Homosexuality and Roman Catholicism

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Homosexuality is considered in Catholic Church teaching under two distinct aspects. Homosexuality as an orientation is considered an "objective disorder" because seen as "ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil", but not as sinful.[1] "Homosexual activity" is seen as a "moral disorder"[1] and "homosexual acts" as "contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity."[2]

The Catholic Church believes that marriage can only be between a man and a woman,[3][4] and opposes introduction of same-sex marriage.[5][6][7][8][9] The Church also holds that same-sex unions are an unfavourable environment for children and that the legalization of such unions damages society.[10]

Leading figures in the Catholic hierarchy, including cardinals and bishops, have sometimes actively campaigned against same-sex marriage[11][12][13][14][15][16][17] or have encouraged others to campaign against it,[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19] and have done likewise with regard to gay civil unions[20][21] and adoption by same-sex couples,[10] and other LGBT rights.[22][23][24] The church has opposed the decriminalization of homosexual activity in certain countries, and stood against a proposed call for global decriminalization from the United Nations.[25][26][27][28] In other countries, and again at the United Nations, the church has opposed its criminalization.[29][30][31][32][33][34]

Many Catholics disagree with the official position of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on LGBT people, and in locations, such as North America, Northern and Western Europe, as well as the Southern Cone, show stronger support for LGBT rights (such as same-sex marriage, or protection against discrimination) than the general population.[35][36]

Church teaching[edit]

Catholic teaching condemns homosexual acts as gravely immoral, while holding that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity", and "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided", in line with the traditional saying: "Love the sinner, hate the sin."[37] "The Catholic Church holds that, as a state beyond a person's choice, being homosexual is not wrong or sinful in itself. But just as it is objectively wrong for unmarried heterosexuals to engage in sex, so too are homosexual acts considered to be wrong."[38]

The Holy See[edit]

Persona humana[edit]

In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the document Persona humana dealing with sexual ethics. It stated that those who "have begun to judge indulgently, and even to excuse completely, homosexual relations between certain people" do so "in opposition to the constant teaching of the Magisterium and to the moral sense of the Christian people". It noted that "a distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tendency comes from a false education, from a lack of normal sexual development, from habit, from bad example, or from other similar causes, and is transitory or at least not incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable".

It criticised those who held that for the latter class of homosexuals the tendency "justifies in their case homosexual relations within a sincere communion of life and love analogous to marriage". It stated that in Scripture homosexual acts "are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God", a condemnation that "attest[s] to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of".[39]

Pope John Paul II[edit]

On 5 October 1979, Pope John Paul II praised the bishops of the United States for their recent pastoral letter on homosexuality. He stated that, instead of "holding out false hope" to homosexuals facing hard moral problems, the bishops had upheld "the true dignity, the true human dignity, of those who look to Christ's Church for the guidance which comes from the light of God's word".[40]

John Cornwell states that, as Pope John Paul II "approached the mid-point of his second decade in office", he saw homosexuality, alongside contraception, divorce and illicit unions, as a dimension of "the 'culture of death' against which he taught and preached with increasing vehemence".[41]

On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons[edit]

Benedict XVI, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the signatories of the 1986 letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals

The letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, which the Rainbow Sash Movement[42] and Dignity Canada[43] disparagingly called the Hallowe'en letter, was, according to John L. Allen, Jr., released on 1 October 1986 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger "in English rather than Italian, suggesting it was aimed especially at the United States".[44] The letter, whose incipit is Homosexualitatis problema (as in the Latin text)[45] was designed, Allen says, to remove any ambiguity in the 1975 document Persona Humana. Jeffrey S. Siker describes the document as giving instructions on how the clergy should deal with and respond to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.[46] While Siker does not specify the date or language of publication, John L. Allen says it was released in English on the date that the document itself bears, thus suggesting that the rather long interval between signature and publication allowing prior distribution under embargo[47] was not observed in this case.

The letter stressed: "What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable". It also stated: "although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." The letter also stated that: "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."

The letter asserted that, while Christians rightly oppose any violence against homosexual persons, it is wrong to then claim that the homosexual orientation is good or neutral: "But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase"[48] Finally, "there can be no moral right to homosexual acts, even though they are no longer held to be criminal in many secular legal systems"."[48]

The letter also warned bishops to be on guard against homosexual presssure groups seeking to undo this doctrine.[49] It noted the Church's concern about those "who may have been tempted to believe" the "deceitful propaganda" of advocates of homosexuality. Homosexuality has "a direct impact on society's understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy". It warns that social tolerance of homosexuality unleashes other demons, "Other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent actions increase". Finally, "All support should be withdrawn from any organisations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church".[49]

In a statement released in July 1992, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith expounded on the letter, and confirmed that there are areas in which it is "not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account", for example when placing children for adoption or foster care, in refusing to employ teachers or athletic coaches who are gay, and in restricting gay men and women from recruitment into the military.[50]

Critics complained that the letter's comment, "Even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved", coming at the height of the AIDS crisis "was extraordinary for its lack of compassion", and that "some of its clauses read chillingly like comparable church documents produced in Europe in the 1930s".[49]

Overview in the Catechism of the Catholic Church[edit]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the Church's teaching on homosexuality.[51]

This book, a first provisional edition of which was published in 1992, states:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered'. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.[2]

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.[52]

The first provisional edition in 1992 containing the line "They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial" was changed in the 1997 definitive edition to say instead "This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial".[53]

Local perspectives[edit]

The Dutch Catechism first published in 1966 was the first post-Vatican II Catholic catechism, reflected the Magisterium of the Dutch bishops. It was commissioned and authorized by the Catholic hierarchy of the Netherlands. The 1973 edition dealt with the issue of homosexuality: "It is not the fault of the individual if he or she is not attracted to the other sex. The causes of homosexuality are unknown . . . .The very sharp strictures of Scripture on homosexual practices (Gen. 1; Rom. 1) must be read in their context."

