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Catholic Church and homosexuality

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Homosexuality is addressed in Catholic moral theology under two forms: homosexual orientation is considered an "objective disorder" because Catholicism views it as being "ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil", but not sinful unless acted upon.[1] Homosexual sexual activity, by contrast, is viewed as a "moral disorder"[1] and "homosexual acts" are viewed 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] Nevertheless, gay people must be accepted with "respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."[3]

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage can be made only between a man and a woman,[4][5] and opposes introduction of both civil and religious same-sex marriage.[6][7][8][9][10] Leading figures in the Church have campaigned against same-sex marriage,[note 1] same-sex civil unions,[note 2] and other LGBT issues.[22][23] The Church holds that same-sex unions are an unfavorable environment for children and that the legalization of such unions is harmful to society.[21]

Some Church leaders have opposed decriminalization of homosexual activity in certain countries, and stood against a proposed call by the United Nations for global decriminalization of homosexuality.[23][24][25][26][27][28] However, in other countries, and again at the United Nations, the church has opposed criminalization - reflecting a wide range of opinions within the global church.[29][30][31][32][33] Despite the official position of the Catholic hierarchy on LGBT rights, in some locations, such as North America, Northern and Western Europe, support for same-sex marriage is stronger among Catholics than among the general population.[note 3]


Church teachingEdit

Catholic teaching condemns homosexual acts as gravely immoral, while holding that gay people "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity", and "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided"[34] "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."[35]

History of the Catholic Church and homosexualityEdit

The Christian tradition has generally proscribed any and all noncoital genital activities, whether engaged in by couples or individuals, regardless of whether they were of the same or different sex.[36]:193 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 the "(usually erotic) homosexual relationship between an adult male and a pubescent or adolescent male" that is called pederasty.[37][38][39]

Canon law regarding same-sex sexual activity has mainly been shaped through the decrees issued by a number of ecclesiastical councils.[40] Initially, canons against sodomy were aimed at ensuring clerical or monastic discipline, and were only widened in the medieval period to include laymen.[41]

In the Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas stated that "the unnatural vice" is the greatest of the sins of lust.[42] In January 1976, Pope Paul VI published a homily, Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics, that outlawed extra-marital sex, including gay sex,[43] but homosexuality received no mention in papal encyclicals until Pope John Paul II's Veritatis Splendor of 1993. In John Paul II's teaching, homosexual intercourse is performed by a choice of the will, unlike homosexual orientation, which he acknowledged is usually not a matter of free choice.[44]

Pastoral care for gay CatholicsEdit

In the 1980s Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York City saw a need for a ministry which would assist gay Catholics to be celibate. 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, and chapters have been established in other countries. The group generally 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".[45]

In October 2016, Robert W. McElroy, the Bishop of San Diego held a diocesan synod on the family that called for improved ministry toward gay and lesbian Catholics. In 2017 the diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri said it would permit transgender students in its Catholic schools.[citation needed]

In June 2017, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark in the USA, held a "Pilgrimage" Mass specifically for LGBT Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Many of the attendees were married to same-sex spouses, and participated in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It was reported, however, that Tobin subsequently received an amount of hate-mail from Catholics opposed to the move. The director of New Ways Ministry indicated that this was a positive first step, contrasting with a church leadership that has for decades "been so silent, and unwilling to dialogue, and unwilling to pray with L.G.B.T. Catholics". The event was organized by gay ministries within the Church of the Sacred Heart in South Plainfield, New Jersey, and the Church of the Precious Blood in Monmouth Beach.[46] Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has also suggested that the Catholic Church should respect and use words such as "gay" and "lesbian" as a way of more effectively reaching out to the LGBT community.[47]

In May 2014, Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta attended an event organised by the Maltese Catholic gay rights group Drachma to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.[48] In Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin reacted to concerns over anti-gay comments in the media by saying that "anybody who doesn't show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that — they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people."[49]

However, the influence of Francis as Pope over recent years has seen a gradual shift in the treatment of LGBT worshippers towards a more welcoming stance in some dioceses. For example, in the US in April 2016 the Bishop of Lexington in Kentucky, John Stowe, spoke at a New Ways Ministry national conference and indicated that he admired and respected LGBT people who remained steadfast to the church even though the church had not always been as welcoming.[citation needed]

