"Document Shows Homosexuals Much Sensitivity"

Interview With Cardinal Cottier on New Vatican Instruction

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 1, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The new Vatican document on homosexuality and admission to seminaries and holy orders is not an «attack on homosexuals,» says Cardinal Georges Cottier.

Rather, the document is an effort «to understand their situation» and sufferings, explained Cardinal Cottier, who until today was the theologian of the Pontifical Household.

The Instruction «Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of Their Admissions to the Seminary and to Holy Orders,» was published Tuesday.

It was written by the Congregation for Catholic Education, with the approval of Benedict XVI.

Cardinal Cottier, 83, whose successor as Pontifical Household theologian was named today, shared his views of the new Instruction with ZENIT.

Q: What is new in this document?

Cardinal Cottier: The novelty above all lies in the fact that it offers a synthesis of what had already been said and presents it as a whole. It is a text which seems to me to be very thought out.

Q: Perhaps the novelty is in the reference to «gay culture» and the sensitivity of tone in the choice of words. It deplores, for example, «discrimination.»

Cardinal Cottier: Above all, I would underline its sensitivity. It is in no way, as has been said, an attack on homosexuals. On the contrary, there is an effort — and an invitation to make this effort — to understand their situation and the problems that these persons frequently suffer.

The document shows that there is a path and salvation for homosexuals in the measure that they bear their homosexuality in union with the suffering Christ. The document shows them much sensitivity.

On the other hand, it doesn’t mince matters. It makes the distinction between persons who engage in homosexual activity and those who have «deep-seated homosexual tendencies,» and those who have slight, «transitory» tendencies, linked to episodes in their lives, of which I would say they can free themselves. Therefore, there are degrees.

In regard to the «gay culture,» it is true that it is a new phenomenon, very recent. The proclamation of the «gay culture» as a social claim is something of these last years. This is why it is talked about.

Q: The document underlines the need for «emotional maturity» of the candidates to the priesthood facing «spiritual paternity» and of a «correct relationship with men and women,» whom the priest will meet in his pastoral ministry.

Cardinal Cottier: It is a very important point. In regard to formation, it says that the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral aspect must be taken into account. It is a question, therefore, of an ensemble of qualities.

And there is much emphasis on the human aspect, making a judgment based on studies: the fact that homosexuality impedes, in a certain sense, «emotional maturity,» a term which appears on several occasions.

Emotional maturity is also necessary for those who want to live consecrated celibacy fully, perfect chastity. Emotional immaturity can also affect the relationship with the other sex.

In general, homosexuality is accompanied by this emotional immaturity. It is an affirmation that is going to be criticized, but that is based on experience.

Inasmuch as representative of Christ, bridegroom of the Church, the priest is called to exercise a spiritual paternity among men and women. For this reason, emotional maturity is necessary, which implies a spirit of sacrifice and self-forgetfulness out of love for the other.

Q: Also underlined is the role of the spiritual director and the personal responsibility of the candidate to the priesthood.

Cardinal Cottier: The document reminds us that it is not enough to feel called to the priesthood to have the right. It is always the bishop who calls to the priesthood.

But the bishop has collaborators who are the directors of seminaries, and the spiritual director in what concerns the internal forum, in which the person is obliged to secrecy.

What the spiritual director is requested to do is to help the candidate who has deep-seated homosexual tendencies to understand himself and to help him decide that he is not made for the priesthood.

It must be a journey made by the person himself. It is very important. It doesn’t mean that these persons are «thrown out» or «rejected.» What is simply done is to help them realize that that is not the path the Lord wills for them.

If all this is done with great sensitivity, and great charity, the persons will be given great respect. And then disasters as the ones we have had will be avoided.

I would like to add something to what is much talked about — too much, perhaps, I don’t know: pedophilia and homosexuality.

There is a word that is never used and that, however, is important when we see the work that priests do; it is the word «ephebophilia.»

It is not pedophilia, which is attraction to small boys, but refers to attraction to adolescents. It is a very ambiguous and decisive age for every one. And I think it is a very extended form of homosexuality.

I think it is necessary to present this clarification, as families entrust adolescents to priests — scouts, summer camps, pilgrimages, groups. In those cases, these boys must be totally respected.

Q: How can one understand the Instruction’s expression which seeks «to guarantee that the Church will always have suitable priests who are true shepherds according to the heart of Christ?

Cardinal Cottier: There is only one Shepherd in the Church. The Pope, bishops and priests are shepherds as they participate in this prerogative of Christ. They must live in great union with Christ.

And, if the interior life — life of prayer, of union with the Lord, love of the Eucharist, constant meditation of the Word of God, prayer — is lacking, one fails to fulfill this mission, of being that representative, image in our midst of the one Shepherd, that is Jesus Christ.

Q: What is the authority of this document written by a Vatican congregation?

Cardinal Cottier: Vatican congregations have authority to the extent that they are authoritative collaborators of the Pope.

I take the liberty to remind you that at the end the Pope has requested, with his signature, that this phrase be published in the document: «The Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, on 31 August 2005, approved this present Instruction and ordered its publication.»

The authority of the Pope is implicated by the fact that it is a text of a congregation, and the congregation responsible for Catholic education, which counted on the collaboration of the Congregation for Divine Worship — two important congregations.

There are texts of congregations that are working documents; they have no need of the explicit approval of the Pope. Here, his approval is given and the order that it be published. The Pope’s authority is present.

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