This month, the Catholic Church officially released instructions purging those who “practice homosexuality, show profoundly deep-rooted homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture” from the clergy. These instructions further prevent gay men from entering the seminary to become priests unless a three-year “transition period” has passed since their last homosexual act.

The guidelines constitute a shameful policy of discrimination that only perpetuates the Church’s homophobic mentality. I admit that the Vatican has the right to discriminate and decide who should enter the priesthood. But being a good priest has nothing to do with being gay.

Vatican policy on homosexuality has been shaped by Catholic interpretations of the Bible. The Vatican holds that “homosexual acts” are a grave sin, but considers “homosexual tendencies” a disorder that may be overcome. According to the Church, you can be homosexual, but you may not have sex.

Furthermore, the current pope champions policies and instructions against homosexuality. In 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger authored “The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” which condemned homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil.” Now, as Pope Benedict XVI, he has made this latest decree the first major proclamation of his papacy.

These instructions are an implicit response to the child abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic church in recent years. When the first of these broke in 2002, Vatican spokespersons implied that homosexuals should now be barred from the seminary. In an April 2002 Zogby poll, 40 percent of Catholics thought there was a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia.

Catholic instructions barring homosexuals from priesthood are clearly discriminatory; no one disputes that. And the Church has the right to discriminate and decide what makes a good priest; I don’t dispute that. However, being a good priest is irrelevant to being a homosexual, and that’s where the pope and I disagree.

This latest proclamation attempts to make homosexuals the scapegoats for the Church’s child-abuse scandals. But scientific evidence has produced no conclusive link between homosexuality and pedophilia. In fact, girls were among the victims of the child-abuse scandals. To claim that homosexuality was responsible for the child abuse scandals is faulty; to purge homosexuals from the clergy is downright unfair.

Perhaps because the Church condemns homosexual acts, it should seem natural that it would ban homosexual priests. However, if the Church differentiates between homosexual acts, which it condemns, and homosexual tendencies, which it acknowledges, then it should only discriminate on actual acts of homosexuality. Catholic doctrine already demands celibacy from priests, gay or straight. Even though this doctrine should be debated as well; because it is policy, it should be applied evenly. Thus, if any priest engages in any homosexual or heterosexual act, then he should be purged.

I understand that the Vatican bases its policies on Biblical interpretations. In the Bible, however, homosexuals are always affiliated with orgiastic, rapacious and pedophilic people — for example, the societies of Sodom and Rome. In today’s society, that is not the case. Homosexuals are able to enter into loving relationships. And for a religion that is supposedly based on teachings of love and forgiveness, I see no reason why homosexuals should be isolated and discriminated against in the manner that they have been.

More and more priests have come out of the closet, joining those who are openly gay. They are waiting to be purged from an organization and a belief to which they have devoted their lives. For all their suffering, they haven’t lost their religion yet; for all their courage, I’m not losing mine.

Religion should bring people closer together. Growing up, I saw how Catholicism did that for my family and my community. I still see it today when I go to St. Mary’s or St. Thomas More. That’s why I still go back to a Church with which I disagree so strongly. But more and more, instead of bringing people closer together, I see my religion tearing people — and itself — further and further apart.

Ryan Villanueva is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.