Overview by Cardinal Basil Hume[edit]

In April 1997, Cardinal Basil Hume issued A note on the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning homosexuality, which included the following statements:

"The Church recognises the dignity of all people and does not define or label them in terms of their sexual orientation. The pastor and counsellor must see all people, irrespective of their sexuality, as children of God and destined for eternal life."
"The Church has always taught that the sexual (genital) expression of love is intended by God's plan of creation to find its place exclusively within marriage between a man and a woman; and the sexual (genital) expression of love must be open to the possible transmission of new life".
"When the Church speaks of the inclination to homosexuality as being 'an objective disorder' (Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, para. 3), she does not consider, of course, the whole personality and character of the individual to be thereby disordered. Homosexual people, as well as heterosexual people, can, and often do, give a fine example of friendship and the art of chaste loving."
"The Catholic Church advocates and defends the fundamental human rights of every person. The Church cannot, however, acknowledge amongst fundamental human rights a proposed right to acts which she teaches are morally wrong. Nevertheless, it is a fundamental human right of every person, irrespective of sexual orientation, to be treated by individuals and by society with dignity, respect and fairness."[54]

History of Church teaching on homosexuality[edit]

Church Fathers[edit]

The Catholic Church's position on homosexuality has its origins in the teachings of the Church Fathers, which was in stark contrast to Greek and Roman attitudes towards same-sex relations including the "(usually erotic) homosexual relationship between an adult male and a pubescent or adolescent male" that is called pederasty.[55][56][57] What appears to be the earliest Christian document outside the New Testament, the Didache, begins a list of grave sins with: "You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty ..."[58] Aristides the Athenian (2nd century) says of the Greek accounts of their gods that "some transformed themselves into the likeness of animals to seduce the race of mortal women, and some polluted themselves by lying with males".[59] Theophilus of Antioch (d. between 183 and 185) wrote: "To the unbelieving, who despise and disobey the truth but obey unrighteousness, when they are full of adulteries and fornication and homosexual acts and greed and lawless idolatry, there will come wrath and anger, tribulation and anguish, and finally eternal fire."[60]

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) rebuked heathens for worshipping gods who indulged in debauching of boys.[61] Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260/265 – 339/340) wrote of God "having forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men".[62] Basil of Caesarea (329 or 330 – 379) wrote: "He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers."[63] John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), speaking of Romans 1:26–27, declared: "All of these affections then were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored than the body in diseases. ... [The men] have done an insult to nature itself. And a yet more disgraceful thing than these is it, when even the women seek after these intercourses, who ought to have more shame than men."[64]

Medieval and Early Modern period[edit]

In about 1051 Saint Peter Damian wrote the Liber Gomorrhianus in which he argued for stricter ecclesiastical punishment for clerics given to "sins against nature".[65][66]

Joseph Klaits writes: "From the twelfth century on, outsiders came under increasing verbal and physical attack from churchmen, allied secular authorities, and, particularly in the case of Jews, from the lower strata of the population"; and among "outsiders" he considers Jews, heretics, homosexuals, and magicians as having been among the most important.[67]

In the Summa Theologica, which he was working on when he died in 1274, Saint Thomas Aquinas held that "the unnatural vice" is the greatest of the sins of lust.[68] In his Summa contra Gentiles, traditionally dated to 1264, he argued against what he called "the error of those who say that there is no more sin in the emission of the semen than in the ejection of other superfluous products from the body" by saying that, after murder, which destroys an existing human being, disordinate emission of semen to the preclusion of generating a human being seems to come second.[69]

Anna Clark says that sodomy increasingly began to be identified as the most heinous of sins by authorities of the Catholic Church. In Italy, Dominican monks would encourage the pious to "hunt out" sodomites and once done to hand them to the Inquisition to be dealt with accordingly. She writes, "These clerical discourses provided a language for secular authorities to condemn sodomy... By persecuting sodomites as well as heretics, the Church strengthened its authority and credibility as a moral arbiter".[70]

By the time of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 the Church accepted that "secular authorities, as well as clergy, should be allowed to impose penalties on 'sodomites' for having had sexual relations", and by the end of the 13th century, "homophobic discourse became insitutionalised ,.. Sodomites were now demons as well as sinners.".[71] Civil authorities were in fact already trying the crime of sodomy in their own courts. They applied punishments very different from those that the Church applied, such as excommunication and deposition from the clerical state. They followed Roman civil law, which prescribed death by burning for those found guilty of sodomy.[72] In 1232, Pope Gregory IX established the Roman Inquisition which investigated claims of sodomitical acts when, in 1451, Pope Nicholas V enabled it to prosecute men who practice sodomy. Handed over to the civil authorities, those condemned were frequently, in accordance with civil law, burned.[72]

R.I. Moore reports that, in 1424, Saint Bernardino of Siena preached for three days in Florence, Italy, against homosexuality and other forms of lust, calling for sodomites to be ostracized, and these sermons alongside measures by other clergy of the time strengthened opinion against homosexuals and encouraged the authorities to increase the measures of persecution.[73]

In 1478, with the papal bull Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus, Pope Sixtus IV acceded to the request of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, granting them exclusive authority to name the inquisitors in their kingdoms. The Spanish Inquisition thus replaced the Medieval Inquisition which had been set up under direct papal control, and transferred it in Spain to civil control. In 1482, in response to complaints by relatives of the first victims, Sixtus wrote that he had not intended his grant to be abused in that way. However, strong pressure brought to bear on him prevented him from revoking it.[74]

Tomas de Torquemada was a prominent leader of the Spanish Inqusition. 150 sodomites were executed by burning in Spain from 1570-1630.

The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Spain was therefore under the control of its monarchs and the initial direction of the Dominican friar Tomas de Torquemada. Mark D. Jordan says that it seems to have at first been reluctant to take on responsibility for trying those accused of sodomy, and that the Suprema (the governing body) ruled in 1509 that such cases were for the secular courts, which already punished sodomy with death. However, in 1524 the Suprema requested papal authorisation to prosecute sodomites. Pope Clement VII granted permission but only within the Kingdom of Aragon and on condition that trials be conducted according to the civil laws, not the standard inquisitorial procedure.[75] The Pope refused the request of King Philip II of Spain to extend the authority of the Spanish Inquisition to conducting such trials in the rest of Spain.[76]

The crime of sodomy was understood typically to cover copulation between males, bestiality, and non-vaginal heterosexual intercourse,[75] coitus interruptus, masturbation, fellatio and anal sex (whether heterosexual or homosexual).[76] Within Aragon and its dependent territories, the number of individuals that the Spanish Inquisition tried for sodomy between 1570 and 1630 was over 800[77] or nearly a thousand.[75] In Spain, those whom the Spanish Inquisition convicted and had executed "by burning without the benefit of strangulation" were about 150.[78] Conviction and execution for sodomy was easier to obtain from the civil courts in other parts of Spain than from the tribunals of the Inquisition in Aragon, and there executions for sodomy were much more numerous.[79] After 1633, where the Spanish Inquisition had jurisdiction for sodomy, it ceased treating it as requiring execution, and imposed lesser penalties in cases brought before it.[75]

