Three More Bishops Seek Change in Church Teachings on Homosexuality

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich

Three more bishops have expressed a desire for the church to reconsider the language of “disorder” in church teachings on homosexuality.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg stated his concerns with the Catechism’s language of “intrinsically disordered” in an interview with Glas Koncila. Hollerich, who is Relator General for the Synod and was recently appointed as a member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals, was asked about previous comments he made critical of church teaching on homosexuality. He responded:

“When Church teaching was made, the term homosexuality did not even exist. Homosexuality is a new word; even in the time of Saint Paul people had no idea that there might be men and women attracted to the same sex. . .

“Sodomy was seen as something merely orgiastic at the time, typical of married people who entertained slaves for personal lust. But how can you condemn people who cannot love except the same sex? For some of them it is possible to be chaste, but calling others to chastity seems like speaking Egyptian to them.”

Hollerich rejected the conflation of a homosexual orientation with the church’s condemnation of sodomy, saying “sodomy is also present among married men and women.” His focus instead was on how the church should welcome and accompany lesbian and gay people. Asked about the need for such people to remain chaste, the cardinal answered:

“‘We can only charge people with moral conduct they can bear in their world. If we ask impossible things of them, we will put them off. If we say everything they do is intrinsically wrong, it is like saying their life has no value. Many young people came to me as a father and spoke to me about being homosexual. And what does a father do? Does he throw them out or embrace them unconditionally? . . .[H]omosexual people must feel welcome in our house. Otherwise, they will go away. . .

“‘A homosexual person will always love people of the same sex. We should not reduce homosexuality to inordinate sexual relations. That is a very crude way of understanding a human person. . .

“‘I find the part of the teaching calling homosexuality »intrinsically disordered« a bit dubious. Still, we have to accept all the people and make them feel the love of God. If they feel it, I am sure it will change something in their heart.'”

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago also called for a re-evaluation of the church’s language about homosexuality, though did not suggest that the actual teachings themselves should change. America reported:

“Asked if he agrees with the proposal to alter the language used in the Catechism, Cardinal Cupich said yes. ‘Anytime language comes across as hurtful to people, the church has an obligation to examine that,’ he said. ‘I would hope that the church would always be willing to examine the way it speaks, especially if it’s made known to us that it’s hurtful and that it is categorically exclusive of individuals.’

“Cardinal Cupich said that concepts present in church teaching can be preserved even while altering language to make it less ‘cold, calculated, harsh language that, in some ways, is a door-closer.’

“He said that the church must express its teaching in ways that attract people to Jesus.

“‘Language has to be, in some way, speaking to people in a way that brings healing,’ the cardinal said. ‘Maybe there are some concepts within an expression of doctrine that will have to be attended to, but that doesn’t mean that the language itself can’t change.'”

Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, in a webinar for the National Catholic Reporter, stated that the language of “objectively disordered” needed change. Asked whether he agreed with Cardinals Cupich and Robert McElroy of San Diego, Stowe commented:

“‘I would love to see that language changed, because it does more harm than good in the church today. It does more harm to individuals who already struggle with their self-understanding and their relationship with the church.'”

These three church leaders add momentum to a conversation about harmful language that has been renewed under Pope Francis. Last month, McElroy stated on a podcast interview that the language of disorder does a “disservice” and is “a terrible word” that “should be taken out of the catechism.” Back in 2019, Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said the language was “very unfortunate” and should evolve to be “a little less hurtful.” In 2015, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia said  that the church needed “new language to speak about homosexuality.” The issue of church language about homosexuality was prominent during both the Synod on the Family in 2014 and 2015, as well as the Synod on Youth in 2018.

Episcopal resistance to the language of disorder in church teaching, though suppressed for a time, dates back to the early 1990s. Several U.S. bishops criticized such a description in the wake of the Vatican’s 1986 letter on pastoral care for homosexual persons, in which the language was introduced. In their 1997 pastoral letter “Always Our Children,” the U.S. bishops omitted such language until the Vatican intervened and instructed them to add the language in footnotes for a revised version.

Insights from local reports for the Synod on Synodality show that Catholics worldwide seek more inclusive and compassionate treatment of LGBTQ+ people by the institutional church. Revising the language of disorder in the Catechism will not resolve that issue entirely, but it would be a significant step towards stopping harm and supporting reconciliation efforts.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 30, 2023

6 replies
  1. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    How many decades or centuries of pontification (pardon the pun) will it take to strike the word “disordered” from the Catechism and Church teaching?

    It could be done today, with a single statement by Francis, and leadership on his behalf to make sure it’s done. In short, the same pope many of us love, for the words he speaks, falls short when it comes to action.

  2. Nancy H Corcoran
    Nancy H Corcoran says:

    The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – St. Louis Province just engaged Dr. Daniel A Helminiak in a three day presentation of his What the Bible REALLY Says about Homosexuality. The responses to these three days is so liberating. Helminiak’s insights re: our Church’s historical struggle with new information was profound and delightfully pastoral. What a blessing! I wonder why I’ve never read about him in New Ways posts???

  3. Paul Morrissey
    Paul Morrissey says:

    Thank you Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, and the bishops/cardinals who seek language change (at the very least) in the Church about LGBTQ people. Get to know an LGBTQ person and the language and teaching will change.

  4. Deacon Thomas Smith
    Deacon Thomas Smith says:

    Our bishops are learned men. Any rudimentary study of biology should convince them that anomaly is not disorder. Is an albino tiger “disordered”? Is an egg with two yolks “disordered”? No! They are expressions of God’s boundless creativity, as are LGBT folks.

  5. K.J. GEORGE
    K.J. GEORGE says:

    First, these three churchmen deserve unconditional praise for speaking out clearly about the language related to homosexuality matters. It deserves our attention and effort to force the Church to rewrite the rules and regulations with milder terms. The present situation drives homosexual people away from the church. They come to the Church to get accepted and if we keep rejecting it will finally do great harm to the Church. St.Paul never heard about or spoke about homosexuality. That means it was non-existent, it is a new avatar. We must be lenient with homosexual people. The God Almighty made them like that and we must accept them. The Church must never try to do anything to isolate them from the community and rewrite all texts and teachings of the past. This will be more pleasing to Christ and our Lord God.

    K J George
    e-mail: [email protected]

  6. Bob Hare
    Bob Hare says:

    It is almost like back in the age of Galileo when the church slowly acknowledged that the earth was not the cernter of our universe but the sun! Thanks to these three bishops who are trying to welcome LGBTQ+ people saying that God loves them.

    Opening some old notes I found this entry; Yes, Dr. Daniel Helminiack spoke at the New Ways Symposium in Pittsburgh on March 7th. to the 9th., 1997 I was asked and honored to introduce Helminiack at his workshop because I was familiar with the group. I had also read his book and still have it; “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.”

    To celebrate, I think I will go out to breakfast tomorrow and order a Disordered Breakfast. I would like my egg (with two yokes) over light.


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