There is no need to cry conspiracy, blame anti-Francis lobbies, or claim there’s work afoot to push for a conclave. The fact is, no one should be surprised that the Pope’s vulgar descriptor for the gay environment often found in Italian seminaries leaked from the new synod hall and made it before the broad public.

It happens when one speaks to more than a hundred people, even if it is behind closed doors. Especially when it is behind closed doors. The incident must make us reflect on an even more important question: what Pope Francis really thinks and how he manages to maintain coherence between thoughts and actions.

First of all, a little background. The Pope’s words occurred in a closed-door meeting with the bishops of the Italian Episcopal Conference. These are sometimes tense moments in which Pope Francis lets himself go verbally.

The Pope was responding to a question on the criteria for admission to seminaries. Now, the Ratio fundamentalis for admission to seminaries, updated in 2016, already said no to aspiring priests who were homosexual or, above all, who openly supported gay culture.

That Ratio must now be implemented by the Italian bishops, who have been discussing national rules for admission to seminaries for some time. The text approved in the general assembly of November 2023 is still awaiting approval by the Congregation for the Clergy. It seems the CEI text includes the possibility of access to sacred orders for people with “non-rooted” homosexual tendencies.

The 2016 decree of the Dicastery for the Clergy states: “While profoundly respecting people [with homosexual tendencies], it cannot admit to the Seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called gay culture.”

Taken on its own, that statement may leave just a crack in the window, but only if one really is looking for it.

The usually well-informed traditionalist site, Messa in Latino, discussed this possible discrepancy between the Italian bishops’ text and the decree of the Congregation for the Clergy. Strangely, the CEI has not yet received approval for a text that should have reflected the guidelines provided by the Dicastery for the Clergy, albeit with the necessary national nuances.

However, the summary text also shows the variety of positions in the Italian Church, which seems far from being that monolithic bloc on principles that had characterized the first twenty years of the 21st century.

Hence, the question to the Pope on the access of homosexuals to seminaries.

Hence, the Pope’s response.

It was an angry response because the Pope has always had clear ideas on this issue. This goes beyond the colorful language he used, which ultimately says a lot about Pope Francis’ personality but perhaps says little about his real feelings.

How can this stance be reconciled with what was considered openness on the gay question?

It is compatible simply because the Pope distinguishes governmental lines from pastoral lines. The principles by which he governs are one thing. How he verbalizes things in public, another.

Pope Francis pays excellent attention to public opinion, and at a certain point, we must also accept that the Pope makes his pastoral choices by considering possible reactions.

Not only.

Pope Francis sees no contradiction between a pastoral choice and a doctrinal choice. Pastorally, Pope Francis is open to everyone, and he is not afraid to appear welcoming and without prejudice and to want everyone to be on the same path. The problem generally arises when the institutional level comes into play.

Suppose doctrine and pastoral care are not mutually exclusive when pastoral care is also regulated on issues that deserve “non-bureaucratic” discernment. In that case, pastoral practice risks coming into contradiction with doctrine. Being, in fact, a practice that has rules, it contrasts with the rules of doctrine, creating a short circuit that, at the very least, butts heads with the principle of non-contradiction.

Fiducia supplicans give a clear example: in certifying something that priests have always done (i.e., an individual blessing with a sign of the cross, without too many formalities, when requested), the declaration created a short circuit that even provided for a sort of handbook so that these blessings reflected what the statement said. That is, there is no legitimation of homosexual couples and no openness to blessing for all, except there is in practice and it says so in black and white.

When it comes to the decision before the Italian bishops, they either don’t see any contradictions, or they are aware of the consequences of some choices.

By using a vulgar expression to describe gays, Pope Francis showed the annoyance he felt when questions put him against the wall. The legitimately asked question was intended to ask the Pope to take responsibility for some choices. The Pope wanted to respond strongly, almost as if to end the conversation.

Pope Francis, in other words, barked himself out of a corner. It remains to be seen, however, whether all this will translate into a real non-admission of gays into the seminary.

Ultimately, the most essential part of priestly formation is that those responsible for it not be promotors of gay culture. Ultimately, it makes sense: gay culture tends to support lots of things the Church cannot accept. It goes without saying – or should – that there must be pastoral solicitude for gay persons. On the principles that must undergird culture – including clerical culture, beginning in houses or formation – there is really no room for debate. A man cannot become a priest if he does not believe in basic Catholic doctrine.

In theory, at least.

In any case, we are faced today not with the Pope’s detractors who want to ruin the last years of his pontificate. We are faced with a leak, probably spread by a disappointed bishop, that shows the Pope for who he really is, although without any evidence of what the Pope actually said or wrote.

In reality, the issue of seminars is much more profound. And it should be addressed if only to address the dramatic decline in vocations.


One Response to Pope Francis and the question of seminaries

  1. James Scott scrive:

    Anyone who doubts the extent to which corrupt Vatican culture has infected general Catholic culture in my lifetime, and with ever more evident signs of shameless papal-sanctioned depravity since the evening of 13th March 2013, need only reflect on this comment copied from the text above:

    “A man cannot become a priest if he does not believe in basic Catholic doctrine.

    In theory, at least.”

    Words fail me.

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