The Portuguese Inquisition was established in 1536; and in 1539 Henry, Archbishop of Braga (later made cardinal) became Grand Inquisitor. (An earlier appointment as Portuguese Grand Inquisitor was Friar Diogo da Silva.)[80] It received 4,419 denunciations against individuals accused of sodomy, of whom 447 were subjected to a formal trial, 30 were, in accordance with the pre-1536 civil laws enacted under Kings Afonso V and Manuel I, burnt at the stake, and many others were sent to the galleys or to exile, temporary or permanent.[75]

In England, until Henry VIII, while still a member of the Roman Catholic Church, enacted the Buggery Act of 1533, as part of his campaign to break the power of the Catholic Church in England,[81] the accused were tried by church courts, which almost never punished homosexual behaviour.[72]

Michael Bronski has written: "In Western culture, homosexual activity was first categorized as a sin. With the rise of materialism and the decline of religion, it became a transgression against the social, not the moral order: a crime."[82] However, the Catholic Church has continued to categorize it as a sin.[83][84][85]

History of canon law on homosexuality[edit]

Canon law regarding homosexual activity has mainly been shaped through the decrees issued by successive ecclesiastical councils, starting with the Council of Elvira in 305. Writings by Church Fathers also played a part in contributing to the establishment of canon law on the issue.[86] The term "homosexuality" is a modern development, and in the historical context the term "sodomy" would have been of more prevalent use.

Prior to 1048, censures of "sodomy" - chiefly including homosexual practices - were rare.[87] Mark D. Jordan says that the word was not invented until then.[88] With regard to homosexual acts, Derrick S. Bailey says that, initially, canons against them were aimed at ensuring clerical or monastic discipline, and were only widened in the medieval period to include laymen,.[89] However, the early 4th-century Council of Elvira (305-306), the first church council to deal with the issue, excluded from communion, even at the approach of death, anyone, not merely members of the clergy, who raped a boy:[90] "Stupratoribus puerorum nec in finem dandam esse communionem"[91] (Those who sexually abuse boys may not commune even when death approaches).:[90][92]

  • Gregory of Nyssa's Canonical Letter to Letoius of Mytilene (Epist. canonica 4), (390) prescribed the same period of penance for adultery and for "craving for the male".[93]
  • Canons 16 and 17 of the Council of Ancyra (314), which "became the standard source for medieval ecclesiastical literature against homosexuality",[87] impose on "those who have been or who are guilty of bestial lusts" penances whose severity varies with the age and married status of the offender, allowing access to communion only at death for a married man over fifty years old (canon 16); and impose a penance also on "defilers of themselves with beasts, being also leprous, who have infected others [with the leprosy of this crime]".[94]

Later church documents condemnatory of homosexual activity:

  • In Iberia, the Visigothic ruler Egica of Hispania and Septimania demanded that a church council confront the occurrence of homosexuality in the kingdom. In 693, the Sixteenth Council of Toledo issued a canon condemning guilty clergy to degradation and exile and laymen to 100 lashes. Egica added an edict imposing the punishment of castration (as already in the secular law promulgated for his kingdom by his predecessor King Chinawith), followed by castration.[95][96][97]
  • Council of Paris, canon 34 and 69 (AD 829),[87] a forgery according to John Boswell,[98] who claimed that "attitudes towards homosexuality grew steadily more tolerant in the early Middle Ages".[99]
  • Council of Trolsy, canon 15 (AD 909) with warning against "pollution with men or animals".[87]
  • Council of London, canon 28, 29, (1102) decreed that any cleric found guilty of "the shameful sin of sodomÿ" be deposed and that any layman "be deprived of his legal status and dignity in the whole realm of England": Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury delayed publication of the council's decrees and John Boswell argues that they were never published, but it was at Anselm's urging that the council decreed that the people be informed that sodomy is a grave sin and must be confessed as such.[100]
  • Gratian, Decretum included the decrees of the 1102 Council of London (1140).
  • Third Lateran Council, canon 11, (1179) decreed that all those guilty of sodomy be removed from office or confined to penitential life in a monastery, if clergy, and be strictly excommunicated, if laity: "Let all who are found guilty of that unnatural vice for which the wrath of God came down upon the sons of disobedience and destroyed the five cities with fire, if they are clerics be expelled from the clergy or confined in monasteries to do penance; if they are laymen they are to incur excommunication and be completely separated from the society of the faithful."[101]
  • Fourth Lateran Council, canon 14, (1215 ) decreed that, if a priest suspended for unchastity of any kind, especially sodomy, dared to celebrate Mass, he was to be deposed permanently from the priesthood: "That the morals and general conduct of clerics may be better let all strive to live chastely and virtuously, particularly those in sacred orders, guarding against every vice of desire, especially that on account of which the anger of God came from heaven upon the children of unbelief, so that in the sight of Almighty God they may perform their duties with a pure heart and chaste body. But lest the facility to obtain pardon be an incentive to do wrong, we decree that whoever shall be found to indulge in the vice of incontinence, shall, in proportion to the gravity of his sin, be punished in accordance with the canonical statutes, which we command to be strictly and rigorously observed, so that he whom divine fear does not restrain from evil, may at least be withheld from sin by a temporal penalty. If therefore anyone suspended for this reason shall presume to celebrate the divine mysteries, let him not only be deprived of his ecclesiastical benefices but for this twofold offense let him be forever deposed."[102]

The Third and Fourth Lateran Councils in 1179 and 1215 were the only ecumenical councils to deal directly with the issue of homosexuality among lay or clerical Catholics. (It had not been covered by the ten previous councils). Although the issue was not directly discussed at the Council of Trent, it did commission the drawing up of a catechism (following the successful lead of some Protestants) which stated: "Neither fornicators nor adulterers, nor the effeminate nor sodomites shall possess the kingdom of God."[103] Neither the First Vatican Council nor the Second Vatican Council directly discussed the issue of homosexualty, nor did they alter the judgement of earlier councils. Homosexuality has received no mention in papal encyclicals except for Pope John Paul II's Veritatis Splendor of 1993, which "specifically proclaims the intrinsic evil of the homosexual condition"[104] rejecting the view of some theologians who questioned the basis on which the church condemns as morally unacceptable "direct sterilization, autoeroticism, pre-marital sexual relations, homosexual relations and artificial insemination".[105] However, homosexual activity was frequently referred to as crimen pessimum (the worst crime) especially in relation to canon law,[106] including that codified in 1917.[107]

Dissent from official Church position[edit]

A number of Catholics and Catholic groups oppose the position of the Catholic Church and seek to change it.[108][109][110][111] Critics make the general argument that The Church's line on homosexuality emphasises the physical dimension of the act at the expense of higher moral, personal and spiritual goals.[112]


