Positive Catholic Documents on Gay and Lesbian Issues, 1979 – 1992

Church teaching on homogenital expression is a crucial issue for lesbian and gay persons. For some, there are valid reasons for believing the Church should never change this teaching. For  many others, it seems that  the magisterium is concerned only with suppressing criticism of this teaching and marginalizing many intelligent and faithful people who believe this teaching should change.

Two major documents included in Part Two repeat the traditional ban on homogenital behavior, but go far beyond previous Church statements in developing more central aspects of gay and lesbian reality. The documents from the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Washington State Catholic Conference are models for effective diocesan pastoral ministry. Both of them should be read in full for a sense of how the Church has incorporated findings from the empirical and social sciences and is willing to take strong stands to confront injustices. The Washington State Catholic Conference claims that Catholic teaching on homosexuality is not infallible and not above critical examination and development.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales state that “pastoral care does not consist simply in the rigid and automatic application of objective moral norms. It considers the individual in his actual situation, with all his strengths and weaknesses. The decision of conscience, determining what should be done and what avoided, can only be made after prudent consideration of the real situation as well as the moral norm.” The guidelines were written in consultation with lesbian and gay Catholics and remain part of Catholic teaching despite Vatican pressure to revise them.

The Catholic Church in the Netherlands has traditionally had a liberal, if not radical, image in its renewal movements to implement the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. In their document, Homosexual People in Society, the Catholic Council for Church and Society of the Netherlands states, “There is a growing insight that homosexual behavior can be a natural expression of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation. This implies a growing need for stronger arguments, if any exist, for the rejection of homosexual behavior.” This is the most direct questioning of the teaching on same-sex behavior from a magisterial source.

Since the original publication of Homosexual People in Society, the episcopal situation in the Netherlands has changed drastically and continues to evolve even today. The hierarchy has been restructured by the more traditional appointments of Pope John Paul ii, although several of the bishops have since resigned from their dioceses. The tensions between the hierarchy and Dutch Catholics continue on many issues of Church life, including homosexuality. It would not be inaccurate to say that the Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors represents the position on homosexuality of many Catholics in the Netherlands today.

Three of the contributions in Part Two are from bishops who spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Symposium iii in Chicago in March, 1992. Prior to the symposium, some bishops advised Bishops William Hughes of Covington, Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, and Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit not to participate in the event. After the symposium, the three bishops were the targets of a vicious and slanderous campaign. Reactionaries distorted the event and called upon the Vatican to excommunicate or discipline the bishops. The Vatican’s nunciature in Washington, d.c. conducted an inquiry of the three bishops. Advocates for lesbian and gay persons can expect to identify with them by becoming objects of prejudice and vilification themselves.

The pastoral plan from the diocese of San Jose is a brief but good model for any small diocese looking for direction in addressing pastoral issues of homosexuality.

Fr. Charles Curran believes there is some good news in official Vatican documents because they recognize the methodology of those who urge modification of Church teaching about homogenital behavior. This does not mean that modification will happen soon, as anyone familiar with Church history and the development of doctrine well knows. It does mean that the arguments are being raised, heard, and responded to. If this is true of Vatican documents, it is even truer of other official statements which are more nuanced, more open to dialogue, and more sensitive to pastoral situations.

For many gay and lesbian people, ecclesial recognition of the goodness of committed, faithful homosexual love is the bottom line in their feeling truly affirmed by the Christian community. Until this issue is resolved, many believe that full justice will not be done. Part of that resolution involves focusing on a wide variety of dimensions of lesbian and gay experience. Developing a deeper appreciation for the lived experience of people could prove helpful in understanding the interplay between sexual orientation and sexual expression. As one theologian has said, “While it is possible, then, to make a distinction between a person’s orientation and activity, it is also important to understand that it is impossible to quarantine orientation from the rest of one’s life” (p. 232).1

A change in the Church’s teaching on homogenital expression is not the goal of the positive statements and documents found in this book. The most important change is that which takes place in the minds and hearts of people who are willing to talk honestly and openly with each other. We need to interpret, understand, and apply the tradition of the Church in an authentically pastoral way. We need to speak and listen to gay and lesbian people and understand the complex reality we call human sexuality. We must critically examine the sources and methodologies which support our traditional judgments about homosexuality. Only then will the expression of homosexual love be put in proper context.

The following documents are important contributions to that process.


1   Coleman, G. “Homosexuals and Spirituality,” Chicago Studies, 32, 1993, 222-233.



Catholic Bishops of England and Wales
Catholic Social Welfare Commission
Birmingham, England

An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People
Pastoral Guidelines for Priests

Pastoral Guidelines

In general terms the pastoral task might be considered as helping homosexual persons, or those who consider themselves to be homosexual persons, to understand and examine the meaning of their behavior, sexual or otherwise, in the light of the love of God and the love of neighbor, together with the moral and pastoral teaching of Christianity. There are still many unanswered questions regarding the proper pastoral care of homosexuals. In the wake of research in the theological and social sciences and the experience of those already involved in pastoral care of homosexuals, the following guidelines could be offered:

  1. The Church, in her pastoral effort, is concerned first of all with people. How people are classified is secondary and is intended merely to be a help towards understanding people. Unfortunately, many classifications tend to have judgmental connotations. It is unfortunate that the term “homosexual” tends to classify people principally by their sexuality. The pastor and counselor must see all people, irrespective of their sexuality, as children of God and destined for eternal life.
  2. Before attempting to provide spiritual guidance or moral counselling to a homosexual person, pastors need to be aware of the homosexual condition itself. Homosexuality is commonly understood to imply only an erotic, sexual attraction of a person towards members of the same sex…
  3. It is difficult to categorize people as simply heterosexual or homosexual. Empirical evidence suggests that sexual orientation in a limited number of individuals is totally exclusive. In those individuals in whom heterosexual disposition is dominant, there seems to exist a latent potentiality for homosexual interest of which the person may not be aware.
  4. Before attempting to provide spiritual guidance or counselling for a homosexual person the pastor must be aware of his own limitations. Unconscious prejudice resulting from a biased, social tradition does injustice to the homosexual and renders effective counselling impossible. No real benefit can be expected unless the pastor clears away all traces of the misunderstandings that make real communication impossible.
  5. One of the most important aspects of homosexuality is the awareness of being “different” from the majority of people. This consciousness of being “different,” of belonging to a minority, leaves the homosexual person suffering from the same problems as all minority groups with the added factor that their “difference” is secret. This leads to a deeper alienation. In a society that can see them as objects of cruel jokes and contempt, homosexuals commonly suffer from lack of self-esteem and a loneliness that heterosexuals find difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend. In ordinary mixed society, homosexuals feel like strangers. They are shunned and despised by people who may have an inaccurate or distorted knowledge of the homosexual person….
  6. It is the role of the pastor to offer encouragement and support…It is unworthy of a pastor to offer only superficial advice for such an intractable problem.
  7. Pastors can be especially helpful in the “coming out” process. This is the point at which the homosexual person admits openly to his or her homosexuality and it is frequently the first stage of being able to cope. The pastor seems to be an obvious person with whom to share these confidences and his own response must be sensitive and sympathetic. A clear reaffirmation of moral standards may be required but this must not be a blunt rejection based on prejudice and ignorance. Rejection can force homosexuals to rely exclusively on the companionship of fellow homosexuals where at least they will be met with the understanding which has been denied by the pastor.
  8. Some would argue that societies specifically for homosexuals are the ideal setting for allowing people with the same tendencies to understand and cope with shared anxieties. It is difficult to assess the value of such associations…

On the other hand, the existence of societies for homosexuals who are also Christians means that certain moral standards must be recognized. There are Christian groups explicitly formed for the encouragement of homosexuals to cope with their difficulties. The goodwill of these societies must not be automatically questioned, especially because their very existence may be due to the insensitivity of the general public. On the other hand, there are obvious dangers. Moral support may easily be turned to moral danger and the pastor must encourage the person who seeks his advice to face up to this real possibility…

However, the situation must be kept in proportion. A comparison with accepted social occasions might help to avoid exaggerated or prejudiced decisions. To condemn a social gathering simply because of possible moral dangers could lead to ridiculous restrictions. It could condemn a parish dance or a youth club. It would forbid the sharing of a flat. In fact, such an extreme attitude of mind would be so unreasonable that all social friendships could be under suspicion. This is an unhealthy attitude which destroys human relationships and frustrates that unity within the society which the pastor is supposed to be promoting.

  1. Marriage has not proved to be a successful answer for most homosexuals. Marriage in these circumstances can be unfair to the partner and even extend the distress of the homosexual to the whole family. It may be marriage for the wrong reasons and, in any case, marriage must not be thought of as the only gateway to God and the only way to fulfillment.
  2. Professional psychiatric treatment or psychological counselling is by no means the proven remedy for the homosexual condition. Very often it proves to be a frustrating experience that only heightens anxiety. Pastors and counsellors may suggest psychological testing to determine whether a person is exclusively or predominantly homosexual, as opposed to a “transitional” homosexual, who is passing through a temporary phase of psychological development. In the case of true homosexuals or “inverts,” professional therapy may be helpful to assist them in accepting their condition positively, but therapy should never be suggested in a way that raises false expectations of a reverse or modification of the homosexual condition.
  3. A positive help to the homosexual is the channelling of his energy into a variety of interests, but this sublimation must be positive and genuine. An artificial diversion is unconvincing.
  4. However much is uncertain about the subject of homosexuality, it seems that the generic term does include three more specific and important categories:

(a)   those who are well adjusted, stable people who have come to terms with their homosexuality, who never seek help and who are never in trouble with the law. These people are psychologically adjusted…

(b)   those homosexuals who have psychological problems, e.g., neurosis and alcoholism. This group has more in common with other neurotics than with other homosexuals;

(c)   those homosexuals who have personality disorders which lead to deviant behavior, e.g., criminal offenses. This group has more in common with other social deviants than with other homosexuals.

  1. The Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society. As a group that has suffered more than its share of oppression and contempt, the homosexual community has particular claim upon the concern of the Church. Homosexuals have a right to enlightened and effective pastoral care with pastoral ministers who are properly trained to meet their pastoral needs.
  2. Homosexuals have the same need for the Sacraments as the heterosexual. They also have the same right to receive the Sacraments. In determining whether or not to administer Absolution or give Communion to a homosexual, a pastor must be guided by the general principles of fundamental theology that only a certain moral obligation may be imposed. An invincible doubt, whether of law or fact, permits one to follow a true and solidly “probable opinion” in favor of a more liberal interpretation.
  3. Homosexuals may feel that nature in some way cheated them and produced tensions which are undeserved. The homosexual can be shattered on discovering that he or she has permanent tendencies, through no personal fault, which arouse antagonism, ridicule and rejection in society. The Christian task is to understand homosexuals and restore respect for them as persons. They may well feel that the Church is demanding impossible standards. This challenge may lead to an abandonment of faith, but it also offers an added opportunity and resource. Truth is never reached by turning down the clear directives of God and the Gospel. Such a course could only complicate the already existing confusion. God sets certain standards, but his power of sustaining is comprehensive. Christ emphasized his concern for those whom society has rejected. The many difficulties which the homosexual encounters ensure that the strength of God will be at hand. Christ asks that we take up our Cross and follow him and this may mean that the homosexual person is very near to true Christianity if he responds to this invitation.

The problem of the homosexual is part of a greater problem of the human incompleteness of a people who are on the way to God. Maturity comes when problems are acknowledged and faced. Only confusion arises when the problems are allowed to dictate or there is a pretense that they do not exist.

  1. The pastor will help souls if he introduces them to an understanding of that love which is more comprehensive than sexuality. His role is to introduce people to Christian life in all its fullness. This does not mean instant serenity. There must be gradual purification and real growth in holiness. Every person with spiritual ambitions must cope with his personal limitations. These vary from person to person and are frequently complex and discouraging, but all people who, in spite of limitations and even failure, continue to struggle and grow in holiness of life deserve encouragement. Such people are very near to God.


The Catholic Council for Church and Society
Utrecht, Netherlands

Homosexual People in Society
Discussion Document

 I    Starting Point: Recognizing the Dignity of Every Human Person

Discrimination against homosexual persons is a serious social problem. Regardless of how painful and unjustified this type of social discrimination is, and no matter how disastrous its effects in the lives of so many people, society’s concern about it is limited and vague. This attitude is in stark contrast to the strong indignation that other kinds of discrimination arouse, especially those which occur outside our country.

Both within and outside the Church there are certainly groups, organizations and some conscientious individuals who are genuinely concerned. But at the same time we have to say that the majority of people, including Christians, are rather indifferent to this kind of discrimination and even actively take part in it. This is probably the reason why the problem comes up over and over again and disturbs the justice of social relationships.

We can point to events abroad. Sometimes they get a great amount of publicity in the media and have repercussions on public life in our own country. Specifically, the Council is thinking of the activities of Anita Bryant in the United States, the original plans of the Greek government to punish homosexual behavior and, more recently, the bloody persecution of homosexuals in Iran.

In the opinion of the Council these events and especially the attitude they betray are signs to which the Catholic community in our country must pay attention. This is all the more urgent since in our country observers increasingly see expressions of general intolerance with regard to minority groups. Moreover, some people fear that these expressions will increase when the social climate deteriorates due to socioeconomic developments.

With this in mind we must note that several Dutch bishops have become directly involved in the discussion on homosexuality in recent months. We should mention this because in their contributions to the discussion the bishops showed not only agreement on some points, but also significant disagreement on others. There was agreement in rejecting social discrimination against homosexual persons. There was also agreement in judging marriage and family as the optimal framework for experiencing human sexuality.

From points of unanimity disagreements appeared when they had to draw consequences for evaluating homosexual orientation and behavior. For instance, some bishops drew immediate conclusions about homosexual persons participating in Church life. [In a newspaper interview one bishop spoke about excluding practicing homosexual persons from the Eucharist. -Editors’ Note.]  In light of the Church’s traditional views on human sexuality, this position of excluding homosexual persons from Church life causes even further discrimination. Singling people out within the Church community can tend to foster social discrimination. Consequently, it is not surprising that the Church’s pronouncements about rejecting social discrimination do not always sound very credible.

The Council regrets this lack of credibility all the more because the Church’s traditional values on human sexuality can be interpreted as a kind of discrimination. This is understandable when there is an obvious connection between blatant discrimination and tendencies toward it and a mentality that encourages both. But in the Council’s judgment, there is no link between discrimination and the Church’s teaching on sexuality. The very fact that the bishops can disagree on this matter [whether or not a practicing homosexual can receive communion – Editors’ Note.] indicates that Church teaching on sexuality is not discriminatory especially when that disagreement can mean including in church life people who engage in homosexual behavior.

In view of those recent events the Catholic Council for Church and Society believes that it must call attention in this brief paper to the situation of the homosexual person. We will try to contribute toward forming a responsible opinion in this matter. This kind of reflection is required if we are to eradicate injustice and build social relationships that are based on justice.

The discussion of the Catholic Council for Church and Society is based on the following assumptions:

—  discrimination is an unworthy and unjust practice from which a society can never expect any good, but ultimately only harm; this applies equally to discrimination against people of homosexual orientation whatever moral judgments may be made on certain kinds of homosexual activity;

—  an appeal which is made to religious and ecclesiastical arguments to give this kind of social discrimination any semblance of justification runs counter to the sources and to the most fundamental intentions of Christianity and the Church.

Starting with these assumptions the Council plans to argue the case for a responsible respect for personal freedom and for a conscientious effort to build a just society.

