Catholic Church and homosexuality

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The Catholic Church's relationship with homosexuality includes the Church's teaching, ministry, history, and political positions on issues related to homosexuality, as well as those who support and oppose the Church's teaching and activity. The Catholic Church prohibits sexual activity between members of the same sex. This teaching has developed through a number of ecumenical councils and the influence of theologians, including the Church Fathers. Historically, the Catholic Church has resisted the acceptance of homosexuality within Christian society and has on occasions punished those who have transgressed.

While varying from diocese to diocese, the Church also provides pastoral care for LGBT Catholics through a variety of official and unofficial channels, and senior clergy and popes have recently begun to call for the Church to do more. In many parts of the world, the Church is active politically on issues of LGBT rights to support or oppose civil government legislation on the basis of Catholic Social Teaching, which often rejects civil rights for LGBT people or endorses discrimination against them.[disputed ]

There have been notable Catholics who were gay or bisexual, including priests and bishops. There are groups, individuals, and ministries who support the Church's teaching, while LGBT activists around the world have protested against Church teaching and policy.

Church teaching[edit]

The church teaches that, as one does not choose to be either homo- or heterosexual, being gay is not inherently sinful.[1][2] According to the Catholic theology of sexuality, all sexual acts must be open to procreation and express the symbolism of male-female complementarity.[3] Sexual acts between two members of the same gender cannot meet these standards.[4] Homosexuality thus constitutes a tendency towards this sin,[4][3] but also can make an individual less culpable for it.[5]

The Church teaches that gay people are called to practice chastity.[6] They also teach that gay people "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity," and that "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."[7]


The Christian tradition has generally prohibited all sexual activities outside of sexual intercourse.[8] This includes activities engaged in by couples or individuals of either the same or different sexes.[8] The Catholic Church's position specifically on homosexuality developed from the teachings of the Church Fathers, which was in stark contrast to Greek and Roman attitudes towards same-sex relations, including pederasty.[9][10][11]

Canon law regarding same-sex sexual activity has been shaped through the decrees issued by a series of ecclesiastical councils.[12] Initially, canons against sodomy were aimed at ensuring clerical or monastic discipline, and were only widened in the medieval period to include laymen.[13] In the Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas stated that "the unnatural vice" is the greatest of the sins of lust.[14]

In January 1976, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope Paul VI published Persona Humana, which codified the teaching against all extra-marital sex, including gay sex.[15] Homosexuality received no mention in papal encyclicals until Pope John Paul II's Veritatis Splendor of 1993. There he declared that homosexual intercourse is performed by a choice of the will, unlike homosexual orientation, which he acknowledged is not a matter of free choice.[1]

Modern popes, including Pope Francis, have repeatedly spoken about the need for the church to welcome and love all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.[16]

Pastoral care for gay Catholics[edit]

Beginning in the 1970s, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops taught that gays "should have an active role in the Christian community" and have called on "all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons. We understand that having a homosexual orientation brings with it enough anxiety, pain and issues related to self-acceptance without society bringing additional prejudicial treatment."[17]

Bishops around the world have held diocesan events with the goal of reaching out to gay Catholics and ministering to them, and more have spoken publicly about the need to love and welcome them into the church. Pope John Paul II asked "the bishops to support, with the means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons.”[18] Several assemblies of the Synod of Bishops have struck similar themes, while maintaining that same-sex sexual activity is sinful and that same-sex marriage cannot be permitted.[19] In 2018, in a move regarded as a sign of respect to the community,[19] the Vatican used the acronym LGBT for the first time in an official document.[20] Pope Francis has also spoken out about the need for pastoral care for gay and transgender Catholics, adding that God made LGBT people that way.[21][22][23]

Beginning in the 1960s, a number of organizations have formed to minister to LGBT people. Organizations such as DignityUSA and New Ways Ministry, which advocates for the rights of LGBT Catholics, and Courage International, which encourages gay and lesbian Catholics to be chaste, were established in the United States in response to the push within the United States for greater recognition within the Church for gay men and lesbian women. Courage also has a ministry geared towards the relatives and friends of gay people called Encourage.[24]

Dissent from Church teaching[edit]

A rainbow flag of the LGBT movement

There have practical and ministerial disagreements within the clergy and hierarchy of the Catholic Church concerning the Church's position on homosexuality. Some Catholics and Catholic groups have sought to adopt an approach they consider to be more inclusive.[25][26][27][28] Dissenters argue that the prohibition on extramarital sex emphasizes the physical dimension of the act at the expense of higher moral, personal and spiritual goals[29] and that the practice of total, lifelong sexual denial risks personal isolation.[30] They argue that it is preferable to believe that this element of Church teaching is mistaken.[31] The opinion of lay Catholics tends to be more supportive of gay marriage than the hierarchy.[32]