There have also been some practical and ministerial disagreements within the clergy and hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Two of the best-known advocates for a more accepting position on homosexuality within the Catholic fold have been the Salvatorian priest Fr. Robert Nugent, and the School Sister of Notre Dame nun Jeannine Gramick, who established New Ways Ministry in 1977[113] This was in response to the Bishop of Brooklyn's invitation to reach out in “new ways” to lesbian and gay Catholics. In 1981, New Ways Ministry held its first national symposium on homosexuality and the Catholic Church, but Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, D.C. wrote to Catholic bishops and communities, asking them not to support the event. Despite this, more than fifty Catholic groups endorsed the program. In 1983 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith attempted unsuccessfully to block publication of Nugent's book, A Challenge to Love: Gay and Lesbian Catholics in the Church, although Cardinal Ratzinger did succeed in forcing Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond to remove his name from it.[114] In May 1999 both Nugent and Grammick were formally disciplined when the Congregation imposed lifetime bans on any pastoral work involving gay people, declaring that the positions they advanced "do not faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church," and "have caused confusion among the Catholic people".[115] The Vatican move made Nugent and Gramick "folk heroes in liberal circles", where official teaching is seen as outdated and lacking compassion.[113]

Similarly, the American bishops Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit and Matthew Clark of Rochester, New York were criticized for their association with New Ways Ministry, and their distortion of the theological concept of the "Primacy of Conscience" as an alternative to the actual teaching of the Catholic Church.[116] Furthermore, the insistence of Bishop Jacques Gaillot to preach a message about homosexuality contrary to that of the official church teaching is largely considered to be one of the factors that led to him being removed from his See of Evraux, France, in 1995. While bishop he had blessed a homosexual union in a "service of welcoming", after the couple requested it in view of their imminent death from AIDS. [117]

In 1976, John McNeill, an American Jesuit and co-founder of Dignity, published The Church and the Homosexual, which challenged the Church's prohibition of same-sex activity. It argued for a change in Church teaching and that homosexual relationships should be judged by the same standard of heterosexual ones. The work had received permission from McNeill's Jesuit superiors prior to printing. In 1977, the permission was retracted at the order of the Vatican, and McNeill was ordered by Cardinal Franjo Šeper not to write or speak publicly about homosexuality. In a statement McNeill responded that "gay men most likely to act out their sexual needs in a unsafe, compulive way, and therefore expose themselves to the HIV virus, are precisely those who have internalised the self-hatred that their religions impose on them.". In 1986, the Jesuit order subsequently dismissed him for "pertinacious disobedience" from the order and effectively the priesthood.[114][118]

In 1984, Cardinal Ratzinger asked Archbishop Gerety of Newark to withdraw his imprimatur from Sexual Morality by Philip S. Keane, and the Paulist Press ceased its publication. Keane had stated that homosexuality should not be considered absolutely immoral but only "if the act was placed without proportionate reason". The Catholic tradition had suffered 'historical distortions', and should be "ever open to better expressions".[114]

In a letter of 25 July 1986 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith rebuked moral theologian Charles Curran for his published work and informed the Catholic University of America in Washington that he would "no longer be considered suitable nor eligible to exercise the function of a professor of Catholic theology". Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation, expressed the hope that "this regrettable, but necessary, outcome to the Congregation's study might move you to reconsider your dissenting positions and to accept in its fullness the teaching of the Catholic Church".[119] Curran had been critical of a number of the Catholic Church's teachings, including his contention that homosexual acts in the context of a committed relationship were good for homosexual people. This event "widened the gulf" between the Catholic episcopacy and academia in the United States.[120][121][122][123]

Also in 1986 Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle was required to transfer authority concernng ministry to homosexuals to his auxiliary bishop. Hunthausen had earlier been investigated by the Congregation for the Faith for allowing Dignity, the association for gay Catholics, to hold Mass in Seattle cathedral arguing, "They're Catholics too. They need a place to pray". Allen argues that "Bishops had been put on notice that pastoral ministry to homosexuals, unless it is based on clear condemnation of homosexual conduct, invites serious trouble with Rome".[49] In the same year Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, in the US instructing him to remove his imprimatur from a book aimed at parents talking to children, Parents Talk Love: A Catholic Handbook on Sexuality written by Father Matthew Kawiak and Susan Sullivan, and which included information on homosexuality.[114]

James Alison priest in the United Kingdom in 2003 argued that the teaching of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons regarding gay people is incompatible with the Gospel, and states that "it cannot in fact be the teaching of the Church."[124][125] In a Question of Truth, the Dominican priest Gareth Moore states that: "... there are no good arguments, from either Scripture or natural law, against what have come to be known as homosexual relationships. The arguments put forward to show that such relationships are immoral are bad."[126]

More recently, in 2013 in England and Wales, 27 prominent Catholics (mainly theologians and clergy) issued a public letter supporting the Government's move to introduce same-sex civil marriage. The group included Fr James Alison, Tina Beattie, and Fr Kevin T. Kelly.[127]

Lay opinion[edit]

A 2011 report based on telephone surveys of American Catholics conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found 43% support same-sex marriage, 31% support civil unions, and 22% oppose any legal recognition of a same-sex relationship. 56% believe that sexual relations between two people of the same sex are not sinful. 73% favor anti-discrimination laws, 63% support the right of gay people to serve openly in the military, and 60% favor allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. The report also found Catholics to be more critical than other religious groups about how their church is handling the issue[36][128] A 2012 Pew Forum survey which asked American Catholic respondents if they supported or opposed same-sex marriage found that 52% supported it and 37% opposed it.[129] Catholic support of gay rights is thus higher than that of other Christian groups and of the general population.[128][129] A spokesperson for DignityUSA suggested that Catholic support for gay rights was due to the religion's tradition of social justice, the importance of the family, and better education.[130]

In January 2014 the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, strongly criticised the church's approach on homosexuality in a lecture to the Royal Society of Edinburgh: "I don't like my church's attitude to gay people. I don't like 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. If you are the so-called sinner, who likes to be called that?" Her comments were welcomed by the Irish Association of Catholic Priests[131]

A 2014 poll commissioned by the US-Spanish-language network Univision of more than than 2,000 Catholics in 12 countries (Uganda, Spain, the US, Brazil, Argentina, France, Mexico, Italy, Colombia, Poland, the Philippines, and the DRC) found that two thirds of respondents were opposed to the idea of civil same-sex marriage, and around one third was in favour. However, the level of resistance varied between economically developing and developed countries, with 99% of respondents opposed in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; but a majority in favour in Spain (63%) and the US (54%). Additionally, in all countries a majority of those polled said they did not think the Catholic Church should perform marriages between two people of the same sex - although the results again ranged with support strongest in Spain (43% in favour) to Uganda (99% against).[132][133]

