Pope to issue hardline directive banning gays from priesthood

The tough new directive, to be signed by Pope Benedict XVI as an "instruction", has already been written and is expected to be published after the international synod of bishops in Rome next month.

Scotching rumours that the controversial document may have been shelved, a church official in Rome told The New York Times: "The matter is not if it will be published, but when."

The document will lend substance to Pope Benedict's stated desire to "purify" a church whose reputation has been besmirched, in the United States and elsewhere, by a devastating paedophilia crisis implicating thousands of ordained priests. A recent study found that 81 per cent of the victims of paedophile priests were adolescent boys.

An incendiary study of the gay presence in many American Catholic seminaries has intensified calls by conservatives to block gays from becoming priests. In Goodbye, Good Men, an American journalist, Michael Rose, interviewed 125 people from 22 seminaries and claimed to have identified "a pervasive 'gay subculture' comprised of both students and faculty". Rose said that heterosexual men of orthodox tendencies who were accepted for seminaries such as St Mary's in Baltimore, nicknamed "the Pink Palace", found themselves under siege by homosexual students.

Pope Benedict put his views on record as long ago as 1986. Homosexuality, he wrote, was "a more or less strong tendency ordered towards an inherent moral evil". As Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the successor to the Inquisition, he banned declared gays from mass and closed down gay organisations within the Church. Since he became Pope, the Church has stepped up its declared hostility to gay marriage, and even the mooted recognition in Italy of homosexual civil partnerships.

The unnamed official quoted by The New York Times said the ban would affect candidates for the priesthood but not men who have already been ordained. Nobody knows what proportion of Catholic priests are gay, but estimates range from 10 to 60 per cent. One avowedly gay priest said recently that he thought the figure might be 25 per cent.

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