Irish seminary authorities are defying a Vatican ban and welcoming celibate gay men to the priesthood.

Driving the news

In an interview Monday with The Irish Times, rector at St Patrick’s College Maynooth, Rev. Dr Tomás Surlis, and dean of theology Rev. Prof. Declan Marmion, said gay men who are sexually abstinent can begin training for the priesthood at the institution.

Asked whether he would accept a celibate gay man as a candidate for priestly formation, Surlis said: “I would say, yes”.

“The same issue arises for a man who identifies as homosexual as arises for a man who identifies as heterosexual”, the rector explained, in an apparent reference to the celibacy requirement for priests however they identify their sexuality.

“I think we all know priests and bishops who are excellent ministers and make a great contribution to the church and society, who are gay but who are celibate”, Marmion added.

“Being frank about it, I think that’s something we shouldn’t be afraid of saying”, the dean said.

Marmion explained that while Pope Francis might have a problem with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies or people supporting and actively involved in gay culture”, that problem doesn’t extend to gay priests per se, and as individuals.

The intrigue

Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” attitude to gay people was newly on display this September, when gay English priest James Alison revealed that Francis had personally telephoned him to restore his priestly powers.

Despite the Pope’s gay-friendly gestures, however, the Vatican’s latest 2016 guidelines for seminary formation restate a 2005 ban on candidates “who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture'”.

“Such persons… find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women”, the Vatican guidelines state.

“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tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem – for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded”, the same Vatican guidelines admit, before going on to affirm that even in that case “such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate”.

“If a candidate practises 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 towards ordination”, the Vatican instruction insists.

Go deeper

Just as on celibate gay priests, the Maynooth authorities also revealed themselves open to other reforms in Church life, such as the involvement of lay people.

Rector Surlis and president of the Pontifical University at St. Patrick’s, Rev. Prof. Michael Mullaney, said the severe lack of priests in Ireland could soon lead to laypeople conducting services such as weddings, funerals and baptisms.

The celebration of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession are still reserved to priests, Surlis explained.

“But there is a whole range [of activities] in which pastoral outreach takes place that are not necessarily reserved to ordained ministry. In Ireland we have not been good at embracing that reality”, he lamented.

Mullaney recalled that “many ecclesiastical offices are open to lay people – chancellor, parish administrators, [and] judges in tribunals”.

He also said that “bishops can create ecclesiastical offices for the needs of their dioceses”.

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