In 2017, Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest in the US published "Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the L.G.B.T. Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity." In the book, Martin outlines several ways each side can treat the other more charitably:[50] for example, calling on church leaders to use terms like "gay" and "L.G.B.T.," instead of phrases like "afflicted with same-sex attraction." He also argued that to expect a sinless lifestyle from gay Catholics, but not from any other group, is a form of "unjust discrimination" and that gay people should not be fired for marrying a same-sex spouse. Cardinal Joseph Tobin and Cardinal Kevin Farrell contributed blurbs to the book.[46] However, a number of Catholic institutes, including The Theological College in Washington, The Order of the Holy Sepulchre in New York, and Cafod in the UK subsequently cancelled events at which Martin was due to speak after pressure from conservative Catholics who threatened to withhold funding. Robert McElroy, the Bishop of San Diego, rallied to support Martin and criticized those that had tried to vilify him and distort his writings.[51][52]

Differences from official Church teachingEdit

A rainbow flag of the LGBT movement

There have a number of practical and ministerial disagreements within the clergy and hierarchy of the Catholic Church concerning the Church's position on homosexuality. A number of Catholics and Catholic groups have sought to adopt a more inclusive approach.[53][54][55][56]

Such individuals and groups make the general argument that the Catholic Church's line on homosexuality emphasises the physical dimension of the act at the expense of higher moral, personal and spiritual goals.[57] Gay and lesbian Catholics also feel that the practice of total, life-long sexual denial risks personal isolation.[36]:194 John J. McNeill writes that since gay people experience their sexual orientation as innately created, to believe that it is therefore a tendency towards evil would require believing in a sadistic God; and that it is preferable to believe that this element of Church teaching is mistaken in arguing that God would behave in such a way.[58]

In several cases, clergy or laypeople have been fired from jobs at Catholic schools or universities because of their support for LGBT rights campaigns[59][60] or their marriages to partners of the same sex.[60][61][62] In the United States, more than 50 people have reported losing their jobs at Catholic institutions since 2010 over their sexual orientation or identity, according to New Ways Ministries[63]


One of the first priests to publicly come out as gay was the Jesuit Robert Carter, when he helped to establish the National Gay Task Force in New York in 1973. Carter remained a priest and was never formally disciplined. He had also helped to found the New York chapter of DignityUSA, alongside the Rev. John McNeill. By 1985 he was counseling AIDS patients at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, and later became a supervisor of the outpatient AIDS program at the Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan.[64]

In 1976, John J. 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 as 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, compulsive 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 Society of Jesus subsequently dismissed him for "pertinacious disobedience" from the order. He remained a priest until his death but was not permitted to say Mass.[65]:200[66]

In 1977, a collective theological study on human sexuality was published, after being commissioned in 1972 by the Catholic Theological Society of America.[67] The Society, however, did not approve the study after members of its board of directors criticized its scholarship.[68][69] In his Breaking Faith: The Pope, the People and the Fate of Catholicism, John Cornwell says the theology contained within the work extended the Vatican II focus on the procreative and unitive purposes of marital sexuality, to emphasise the creative and integrative aspects.[70] He criticized the "oversimplification of the natural law theory of St. Thomas," and argued that "Homosexuals enjoy the same rights and incur the same obligations as the heterosexual majority."[70]:129 The book showed that dissent from the Church's teaching on sexuality was common among United States theologians. Reaction to its publication showed that the dissent was not unanimous, even within the Catholic Theological Society of America itself.[68][69]

Two of the best-known advocates for a more accepting position on homosexuality within the Catholic fold have been the Salvatorian priest Robert Nugent and the School Sister of Notre Dame nun Jeannine Gramick, who established New Ways Ministry in 1977.[71] This was in response to Bishop Francis Mugavero of Brooklyn who had invited them to reach out in "new ways" to lesbian and gay Catholics. As early as February 1976, Mugavero issued a pastoral letter entitled "Sexuality: God's Gift", defending the legitimate rights of all people, including those who were gay and lesbian. He said that they had been "subject to misunderstanding and at times unjust discrimination".[72] In addition to gay and lesbian Catholics, the letter also spoke to the widowed, adolescents, the divorced, and those having sexual relations outside of marriage, stating: "we pledge our willingness to help you try to find new ways to communicate the truth of Christ because we believe it will make you free."[73] These sentiments inspired the pastoral efforts by the co-founders to build bridges between differing constituencies in Catholicism.[74]


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.[65]

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.[65]:200 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".[75] The Vatican move made Nugent and Gramick "folk heroes in liberal circles", where official teaching is seen as outdated and lacking compassion.[71]

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.[76]

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", Keane argued, and should be "ever open to better expressions".[65]:200

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".[77] 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.[78][79][80][81]

Also in 1986, Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle was required to transfer authority concerning ministry to homosexuals to his auxiliary bishop. Hunthausen had earlier been investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for allowing Dignity, the association for gay Catholics, to hold Mass in Seattle cathedral on the grounds that: "They're Catholics too. They need a place to pray". As a result, according to John L. Allen, "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".[65]:201 In the same year Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, 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.[65]:200


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 James Alison, Tina Beattie, and Kevin T. Kelly.[82]

In January 2018 German bishop Franz-Josef Bode of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Osnabrück said in an interview with German journalists that blessing of same-sex unions in Roman Catholic churches in Germany is possible,[83] as did German Cardinal Reinhard Marx in February 2018.[84][85]

In 2006, Father Bernard Lynch became the first Catholic priest to undertake a civil partnership in the Republic of Ireland. He had previously had his relationship blessed in a ceremony in 1998 by an American Cistercian monk.[86] He was subsequently expelled from his religious order in 2011 and legally wed his husband in 2016.[87]

In 2012, a group of sixty-three former Catholic priests in the USA publicly announced their support for Referendum 74, which would make Washington the nation's seventh state to legalize marriage between same-sex couples. In a statement, they said: "We are uneasy with the aggressive efforts of Catholic bishops to oppose R-74 and want to support the 71 percent of Catholics (Public Religion Research Institute) who support civil marriage for gays as a valid Catholic position."[88]

In October 2014, Wendelin Bucheli, a priest in Bürglen in the west of Switzerland was removed from his diocese by the local bishop after performing a blessing for a lesbian couple. He said he had discussed it with other members of the clergy before making the decision to acknowledge the relationship.[89]

James Alison, a priest formerly a member of the Dominican Order and in the United Kingdom, has also 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."[90][91] 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."[92]

Lay opinionEdit


The United States has the fourth largest Catholic population in the world.[93] Catholic support for gay rights in the country is higher than that of other Christian groups and of the general population.[94][95] 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.[96]

In 2003, fewer than 35% of American Catholics supported same-sex marriage. However, a report by the Public Religion Research Institute on the situation in 2013 found that during that decade support for same-sex marriage has risen 22 percentage points among Catholics to 57%: 58% among white Catholics, 56% among Hispanic, with white Catholics more likely to offer "strong" support. Among Catholics who were regular churchgoers, 50% supported, 45% opposed.[97][98]

A 2011 report by the same organisation found that 73% of American Catholics favoured anti-discrimination laws, 63% supported the right of gay people to serve openly in the military, and 60% favoured 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.[99][94]

In June 2015, data from Pew Research suggested that 66% of American Catholics think it is acceptable for children to be brought up by with gay parents. More generally, 70% thought it acceptable for a gay couple to cohabit. Less than half believed that homosexuality should be regarded as a sin (44% of Catholics compared to 62% of Protestants); and a majority would like the church to be more flexible toward those who are in same-sex relationships, including the right to have marriages recognised.[100]

In August 2015, a poll jointly commissioned by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Religion News Service was released suggesting that on issues such as LGBT rights there is "a widening ideological gulf between Catholic leadership and people in the pews", as well as a more progressive attitude among Catholics compared to the US population more generally. 60% of Catholics favour allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 55% of Americans as a whole. Most Catholics (53%) said they did not believe same-sex marriage violated their religious beliefs. 76% of Catholics also said that they favoured laws that would protect LGBT people from discrimination (alongside 70% of Americans overall). Finally, around 65% of Catholics oppose policies which permit business owners the right to refuse service to customers who are LGBT by citing religious concerns (compared to 57% of Americans).[101]


