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Vatican gay stance: 3-year test

'Transitory' clause seen as part of a tougher stance

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(CNN) -- In an eagerly awaited document, the Vatican has reiterated its policy against gay priests, but has said it would allow those who have "clearly overcome" homosexual tendencies to start the process of becoming a priest.

In spelling out its position on Tuesday, the Vatican office that deals with education within the Catholic Church made a distinction between deep-seated homosexual tendencies and what it called "the expression of a transitory problem."

"The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the Seminary and to Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, present deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture," the document said.

But the document said when "homosexual tendencies are only the expression of a transitory problem ... these must be clearly overcome at least three years prior to deaconate ordination."

That position is just one step short of the priesthood.

The 21-paragraph document -- -- which advises bishops and seminary rectors on how to deal with potential gay priests entering the church -- did not spell out how the "transitory problem" could be overcome, or how a potential priest could offer proof that he no longer had such tendencies.

The Catholic Church has had a long-standing policy against homosexual priests, with a 1961 document saying homosexuals should be barred from priesthood.

But in recent years the Vatican has seen a need to issue updated guidelines, partially as a result of the sex abuse scandal that rocked the church in the United States.

That scandal, which broke out in 2002, involved abuse of teenage boys by priests.

In covering one of the most sensitive issues in the Roman Catholic Church, the document did not cover men who are already priests but only those entering seminaries to prepare for the priesthood.

The Vatican was expected to release the document, called "Instruction," next Tuesday, but the Italian religious news agency Adista -- which has close ties to the Vatican -- posted it on its Web site Tuesday, a full week before the church's deadline.

The document was issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education and signed by the prefect of that office, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, on November 4, according to the document posted on Adista. Pope Benedict XVI approved it August 31.

'Grave sins'

The new document underlines that church teaching considers homosexual acts "grave sins" that are intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law, news agencies reported. "Therefore, in no case can they be approved," it says.

"If a candidate practices homosexuality or presents deeply rooted homosexual tendencies, his spiritual director, like his confessor, have the duty to dissuade him in conscience from proceeding towards ordination," it said.

The document is sure to cause waves in the church, with some saying it will root out homosexuality in the priesthood and others saying it will cause gay priests to go underground -- what they say was one of the factors that led to the sex abuse scandal .

Rev. Fred Daley, a gay priest at St. Francis DeSales Church in Utica, New York, said he is afraid that the church's attempt to "glean out homosexuals" will "put that whole area back in the closet and will keep folks from being able to work those issues out in the seminary."

But Msgr. Steve Rohlff, rector of Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Maryland, disagreed.

"It flows obviously from the church's teaching on human sexuality, which has been constant from the first century to the 20th century -- that homosexuality is an intrinsic disorder. It is a psychosexual disorder."

He added, "Does that mean that somebody is wicked or evil? No. It means they have a psychosexual disorder."

The Vatican so far has made no comment on it.

An estimate of the number of gays in U.S. seminaries and the priesthood range from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to a review of research by the Rev. Donald Cozzens, an author of "The Changing Face of the Priesthood."

Other estimates have been as low as 10 percent and as high as 60 percent, according to news agencies.

CNN's Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.

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