Pope Francis warned Italian bishops this week to vet carefully applicants to the priesthood and reject anyone they suspected might be homosexual, local media reported on Thursday.
“Keep an eye on the admissions to seminaries, keep your eyes open,” the pope was quoted as saying by newspaper La Stampa’s Vatican Insider service. “If in doubt, better not let them enter.”
The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the remarks, which Vatican Insider and Il Messaggero said were made at a closed-door gathering on Monday.
Francis’s meeting with Italian bishops came just a day after a Chilean man who suffered clerical sexual abuse quoted the pope as telling him in a private conversation that God had made him gay and loved him that way.
The Vatican declined to comment on the report which touched off fierce media speculation that Francis was softening the Church stance on homosexuality. It has previously condemned homosexuality as an immoral disorder if actively practised.
In a 2005 document, released under Francis’s predecessor Pope Benedict, the Vatican said the Church could admit into the priesthood those who had clearly overcome homosexual tendencies for at least three years.
But it said practicing homosexuals and those with “deep-seated” gay tendencies and those who support a gay culture should be barred.
The reported comments to the bishops might appease conservatives who have grown alarmed at the way Francis has dramatically shifted the language the Church has used about homosexuality since his election in 2013.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” the pope said on his first overseas trip in 2013. In 2016, he said he had ministered to people with unfulfilled homosexual tendencies as well as homosexuals who were not able to remain chaste, as the Church asks them to.
“When a person arrives before Jesus, Jesus certainly will not say: ‘Go away because you are homosexual’,” he said.
Pope Benedict wrote in 2005 that homosexuality was “a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”.
Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg