The Vatican officially released a new document on Tuesday that strongly reinforced its ban on ordaining homosexuals as priests, while a cardinal, making the church's first public comment, rejected the contention that the decree was discriminatory.
"It's not discrimination, for example, if one does not admit a person who suffers from vertigo to a school for astronauts," Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, head of the Congregation for Catholic Education -- the Vatican department that issued the document -- said in an interview broadcast on Tuesday on the Vatican Radio.
The document's official release ended months of piecemeal leaks on one of the most sensitive issues facing the church. Last week, the entire document was posted on an Italian Web site, sparking debate especially among US Catholics about how restrictive the church meant to be and how the rules would be applied in practice.
It was finally published on Tuesday in two forms, as a booklet that ran for seven pages, in the English translation with footnotes, and in the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.
The newspaper also published a much longer commentary by the Reverend Tony Anatrella, a French Jesuit psychologist who repeated the church's long-held condemnation of homosexuality both in the priesthood and in the wider culture.
Generally, he said, homosexuality "presented a destabiliz-ing reality for people and for society."
"During these past years, homosexuality has become a phenomenon that is always increasingly worrying and in many countries is considered a quality that is normal," he wrote.
He said homosexuality was a "sexual tendency and not an identity."
According to the text of the document, the church will not admit to a seminary or ordain "those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called `gay culture.'
Only candidates who had experienced "homosexual tendencies" that were "transitory" will be ordained, the document said, provided they were "overcome" three years before ordination as a deacon.
But the short document did not define terms like "tendencies," "deep-seated" or "overcome," though on Tuesday, Grocholewski gave several specific instances of homosexuality that could be considered "transitory" and therefore possibly acceptable.
"For example, some curiosity during adolescence, or accidental circumstances in a state of drunkenness, or particular circumstances, like someone who was in prison for many years," he said in the Vatican Radio interview.
A central question is whether the new rules will allow ordination of a candidate who is celibate but believes his basic sexual orientation is homosexual.
The instruction does not apply to priests already ordained, though some liberal Catholics predicted protest resignations of some priests who consider themselves gay.
The president of the US Con-ference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop William Sklystad of Spokane, released a statement calling it a "timely document" in an era when homosexuality and gay marriage are so widely discussed.
He said it was a "valid concern" for the church to seek priests who are chaste, mature and "can faithfully represent the teaching of the church about sexuality, including the immorality of homosexual genital activity."