Same-Gender Love “Not a Natural Condition,” Says Vatican Official

A senior Vatican official who defended the reception of Communion by divorced and remarried Catholics has said such openness does not apply to same-gender relationships, which he said were “not a natural condition.”


Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, made his comments in a recent interview with Crux.

The cardinal sparked headlines earlier this month for publishing a booklet in which he defended Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. Crux reported further:

“Asked if this interpretation applies also to gay couples who live together, some civilly married too, Coccopalmerio said that it’s ‘clearly’ not the same situation because for Church teaching and doctrine, ‘it’s not a natural condition. We can accept them, welcome them, accept their decision, but it’s not [the same].'”

The booklet, titled The Eighth Chapter of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’, was offered as a “simplification” against claims by more traditionalist Catholics that there was doctrinal confusion, Coccopalmerio said. Though not released in any formal capacity, his comments are especially noteworthy because the Pontifical Council he oversees is charged with interpreting church documents. He is also a member of both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Apostolic Signatura.

Coccopalmerio’s reasoning is worth a closer consideration given his tenuous claim that same-gender couples can not be included in his communion idea. In the booklet, the cardinal explained the conditions under which a Catholic in a “non-legitimate” heterosexual relationship could receive Communion: the person is “conscious of the wrongness of the situation, has the desire to change it but can’t because it would hurt innocent people, such as the children,” and has consulted a priest and/or bishop to find a “common solution” through dialogue. America reported on a case study offered by the cardinal:

“He cited as an example the case of a woman who is free to marry according to church law and decides to enter into a stable relationship and lives with a married man, whose wife had left him with three young children. In such a case, he explained, ‘the children would now consider her their mother and for the man, she is his life,’ as she means everything to him. If she eventually recognizes the problem with her situation and decides to leave, then her husband and children will find themselves in great difficulty. But the cardinal said, ‘If this woman concludes “I cannot leave. I cannot do such harm to them,” then this situation, where she wants to change but cannot change, opens the possibility of admissions to the sacraments.’

“In such a situation, the cardinal said, there is the recognition of sin and the sincere desire to change but also the impossibility of making it happen. In this situation, he would tell her, ‘remain in this situation, and I absolve you.’ While he said that he has never had to refuse absolution to anyone, the cardinal nevertheless insisted that ‘one cannot give absolution except to persons who are repentant and desire or want to change their situation, even if they cannot put their desire into practice now because that would harm innocent persons.’ In this way, he said, ‘the doctrine is safeguarded but takes account of the impossibility.’

Coccopalmerio also said that ideally such a couple should live without sexual intimacy, but also noted that Amoris Laetitia referenced Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes, where it is acknowledged that lack of such intimacy could deeply harm relationships. It may be impossible, he admitted, for couples in “non-legitimate” situations to practice complete abstinence. He ultimately affirmed the necessity of Catholics in these situations to make a conscience decision.

I explained his reasoning in such detail above because as I read the interview, I wondered why his reasoning about Catholics who are divorced and remarried cannot, in his estimation, apply to Catholics in same-gender relationships. If his positions are accepted and engaged, then shouldn’t same-gender couples be able to receive Communion after consulting a priest, making penance, and following their consciences, even if they remain in such situations? Granted, given the Magisterium’s present articulations of church doctrine, there are differences between the two groups, but appeals to conscience make no such distinctions. Every person is mandated to follow the decisions of a properly formed conscience.

The reason for Coccopalmerio’s dissonance is his statement about same-gender relationships as “not a natural condition.” Such a statement reveals inadequate knowledge about sexuality, and likely an unfamiliarity with the lives of LGB people. He appears unable to imagine same-gender relationships as loving and generative, and worse yet, he seems to imply LGB people have less moral agency than their heterosexual peers.

Cardinal Coccopalmerio is not the first, and sadly will not be the last, church leader to hold such errant views about sexuality. But I find his remarks particularly disheartening. When news of his booklet first broke, I was glad to see a Vatican official so willing to practice the mercy and respect for conscience called for by Pope Francis. That he could not extend that willingness to include LGBT people greatly undercuts his message. I pray his eyes will be opened to that natural and divine spark found and mixed-gender and same-gender relationships alike.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2017

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit

11 replies
  1. lynne1946
    lynne1946 says:

    Your comment is so true. If the decision of being able in good conscience to receive the sacrament is left to the individual and his well formed conscience, then let it be so!
    Perhaps someone needs to inform the Cardinal that as homosexual people are created by God, they cannot be unnatural.

  2. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    First of all, how does Cardinal Coccopalmieri know that these are not natural relationships? If you grow up knowing you are gay , how is that not natural ?. it is like growing up being white,or Asian, or black. It is who you are. Secondly, who cares what he says or any church “leader” who is wrong repeatedly ?

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    In both instances of coupling, the Cardinal requires of the individuals that they say they have knowingly committed a sin and will continue to do so. This is contrary to any teaching on forgiveness of which I am aware. If there is no intention to change then their is no forgiveness. To ask that couples participate in this kind of lie is what got the Church in hot water over the sex abuse scandal. The Church must face reality. The couples have decided that how they are living is not a sin, but a sign of participation in God’s love. To deny that gift would be a real sin and for the Church to ask them to participate in such a charade is obscene. As you say we pray for clarity of sight and openness of heart for the leaders of our Church.

