The Catholic Church is to vet all candidates for the priesthood to eliminate anyone suspected of "deeply seated" homosexuality.
After being hit by a series of sex scandals, the Vatican has given the seal of approval to the psychological screening to test for evidence of personality disorders or serious doubts about aptitude for the priesthood.
Controversially, the head of the Vatican committee that made the recommendations has made it clear they should be used to screen out homosexuals, even if they are celibate, because homosexuality is "a type of deviation" that disqualifies a priest from exercising "spiritual paternity".
But Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay equality group Stonewall, warned: "It's a tragedy at a time when the Roman Catholic Church is desperately short of people seeking a vocation in the Church ... What will they do with someone they deemed to be innately homosexual because of his strange gait or rather odd look and who turned out to be heterosexual? The Pope wears Prada shoes, which might end regrettably with some ridiculous cardinal making unfair suggestions about him. Exercises like these always end in tears."
The "Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood" were drawn up by the Congregation for Catholic Education in the Vatican. Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, the prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Grocholewski, explained why a seminarian should be excluded from the priesthood even if he is celibate if it appeared that he was homosexual. His remarks, delivered in Italian, were overlooked in Britain until they appeared in translation in yesterday's Catholic Herald.
"The candidate does not necessarily have to practise homosexuality. He can even be without sin," the Cardinal said. "But if he has this deep-seated tendency, he cannot be admitted to priestly ministry precisely because of the nature of the priesthood, in which a spiritual paternity is carried out. Here we are not talking about whether he commits sins, but whether this deeply rooted tendency remains."
He added: "In a certain sense, when we ask why Christ reserved the priesthood to men, we speak of this spiritual paternity, and maintain that homosexuality is a type of deviation, a type of irregularity. Therefore it is a type of wound in the exercise of the priesthood, in forming relations with others. And precisely for this reason we say that something isn't right in the psyche of such a man. We don't simply talk about the ability to abstain from these kinds of relations."
The Congregation issued a similar warning in 2005, but this week's document – which is not available in English – appears to go further.
It says that if seminary students show signs of grave immaturity, then "the path of formation will have to be interrupted". Symptoms of "immaturity" would include unclear sexual identity, difficulty with the celibate life, excessive rigidity of character and lack of freedom in relations.
When it comes to assessing a candidate's ability to be celibate, the document suggests that "it is not enough to be sure that he is capable of abstaining from genital activity" but that it is also necessary "to evaluate his sexual orientation".
It recommends psychological tests, provided that the candidate gives his consent and that those conducting the tests do not use techniques outside their area of knowledge. Psychological testing is already used by the Catholic Church in Britain, although screening varies between dioceses.
A one-woman crusade: Against gay priests
* Patricia McKeever is a reclusive former schoolteacher who has waged a campaign from her home in Scotland dedicated to the exposure of homosexual Roman Catholic priests. Through her newsletter Catholic Truth and its website, Ms McKeever has named at least four priests as being gay or associating with gay men. Ms McKeever insists that her newsletter is a "great work of charity", but it is far from popular among Catholic priests. The Archdiocese of Glasgow has accused her of harassment and she recently had to contact the police after receiving hardcore pornography in the post. "The Church has always taught that homosexuality is contrary to its teachings," Ms McKeever said in a rare interview. "Homosexual priests do not believe in the Catholic faith any more, so they shouldn't be in the Church."