In promoting these values there is room for neither reactionary repression nor for moral license. These somewhat grossly characterized extremes have, especially in their interaction, no potential for leading to a realization of freedom and justice. We must seek a middle road in which a balanced concern for the demands of a just society is supported by and leads to a healthy unfolding of personal responsibility and freedom. Christians, but fortunately not Christians alone, will seek that balance and not allow themselves to be forced to choose any harmful alternative.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to find that balance if we do not take the dignity of the human person as the fundamental principle and starting point of the discussion. This is especially urgent in the case of persons whose uniqueness is not accepted as a basis for their receiving respect and dignity from society. This paper emphatically chooses then as its starting point the recognition of the dignity of every person.

II   Purpose and Related Projects

For the sake of clarity it is important to establish the explicit subject matter and scope of this paper. This paper intends to develop some thoughts on the social position of homosexual persons and to contribute to the current public discussion on this topic. It has no intention of passing a definitive judgment either on the phenomenon of homosexuality or on the way in which this phenomenon is understood in the Church’s tradition.

Obviously, approaches will be taken which have indirect consequences for the question of the nature of homosexuality as well as for the Church’s judgment about it. However, the proper perspective of this paper remains that of the social situation of homosexual persons. The thoughts developed in this regard are offered as starting points for reflection and discussion and as a contribution to the search for responsible relationships in society.

The Council is aware of the provisional and limited nature of this contribution. In a situation where social and ecclesiastical developments are inextricably linked, we need more than a modest paper. There is a clear need to distinguish between the real value of Church teaching and the social consequences unjustifiably connected with it. We hope that in doing this we could put an end to the use of religious arguments to justify prejudice. More importantly, an effort should be made to put the religious tradition in a clear and inspiring light for all people whatever their orientation and social position.

In promoting this effort we would like to mention two other related projects. These are also meant to stimulate reflection and discussion in this area, to focus the debate on the heart of the matter, and to enable all members of the faith community to participate in the discussion.

First, the Catholic Council for Church and Society has requested the Catholic Study Center in Nijmegen to prepare, over a longer period of time, a study on the relationship between natural law and morality in relation to human sexuality. The Council is grateful to the Catholic Study Center for its willingness to undertake this study.

Second, the Council is aware of the plans of the Central Pastoral Working Group on Homosexuality to send a short statement for discussion purposes to all Church congregations in the early Fall of 1979. The Council hopes that the community’s reflection and dialogue which is expected will bring about in day-to-day living what it feels should be pursued in theological discussion, viz., strong and lively awareness of the dignity of the person.

For the faithful, it is God who is the source of that dignity. This provides the decisive ground for the task of making this dignity the starting point and center of a person’s growth to freedom and responsibility, as well as of society’s growth to justice and tolerance.

III Discrimination Against Homosexual Persons

To give some indication of the problems already mentioned, it will be helpful to have a general idea of those areas where discrimination against homosexual persons shows itself either in actual events or in general negative attitudes.

It is already evident in the family circle that society’s attitude toward homosexuality is rather narrow. Most of the time the relationship between parents and children is not as trusting and frank as it should be. Several studies show that people, especially young people, who are, or think they are becoming, aware of their homosexual orientation, find it especially difficult to speak with their parents about it. Even in the immediate family environment they expect little support in finding their own way through life.

When they do speak about their homosexual feelings, the first reaction is usually one of fear and rejection. It is quite understandable that parents and relatives are partly motivated by society’s homophobic attitudes. This fear and rejection reflect a larger picture of unhealthy social attitudes when these reactions become a basic obstacle to close personal ties between young people and older people.

The public condemns homosexual persons almost automatically to a hidden and crippling form of existence. An individual who publicly expresses tender or caring feelings toward another person of the same sex makes his or her life virtually impossible, especially in the case of a man. If someone is suspected of being homosexual, even if the behavior does not give the slightest indication, he or she becomes an easy target for curiosity and insinuations. Even the way in which these suspicions, whether justified or not, are expressed is unjust and insulting to people. This applies just as well to other ways in which homosexual persons are singled out in our society.

For example, it comes as no surprise that some of the media feel obliged to mention an individual’s suspected homosexual orientation even when reporting crimes and scandals that have nothing to do with a person’s sexual orientation. In the Council’s view such sensationalism is especially harmful not only because the professionalism of the media is at stake, but also because it creates a social climate which can lead to harmful consequences. As a result of that climate reports of discrimination in housing and in the professions are more prevalent than they ought to be. It is often difficult to provide proof of this because homosexuality is rarely given as reason for rejection or dismissal. But often what actually takes place leads one to suspect that the real reason is homosexuality.

One might imagine certain cases where it would be less opportune to give a person a particular job or housing for reasons of his or her homosexual lifestyle. But in that case why not face up to it in an open and honest conversation with that person?

A poignant aspect of this problem also is the violence committed against homosexual persons. Because of people’s fear the extent and nature of this violence are not accurately known. But various police reports, studies and repeated accounts make it evident that this kind of violence is an unmistakable part of societal crime.

Possibly even more painful than these facts is the attitude that causes them. That attitude is usually voiced in the belief that homosexual persons are inferior and may be treated as such with impunity, either blatantly or covertly. This general conviction is commonly expressed in such prejudices as: by definition homosexual persons are child molesters, oversexed and licentious characters. The belief that homosexual persons also can commit themselves to leading morally good lives is met by too many people with inexcusable skepticism.

In any case, the behavior of homosexual people is usually judged more seriously than that of heterosexual people; and morally suspect or immoral aspects are rejected more fiercely than in the case of heterosexuals where much is overlooked. It makes sense to emphasize this aspect of discrimination. For someone who seeks to live a life in an honorable and conscientious manner, it can be an extremely heavy burden to find that what in someone else’s case is accepted as human weakness is condemned in one’s own as depravity.

It is important to realize that this expression of discrimination is often justified by an appeal to religious principles; in its social effects, such an appeal is a denial of the fundamental intentions of religion.

This kind of moral discrimination with its appropriate religious arguments sometimes deepens into a bias regarding the religious lives of homosexual persons. There are heterosexual people who simply cannot or will not imagine that homosexual people can be genuinely religious, inspired by an authentic desire for God, nor deeply motivated by the life and teachings of Jesus and by responsible Church ties. Many Church members act accordingly on this prejudice. We believe that the faith community ought to ask itself, in conscience, whether this suspicion does not actually prevent both the Gospel and the Church from reaching homosexual people.

Because of the hidden role which religious feelings and arguments play, especially in the discrimination mentioned above, it will be useful to make some general comments about that role. It is not our intention to discuss here the extremely sensitive problem of the moral judgment about homosexual activity. The Council believes that it is not the competent authority in this matter. However, it does believe that hardly any grounds exist for treating the question of homosexual behavior as an isolated problem. Therefore, the Council believes that it has to plead for dealing with the moral problem of homosexual behavior in the framework of a broader reflection on and vision of human sexuality.

The Council wants to limit itself to pointing out only certain social consequences that are tied to a particular interpretation of the Church’s traditional position on homosexuality. By asking questions we want to comment on those religious arguments that are usually used to defend unjust social practices.

First, there is the appeal to Scriptures. Second, there is the appeal to moral condemnation of homosexual behavior by the Church’s teaching authority.

 IV Homosexual Orientation and the Scriptures

In any appeal to Scriptures we could ask whether the Bible is being used responsibly. There is an unusual tendency to interpret strictly those few texts where homosexual acts are condemned, whereas Scripture is used much more flexibly in other areas. There are, for instance, probably only a few people left who think that the government ought to punish adultery by stoning or ought to abolish interest on loans. Yet those measures too could be defended with a literal interpretation of the Bible. In such cases we correctly appeal to the principle that the Scriptures are to be explained and applied within the faith community. It is difficult to see why this principle would not equally apply to the texts condemning homosexual acts. The necessity for explanation and application within the faith community is reinforced by two considerations.

First, a direct biblical basis for judgment on a homosexual orientation as such is absent; the Scripture writers were not aware of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation. This means that any appeal to the Scriptures in order to condemn a homosexual orientation and to transfer that condemnation into social discrimination must be rejected as an abuse of Scripture.

Secondly, when the Scriptures speak disapprovingly about homosexual acts, the main emphasis appears to be on the condemnation of abuses in which homosexual acts play only a part. Most often these abuses are mentioned very explicitly: violation of hospitality, blackmail, prostitution, and especially idolatry.

Hence, one can ask the question whether those few texts, in which homosexual acts are mentioned or alluded to, are not seen too strongly in light of certain centuries old exegesis. As a result, one could get the impression that the Scriptures are mainly concerned with the problem of moral and especially sexual corruption. However, to the extent that the Scriptures speak about homosexuality, they do so concisely and most often, we emphasize again, in connection with problems that are mainly of a religious nature. There seems to be insufficient grounds for justifying discrimination against homosexual persons by appealing to those texts. There are two reasons which argue explicitly against this kind of an appeal.

First, when those few texts are put back into the larger biblical context, they appear to be elements of a vision which does not tolerate discrimination. This vision is expressed in the Christian belief that every human being is created by God in God’s uniqueness and is loved by God. This conviction is the ground and the essence of the equality of all people, no matter what their individual differences. But people themselves face the challenge to express that essential equality as faithfully as possible in a just society that does not exclude anyone and is supported by all its members. There is an irreconcilable opposition between such a vision and discrimination.

Secondly, even if we assume that the starting point of a discussion should be the moral question of sexual corruption, we know from experience that corruption is no exclusive or automatic mark of people with a homosexual orientation. Abuses and excesses are present wherever sexuality, in whatever form, breaks adrift and becomes an obsession. The space required to live an adult life in freedom, responsibility and dignity is not simply threatened by this or that orientation. It is threatened by the way in which people, both individually and socially, deal with the orientation. Therefore the moral problem does not lie in the sexual orientation. The faith community needs to reflect on its experience of sexuality. For whenever people become enslaved to what has been given to them to use responsibly, the harmony between social and personal existence becomes impossible.

V   Homosexual Behavior and the Church’s Teaching Authority

There can be no doubt that the Church’s teaching authority rejects homosexual behavior and condemns it as reprehensible and sinful by an appeal to natural law. This stands in sharp contrast to the positive manner in which the Church makes pronouncements on marriage and on the state of virginity chosen for the sake of God’s kingdom. As we have already said, the Council does not consider that it is our task to take a position in this matter, nor does this paper provide an opportunity to do so. However, we would like to make some comments on the position of the Church’s teaching authority.

The first comment, in question form, concerns the problem of how an appeal to the natural law can be convincing in those cases where homosexual behavior can not be shown to be an expression of arrested development or perversion of a heterosexual orientation from personal or social pressures, but is understood and experienced as a natural expression of a homosexual orientation. This problem is even more urgent since, even in the sciences, a consensus is growing about the constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation.

The second comment is an extension of the first and concerns the balance in the relationship between orientation and behavior. The Council suspects that this is the heart of the matter in evaluating homosexuality. On the one hand, we see in the negative reactions to Church statements a tendency to link orientation and behavior so closely that any criticism of homosexual behavior is considered an infringement of personal liberty and individual responsibility. On the other hand, there is the tendency in several Church statements to obscure the relationship between orientation and behavior in such a way that reflection on both the uniqueness of the orientation and accepting the resulting behavior is curtailed. Something should be said then about both of these tendencies in connection with the rejection of homosexual behavior by the Church’s teaching authority.

In the first place, if we consider a very close connection between orientation and behavior, some people interpret the Church’s rejection of homosexual behavior itself as a form of discrimination. Now every moral judgment can be explained in the same sense since a moral judgment attempts to distinguish between good and evil acts. As a judgment it tries to express this distinction in such a way that moral judgments can function in human life as a means of enabling the person to do good and avoid evil.

But from this description it is also obvious that the ethical distinction between forms of behavior has a function that is different from separating high-handedly the sheep from the scapegoats in society. It is precisely the faith community that ought to be extremely sensitive to this distinction because it believes and confesses that such a separation belongs only to the gracious Judge of the Eschaton Who alone is able to fathom hearts and minds.

In the Gospels ethical pronouncements on acts are placed in a significant field of tension. Precisely in conjunction with our concern here this is even more obvious. On the one hand, there is an awareness of human sinfulness which becomes clear for example, from Jesus’ remark: “Do not call anyone good but God alone.” (Luke 18:19.)  On the other hand, there is an awareness of the inexhaustible nature of God’s love and grace expressed in this summarizing statement: “No sin is unforgivable but the one against the Spirit.” (Matthew 12:31.)

In this field of tension the Church has always emphasized the difference between distinguishing good acts from wrong ones and weighing the guilt and innocence of various aspects of each one’s personal life. An arbitrary separation between one group of people who are guilty from the start because of some particular aspect of human life, however vital and essential, and another group that is supposedly innocent from the start does not fit into that approach. Yet that is the level on which the problem of social discrimination appears.

Therefore, from the moral judgment on homosexual behavior one cannot derive automatically a total condemnation of someone who behaves homosexually, let alone relegate him or her to the position of a social outcast or second-class citizen. In this light, we cannot consider the moral judgment itself as a form of discrimination. This is a misjudgment of the real intent of the Church’s teaching authority.

This misjudgment is caused in part, and perhaps even mainly, by an all too one-sided and exaggerated attention to sexual behavior. This overemphasis plays a role in another way in the problems of homosexual people in society, since this overemphasis can itself be a source of discrimination. The Council wants to call attention emphatically to this. Respect for personal freedom and conscientious striving for a just society exclude a position on sexuality which identifies orientation and behavior too closely together. This creates a great danger of shortsightedness and one-sidedness in judging people. It can easily lead to an excessive attention to sexual behavior especially in its strict expressions of genital sexuality. We can become so obsessed with sexual behavior that we view the situation of two men or two women living together simply as a homosexual relationship and treat it as such. Whether this treatment means acceptance or rejection does not change the basic error of the assumption.

This fixation on sexual behavior often puts a burden on human relationships. Expectations in regard to sexual performance block the harmonious growth of the total person and imply an under-evaluation of the many elements in a human relationship. What the other person has to offer regarding affection, social involvement, technical, scientific, or artistic talents, religious commitment and similar gifts are often subordinated to sexual expectations so mercilessly that one is really dealing with a denial of the human person. Of course, this also applies to sexual behavior in general.

In the second place there is the problem of considering orientation and behavior so far apart that the orientation can be accepted while the resulting behavior is rejected. There is a growing insight that homosexual behavior can be a natural expression of a constitutional or irreversible homosexual orientation. This implies a growing need for stronger arguments, if any exist, for the rejection of homosexual behavior. These arguments must be stronger than those which are rooted in a larger world view and which flow from the proper evaluation of marriage and family as the optimal framework for experiencing human heterosexuality. Without questioning the intrinsic value of marriage and its potential humanizing effects, one could question whether it is right to approach homosexuality from this angle.

If the question of homosexuality is approached from the framework of marriage, we have to admit that the rejection of homosexual behavior embarrasses the Church precisely because some successful homosexual love relationships do exist. Church leaders are extremely cautious in discussing new ideas and developments in this area. Yet an attitude and framework have developed within the Church which, however modest, make a certain kind of pastoral guidance possible. This embarrassment and caution should certainly not be viewed as any indication of silent support for discrimination. For that would be a sad caricature of Christianity. In fact, the destructive results of this caricature are already being felt. There is evidence of this, for example, in the fact that the self-acceptance of the homosexual person, which is often the result of a difficult struggle, frequently leads to an automatic break with the Church. This is understandable within the framework of that caricature. But in our opinion it is a sad state of affairs both for the Church and the homosexual person.

This effect of causing people to break with the Church is obviously reinforced when appeals are made to legislators to give an inhuman and unchristian principle of discrimination some semblance of legality. This attempt totally contradicts the Christian concepts of a human society and of the function and responsibility of its government.

We therefore urge that this embarrassment and caution not be allowed to develop into a rigid attitude. We seem to be in agreement with our faith when we consider these attitudes of embarrassment and caution to be an invitation to a common search for a humane and evangelical approach to the problems of homosexuality. In doing so we should not simply consider a homosexual lifestyle or homosexual love relationships. Without ignoring the moral questions involved, we should start from more general considerations of human relationships: 1) relationships between a person’s sexual orientation as such and the manner in which they assume concrete forms in various lifestyles and (2) love relationships in which sexual behavior can play a more or less explicit role.

VI A Common Search

Ultimately every kind of love and every human relationship is concerned with the same thing: people searching for a meaningful, responsible and satisfying human existence. To the extent that this is found, we can recognize and experience our own existence as praise of the living God. Obedience to God’s will can become a spontaneous response to the experience of God’s care for us. For God’s will is especially revealed in what we are and what we are called to become. This applies to homosexual people and to heterosexual people in the same way and to the same extent.

The invitation to a common search should not be seen as an attack on the Church’s evaluation of marriage and family life. The immediate source of this invitation is the observation that homosexual people and non-homosexual people in their social relationships are not in opposition to each other, as if they were two separate worlds. They have basic similarities; there is a great variety of mutual points of contact in this one world where people live together.

Sometimes those similarities and mutual points of contact take on such concrete forms that the value of marriage and family would be affected if we refused the invitation to a common search. There are people, for instance, who only after entering marriage discover that they are unsuited for it and realize that another lifestyle and another kind of love relationship would be much better for them. Over the years it can become obvious that some member of the family (son, daughter, sister, brother, parent or spouse) is homosexually oriented.

Justice in our society is not so much a gift as a challenge for people. This is clear not only in relating to people like ourselves, but especially in relating to those who are different from us in some way. From the Christian perspective a humane society is characterized by a conscious openness to what is different or strange. This openness is an appeal to our care and commitment. This openness is also a place of mystery which can be enlightened by the revelation of God’s face coming in the form of what is different or strange to us.

The stranger, for example, can appear to us as the homeless person who appeals to our hospitality or as the vulnerable person who appeals to our solidarity. Life itself can make every human being homeless and vulnerable. Everyone of us is, at the same time, a person who appeals to the other and the other to whom an appeal is made.

Both homosexual and heterosexual people face a common challenge of building together a society of hospitality and solidarity. Forming a “ghetto” in society serves only to aggravate the problem. People have to rub elbows with each other. But these social relationships do not always run smoothly. They can be made difficult by diverse ideas on such crucial questions as to what is the most responsible lifestyle or what is the most desirable kind of love relationship. But the challenge to remain united as the one Body of Christ keeps surmounting this difficulty. This challenge to preserve our unity does not merely prevent us from openly ignoring people and discriminating against them. It also builds a dam against pseudo-tolerance and indifference and prevents the possibility of people simply being left to their own fate.

We cannot elaborate any further here what concrete forms hospitality and solidarity should assume. These will have to evolve in the experiences of daily life, in conversations and friendships, in relationships and social interaction. In all of these though the starting point must always be a direct and creative interest in the life of every other person. We would gain a great deal if we had the courage to reflect on our embarrassment and discuss our reservations about homosexual love relationships in the light of our call to solidarity. If the Church chooses to follow this route, it can move toward creating a living and humane society where people feel it is good to live and where everyone can draw strength to assume responsibility for himself or herself, for loved ones and for the world.

Responsibility for this contribution to the discussion lies with the Catholic Council for Church and Society.


October 5, 1981

The Roman Catholic Church of Baltimore
Baltimore, Maryland

A Ministry to Lesbian and Gay Catholic Persons
Rationale for Ministry

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for He has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor.

— The Gospel of St. Luke, 4:18

With these words, Christ declared and described His mission in the world. He came to bring salvation: a salvation that was to transform the heart of the individual and to remake the face of the earth as well. At the center of this salvation, at the core of the Reign of God He announced was a concern for and a promise of justice. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “The redemption of the world—this tremendous mystery of love in which creation is renewed—is, at its deepest root, the fullness of justice in the hearts of many human beings, predestined from eternity in the first-born Son to be children of God and called to grace, called to love.”

In carrying out His mission, Christ reached out in a special way to the poor—to the widow and the orphan, to the powerless and the despised. But, in doing so, He never separated himself from them:  He was one with them; He made their cause his own. He thereby revealed not only His special concern for the poor but the special place they hold in the drama of salvation.

The Church, being faithful to Christ, continues His mission in its ministry: through word and deed, the Church proclaims the presence of God’s reign among us; directed and empowered by the Spirit, it labors for the full realization of that reign. Toward that end, it not only reaches out to help the poor, the powerless, the despised, but as Christ did, it takes their part and makes their cause its own.

While this ministry is at the core of all the Church is about, the Church finds it necessary at times to formalize and make public its ministry to certain groups within society. Whenever a particular group of people are denied their basic human rights and suffer violence to their human dignity because of prejudice or misunderstanding, there is injustice. In the face of that injustice, the Church cannot remain silent and still be true to its mission. Thus, the Church has established a special ministry to the black and the Hispanic communities, to the handicapped and the elderly.

Such is the situation of people in our society known as “homosexual.”

The term “homosexual” admits of different meanings. Sometimes it is used to identify an individual with a predominant and persistent psychosexual attraction toward persons of the same gender. At other times “homosexual” is used to describe specific forms of behavior occurring between persons of the same gender. In the former instance, the term refers to something more than particular types of actions; it signifies the general orientation and tenor of one’s total self by which one is drawn in many ways and at many different levels to persons of the same rather than the opposite gender. (On the basis of this differentiation between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior, it is possible—and indeed happens—that homosexual behavior may occur between people with a heterosexual orientation as well as between people with homosexual orientation.)  Throughout this statement, the term “homosexual” will be used to refer to persons with a predominant and persistent psychosexual attraction toward others of the same gender.

Because of prejudice and misunderstanding, men and women with a homosexual orientation (more properly spoken of as gays and lesbians) have suffered public ridicule, social exclusion and economic hardship, thereby denigrating their human dignity by denying them respect, equality and full participation in society. Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church of Baltimore is setting up a formal and public ministry to gay and lesbian people to bear witness to its opposition to the injustice they have suffered and are suffering.

At the same time, we are mindful of the warning and challenge issued by Pope Paul VI: “It is too easy to throw back on others responsibility for injustice, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally, and how personal conversion is needed first.” In the past, we Roman Catholics have been called upon to recognize in our lives the presence of such injustices as racism and blindness to the poor, and to be converted. Thus, even as we focus attention on the injustices suffered by gays and lesbians because of the prejudices and misunderstandings of society, we cannot overlook injustices they have encountered within our own Church—injustices such as denial of respect and of full participation in the community. Therefore, in formalizing and making public this ministry to gay and lesbian people, we Roman Catholics must also examine our own hearts and recognize where we personally stand in need of conversion because of our own participation in these injustices.

This formal, public ministry to gay and lesbian people is being established as well because many gays and lesbians who are Roman Catholics have expressed the feeling that they are misunderstood by the Church, even that they are being deserted by the Church. The Roman Catholic Church of Baltimore wants to make it clear to all that we have not forgotten these people. We are concerned to respond to their needs—needs which are exacerbated by the injustices which they suffer.

In establishing this formal, public ministry, we not only call upon society to overcome its injustice, we address a message to gays and lesbians as well. We repeat, as the Church has done in every age, the challenge Christ has laid before people. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Not only must we demand from others respect for our dignity as human beings, we must live in such a way as to respect our own dignity. We must do justice to our personhood, for we have been created in the image and likeness of God.

Our response to Christ’s call to perfection must be total, that is, it must be made at every level of who we are as persons. Heart and mind, body and spirit—all have to be developed and integrated to the fullest of our abilities; that alone is fitting gratitude for the great gifts God has bestowed on us. But, as Christ’s command of love so clearly shows, we develop and integrate ourselves only as we reach out to others. Thus, we are to bring friendship and healing into the lives of other individuals; and we are to work toward the betterment of our culture and society so that all people may live together as brothers and sisters in a world marked by justice and peace.

With regard to our sexuality, this call to perfection is a call to form our lives according to the virtue of chastity. Far from being a denial of our sexuality, this virtue is grounded in our belief that sexuality is a gift from God, a creation that God saw as “very good.”  Through chastity, we strive to live out our sexuality to the full of its human potential. This virtue increases the human person’s dignity and enables one to love truly, disinterestedly, unselfishly and with respect for others,” (as the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained). This call to perfection through a life of chastity is addressed to all people, whether their orientation be heterosexual or homosexual, single or married.

The demands this virtue makes on us individuals depends on our particular state of life. Every expression of our sexuality, whether it be a word, an embrace, a kiss or the marital act of intercourse, falls under the demand of love. For, sexuality “as an aspect of personality which lets us enter other persons’ lives as friends and encourages them to enter our lives…is a relational power which includes the qualities of sensitivity, understanding, warmth, openness to persons, compassion and mutual support,” the Most Rev. Francis J. Mugavero wrote. Any expression of our sexuality that is not informed by these qualities demeans not only another person, but our own person as well. The genital expression of our sexuality achieves its unique and fullest meaning within a context of life-giving and commitment. These obligations connected with sexual expression, arising as they do from the very meaning of human sexuality, bind all people, whether their orientation be heterosexual or homosexual.

Accordingly, the homosexual orientation is in no way held to be a sinful condition. Like heterosexuality, it represents the situation in which one finds oneself, and so the starting point for one’s response to Christ’s call to perfection. Responding to this call does not mean that one must change this orientation. Rather, it entails living out the demands of chastity within that orientation.

In setting before gays and lesbians Christ’s call to perfection, the Church also reminds them that they are to respond personally to this call, that central to this response is conscience: i.e., a properly formed conscience. Such a response involves more than merely the learning or internalization of moral rules. Proper formation of conscience requires that an individual make an integral part of himself or herself the “Christian principles inherent in the truths that Christ revealed,” Archbishop Borders wrote. As such, they are part of who one is and what one stands for when an individual confronts a concrete situation within which a moral decision must be made. In making such a decision, “the role of the conscience is that of a judge, not a teacher;… conscience does not teach what is good or evil, nor does it create good or evil. It weighs accumulated data, makes a judgement in very concrete, not theoretical, situations, the concrete situations” of one’s life, Archbishop Borders continued.

The ministry of the Roman Catholic Church to gays and lesbians which finds expression in the call to perfection and in the challenge to respond out of a properly formed conscience is always a pastoral ministry. It is a ministry which is not content merely to repeat the challenge Christ sets before each generation; it seeks to work with each individual, taking into account that person’s particular strengths and weaknesses, and helping that person make the fullest response possible at this moment in his or her life. This pastoral concern for the individual has sometimes given people the impression that the Church no longer takes a stand on the meaning and demands of sexuality and that it allows the individual to do whatever he or she wants. Such is not the case, as the tenor of this document clearly shows. The only way the Church could make certain that such an impression would not be taken would be for the Church to stop using a pastoral approach to ministry. Should that be done, however, Christ’s call to perfection could appear as harsh, impersonal law that is blind to the weaknesses and limitations of the human condition; and the face of a merciful God, as revealed to us so powerfully through Christ, would be covered and lost to sight. The path marked out for the confessor (a priest hearing confession) in the following quotation should be followed by all who minister to gays and lesbians. “The confessor, steering a course between harshness and permissiveness, should manifest great understanding, should give patient and loving encouragement to the individual in the often tedious and discouraging journey to grow in the image of Christ.”

To assist in carrying out this pastoral ministry to gays and lesbians, we draw attention to certain areas of concern without in any way trying to be exhaustive. First of all, gays and lesbians must be treated in a way that communicates a respect for and a valuing of them as persons. This, of course, is only what is due them as human beings. But the prejudices and misunderstandings under which they suffer have denied them this. Without a sense of self-worth of their dignity as human beings, their ability to respond to Christ’s call is severely qualified.

Secondly, this respect requires that the identity of a person not be limited to his or her sexual orientation. In the words of Alan Bell, an author: “…our data appear to indicate that homosexuality involves a large number of widely divergent experiences—developmental, sexual, social, and psychological—and that even after a person has been labeled ‘homosexual’…there is little that can be predicted about the person on the basis of that label.”

Thirdly, we must not overlook the detrimental effects that prejudice, misunderstandings, and social exclusion can have on individuals. “Being subject to misunderstanding and at times unjust discrimination has resulted in an overreaction on the part of some persons of homosexual orientation,” Bishop Mugavero wrote. It may also limit the level of response that can be expected from an individual.

Fourthly, a pastoral ministry approach to gays and lesbians, as to all people, is carried out in the spirit of understanding and forgiveness that was Christ’s. Here we do well to recall the words of the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States in discussing the issue of artificial contraception. While the context is different, the substance of the message is most apropos. Those who do not fully live up to Christ’s call to perfection are urged “…never to lose heart but to continue to take full advantage of the strength which comes from the Sacrament of Penance and the grace, healing, and peace in the Eucharist. May we all be mindful of the invitation of Jesus: ‘The one who comes to me I will never turn away’—John 6:37. Humility, awareness of our pilgrim state, a willingness and determination to grow in the likeness of the Risen Christ will help to restore direction of purpose and spiritual stability.”

A further reason for establishing a formal public ministry to gays and lesbians is to provide outreach to families. There is a need for structures to which the families of gays and lesbians can turn for support and counsel, and which the families of children struggling with their sexual identity can contact for information and guidance.

A final reason for establishing a formal, public ministry to gay and lesbian people is to set up regular lines of communication by which gays and lesbians can make their voice heard by the Church at large. This is most important for two reasons.

First of all, if ministry to any group is to be successful, it must respond to their real needs. The needs of gays and lesbians cannot be stated for them by those who are not part of that group: for, as past history has shown, such an approach too often results in our responding on the basis of an artificial, even distorted picture. Gays and lesbians must have the freedom as well as the means to make known to the whole Church the needs they have.

Secondly, the Church must listen to gays and lesbians to learn what they have to teach about the saving presence of Christ among us. As scriptures show over and over again, God takes the side of the poor and the oppressed. But more is involved than that. Jeremiah the prophet brings this out well when he excoriates one of the kings of Israel for not doing as his father before him:  “He used to examine the cases of the poor and needy, then all went well. Is not that what it means to know me?—it is Yahweh who speaks.” God not only takes the side of the poor and the oppressed, he makes Himself known through them. Thus, as a people who hunger for the Word of God, we must open our ears to His every message.

These, then, are the reasons why it is both appropriate and essential that a formal, public ministry to gays and lesbians be established in the Roman Catholic Church of Baltimore. We Roman Catholics must set ourselves against the injustice gays and lesbians suffer because of the prejudice and misunderstanding existing both in society and in the Church itself. Gays and lesbians have to hear the call to perfection Christ has given all people as well as the invitation He extends to respond out of a properly formed conscience. There is need for a ministry that is pastoral in nature, taking into account the special needs that gays and lesbians have. There is need for a structure to which families can turn for information and support. Finally, there is need to establish a means of communication by which the Church as a whole can be addressed by gays and lesbians.


April 28, 1983

Washington State Catholic Conference
Seattle, Washington

The Prejudice Against Homosexuals and the Ministry of the Church
Policy Document


This paper deals with the obligations of authorities in Church and State towards homosexuals. In particular, it focuses upon the nature and the reprehensibleness of the prejudice against such persons in our society and the need to combat such prejudice by policy measures in both Church and State. However, since this paper has been commissioned by Church authorities to represent an official Church position, it does not attempt to rethink or to develop substantially the Catholic position on the morality of homosexuality–however much such rethinking and development is needed in this and all other areas of the Church’s tradition. Rather, it presents the current official position as a given for its limited purposes.

At the outset we need to define briefly a few terms. Orientation refers to an habitual state of being which inclines one toward certain attitudes and actions. A homosexual orientation (some female homosexuals speak of “preference” rather than “orientation”) inclines one to prefer as a sexual partner a person of one’s own sex. Thus, one is attracted to persons of the same sex and one is more desirous of having genital sex with such persons than with persons of the opposite sex. If such a person engages in genital activity with a person of the same sex, he or she is said to be acting out homosexually. This acting out is perhaps better called homogenital activity. Finally, a homosexual (or homosexual person) is one who is homosexually oriented, whether he or she acts out or not. A gay is a male homosexual; a lesbian is a female homosexual; a straight person is one who is heterosexual.

Background Elements of the Situation We Face

Two elements constitute the background against which we take up the Catholic principles regulating the obligations of the Church and the State to combat by public measures conditions prejudicial to homosexual persons: (1) the de facto conditions of prejudice against gays and lesbians, and (2) the teaching of the Church on homosexuality and prejudice against homosexual persons.

  1. Prejudice against Homosexuals

There is considerable evidence that homosexuals are victims of prejudice. Many in the general population “prejudge” homosexuals in that without evidence they intellectually impute evils such as child molesting to gays and lesbians. Further, because of such prejudgments they often manifest hostile attitudes to homosexuals and act toward them in such a way as to inflict harm upon them, even grave physical harm, simply because they are identified as being homosexual.

The causes of such prejudice are partially known. Some persons fear an orientation and a style of living that differ in important respects from their own. They are gripped by fear of the unknown. Others have received misinformation and prejudicial attitudes from parents and the surrounding environment. In addition, many Christians have based irrational opposition to homosexuals upon a false or fundamentalistic reading of the Scriptures. Within the Catholic Church magisterial teaching has been incorrectly used as a basis for acts against gays and lesbians, and the teaching itself, at times, has been expressed in a way that has occasioned prejudicial attitudes and activity on the part of some Church members.

  1. Church Teaching on Homosexuality and Prejudice Against Homosexual Persons

a. Church Teaching on the Morality of Homosexual Orientation and Acts

First of all, Church teaching is positive with regard to homosexual persons considered in the totality of their beings. It should be quite obvious that homosexuality is an abstraction. No one is only a homosexual just as no one is only a mother, only a president, or only an artist with no other constituents in her/his makeup. Hence, a homosexual person may manifest virtues and qualities that are admirable by any standard. In fact, there is some evidence that many homosexuals possess important attributes that are often, unfortunately, lacking in their straight counterparts. Thus, it appears that sensitivity to the needs of persons and the ability to express warm feelings towards both men and women are frequently present in gays. Hence, the Church, which considers a person as a whole, can find much good to be praised and affirmed in any homosexual person. Although one’s sexuality affects to some extent all that one is and does, just as does every basic quality, homosexual orientation and homosexual acting out constitute but one aspect, and not the most important aspect, of concrete gay and lesbian persons. Accordingly, no matter what one thinks about their homosexuality, one is never justified in labelling such persons as homosexual and then condemning them under that category. No person is merely a category. He or she is composed of many good attributes that outstrip any single category.

Second, Church teaching does not morally condemn homosexual orientation. It is true that it views such an orientation as not fully appropriate since in the person so oriented there is lacking an integration of the psychic side with the procreative possibilities of the physical side. The more a person is integrated, the more he or she unites the physical, the psychological, the intellectual, the volitional and the social. A specific capacity of the physical sex act is to generate a child. An integration of the person implies that the tendency of that person moves him or her toward expressing that physical power in a manner that respects its procreative abilities. Because this integrating tendency is lacking in one homosexually oriented, the Church has traditionally seen such orientation as falling short of the norm of total integration implied in the two great commandments.

However, this inappropriateness of homosexual orientation does not imply that it is sinful in itself or that it is caused by the person’s own sin. Although it is apparently true that a small number of lesbians have made a positive choice of their orientation, the evidence seems to indicate that in the vast number of cases homosexuality is not caused by the person but by factors as yet unknown; since the condition is not the result of an individual’s free choice, it cannot possibly be the result of personal sin. Instead, it is one of the many results of the human condition that leaves each of us lacking some part of the full integration to which we are called. An older theology spoke of concupiscence and the remains of original sin. Other examples of such remains of original sin are a tendency to anger, inability to commit oneself, inability to communicate with those to whom one is bound, etc. To the degree that such orientations are not caused by the individuals involved, they may not be called sinful. Moral criticism, reproach and blame—if ever they have validity—have validity only with regard to orientations that are freely caused, thoughts and desires that are consented to, and deeds that are freely performed.

Nor are homosexual persons to be blamed for not changing their orientation. It is true that one is obliged to change an habitual orientation which falls short of the ideal insofar as one is able to do so. This is a certain but often forgotten corollary of the two great commandments of the law. However, the best evidence seems to indicate that we have no known way of altering a definite homosexual orientation. To the extent that this continues to be the case, it is unfair and cruel to reproach such persons for not altering or trying to alter their basic condition.

Third, Church teaching is positive about most activities of gays and lesbians. Only homogenital activity and the foreplay to it is disapproved by the Church since it sees these acts as attaining their full significance only in the context of marriage. However, the ordinary acts of life, the expressions of concern and tenderness, the virtues of charity and magnanimity, in short, all that is praised in straight persons is just as much to be accepted, affirmed and praised in homosexual persons. Every other person we know does some kind of activity with which we disagree. Yet, because we recognize that much of their activity is acceptable, we do not condemn globally the actions of such persons. Gays and lesbians have just as much right to our approval and acceptance of their overall activity.

Fourth, Church teaching indicates that even with regard to homogenital activity no one except Almighty God can make certain judgments about the personal sinfulness of acts. This is so because of the conjunction of two factors. On the one hand, each person has unique qualities, unique strengths, and a unique set of weaknesses. Thus, some find it easy to control their tempers and passions, but they are dull, uncreative, and little concerned about what is going on about them. Others are inclined to anger and sensuality, but they are intensely and creatively interested in the world around them. Each person has an unique starting point for moral living—herself or himself as concretely existing. On the other hand, each person is held to move ever more closely toward the ultimate norm of total and integrated love for God, for self, and for every other human person from where that person happens to be with the strengths and weaknesses that person has. All specific commandments express aspects of the ideal norm that all are called to—the norm of total love of God and persons. The combination of these two factors indicates that morality has to do with each person’s taking the next step toward fulfilling the norm of the two great commandments. A person is guilty of sin only when she or he does not do what she or he is capable of doing in progress to that norm. Because we cannot know just where another person stands and because we cannot know just how hard that person is trying to live up to the total norm of the two great commandments from where the person is in a given act, we are unable to judge the degree of responsibility the individual bears for the fact that in some aspects his or her act falls short of the moral norm. Thus, we cannot judge the degree of sin involved in a man’s failure to grow in his ability to communicate with or show tenderness toward his wife because we do not know just how much he is able to change the present orientation that makes it so difficult for him to share his ideas and tender feelings. In a similar fashion, we cannot judge that a homosexual who engages in homosexual activity is committing subjective sin. What we can say is that this activity falls short of the ultimate norm of Christian morality in the area of genital expression.

b. Church Teaching and Prejudice Against Homosexuals

First of all, prejudice in all its forms falls short of the norm of Christian morality. One can be prejudiced in orientation and attitude, in thought, or in activity. One is prejudiced in orientation and attitude against another person when one’s instinctive emotions and interior reactions reject that person or significant aspects of her/his activity with little or no justifying evidence. Thus, to be fearful of some minority person merely because he or she is a minority person or to have a mistrustful attitude toward the teaching ability of all gays and lesbians merely because they are homosexual is to be prejudiced in orientation and attitude. One is prejudiced in thought when without evidence one explicitly thinks evil of another person. Finally, one is prejudiced in activity when one implements in external activity one’s prejudicial attitude or thought. All such forms of prejudice fall short of the Christian norm and must be combatted to the extent possible. This teaching applies in a special way to gays and lesbians because they have been subjected to prejudice in a gross form.

Second, the prejudice against homosexuals is a greater infringement of the norm of Christian morality than is homosexual orientation or activity. A parallel example may illustrate why this is so. Suppose persons who are unable or unwilling to commit themselves, who are incapable of expressing affection toward their spouses, or who are completely insensitive to the needs of others—qualities, by the way, which are frequently destructive of marriage—are labelled “the uncommitted,” “those lacking affection,” and “the insensitive.”  Suppose, further, that they are so labelled despite fine qualities they otherwise possess and that they are subjected to indignities solely because of the negative qualities which furnish the basis for the labels they bear. The vast majority of persons would consider such treatment of the uncommitted, the insensitive and the non-affective as grossly prejudicial and immoral. And they would be right. Yet homosexuals are subjected to such treatment merely because they are homosexuals.

Such prejudice hampers homosexual persons in their efforts to grow, makes it easy for them to become embittered at the unfair treatment they experience, and at times leads to their being inflicted with severe bodily injury and even death. Further, such prejudice distorts the personality of the persons who manifest the prejudice, warps their judgment, and leads them to treat other human beings made in the image and likeness of God in a manner that ignores their dignity. The enormity of the moral evil of such prejudice should be obvious.

Third, while the Church’s teaching with regard to homosexuality (as outlined above) does not by itself cause prejudice (no more than does its teaching against premarital sex cause, by itself, prejudice against unmarried couples who live together), it seems true to say that the manner in which Church teaching has been concretely conveyed has contributed to the prejudice against gays and lesbians. The tendency of some Catholic teachers to speak about homosexual orientation and activity as if these where the supreme evils or as if they constituted a dangerous attack on marital values illustrates the point. Further, there have been persons in the Church who have contributed to the general prejudice against homosexuals by the derogatory language and tone they use in referring to gays and lesbians. Finally, many Catholics have heard the Church’s teaching against the background furnished by a society whose actions and attitudes are permeated with prejudice against homosexuals. As a result they have given to the Church’s teaching a nuance which is prejudicial to homosexual persons.

All this brings out that the Church has a serious obligation with regard to homosexual persons. Because all forms of prejudice are affronts to the dignity of persons, because the prejudice against homosexuals is such a great moral evil, and because Church persons have contributed to the constitution of an environment that is prejudicial to homosexuals, the Church is seriously obliged to work toward the uprooting of such prejudice.

Roles of Church and State in Rectifying this Prejudicial Situation

  1. General Considerations

The Church and the State have partially overlapping and partially different functions in promoting the common good. The State is an agent of public order, and it deals only with external situations and activities which affect public peace, public moral existence and justice amidst its citizens. In principle, the State should recognize liberty of thought and should regulate external activity only to the extent that public peace, justice and moral existence would be violated by its failure to act. Hence, the State does not enjoy the role of making judgments on private thoughts or private actions of citizens; nor does it have the function of enjoining its own value system upon its citizens.

The Church also functions in the promotion of the common good of society. Like the State it has a role in the fostering of public order. Thus, the Church has the right and duty to promote laws and situations within the state that foster external order and justice. In addition, the Church is also obligated to care for the public order in its own domain—the parishes, hospitals, and other institutions which it conducts in the carrying out of its mission—by appropriate legislation. In short, both Church and State have a part to play in the regulation of public order. Thus, both have obligations to meet the evil of prejudice insofar as that evil affects the public peace, public moral existence, and justice among those whom they serve.

However, the Church has a further function which it does not share with the State—that of promoting the internalization of the value system inherent in its tradition. This means that it has the right and the duty to inculcate principles of personal and private living and to foster structures that will help enroot these principles in the feelings, attitudes, and activities of its members. Hence, the Church is concerned with more than exterior and public activity; it is concerned with the development of the whole person.

  1. Specific Applications to the Prejudice against Homosexuals

a. Applications Pertaining to Church and State

First, the orientation or inclination of any person of itself and apart from any overt activity may not be the basis for depriving him/her of ordinary rights to courtesy, employment, advancement, equal benefits, etc. in either Church or State. Hence, the mere fact that a person has a homosexual orientation is never sufficient reason for public discrimination. State and Church authorities have duties to protect these rights of homosexuals. Further, insofar as orientations and inclinations do not of themselves affect the public order, efforts to uncover homosexual tendencies by questionnaires and other investigative techniques are reprehensible.

Second, Church and State authority should see to it that external behavior which is not a matter of public knowledge should not of itself be the basis for discriminating against employees. Should an employer learn of private external behaviors, he/she may not use such information as the basis for terminating or otherwise discriminating against an employee. Only if the behavior in question seriously affects the ability of the person to fulfill the duties of his/her position may a superior discharge him/her. Thus, one may remove an airplane pilot upon discovering that he is frequently drunk on the grounds that he may endanger the lives of passengers. Similarly, if it be true that homosexual intelligence agents are easily subject to blackmail, one may remove them from their posts. The same would hold true for agents involved in any other activities which target them for blackmail.

Third, a person may be disciplined or even discharged from a position if his/her conduct disturbs the just public order. Hence, two homosexuals who make a public display of affection which seriously disrupts a school lunchroom may be dismissed. Two heterosexuals who do the same thing may also be dismissed, and for the same reason—serious disturbance of the public order. However, if the disturbance of order stems more from prejudicial attitudes of the public than from the activity of the homosexual persons, authorities are obligated to do all that is possible to combat such attitudes.

Fourth, all persons are entitled to humane public treatment. Therefore, public authority in Church and State should not allow gays and lesbians, no matter how manifest their lifestyles may be, to be subjected to violence, public insult or scorn, or other public indignities.

In general, individuals have the right to act freely in society as long as they do no harm to others. Public authority should not restrict freedom when such harm does not occur. In fact, it should safeguard such freedom. This is so even if individuals perform acts which others in the society consider immoral. Hence, Catholic theologians have steadfastly opposed laws which punish or restrict private premarital sex. To attempt to control such activity by preventative or punitive legislation would lead to invasion of privacy, snooping and a host of other evils. Similar reasoning applies to homosexual activity of a private nature.

b. Applications which Differ from Church to State

The mission of the Church differs from that of the State. Both are obligated to foster the public order, but the Church must also promote the value system that is integral to its mission. To the degree that its value system goes beyond the public order which defines the limits of the State’s competence, to that degree will the principles of operation of the Church differ from those of the State.

This means, in the first place, that the Church is obligated to combat, as far as possible, not just manifest prejudice against gays and lesbians, but also the underlying prejudicial understandings and attitudes. Jesus came not just to change the activity of persons but to bring about a conversion of heart, mind, and soul as well—in short, a turning of the whole person toward complete love and acceptance of God and every human being, especially the victims of injustice and discrimination. It is not a coincidence that he was found amidst the poor, the despised, the publicans, and the prostitutes. Though we have no explicit record of Jesus’ attitude toward homosexuals, we do know that he championed those who were subjected to prejudiced attitudes and behavior in his time.

