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Studies into the incidence of homosexuality in the Roman Catholic priesthood are contested and controversial. The issue is complicated by the distinction between priests who are to some degree homosexual, and those priests who engage in or promote gay sexual activity in contradiction to their vows and to the teaching of the Catholic Church.[1][2][3] The teaching of the Church, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that homosexual persons, including priests, "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity", and that "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided".[4] Regarding gay sexual activity, however, the Catechism states that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered", and that "under no circumstances can they be approved".[1] These prohibitions apply especially to priests, as the canon law of the Catholic Church requires that clerics "observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven".[5] For this reason, priests in Latin Catholic dioceses make vows of celibacy at their ordination, thereby agreeing to remain unmarried and abstinent throughout their lives.

The Church distinguishes between "homosexual attractions", which are not considered sinful, and "homosexual acts", which are considered sinful.[1] In 2005 a senior Vatican official confirmed a report in Corriere della Sera that gay men who are closeted and chaste (abstain from sexual activity) for at least three years will still be allowed to become priests,[6] and others have argued that the Church would be unable to enforce an outright ban.[6]

Attitude toward homosexuality in the Church[edit]

In 1102, Saint Anselm of Canterbury demanded that the punishment for homosexuality should be moderate because 'this sin has been so public that hardly anyone has blushed for it, and many, therefore have plunged into it without realising its gravity.[7] It was probably only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that a mass condemnation of homosexuality began in Europe. This moderated considerably in the final decade of the twentieth century with the distinction now made by Catholic Church authorities between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity, forbidding the latter while tolerating the existence of the former.[7]

Journalists have said that in 1986 "the Vatican pronounced homosexuality to be a disorder, whereas in years before the church had regarded it as morally neutral."[8] The Catholic Church in fact, which judges homosexuality in the sense of homosexual activity to be, like all forms of sexual activity outside of marriage, objectively wrong, considers homosexuality in the sense of homosexual orientation to be objectively a possibly immutable disorder that as such does not call for moral condemnation: "the Catholic Church teaches that it is not a sin to be gay man or lesbian".[9] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."[10]

There has been some support for homosexual priests expressed by members of the clergy, including by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the Archdiocese of Detroit, who has argued for the ordination of gay men.[11] "Gay priests and heterosexual priests didn't know how to handle their sexuality, their sexual drive. And so they would handle it in ways that were not healthy." Furthermore the report suggested that some priests and behavioral experts believe the church had "scared priests into silence by treating homosexual acts as an abomination and the breaking of celibacy vows as shameful". One of the first gay priests to come out as gay was Robert Carter, co-founder of LGBT advocacy group the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.[8]

Estimating numbers[edit]

Studies find it difficult to quantify specific percentages of Roman Catholic priests who identify as gay priests,[12][not in citation given] although the John Jay Report reported that "homosexual men entered the seminaries in noticeable numbers from the late 1970s through the 1980s",[13] and available figures for homosexual priests in the United States range from 15–58%.[12][14] A 2002 Los Angeles Times nationwide poll of 1,854 priests (responding) reported that 9 percent of priests identified themselves as homosexual, and 6 percent as "somewhere in between but more on the homosexual side." Asked if a "homosexual subculture" (defined as a "definite group of persons that has its own friendships, social gatherings and vocabulary") existed in their diocese or religious order, 17 percent of the priests said "definitely," and 27 percent said "probably." 53 percent of priests who were ordained in the last 20 years (1982-2002) affirmed such a subculture existed in the seminary when they attended.[14]

Anonymous studies have also suggested a prevalence of homosexual leanings in the Roman Catholic priesthood. Studies by Wolf and Sipe from the early 1990s suggest that the percentage of priests in the Catholic Church who admitted to being gay or were in homosexual relationships was well above the national average for the United States of America.[15] Elizabeth Stuart, a former convener of the Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian movement claimed, "It has been estimated that at least 33 percent of all priests in the RC Church in the United States are homosexual."[16]

Anecdotal press reports from anonymous sources suggest that the incidence of homosexuality in the Roman Catholic priesthood is much higher than in the general population.[17][18] It is[vague] theorized part of the over-representation might be caused by heterosexual priests leaving in order to marry. But it may also have much to do with the Church offering a perceived 'sanctuary' for many men living in societies where homosexuality is criminalised or shunned, especially reducing the pressure by families to marry and have children.[citation needed]

One report suggested that since the mid-1980s Roman Catholic priests in the United States were dying from AIDS-related illnesses at a rate four times higher than that of the general population; with most of the cases contracted through same-sex relations, and the cause often concealed on their death certificates. A followup study done the next year by the Kansas City Star found AIDS-related death rate among priests was "more than six times" the rate among the general population in the 14 states studied.[19]

Persistent rumours suggest a gay lobby in the Vatican and investigative journalists have caught high ranking people in the Vatican engaging in gay behaviour.[20] The New Statesman claims what is described would be a cabal rather than a lobby but doubts if such a group exists.

