“This is nothing sensational”

Is homosexuality an exclusion criterion for candidates for the priesthood?? The archdiocese of Paderborn does not see it that way. It is much more important that celibacy is observed. A sensation? Not at all, says one who should know.

Interviewer: How groundbreaking then is the Paderborn advance?

Hartmut Niehues (rector of the seminary in Munster and president of the German Regents' Conference): What now goes through the media and what is reported from Paderborn, is nothing new at all and certainly nothing sensational! One problem is that unfortunately some media do not succeed in presenting things in a differentiated way. The striking headlines, which then go through the country, unfortunately shorten to the point of misunderstanding.

Interviewer: The Congregation for Education in the Vatican, however, demands the exclusion of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies". How do you define something like that?

Niehues: I am firmly convinced that colleagues in all dioceses in Germany work on the basis of the framework order for priestly formation and thus also in accordance with the framework order given by Rome. The notion of "deep-seated tendencies" originally came from the 2005 "Instructio" and then was repeated and cited throughout the world in 2016 in the new framework for priestly formation.

This notion of "deep-seated tendencies" definitely needs explanation. I ame that this was also the intention of the authors themselves, that there is a need for interpretation. First of all, we note that there are people who feel homosexually, just as there are people who feel heterosexually. And just as this is a question for heterosexually sensing people, whether their orientation shapes and determines them in such a way that they want and need to practice their orientation, the same question arises for people who are homosexually sensing. So this is about the interpretation of the term "deep-seated" and therefore the distinction between orientation and practice.

Priests in the Catholic Church commit themselves to celibacy, that is very clear. And thus, the question of whether one can and wants to be celibate is the crucial question.

Interviewer: In Paderborn, there are regular discussions with applicants about sexual orientation in priestly formation. Is this a standard in every German diocese??

Niehues: In any case, that is standard in every German diocese, I can say that for sure. The question of the human maturity of the candidates has also become a topic in the past year in connection with the abuse ie. We are very attentive to this and of course we must continue to work on it. This is not a question at all. But I ame that we actually have a common standard in Germany, that the question of the sexual, psychosexual and affective maturity of the candidates is always addressed.

Already in the first conversation, if a prospective customer comes and announces itself, I address this topic. I do not ask about orientation in the sense of: "How are you oriented??". But I ask the question: "Have you already dealt with your orientation??" And then it is clear that this ie is on the table. With this I want to signal immediately – and I do this then also openly – that with us in priestly formation in any case the question of dealing with sexuality is not a taboo subject, but is brought into play from our side again and again.

Interviewer: A confession of one's sexuality in confidential conversations is something different from a public "coming out. In view of the somewhat diffuse situation in the Church, would you still advise priests not to do such things??

Niehues: I don't have a recommendation to give there, but I would find it funny. As a heterosexually oriented person or as a homosexually oriented person I don't have to wear my orientation on my forehead. It is not necessary. I believe that this is also not helpful. And therefore I would rather say, no, that is not appropriate at this point.

Interviewer: Pope Francis always makes different statements about homosexuality. One time he doesn't want to condemn homosexuals, another time he calls homosexuality a fad. How do you see the course of the pope?

Niehues: In the recently published interview book of the pope, one can already clearly read that Pope Francis states that there are homosexually feeling people among the priests – and he also refers explicitly to religious in general. He then explicitly inculcates in this context that the promise they made, namely to live celibate chastely, also applies to these celibates. I understand the pope to say that this is the crucial point for him.

The interview was conducted by Julia Reck.

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Christina Cherry
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