a collection of POSITIVE CATHOLIC writings on GAY & LESBIAN ISSUES
VOICES of HOPE
Jeannine Gramick & Robert Nugent
“It is our hope that this resource, published in June, 1995, will arouse and sustain the consciousness of the Catholic community on gay and lesbian issues. May it provide encouragement and support for justice and reconciliation.
We hope that this offering might heal some of the pastoral problems among gay and lesbian Catholics. There are multiple voices speaking within the Church today. Not all of them are harsh or insensitive to lesbian and gay lives.
The “voices” in this collection challenge us to take whatever steps are called for to embody these courageous words in our lives together as followers of Christ. They call us to help structure and shape our political and ecclesial institutions and communities as models of justice and compassion. They ask us to examine our attitudes and practices towards others, and to recognize and negotiate human differences.
We hope that this publication may provide motivation and encouragement for all those who still believe it is crucial to speak honestly and respectfully to each other. We hope that in the not-too-distant future it will be necessary to publish an updated and expanded edition to include additional statements and pastoral plans that will be forthcoming from Catholic sources. May we work together, despite our differences, for a world and church transformed by the truth and compassion of the One who is the ultimate Voice of Hope for the world.”
From the Preface
The editors wish to express their gratitude to the individuals and groups whose writings are gathered together in this collection. We value their courageous and honest attempts to aid the Catholic community in its task of appropriating, deepening and living the truths of the Catholic tradition and the truths of the human experience in the lives of gay and lesbian people. We also with to thank Stephen Benzek and Francis DeBernardo for their valuable technical expertise in helping bring this work to fruition.
In 1977 we founded New Ways Ministry to promote justice and reconciliation between lesbian and gay Catholics and the wider Catholic community. An account of those early years and a brief history of our ministry and its struggles is told in Building Bridges: Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church (Twenty-Third Publications, 1992). During our leadership at New Ways Ministry, one of our top priorities was to document and circulate official Church statements on homosexuality dealing with pastoral ministry, prejudice and homophobia, civil rights, and theological developments.
One of our first publishing efforts was the editing of a small resource booklet entitled A Time to Speak, which went through two editions in 1978 and 1982, and an additional updating in 1986. It contained a chronological anthology of statements from individual United States bishops, episcopal conferences, Catholic newspapers, diocesan organizations, and other official Catholic agencies. A Time To Speak was popular and useful in showing a slow evolution of awareness and support in the Catholic community about civil rights and pastoral ministry for gay and lesbian persons.
In 1986, New Ways Ministry published a second resource book edited by John Gallagher entitled Homosexuality and the Magisterium. This was a collection of official statements appearing between 1975 and 1985. Many of these documents were more complete, in-depth treatments than the small excerpts in A Time to Speak. They included pastoral letters, diocesan plans of ministry, and interviews with individual bishops. This collection proved helpful to pastors, theologians, scholars, social justice activists, and others engaged in gay and lesbian ministry. Many used it to analyze continuing developments in the Church’s understanding of and articulation about homosexuality, civil rights, and homophobia.
In order to provide a comprehensive portrait of the situation at that time, the editor included a few documents which were not sensitive, knowledgeable, or useful as models of ministry. In the introduction, Gallagher noted that some of the statements were “examples of the serious confusion in concepts and terminology, a one-sided preoccupation with sexual behaviors, an insensitivity in language, and an obvious lack of any serious or prolonged consultation with the real lives and experiences of homosexual Christians” (p. 3). 1
This new anthology, Voices of Hope, draws in part on those two previous works. We have decided not to include any statements which reveal an obvious ignorance of scientific knowledge, have caused further pain for gay and lesbian Catholics by insensitive language, or have made no positive contribution to the ongoing contemporary debate. We highlight Catholic documents which embody the best of the Catholic intellectual and moral traditions. This means the documents show a pastoral sensitivity, an openness to new data from the sciences, a respect for the experiences of people, or a willingness to employ methodologies which could lead to a development of magisterial teaching.
