Pope Francis says Italian seminaries should reject gay applicants

Pope Francis told the Italian bishops’ conference not to allow homosexual men to enter the seminary to train for the priesthood, according to Italian media reports.

The pope’s words took many by surprise given his openness to the L.G.B.T. community throughout his pontificate. Francis famously replied “Who am I to judge?” when asked about a “gay lobby” at the Vatican on the plane ride back from World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013.

But in his remarks to the bishops, the pope voiced what has been the official position of the Vatican since 2005 when the Congregation for Catholic Education, with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI, issued a document on the question, titled “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.” That document was subsequently endorsed by Pope Francis in 2016.

Francis made the remarks during a 90-minute, closed-door meeting in the Vatican’s old synod hall with the more than 200 members of the Italian bishops’ conference last Monday, May 20.

Since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has engaged in question-and-answer sessions at the conference’s twice-yearly meeting. There is so far no official text of the pope’s remarks to the conference last Monday. The remarks, first reported by Dagospia, a news outlet that specializes in confidential information and scoops, were subsequently reported by the leading Italian dailies, La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, but have not been officially confirmed.

An informed source, who did not want to be identified, told America that he first learned of the news on May 21 from three Italian bishops who were at the meeting.

The question regarding homosexuality and seminarians has been under discussion for some time by the Italian bishops’ conference, and according to Il Corriere della Sera, at their meeting in Assisi last November, they “had approved a new document ‘Ratio Formationis Sacerdotalis,’ not yet approved by the Holy See, regulating admission to and formation in [Italian] seminaries, in which they approved by majority vote an amendment that recognized the distinction between simple homosexual orientation and ‘deeply rooted tendencies.’”

This, the paper reported, meant “in substance, that a homosexual person could be admitted to the seminary if, like the heterosexual, he gave the guarantee that he knows how to live the discipline of celibacy. The implication is that it is more difficult for homosexuals because they will be living in an all-male community for many years.” But, the paper observed, “it seems that Pope Francis has a more radical vision: to avoid problems of this kind, homosexual persons should not be admitted to the seminary. Full stop!”

La Repubblica reported much the same but added that two or three bishops raised questions on this subject at last week’s meeting with the pope, and one of them explicitly asked Francis what he as a bishop should do “when an openly declared homosexual knocks at the door of the seminary.” The paper said, “The pope, who already in the past had manifested his opposition to this [entry], responded in a firmly negative way, while emphasizing that respect is due to every person irrespective of their sexual orientation.”

According to La Repubblica, Francis said that “it is necessary to put down markers, and prevent the risk that the gay person who chooses the priesthood could later end up living a double-life, continuing to practice homosexuality, while at the same time suffering from this dissimulation.”

Il Corriere della Sera, La Repubblica and Dagospia report that Francis, whose native language is Spanish, not Italian, and who often uses colloquial language in conversation, surprised bishops by using the Italian word “frociaggine,” which is a derogatory term for “queerness” in Italian. It is not clear if he was aware of the word’s offensive nature. The main Italian dailies quoted him as saying that “there is too much frociaggine in seminaries.” Various sources here say the pope’s use of “frociaggine” was a gaffe on the part of the pope, rather than a slur, given the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” attitude toward gay priests.

The Vatican document issued in 2005 states:

[T]his 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.”

La Repubblica notes that this question appears to be an item on the agenda of one of the 10 study groups that Pope Francis has established in relation to the Synod on Synodality that will hold its final session next October. The results of the working groups are unlikely to be ready in time for that assembly but may still provide input.

Correction, May 27, 2024: Due to an editing error, this article originally stated incorrectly that the Rio World Youth Day was in 2016. 

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