A 2014 poll of American Catholics revealed a major shift in favour of acceptance of same-sex marriage. 58% of white Catholics and 56% of Hispanic Catholics supported such a move. This reduced to 45% for Catholics attending Mass at least once a week.[134]


DignityUSA was founded in the United States in 1969 as the first group for gay and lesbian Catholics shortly after the Stonewall riots. It developed from the ministry of Father Patrick X. Nidorf, an Augustinian priest, and meetings were initially held in San Diego and Los Angeles before ultimately becoming headquartered in Boston. The organisation later spread to Canada. In 1987 at the height of the AIDS crisis and following the letter from the Congregation or the Faith on the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals, bishops in Atlanta, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Pensacola and Vancouver immediately banned chapters from meeting on church property, and "within a few months the organisation was unwelcome on church property anywhere".[135]

It believes that gay Catholics can "express our sexuality physically, in a unitive manner that is loving, life-giving, and life-affirming". It also seeks to "work for the development of sexual theology leading to the reform of [the church's] teachings and practices regarding human sexuality, and for the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender peoples as full and equal members of the one Christ".[136] In 1980, the Association of Priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago honored the Chicago branch of Dignity as the organization of the year.

The Rainbow Sash Movement covers two separate organizations created by and advanced by practicing LGBT Catholics who believe they should be able to receive Holy Communion.[137][138][139] It has been most active in the United States, England, and Australia. The Rainbow Sash itself is a strip of a rainbow colored fabric which is worn over the left shoulder and is put on at the beginning of the Liturgy. The members go up to receive Eucharist.[140] If denied, they go back to pews and remain standing,[139] but if the Eucharist is received then they go back to the pew and kneel in the traditional way.[141][142]

In the United Kingdom, Quest is a group for lesbian, gay and bisexual Catholics with a purpose to "proclaim the gospel...so as to sustain and increase Christian belief among homosexual men and women." It was established and is led by lay Catholics.[143]

In January 1998 Alfredo Ormando set fire to himself in St Peter's square, Rome as a political protest against the Catholic Church's condemnation of homosexuality. He died shortly after from his injuries.

Defense of official teaching[edit]

An essay taking a clear position against gay marriage, written by the French rabbi Gilles Bernheim, found a great echo in Catholic circles culminating in Pope Benedict XVI quoting him at length in his annual address [144][145] to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2012.

Some Catholics who oppose gay rights and the acceptance of gay people regard the church's teaching on the matter as definitive, infallible, and unchangeable as a magisterial dogma of the Catholic Church.[146] In an official brief called Rescriptum ex audientia of May 19, 2008 made by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone the Cardinal Secretary of State reaffirmed the norms in the "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocation with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders", as being of universal value and without exceptions.[147]

Chastity-promoting ministries[edit]

Terence Cardinal Cooke of New York City saw a need for a ministry which would assist gay Catholics to adhere to Catholic teaching on sexual behaviour. Cooke invited John Harvey to New York to begin the work of Courage International with Benedict Groeschel, of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The first meeting was held in September 1980 at the Shrine of Mother Seton in South Ferry. The group consists of laymen and laywomen usually under anonymous discretion, together with a priest, to encourage its members to abstain from acting on their sexual desires and to live chastely according to the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality".[148]

The Catholic Medical Association has stated that same-sex attractions are preventable and a symptom of other issues. The goal of therapy should be "freedom to live chastely according to one's state in life."[149]

Homosexuality and Catholic clergy[edit]

Homosexual clergy is not a modern phenomenon. In response to scandals among ordinary clergy, Saint Peter Damian wrote his Liber Gomorrhianus (1050), which denounced, in ascending order of gravity, four varieties of sexual practice: masturbation, mutual masturbation, interfemoral intercourse, and anal intercourse.[150]

The 1961 Papal encyclical Careful Selection And Training Of Candidates For The States Of Perfection And Sacred Orders (Religiosorum institutio)[151] stated that "Advantage to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers." Bishops had discretion in allowing the further instruction of offending but penitent seminarians, and held homosexuals to the same standards of celibate chastity as heterosexual seminarians.

In November 2005, the Congregation for Catholic Education under the direction of John Paul II, issued a document entitled an Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders. It stated that, “’’the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture"’’.

It was not a new moral teaching, but enhanced vigilance in barring homosexuals from seminaries, and from the priesthood. While the preparation for this document had started 10 years before its publication,[152] this instruction is seen as an official answer by the Catholic Church to several sex scandals involving priests in the late 20th/early 21st century, including the American Roman Catholic sex abuse cases and a 2004 sex scandal in a seminary at St. Pölten (Austria).[153]

The document has attracted criticism based on an interpretation that the document implies that homosexuality is associated with pedophilia.[154] There were some questions on how distinctions between deep-seated and transient homosexuality, as proposed by the document, will be applied in practice: the actual distinction that is made might be between those who abuse, and those who don't.[155]

Estimates presented in Donald B. Cozzens' book The Changing Face of the Priesthood of the percentage of gay priests range from 23–58%; suggesting a higher than average numbers of homosexual men (active and non-active) within the Catholic priesthood and higher orders.[156]

Homosexuality and the episcopacy[edit]

The existence of gay bishops in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and other traditions is a matter of historical record, though never, until recently, considered licit by any of the main Christian denominations.[157] Homosexual activity was engaged in secretly. When it was made public, official response ranged from inaction to expulsion from Holy Orders.[158] As far back as the eleventh century, Ralph, Archbishop of Tours had his lover installed as Bishop of Orléans, yet neither Pope Urban II, nor his successor Paschal II took action to depose either man.[158]

Although homosexual sexual acts have been consistently condemned by the Catholic Church, a number of senior members of the clergy have been found to have had homosexual relationships. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who retired in 2002, was alleged to have been in a relationship with a former graduate student;[159] Juan Carlos Maccarone, the Bishop of Santiago del Estero in Argentenia, retired after video surfaced showing him engaged in homosexual acts;[160] and Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira, the Bishop of Minas in Uruguay, resigned in 2009 after it was alleged that he had broken his vow of celibacy.[161] In 2012, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, described as the Catholic Primate of Scotland, was forced to retire prematurely because of complaints that he had made "inappropriate approaches" or "inappropriate contacts" of a homosexual character.[162]

A number of Popes were rumored to have been homosexual or to have had male sexual partners.[163][164] In the 11th century, Pope Benedict IX (1044–1048) was forced out of the papacy amidst a series of scandals, including his sexual orientation toward men. Pope Paul II (1417-1471) was said by detractors to have died while being sodomised by a page boy. Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484) was called a "lover of boys and sodomites". Pope Leo X (1475-1521) was believed to have engaged in "unnatural vice". Despite having fathered a daughter, there were contemporary suggestions that Pope Julius II (1443-1513) was homosexual. The reputation of Pope Julius III (1487-1555), and that of the Catholic Church, were greatly harmed by his scandal-ridden relationship with his adopted nephew.

