priests are more than ever in need of formation in living healthy and happy celibate lives.

For a variety of reasons – personal, social and historical – the difficulties facing those of homosexual orientation can be still more challenging. It is in this context that a Vatican Instruction in 2005 mentioned 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 are not to be admitted to the seminary or holy orders’.

It is important to note that this negative statement does not exclude all gay candidates from entering seminaries. For obvious reasons, those involved in sexual activity are excluded, as well as those who support a life-style contrary to Gospel values. In the opinion of many bishops and directors of formation, ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ refers to those who are unlikely to be able to live chaste celibate life. There are many priests and religious with a homosexual orientation who are emotionally mature, psychologically healthy, genuinely loving, living contented celibate lives, and beloved by those to whom they minister.

The life of chaste celibacy is nourished by prayer, the sacraments, spiritual direction, healthy friendships, community support, apostolic service and a well-ordered life. The years of formation for priesthood test a man’s willingness and capacity to live as a chaste celibate priest. That is the challenge for both homosexual and heterosexual men who feel called to priesthood.

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