A 2014 poll commissioned by the US Spanish-language network Univision of more 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 favor. 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).[102][103]

In January 2014 the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, strongly criticized the Catholic Church's approach to 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.[104]

The German bishops conference reported in February 2014 that in Germany "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"; and that there was "a 'marked tendency' among Catholics to accept legal recognition of same-sex unions as 'a commandment of justice' and they felt the Church should bless them, although most did not want gay marriage to be legalised".[105]

A YouGov poll held in the United Kingdom in 2015 found that Catholics had a more liberal attitude towards gay marriage than Protestants, although both groups are less accepting on the issues than the public as a whole. 50% of Catholics support gay marriage (compared to 45% of Protestants, and 66% of people in the UK as a whole).[106]

World Values SurveyEdit

Using data from the World Values Survey, Austrian political scientist Arno Tausch examined the opinions on homosexuality of respondents who identified as "practising" Roman Catholics (attending Mass at least once a week).[107] He found that homosexuality is broadly tolerated much more in developed than in developing countries, with the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe in a middle position.

The majority of practising Roman Catholics (i.e., more than 50%, in descending order of acceptance) in Andorra, Netherlands, Guatemala, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Italy, United States, Australia, Singapore, Spain, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Uruguay, Great Britain, Colombia, Switzerland, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, South Africa, France, Chile, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago would accept a homosexual neighbor. Similarly, a majority (i.e., more than 50%, in descending order) of practising Roman Catholics in the Netherlands, Andorra, Germany, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Philippines, United States, Great Britain, Singapore, Australia, Slovakia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Guatemala, Lebanon, Bosnia, Switzerland, Uruguay, Brazil, Malaysia, Chile, and the Dominican Republic also reject the opinion that homosexuality can never be justified.

Tausch concluded that in a number of countries the rejection of homosexuality among practising Roman Catholics is weaker than the societies in which they live (Bosnia, South Africa, Singapore, Indonesia, Nigeria, Guatemala, Lebanon, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, United States, Philippines, Ghana, Romania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, El Salvador, South Korea, and Zambia) and that the strong statistical relationship between the rejection of homosexuality and an open and liberal society suggests that the Catholic Church should reconsider its position on the issue as it is out of line with its adherants.


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 Xavier Nidorf, an Augustinian priest. 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".[108] In 1980, the Association of Priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago honored the Chicago branch of Dignity as the organization of the year. Meetings were initially held in San Diego and Los Angeles, before the organization ultimately became headquartered in Boston. It later spread to Canada. With the publication in 1987 of "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons", which instructed bishops not to provide facilities for organizations that did not uphold Catholic teaching on homosexuality, Catholic bishops in Atlanta, Buffalo, Brooklyn, Pensacola and Vancouver immediately excluded Dignity chapters, and "within a few months the organization was unwelcome on church property anywhere".[65]

Following a conference in Detroit in 1976 a group called Call to Action (CTA) was established is to advocate a variety of changes in the Catholic Church, including in the church's teaching on sexual matters such as homosexuality.[109] The bishop of Lincoln subsequently placed the group under the ban of excommunication within his diocese. Several other bishops have censured the organization. The excommunications were affirmed by the Congregation for Bishops in 2006.[110] Nevertheless, the organization has continued with a wide range of activities including annual conferences and regional groups, and in 2013 it attempted to broaden its appeal under the tagline "Inspire Catholics, Transform Church".[111]

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

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.[112][113][114] 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.[115] If denied, they go back to pews and remain standing,[114] but if the Eucharist is received then they go back to the pew and kneel in the traditional way.[116][117] Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, said that members of the Rainbow Sash Movement disqualified themselves from Communion by making reception of it a display of opposition to the Church's teaching,[118] while Archbishop Harry Joseph Flynn, when head of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, said that the decision to take Communion lay with individual Catholics as to their state of grace and freedom from mortal sin, but that receiving Communion should not be used as a protest.[119] The movement in Illinois also planned to hold in a cathedral prayer for legalization of same-sex marriage, an initiative that Bishop Paprocki of Springfield called blasphemous.[120][121]

