Catholics Advocating for Change in Church Teaching on Homosexuality

Compiled by Robert Shine and Dwayne Fernandes, New Ways Ministry

(Updated September 19, 2019)


Church Leaders

February: Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin and Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna issue statements pointing toward a more open discussion of LGBT and marriage issues.

March: Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier tells a German publication that the church “cannot simply say homosexuality is unnatural” and that it “could not just ignore registered same-sex unions where the couples had promised to be faithful to and responsible for one another.”

March: Archbishop Italo Castellani of Lucca, Italy, calls for the Church to re-think the negative way it thinks about lesbian and gay people.

June: Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London), addressing a global summit to end sexual violence in conflict, offers a different definition of sexuality that focus on sexual activity in the context of “authentic freedom,” rather than the Christian marriage language focused on by many bishops.

October: Ahead of the Synod on the Family, Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp calls for conscience to be restored to its rightful place in Catholic reflections on marriage and family as Vatican II intended.

October: Bishop Geoffrey Robinson calls a reform of sexual ethics so they are based on Jesus’ teaching, saying: “I suggest, therefore, that we should look at sexual morality in terms of the good or harm done to persons and the relationships between them rather than in terms of a direct offence against God.”

October: The Synod on the Family’s mid-term relatio document seems to signal a new direction for how the Catholic Church regards gay and lesbian people and relationships. But the final report backtracks on LGBTQ issues, even as the overall process showed a new openness to discussion that provides hope for further development down the road.

October: “The church’s doctrine”, says Cardinal Reinhard Marx, “doesn’t depend on the spirit of time but can develop over time. Saying that the doctrine will never change is a restrictive view of things.”

December: For the first time in known history, a Roman Catholic bishop has explicitly called for the Church to recognize and bless committed same-gender relationships. Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp explains:

“Personally, I find that in the church more space must be given to acknowledge the actual quality of gay and lesbian couples; and such a form of shared-life should meet the same criteria as found in an ecclesiastical marriage.… And we have to acknowledge that such criteria can be found in a diversity of relationships and one needs to search for various models to give form to those relationships.”

Clergy, Religious, and Lay Catholics

January: Former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, makes strong criticisms of the Catholic Church, condemning the hierarchy’s mostly negative approach to homosexuality and calling for greater transparency.

January: In Germany, two theological associations are highly critical of the hierarchy’s teaching on sexual ethics.

April: Theologian Lisa Fullam’s pens an essay that uses the Catholic intellectual tradition to argue that support for civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples is in line with our church’s best ideas about marriage, civil society, and church-state relations.

July: Benedictine Sr. Teresa Forcades of Spain challenges the church’s thinking about sexuality and relationships, saying:

“I think that homosexual love is perfectly understandable to the church, because it has what is essential: it’s not having children, but an open intimacy to an interpersonal relationship that includes respect for the integrity of the other. Two people who love one another, desire one another, and respect one another are giving testimony: this is the sacrament, a visible sign — like baptism — that’s saying, ‘This creature is accepted in this community as any other.’ “

November: Fr. Charles Curran openly calls for the Catholic Church to rethink and, ultimately, change some of its moral teachings on sexuality, including gay and lesbian relationships.

November: Gerald W. Schlabach, a Catholic professor of moral theology, develops the idea that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will strengthen marriage for all couples, and will do so because such an extension of the marriage institution will help us understand what its essence is.


Church Leaders

January: Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, says, “Being a homosexual is not a sin” and calls on gay and lesbian believers to embrace holiness.

January: Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich makes several statements that indicate that he is eager for a more welcoming and open approach to lesbian and gay people in the Church.

June: Months before he died, Chicago’s conservative Cardinal Francis George made some surprisingly positive remarks in a private letter to a gay friend about his friend’s relationship, life, and the possibility of doctrinal change.

September: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna offers model for pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay couples.

October: Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, commenting on the Synod on the Family’s final report that omitted extensive discussion of LGBTQ issues, says that omission was a positive sign because “the synod was not prepared to discuss the question”and more conversation that includes sciences, Scripture, and theology is necessary for a “good and complete” discussion.