It should be noted that almost all the entries in this collection are excerpted from the full text of the original documents, most of which are still available. For obvious reasons of space, the entire text of most documents cannot be included here. Readers may wish to read them in their primary settings. The excerpted statements, however, are still useful because we believe they move in a direction which can be fruitfully expanded and employed in pastoral and theological situations.
We have divided Voices of Hope into three sections. Part One provides excerpts of brief statements on civil rights and pastoral care from Catholic representatives between 1973, the first year such a statement was issued, until 1995, the time of completion of this manuscript. Part Two contains longer documents, diocesan plans, pastoral letters, or essays in this time period. Part Three contains responses to the 1992 Vatican statement on non-discrimination of lesbian and gay persons, which is found in the Appendix. The resources of Parts One and Two provide a much needed context for a reading of the 1992 Vatican statement. Even a general familiarity with these sources will indicate the differences between the Vatican’s understanding of these non-doctrinal issues and that of the U.S. Catholic community, including its episcopal leadership.
It is our hope that this resource will arouse and sustain the consciousness of the Catholic community on gay and lesbian issues. May it provide encouragement and support for justice and reconciliation.
We hope that this offering might heal some of the pastoral problems among gay and lesbian Catholics. There are multiple voices speaking within the Church today. Not all of them are harsh or insensitive to lesbian and gay lives.
The “voices” in this collection challenge us to take whatever steps are called for to embody these courageous words in our lives together as followers of Christ. They call us to help structure and shape our political and ecclesial institutions and communities as models of justice and compassion.2 They ask us to examine our attitudes and practices towards others, and to recognize and negotiate human differences.
We hope that this publication may provide motivation and encouragement for all those who still believe it is crucial to speak honestly and respectfully to each other. We hope that in the not-too-distant future it will be necessary to publish an updated and expanded edition to include additional statements and pastoral plans that will be forthcoming from Catholic sources. May we work together, despite our differences, for a world and church transformed by the truth and compassion of the One who is the ultimate Voice of Hope for the world.
1 Gallagher, J. (Ed.). Homosexuality and the Magisterium: Documents from the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops, 1975-1985. New Ways Ministry: Mt. Rainier, MD, 1986.
2 For a discussion of Christian education about homosexuality and homophobia on the high school and college levels, see Jeannine Gramick’s “Gay and Lesbian People: A Forgotten Compassion and Justice,” PACE (Professional Approaches for Christian Educators), No. 23, November, 1993, 23-30 and Robert Nugent’s “Homosexuality, Homophobia and Religious Education,” PACE, No. 23, December, 1993, 6-10.
Part One: Positive Catholic Statements on Gay and Lesbian Issues, 1973 - 1995
Part Two: Positive Catholic Documents on Gay and Lesbian Issues, 1979 - 1992
Part Three: Responses to the 1992 Vatican Statement on Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons, 1992
The VOICES OF HOPE heard in these pages reveal some differences between the Vatican and U.S. Bishops in their approach to the issue of homosexuality in non-doctrinal questions. These differences are most evident through an analysis of their statements and actions regarding civil rights, sexual orientation, and prejudice.
The Vatican’s contention that direct opposition to civil rights is sometimes required and justifiable has been strongly challenged by many of the Catholic voices in this collection. In addition to Bishops Walter Sullivan, Thomas Gumbleton, and Charles Buswell, who publicly dissented from the Vatican’s position, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Archbishop Thomas Murphy, and Archbishop John Quinn stated that their archdiocesan policies of defending human and civil rights for gay and lesbian individuals would continue.
As early as 1980, Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s pastoral letter Who is My Neighbor? set the tone for a sympathetic response to lesbian and gay people. By inviting his fellow Catholics to “write in the sand” rather than to “throw the first stone,” this outspoken and highly respected Church leader taught that no one should be treated as a “second class citizen.” Weakland is considered to be a teacher who backs up his words and actions. His quiet, behind-the-scenes support, and the more public lobbying by women religious in the Wisconsin legislature, were responsible for the passage of the first U.S. state civil rights law for gay and lesbian people.
