The new measure, which also targets enthusiasm for gay culture, follows a wrenching debate in the Anglican Communion about the consecration of an openly homosexual bishop in the US.
The new Vatican rules refer only to candidate priests and seminarians, rather than priests in office.
The apparent text of the anti-gay “instruction” prepared by the Vatican congregation for education was published by an independent Catholic agency, Adista, and reproduced in most Italian newspapers.
However, it was not scheduled to be published in the official Vatican daily “L’Osservatore Romano” until next Tuesday, Vatican sources said.
The document published by Adista said the pope approved it and ordered its publication on August 31.
It does not mention the scandal of homosexual priests, which has led some dioceses to pay out millions of dollars in damages to victims.
If the question of homosexual priests has always been a problem for the Church, the document said it has become “more urgent in the present situation.”
The decree, 10 years in the making, has long been awaited and has been bitterly criticised by liberal Catholic groups, particularly in the US, calling for the recognition of gay priests.
German politicians and gay rights groups reacted angrily to the document signed by their compatriot Benedict XVI.
“It is discriminating and baseless for the Catholic Church to demand more of homosexual candidate priests than heterosexual ones,” said Volker Beck, legal affairs spokesman for the Greens party.
Germany’s Lesbian and Gay Federation (LSVD) said the edict targeted homosexuals without regard for the qualities they could offer as priests.
“It amounts to condemnation of homosexuality,” said LSVD spokesman Manfred Bruns.
“If this edict is applied to the letter, then the shortage of priests in the Catholic Church can only sharply increase.”
The text says candidates for the priesthood must possess emotional “maturity” in order to ensure a “correct relationship” with both men and women.
It says homosexual acts are described in the Bible as grave sins and have constantly been seen in Church tradition as “intrinsically immoral and contrary to natural law.”
Gay supporters condemned
The document also attacks “deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” as being an objective sign of moral disorder. However, it adds that people displaying such tendencies should be accepted “with respect and delicacy” and that any kind of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
Such people “are called on to carry out the will of God in their lives and to unite with the sacrifice on the cross of the Lord the difficulties that they may experience.”
According to the text, the Vatican will rule out the priesthood to “those who practice homosexuality, who have deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or who support the so-called gay culture.”
However, it says that young men who have experienced transitory homosexual tendencies as part of their adolescence could be admitted to the diaconate, a possible step toward priesthood, after a probationary period of at least three years.
The document states that bishops, heads of religious orders and confessors are responsible for being “morally certain” that a candidate for the priesthood is not gay and does not have homosexual tendencies.
It would be “gravely dishonest” if a candidate concealed homosexual tendencies in order to be ordained, the text adds.
It says the new instruction is being promulgated both for the good of the candidates themselves and to ensure that the Church has a supply of suitable priests and “real pastors.”