It is another sad day of bereavement in the history of the Catholic Church, and there is now a wicked scar on the papacy of Françis the First.
Pope Françis has approved a publically released document from the current Office of the Congregation for the Clergy which specifically bans gay men from entering the seminary, becoming priests or entering the religious life. The document quotes from and reaffirms both a 1992 papal exhortation released by Pope John Paul II as well as documents from 2005 released by Pope Benedict XVI that prohibited gay men from entering seminaries and sought to expel current candidates of gay orientation.
The full 90-page papal document—entitled Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis (The Gift of the Priestly Vocation)—can be found in English translation here.
Several disturbing facets about the document will continue to be dumbfounding and confusing for the Catholic faithful… Firstly, the document seems to contradict or reverse the famous and widely circulated (and lauded) 2013 statement by Pope Françis aboard a flight in which he responded to a reporter’s question about gay priests with the question, “Who am I to judge?” For some time after, Françis was touted as a refreshingly progressive voice among the increasingly conservative curia that had been instituted in the Vatican and throughout the worldly Church by his predecessors. It was also seen as a relaxation of strict anti-homosexual rhetoric, conditioned among church leaders primarily because of the two historical documents mentioned above.
Unfortunately, this new document uses particular language in reference to homosexuality that infers that the Vatican still believes it is not an inherent orientation, but rather a “transitory” condition that can be overcome, giving credence to the vastly discredited psychological reconditioning known as “reparative therapy,” as well as by a variety of other names, sometimes hidden behind misleading rebranding (much like how the term “alt-right” has been flourished as a screen for blatantly distasteful white nationalist and neo-Nazi movements).
Worse, the document’s discussion of gay men who wish to become priests is perhaps oddly placed between “a section about seminarians suffering from mental illness and [another concerning] seminarians who are considered threats to children”–further revealing the authors’ negative bias. The 2005 document had come in response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and was recognized by many as part of efforts to blame the crisis on gay priests.
The response from the faithful has been profound. As one perceptive commenter wrote:
“It is time to face reality about Francis, however unwelcome it may be. He sees nothing remotely redemptive in even loving, committed, LGBT relationships. In fact, the language of this latest document (which he apparently supports) harks back to the infamous, so-called ‘philosophical’ phrasing of Josef Ratzinger, which describes homosexual orientation as ‘objectively disordered.’ Realistically, what other conclusion is there when the document states that gay potential candidates for the priesthood ‘find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.’
“This is the kind of visceral, dehumanizing, homophobic language that can incite not only verbal but physical violence against LGBT people. Is this what Francis wants? Has he forgotten so soon the mass killings earlier this year in Orlando, Florida? Does he fail to understand the incendiary correlation between homophobic words and the kind of homophobic violence that can, contemptuously and sociopathically, (sic) brutally take the lives of forty-nine innocent people in a nightclub?
“Words can kill: the mind, the spirit, the flesh. Careless words. Inflammatory words. Ultimately useless words. And for every useless word uttered, the Gospel tells us, there will eventually be a reckoning.”
“The phrasing you’ve interpreted benignly is ambiguous and could be understood in more arbitrary and less benign ways, including a blanket ban on ALL gay candidates for the priesthood. Can you imagine, for instance, Archbishop Charles Chaput’s [ed.—a vociferously anti-gay prelate] take on the same expressions?
“The phrase ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ is, besides being ambiguous, illogical and ludicrous. Are there such things as shallow (or shifting) homosexual tendencies? This is what ‘deep-seated…’ suggests. In fact, the document does refer to transitory homosexual attraction (traditionally, and quaintly, known as “a phase”) and says potential candidates who present with this may be admitted to seminary if they transition to heterosexuality.
“This is homophobic nonsense [masquerading] as wisdom. In terms of scientific fact, it’s on a par with so-called “Reparative Therapy”. As such it can lead only to unjust discrimination, the kind the Catechism of the Catholic Church says should be avoided.”
I must now candidly capitulate that Pope Françis has still not educated himself sufficiently to make a moral, empathetic pronouncement on a minority population that exists within his constituency (NOT that that is acceptable for a world leader). Whether as a symptom of his age and generation, or an indoctrination through false prophets among his curia, the pope seems unable to understand or believe in the authenticity of gay and lesbian devotion and dedication to Catholic faith while living outside a heteronormative paradigm. I can, however, vouch authoritatively that LGBT people exist in and among the Catholic constituency…because LGBT people exist EVERYWHERE. Also, I, myself, was one of those constituents.
And what are gay seminary students to do at this moment? What are the young lesbian sisters and gay brother who have joined communities based on Françis’s false compassion, his beguiling and imaginary mercy, his deceptive luring of us back into the flock? Where are the promises of acceptance and mercy that Françis convinced us of in his rhetoric? What is painful is to remember how it felt when that first apostolic exhortation came out in 1992…how it turned my world upside down, derailed the roadmap of the life I’d hoped to live, concussed a wound and caused a grief that never really healed even twenty-five year later. And it can’t be any different for those students newly wounded today, who assumed that those ancient pronouncements might’ve been a vile remnant of the past…the ignorance of a more pejorative time… If one’s own Catholic family denies one, can the Holy Father not understand how that undermines one’s faith in the promises of the gospels?
Persecution is a common theme in the Bible…and persecution that one suffers in the intolerance of one’s faith and religion is a heavy-enough burden to bear in the world; but one doesn’t expect it to include persecution from the very leaders of the faith one believes will redeem us—the faith that promises redemption. What must the Holy Father believe is the ceiling tolerance of our persecution? When will we have suffer it enough…
And, again I suffer the thought that all the work that LGBT advocates have done in the last twenty-five years in order to try to ameliorate and undo such ignorance…has been for naught…
“Who am I to judge?” asked Pope Françis. Well,…you have answered your own question, holy pontiff. Because judgment upon the innocent thou hast proclaimed…