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No sooner had I spotted one hopeful sign in the Pope’s handling of the Chilean sex-abuse scandal when today’s news brought another. Pope Francis has reaffirmed the Church’s policy barring active homosexuals from seminaries.
This concern about homosexual influence contrasts quite sharply with the Holy Father’s reported advice to a gay Chilean abuse victim to “be happy with who you are.” It contrasts with the most famous words of his pontificate, uttered in response to questioning about a homosexual cleric: “Who am I to judge?” But if Pope Francis is finally recognising the damage that homosexual influence has done to the Church, that is surely a hopeful sign.
In his confidential letter to the Chilean bishops – the version that the Vatican did not publish – the Pope listed the signs of serious corruption in the country’s episcopate, including the fact that “some bishops or superiors…are believed to have entrusted [seminarians] to priests suspected of active homosexuality.”
Then just a few days later it emerged that the Pope had advised Italian bishops not to admit young men into seminaries if “you have the slightest doubt” that they might be active homosexuals.
Pope Francis is not the first Roman Pontiff to warn against homosexual influence, particularly at the seminary level.
In April 2002, when American bishops traveled to Rome to discuss the sex-abuse scandal with Pope John Paul II, the Vatican summary of their talks mentioned “the need for a deeper study of the criteria of suitability of candidates for the priesthood.”
Again in November 2005 the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education released a document, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, stating clearly that the Church “may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practise homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.”
Even in this pontificate, the Congregation for Clergy confirmed the ban on homosexual seminarians, quoting from the earlier 2005 document.
So we know that Vatican statements about homosexual influence have not yet translated into policies that address the problem. I am not predicting a dramatic change in papal policies now. But stranger things have happened, and surely we can hope.
Pope Francis was severely shaken by the scandal in Chile. Has the jolt changed his attitude toward homosexual influence in the Church? For that matter, will the Pope’s cautions against homosexual seminarians dampen the enthusiasm of some of his most ardent supporters? This issue has at least the potential to bring about a significant change. – P Lawler