Clergy, Religious, and Lay Catholics

March: Arthur Fitzmaurice, speaking at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, criticizes the magisterium’s damaging theological language and harmful practices with a special appeal to protect LGBT youth.

March: Professor Gary Gutting – a University of Notre Dame philosophy professor – says that it is time for church leaders to “undertake a thorough rethinking of its teachings on sexual ethics, including premarital sex, masturbation and remarriage after divorce.”

July: DignityUSA and its members call on the leaders and members of the Roman Catholic Church to ensure that all of the sacraments of the Church be administered regardless of the gender identity, sexual orientation, or relational status of the person(s) seeking the sacrament.


Clergy, Religious, and Lay Catholics

May: Patrick McCormick, a professor of Christian ethics,  interprets natural law theory in a way that can be used to affirm lesbian and gay relationships.

June: Appealing to lesbian and gay Catholics to remain in the church, Fr. Klaus Mertes says the church must change its “deficient mindset” on homosexuality and must defend human rights.

July: Roy Bourgeois calls for the Catholic Church to change its teachings on homosexuality.


Church Leaders

January: Bishops in Malta publish a document on applying Amoris Laetitia, the apostolic exhortation on family released by Pope Francis, in which they emphasize conscience and the need to think carefully about Catholics’ relationships:

“In pastoral discernment it is important to distinguish between one situation and another. In some cases, ‘the choice of a civil marriage or, in many cases, of simple cohabitation, is often not motivated by prejudice or resistance to a sacramental union, but by cultural or contingent situations’ (AL 294) and, therefore, the degree of moral responsibility is not the same for all cases. . .

“Throughout the discernment process, we need to weigh the moral responsibility in particular situations, with due consideration to the conditioning restraints and attenuating circumstances.”

Clergy, Religious, and Lay Catholics

September: Noted theological ethicist Sr. Margaret Farley argues that there is no good reason to limit marriage only to heterosexual couples.


Church Leaders

January: German Cardinal Reinhard Marx states that decisions about sexual morality must be discerned according to a well-formed conscience respecting the interplay of freedom and responsibility.

Clergy, Religious, and Lay Catholics

March: In advance of the Synod on Youth, young people from around the world have issued a call for the Catholic Church to openly and honestly address matters of sexuality, including homosexuality.

June: Irish Catholics ahead of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin and Pope Francis’ visit call for the church to change church teaching’s language about LGBTQ people.

June: In an interview on the eve of Dublin’s LGBT Pride Parade, the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, has called Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality “evil.”


Church Leaders

February: Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen calls for the Church to rethink its teachings on homosexuality and condemned problematic aspects of those teachings which have caused people harm:

“It is high time for the Church to conduct the debate on the perception and appraisal of homosexuality in such a way that the barely healed scars of past wounds are not once again torn open’. . .

“This particularly applies to homosexuality because – according to this assumption — such a negative Church view (as that expressed in Church teaching) has promoted and encouraged a psychologically and institutionally unhealthy repression, or even denial, of this expression of sexuality. . .

“One thing is certain: Every human being can most respectfully and lovingly enter into interpersonal relationships. Excluding certain groups is therefore the expression of a prejudice which is hard to bear for those excluded and in the final instance leads to discriminating against or even criminalizing them.”

April: Longtime LGBTQ advocate Bishop Thomas Gumbleton has called for the Church to re-evaluate its teachings on homosexuality in light of science, particularly in Church leaders’ use of the term “intrinsically disordered.”

April: Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg begins a process to discuss blessings for people in relationships that cannot be married in the Catholic Church, including same-gender couples.

May: Cardinal Joseph Tobin describes church teaching’s language about homosexuality as “very unfortunate” and said he hopes it will become “a little less hurtful” in the future.

Clergy, Religious, and Lay Catholics

January: The Catholic Church must treat LGBT people as a reality and develop a theology of sex and gender that reflects that reality, writes theologian Craig Ford of Fordham University.

February: Leading Catholics in Germany release an open letter calling for a “new start with sexual morality” that includes a call for a re-evaluation of the church’s approach to homosexuality.