Signs of the Times

Vatican Document on Homosexuals

A long-awaited Vatican document drew a sharp line against priestly ordination of homosexuals, but in the process raised a series of delicate questions for church leaders and seminary officials. The six- page instruction, prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education, said the church cannot ordain men who are active homosexuals, who have deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or who support the gay culture. Those who have overcome transitory homosexual tendencies, however, could be ordained, it said. The document was published on Nov. 29. The instruction’s bottom line was that homosexual men should not be accepted into seminaries or ordained to the priesthood.

The instruction has drawn both praise and criticism from U.S. bishops and seminary officials. While some praised it as a reaffirmation of church teaching on sexual morality and the need to assure the commitment to celibacy by candidates to the Latin-rite priesthood, others said the document is also hurtful to priests and seminarians who are homosexual and celibate. Several bishops and seminary administrators said that the criteria in the Vatican document about judging homosexuals is already compatible with what is being done in the United States and noted that the document does not offer any specific procedures for screening seminarians, leaving bishops and religious superiors flexibility in applying the criteria. "It is a timely document, expressing a Christian realism about what is expected in candidates for the priesthood," said Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Bishop Skylstad said the document should encourage bishops and religious superiors to discuss with seminary rectors and vocations directors the criteria for judging the maturity priesthood candidates should have on emotional and sexual matters. The bishop made the comments in a statement on Nov. 29.

Bishops from several countries said the Vatican’s new instruction requires careful interpretation and application. Archbishop André Gaumond of Sherbrooke, Quebec, president of the Canadian bishops’ conference, said that before the document’s release he and other Canadian church officials had discussed the document with officials of the Congregation for Catholic Education. Congregation officials made clear that in the case of deeply rooted homosexual orientation, those who do not want to change their orientation may not be suitable candidates, Archbishop Gaumond told Catholic News Service in Rome on Nov. 29.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said in a statement that all priests need to live lives of celibate chastity, whatever their sexual orientation. Bishops must ensure that men are not admitted to the priesthood for whom its requirements and demands will be too burdensome or impossible to fulfill, the cardinal said.

The Swiss bishops’ conference also focused on the issue of priestly celibacy or chastity, which was not specifically mentioned in the Vatican document. The Swiss bishops said in a statement that for all priests the commitment to celibacy was made independent of our sexual orientation. The bishops quoted from their own pastoral letter of 2002, which said that people of homosexual orientation could carry out church ministries as long as they lived celibate lives. In view of the new Vatican statement, the Swiss bishops said that if a homosexual tendency does not permit a man to live in chastity, then admission to holy orders is not possible.

Auxiliary Bishop Hervé Giraud of Lyon, president of the French bishops’ commission for ordained ministry, said the question of affective maturity in seminaries was a complicated one. His comments were reported by the French Catholic newspaper La Croix. Bishop Giraud said seminarians, like other young men in their 20’s, can sometimes go through a narcissistic stage that is not the same as homosexuality. It would be unjust to immediately discard those who believe themselves or declare themselves homosexual. The text rightly asks not to move too quickly, he said. Bishop Giraud also said the document appears to respond not so much to the situation in France, but to the Anglo-Saxon world, where the gay culture’ crosses even into the seminaries. In our country, he said, the criteria of vocational discernment...have helped to determine vocations with wisdom. He said it appeared that France had fewer problems than the rest of the world on this question.

Cardinal Beatifies 13 Mexican Martyrs

Nearly eight decades after being killed by the government for their role in a Catholic uprising in Mexico, 13 martyrs were beatified before tens of thousands of Guadalajaras Jalisco Stadium. "They are a permanent example, a stimulus for defending the faith and having faith in current society," Pope Benedict XVI said in a video message projected on huge screens in the stadium. The Pope, unlike his predecessor, does not preside over beatification liturgies. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins of Purtugal, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Saints Causes, presided over the Mass for an estimated 55,000 chanting and singing people, Eight of the martyrs were from Jalisco State, where veneration of the martyrs is especially widespread.

Pope Assigns Jurisdiction at Assisi to Local Bishop

Saying the work of the Franciscan friars in Assisi needs to be better coordinated with the work of the local diocese, Pope Benedict XVI issued a formal order giving jurisdiction over activities at the two Franciscan basilicas to the local bishop. The apostolic letter containing new norms for the basilicas of St. Francis and St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi was published on Nov. 19 at the Vatican. The same day, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI had named Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, 57, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, to head the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino. In his brief letter, Pope Benedict said the popes always have had unique bonds and special concern for the Basilica of St. Francis, where the saint is buried, and the Basilica of St. Mary, which is built around the small chapel where St. Francis founded his order.

Turkey Continues to Deny Rights to Christians

A month after Turkey began talks to join the European Union, the European Commission said the country denies religious freedom to Catholics and other Christian minorities. The current legal framework [in Turkey] still does not recognize the right of religious communities to establish legal associations to promote and practice their religions, the commission said in a 2005 progress report. Non-Muslim religious communities continue to encounter significant problems. They face restricted property rights and interference in managing their foundations, and they are not allowed to train clergy. The report by the commission, an administrative body of the European Union, said Turkey had ratified international human rights agreements and accepted European Court judgments. But it added that only very limited progress had been noted on religious rights in terms of both legislation and practice and said Turkey still needed to strengthen and enforce its domestic laws.

First U.K. Ambassador to Vatican Since Reformation

Britain has appointed its first Catholic ambassador to the Vatican since the Protestant Reformation. The Foreign Office announced in mid-November that it had chosen Francis Campbell, 35, as a replacement for Kathryn Colvin, who retired in September. Campbell will take up his position in December. Diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the Vatican were restored in 1914 after a break of 350 years, but in 1917 the Foreign Office issued a memorandum saying that Britain’s representative should not be filled with unreasoning awe of the pope, and the post has always been filled by a Protestant.

Chilean Movie Recalls U.S. Priest-Teacher

An award-winning Chilean movie titled Machuca opening in some U.S. cities features the story of St. George’s School in Santiago, Chile, and its headmaster, Gerardo Whelan, C.S.C., known to students as Gerardo. Father Whelan, a U.S.-born Holy Cross priest, was headmaster until shortly after the military coup in 1973 that overthrew the elected Socialist President Salvador Allende and brought Gen. Augosto Pinochet to power. Allende died in the coup. Even after Father Whelan was himself deposed from his post by the Chilean military, he remained in Chile, helping slum dwellers and biding his time until he could return to the school he loved. Machuca won an award last year from Signis, the World Catholic Association for Communication. The film is slowly making its way across the United States with screenings in selected cities. In the film, Pedro Machuca is one of the children from a shantytown near Santiago enrolled at St. Patrick’s, an English-language school run by Father McEnroe.

Swiss Guard Marks 500th Anniversary

One of the Vatican’s most popular tourist attractions is about to celebrate its 500th anniversary with a special series of stamps, concerts, Masses and a 450-mile march. The Swiss Guard officially turns 500 on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the arrival in Rome of 150 Swiss soldiers recruited to serve and protect Pope Julius II. The Vatican’s commemorative stamps, featuring artwork by former guard Rudolf Mirer, went on sale on Nov. 22 at the Vatican and in Switzerland, marking the first Vatican-Swiss stamp package. Also in anticipation of the anniversary, a history of the Guard written by Sgt. Christian-Roland Marcel Richard was released on Nov. 9. Col. Elmar Mader, commander of the Guard, said Richard’s work marked the first time that an active guard has published a book describing life in the corps.

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