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BRIGHTON —Seminarians studying at St. John’s Seminary have shown interest in a Vatican document issued Nov. 29 on homosexuality and ordination to the priesthood that will be a “helpful instruction”for them, according to Father Christopher J. Kirwan, dean of faculty and professor of moral theology at St. John’s.
“My sense is that the seminarians have been looking forward to it, wanting to see what the instruction would be,”he said. “They want to be able to live faithfully. They know that here, particularly in Boston, there is a deep need for holy, celibate priests who faithfully minister in the name of their bishop in witness to the kingdom of God.”
Many of the seminarians have asked for discussions about the document, entitled “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 Sacred Orders.”Father Kirwan said it would be discussed in class as well as other forums.
The instruction, issued by the Vatican’s Congregation of Catholic Education, was directed at bishops, rectors and seminary spiritual directors and staff members in order to give guidance on the specific focus of the admission of men who have homosexual tendencies to the seminary and to holy orders, he said.
“What the document indicates is that men who have deep-seeded homosexual tendencies, who are homosexually active or who are a part of the so-called gay culture would not be considered good candidates for the Roman Catholic priesthood,”he said. “It says that because the idea is that there would not be this affective maturity which is necessary to relate to men and women, to minister to the people of God.”
While the document clarifies these points, its content is not different from current Church teaching or current practices in seminaries. The document begins by citing that all of the information it includes is based in Second Vatican Council, he added.
“It’s a further clarification of the moral teachings of the Church and what we understand priestly formation to be about, but it’s nothing radically new,”he said.
The instruction does leave room for interpretation in regard to the difference between a deep-seated and “transitory”homosexual tendency. The difference is best addressed through the process of discernment with each candidate, Father Kirwan said.
Father Kirwan added that a candidate who has a deep-seated homosexual tendency is pulled in a direction that is “inconsistent with the moral teachings of the Church.”
“If a person identified himself as a gay man who would always be a gay man, the problem with that is that this person is identifying himself in terms of his sexual orientation, not as a person who is called to the priesthood that struggles with sexual identity,”he said.
“What the document is saying is that this is a particular difficulty in being able not only to preach the truth in love but live the truth in love,”he continued. “I must preach faithfully what the Church teaches, not only preach it but live it with great integrity. Living a moral life is a challenge, particularly in today’s society.”
The document is a response to more effectively addressing priestly formation in our changing times and not a reaction to the sexual abuse crisis.
“The sexual abuse crisis is not the impetus for the Congregation of Catholic Education to issue this document or to issue it on this date.Rather this has been a question and the circumstances that it’s referring to is our contemporary culture. We have a very strong gay rights movement in our culture. The times have changed, and what we’re seeking to do is to understand how priestly formation fits into this type of culture, and this is the guidance we received,”he said.
The implementation of the guidance will happen over time, added Father Kirwan.
“Perhaps one of the positive things that this can give us is to strengthen our priestly formation and to make it something that is authentic, that really is full of the Gospel values and the life of celibacy that Christ calls us to in order to witness to His Kingdom,”he said.