Questions Answered

Mullady art2 5-11-16

Question: Can a person who has been involved in past homosexual acts become a priest if he has overcome this tendency?

Answer: This question is urgent in the culture because homosexuality is almost celebrated today. This fact has led the Vatican to address the issue recently because of the admission of homosexuals into the seminary and, subsequently, into the priesthood. The congregation chose to use the hermeneutic concerning the affective maturity necessary for the spiritual fatherhood—which priestly life and ministry sees as a bottom line issue for the practical norms concerning this question. “The candidate to the ordained ministry, therefore, must reach affective maturity. Such maturity will allow him to relate correctly to both men and women, developing in him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood towards the Church community that will be entrusted to him.” (Congregation for Education, Instruction Concerning the Criteria for Discernment of Vocations, November 4, 2005, 1)

Many people, unfortunately, view the priesthood as more a profession than a vocation. As a result, the whole question of moral formation seems peripheral to them. After all, if the priesthood is just a profession, why require any deeper formation than would be entailed in ordinary Christian life. Obviously, if a person has overcome homosexual tendencies so as not to engage in homosexual acts, this should have no bearing on a secular profession. So why insist on this in a Church profession.

There are two distinctions which the congregation employs in their practical solution to this problem, and these must guide pastoral practice. The first is the distinction between acts and persons. The Church has always condemned acts which are homosexual as gravely sinful. However, since the Church recognizes that the problem of homosexual identity is a sensitive and debated one, the Church does not condemn people who may have such tendencies. As a result, if the Church does not permit the admission of homosexuals to priestly formation, this in no way is a result of discrimination based on respect for persons. It is rather based on prudence regarding the ability of the candidate to actually experience freedom and happiness in a life of celibacy lived for others.

This leads to the second distinction which regards those possible candidates who have deep and unchangeable homosexual tendencies, whether exhibiting acts or not, and those who may have actually done homosexual acts, but whose tendencies would be temporary.

“In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary, or to holy orders, those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called “gay culture.” Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies. Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem—for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome for at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.” (Instruction, 2) One will note that the practical norm does allow for someone with a temporary problem to pursue the priesthood, provided there has been a prudent time in which they have practiced chastity.

The Congregation further noted that each vocation is the result of both the call of God, and the responsible embracing of this call, by the candidate through personal freedom. As a result, both those who receive a candidate for Orders, and the candidates themselves, must be constantly aware of their responsibility to ensure that priests can actually fulfill the demands of the priesthood emotionally. This includes an admonition that the candidate does not hide his tendencies from authorities, but if he has such tendencies, he must admit them so as to be duly formed.

So the answer to the question would turn around the use of the word “overcome.” If this means a temporary problem which can be addressed and resolved, the answer would be “yes.” If it means a deep-seated tendency which is not only expressed in actions, but also in the gay culture, the answer would be “no.” Again, this is not a judgement of the person of the candidate. It is only a judgement on the prudent possibility that such a person can live a life of perpetual chastity happily. It is also important to affirm that these same principles hold for those who are heterosexual.

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Question: Is there a lack of teaching and guidance in the area of sacramental leadership by bishops? What concerns me is that we know that for certain sacraments to be valid, and even confer the character needed to receive the sacrament worthily, a minimum of dispositions are essential in the recipient. This is particularly true of confirmation. By guiding and welcoming so many to Confirmation, and the reception of Holy Communion, it becomes obvious that during pre-Confirmation classes, these individuals clearly do not profess the faith, or intend to welcome reception of the actual sacrament, and, thus, we are disarming evangelization.

Answer: This question deals with the perennial problem of pastoral prudence in the admission of someone to a sacrament. Since the Church is confronted today with at least two generations of uncatechized adults, the problem of how to deal with admission to the sacraments is a problematic one. Most places no longer have a Catholic culture which would support a mature acceptance of the faith, and encourage practice of it. If anything, the secular nature of formerly Christian cultures militates against a mature faith.

First, it is important to remember that if one is talking about sacraments given to infants, their catechesis and consent is presumed to take place after they reach the age of reason. In the Eastern Church, Confirmation and Communion are given together with Baptism to infants. Regarding Confirmation, the same was once true in Mexico. Obviously, here the obligation to educate those receiving this sacrament occurs after its reception, and the Church teaches that one does not have to have a positive desire for these sacraments. It suffices not to have an aversion to receiving them. This is under the perception that one cannot form an act of will and, at least, in the case of Baptism, there is the urgency of the salvation from the effect of Original Sin.

Second, the age at which Confirmation is received is important for the reception of catechesis in its regard. There is a debate about this. Some bishops would like to return to the proper order of the sacraments, and give Confirmation at a much earlier age than has been usual recently. The value of this change is debatable; but the fact that postponing Confirmation to the mid-teen years has been a failure, is not debatable. The writer here is correct in that there have been many questionable actions in which teenagers are confirmed as a sort of “coming-of-age” ritual while openly denying the faith. Perhaps, they go through the motions of receiving the sacrament just to please their parents.

Finally, pastors are in a dilemma, which probably cannot be solved by the bishops, or program directors, dealing with the issue on a universal level. Each case should be addressed on its merits. Evangelization cannot really proceed with a “one- size-fits-all” mentality. Some teenagers, or RCIA adults, may have a very imperfect knowledge of the faith, and do not really understand what they are requesting, or what they are saying when they deny certain tenants of our religion. To simply deny the sacraments outright to anyone who is not well-prepared would place too many restrictions on the reception of a gift of grace which should be readily available. In some cases, as in the children who have not reached the age of reason, further life experience and learning may lead to a better understanding in time.

On the other hand, it would be irresponsible to maintain that anyone who requests a sacrament should receive it, even when they manifest an aversion to what it stands for. Care must be taken to ensure that, insofar as it is possible to do so, the recipient who can understand, does understand what they are receiving.

As for the bishops, they are the principal educators of the diocese. As such, they should not just leave the issue of proper catechetical formation to a bureaucracy, but rather they need to be aware of what their offices of evangelization are teaching to anyone who is instructed. A model for bishops facing this situation is St. Charles Borromeo, who developed and oversaw the implementation of the Council of Trent in his diocese, and was proactive in doing so. During the English Reformation, both Protestant and Catholic bishops produced books of sermons for use by their priests which were didactic of their various confessional stances, and strictly held them to account, for use in teaching their congregations. This was ages before mass media, of course. In our time, when it is so much easier to control religious formation, a principal duty of the bishop is to direct, as far as is possible, the general norms for sacramental preparation, as well as being themselves a model in carrying them out.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered”.

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