continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and, in
particular, with the Decree Optatam totius1
on priestly formation, the Congregation for Catholic Education has
published various documents with the aim of promoting a suitable, integral
formation of future priests, by offering guidelines and precise norms on
its diverse aspects.2 In the meantime,
the 1990 Synod of Bishops also reflected on the formation of priests in
the circumstances of the present day, with the intention of bringing to
completion the doctrine of the Council on this matter and making it more
explicit and effective in today’s world. Following this synod, John Paul
II published the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo
In the light of this
abundant teaching, the present Instruction does not intend to dwell on all
questions in the area of affectivity and sexuality that require an
attentive discernment during the entire period of formation. Rather, it
contains norms concerning a specific question, made more urgent by the
current situation, and that is: whether to admit to the seminary and to
Holy Orders candidates who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
Maturity and Spiritual Fatherhood
According to the constant Tradition of the Church,
only a baptized person of the male sex validly receives sacred Ordination.4
By means of the sacrament of Orders, the Holy Spirit configures the
candidate to Jesus Christ in a new and specific way: The priest, in fact,
sacramentally represents Christ, the head, shepherd and spouse of the
Church.5 Because of this configuration to
Christ, the entire life of the sacred minister must be animated by the
gift of his whole person to the Church and by an authentic pastoral
The candidate to the
ordained ministry, therefore, must reach affective maturity. Such maturity
will allow him to relate correctly to both men and women, developing in
him a true sense of spiritual fatherhood towards the Church community that
will be entrusted to him.7
and the Ordained Ministry
From the time of the
Second Vatican Council II until today, various documents of the
Magisterium, and especially the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
have confirmed the teaching of the Church on homosexuality. The
Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual
Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture
presents them as grave sins. Tradition has constantly considered them as
intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under
no circumstances can they can be approved.
tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also
objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a
trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every
sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are
called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice
of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter.7
In the light of such
teaching, this dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine
Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to
state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in
question,9 cannot admit to the seminary
or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated
homosexual tendencies or who support the so-called ‘gay culture’.
Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that
gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in
no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the
ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.
Different, however, would
be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were
only the expression of a transitory problem - for example, that of an
adolescence not yet superseded. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be
clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.
Discernment by the Church Concerning the Suitability of Candidates
There are two inseparable
elements in every priestly vocation: the free gift of God and the
responsible freedom of the man. A vocation is a gift of divine grace,
received through the Church, in the Church and for service to the Church.
In responding to the call of God, the man offers himself freely to Him in
love.11 The desire alone to become a
priest is not sufficient, and there does not exist a right to receive
sacred ordination. It belongs to the Church
— in her responsibility to
define the necessary requirements for receiving the sacraments instituted
by Christ — to discern the suitability of him who desires to enter the
seminary,12 to accompany him during his
years of formation and to call him to holy orders, if he is judged to
possess the necessary qualities.13
The formation of the
future priest must distinctly articulate, in an essentially complementary
nature, the four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual, intellectual
and pastoral.14 In this context, it is
necessary to highlight the particular importance of human formation as the
necessary foundation of all formation.15
In order to admit a candidate to ordination to the diaconate, the Church
must verify, among other things, that the candidate has reached affective
The call to orders is the
personal responsibility of the bishop17
or the major superior. Bearing in mind the opinion of those to whom he has
entrusted the responsibility of formation, the bishop or major superior,
before admitting the candidate to ordination, must arrive at a morally
certain judgment on his qualities. In the case of a serious doubt in this
regard, he must not admit him to ordination.18
The discernment of a
vocation and of the maturity of the candidate is also a serious duty of
the rector and of other persons entrusted with the work of formation in
the seminary. Before every ordination, the rector must express his own
judgment on whether the qualities required by the Church are present in
In the discernment
concerning the suitability for ordination, the spiritual director has an
important task. Although he is bound to secrecy, he represents the Church
in the internal forum. In his discussions with the candidate, the
spiritual director must especially point out the demands of the Church’s
concerning priestly chastity and the affective maturity that is
characteristic of the priest, as well as help him to discern whether he
has the necessary qualities.20 The
spiritual director has the obligation to evaluate all qualities of the
candidate’s personality and to make sure that he does not present
disturbances of a sexual nature which are incompatible with the
priesthood. If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deep-seated
homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, as well as his confessor,
have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding to ordination.