Secondly, and more concretely, the Church can combat the evil of prejudice against homosexuals by strongly proclaiming the gross evil of prejudicial attitudes and conduct toward lesbians and gays; by fostering legislation at all levels in the State and in the ecclesiastical arena to remove systemic prejudice; by making efforts to purify of all prejudice the manner in which it conveys its moral teaching on homosexuality; by encouraging empirical research on homosexuality and the ways to combat prejudice against lesbians and gays; and by fostering ongoing theological research and criticism, with regard to its own theological tradition on homosexuality, none of which is infallibly taught.

Thirdly, the Church needs to be sensitive to the danger of occasioning prejudice by its manner of implementing its moral position on homosexuality. As we have indicated in the section on Church Teaching on the Morality of Homosexual Orientation and Acts, the Church sees such an orientation and such acts as falling short of the norm. Accordingly, the Church is obliged to reflect this in its explicit teaching, in its hiring practices, and in the overall way it projects values.

Hence, the Church has a right to set certain standards of conduct for those who participate in its mission. It has a right and a duty to require that the persons it employs, if they are active homosexuals, neither publicize their lifestyles nor advocate homogenital activity as perfectly acceptable. In other words, it has a right to ask that those who participate in its mission project publicly by word and action its own traditional moral principles. Accordingly, the Church also has a right to dismiss persons who speak against its principles or who so conduct themselves in the public arena that their example gives scandal with regard to these principles. Of course, this in no way means that the Church should not employ homosexuals. Such persons can and should be employed as long as they do nothing to negate the Church’s moral position in a serious way. The same can be said for persons who do not live up to the Church’s moral norms in other areas. There are no special principles for homosexuals. The Church is obligated to see that they are treated just like other human beings.

By contrast, on the principles we have stated, the State has no business demanding that gays or lesbians project publicly its given set of moral values. Hence, homosexuals who make public their lifestyle or who advocate homosexual orientation and acting out as completely moral should not be excluded from employment as long as their activity does not disrupt the public order. The State should protect them against discrimination occasioned by their lifestyle.

Fourthly, there are a few sensitive issues regarding the employment of homosexuals in Church institutions. Thus, a number of Catholics are concerned about the role of homosexuals in professions which have care of their children. There are those who think that gays and lesbians inevitably impart a homosexual value system to children or that they will molest children. This is a prejudice and must be unmasked as such. There is no evidence that exposure to homosexuals, of itself, harms a child, just as there is no evidence that exposure to couples who live in non-marital unions, of itself, corrupts the young. Accordingly, there is no need to make efforts to screen out all homosexually oriented persons from our educational system. What is to be required is that all those who participate should impart by word and action the Catholic value system. Those who seek employment within the Church can be asked directly if they intend to impart Catholic doctrine and the broad Catholic value system. That is all.

Another problem arises in cases where a Catholic community is rent by deep-seated prejudices against lesbians and gays. In such circumstances it may be impossible to hire homosexuals, even those who do not act out, without having Catholic institutions wrecked or severely hampered in their operation by prejudiced individuals. In such cases those in authority have to balance the harm to the community caused by the destructive activities of these prejudiced persons against the injustice resulting from being pressured not to hire homosexuals or to terminate those already hired. In certain circumstances, those in authority may judge prudentially that they will have to give in to the pressure. In other circumstances, they will prudentially judge that the common good is better fostered by taking a firm stand and braving the wrath of persons blinded by prejudice. Thus prudence in this matter is not to be identified with “playing it safe.”  Rather, it is to be identified with selecting the best means in ambiguous circumstances of moving toward a greater realization of the common good. No matter what decision is taken, solid efforts must be made to root out such prejudicial attitudes and activities from the community.

Ultimately all people need to be reminded that homosexuals are persons, and, as such, that they have rights and feelings that must be respected. In particular, lesbians and gays have the right and the duty to contribute to society, and they should be encouraged to live up to that right and duty. They are children of God, and they should be treated with all the respect and dignity that children of God deserve. They should be helped by the rest of society to grow toward the wholeness of life revealed in the words and deeds of Jesus.

May, 1983

Senate of Priests
San Francisco, California

Ministry and Homosexuality in the Archdiocese of San Francisco
Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan


“Reform your lives and believe in the Good News” (Mark 1:15). This was the central message that Jesus preached to his disciples when he proclaimed the Kingdom of God among us. And this is the central message that the Church continues to proclaim to our world today: a message of challenge, of hope, of unconditional concern. It is the mission and responsibility of the local Church to proclaim this message in all of its fullness to the people of God, and in doing so, to build up a community of faith and love where there is no more Jew or Greek, no more slave or free, but only the freedom and joy that come to the children of God.

The call to discipleship that emerges from the Gospel is the call to conform ourselves to the image and example of Jesus Christ. All of the moral wisdom that is genuinely Christian can be summarized in this the effort to live as He lived, to serve as He served, to suffer as He suffered. All of us are called to travel this journey together, relying on the aid and support that we can give to one another, and above all, on the help of our God. For we have all too many faults and weaknesses to stand alone. Each of us tries to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and yet each of us knows well how often we stray from the path of discipleship.

The Church recognizes the difficulties that we encounter in our effort to conform ourselves to Christ in a world that all too often spurns the values of the Gospel. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council summarized this struggle in these words:

The modern world shows itself at once powerful and weak, capable of the noblest deed or the foulest. Before it lies the path to freedom or slavery, to progress or retreat, to brotherhood or hatred… In man himself, many elements struggle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature he experiences his limitations in a multitude of ways. On the other hand, he feels himself to be boundless in his desires and summoned to a higher life. Pulled by manifold attractions, he is constantly forced to choose among them and to renounce them… The Church believes that Christ, who died and was raised for all, can, through his Spirit, offer man the light and strength to measure up to his supreme destiny.1

This belief that Christ offers to us the light and strength to follow the path of discipleship is at the core of the mission of the Church. This belief is also the foundation for this plan on Ministry and Homosexuality in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.2

It is reputably estimated that there are approximately 120,000 homosexual men and women in the San Francisco Bay Area.3  Among these men and women there are blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, rich, poor, educated, illiterate. There are Democrats, Republicans, independents, old, young, and handicapped. Rich in their diversity, these men and women have one thing in common: they are homosexual, and because of that, their lives have been profoundly affected.4

If the Church in San Francisco is to be faithful to its universal salvific mission, it must recognize this fact and ask itself how the presence of this large homosexual population in the Bay Area will influence the effort to make the Archdiocese of San Francisco a true community of faith, a community reflective of the values of the Gospel. This pastoral plan, adopted by the Senate of Priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and approved by Archbishop Quinn, is an effort to do  just that. This plan is the result of two years of work by a subcommittee of the Senate of Priests, work that has included consultations with homosexual men and women, as well as with theologians, psychologists, and experts in the field of pastoral ministry. As these consultations progressed, it became more and more apparent that any effective pastoral plan must be based upon the teachings of the Church, the “results” of modern social science, and the real lived experiences of homosexual men and women. And above all, it must take into account that, heterosexual or homosexual, we are all called to walk the journey of discipleship together in this world, looking always to the light of Christ for our strength and our guidance.

  1. Foundations of Ministry

The Holy Spirit, the “Lord and Giver of Life,” is present in the Church as the principle of unity, of diversity, and of harmony.

As principle of unity, the Spirit overcomes the divisions of human and cultural origin; as St. Paul explains, we are “all one in Christ Jesus,” and thus there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3:28).

As principle of diversity, the Spirit gives a variety of gifts for the common good of the Church, for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ. The Spirit gives to each for the benefit of all. The Pauline lists (e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:1-31), then, should be regarded as illustrative rather than exhaustive. It is here that we find the essence of ministry in the Church. The gift of the Spirit is to be exercised for the upbuilding of the Church: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).

As principle of harmony, the Spirit draws together and orders these various gifts. It is here that we find the object of the Church’s ministry: to order and harmonize the gifts of all.

The Church’s ministry, therefore, always seeks the goal of unity, a goal which calls for harmony, which preserves the diversity of gifts and orders them toward unity.

One area of concern that the Church in the Archdiocese of San Francisco seeks to touch is the complex arena of homosexuality. In this Holy Year of Redemption, the Senate of Priests is very cognizant of the Pope’s affirmation concerning Christian unity, “a reciprocal harmony of intent in all who believe in Christ…”

In his Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality of 5 May 1980, Archbishop Quinn stated that “The Church recognizes the complexity of the question (of homosexuality) as it exists in the life of an individual person…There must be sensitivity in treating the question. Homosexual persons must be helped and encouraged to strive for wholeness and personal integrity…”(20-21).

Homosexuality is, then, truly a complex issue, in both its personal and social dimensions. The subject must be treated with great care and understanding, a treatment rooted in the Church’s teachings about morality and the human meaning of sexuality.

In the search for unity, we must constantly remember that morality is first of all a call to conform our lives to the image of Jesus Christ. St. Paul names Christ as “the image of the Invisible God, the first-born of all creatures. In Him everything in heaven and on earth was created… In Him, everything continues in being”(Col 1:15-17).

Christian morality is, then, not arbitrary; rather it is the faithful articulation in our lives of the image of Jesus Christ. The fundamental ethical command imposed on the Christian is the imitation of Christ, which means seeking to be as faithful to the human vocation as He was.

The Church’s ministry to homosexual people must proceed knowledgeably. There have been multiple studies published about homosexuality, some of which have given particular attention to the homosexual communities in San Francisco.5

These studies raise a variety of concerns, attitudes and conclusions. What does seem clear, however, is that the homosexual orientation is not simply a matter of moral weakness or sinful indulgence or a truncated sexual development. While these factors might be present in some persons, it seems false and misinformed to conclude that all homosexual men and women suffer from such anomalies of behavior.

The Church sustains a long history of sexual morality, based on its understanding of Scriptural principles, human nature and theological reflection. The principles of this sexual morality are clear: all men and women are called to live chastely outside of marriage and to live chastely in exclusive love with one’s spouse in marriage.

The Church rejects the concept that sexual activity is neutral or that homosexual activity is objectively good. This rejection doubtlessly creates great tensions for many people, especially those persons who do, in fact, sustain a homosexual orientation.

It is precisely because of such tensions that the Church’s ministry is so very important. Homosexual people should never be treated with ridicule, contempt or hatred. On the contrary, as the Bishops of this country affirmed in their 1976 pastoral letter, To Live in Christ Jesus, homosexual people must be treated with understanding, patience and love, and should never be the object of prejudice on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The Church is quite aware of the fact that it is not easy to love chastely, especially when one does not have the support of married life or the inspiration of vows or a celibate commitment made in the midst of a faith community.

What, then, are homosexual Catholics looking for from the Church’s ministry?  As all Catholics, they look to the Church for a community in which the Gospel can be lived and their spiritual lives can be enriched. They look to the Church for support for their Christian faith and their Catholic heritage. They seek an understanding Church, a community where they can be accepted as men and women who are Catholic and who also happen to be homosexual. They look to the Church as a community of faith, a place where they may responsibly and sensitively understand the interplay between their religious faith and their human sexuality, and to live the sacramental life of the Church in all of its rich meanings.

St. Paul urges, in his second letter to the Corinthians, that Christians “…agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you”(13:11-12).

While the scriptural context of this passage is undoubtedly liturgical, Paul’s admonition is likewise a challenge to all Christians to openly and honestly manifest their faith in Jesus Christ.

The Senate of Priests desires to help foster a supportive atmosphere where all Christians might live in peace, harmony and unity. The Senate thus presents this paper in the hope of creating a more viable ministry in this local Church to and for homosexual people.

Personhood and Homosexuality: Counseling the Homosexual Person

  1. The Feelings of a Homosexual Person

Any ministry to homosexual people must begin with an attempt deeply to appreciate the feelings that lie within the individual man and woman. A recent study commissioned by the Commission on Social Justice of the Archdiocese of San Francisco (July 1982) gives a number of concrete examples where homosexual people have felt profoundly hurt and mistreated by the Church. These feelings cannot be discarded and ridiculed.

Many homosexual persons were interviewed by the subcommittee of the Senate of Priests in the course of the two years this paper has been in the process of research and formulation.

It is clear to us that the examples given in the study mentioned above are not isolated or exaggerated. Numerous homosexual Catholics feel that the behavior of homosexual people is judged more seriously than that of heterosexual people. Homosexual Catholics often state that they feel that the Church regards their orientation and behavior as the peccatum pessimum, the worst type of sinful conduct.

At the same time, this awareness does not match the experience of many homosexual people. In other words, they do not experience their homosexual orientation as sinful, truncated or abnormal.

It is clear that one of the worst burdens that many homosexual people sustain is the feeling outwardly of being taboo, while inwardly sensing a rightness about their sexuality. The human dilemma here is obvious: the homosexual person feels rejected by society and the Church, and thus for all practical purposes, feels that the fact of a homosexual orientation is, in itself, a sin. The Church’s ministry to homosexual people must begin with these deep feelings and move in such a direction that homosexuality might be a building block rather than a stumbling block in the ongoing search for unity and harmony.

  1. What it Means to be “Different”

This feeling of ambiguity creates in the homosexual person an awareness of being “different” from the majority of people. This consciousness of being different, of belonging to a minority, leaves the homosexual person suffering from the same type of problem as other persons who sense themselves to be in a minority, with the added but important factor that their “difference” often must be a secret one. This need for secrecy can lead to a deeper alienation.

Ministry to homosexual people must, likewise, recognize that this “difference” is greatly at the heart of society’s treatment of homosexual people as objects of cruel jokes and contempt. This “objectification” then leads the homosexual person to feelings of a lack of self-esteem and loneliness. In ordinary mixed society, then, homosexual people often feel like strangers. They are shunned and despised, while knowledge about them is very often greatly distorted.

While it may be true that some homosexual people use this “difference” to sustain a subculture where persons are reduced to objects and sexuality is totally divorced from one’s total humanity, a large number of homosexual people continue to look to the Church for a place where they might identify authentic human integrity and holiness of life. The vulgar exhibitionism that we see too often in some parts of the city of San Francisco and inscribed blatantly in a number of gay newspapers and magazines should not keep the Church from developing a sound ministry to homosexual people who are sincerely striving for integrity of life.

Many good people who are homosexual are constantly struggling against the pressures of the homosexual subculture:  these people must be assisted not to despair, and the Church must offer them encouragement and support. Rejection by the Church and its pastors might push homosexual persons to rely exclusively on a subculture that demeans them and violates their personal integrity.

Most professionals would agree that homosexual persons sustain a psychic constitution that orients them toward a same-sexed psychological, emotional and erotic structure. The true homosexual is usually aware of this orientation at a very early age, if not explicitly, at least implicitly, with the feeling of being different.

Ministry to homosexual people must proceed, then, with an awareness that the homosexual person is different and has not chosen this difference. Homosexuality appears to be a condition deeply imbedded in an individual long before any conscious choice is made.

  1. What Homosexuality Does Not Mean

Whatever the elements, whatever the blend, most homosexual adults have no awareness of having chosen homosexuality. In early adolescence when others’ fantasies focused on the opposite sex, theirs focused on the same sex. In later adolescence and early adulthood when others fell in and out of love with the opposite sex, they fell in and out of love with the same sex. When others committed themselves in the context of the lifelong companionship of marriage, the homosexual person often had only the bar, “the closet,” and personal isolation.

