Homosexuals, even those who are celibate, will be barred from becoming Roman Catholic priests, a church official said on Wednesday, under stricter rules soon to be released on one of the most sensitive issues facing the church.
The official, said the question was not "if it will be published, but when," referring to the new ruling about homosexuality in Catholic seminaries. The official, who has close knowledge of the new rules, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the church's policy of not commenting on unpublished reports.
He said that while Pope Benedict XVI had not yet signed the document, it would probably be released in the next six weeks.
In addition to the new document, which will apply to the church worldwide, Vatican investigators have been instructed to visit each of the 229 seminaries in the US.
The church official said the ban would pertain only to candidates for the priesthood, not to those already ordained. He also said the document did not represent any theological shift for the church, whose catechism considers homosexuality "objectively disordered."
Although the document has not been released, hints of what it will say are already drawing praise from some Catholics, who contend that such a move is necessary to restore the church's credibility and who note that church teaching bars homosexuals, active or not, from the priesthood. Other Catholics say, though, that the test should be celibacy, not innate sexuality, and they predicted resignations from the priesthood that would worsen the church's deep shortage of clergy.
Chaste gay priests
"I'm hearing that some men will choose to leave, because if they don't, it would be like living a lie," said the Reverend Robert Silva, president of the American National Federation of Priests' Councils, who opposes a ban because it would be "extremely hurtful" to chaste gay priests who are serving the church.
"People would do what they used to do, which is not be honest," said a gay US priest and professor at a Catholic college who did not want to be identified because he fears he could lose his church position.