Vatican issues gay policy document
Pope Benedict XVI (left) is widely seen as a conservative.
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(CNN) -- The Vatican has published a controversial document on gays and the Catholic priesthood, affirming its policy against gay priests but saying anyone who has "clearly overcome" homosexual tendencies can start the process of becoming a priest.
The document, called "Instruction," was officially released Tuesday, a week after the Italian religious news agency Adista -- which has close ties to the Vatican -- posted a leaked copy on its Web site.
The short document has already prompted debate both in and out of the church. Conservatives see it as a key step in reforming the priesthood, while liberals fear it could drive gay priests underground or create a greater shortage of priests in the United States.
Meanwhile, gay groups have said the church is using homosexuals as scapegoats for its sexual abuse scandals, Reuters reported.
In spelling out its position, 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, according to Adista.
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 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 has caused 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 -- one of the factors they say led to the sex abuse scandal.
The 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."
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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