In some unrecountable manner, something “different” had happened to shape the homosexual person’s development during the early critical years of childhood.

Crucial to this realization is the significant acknowledgement that a person’s homosexuality should not be translated as a “master trait”: that is, a person should not be reduced to his or her homosexual orientation. A homosexual person may, in fact, be well-adjusted or maladjusted, promiscuous or unpromiscuous, religious or irreligious, reliable or unreliable.

In society, the label “homosexual” often places people in a category of misfits, an excluded deviant class, a category that then leads to a host of misinformation and exaggerations about homosexual people; and ultimately to violence.

Misinformation and categorical definitions usually lead to the belief that homosexual persons are inferior and may then be mistreated with impunity, prejudice and violent action. This general conviction is commonly expressed in such prejudices as: by definition, homosexual persons are child molesters, oversexed and licentious characters. There are no reputable data whatsoever that support this type of conclusion, and ministry to the homosexual person must acknowledge this fact.

At least these points must be recognized:

  1. It is untrue that most homosexual persons are attracted to children and adolescents.
  2. It is inaccurate that most homosexual people are easily identified.
  3. It is misleading to say that most homosexual people automatically recognize each other.
  4. It is untrue that homosexual people are automatically unstable and promiscuous.
  5. It is a misunderstanding to claim that homosexual people simply need willpower to correct their orientation.
  6. It is inaccurate to identify all homosexual people with radical pressure groups.
  7. It is incorrect to assert that homosexual persons sustain a higher incidence of mental disorder, and
  8. It is inaccurate to assume that homosexual persons are limited to only certain social classes or professions.

As we become more cognizant of these factors, we will hopefully become more understanding of the meaning of the Catholic Bishops when they counselled in To Live in Christ Jesus (1976): “Homosexuals, like everyone else, should not suffer from prejudice against their basic human rights; they have a right to  respect, friendship, and justice. They should have an active role in the Christian community.”  This same counsel is gathered from the many homosexual people we interviewed and the literature we studied: the homosexual person seeks from the Church a sensitive attitude, where he or she might be allowed to be homosexual; that is, a Church where he or she will find acceptance, understanding and love.

The Call of Holiness: Counseling the Homosexual Person

In his work, On Flight, St. Ambrose writes: “The life we live is not now our ordinary life but the life of Christ: a life of sinlessness, of chastity, of simplicity and every other virtue. We have risen with Christ. Let us live in Christ, let us ascend in Christ…”

Christian morality is primarily concerned about this call to live “the life of Christ,” this holiness of life. We must never forget that we are all under the grace of God, and with grace, all things are possible.

Fundamental to all ministry to homosexual people is this need to administer the resources of grace for true and authentic transformation of life.

Accordingly, the Church must seek to fulfill certain exigencies that will assist the homosexual person to realize deeply his or her call to holiness of life:

  1. To provide a preaching and teaching ministry where we are confronted with the biblical truth of the all holy God who seeks in Jesus and in the Church to release persons from sin and hatred; it is God who moves the heart toward true repentance;
  2. To provide a preaching and teaching ministry that emphasizes God’s call to spiritual renewal, the need for zeal in both personal and social dimensions of morality, and the power of the Spirit to transform our lives; and
  3. To provide a preaching and teaching ministry that stresses the grace and power for renewal available in prayer and in the sacramental life of the Church.

The power of sin remains virulent in our world and affects both personal and social structures. To model ourselves in the image of Jesus Christ clearly demands a deep prayer life and a participation in the sacraments of the Church, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

St. Paul enjoins us in Romans 12:12 to “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. “We will not reach perfection in the love of neighbor if that love does not rise from love of God as its root.

In his Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality, Archbishop Quinn has written:  “…in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Penance supported by a life of daily prayer and growing faith, every believer finds that what is judged impossible by the world is indeed possible”(p. 24).

Homosexual people have the same need for the sacraments as heterosexual people; and they have the same right to receive the sacraments. Two of the elements that clearly exclude a person from receiving the Eucharist are a lack of personal faith and the commitment or awareness of personal, serious sin.

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have addressed this fact directly in their 1979 letter, An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People:

In determining whether or not to administer Absolution or give Communion to a Homosexual, a pastor must be guided by the general principles of fundamental theology that only a certain moral obligation may be imposed. An invincible doubt, whether of law or fact, permits one to follow a true and solidly “probable opinion” in favor of a more liberal interpretations (p. 13).

The specific meaning of this directive becomes clear as we carefully consider the importance of the following three points:

  1. The Principle of Gradualism

To live an authentic life of holiness and prayer calls for a deep personal conversion, a conversion that oftentimes necessitates gradual change and development. This principle of gradualism is consistent with the Church’s moral tradition (6) and finds a clear articulation in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Family (November 1981):

What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward. Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man (n. 9).7

John Paul II nuanced this principle in his Address to the College of Cardinals on 5 November 1979. He was speaking of the whole community of the Church and the need we all must sustain toward “solidarity with these brothers and sisters in the faith…” He then adds:

Solidarity means above all a proper understanding and then proper action, not on the basis of what corresponds to the concept of the person offering help, but on the basis of what corresponds to the real needs of the person being helped, and what corresponds to his or her dignity.

The principle of gradualism thus recognizes that personal movement toward greater good and deeper personal integrity is gradual and progressive and is brought about only “in steps.”  Every minister in the Church must carefully discern this “dynamic process” within the “person being helped.” Ministry within the Catholic Church can never ignore the Church’s ethical teachings on human sexuality and the objective immorality of homosexual activity.

Concomitantly, however, it is likewise important to carefully interpret the meaning of sexual activity in this person’s life: that is, to understand the pattern of life in which such activity takes place and to take into consideration the meaning that these sexual acts have for different people.

Pope Paul VI affirmed this same principle of gradualism on 8 December 1974 in his Exhortation on “The Holy Year and Reconciliation in the Church.”  The Pope urged every individual “to look critically at himself and his actions” so that he may be lead “to more prudent choices.”  He then counsels:

We exhort all the faithful…‘carefully to examine the innermost places of your heart and explore the recesses of your soul’…For the Spirit is present and active in the depths of every Christian soul, leading all in humility and peace along the paths of truth and love…We greatly desire…that the whole people of God would advance…on…the stages of sanctification.

The 1973 document of the Catholic Bishops, Principles To Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality, recognizes this same principle of gradualism. In speaking of the need for homosexual persons to develop stable relationships, this document teaches:

If a homosexual has progressed…in the effort to develop a stable relationship with a given person (but) has occasionally fallen into…sin, he should be absolved and instructed to take measures to avoid the sin without breaking off a friendship which has helped him grow as a person (p. 11).

There is clear recognition here that personal integrity comes about progressively and an attitude of support and encouragement is the “proper action” that must be taken.

For the many reasons we have already mentioned, many homosexual people find their lives to be lonely and their sexuality to be broken. While this is not so in all cases, it is a fact in many instances. It is this need for closeness and intimacy that leads the homosexual person to seek stable relationship with another person. Homosexual people fall in love. And as long as this is so, sexual activity might occasionally occur.

Objectively, the Church teaches that homosexual activity in such unions, or in any situation, is morally unacceptable. The principle of gradualism recognizes this fact and assists the person toward a progressive assimilation of the Church’s ethical values. Pastoral judgments can never be made in the abstract, therefore, but always within the concrete circumstances of this person’s life.

The 1975 document of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, makes this same point:  “It is true that in sins of the sexual order, in view of their kind and their causes, it more easily happens that true consent is not fully given; this is a fact which calls for caution on all judgments as the subject’s responsibility.”

Ministry in this area thus demands an awareness that purification and growth in holiness come about only gradually. Instant serenity is almost never the human reality. Every person of faith must cope with his or her personal sinfulness and human limitations. These vary from person to person and are frequently complex and discouraging; but all persons, even in spite of limitations and even failure, must continue to grow in holiness of life.

This principle of gradualism has roots within the scriptural ethical tradition8 where there is, on the one hand, an awareness of human sinfulness and, on the other hand, a recognition of the inexhaustible vastness of God’s love and grace. Any failure, then, to totally realize at this moment everything that one is called to be and to do does not negate the possibility of future success. We are all sinners who at times violate our best moral convictions, but we can be healed and forgiven.

  1. The Role of Conscience

In setting before homosexual men and women this call to perfection, the Church also reminds them of the need to personally respond to this call, and central to this response is the role of their properly formed conscience.

The proper formation of conscience necessitates both a learning of moral rules and a personal internalization of the Christian principles inherent in the truths that Christ revealed.

The Church’s moral tradition has made important distinctions among various degrees of conscience formation: e.g., between a correctly formed and an incorrectly formed conscience. These moral distinctions are best understood as a spectrum, as it is possible for a person to sustain correct formation in one area of morality and incorrect formation in another.

One type of conscience often experienced today, which is not properly formed in light of the Church’s ethical teachings, is the belief which claims that, since homosexuality is a deep integral component of a person’s psychic structure, it is virtually impossible for such people to lead lives of chastity. Such approaches often argue that the stability of a homosexual union outweighs the objective disorder of homosexual activity.

This type of conscience likewise maintains that since the homosexual orientation seems to be normative for at least a certain number of people in society, homosexual activity must be judged as normal and good for these people.

This type of conscience fails to grasp and integrate the Church’s teaching that all sexual activity finds its best and morally good expression only within the context of the man-woman covenanted relationship of marriage.

At another end of the conscience spectrum are persons who sustain a scrupulous conscience. These people regard every single homosexual act as a serious sin because of the offense against chastity, without due consideration of the predisposition of the subject, or the pressures and tensions that have traditionally been understood to mitigate personal culpability.

Ministry to homosexual people who might find themselves to be unnecessarily scrupulous in the moral evaluation of their sexual activity needs to help these people better assess the wholeness and integrity of their lives. It is precisely because of this need that the Church desires to extend to homosexual men and women its resources for spiritual direction and personal counseling.

While the Church teaches that homosexual activity is objectively inconsistent with the meaning of human sexuality, it never wants to evaluate this activity totally divorced from the person or circumstances in which the activity takes place. It is one thing to consider homosexual acts from an objective perspective; it is quite another reality to judge individual homosexual people and their subjective culpability in the face of pressures and the possible loneliness which they experience.

The importance of individual conscience is attested to in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Vatican Council ii:

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can, when necessary, speak to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that…Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths … (T)he more that a correct conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by objective norms of morality.

Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity… (n. 16).

Clearly, then, the Church upholds the inviolable dignity of personal conscience, but recognizes at the same time that individual conscience needs guidance and formation in order to foster a correct conscience.

Ministry to homosexual people must acknowledge, therefore, the sanctity of conscience, but must also assist persons toward a formation of conscience that is guided by the “objective norms of morality.”  Sensitive pastoral expertise is thus called for to assist a homosexual person to respect his or her own individual “secret core” while also being attentive to and responsive toward the norms of sexual and personal morality taught in the scriptures and the tradition of the Church.

  1. The Responsibility of Chastity

Genesis 1:31 tells us that God saw all of creation as “very good,” a view which is grounded in the belief that human sexuality is likewise good, a gift from God. Chastity is a virtue of responsibility: by it we strive to live out our human sexuality to the fullness of its human potential. As the Declaration on…Sexual Ethics teaches, chastity “increases the human person’s dignity and enables one to love truly, disinterestedly, unselfishly and with respect for others” (n.12). This call to perfection through a life of chastity is addressed to all people, whether their orientation is heterosexual or homosexual, single or married.

The homosexual orientation is not held to be a sinful condition; as with heterosexuality, it represents the situation in which one finds oneself, the starting point for one’s response to Christ’s call to perfection. Responding to this call does not mean that one must change this orientation. Rather, it entails living out the demands of chastity within that orientation.

This call to live chastely is a challenge that many people today disregard and even ridicule. It is, thus, of utmost importance that we remember always our moral tradition that in Jesus “we have received grace” (Romans 1:5) and thus has our “old self” been crucified; we are indeed “under grace” (Romans 6:14).

The power of sin makes itself evident so that we do not always actualize the norms and details to which Christ and the Church call us. Homosexual men and women, authentically struggling with the difficult tension between orientation and sexual behavior must always be met, then, with understanding, patience and love.

Chastity means the responsible expression of one’s sexuality, a free response to God’s grace. Chastity is a virtue of the sexual self whereby discipline is combined with heartfelt celebration. As a Christian virtue, it is the enemy of any type of personal narcissism and every irresponsible gesture of relatedness. It always moves one to seek a fitting correspondence between meaning and act; it says: we are sexual beings, but we are also more besides, and sexual expression must serve the purposes of the whole self before God.

The Church encourages heterosexual people to live chaste lives as married/unmarried, as widows/widowers, as separated and/or divorced persons. The Christian community has a stake in preserving the symmetry of this ethical demand in the situation of both heterosexual and homosexual people.

It is clearly a better moral situation for two homosexual people to live together chastely in a permanent supportive relationship than to seek out partners indiscriminately and promiscuously. This option “to live together chastely in a permanent supportive liaison” is consistent with the Principles To Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality (1973).

These Principles counsel a confessor to “encourage the (homosexual) person to form relationships with persons of both sexes” (p. 9) and to sustain “the formation of a stable friendship with at least one person” (p. 11).

Consistent with the principle of gradualism, the Principles recognize the need for deep prayer to sustain such a relationship and acknowledge that occasionally instances of sexual activity might occur. If this activity is truly “occasional,” and the persons are sincerely attempting to live lives of chaste love and commitment, “…he or she should be absolved” and instructed on how one might avoid homosexual activity “without breaking off a friendship that has helped him grow as a person” (p. 11).

Chastity is always the responsibility and the goal of the Christian life; it is a virtue achieved with perfection only as we rely fully on God’s grace. The Principles thus realize that the homosexual person “should not be surprised by periodic tensions and some relapses” (p. 15).

Pastoral Conclusions

As noted above in An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People by the Bishops of England and Wales, ministry to homosexual people necessitates careful discernment in determinations about sacramental participation. The minister should be guided in this determination by a sensitive discernment of the homosexual person’s assimilation of the values enunciated here under the titles of the principle of gradualism, the role of the conscience, and the responsibility of chastity.

II        Ministry to the Homosexual Communities

In light of these foundations for ministry, it is clear that the Archdiocese of San Francisco must develop and support effective methods for ministering to the homosexual communities in the Bay Area. Many homosexual men and women in the Archdiocese are Catholic, and many look to the Church as a source of guidance and support in their lives. To ignore the spiritual needs of these men and women, or to ignore the particular needs posed by their homosexuality, is to ignore the example of Christ who knew no barriers to his ministry but reached out to all people with the hand of love.

For this reason, the Archdiocese of San Francisco has an obligation to establish ministerial structures that touch in a special way the lives of homosexual men and women. These structures should be several and should be diverse; for they must touch the lives of people who are diverse in all but their sexual orientation. Yet different as these structures are, they must have the following characteristics:

  1. They must signal that homosexual persons are children of God and are full members of the Church who add to its richness and vitality by their lives;
  2. They must not undermine the normative teaching of the Church that homosexual activity is wrong;
  3. While separate from other ministries, these structures must enhance the unity of the whole Church in the Archdiocese; and
  4. No one of these structures should attempt to be the ministry for homosexual men and women. Each should recognize that homosexual men and women will need and benefit from various types of ministry.