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.[122] It was, however, taken out of the Catholic Directory because of its refusal to make clear its dissociation from active gay sexuality.[70]:128

There are other groups operating around the world. many organising prayer meetings and retreats and making common cause in their desire to maintain their Catholic faith without hiding their sexuality. Some have called for official recognition of permanent partnerships as an effective way to curb homosexual promiscuity. In Germany there is "Homosexuelle und Kirche" (HuK); in France, "David et Jonathan" (with 25 local branches); in Spain, "Coorinadora Gai-Lesbiana"; in Italy there are a number of groups based in different parts of the country—"Davide e Gionata" (Turin), "Il Guado" (Milan), "La Parola" (Vicenza), "L'Incontro" (Padua), "Chiara e Francesco" (Udine), "L'Archipelago" (Reggio Emilia), "Il Gruppo" (Florence), "Nuova Proposta" (Rome), and "Fratelli dell' Elpis" (Catanaia); in the Netherlands, "Stichting Dignity Nederland"; in Mexico, "Ottra Ovejas"; and in South Africa, "Pilgrims".[70]:128


On December 10, 1989, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) demonstrated both inside and outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York while Cardinal John O'Connor was celebrating a Mass attended by Mayor Edward I. Koch in protest at the Church's failure to respond positively to the AIDS crisis..[123] A group of 4,500 protesters gathered at the cathedral, and a few dozen activists entered the cathedral, interrupted Mass, chanted slogans, blew whistles, laid down in the aisles, and chained themselves to pews.[124][125] One protester desecrated the Eucharist by breaking it and throwing it to the floor.[123][124] One-hundred and eleven protesters were arrested, including 43 inside the church.[125][126][127]

In Los Angeles the same year, gay activists splattered bright red paint on four churches to protest Archbishop Roger M. Mahony and the US Bishops Conference's condemnation of condoms to fight AIDS.[128] They also pasted posted of Mahoney calling him a murderer.[128]

During an ordination of priests in Boston in 1990, ACT UP chanted and protested outside during the service.[129][130] In January 1998, 39-year-old Alfredo Ormando set fire to himself in St Peter's Square, Vatican City as a political protest against the Catholic Church's condemnation of homosexuality. He died shortly after from his injuries.

In Belgium in 2013, four topless women from FEMEN drenched archbishop André-Joseph Léonard with water during a public event to protest the Church's position on homosexuality.[131] The annual meeting of the bishops of the United States in 2000, including a Mass, was interrupted by a series of protests by gay activists from Soulforce, the Rainbow Sash, and others.[132] The protests came at the end of a year of protests for Soulforce, several of which resulted in arrests,[132] including 104 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.[133]

Defenders of official Church teachingEdit

Knights of ColumbusEdit

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organisation, have also been active in political campaigns across the United States in the area of same-sex marriage. The Order contributed over $14 million to help maintain the legal definition of marriage as one man and one woman in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington. Darren Hurwitz (a same-sex marriage proponent) has claimed that the Knights of Columbus has now become "one of the nation's largest funders of discrimination against gays and lesbians."[134]

Catholic Medical AssociationEdit

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."[135] In their official journal, a peer-reviewed academic journal focusing on bioethics, homosexuality has been variously defined as "same-sex attraction disorder",[136] a "psychological and behavioral condition for which people seek professional care",[137] and "neurotic character syndrome", characterised by "personality immaturity, self-victimization, and self-centeredness".[138] "MSM" (men who have sex with men) are claimed to have "a high rate of substance abuse problems and psychological disorders, and a significant percentage... have experienced childhood sexual abuse and other adverse events".[139]

Catholic LeagueEdit

The Catholic League, a Catholic anti-defamation and civil rights organization, has frequently opposed LGBT policies and positive depictions of gay men and women. Its president, Bill Donohue 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.[140] Donohue has repeatedly opposed the inclusion of LGBT groups in St Patrick's Day Marches across the US. After organizers of the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade announced in 2015 that they were ending the ban and allowing a gay group to march under its own banner for the first time, Donohue announced that the League would not march in the parade. He also indicated his belief that 'Corporate America' was lined up with the gay rights movement: "It's not a secret. And they've done the same thing here."[141]

In 2016 the Catholic League publicly supported the cancellation of the gay-themed sitcom, The Real O'Neals, which had been loosely based on the life of columnist Dan Savage and dealt with his conservative Catholic mother's reaction to his sexuality.[142]

Homosexuality and Catholic clergyEdit

Homosexual clergy, and homosexual activity by clergy, are not exclusively modern phenomena, but rather date back centuries.[143] Estimates presented in Donald B. Cozzens' book The Changing Face of the Priesthood of the percentage of contemporary gay priests range from 23–58%, suggesting a higher than average numbers of homosexual men (active and non-active) within the Catholic priesthood.[144]

A 1961 instruction from the Sacred Congregation for Religious on selecting men for the priesthood gave bishops discretion to allow gay men, but held them to the same standards of chastity as straight men.[145] In 1997, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued further guidelines for candidates for the seminary, stipulating "sufficient affective maturity and a clearly masculine sexual identity." In 2002 it said that admitting gay men would be inadvisable and imprudent.[146]

In November 2005, the Congregation for Catholic Education stated that "the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality."[147] In May 2008, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, acting on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, confirmed that the 2005 declaration applied to all Catholic seminaries everywhere.[148][149][150]

In October 2015, on the day before the second round of the Synod on the Family, a senior Polish priest working in the Vatican, Krzysztof Charamsa, stated publicly in Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper that he was gay and had a partner.[151] He said he had intended to draw attention to the Church's current attitude towards gay Catholics which he described as "backwards".

Homosexuality and the episcopacyEdit

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.[152] Homosexual activity was engaged in secretly. When it was made public, official response ranged from inaction to expulsion from Holy Orders.[153] 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.[153]

Although homosexual sexual acts have been consistently condemned by the Catholic Church, a number of senior members of the clergy have been found or alleged to have had homosexual relationships including Rembert Weakland,[154] Juan Carlos Maccarone,[155] Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira,[156] and Keith O'Brien.[157] A number of Popes were rumored to have been homosexual or to have had male sexual partners,[158][159] including Pope Benedict IX, Pope Paul II, Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Leo X, Pope Julius II and Pope Julius III.

Political activityEdit

Decriminalization of homosexualityEdit

National levelEdit

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.

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."[160]

In the 1970s and 1980s in Malta,[24] Belize,[27] and India,[161] the local churches opposed the decriminalization of homosexual acts. In New Zealand in the 1980s, although the Church declined to submit a formal response to the parliamentary enquiry on decriminalization, Cardinal Williams did issue a statement opposing homosexual law reform.[162] 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]

In Nigeria,[163] a number of senior bishops (including Cardinal John Onaiyekan, and Ignatius Ayau Kaigama (Archbishop of Jos) supported legislation making homosexual activity a crime. At least one bishop who was initially supportive later went on to argue that the Catholic Church would "defend any person with a homosexual orientation who is being harassed, who is being imprisoned, who is being punished". Reports suggested that the influence of Pope Francis may have led to him modifying his initial rhetoric.[164]

Days later a editorial in "The Southern Cross" (a newspaper run jointly by the bishops of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland) criticised the new Nigerian law, calling on the Catholic Church in Africa to stand with the powerless and "sound the alarm at the advance throughout Africa of draconian legislation aimed at criminalizing homosexuals." It noted the "deep-seated sense of homophobia" in Africa and said the Catholic church had too often been "silent, in some cases even quietly complicit" in the face of the new anti-gay measures.[49]

In Uganda, Catholic bishops (including Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga) urged Parliament to pass the anti-homosexuality bill,[23] and joined other religious leaders in calling on parliamentarians to make progress in enacting legislation that would broaden criminalisation of same-sex relations.[28] In 2015, Bishop Giuseppe Franzelli in the diocese of Lira, denied that the Catholic Church in Uganda is institutionally behind any push towards anti-gay legislation, and called for "respect and love". Rather he blamed fundamentalist US Christian groups as well as "individual Catholics, including some bishops" for encouraging greater criminal sanctions.[165] The Papal Nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Michael Blume, voiced concern and shock at the bill.[166]

