In a book-length interview published Monday, the Pope affirmed that those with ingrained homosexual tendencies "should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life."
"The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates," Francis declared in The Strength of a Vocation. "We have to be exacting. In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the Church."
"This is something I am concerned about," he added, "because perhaps at one time it did not receive much attention."
Francis stressed that formators must take "great care" in evaluating candidates for the priesthood and religious life: "We have to seriously discern, and listen to the voice of experience that the Church also has."
"When care is not taken in discerning all of this, problems increase," he warned. "It's a reality we can't deny. There is no lack of cases in the consecrated life either."
Francis warned against downplaying homosexual acts as "just an expression of an affection."
"That's a mistake," he said, adding:
It's not just an expression of an affection. In consecrated and priestly life, there's no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the Church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life. The ministry or the consecrated life is not his place.
The Pope reiterated that those with ingrained homosexual tendencies are not suited to religious vocation.
"When there are candidates with neurosis, marked imbalances, difficult to channel not even with therapeutic help, they shouldn't be accepted to either the priesthood or the religious life," he said. "They should be helped to take another direction, but they should not be abandoned. They should be guided, but they should not be admitted."
"Let us always bear in mind that they are persons who are going to live in the service of the Church, of the Christian community, of the people of God," Francis added. "Let's not forget that perspective. We have to care for them so they are psychologically and affectively healthy."
For the homosexually oriented who are already part of the priesthood or religious life, the Pontiff reminded them they are required to live chaste, celibate lives.
"[We] have to urge homosexual priests, and men and women religious to live celibacy with integrity, and above all, that they be impeccably responsible, trying to never scandalize either their communities or the faithful holy people of God by living a double life," he said. "It's better for them to leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life."
The Pontiff's comments are receiving mixed reviews.
Pro-gay Jesuit Fr. James Martin is trying to spin the Pope's comments, saying Francis is condemning the "double lives" of sexually active gay priests and religious, but not homosexuals in the priesthood and religious life.
Many faithful Catholics are cautiously welcoming Francis' words, but are skeptical as to whether they will translate into action, noting the Pope's history of surrounding himself with homosexual and homosexualist clerics.
In August, Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò, former papal nuncio to the U.S., revealed that just months into his papacy, Francis lifted penalties from then-Cdl. Theodore McCarrick, a serial sexual predator of seminarians and altar boys. Viganò also noted the Pope appointed Cdl. Francesco Coccopalmerio and Abp. Vincenzo Paglia to positions of power; both men, he said, "belong to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality."
Describing Francis as a "Peronist" pope — saying one thing while doing another — critics are watching to see if his conduct regarding gay clerics will match his words.