  4. Larry
    Larry says:

    The unnatural condition is having an 80 year old celebite make the “rules” for who is in or out for taking Communion. And then making a heterosexual person jump through all these hoops before he/she could get a hall pass to receive Jesus. This fellow is wildly out of touch with real life.

  5. James Robert Green
    James Robert Green says:

    Bob, now you know why Jim and Bill joined the Ecumenical Community at Holy Wisdom Monastery these past 22 years. These Hierarchy are so out of touch it boggles the mind. We liked your article in the NCR as well. Jim

  6. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    “Coccopalmerio said that it’s ‘clearly’ not the same situation because for Church teaching and doctrine, ‘it’s not a natural condition.” And that is the crux of the problem. “Doctrine” supersedes reality. One of the roots of homophobia is the doctrine that same gender sexual relationships are immoral. Until facts are valued more than beliefs, this problem will remain.

  7. Don Siegal
    Don Siegal says:

    Formation of Conscience & Anti-Intellectualism

    Bob, thank you for all the time and effort you put into this Bondings 2.0 article. These are my comments supported by citations.

    I agree with you that Cardinal Coccopalmerio is uninformed. He grants that divorced and remarried Catholics may have primacy of an informed conscience, but gay and lesbian couples do not have the exact same privilege. His ignorance can be marked up as an example of anti-intellectualism.

    Alex Berezow writes in Anti-Intellectualism Is Biggest Threat to Modern Society: Rejecting the collective wisdom of scientists, economists, academics, and journalists is applauded…[T]he thoughtless dismissal of expertise ultimately underlies all of the anti-science movements in America, from denial of evolution to rejection of biotechnology. Regulation and litigation have replaced scientific investigation.

    The real life experience of Gregory Bourke and Michael De Lone can be used as an example of a same sex couple in unusual circumstances. They have become central to the lives of their children and the life of their community. Is that not analogous to the example that Cardinal Coccopalmerio gave concerning the opposite sex couple? If Greg and Michael were to get out of their unusual circumstances, it would cause un-restorable harm to the common good.

    In recognition of the good they do the National Catholic Reporter wrote in an editorial: One Catholic couple who can–—and do—tell the story of the benefits of same-sex marriage are Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon of Louisville. In a committed relationship for 33 years (and married in Can­ada in 2004), Bourke and De Leon are lifelong practicing Catholics and active members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish for 28 years. Together, they are reising two children. By all accounts, they have become vital to their community.

    For their historic roles as plaintiffs in Obergefell v. Hodges and for their faithful public witness as gay Catholics, we name Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon NCR’s persons of the year for 2015.

    Cardinal Coccopalmerio is uninformed because of his anti-intellectualism. That is unfortunate for him and for LGBT persons of any faith or belief. Particularly LGBT persons who are also Catholics.

  8. Anton
    Anton says:

    I love the Cardinal’s name: Coconut Palm Tree. Jesus said: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Was he referring to his love for women alone? The disciple John was not asked to remove his head from Jesus’ chest. He was invited to listen to the heartbeat and get his to “catch the beat”! The “arguments” that are proposed a la tradition seem to me more than outmoded. The old “God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” is still so bandied about. But Adam and Eve had CAIN AND ABEL and not Cain and Mabel!! Are men supposed to murder one another rather than love one another? Just ruminating here. The same MEN who say same-gender relationships are forbidden can’t explain why Jesus hung around with 12 favorite men and only let the women tag along. (though I don’t believe the women were only tag-alongs with heavy purses!) Is Jesus an “un-natural person?” Lots of questions and I’ll keep wrestling with them until I wrestle out a blessing. And I’m already receiving and relishing many blessings. Peace and LOVE!!

  9. bjmonda
    bjmonda says:

    It seems to me that Homosexuality is truly natural or why would it have existed since the earliest days that research is possible and still persist today with very little support from society dating from when religions first started to condemn it.

    It evidently was Natural prior to that and also still found so in societies not bound by restrictive religions as well as being natural in the world of mammals, birds and other creatures who display a wide variety of means of procreation.

    On the contrary, the institution of Marriage is NOT NATURAL. Non- monogamous relationships existed prior to the “institution of marriage” which was in my view one of the primary reasons for the popularity of the Old Testament. The Jews instituted the “COVENANT of marriage” so men would have control, really ownership, of THEIR WOMEN and their wombs and their children.

    Humans as a whole are not monogamous still to this day. Men, more so than women. But now “MARRIAGE” IS SOCIETIES WAY OF SUPPORTING A BONDED long term relationship for the sake of, not only children but also for the stability and safety of others preyed upon by the problematic testosterone laden males. Think alpha Gorilla! So marriage is not Natural but helpful. It gives men an even chance at spreading their DNA and women just need to be very careful about saying “yes” and continue evolving in equality because there is still a way big proportion of men who OWN women. BIGGLY!!

    So our dear cardinal is wrong…

  10. Albertus
    Albertus says:

    I donot read, that the Cardinal (who is not the Highest Authority, anyway) actually states that catholic gay couples may not receive Communion. He just says – almost hysterically – that ”it is not the same thing”, meaning, that a gay couple is not the same thing as an irregular heterosexual couple. His statement seems more grounded in fear rather than in ignorance : he probably is terrified of this opening to irregular straight couples being used by gay couples, for fear of alienating the opponents of this opening even more, and for fear of seeming ”pro-gay” or – God forbid – even gay himself! Which is silly, and sad.


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