New Rules Affirm Pope Benedict's Stance Against Gays

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 8, 2005

ROME, Oct. 8 -- In the first five months of Pope Benedict XVI's reign, stern opposition to homosexuality in and outside the Roman Catholic Church has quickly become a prime public message for the Vatican.

The new pontiff plans to issue guidelines that attempt to inhibit homosexuals from entering seminaries to train for the priesthood. Church inspectors have embarked on a tour of U.S. seminaries and, according to their working papers, are tasked to ask: "Is there evidence of homosexuality in the seminary? (This question must be answered.)"

Benedict also has energetically fought legal recognition of homosexual couples.

For the church and for Benedict, taking a public stance on homosexuality is not unusual. Church observers have noted that for the quarter-century before becoming pope, Benedict, then known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, served as the Vatican's chief enforcer of orthodoxy, drafting official positions regarding homosexuality.

"No doctrinal chief has ever written and spoken about homosexuality as extensively as Ratzinger has, because homosexuals have never had the freedom to organize and demand recognition they enjoy today," wrote author John L. Allen Jr. in a biography of Benedict, published before he became pope.

His papacy's early focus on homosexuality is a reaction to outside events, some analysts have said: the spread of so-called civil unions or marriage rights to same-sex couples, and the disclosure of sexual abuse by priests. Vatican officials have largely blamed the abuse on homosexuality.

"Given that the church is in the world, action in political life to increase public recognition of homosexual relations is bound to mean more church activity in response," said Rome-based theologian Robert A. Gahl. "Such liberalizing trends in the outside world have also intruded in the seminary, and the church must respond as well."

Critics, on the other hand, have said the pope is simply preoccupied with sex. "It's an obsession," said Alessio de Giorgi, who founded an Italian gay Web site and supports legal recognition of same-sex couples.

New rules to inhibit the participation of homosexuals in the priesthood have been in the works for several years. The rules may endorse psychological testing for aspiring seminarians, and also include assurances that homosexuals who have already become priests will not be made targets of a witch hunt, Vatican officials have said.

On Friday, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported that the new rules will permit homosexuals to enter the priesthood so long as they have been celibate for three years and don't keep in touch with homosexual society via the Internet or movies. One Vatican official confirmed the basics of the article, but added that the document would also insist that aspiring priests not participate in gay solidarity events, such as parades and seminars that treat homosexuality in a "positive way."

"No matter how the document comes out, it will still be a judgment call" for church officials who select seminarians, the official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

As early as 1961, the Vatican told church officials that "advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers."

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