Contrary to some media reports that focused on the Vatican's banning of "sexually active" gay men from the seminaries (anyone--straight or gay--who enters the seminary must be celibate) and stories that zeroed in on "transitory" gays (another way of speaking about basically straight men), the document has a far simpler and more wide-ranging goal: the banning of any man who understands himself as gay. The document explicitly bars those who have "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies."
This is about as broad a ban as you could imagine. The instruction will have a lasting effect on three groups of men. First, no matter how it is applied or interpreted or read by superiors and seminary rectors, this document will have the immediate effect of turning away any gay man who understands that he is gay. Any healthy, emotionally mature gay man will more than likely identify himself as someone with "deeply rooted homosexual tendencies," in the words of the Instruction. For some reason, the rest of the media seem to think the big news is that Vatican bans "sexually active" gays or "transitory gays." This is utterly beside the point. An honest reading of the document shows that the Vatican is simply banning gays. The "application" of the document, even the portion of the document that says that rectors are ultimately responsible for their men, will be largely meaningless, for this simple reason: Few emotionally mature gay applicants these days will want to enter.
The only gay men who will enter will be either clueless, closeted, or lying. This is a disastrous way to prepare men for healthy life as a priest, and gives rise to the very environment that everyone wanted to avoid: the repressed, fearful seminary where sexuality is a forbidden topic. (Bizarrely, the document also contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which not only says that gay men should be celibate, but can be celibate.) Second, the Instruction states that rectors and spiritual directors are now obliged--in conscience--to ask men already in seminaries and formation programs to leave. This goes far beyond what anyone I know expected. And, make no mistake, it represents a real purge. Those men who had formerly been encouraging men in their vocations are now being asked to push them out the door. I cannot imagine what is going in the hearts of my friends in seminaries who are gay and celibate. What are they supposed to do? Tragically, this too will prevent any sort of healthy discussion about a person's sexuality, something that is at the heart of coming to understand how to live a life of celibacy with integrity. Third, the document statement that gay men per se are incapable of relating to men and women is one of the most offensive things I have ever read in any church document about homosexuals. It says to gay men--and by extension, celibate gay priests who have long been in ministry--that they are simply unable to relate to their fellow human beings. After years of dedicated service--after hearing confessions, baptizing infants, preparing people for marriage, sitting by the beds of the sick and dying, and counseling people in trouble--the gay priest is told he doesn't understand people and cannot relate to them. The recent Instruction is breathtaking in its lack of understanding of the lived experience of celibate gay priests and of gay men and women. It is, to use some official church terminology, a cause for "scandal," something that will cause people to lose heart in the church. And sometime in the future the Catholic church will find itself having to apologize for speaking so callously about an entire group of people. Where, in the end, is the message of Jesus in this document? Where is his message of inclusion and encouragement and love? It is nowhere. For me, this document is an occasion of deep sadness--for those men who will never enter the seminary, for those men who will feel forced to leave after years of discernment and prayer, and for those celibate gay priests who will feel great anguish over their treatment by the Vatican. And I feel sadness for the people in the pews, too, who will be deprived of something simple: good men.