Global levelEdit

In 2008, the Holy See, as an observer at the United Nations, opposed a proposed declaration opposing human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, such as criminalization, violence, and discrimination, and affirming the principles of human rights without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.[29][167][168]

Speaking on the floor of the General Assembly, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's representative at the United Nations General Assembly, 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] He added in an interview that the proposed declaration would put pressure on countries to enact gay marriage and allow gay couples to adopt children.[25][26][169]

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."[170] 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. 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.[171] Meanwhile, Cardinal Peter Turkson, while recognising that some of the sanctions imposed on homosexuals in Africa are an "exaggeration", stated that the "intensity of the reaction is probably commensurate with tradition". "Just as there's a sense of a call for rights, there's also a call to respect culture, of all kinds of people", he said. "So, if it's being stigmatized, in fairness, it's probably right to find out why it is being stigmatized." He also called for distinction to be made between human rights and moral issues.[172]

Discrimination against gay men and womenEdit

The Catholic Church has been described as sending "mixed signals" regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation. It does not regard such an orientation as comparable to gender or race differentiation, and so actively opposes the extension of at least some aspects of civil rights legislation to gay men and lesbians.[36]:194 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". The statement 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", as well as in public housing. It said that such a limitation of rights is permissible, and sometimes even obligatory, to "protect the common good".[173]

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."[174][175]

Europe and AustraliaEdit

In 1995, Catholic bishops in Poland were successful in resisting the introduction of provisions into the country's constitution that would bar discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.[176] In 2010, the European Union reprimanded schools and colleges owned by the Catholic Church for refusing to employ staff that were openly gay.[177]

In February 2018 the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference publicly intervened to call for a religious freedom act which it argued would protect protect religious exemptions to discrimination law in a submission to the Ruddock religious freedom review. It argues the right not to have to employ LGB staff or teachers if doing so would undermine Church teaching and risk their contribution as role models to students.[178]


In May 2014 Lewis Zeigler, the Archbishop of Monrovia, Liberia, was reported as saying against the backdrop of the Ebola outbreak that "one of the major transgressions against God for which He may be punishing Liberia is the act of homosexuality".[179]

In 2015, at the Synod on the Family in Rome Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea compared the promotion of equal rights for gay people as akin to support for totalitarian regimes such as Nazism: "We need to be inclusive and welcoming to all that is human; but what comes from the Enemy cannot and must not be assimilated. You cannot join Christ and Belial. What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion Ideologies and Islamic Fanaticism are today."[180]

South AmericaEdit

In 2011 a Catholic bishop in Peru, Luis Bambarén, was forced to apologize for using the derogatory word "maricon" 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."[181]

United StatesEdit

In 1999, the trustees of the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic university, rejected a proposal to amend their antidiscrimination clause to include sexual orientation along with characteristics such as race, color, and gender.[182] Faculty and students disapproved of the decision, and students reacted with hunger strikes and demonstrations.[70]:131

In 2013, the United States Conference of Bishops opposed bill that 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.[183] 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".[184]

The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops intervened in 2017 in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case being considered by the US Supreme Court. It filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the baker who had refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. It was joined by other Catholic organisations including the Colorado Catholic Conference, Catholic Bar Association, Catholic Medical Association, National Association of Catholic Nurses-USA and National Catholic Bioethics Centre.[185]

Courts have upheld the dismissal of church employees for entering into same sex marriages.[186] DignityUSA reports that more than 100 employees of Catholic institutions across the US have lost their posts from 2014-17 for being gay or for marrying a same-sex spouse.[187]

Campaign against same-sex marriage and civil unionsEdit

The Catholic Church has intervened in national political discourses to enact legislative and constitutional provisions establishing marriage as the union of a man and a woman, in line with the Church's teaching on marriage - resisting efforts by secular 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 "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons" opposing 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."