Traditionally, the slightest opposition from the local Church authorities guaranteed the defeat of proposed gay rights bills. In Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, these bills were regularly opposed by Cardinals and Archbishops. In some cases, they were eventually approved after diocesan authorities judged that the bills did not “condone” homosexuality or “equate” heterosexual marriage with homosexual relationships. In 1984, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. urged pastors neither to oppose nor to support such a bill in Montgomery County, Maryland, because it did not conflict with Church teaching. The bill eventually passed.
In other cases such as in New York and Boston, after opposition from ecclesiastical authorities year after year, and support from other segments of the Catholic community, many Catholic legislators voted their consciences in favor of civil rights. Increasingly, Catholic lawmakers and laity are simply no longer convinced that the predicated damaging effects on marriage, family life, and society at large will necessarily ensue. More and more, Catholics see such legislation as a matter of basic social justice consistent with the Catholic tradition.
In a few instances, carefully hammered out pieces of legislation have been enacted with the spoken or tacit support of local bishops. In 1991, for example, the pastoral letter of the late Archbishop John Whealon of Hartford, was instrumental in gaining support for the passage of Connecticut’s gay rights law. Similarly, the 1991 statement from the Catholic Bishops of Oregon helped defeat that state’s anti-gay referendum. A letter from Honolulu’s Bishop Joseph Ferrario to the State legislature influenced the passage of Hawaii’s civil rights law in 1991. In 1993, the support of the bishops of Minnesota helped pass that state’s gay rights bill. Despite the Vatican’s resistance to gay civil rights in certain situations, it appears that most U.S. Bishops will continue to implement their own 1976 statement, which they repeated in 1990, that gay and lesbian people should be accorded “basic human rights.”
We hope that the U.S. Bishops will attempt to balance Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality with the Church’s social teachings on justice and respect for all people. We believe that few will reject the Vatican’s approach to gay rights as forcefully as Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. Most will be put off by its tone, lack of convincing arguments, and appeals to myths and stereotypes about gay and lesbian people. The U.S. Bishops will continue to walk the fine line between loyalty toward the Vatican’s teachings on sexuality and a democratic appreciation of fairness and justice in a pluralistic society.
The 1986 Vatican letter considers a homosexual orientation an “objective disorder,” even though a 1975 document from the CDF spoke of it as an “innate instinct.” The language of the U.S. episcopacy has been more sensitive and pastoral. The NCCB says that a homosexual orientation is “not sinful” and assumes “no fault.” Cardinal Hickey spoke benignly of the orientation as “not morally wrong in and of itself.” Similar evaluations were made by Cardinals Bernardin and Medeiros, the Massachusetts Conference of Bishops, Archbishop Hunthausen, and Bishop Brzana of Ogdensburg, New York.
In their 1981 rationale for ministry, the Archbishop of Baltimore said that a homosexual orientation is a “starting point” of one’s response to Christ. The 1983 pastoral plan for the Archdiocese of San Francisco calls a homosexual orientation a “building block rather than a stumbling block” in the search for unity and harmony. It rejects the belief that a homosexual orientation is a truncated form of sexual development. The plan follows the lead of most contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists who reject the post-Freudian theory that a homosexual orientation is an arrested form of sexual development.
Whether the cause of sexual orientation is environmental, biological, or a combination of both, is unknown at the present time. But, whatever the causes, say the U.S. Bishops in their 1990 document, for some women and men a homosexual orientation is “not freely chosen” and is “permanent, seemingly irreversible.” They acknowledge that the state or condition of being homosexual (or heterosexual for that matter) is simply a given part of the human condition.
The 1986 letter from the CDF deplores that lesbian and gay people have been the object of violence and states that their dignity must always be respected, even in law. But these remarks condemning prejudice and homophobia are seriously compromised when the document goes on to blame the victims for the violence they receive.