Pope Francis in 2013[edit]

The BBC reported that shortly before the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February 2013, the Italian media in particular used unsourced reports to suggest that there was "gay lobby" of clergy inside the Vatican who had been collaborating to advance personal interests. This risked opening the Holy See to potential blackmail, and according to the BBC, had been one of the factors influencing Benedict's decision to resign. Pope Francis was reported to have acknowledged the existence of this lobby in remarks during a meeting held in private with Catholic religious from Latin America, and he was said to have promised to "see what we can do".[165] In July 2013, he responded directly to journalists' questions concerning the reported gay lobby. He drew a distinction between the problem of lobbying, and the sexual orientation of people: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" "The problem", he said, "is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem."[85][166]

He reaffirmed the Catholic Church's teaching that, while homosexual acts are sinful, homosexual orientation is not and people with that orientation should not be marginalised but integrated into society. In this regard, he quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says: "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."[167] In relation to reports that a Vatican official whom he had recently promoted had had a homosexual relationship, he drew a distinction between sins, which can be forgiven if repented of, and crimes, such as sexual abuse of minors.[85][166]

Some LGBT groups welcomed the comments, noting that this was the first time a pope had used the word "gay" in public, and had also accepted the existence of gay people as a recognisable part of the Catholic Church community for the first time.[168]

Political activity[edit]

Decriminalization of homosexuality[edit]

National level[edit]

In the 1960s, the Catholic Church supported the call of the Wolfenden report to introduce legislation to decriminalise homosexual acts in England and Wales.[31] In Australia, Cardinal Archbishop Norman Thomas Gilroy supported efforts begun in the 1970s to likewise change the law.[32] In the United States the Catholic National Federation of Priests' Councils declared their opposition to "all civil laws which make consensual homosexual acts between adults a crime".[34]

In Malta, however, Catholic bishops opposed efforts to remove homosexual acts from the criminal code; something which was finally done in 1973.[169] In New Zealand, Cardinal Williams issued in 1985 a statement opposing homosexual law reform, arguing that "to decriminalize homosexuality could suggest to some people that it was morally and socially permissible"; but the Church there declined to submit a formal response to the parliamentary enquiry.[170] In later years, the local Catholic Church opposed or took action against decriminalization of homosexuality in Belize.[27] In India, too, the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council opposed decriminalisation,[171] but Cardinal Oswald Gracias, a President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and one of the eight members of Pope Francis's Council of Cardinal Advisers, declared it wrong to make gay people criminals, since the Catholic Church "teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse".[33] Homosexuality remains illegal in Belize and India. In Nigeria, Cardinal John Onaiyekan was thought to have tacitly approved of a May 2013 bill criminalizing same-sex relationships and participation in gay rights organizations.[172]

In June 2012, Catholic bishops in Uganda, a country where 42% of the population is Catholic, participated in a joint Christian urging of Parliament to pass the anti-homosexuality bill,[24] which originally (in 2009) proposed the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality",.[28][173] In that declaration, Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga joined other religious leaders calling on parliamentarians to make progress in enacting legislation that would broaden criminalisation of same-sex relations. They asked Ugandan Christians "to remain steadfast in opposing the phenomena of homosexuality, lesbianism and same-sex union".[28] This contrasted with an earlier statement tabled in 2009 by the Ugandan Bishop's Conference which said the Bill did not "pass the test of a caring Christian approach to the issue" and that "the targeting of the sinner, not the sin, is the core flaw of the proposed Bill. The introduction of the death penalty and imprisonment for homosexual acts targets people rather than seeking to counsel and to reach out in compassion to those who need conversion, repentance, support, and hope."[174] It contrasted also with reaction to the passage of the bill in December 2013, with imprisonment for life as the maximum punishment instead of the death penalty, and its signing into law by President Museveni in February 2014. The Papal Nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Michael Blume, voiced concern and shock at the bill,[174] and Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Holy See's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, stated that "homosexuals are not criminals" and should not be sent to prison for life. At the same time he called on the international community to continue providing aid to Uganda.[175]

Global level[edit]

The Holy See, an observer at the United Nations, opposed both informally[176] and formally[29] a 2008 proposed declaration urging the decriminalization of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity",[177] which are punishable by law in many countries, including some where it incurs a death sentence. In an interview published on 1 December 2008, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's representative at the United Nations General Assembly, said of the proposed declaration that it "asked for the addition of new categories to be protected against discrimination without taking into account that, if adopted, these would create terrible new discriminations" such as, he said, pillorying and pressuring of states that do not recognize as marriage a union between persons of the same sex.[25][26] or to provide adoption rights to gays and lesbians.[178] Speaking on the floor of the General Assembly on 18 December 2008, he said: "The Holy See appreciates the attempts made [in the draft declaration] to condemn all forms of violence against homosexual persons as well as urge States to take necessary measures to put an end to all criminal penalties against them", but added that its failure to define the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" would produce "serious uncertainty" and "undermine the ability of States to enter into and enforce new and existing human rights conventions and standards".[29][30] In Italy, the gay association Arcigay and the newspaper La Repubblica decried the stance of the Holy See. An editorial in La Stampa, a general circulation newspaper, said the Vatican's reasoning was "grotesque".[176][179][179]

During discussion at the 16th session of the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 of a Joint Statement on Ending Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the Holy See's representative, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, stated: "A state should never punish a person, or deprive a person of the enjoyment of any human right, based just on the person's feelings and thoughts, including sexual thoughts and feelings. But states can, and must, regulate behaviors, including various sexual behaviors. Throughout the world, there is a consensus between societies that certain kinds of sexual behaviors must be forbidden by law. Pedophilia and incest are two examples."[180] He later said of that resolution that recognizing gay rights would cause discrimination against religious leaders and that there was concern lest consequent legislation would lead to "natural marriages and families" being "socially downgraded".[22]