Church directives[edit]

The Catholic Church today teaches that "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder".[21] Although a 1961 document entitled Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders stated that homosexual men should not be ordained, this was left to bishops to enforce, and most did not, holding homosexuals to the same standards of celibate chastity as heterosexual seminarians.[22] With regard to the United States, in 2002 the Vatican ordered an "apostolic visitation", an examination of American seminaries directed from the Vatican. The visitation began in 2005, and the final report of that effort was issued in 2008. The report discusses "difficulties in the areas of morality", remarking that "Usually, but not exclusively, this meant homosexual behavior". The report describes steps taken to deal with the problem, including correcting a "laxity of discipline".[23]

2005 directive[edit]

In November 2005, the Vatican completed an Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders. Publication was made through the Congregation for Catholic Education. According to the new policy, men with "transitory" homosexual leanings may be ordained deacons following three years of prayer and chastity. However, men with "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies" or who are sexually active cannot be ordained. No new moral teaching was contained in the instruction: the instruction proposed by the document is rather towards enhancing vigilance in barring homosexuals from seminaries, and from the priesthood. As the title of the document indicates, it concerned exclusively candidates with homosexual tendencies, not other candidates.

The Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies. Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture presents them as grave sins. The Tradition has constantly considered them as intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under no circumstance can they be approved.....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, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture". [24]

While the preparation for this document had started 10 years before its publication,[25] this instruction is seen as an official answer by the Catholic Church to several sex scandals involving priests in the late 20th/early 21st century, including the American Roman Catholic sex abuse cases and a 2004 sex scandal in a seminary at St. Pölten (Austria).[26] Two months before his death in 2005, Pope John Paul II, troubled by the sex scandals in the US, Austria and Ireland,[25] had written to the Congregation for Catholic Education: "Right from the moment young men enter a Seminary their ability to live a life of celibacy should be monitored so that before their ordination one should be morally certain of their sexual and emotional maturity."[27] The document has attracted criticism based on an interpretation that the document implies that homosexuality is associated with pedophilia.[28] There were some questions on how distinctions between deep-seated and transient homosexuality, as proposed by the document, will be applied in practice: the actual distinction that is made might be between those who abuse, and those who don't.[29]


The Belgian college of Bishops elaborated that the sexual restrictions for seminary and priesthood candidates apply likewise for men of all sexual orientations.[30] Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York has been quoted as saying that the Vatican's directive was not tout court a "no-gays" policy.[31] The Vatican followed up in 2008 with a directive to implement psychological screening for candidates for the priesthood. Conditions listed for exclusion from the priesthood include "uncertain sexual identity" and "deep-seated homosexual tendencies".[32]

Homosexuality and the episcopacy[edit]

Main article: Gay bishops

Although gay lifestyles have been condemned by the church, a number of senior members of the clergy have been found to have had homosexual relationships. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who retired in 2002, was alleged to have been in a relationship with a former graduate student;[33] Juan Carlos Maccarone, the Bishop of Santiago del Estero in Argentina, retired after video surfaced showing him engaged in homosexual acts;[34] and Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira, the Bishop of Minas in Uruguay, resigned in 2009 after it was alleged that he had broken his vow of celibacy.[35]

Sexual orientation and religious orders[edit]

The General Chapter of the Dominican Order held in Caleruega in 1995 "affirmed that the same demands of chastity apply to all brethren of whatever sexual orientation, and so no one can be excluded on this ground".[36]

In February 2006, the president of the Conference of Religious of Spain, Alejandro Fernández Barrajón declared that "[sexual and affective] maturity is what must be insisted on, when selecting candidates for priesthood or religious life. Conditioning persons on their sexual orientation is not evangelical. Jesus would not do so".[37]