This approach to prejudice and violence can be contrasted with the U.S. bishops who call upon all Christians and citizens of good will to “comfort their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons.”Furthermore, the Washington State Catholic Conference teaches that “prejudice against homosexual persons is a greater infringement of the norm of Christian morality than is homosexual orientation or activity.”
These pages have attempted to present some of the voices which encourage gay and lesbian Catholics, their families, friends, and advocates. We believe that there are as many voices of acceptance and affirmation as there are of rejection and discrimination. There are as many voices of courage as voices of fear. There are as many voices for justice as for repression. All of these hopeful voices need to be heard and recognized as sources of life and light in the hearts and lives and deeds of all of us who call ourselves Church.
There are some people who would prefer that these voices not be heard. There are others who believe them but are afraid to speak them out personally. But history is a continuing witness to the truth that voices can sometimes be silenced, perhaps for a time, but not forever. These voices of hope, and those yet unspoken, need to be heard until eventually their truth will help shape a church and a world where injustice is banished and love rules.
Appendix: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Vatican, July 23, 1992
July 23, 1992
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons
For some time, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been concerned with the question of legislative proposals advanced in various parts of the world to deal with the issue of the non-discrimination of homosexual persons. A study of this question culminated in the preparation of a set of observations which could be of assistance to those concerned with formulating the Catholic response to such legislative proposals. These observations offered considerations based upon relevant passages of the Congregation’s Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, which was published in the fall bf 1986 and indicated certain applications which may be derived from them.
In view of the fact that this question is a particularly pressing one in certain parts of the United States, these considerations were made available to the bishops of that country through the good offices of the pro-nuncio for whatever help they might provide them. It should be noted that the observations were not intended to pass judgment on any response which may have been given by local bishops or state conferences to such legislative proposals. The observations, then, were not intended to be an official and public instruction on the matter from the Congregation but a background resource offering discreet assistance to those who may be confronted with the task of evaluating draft legislation regarding non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
With the idea that the publication of the observations would be something beneficial, a slight revision of the text was undertaken and a second version prepared. In the meantime, various references to and citations from the considerations have appeared in the media. For the sake of an accurate report on the matter, the revised text of Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons is made public today.
Vatican Press Officer
Recently, legislation has been proposed in various places which would make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal. In some cities, municipal authorities have made public housing, otherwise reserved for families, available to homosexual (and unmarried heterosexual) couples. Such initiatives, even where they seem• more directed toward support of basic civil rights than condonement of homosexual activity or a homosexual lifestyle, may in fact have a negative impact on the family and society. Such things as the adoption of children, the employment of teachers, the housing needs of genuine families, landlords’ legitimate concerns in screening potential tenants, for example, are often implicated.
While it would be impossible to anticipate every eventuality in respect to legislative proposals in this area, these observations will try to identify some principles and distinctions of a general nature which should be taken into consideration by the conscientious legislator, voter, or church authority who is confronted with such issues.
The first section will recall relevant passages from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” of 1986. The second section will deal with their application.
I. Relevant Passages from the CDF’s “Letter”
- The letter recalls that the CDF’s “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” of 1975 “took note of the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions”; the latter are “intrinsically disordered” and “in no case to be approved of” (No. 3).
- Since “[i]n the discussion which followed the publication of the (aforementioned) declaration . . . , an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral or even good,” the letter goes on to clarify: “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not” (No. 3).
- “As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood” (No. 7).
- In reference to the homosexual movement, the letter states: “One tactic used is to protest that any and all criticism of or reservations about homosexual people, their activity and lifestyle, are simply diverse forms of unjust discrimination” (No. 9).
- “There is an effort in some countries to manipulate the church by gaining the often well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view to changing civil statutes and laws. This is done in order to conform to these pressure groups’ concept that homosexuality is at least a completely harm- less, if not an entirely good, thing. Even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved” (No. 9).
