Evangelical seminary leaders applauded a Vatican document that forbids those with deeply rooted homosexual orientation from entering seminary. The statement also requires a three-year waiting period for those with "transitory" homosexual tendencies.

"The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question," the document states, "may not admit to the seminary and Holy Orders those who practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture."

"The Vatican doesn't have any other choice if it is to be responsible," said Maxie Dunnam, chancellor of Asbury Theological Seminary. The Roman Catholic Church is trying to correct problems exposed by the abuse scandal. "I hope the Catholic and Protestant world will see this as a redemptive thing, not as oppressive," he said.

The Vatican allows spiritual directors and others who guide future priests into ministry to lead those struggling with their sexuality into maturity. The teaching is "both wise and biblical," said Walter Kaiser Jr., president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. If a candidate's homosexual orientation is deep-rooted, Kaiser said, church officials can determine that he does not have a call to the priesthood.

Despite their support for the Vatican instruction, evangelical seminary leaders do not see the need to act similarly. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said his school and most others forbid all sex outside of marriage, as well as viewing pornography. Behavior, rather than orientation, is the operating factor.

"The [Vatican] document deals with orientation," Mohler said. "We assume human-being sinners struggle with sexuality."

Dunnam concurred: "There is more latitude in evangelical seminaries in thinking about orientation and practice [of homosexuality]."

"The line between attraction and behavior is an important and reasonable one," says Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools.

But because Catholic theology differs from that of conservative Protestants, "Roman Catholics struggle with the line in a way that conservative Protestants do not," he said.

Catholic theology treats homosexual and heterosexual lust differently, teaching that homosexual tendencies are "objectively disordered." Though the distinction may be sublimated in pastoral care of laity, it plays a role in the Catholic view of the priest, who is seen as the sacramental representative of Christ.

"The primary issue for Roman Catholics is celibacy in an all-male priesthood," Aleshire said. "That is a fundamentally different ministerial configuration than a Protestant ministry comprising celibate or married persons who, in many denominations, may be either male or female."

Also, unlike Catholic counterparts, degrees from evangelical Protestant seminaries do not guarantee a ministry position or even a calling to ministry.

Despite the differences, though, evangelicals see in the Vatican directive lessons for the spiritual formation of church leaders. "We have much to gain by bringing along a more intentional side of spiritual development," Kaiser told CT. "We can't train the mind without also training the person."

Seminaries formerly expected spiritual development to be "caught, not taught," Kaiser said. The Catholic church, he told CT, is helping evangelical seminaries learn to include spiritual maturation as an official part of seminary education.

Related Elsewhere:

The entire document is available from Catholic World News.

News elsewhere about the document includes:

Seminary leaders foresee tightening up of moral teaching | While bishops and rectors participating in the current Vatican-sponsored apostolic visitation of American seminaries seem virtually unanimous that it will not result in sweeping changes, some foresee a "tightening up" on the presentation of church teaching, especially in the area of moral theology. (National Catholic Reporter, January 6, 2006)
Toward a Holy Order | Homosexuality and the priesthood. (National Review Online, December 08, 2005)
In letter, the Vatican expands gay controls | A cover letter attached to a Vatican directive that would bar most gay men from entering seminaries also prohibits priests with ''homosexual tendencies'' from teaching or running seminaries. (The New York Times, Dec 2, 2005)
Vatican closes door on gay seminarians | The Vatican is toughening its stand against gay candidates for the priesthood, specifying in a new document that even men with "transitory" homosexual tendencies must overcome their urges for at least three years before entering the clergy. (Associated Press, Nov. 22, 2005)

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