In continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and, in
particular, with the Decree Optatam Totius
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 regarding its diverse
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 theme and making it more
explicit and effective in today's world. Following this Synod, Pope John Paul II
published the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis.
In 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.
1. Affective Maturity and Spiritual Fatherhood
According to the constant Tradition of the Church, only a baptized person of the
validly receives sacred Ordination. 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.
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 charity.
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.
2. Homosexuality and the Ordained Ministry
From the time of the Second Vatican Council 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 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
Deep-seated homosexual 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 fulfil God's will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the
Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter.
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
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".
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.
3. 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 the service of the
Church. In responding to the call of God, the man offers himself freely to him
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
to accompany him during his years of formation, and to call him to holy orders
if he is judged to possess the necessary qualities.
The formation of the future priest must distinctly articulate, in an essentially
complementary manner, the four dimensions of formation: human, spiritual,
intellectual and pastoral.
In this context, it is necessary to highlight the particular importance of human
formation as the necessary foundation of all formation.
In order to admit a candidate to ordination to the diaconate, the Church must
verify, among other things, that the candidate has reached affective maturity.
The call to orders is the personal responsibility of the Bishop
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.
The discernment of a vocation and of the maturity of the candidate is also a
serious duty of the rector and of the 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 the
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
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
The spiritual director has the obligation to evaluate all the 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
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.
It goes without saying that the candidate himself has the primary responsibility
for his own formation.
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 his 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 openness that must characterize
the personality of him who believes he is called to serve Christ and his Church
in the ministerial priesthood.
This Congregation 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 light of a
conception of the 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, Memorial of St Charles Borromeo, Patron of Seminaries
Zenon Grocholewski Prefect
Michael Miller, C.S.B. Tit. Archbp. of Vertara Secretary
Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on priestly formation Optatam Totius
(28 October 1965): AAS 58 (1966), 713-727.
Congregation for Catholic Education, Ratio fundamentalis institutionis
sacerdotalis (6 January 1970; second edition 19 March 1985); The Study of
Philosophy 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
Families (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 exercendos (27 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 and 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, Pastores 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.
Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 14: AAS 58 (1966), 1013-1014; Pastores
Dabo Vobis, n. 23: AAS 84 (1992), 691-694.
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 a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral
evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder" (n.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (editio typica, 1997), n. 2358; cf.
also CIC, can. 208 and CCEO, can. 11.
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 (2002), 586.
 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.
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. 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. also:
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.
Congregation for Bishops, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops
Apostolorum Successores (22 February 2004), n. 88.
 Cf. CIC,
can. 1052 3: "If... the Bishop doubts for specific reasons whether a candidate
is suitable to receive orders, he is not to promote him". Cf. also CCEO,
 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"
Pastores Dabo Vobis, nn. 50 and 66: AAS 84 (1992), 746-748 and
772-774. Cf. also Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis, n. 48.