On 28 January 2012, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, gave a speech calling on African nations to repeal laws that place sanctions on homosexual conduct. Speaking to a journalist, African Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, called the speech stupid. The journalist reported: "Asked if Ban Ki-moon was overstepping his responsibilities, Cardinal Sarah replied: 'Sure, you cannot impose something stupid like that.' He added: 'Poor countries like Africa just accept it because it's imposed upon them through money, through being tied to aid.'" He said that African bishops must react against this move against African culture.[181]

Discrimination against homosexuals[edit]

The Vatican holds that there are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientaion into account.[182] In 1992, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a statement under the title "Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons". It commented that some "municipal authorities made public housing, otherwise reserved for families, available to homosexual (and unmarried heterosexual) couples" and said that "such initiatives ... may in fact have a negative impact on the family and society", affecting "such things as the adoption of children, the employment of teachers, the housing needs of genuine families, landlords' legitimate concerns in screening potential tenants". After recalling what it had already stated in its 1986 letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care of homosexual persons, it declared that, because of the moral concern that sexual orientation raises, it is different from qualities such as race, ethnicity, sex or age, and therefore "there are areas where it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment". Limitation of rights is permissible, and sometimes even obligatory, in cases of "objectively disordered external conduct", even if the conduct is not culpable, as in the case of "contagious or mentally ill persons", the exercise of whose rights can justly, for the sake of the common good, be restricted.[183]

The United States Conference of Bishops wrote to all members of the Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labour and Pensions in 2013 to register its opposition to a proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).[184] The proposed legislation would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian, nonreligious employers with at least 15 employees. While they expressed their belief that "no one should be an object of scorn, hatred, or violence for any reason, including sexual inclination", the bishops declared: "We have a moral obligation to oppose any law that would be so likely to contribute to legal attempts to redefine marriage".[185]

In July 2013, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez referred to President Obama's nominee for Dominican Republic’s ambassador by the anti-gay slur maricón.[24] In 2011 a Catholic bishop in Peru, Luis Bambarén, was forced to apologize for using the same word in commenting, when answering journalists' questions on plans to legalise same-sex marriage, on the use in Spanish of the English word "gay": "I do not know why we talk about Gays. Let's speak in Creole or Castilian: They're faggots. That's how you say it, right?" He later apologized, saying: "It is an offensive word, and [homosexuals] deserve respect."[186]

In 2014 the United Nation's Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern in a report about the Holy See’s past statements and declarations on homosexuality which it said "contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents and children raised by same sex couples". The Committee urged the Holy See to "make full use of its moral authority to condemn all forms of harassment, discrimination or violence against children based on their sexual orientation or the sexual orientation of their parents and to support efforts at international level for the decriminalisation of homosexuality."[187]

Campaign against same-sex marriage and civil unions[edit]

In recent years, the Catholic Church has resisted legislative efforts by governments to give equal rights to gay men and women through the establishment of either civil unions or same-sex marriage.

On 3 June 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document with the agreement of Pope John Paul II called "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons" opposing the very idea of same-sex marriage. This document made clear that "legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour ... but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity". Catholic legislators were instructed that supporting such recognition would be "gravely immoral", and that they must do all they could do actively oppose it, bearing in mind that "the approval or legalisation of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil". The document said that allowing children to be adopted by people living in homosexual union would actually mean doing violence to them, and stated: "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law."[188]

On 9 March 2012, Pope Benedict XVI, denouncing "the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage", currents that the Washington Post described as a "cultural shift toward gay marriage in U.S.", told a group of United States bishops on their ad limina visit to Rome that "the Church's conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage."[189][190]

North America[edit]

In the United States, the leadership of the Catholic Church has taken an active and financial role in political campaigns across all states regarding same-sex marriage.[18][191] It was reported that the church spent nearly $2 million in 2012 toward unsuccessful campaigns against gay marriage in four states (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington), representing a significant share of the contributions used to fund anti-gay marriage campaigns,[192] although a 2012 Pew Research Center poll indicated that Catholics in the United States generally who support gay marriage outnumber those who oppose it at 52 percent to 37 percent[192]

In addition to financially supporting political campaigns against same-sex marriage, the church has also urged its followers to campaign and vote against it, distributing anti-gay-marriage DVDs and asking parishioners to write to lawmakers and urge them to oppose the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.[193] Bishops and archbishops have described same-sex marriage as against nature and a risk to spiritual well-being, and discouraged supporters from taking communion or attending same-sex weddings.[193][194]

In July 2003, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Canada, the country's plurality religion, protested the Chrétien government's plans to include same-sex couples in civil marriage. The church criticisms were accompanied by Vatican claims that Catholic politicians should vote according to their personal beliefs rather than the policy of the government. Amid a subsequent backlash in opinion, the church remained quiet on the subject until late 2004, when the Bishop of Calgary, Frederick Henry, wrote a pastoral letter calling homosexual behaviour "an evil act"[195] and seeming to call for its outlaw by the government, saying "Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good."[195]


Catholic Church figures have also criticized attempts to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe. Pope John Paul II criticized same-sex marriage when it was introduced in the Netherlands in 2001,[196] and cardinals in Scotland and France said that it was a danger to society.[11][19]

In Spain and Portugal, Catholic leaders led the opposition to same-sex marriage, urging their followers to vote against it or to refuse to implement the marriages should they become legal.[14] In May 2010, during an official visit to Portugal four days before the ratification of the law, Pope Benedict XVI, affirmed his opposition by describing it as "insidious and dangerous".[197]

In 2010 in Ireland, Sean Brady (the Archbishop of Armagh) unsuccessfully asked Irish Catholics to resist government proposals for same-sex civil partnerships, and the Irish episcopal conference said that they discriminated against people in non-sexual relationships.[21] In April 2013, when the legalization of same-sex marriage was being discussed, the Irish Bishops Conference stated in their submission to a constitutional convention that, if the civil definition of marriage was changed to include same-sex marriage, so that it differed from the church's own definition, they could no longer perform civil functions at weddings.[15][16]

In the predominantly Catholic countries of Italy and Croatia the Catholic Church has been the main opponent to either the introduction of civil unions or marriage for same-sex-couples.[20] In July 2013, 750,000 signatures (a fifth of Croatia's total population) were collected by Church leaders for a petition calling on law-makers to ensure the prohibition on same-sex marriage was embedded in the national Constitution.[17]

South America[edit]

In response to efforts to introduce same-sex marriage in Uruguay in 2013, Pablo Galimberti, the Bishop of Salto, on behalf of the Uruguayan Bishops Council, said that marriage was "an institution that is already so injured" and that the proposed law would "confuse more than clarify". The proposal nevertheless became law, with strong public support.[198]