Keeping in mind these principles, it is recommended that the Archbishop establish four primary models of ministry to homosexual persons in the Archdiocese of San Francisco: ministry in the parish, ministry in spiritual support groups, ministry in organizations of Catholic homosexual men and women, and individual ministry to the alienated.

 1. Ministry in the Parish

On 5 May 1981, Archbishop Quinn gave a major address to the priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in which he evaluated the life of the local Church. The central theme of that address, which has become a foundation for pastoral action in the Archdiocese, is that the center and primary focus for all of the work of the local Church is the life of the parish. “It is in the parish that we find by far the greatest number of our people. And it is in the parish that they, in turn, most closely encounter the Church. And it is through the parish that they become more and more perfectly Church.”  Thus, all of the programs and activities of the Archdiocese must be seen in light of the parish. This is no less true for the efforts of the local Church to minister effectively to its large homosexual populations.

For this reason, the most important place where homosexual ministry will occur is in the parish. And for this reason, we must work to insure that all of the parishes in the Archdiocese are communities of faith where homosexual men and women will feel welcome, where they will see themselves as genuinely an important part of the Church.

It will be objected by some that the ministry of the parish is too diverse to be effective in creating a welcoming and ministering climate for homosexual men and women. But this is to miss the point that the elements that are essential to making a parish appealing for homosexual persons are the very same things that are essential to making a parish appealing to heterosexual persons. These include fostering a spirit of faith, service and self-sacrifice. They also include working toward a spirit of warmth, of hospitality, of compassion and understanding. By building a family of faith centered upon the values of the Gospel, the pastor and staff of a parish will also be building a community where all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, will encounter the face of Christ. The Archdiocese is fortunate to have many pastors and staffs eagerly working toward that goal.

In addition to those activities that are directed toward the general welfare of the parish, pastors and staffs should take specific steps to make homosexual men and women feel welcome.9  The special concerns of homosexual persons that violence and prejudice should not be directed against anyone because of sexual orientation should be embodied in parish social justice activities. Preaching should stress the dignity of all people, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Through small but important steps such as these, the parish can be an effective form of ministry to our homosexual brothers and sisters and can reinforce in all of us the need to walk with one another in seeking the path of Christ.

  1. Ministry in Spiritual Support Groups

While the parish is the focal point for ministry to homosexual men and women in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, there must also be complementary specialized ministries to homosexual Catholics. One very effective method of undertaking such a ministry has been developed by Father John Harvey, O.S.F.S., Father Vincent Serps, O.P., and others. It is a well-conceived cursus of group spiritual support that assists homosexual persons in the goal of coming closer to Christ in their lives.10

In this method of group spiritual direction, members of each group meet at least once a week for a two-hour period. The first hour of the evening is spent in prayer: meditation before the Blessed Sacrament, Biblical reflection, or sharing the Eucharist. The second hour of each session is spent in substantive dialogue about the events that have occurred in the participants’ lives since the previous meeting. The dialogue is frank, open, and honest, and it is carried on always within the context of the belief that God is the preeminent source of strength in our lives. The goal of these sessions is to enable homosexual men and women to form relationships that are intimate and life-giving, yet totally chaste.

The group meeting is the core of this method of spiritual growth, but it is not the only element. Each participant is also asked to formulate a personal plan of life, an individualized program that will allow him or her to live out a Christ-like life during the whole of the week. These plans must include prayer, their performance of apostolic and charitable works, and regular individualized spiritual direction. The life plan must also assist the individual in developing strong outside friendships, so that the support group does not become an isolating force. Finally, the life-plan must include the frequent reception of the sacraments and ongoing participation in the life of the whole Church.

This structure of group spiritual direction offers a fine model of ministry to a significant number of Catholics. It witnesses to the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. In emphasizing the call to conversion which is common to all, while simultaneously acknowledging the special situations of homosexual men and women, this method takes seriously the sexuality of homosexual persons while not presenting it as the primary element in their being. The group model also serves to create a community of deep and growing faith that will assist participants in their effort to grow in the Lord.

For these reasons, we urge that the Archbishop take steps to encourage the formation of numerous spiritual support groups based upon this model. In selecting priests and others to lead such groups, he should seek persons who are trained in spiritual direction, lead deep lives of prayer, and have the sensitivity to minister openly and effectively to homosexual men and women.

  1. Organizations of Catholic Homosexual Men and Women

We realize that for many homosexual men and women who are seeking a specialized ministry from the Church, such intensive spiritual support groups will not constitute a realistic avenue of personal development. It is for this reason that several large organizations of Catholic homosexual men and women have been founded in San Francisco in recent years. Many Catholics have found in these organizations a pathway that has brought them closer to Christ and the Church. For many, the values of responsibility and human dignity fostered in these organizations have been their salvation amid a culture that adulates promiscuity.

Recognizing this, we call upon the Archdiocese to support in these organizations those elements that enhance and further the values of the Gospel. Specifically, this should include assisting these organizations in their efforts to fight homophobia, encouraging them in their goals of promoting personal responsibility and commitment, and helping them to gain access to Church facilities for meetings. In addition, the Archdiocese should encourage the priests and sisters who work with these organizations to vividly signal the Church’s ongoing interest in the spiritual and social lives of their members. In doing this, priests and religious should always be faithful to the teachings of the Church.

The Archdiocese should also develop clear lines of communication with the major organizations of Catholic homosexual men and women. This would not only allow a greater collaboration with these organizations on the issues of human rights and personal responsibility, but would also prevent some of the misunderstandings that have occurred in the past. This communication role should be carried on by the Board of Ministries outlined below.

  1. Individual Ministry to the Alienated

It is a tragic, but nonetheless very evident fact, that many fine homosexual men and women are alienated from the Church. In some cases, this has resulted from individual incidents with priests, sisters, brothers, and lay people that have left scars and resentment. In other cases, this alienation has arisen from the tension-filled crises of faith that are common to people of all sexual orientations, but which are compounded by homosexual identity. In many cases, this alienation has arisen from difficulties with or misunderstandings about the teachings of the Church. But whatever its origins, this alienation from Church that is so present among many homosexual Catholics is a serious pastoral problem that must be addressed.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has for several years been attempting to deal with the general problem of alienation from the Church. In large part, this effort has taken place in the parishes, where many outstanding priests, sisters, and lay people have undertaken this vital work of healing the scars and misunderstandings. But this work has also been complemented in recent years by official outreach programs of the Archdiocese that attempt to reconcile alienated Catholics with the Church. A great deal of work done by these programs has been with homosexual men and women.

We encourage the work of the Archdiocese in developing new methods of reaching out to alienated Catholics, many of whom are homosexual. We urge that parishes be particularly aware of the need for this vital ministry of reconciliation. We further urge that the Archdiocese provide increased funding for the ministry to the alienated and further explore areas, such as detention ministry and ministries to street people where alienated Catholics of all sexual orientations might be reached. For certainly we, like Jesus himself, must go out and proclaim the message of God’s salvation to those in our streets as well as those in our churches.

  1. Board of Ministries

There are two themes that are fundamental to this section on ministry to homosexual men and women. The first is that the Archdiocese must develop an effective and comprehensive ministry to its homosexual people. The second is that no single form of ministry can effectively serve the diversity of homosexual men and women in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. In designing an over-arching structure to coordinate and expand ministry to homosexual persons in the Archdiocese, both of these principles must be kept in mind.

For this reason, we urge the Archbishop to establish a Board of Ministries to Homosexual Men and Women in the Archdiocese. The goal of this board would be to develop, coordinate, and support a variety of ministries to homosexual persons. These should include parish ministry, ongoing spiritual support groups, organizations of Catholic homosexual men and women, and a strong outreach to the alienated. These ministries should also include whatever further lines of development may surface in the Board’s efforts to make the Church present to our homosexual brothers and sisters.

The membership of the Board should be appointed by the Archbishop from among individuals who are involved in ministry to homosexual persons. It should include such representative groups as pastors, priests, sisters, and brothers, as well as representative lay people, who work with homosexual men and women.

The Board should meet approximately once a month and should forward policy recommendations to the Secretariat for Pastoral Ministry and to the Archbishop. The Board should also have the overall responsibility for implementing new policies designed to foster ministry to homosexual men and women.

III.  Ministry to the Whole Believing Community

Homosexual men and women, it has been seen, are confronted with a complex and difficult challenge because of their sexual orientation. But the challenge presented by homosexuality is not limited to homosexual persons. Rather homosexuality presents all people with a challenge to grow in toleration, openness, and mutual understanding. As members of the Church, we profess to seek a unity under the headship of Jesus Christ, a unity where the divisions of race, faith and ethnic background will disappear. If we are to be faithful to the full message of the Gospel, then this unity must also embrace people of all sexual orientations, for the God who is Father of all, desires for us a unity that knows no barriers.

But such a unity will not come suddenly, and must not be achieved by undermining the teachings of the Gospel and of the Church. The healing of the human spirit will take many years and will come only with much struggle and with the aid of God. But the Church has a responsibility to work toward that unity in our world, and for that reason, the Church must undertake a ministry regarding homosexuality to the whole believing community.

Such a ministry must bring to the entire community a sense of what it is like to be homosexual, to feel the alienation, the hurt, the prejudice that are so intimately tied to the experience of being homosexual in our society. Such a ministry must also bring before the people of God the denial of legitimate human and social rights, which is all too pervasive, and the unconscionable acts of violence that are directed against homosexual men and women because of their orientation. This ministry of the Church to all believers must remind us that Christ identified closely with the marginal members of society, with those whom society called outcasts. And we must be reminded, also, that whenever we direct hatred or slurs or violence against one of these homosexual brothers or sisters of Christ, we are directing it against the Lord himself.

In short, the whole believing community must come to appreciate the oppressive walls that have been and are being erected to cut us off from our homosexual brothers and sisters. And we must work together on all sides of those walls to tear them down, inch by inch, until the barriers of anger and misunderstanding and fear that divide us exist no more.


A vital part of this ministry to the whole believing community regarding homosexuality involves preaching in Sunday and weekday homilies. The texts of the Scriptures are filled with rich passages emphasizing the need for tolerance, understanding, and deepest charity among believers. Jesus in his own life consistently condemned those who looked down upon people because they were different, and he chastised those who labeled some of God’s children unclean. Many of the stories of the Old Testament reveal experiences of pain, of alienation, of prejudice, and hatred. By using these passages and applying them to the present day, priests and deacons can convey to their people something of the experience of being homosexual in our society. And in doing this, they will be helping to break down the barriers of fear and ignorance that so often separate our communities of faith.

Two examples are included below to indicate how such exegesis might take place:

  1. Isaiah 56: 3-5

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people;”
and not let the eunuch say
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give within my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off.”

Such a passage clearly reveals the sense of frustration and alienation felt by those within Israel who were foreign, were different. A homilist could explore this feeling of pain and alienation, with its accompanying depression, and could apply it concretely to real experiences in the contemporary world, including homosexuality. Thus a deeper sensitization of the parish community could take place.

  1. John 8: 2-11

At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.

The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, “Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?”  They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she replied. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus, “go away and don’t sin any more.”

This parable of the adulterous woman reveals quite powerfully the tendency toward judgmentalism that exists within all of us. Each of us tends to magnify the faults of others, losing sight of our own weaknesses. Jesus’ prescription to cast stones only when we are sinless reminds us that sinfulness is part of the human condition. Only God, who is good, has the right to judge us; and his judgment is one filled with mercy, not venom. A preacher explaining this passage could easily explore the ways in which we commonly cast the first stones of judgmentalism, including those cast against homosexual men and women because they are easy targets.

Preaching can be an extremely effective way of educating our people about the experiences of homosexual men and women, and we urge the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese to make a conscious effort to use homilies as one method of sensitizing people about the issues of homosexuality.


The Church in the Archdiocese of San Francisco is blessed with an outstanding educational system. Through its schools, religious education programs, and youth activities, it brings the message and values of the Gospel to some seventy-five thousand young men and women each year. The schools and catechetical programs of the Archdiocese are a rich resource, and one which can give the Church a unique opportunity to assist in the value formation of our young people. Because of this, the Church has a special responsibility to educate young people about the issues of homosexuality: about the realities of a homosexual orientation, about the teachings of the Church, about the prejudice often directed against homosexual persons, and about the Gospel imperative to respect the human and civil rights of all people.

In assessing the efforts of schools in the Archdiocese to address this issue, we have been very impressed with the work that has been begun. Many schools have made a significant effort to sensitize their faculties and students to issues regarding homosexuality. Many high schools, in particular, have developed sound and effective curricula that explore the whole subject of homosexuality. We applaud these efforts, and we urge the schools of the Archdiocese to continue to formulate strong programs to treat this subject with openness and tolerance, while always being faithful to the full teachings of the Church.

Specifically, we urge all of the high schools in the Archdiocese to develop for implementation in the 1984-1985 school year a component for their mandatory curriculum that deals with homosexuality. This component could be part of a class on sexuality, or life-planning, or science. But whatever form this component takes, it should include the following elements:

  1. Presentations on what the social sciences have revealed about the origins and nature of homosexuality;
  2. Sessions dealing with the real-life experiences of homosexual men and women; their feelings of alienation, of depression, of being discriminated against, of whole personhood;
  3. The teachings of the Church that homosexual activity is wrong, but that homosexual persons should suffer no prejudice or denial of rights, and
  4. Discussions of the prejudices and attitudes that the students have toward homosexual persons and how they can be changed if they are negative.

Such elements in a high school program must, of course, be handled with sensitivity and care. But if our Catholic secondary schools are to be faithful to their mission of preparing men and women to live by Gospel values in our contemporary society, then their curricula must include some treatment of homosexuality.

In addition, the grammar schools and religious education programs of the Archdiocese should make efforts to foster in their students a full and deep respect for the human and civil rights of homosexual persons. Prejudicial attitudes are developed all too young in our society, and we have an obligation to work against intolerance at all ages. Thus teachers should be careful to deal effectively in their classes with any overt incidents of homophobia; and in teaching about the nature of Christian community, they should endeavor to promote respect for and acceptance of people of all sexual orientations.


In his recent pastoral journey to Central America (March 1983), Pope John Paul II urged all pastors in the Church “to preach with courage all the social implications of the Christian situation.”

With this paper, the Senate of Priests hopes to follow this challenge regarding ministry to homosexual people, a ministry that seeks unity through harmony, a ministry that respects the diversity of gifts that are essential for the upbuilding of the common good of the Church.

The final canon in the newly promulgated Code of Canon Law tells us that always (semper), the supreme law of the Church is the salvation of souls (c. 1752).

In all ministry to the homosexual person, this supreme law must be kept in mind. Pastoral ministry never seeks to minimize the normative teachings of the Church on the question of human sexuality. These normative teachings have been carefully explained in Archbishop Quinn’s 1980 Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality.

Effective pastoral ministry always follows these normative teachings while reverencing the personal conscience of every individual. The struggle to assimilate well the meaning of one’s homosexual orientation is never an easy task.

The oppression of sin enslaves us all and has created both personal and social isolation and division. Nevertheless, the “word of the Lord must speed on and triumph” (2 Thess. 3:1) and thus the Church must heal wherever there is a human person in need. We must reach out to those men and women authentically struggling with a homosexual orientation, and likewise call upon homosexual persons deeply to model their lives on the image of Jesus Christ.

We have rooted a good deal of the pastoral methodology of this paper in the principle of gradualism. We thus conclude on this same note, recalling the words of counsel of Pope John Paul II at the close of the 1980 Synod of Bishops that “… no one can do charity other than in truth … For truth is that which frees, truth is that which provides order, truth shows the way to holiness and justice.”