It is understood that the
candidate himself has the primary responsibility for his own formation.21
He must offer himself trustingly to the discernment of the Church, of the
bishop who calls him to orders, of the rector of the seminary, of the
spiritual director and of the other seminary educators to whom the bishop
or major superior has entrusted the task of forming future priests. It
would be gravely dishonest for a candidate to hide his own homosexuality
in order to proceed, despite everything, towards ordination. Such a
deceitful attitude does not correspond to the spirit of truth, loyalty and
availability that must characterize the personality of him who believes he
is called to serve Christ and His Church in the ministerial priesthood.
reaffirms the need for bishops, major superiors and all relevant
authorities to carry out an attentive discernment concerning the
suitability of candidates for holy orders, from the time of admission to
the seminary until ordination. This discernment must be done in the light
of a conception of ministerial priesthood that is in accordance with the
teaching of the Church.
Let bishops, episcopal
conferences and major superiors look to see that the constant norms of
this Instruction be faithfully observed for the good of the candidates
themselves and to guarantee that the Church always has suitable priests
who are true shepherds according to the heart of Christ.
The Supreme Pontiff,
Benedict XVI, on 31 August, 2005, approved this present Instruction and
ordered its publication.
Rome, 4 November,
2005, Memoria of St. Charles Borromeo, Patron of Seminaries.
Zenon Card. Grocholewski,
Michael Miller, C.S.B.
Titular Arch. of
ECUMENICO VATICANO II, Decreto sulla formazione sacerdotale Optatam totius
(28 ottobre 1965): AAS 58 (1966), 713-727.
Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, Ratio fundamentalis
institutionis sacerdotalis (6 January 1970; second edition 19 March
1985); The Study of Philosphy in Seminaries (20 January 1972);
A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy (11
April 1974); ON the Teaching of Canon Law to Those Preparing to be Priests (2
April 1975); The Theological Formation of Future Priests
(22 February 1976); Epistula circularis de formatione vocationum adultarum
(14 July 1976); Instruction on Liturgical Formation in Seminaries (3
June 1979); Circular Letter Concerning Some of the More Urgent Aspects of
Spiritual Formation in Seminaries (6 January 1980); Educational Guidance
in Human Love: Outlines for Sex Education (1 November
1983); Pastoral Care of People on the Move in the Formation of Future
Priests (25 January 1986); Guide to the Training of Future Priests
Concerning the Instruments of Social Communication (19 March 1986);
Circular Letter Concerning Studies of the Oriental Churches (6 January
1987); The Virgin Mary in Intellectual and Spiritual Formation (25
March 1988); Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social
Doctrine in the Formation of Priests (30 December 1988);
Instruction on the Study of the Fathers of the Church in the Formation of
Priests (10 November 1989); Directives Concerning the Preparation of
Seminary Educators (4 November 1993); Directives on the Formation of
Seminarians Concerning Problems Related to Marriage and the Family (19
March 1995); Instruction to the Episcopal Conferences on the Admission to
Seminary of Candidates Coming from Other Seminaries or Religious
(9 October 1986 and 8 March 1996); The Propaedeutic Period (1 May 1998);
Circular Letters Concerning the Canonical Norms relating to Irregularities
and Impediments both ad Ordines recipiendos and ad Ordines
July 1992 and 2 February 1999).
Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo
vobis (25 March 1992): AAS 84 (1992), 657-864.
Cf. CIC, can. 1024 e CCEO, can. 754; Pope John Paul II,
Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis on reserving priestly
ordination to men alone (22 May 1994): AAS 86 (1994), 545-548.
Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the ministry and life of
priests Presbyterorum ordinis (7 December 1965), n. 2: AAS 58 (1966),
991-993; Pastores dabo vobis, n. 16: AAS 84 (1992), 681-682.
With regard to the priest's configuration to Christ, Bridegroom of the
Church, Pastore dabo vobis states that "The priest is called to
be the living image of Jesus Christ, the Spouse of the Church.... In his
spiritual life, therefore, he is called to live out Christ's spousal
love toward the Church, his bride. Therefore, the priest's life ought to
radiate this spousal character, which demands that he be a witness to
Christ's spousal love" (n. 22): AAS 84 (1992), 691.