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. 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.

In Spain and Portugal, Catholic leaders led the opposition to same-sex marriage, urging their followers to vote against it. 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. 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.

Church leaders have also opposed the introduction of gay marriage in Australia, Uruguay, Cameroon, and Nigeria. In the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has been increasingly vocal in its opposition to legal recognition of same-sex relationships. In Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong Hon, has used pastoral letters on two occasions to criticise proposals to legislate for same-sex marriage.

Acceptance of civil unionsEdit

Former Cardinal Archbishop of Milan Carlo Maria Martini said: "I disagree with the positions of those in the Church, that take issue with civil unions ...[but] the homosexual couple, as such, can never be totally equated to a marriage."

There has been some dissent expressed in recent years by senior and notable figures in the Catholic Church on whether support should be given for homosexual civil unions.

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. [188]

In his book Credere e conoscere, published shortly before his death, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, supported civil unions, though stated they could not be considered the equivilant of heterosexual marriages. He also said he understood the need for gay self-affirmation.[189][190] Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota and Archbishop Piero Marini have both expressed support for civil unions,[191][192] while Godfried Danneels, Archbishop Emeritus of Brussels, has called the legalisation of same-sex civil marriage.

The Bishop of Antwerp, Johan Bonny, called in 2016 for the Church to devise a blessing for homosexual couples that would recognize the "exclusiveness and stability" of such unions.[193] German cardinal Reinhard Marx and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode have both opined that the blessing of same-sex unions would be possible in Catholic churches in Germany.[84][85][83] In Austria the blessing of same sex unions are allowed in at least two churches,[194] both located in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Linz.[195]

In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aachen in Germany, five same-sex unions received a blessing from the local priest in the German town of Mönchengladbach.[196] Additionally, in 2007, one same-sex union received a blessing in the German town of Wetzlar in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Limburg.[197] A blessing of a same-sex union, equivalent to marriage except name, was made by a Catholic Dominican priest in Malta in 2015. He was not publicly censured by his local bishop.[198][199][200]

Cardinal Rainer Woelki, the Archbishop of Berlin,[note 4] and the Archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Heße,[201] have both noted the values of fidelity and reliability found in gay relationships. At the 2015 Synod of Bishops in Rome, Cardinal Reinhard Marx urged his fellow bishops that "We must make it clear that we do not only judge people according to their sexual orientation ... If a same-sex couple are faithful, care for one another and intend to stay together for life God won't say 'All that doesn't interest me, I'm only interested in your sexual orientation.'" [202]

Over 260 Catholic theologians, particularly from Germany, Switzerland and Austria, 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".[203]

Diplomatic disagreementsEdit

In January 2015, the French government announced that it was proposing Laurent Stefanini (fr) as its ambassador to the Holy See. Stefanini was chief of protocol for President François Hollande and had served as France's Head of Mission to the Vatican from 2001 to 2005. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, sent a letter to Pope Francis in support of Stefanini,[204] a practicing Roman Catholic who is reported to be gay, but has not spoken publicly of his sexuality, nor entered into a legal same-sex relationship. He publicly supported the legalization of same-sex marriage in France in 2013.[205] The Pope met with Stefanini for forty minutes on 17 April.[206] By October the Vatican had neither accepted nor rejected the appointment, and press speculation blamed either Stefanini's sexual orientation, France's recent legalization of same-sex marriage, or Vatican displeasure with the fact that the nomination was leaked for political reasons.[207][208] France named Stefanini its ambassador to UNESCO in April 2016.[209]

Notable lesbian, gay and bisexual CatholicsEdit

There have been a number of notable gay Catholics throughout history. Writers such as Oscar Wilde, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Lord Alfred Douglas, Marc-André Raffalovich, Robert Hugh Benson, Frederick Rolfe, and John Gray, and artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, were influenced by both their Catholicism and their homosexuality, via the physicality and eroticism of the image of Christ and the idea of a relationship with him. Gay Catholic academics such as John J. McNeill 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 or Jean O'Leary, who was a Roman Catholic Religious Sister before becoming a lesbian and gay rights activist.

See alsoEdit


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