  • Mass Appeal (1984) starring Jack Lemmon and Željko Ivanek as Deacon Mark Dolson, who is struggling with his homosexuality and church authority as a seminarian.
  • Priest (1994) drama directed by Antonia Bird, and starring Linus Roache. The plot revolves around a Roman Catholic priest from Liverpool who struggles with his homosexual urges, causing him a crisis of faith.[38]
  • Saint of 9/11 (2006) a documentary about Father Mychal Judge, a New York City gay priest, chaplain with the New York City Fire Department, and the first victim of the 9/11 attacks in New York.[39][40]
  • Release (2009) is a prison drama from Darren Flaxstone and Christian Martin, recounting the tribulations of a gay priest who has been incarcerated for "what we are primed to believe is pedophilia."[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Catechism of the Catholic Church - The sixth commandment". Vatican.va. 1951-10-29. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  2. ^ "Gay Catholic Priest on Same-Sex Marriage". America Magazine. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  3. ^ Bunderson, Carl. "L.A. Archdiocese Suspends Priest for Promoting Same-Sex 'Marriage' | Daily News". NCRegister.com. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  4. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church - The sixth commandment". Vatican.va. 1951-10-29. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  5. ^ "Code of Canon Law - IntraText". Vatican.va. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  6. ^ a b "Vatican Won't Ban Gay Priests". Associated Press/Fox News. October 7, 2005. Retrieved 18 December 2012. An upcoming church document does not decree a sweeping ban on gays in seminaries, allowing those who have lived chastely for at least three years to become priests, a senior Vatican official said Friday. 
  7. ^ a b Dynes, Wayne (1990). Encyclopaedia of Homosexuality. New York. [page needed]
  8. ^ a b Melloy, Killan (March 15, 2010). "Trailblazing Gay Priest Dies at 82". Edge Boston. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Jeffrey S. Siker, ''Homosexuality and Religion'' (Greenwood 2007 ISBN 978-0-31333088-9), p. 194; cf. p. 15. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  10. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358". Vatican.va. 1951-10-29. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  11. ^ Gumbleton, Thomas (September 30, 2002). "Yes, Gay Men Should Be Ordained". America. Retrieved July 17, 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Martin, James (November 4, 2000). "The Church and the Homosexual Priest". America. 
  13. ^ John Jay College of Criminal Justice (2004). The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-60137-201-7. Retrieved December 21, 2012 
  14. ^ a b Stammer, Larry B. (October 20, 2002). "15% Identify as Gay or ‘on Homosexual Side’". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 21, 2013.
  15. ^ J. Wolf, Gay Priests, New York, 1989; R. Sipe, A Secret World: sexuality and the search for celibacy, New York, 1990
  16. ^ Stuard, Elizabeth. Roman Catholics and Homosexuality, quoted by Kate Saunders in Catholics and Sex.
  17. ^ "Boston Globe / Spotlight / Abuse in the Catholic Church / Opinion". The Boston Globe. 
  18. ^ Attorney: priests claim 70 percent of U.S. bishops are gay[dead link]
  19. ^ "Report: Priests hit hard by hidden AIDS epidemi". Actupny.org. 2000-01-31. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  20. ^ Pope Francis 'confirms Vatican gay lobby and corruption'The Vatican's 'gay lobby,' round two
  21. ^ Letter Homosexualitatis Problema to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons. October 1, 1986.
  22. ^ Instruction on the Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders. February 2, 1961.
  23. ^ Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect (December 15, 2008). "Final report of the apostolic visitation of seminaries in the United States". Congregation for Catholic Education of the Roman Catholic Church. 
  24. ^ "Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction concerning the criteria for the discernment of vocations with regard to persons with homosexual tendencies in view of their admission to the seminary and to Holy Orders". Vatican.va. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  25. ^ a b "'Nothing Extraordinary'?" in Inside the Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579), January 2006
  26. ^ In New York Times:
  27. ^ quoted in "'Nothing Extraordinary'?" in Inside the Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579), January 2006
  28. ^ "Statement From The Board Of Directors and Staff of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries" November 29, 2005. Accessed June 18, 2007
  29. ^ Leader (November 30, 2005). "The Guardian November 30, 2005 Editorial". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  30. ^ Press communication of the Belgian bishops (29 November 2005):
    *Website of the Catholic Church in Belgium (French): "A propos de la recente instruction concernant l'admission de candidats à la prêtrise" – Regarding the recent instruction concerning the admission of candidates for priesthood
  31. ^ Allen, Jr., John (2009-02-23). "Archbishop Timothy Dolan headed to New York". National Catholic Reporter. 
  32. ^ Zenon Card. Grocholewski, Prefect (June 28, 2008). "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood". Congregation for Catholic Education of the Roman Curia. 
  33. ^ "NationalReview". NationalReview. 2002-05-24. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  34. ^ "Queer:Bischof zurückgetreten (german)". Queer.de. 2005-08-25. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  35. ^ derStandard.at. "Der Standard:Bischof trat nach schweren Vorwürfen zurück (german)". Derstandard.at. Retrieved 2013-01-16. 
  36. ^ Timothy Radcliffe, Letter to the order The Promise of Life, 25 February 1998, retrieved 22 December 2012
  37. ^ Juan G. Bedoya, El líder de los 64.000 religiosos españoles critica que los obispos protesten en la calle, El Pais, 1 February 2006, retrieved 22 December 2012
  38. ^ Usborne, David (March 25, 1995). "Good Friday row over gay priest film". The Independent (London). Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  39. ^ "Gay Priest Was 9/11's First Recorded Casualty". KMGH Denver. September 9, 2011. 
  40. ^ Bajko, Matthew S. (September 14, 2006). "Film examines life of gay priest lost on 9/11". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  41. ^ Catsoulis, Jeannette (September 30, 2010). "Tribulations of a Gay Priest". New York Times. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 


  • David Berger, Der heilige Schein: Als schwuler Theologe in der katholischen Kirche, (2010) ISBN 978-3-550-08855-1
  • Saunders, K. and Stanford, P., Catholics and Sex, Heinemann, London (1992) ISBN 0-434-67246-7
  • Stuart, E, CHOSEN, Gay Catholic Priests Tell Their Stories, Geoffrey Chapman, London (1993) ISBN 0-225-66682-0
  • Atila Silke GUIMARÃES, The Catholic Church and Homosexuality, Tan Books & Publishers, Charlotte (1999) ISBN 0-89555-651-0
  • Tedesco, Mark, "That Undeniable Longing: My Journey to and From the Priesthood", Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago (2010). ISBN 978-0-89733-599-7

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