Can gay men become priests?
This is part of wider discussion about the nature of the priesthood and the nature of sin. The Catechism of 1992 is clear that there should be no "unjust discrimination" against people with same sex attraction. This includes the area of employment. However, the priesthood is not a job, it is a vocation, with very specific criteria laid out by Christ himself.
The Catholic Church has been under strong pressure to follow western civilization and normalize moral issues such as homosexuality, contraception, abortion, sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, divorce, porn and masturbation, etc. There is not much mainstream debate on these topics anymore and many Christian denominations have followed the culture, only to see their congregations diminish.
If these were not sins there would be no need to make an effort to preserve the Church's teaching. However, the Bible, the saints, the constant teaching of the Church, and the downward spiral of cultures and churches that normalize these things provide ample evidence to faithful Catholics that the Church needs to stay true to its timeless teachings on human sexuality and family.
The priesthood was an attractive vocation for gay men before the sexual revolution
Historically, candidates with persistent sexual struggles or intentional pursuit of any of these types of sexual expression were always forbidden from entering the priesthood because it would compromize their ability to perform their responsibilities "In Persona Christi" (in the person of Christ). On paper, they were forbidden from pursuing the priesthood.
However, in the years before the sexual revolution, homosexuality was not talked about and those with same sex attraction were "in the closet". Catholic men in the 1920's to the 1970's who were same sex attracted flocked to the priesthood where they wouldn't be asked questions about why they were not married. They would also have exposure to other like minded men, and would enjoy a general immunity to social reprecussions because priests were trusted. These men went through preparation for the priesthood hiding their sexuality. Some rose to high ranks in the Church and an active and mostly secret subculture of gay clergy emerged, because they elevated, protected and rewarded their fellow gay clergy to positions of authority.
This came to a head in 2002, during the sexual abuse crisis. Pope Benedict sent representatives to 220 seminaries followed by an the analysis of the abuses. Almost no girls were abused and 88% of all abuse cases involved male teenagers 13-17 years old. The issue resurfaced in 2018 with the Philadelphia Grand Jury Report, which also identified significant abuse of young adults and seminarians. These cases all had a significant homosexual component. The 2011 Report Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Clergy" published by by the US National Library of Medicine proposes the nature of the abuse as primarily homosexual. Jesus said "You will know them by their fruits." (Mat 7:16). The fruit of this tree has been very bitter. We have a separate article on the abuse cases.
Pope Benedict sets out norms for vocations
Pope Benedict created "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". Here's a quote:
... 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."
The document further distinguishes these candidates from people with transient same sex attraction.
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 at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.
Some in favour of a same sex clergy may feel that the abuse crisis is being used as an excuse to discriminate against people with same sex attraction who want to become priests. However, the Church is simply reiterating a position which has been in place since the time of Christ, and which has been undermined in the last 50 years by collective denial. The crisis shone the light on the active gay subculture in the clergy which was previously hidden.
The "closet" is not a healthy place. Hidden lives tend to foster unhealthy habits. Historically, the Church has not sufficiently responded to the multi-faceted and complicated issue of same sex attraction, and the Church has suffered for it, both in its inability to sufficiently minister to people with same sex attraction and in its screening of candidates for the priesthood. The Vatican document addresses the issue of hiding one's sexuality during preparation for the priesthood:
It would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality in order to proceed, despite everything, toward ordination. Such a deceitful attitude does not correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty and openness that must characterize the personality of him who believes he is called to serve Christ and his Church in the ministerial priesthood.
The Catholic Church doesn't believe that homosexuality is simply a choice
The Catechism is clear that the origins of same sex attraction are unknown and that it is not a choice. However, people with deep seated same sex attraction are called to a life of chastity and holiness, like all Christians. (Catechism 2357-2359) Christ makes that possible. The Catholic organization "Courage" helps people with same sex attraction live a life of chastity. Going forward, the Church will need a more comprehensive response to Catholics with same sex attraction. They are part of our community and with chastity they can be active in many other aspects of the Church and they can be a sign of hope to others.
Isn't the Church's approach to homosexuality changing under Pope Francis?
Pope Francis' writings, interviews, and appointments are confusing. The Catholic dogma of infallibility doesn't ensure the pope is free of personal flaws or agendas that are contrary to the deposit of faith. We have a promise from our Lord that the papacy will be protected from error on issues of faith and morals, and so we trust that the end result of this messy process will be more compassion and more fidelity.
"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." (Mat 16:18)
There may be a period ahead of dissention on same sex relationships among those who are culturally Catholic, similar to contraception and sex before marriage. However, movements of Christianity that waver from biblical truths tend to whither. Those who have had a life changing encounter with Jesus know that the Truth cannot change with the tides of culture. We need to find new, compassionate and compelling ways to support people in staying chaste, regardless of sexual orientation. Everyone has sexual problems, we'd hardly be human if we didn't. The question is what are we going to do about them?
It is more important to have good priests than to have many priests ... it is not an act of love to let sexual immorality persist.
As lay people, we need to pray for our priests, bishops and those candidates "called by God" to the priesthood and holy orders. We should also pray that those not called would not pursue this most important and challenging vocation.
What about priests already ordained who are gay?
The letter from Pope Benedict was about entry to the seminary, not about priests already ordained. If you are a gay priest, you are called to a life of chastity like the rest of us in the Church. We pray that you will find your path. One of our team was active in the same sex community, and following an encounter with the living Christ, embarked on the journey of celibacy. You can do it, free of a secret life, free of porn and free of masturbation.
Finally, we leave you with a classic Fulton Sheen talk about a normal and abnormal mind. It starts about 11:32 and should start there on play.