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A 2002 Los Angeles Times poll of 1,854 priests in the US found that 9% of the priests surveyed marked themselves as homosexual with 6% identifying as 'somewhere in between but more on the homosexual side'. These numbers are significantly higher than the general population's number of self-identifying homosexuals, which is around 3.8%. It is thought that a large number of homosexual priests entered the clergy in the 70's and 80's.

Have any popes, with or without the knowledge of these statistics, ever clearly and straightforwardly frowned upon the idea of allowing homosexuals, specifically including nonpracticing ones, into seminaries? If so, what was the general thought process involved in this view?

  • Well there have certainly been specific statements by the Vatican Congregation for Priests to that effect. Don't know about actual papal pronouncements, though. – Matt Gutting Aug 8 '15 at 15:23
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    Could you perhaps link to the LA Times poll you mention? Not that it would change the answer to your question, but I'm just curious to see some of the specifics of the poll. – Flimzy Aug 8 '15 at 16:21
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There is a document issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education (which oversees among other thing the seminary formation of priests) issued in 2005 that goes into detail about policies for admitting those with homosexual tendencies to the priesthood: it has the rather long title 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

This document is normative (i.e., it has force of law) for seminaries, and it says, in a nutshell, that those who currently have deep-seated homosexual tendencies should not be admitted to the diaconate. (Evidently, much less should they be admitted to the priesthood, since the diaconate is the first degree of Holy Orders, necessary before becoming a priest.) They should not be admitted to Holy Orders, because being a priest requires that a person have the ability to form healthy relationships with the men and women they encounter in their ministry. Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are not, of course, sinful in and of themselves, nevertheless place a serious obstacle to the kinds of relationships that priests need to develop with the faithful they minister to.

However, the document says that those who have clearly overcome such tendencies for at least three years could be admitted to the diaconate, provided the other elements that go into vocational discernment are in place: desire on the part of the candidate to be a priest, a positive judgment of worthiness on the part of his formators, a healthy moral and spiritual life, a good prayer life, and so on. (In most dioceses, transitional deacons are ordained priests a year or two after their diaconal ordination, the minimum interval being six months.)

The document is very thorough and succint, and it serves as a good explanation of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality in general, as well as how the Church applies that teaching to admitting men to the priesthood.

As regards the statistics, I am sure that the Congregation for Catholic Education is well aware of them, and it is doubtless partly in response to them that it issued this document.

(I should point out that the L.A. Times poll does not appear to be scientific, and it seems to me that the numbers are rather high. Nevertheless, the Church does recognize that there is a historic problem of admitting men with homosexual tendencies to the priesthood, and has moved to stop it, as can be seen.)

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First, to place the quoted statistics in context, in Gay Catholic Priests and Clerical Sexual Misconduct, at page 2, Donald L. Boisvert and Robert E. Goss cite Reverend Donald Cozzens, respected rector of the Cleveland seminary, from his book, The Changing Face of the Catholic Priesthood that the Catholic priesthood has become a gay profession. Cozzens cites studies from 1989 which estimate that 48.5 per cent of Catholic priests and 55.1 per cent of seminarians are gay, although I would emphasise that not all of them are actively homosexual. Boisvert and Goss say the Catholic Church has long been fiercely homophobic, yet it is an intensely homoerotic culture, that men attracted to men have formed the ranks of its priests, male religious, bishops, cardinals and popes.

The Third Lateran Council, presided over by Pope Alexander III in March 1179, expressed the first official opposition to homosexual priests. The Council decreed that priests who engaged in sodomy should be deposed from clerical office and required to do penance. Implicitly this ought to have barred homosexuals from entering the priesthood.

It does not appear that any popes have explicitly expressed disapproval of the inclusion of non-practising homosexual priests into the priesthood, nor a definitive magisterial (or papal) teaching about clerical homosexuality. Eric Stoltz, Roman Catholic deacon for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, says on Quora that there is no infallible teaching about homosexuality in the Catholic Church. Stoltz says that the current Church teaching on homosexuality is not based on a scriptural foundation or papal teaching. This claim might seem to be contrary to the Third Lateral Council, but the canons of the Council were not expressly from Pope Alexander, although of course they had his approval. Pope Francis, as is well known, offered ‘respect and sensitivity’ for gays in the Church, but did not change the current teaching against accepting active homosexuals into the priesthood.

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    The first paragraph is tangential. The question is not about the percentage of Catholic priests who are gay. The second paragraph fails to distinguish between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts, which is certainly a relevant distinction made in the question itself, and given that Catholic priests were increasingly required to be celibate and sexually abstinent. – Lee Woofenden Aug 9 '15 at 0:39
  • @LeeWoofenden Thank you for your interest. (i) The first para might be tangeltial except that the Q discusses this issue, making any further, clarifying information relevant. (ii) The second paragraph fails to distinguish between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts, because the Council itself was concerned with sodomy (including heterosexual 'sodomy'). /cont – Dick Harfield Aug 9 '15 at 3:17
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    (iii) Requirement to be celibate and sexually abstinate was honoured more in the breach according to Doyle, Sipe & Wall (Sex, Priests and Secret Codes), who say that the 4th Lateran Council had to deal with unofficial tolerance of celibacy violations only 36 years after the 3rd Council. Essentially I have answered the question, "Have any popes ...?" in the negative. – Dick Harfield Aug 9 '15 at 3:18

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