Cf. Presbyterorum ordinis, n. 14: AAS 58 (1966), 1013-1014;
Pastores dabo vobis, n. 23: AAS 84 (1992), 691-694.
Cf. Congregation for the Clergy, Directory on the Ministry and Life of
Priests (31 March 1994), n. 58.
Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (editio typica, 1997), nn.
2357-2358. Cf. also the various Documents of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith: Declaration Persona Humana on certain
questions concerning sexual ethics (29 December 1975); Letter Homosexualitatis problema
to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual
persons (1 October 1986); Some Considerations Concerning the Response to
Legislative Proposals on Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons (23
July 1992); Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition
to Unions Between Homosexual Persons (3 June
2003). With regard to homosexual inclinations, the Letter Homosexualitatis problema
states that "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual
person is not a sin, it is more or less strong tendency ordered toward
an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as
an objective disorder" (n. 3).
Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (editio typica, 1997), n. 2358;
cf. also CIC, can. 208 and CCEO, can. 11.
Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, A memorandum to Bishops
seeking advice in matters concerning homosexuality and candidates for
admission to seminary, (9 July 1985); Congregation for Divine Worship and
the Discipline of the Sacraments, Letter (16 May 2002): Notitiae 38
Cf. Pastores dabo vobis, nn. 35-36: AAS 84 (1992), 714-718.
Cf. CIC, can. 241, § 1: "A diocesan Bishop is to admit to a major
seminary only those who are judged qualified to dedicate themselves
permanently to the sacred ministries; he is to consider their human,
moral, spiritual and intellectual qualities, their physical and psychic
health, and their correct intention"; cf. CCEO, can. 342, § 1.
Cf. Optatam totius, n. 6: AAS 58 (1966), 717. Cf. also CIC, can.
1029: "Only those are to be promoted to orders who, in the prudent
judgment of their own Bishop or of the competent major superior, all
things considered, have integral faith, are moved by the right
intention, have the requisite knowledge, possess a good reputation, and
are endowed with integral morals and proven virtues and the other
physical and psychic qualities in keeping with the order to be
received"; cf. CCEO, can. 758. Not to call to orders those who do
not have the necessary qualities is not an unjust discrimination: cf.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some Considerations
Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on Non-discrimination
of Homosexual Persons.
Cf. Pastores dabo vobis, nn. 43-59: AAS 84 (1992), 731-762.
Cf. ibid., n. 43: "The priest, who is called to be a 'living image'
of Jesus Christ, head and shepherd of the Church, should seek to reflect
in himself, as far as possible, the human perfection which shines forth
in the incarnate Son of God and which is reflected with particular
liveliness in his attitudes toward others": AAS 84 (1992), 732.
Cf. ibid., nn. 44 and 50: AAS 84 (1992), 733-736 and 746-748. Cf.
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments,
Circular Letter to the Most Reverend Diocesan Bishops and Other
Ordinaries with Canonical Faculties to Admit to Sacred Orders
Concerning: Scrutinies regarding the Suitability of Candidates for
Orders (10 November 1997): Notitiae
33 (1997), 507-518, particularly Enclosure V.
Cf. Congregation for bishops, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of
Bishops Apostolorum Successores (22 February 2004), n. 88.
Cf. CIC, can. 1052, § 3: "If... the Bishops doubts for specific
reasons whether a candidate is suitable to receive orders, he is not to
promote him". Cf. also CCEO, can. 770.
Cf. CIC, can. 1051: "The following prescripts regarding the
investigation about the qualities required in the one to be ordained are
to be observed: ...there is to be a testimonial of the rector of the
seminary or house of formation about the qualities required to receive
the order, that is, about the sound doctrine of the candidate, his
genuine piety, good morals and aptitude to exercise the ministry, as
well as, after a properly executed inquiry, about his state of physical
and psychic health".
Cf. Pastores dabo vobis, nn. 50 and 66: AAS 84 (1992), 746-748
and 772-774. Cf. also Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis, n. 48.
Cf. Pastores dabo vobis, n. 69: AAS 84 (1992), 778