Upwards of 70 people have been fired from jobs at Catholic schools or universities because of their marriages to partners of the same sex[19][33][34][35][36] or, in one case, support for LGBT rights campaigns.[37][33] But in one case a Jesuit high school refused to fire an actively gay teacher and the local bishop designated the school as no longer Catholic; the school has appealed his decision.[38]

In response to Church policy in the area of safe-sex education, AIDS, and gay rights, some gay rights activists have protested both inside and outside of Catholic churches, sometimes disrupting Masses. This includes at the National Shrine in Washington,[39][40] at an ordination of priests at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston,[41][42][43] and during mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York[40][39][41] where they desecrated the Eucharist.[44][45][46][47] Others have splattered paint on churches[48] and drenched an archbishop with water.[49] In 1998, Alfredo Ormando died after setting himself on fire outside Saint Peter's Basilica to protest the church's position on homosexuality.[50]

Defense of Church teaching[edit]

Many Catholic groups defend the Church's teaching. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organisation, have contributed over $14 million, one of the largest amounts in the United States, to political campaigns against same-sex marriage.[51][52] The Catholic Medical Association of North America claims that science "counters the myth that same-sex attraction is genetically predetermined and unchangeable, and offers hope for prevention and treatment."[53]

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has described the Church child sex abuse crisis as a "homosexual" problem rather than a "pedophilia" problem since most of the incidents involved sex between men and boys rather than girls.[54] The youth ministry organization Life Teen has a series of blog posts written on the topic of the love God has for LGBT people, explaining the Church's teaching, and offering advice on how LGBT people can live in harmony with the Church's teaching.[55] It also features entries written by gay and transgender Catholics.[55]

Gay clergy[edit]

Homosexual clergy, and homosexual activity by clergy, are not exclusively modern phenomena, but rather date back centuries.[56] Donald Cozzens estimated the percentage of gay priests in 2000 to be 23–58%, suggesting more homosexual men (active and non-active) within the Catholic priesthood than within society at large.[57] Instructions from Vatican bodies on admitting gay men to the priesthood have varied over time. In the 1960s chaste gay men were allowed but in 2005 a new directive banned gay men "while profoundly respecting the persons in question."[58][59]

The existence of gay bishops is a matter of historical record.[60] Homosexual activity was engaged in secretly. When it was made public, official response ranged from inaction to expulsion from Holy Orders.[61] Although homosexual acts have been consistently condemned by the Catholic Church, some senior members of the clergy have been found or alleged to have had homosexual relationships including Rembert Weakland, Juan Carlos Maccarone, Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira, and Keith O'Brien.[62][63][64][65] Some Popes were thought to have been homosexual or to have had male sexual partners including Pope Benedict IX, Pope Paul II, Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Leo X, Pope Julius II and Pope Julius III.[66][67]

Political activity[edit]

The Church supports legislation that conforms with Catholic moral theology and Catholic Social Teaching surrounding issues of importance to LGBT peoples. The Church condemns all forms of violence against LGBT people and all criminal penalties against them, and also supports legally defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The Church is active in local, national, and international forums.

In various countries, members of the Catholic Church have intervened on occasions both to both support efforts to decriminalize homosexuality, and also to ensure it remains an offence under criminal law. The Catholic Church has been described as sending "mixed signals" regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation[30] and has actively supported discrimination against gay people[68][not in citation given] while opposing the extension of significant civil rights legislation, such as nondiscrimination in public housing,[68][69][not in citation given] employment and particularly educational or athletic employment,[68][70] adoption,[68][71][not in citation given] or military recruitment,[68] to gay men and lesbians.[70] The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a statement which "claims nondiscrimination legislation protecting LGBT people promotes immoral sexual behavior, endangers our children, and threatens religious liberty," according to two Catholic theologians.[70] A 1992 teaching said that because sexuality "evokes moral concern," sexual orientation is different from qualities such as race, ethnicity, sex, or age, which do not.[72][30] It added that while all people have rights to things such as work and housing that a limitation of some rights is in some cases permissible, and sometimes even obligatory, to "protect the common good" and thus does not constitute unjust discrimination.[72]

Notable lesbian, gay and bisexual Catholics[edit]

There have been notable gay Catholics throughout history. Writers such as Oscar Wilde,[73] Gerard Manley Hopkins,[73] Lord Alfred Douglas, Marc-André Raffalovich, Robert Hugh Benson, and Frederick Rolfe,[73][74] and artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe,[75] were influenced by both their Catholicism and their homosexuality. Gay Catholic academics such as John J. McNeill[76] and John Boswell have produced work on the history and theological issues at the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality. Some notable LGBT Catholics are or were priests or nuns, such as McNeill, Virginia Apuzzo, and Jean O'Leary, who was a Roman Catholic religious sister before becoming a lesbian and gay rights activist.

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

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