Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A New Impediment

AMERICA, February 27, 2006

A New Impediment

By  Thomas D. Candreva

Prohibiting men with certain characteristics from being ordained to the priesthood is nothing new in church discipline. More than 40 years ago, when I was still in the seminary, church law laid down a number of such impediments. According to the theology of the time, the office of the priesthood required a certain level of physical perfection as well as a certain status in society. Thus men with prominent physical handicaps were excluded. Because they handled the sacred species, a man’s fingers were particularly important. A man who lacked even a pinkie was already impeded. If he lacked a thumb or index finger on either hand, a dispensation from the pope himself was required for him to be received into the priesthood. Likewise, a man born out of wedlock needed a dispensation in order to be ordained. A priest who had been born a bastard would present a spiritually sullied image to the congregation.

None of these impediments reflected in any way on the moral or spiritual character of the man. They were rather, in the view of the time, objective conditions inconsonant with the dignity and office of the ordained priest. Today Catholic theology and practice see such impediments as inappropriate. In the revision of canon law after the Second Vatican Council such impediments quietly vanished.

At least this was true until the recent instruction from the Congregation for Catholic Education entitled Instruction on the Criteria of Vocational Discernment Regarding Persons With Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admission to Seminaries and Holy Orders. This document, if I am not mistaken, establishes a new impediment to ordination of the type described above. In the text of the document there is absolutely no indication that those who have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are necessarily guilty in any way of behavior or thinking contrary to church teaching and discipline; nonetheless they are impeded from entering the seminary and receiving sacred orders. The document does not use the word “impediment,” but it seems to be the proper category under which this prohibition must be considered.

[To read the whole article, click here.]


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