In Cameroon, Victor Tonye Bakot, the Archbishop of Yaounde, urged parishioners in 2012 that: “Marriage of persons of the same sex is a serious crime against humanity. We need to stand up to combat it with all our energy”.[24] At the start of 2013 the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon followed this up by issuing a public statement urging "all believers and people of good will to reject homosexuality and so-called ‘gay marriage’".[12]

In 2014, the Catholic Bishops Conference in Nigeria welcomed legislation passed by the government to make participation in a same-sex marriage a crime punishable by 14 years imprisonment. It noted the move as a "courageous act" and a "step in the right direction". The Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, argued that the action was "in line with the moral and ethical values of the Nigerian and African cultures", and blessed President Goodluck Jonathan in not bowing to international pressure: "To protect you and yor administration against the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent, the dumping ground for the promotion of immoral practices".[13]

Acceptance of civil unions[edit]

Whilst maintaining the church's teaching against homosexual acts, Pope Francis has said that gay people should not be marginalized

There has been some dissent expressed in recent years by figures in the Catholic Church on whether support should not be given for homosexual civil unions. Most notably in this respect has been Christoph Schonborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna; but also the former Papal Master of Ceremonies, Piero Marini, and Godfried Danneels, the former Primate of Belgium in 2013.[citation needed] It has even been suggested that when Pope Francis, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, urged fellow Argentine bishops in 2010 to signal support for civil unions, this was a compromise response to calls for same-sex marriage.[199]

Over 260 Catholic theologians, particularly from Germany, Switzerland and Austria (including Hans Küng), signed in January and February 2011 a memorandum, called Church 2011, which said that the Church's esteem for marriage and celibacy "does not require the exclusion of people who responsibly live out love, faithfulness, and mutual care in same-sex partnerships or in a remarriage after divorce".[200]

On 5 March 2014, in an interview with the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, Pope Francis said: "Marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the demand to regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care. It is about pacts of cohabitating of various natures, of which I wouldn’t know how to list the different ways. One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety."[201] Some, including Catholic News Service, interpreted this as suggesting that the Catholic Church could tolerate some types of non-marital civil unions as a practical measure for the purposes indicated.[202] The Pope did not refer specifically to homosexual unions when he spoke of "civil unions" a term that in Italy refers to non-religious marriages by the state.[203]

Recent developments[edit]

On 18 October 2013, the Holy See launched its consultation exercise on the topic of the 2014 assembly of the Synod of Bishops, "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization". An article by the BBC concerning the questionnaire described it as an "unprecedented survey of the views of lay Catholics on modern family life and sexual ethics".[204] In fact, such a consultation is a regular practice before assemblies of the Synod of Bishops,[205] A document, with a series of 39 questions, was sent to all Bishops’ Conferences, and the results will, as usual, be fed into the assembly. Individual conferences hold the consultations in different ways – this time the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and several others launched a public consultation on the Internet. The questionnaire for the 2014 assembly asked for local views on a range of issues related to the topic of the upcoming assembly of the Synod of Bishops, including for the first time ever on civiol unions: "what pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union" (same-sex civil unions).[206] The 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops will consider all the global responses, with the intention of providing Pope Francis with advice on how the Catholic Church should address the issues. This meeting will then provide some form of discussion document which will be taken forward to the Ordinary Synod of Bishops in 2015 for a decision.

Responding to the survey in February 2014 a statement from the German bishops conference indicated that results from Catholics there suggested, "The Church's statements on premarital sexual relations, homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried, and on birth control... are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases". There was also a "marked tendency" among German Catholics to accept legal recognition of same-sex unions as "a commandment of justice" and a feeling the Church should bless them; although most did not want same-sex marriage to receive civil legal recognition.[207]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons". Vatican.va. Retrieved 2013-02-11. 
  2. ^ a b "Chastity and homosexuality". Catechism of the Catholic Church - Article 6: The sixth commandment. Vatican.va. 1951-10-29. Retrieved 2013-02-11. 
  3. ^ United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Marriage: Unique for a Reason", section 1, question 4
  4. ^ John Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary
  5. ^ Edward Pentin, "Pope Repeats that Same-Sex 'Marriage' is 'Anthropological Regression'" in National Catholic Register, 3 January 2014
  6. ^ Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding proposals to give recognition to unions between homosexual persons, 5
  7. ^ Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 228-229
  8. ^ Michael Hellgren, "Catholic Church Strongly Opposed To Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage In Md.", in CBS, Baltimore
  9. ^ Submission to the Constitutional Convention by the Council for Marriage and the Family of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference
  10. ^ a b Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, 2003, points 7 and 8
  11. ^ a b c Comment. "We cannot afford to indulge this madness". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-04-29
  12. ^ a b c "Cameroon Catholic lawyers vow to uphold anti-gay laws: News". Africareview.com. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  13. ^ a b c http://www.gaystarnews.com/article/nigerian-catholics-congratulate-president-making-same-sex-marriage-crime050214
  14. ^ a b c "Vatican condemns Spain gay bill". BBC News. 2005-04-22. Retrieved 2007-01-08
  15. ^ a b c Dearbhail McDonald and Declan Brennan, "Bishops vow to 'boycott' weddings over gay marriage" in Irish Independent, 29 March 2013
  16. ^ a b c Bishops issue warning over bid to legalise gay marriages
  17. ^ a b c "Croatia says 'I do' to gay civil unions". Gay Star News. 2013-08-05. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  18. ^ a b Liz Jones (2012-06-06). "Seattle Catholics Divided On Repealing Gay Marriage". NPR. 
  19. ^ a b Patrick, Joseph. "France: Archbishop of Paris warns that equal marriage will lead to a more violent society". PinkNews.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  20. ^ a b "Catholic Church in polygamy attack on civil unions - Europe - World". The Independent. 2012-07-23. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  21. ^ a b "Irish cardinal urges opposition to homosexual civil unions". Catholic News Agency (Armagh, Ireland). 25 August 2009. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Benjamin Mann, "Vatican official: UN gay 'rights' agenda endangers Church's freedom" (Catholic News Agency, 8 July 2011)
  23. ^ Ing, Dr (2009-03-23). "Malta Gay News Library: Leħen is-Sewwa 1973: Ittra Pastorali kontra d-Dekriminalazzjoni ta' l-Omosesswalità" [Voice of Sewwa 1973: Pastoral Letter against Decriminalization of Homosexuality] (in Maltese). Patrickattard.blogspot.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-26. 
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