- “She (the church) is also aware that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to or as acceptable as the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct impact on society’s understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy” (No. 9).
- “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law. “But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase” (No. 10).
- “What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable. What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well” (No. 11).
- “In assessing proposed legislation, the bishops should keep as their uppermost concern the responsibility to defend and promote family life” (No. 17).
- “Sexual orientation” does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination. Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder (cf. “Letter,” No. 3) and evokes moral concern.
- There are areas in which 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.
- Homosexual persons, as human persons, have the same rights as all persons including the right of not being treated in a manner which offends their personal dignity (cf. No. 10). Among other rights, all persons have the right to work, to housing, etc. Nevertheless, these rights are not absolute. They can be legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct. This is sometimes not only licit but obligatory. This would obtain moreover not only in the case of culpable behavior but even in the case of actions of the physically or mentally ill. Thus it is accepted that the state may restrict the exercise of rights, for example, in the case of contagious or mentally ill persons, in order to protect the common good.
- Including “homosexual orientation” among the considerations on the basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in hiring practices. This is all the more deleterious since there is no right to homosexuality (cf. No. 10) which therefore should not form the basis for judicial claims. The passage from the recognition of homosexuality as a factor on which basis it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead, if not automatically,.to the legislative protection and promotion of homosexuality. A person’s homosexuality would be invoked in opposition to alleged discrimination, and thus the exercise of rights would be defended precisely via the affirmation of the homosexual condition instead of in terms of a violation of basic human rights.
- The “sexual orientation” of a person is not comparable to race, sex, age, etc. also for another reason than that given above which warrants attention. An individual’s sexual orientation is generally not known to others unless he publicly identifies himself as having this orientation or unless some overt behavior manifests it. As a rule, the majority of homosexually oriented persons who seek to lead chaste lives do not publicize their sexual orientation. Hence the problem of discrimination in terms of employment, housing, etc., does not usually arise. Homosexual persons who assert their homosexuality tend to be precisely those who judge homosexual behavior or lifestyle to be “either completely harmless, if not an entirely good thing” (cf. No. 3), and hence worthy of public approval. It is from this quarter that one is more likely to find those who seek to “manipulate the church by gaining the often well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view to changing civil statutes and laws” (cf. No. 5), those who use the tactic of protesting that “any and all criticism of or reservations about homosexual people . . . are simply diverse forms of unjust discrimination” (cf. No. 9). In addition, there is a danger that legislation which would make homosexuality a basis for entitlements could actually encourage a person with a homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality or even to seek a partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law.
- Since in the assessment of proposed legislation uppermost concern should be given to the responsibility to defend and promote family life (cf. No. 17), strict attention should be paid to the single provisions of proposed measures. How would they affect adoption or foster care? Would they protect homosexual acts, public or private? Do they confer equivalent family status on homosexual unions, for example, in respect to public housing or by entitling the homosexual partner to the privileges of employment which could include such things as “family” participation in the health benefits given to employees (cf. No. 9)
- Finally, where a matter of the common good is concerned, it is inappropriate for church authorities to endorse or remain neutral toward adverse legislation even if it grants exceptions to church organizations and institutions. The church has the responsibility to promote family life and the public morality of the entire civil society on the basis of fundamental moral values, not simply to protect herself from the application of harmful laws (cf. No. 17).
“I do not feel our differences such a trouble as you do: for such differences always have been, always will be the Church; and Christians would have ceased to have spiritual and intellectual lives if such differences did not exist…
We are in a strange time. I have not a shadow of a misgiving that the Catholic Church and its doctrine are directly from God—but then I know well that there is in particular quarters a narrowness which is not of God. And I believe great changes before now have taken place in the direction of the Church’s course, and that new aspects of her aboriginal doctrines have suddenly come forth, and all this coincidently with changes in the world’s history, such as are now in progress: so that I never should shut up, when new views are set before me, though I might not take them as a whole.”
John Henry Newman
Letter to William George Ward