Can the Holy Father make the people obey the church latest stand against gays?
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"Witch hunts and gay-bashing have no place in the church," statement made by Bishop William Skylstad (Spokane, Wash.), the president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops.VATICAN CITY | Pope Benedict XVI could face the first major test of his authority as the Vatican prepares to enforce instructions that bar openly gay men from entering seminaries and the priesthood. In giving his personal approval to a document outlining the ban, Benedict has made it clear that Rome intends to rein in local practices that have in recent years led to a perceived prevalence of homosexuality in the American priesthood. There are serious doubts, however, as to whether the document actually compels church leaders to carry out Benedict's wishes. According to the forthcoming document, which has been widely leaked to the media in anticipation of its official release Tuesday, the new "Instruction" reflects church teaching that has already been in place for years but seldom enforced. Citing the Catholic Catechism, the document notes that the church already regards people with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" as "objectively disordered." "In light of such teaching," the document states, the Congregation for Catholic Education "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 practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture." Candidates experiencing "transitory homosexual tendencies" are not disqualified, but must "clearly overcome" them three years before being ordained as deacons - a formal step that precedes becoming a priest. Although the document draws a distinction between "transitory" and "deep-seated" tendencies, it stops short of defining those terms explicitly. That move, observers say, appears to grant local bishops, seminary rectors and the superiors of religious orders considerable leeway in deciding how and whether to enforce the new norms. "I think there's going to be a lot of resistance," said the Rev. Mark Francis, the general superior of the Clerics of St. Viator based in Rome, a religious order of priests. "What does 'deep-seated homosexual tendencies' really mean? How is that to be interpreted?" he asked. "When push comes to shove, a lot of the decision-making is going to be left in the hands of local people." According to the Rev. Robert Gahl, an ethics professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, the four-page instruction is based on church teaching that says homosexuality is not innate, but a condition subject to change. The term "deep-seated" would therefore apply to candidates who are struggling to make that transition. "Everyone is capable of change," Gahl said. "But being deeply rooted is something that is seated - it's not just passing." The Vatican instruction also stipulates that spiritual directors who work with seminarians are obligated to "dissuade" candidates who display "deep-seated tendencies," but warns them to maintain confidentiality and not report their findings to superiors. The document also warns that "it would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his true homosexuality to gain, despite everything, ordination." Although the document appears toothless on a technical level, Gahl expects local officials and seminary directors and candidates to adhere to the Vatican's instructions in good faith. "Penalties aren't specified for disobedience, but the church presumes that the people working in priestly formation will have the good of the church in their heart and will want to comply with the directives that come from the Holy Father," he said. Some American bishops, however, have already indicated that they are reluctant to drastically alter policies that have allowed gay men into the priesthood for many years. Writing in his diocesan newspaper Oct. 28, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., the president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, declared that "witch hunts and gay-bashing have no place in the church." "There are many wonderful and excellent priests in the church who have a gay orientation, are chaste and celibate, and are very effective ministers of the Gospel," he wrote. And in a Nov. 12 column, Bishop Matthew H. Clark of Rochester, N.Y., wrote that his diocese will continue to evaluate "gay young men who are considering a vocation to priesthood." Before he was elected pope in April, Benedict served as the chief enforcer of Catholic doctrine as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now that he is pope, Benedict is expected to bring the full weight of his new office to bear on disobedient churchmen. However, Benedict is working against a long history of Vatican documents and declarations on homosexuality that have been largely ignored. As far back as 1961, the Sacred Congregation for Religious, a Vatican department in charge of religious orders, recommended that "those affected by the perverse inclination to homosexuality or pederasty should be excluded from religious vows and ordination." And few flinched in 2002 when the head of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and Sacraments, which collaborated on the new guidelines, called the ordination of gay men "very risky." "A homosexual person or someone with homosexual tendencies is not, therefore, suitable to receive the sacrament of holy orders," Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez wrote in a letter published in the congregation's main publication, Notitiae. Original source: Page B7, Religion section, The Winston-Salem Journal, November 26, 2005.