The Vatican is clamping down on gay candidates for the priesthood by requiring those with even "transitory" homosexual tendencies to overcome their urges for at least three years before entering the ministry.
The specific requirements were listed in a five-page document called Instruction, which was posted on the Internet Tuesday by the Italian Catholic news agency Adista. According to the Associated Press, a church official who has read the document confirmed its authenticity, but asked that he not be named because the Vatican is not planning to officially release the document until next week.
The policy advising against sexually active gay clergy is not new. In a 1961 document, the Vatican stated that homosexuals should be barred from the priesthood. However, research and plans for Instruction came a few years ago after the 2002 clergy abuse scandal that erupted in the United States.
According to a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a vast majority of abuse victims since 1959 were adolescent boys. While experts warned that there is no clear connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, the research results continued to raise questions about gay seminarians.
The new document from the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education says the church deeply respects homosexuals, but adds that it "cannot admit to the seminary and the sacred orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture."
"Those people find themselves, in fact, in a situation that presents a grave obstacle to a correct relationship with men and women. One cannot ignore the negative consequences that can stem from the ordination of people with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies," the statement read.
"If instead it is a case of homosexual tendencies that are merely the expression of a transitory problem, for example as in the case of an unfinished adolescence, they must however have been clearly overcome for at least three years before ordination as a deacon."
Critics of similar policies in the past have said such a ban on gay priests would drastically lower the already dwindling number of Catholic priests in the U.S. According to estimates from the Rev. Donald Cozzens, an author of The Changing Face of the Priesthood, about 25 to 50 percent of the candidates for priesthood are gay.
Conservatives, meanwhile, are likely to applaud the policy since it reinforces the Roman Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality. In the past, some Catholic research has found that "gay subcultures in seminaries" alienate heterosexuals and prompt them to drop out.
The new policy booklet is approved by Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2003 described homosexuality as a "troubling moral and social phenomenon." Instruction does not make references to current priests, but is instead directed to people entering seminaries and preparing the ordination.