It will never be enough, then, to accommodate oneself in a passive and easy manner to existing conditions and pressures, but we must consistently try with patience and good will to be ever more faithful in our whole persons to the duties and responsibilities of the Christian way of life.

We recall Pope Paul VI’s Address to the International Congress of the Equipes de Notre Dame on 4 May 1970:

It is only little by little that the human being is able to order and integrate his multiple tendencies, to the point of arranging them harmoniously…This work of liberation, for that is what it is, is the fruit of the liberty of the children of God. Their conscience demands to be respected, educated and formed in an atmosphere of confidence and not of anguish. The moral laws, far from being inhumanly cold in an abstract objectivity, are there to guide…When (we) truly strive to live the profound demands of a holy love, patiently and humbly, without becoming discouraged by failures, then the moral laws…are no longer rejected as a hindrance, but recognized as a powerful help.


Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 9-10.

2  The question of language is a complex yet critical one. For many people the term homosexual is neutral; for others it has distinctly negative implications. Many people view the term “gay” as the proper word to describe persons with a homosexual orientation; while others believe that gay implies support for the entire gay rights agenda. In determining a usage of language for this paper, we decided to follow the terminology outlined in Homosexual Catholics: A New Primer for Discussion (Dignity, Inc., 1980: “A Note on Word Usage”). This Primer indicates that the word homosexual includes all persons who are erotically attracted to members of the same sex. The word gay, according to the Primer, includes only those persons who have positively accepted this sexual identity. Since throughout this document we are speaking of those men and women who have a same-sexed erotic attraction, and not merely those who have positively accepted this sexual identity, we have consistently used the word homosexual. We have always used this word as an adjective in order to signal that homosexual persons should not be reduced merely to their sexual orientation, but rather enjoy a full and rich personhood.

3   See, for example, statistics published by Community United Against Violence, San Francisco.

4  The term homosexual is often used as if its meaning and connotations were self-evident. Footnote 2 addresses an example in terms of language that demonstrates that “homosexuality” is a very complex issue and does not admit of easy definitions. In terms of this paper, we consistently mean by homosexuality the orientation of a person only and do not infer in any way that orientation automatically implies sexual activity. In light of this complex issue, we refer the reader to the article “Homosexuality” in the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, Warren T. Reich, ed., Vol. I, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 667-677. As used in this paper, therefore, homosexuality refers to a person’s psychosexual structure and not to sexual activity.

5  See, for instance, the Statement prepared by Community United Against Violence, given to the Governor’s Task Force on Civil Rights, 16 November 1981 (contact: CUAV, 514 Castro Street, San Francisco, 415/864-3112).

6  See, as example, John A. McHugh, O.P. and Charles J. Callan, O.P., Moral Theology; A Complete Course, Based on St. Thomas Aquinas and the Best Modern Authorities, Vol. I, New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., 1958, p. 222, n. 621.

7  In n. 8 of the closing homily of the 1980 Synod of Bishops, the Pope made an important distinction between “a pedagogy, which takes into account a certain progression in accepting the plan of God, and doctrine proposed by the church, with all its consequences, in which the precept of living according to the same doctrine is contained; in which case there is not a question of a desire of keeping the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future, but rather of the mandate of Christ the Lord that difficulties constantly be overcome. Really, the ‘process of gradualness,’ as it is called, cannot be applied unless someone accepts divine law with a sincere heart and seeks those goods that are protected and promoted by the same law. Thus, the so-called lex gradualitatis (law of gradualness) or gradual progress cannot be the same as gradualitas legis (the gradualness of the law), as if there were in divine law various levels or forms of precept for various persons and conditions.”

8  See Rudolph Schnackenburg, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament, New York: Herder and Herder, 1965 and Ceslaus Spicq, Theologie Morale du Nouveau Testament, 2 vols., Paris: Gabalda, 1965.

9  Such steps should include welcoming homosexual persons into lay ministries and onto parish boards and commissions. It is taken for granted, of course, that such people meet the same criteria as any Catholic in similar circumstances: i.e., holiness of life and faithfulness to the teachings of the Church.

10 See Reverend John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S., A Spiritual Plan to Redirect One’s Life, Boston, Massachusetts, 1979.


March, 1986

Diocese of San Jose, California
San Jose, California

Pastoral Guidelines for Ministry to Homosexuals

1.0   Rationale

Users and readers of these guidelines are asked to keep a certain rationale in mind.

1.1   Pastoral in Character

The guidelines are pastoral in character, intended to help priests and parish ministers meet their obligation to serve kindly and conscientiously all who turn to the Church with real needs and honest hope. They do not presume any particular social or psychological analysis of sexuality in our society, except for a generally accepted premise that individuals do not choose and cannot change their sexual orientation but must understand it and integrate it into their life of faith and conscience.

1.2   Catholic Teaching: Sexual Morality

The guidelines accept, without elaborating the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church on sexual morality, conscience, and personal sin. Deeper probing of the ground of this teaching and the contemporary challenges to it must be left to the educational efforts proposed in Section 4.1 of these guidelines.

1.3   Catholic Teaching: Social Ethics

The guidelines also accept the teaching of the Catholic Church on social ethics but do not propose a social action agenda. When the voice or action of the Church is needed in the religious or secular forum, appropriate agents of the parish and diocese will be informed and enlisted to uphold basic human and civil rights against social or legal discrimination, harassment, intimidation, or violence.

1.4   Terminology

The guidelines do not resolve the dilemma surrounding terminology. “Homosexual” seems clear and objective but has come to be regarded by some as too clinical and impersonal, with unwarranted implications of pathology, inferiority, or alienation. “Gay” and “lesbian” are terms perceived by others as associated with political factions or particular lifestyles. These guidelines adopt “homosexual” without prejudice to any individuals or groups or to their right to call themselves “gay men” or “lesbian women.”

2.0   Pastoral Needs

These guidelines have been prompted and guided by clear evidence of pastoral needs in the local Church for ministry to homosexuals that is genuinely “pastoral,” “special” and “official.”

2.1   Pastoral Ministry

The need for a “pastoral” ministry requires the embrace of the Church to be the same as that of Christ himself, open to all, excluding none. Hence it obligates the Church’s ministers to respond without prejudice or condition to all who turn to the Church for support, counsel, reconciliation, solace or sacraments. All the baptized, regardless of sexual orientation or social attitudes, have an equal claim on this pastoral service.

2.2   Special Ministry

The need for a “special” ministry arises from widespread attitudes and actions in our society, and too often in our Church, that have made homosexual orientation the basis for discrimination and rejection or isolation of individuals and groups. This fact affects the needs of individuals and requires in ministers a special understanding, sensitivity, and skill in dealing with these social pressures and their impact on life and conscience.

2.3   Official Ministry

The need for a public, “official” ministry arises from the fact that social attitudes toward homosexual men and women are regularly deflected to those who minister to them, affirm their dignity, or uphold their rights. Hence the need for the formal and unequivocal support of the local bishop for this ministry, and adequate provision for training and supporting those who exercise it in the local Church.

3.0         Pastoral Response

The pastoral response to these needs is guided by the pastoral letter of the bishops of the United States (To Live in Christ Jesus, 1976), who write: “Homosexuals, like everyone else should not suffer from prejudice against their basic human rights. They have a right to respect, friendship, and justice. They should have an active role in the Christian community” (n. 52). Pastoral ministers are obligated and committed to securing these rights and roles, above all, within the Catholic community.

3.1   Ministry to Individuals

Ministry to individuals who are homosexual (whether or not they publicly disclose their orientation) is guided by that same pastoral letter, which emphasizes that sexual orientation in itself is not sinful, but that the basic moral norms of the Church apply to homosexual as well as to heterosexual acts. Pastoral ministers must uphold these norms which are rooted in sacred scripture, where we indeed find prohibition of heterosexual and homosexual behavior contrary to the Christian ideal. There also we find equally urgent and even more frequent condemnation, especially in the words and deeds of Jesus, of hatred, anger, refusal to forgive, and judgment or ostracism of entire segments of the community. In particular ministers will strive

(a)     in pastoral counseling, to build up and not crush an individual’s sense of dignity as a human person and responsibility as a Christian. Without this sense of self-worth and responsibility, ability to respond to Christ’s call is severely hampered.

(b)     in their teaching, to help each individual to form an honest and trustworthy conscience in accord with the Church’s moral principles and norms. Every person’s effort to understand, accept, and live by these norms is beset by difficulty, doubt, perplexity, and sometimes failure, but none of these absolves the minister from the obligation to receive each person with kindness and forbearance.

(c)     in the sacrament of reconciliation and in all matters of conscience, to receive each with a presumption of good will, in the manner of Christ himself, that is, without reproach or recrimination, since the sacramental forum is above all a place of encounter with this same Christ.

(d)     to welcome or seek out the alienated who may be burdened with pain and anger which they perceive (perhaps with some justice) as caused or occasioned by the Church, its ministers, or its members.

3.2   Ministry to Families

Ministry to families is equally urgent, when they must struggle with the dilemma of having a homosexual spouse, parent, brother or sister, son or daughter. These families have an equal right to counseling, support and reconciliation according to the provisions and intent of these guidelines.

3.3   Ministry to Groups

Ministry to groups is also necessary for those who feel a need for support to reduce isolation and to foster the wholesome integration of their sexuality into their human and Christian growth. Ministry to these groups may take several forms:

(a)     to provide opportunities and facilities for liturgy, prayer, study, or discussion for Catholics who are homosexual and who accept the Church’s teaching and actively seek to assimilate it into their life of faith and conscience.

(b)     to facilitate communication and dialogue among all such groups and between these groups and the Church in order to increase understanding and reduce divisions in the Church and in the community.

(c)     to exercise pastoral prudence in separating this ministry from identification or association with the aims or actions of groups who may partially share the aims of the Church but also advocate legal or social provisions contrary to Christian moral or social principles.

3.4   Ministry to the Sick, Dying

Ministry to the sick, dying, and bereaved requires special attention and sensitivity in this context because the misunderstanding and hostility surrounding homosexuality has been grievously aggravated by the uncertainty and fear surrounding Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Afflicted individuals, their families, and friends have a special claim on the ministry of the Church.

4.0   Pastoral Resources

To implement these guidelines pastoral resources will be made available. Pastoral ministers will need continuing education, consultation, and support; some must be qualified and available to meet the specific needs of individuals and groups and to be a resource to other ministers.

4.1   Programs of Continuing Education

This ministry requires at least three programs of continuing education:

(a)     basic pastoral formation of parish ministers.

(b)     recruitment of special ministers to offer assistance to individuals and groups, or to other ministers.

(c)     information and education for the Catholic and non-Catholic community about the Church’s teaching on sexuality and about its ministry to homosexual men and women.

4.2   Pastoral Resource Committee

The bishop will appoint the chair and members of a Pastoral Resource Committee for ministry to homosexual men and women, comprising not fewer than seven nor more than fifteen members, qualified and experienced in the pastoral and professional areas required by this ministry. The Committee will establish its own organization and procedures to address its principal tasks:

(a)     to inform and advise the bishop on all aspects of this ministry.

(b)     to enlist the interest and cooperation of diocesan agencies in implementing these guidelines.

(c)     to recommend, promote, or provide, in consultation with these agencies, programs of education and information.

4.3   Study Resources

The Pastoral Resource Committee will regularly evaluate and recommend publications to support these education programs or the personal study resources for pastoral ministers.

4.4   Organizations

The Pastoral Resource Committee will evaluate, in accord with these guidelines (cf. 3.3 above) organizations to be served, consulted, or enlisted in this ministry.



Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors
Huissen, The Netherlands

Called to Blessing
A Pastoral Letter on Faith and Homosexuality

1   Introduction

Sisters and Brothers:

Within our community of faith, there are men who love men and women who love women. Gay men and lesbian women, as they are usually referred to, make up part of the People of God.

The place of many lesbian women and gay men within the Church is still inconspicuous. They are silent, or worse yet, they are silenced. Their very existence, with all the joys and sorrows that are part of any life, is denied recognition and affirmation. They share this same experience with various other groups in the Church, including women who struggle for their rights and divorced people.

More and more, however, we are made aware of another movement; gay and lesbian believers are acquiring a name and a face within the community. They are standing up and speaking out, often out of discontent, though also increasingly in witness to the fact that they are happy with who and what they are, and that they have chosen to embody their gay and lesbian existence in creative ways, in friendship and solidarity and, in particular, as people of faith. Expressed in terms of faith, they bear “witness to the hope that lives in them” (1 Peter 3:15), namely, the hope in “the sun of righteousness” (Malachi 3:20) and in “a new heaven and a new earth” (Apocalypse 21:1). They “bless each other so that they might obtain the blessing to which they have been called” (1 Peter 3:9).

Gay and lesbian believers are speaking out within the community of faith, within the Church. They are able to do this thanks to the support of other Christians, among whom a number of pastors who have dedicated themselves over the last few decades to work, often ecumenically, for a Church that provides a place for those who follow a different path in life than that of marriage and family. They can also do this thanks to the movement of lesbian women and gay men who have developed different lifestyles within our society and who are striving for liberation and equality. They also know they are supported in their efforts by parents who stand behind their gay and lesbian children.

In speaking out in the Church and in society, these men and women pay homage to those who went namelessly before them and whose lives as lesbians and gays were “hellish” since their right to life was denied them if not taken away entirely.

Gay men and lesbian women are present within the Church. They are among those who hold official church functions as well as among the religious. In the Netherlands, some of them have joined to form the Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors (wkhp). This Working Group, which addresses this pastoral letter to you, began in 1980 and now numbers about one hundred members. The group offers its members, all of whom are gay and vocationally or professionally connected to the Church, a chance to meet. With others, it strives for equal treatment of homosexual and heterosexual people in the Church. In doing so, the group makes a plea for a church where there is openness towards and room for new ideas and loyal opposition. This is why the Working Group, like some other groups of gays and lesbians, also participates in the “Eighth of May” movement, an umbrella movement of Dutch Catholic organizations working for renewal in the Church and in society.

As part of the community of faith, as well as of the gay and lesbian community, the members of the Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors would like to articulate the experiences of homosexuals within the Church: that it is possible to be both thoroughly faithful and gay or lesbian. Therefore, we want to engage ourselves expressly in improving the position of homosexuals within the churches, including our own position.

With few exceptions, our bishops, both nationally and internationally, appear incapable of speaking liberating words: either concerning the experience of sexuality and the formation of relationships in general, or about homosexuality and gay and lesbian relationships in particular. Both the Working Group as a whole and some of its members as individuals are confronted with rejection by bishops.

Based on our responsibility as pastors, we turn to you, our sisters and brothers in the Dutch Catholic Church. We can imagine that you might have difficulty with the subject of homosexuality. Indeed, for many of us too, homosexuality was initially a “strange” phenomenon. Nevertheless, we want to make an appeal for an open discussion within the Church about relationships and sexuality.

In this letter, the following points are briefly sketched out: the historical developments which have led to a discussion of this sort (part 2), the space which legitimately exists within the Church for such an endeavor (part 3) and our own possible contribution to this discussion (part 4). The letter concludes with some practical suggestions and recommendations (part 5). 1

We call this a “pastoral” letter because we want to speak words of hope and encouragement. We hope that the contents of this letter will be recognized by our fellow homosexual believers. At the same time, we would like to extend our encouragement to all those in our Church who feel neither fully respected nor accepted, whether they be lesbians, women in general, divorced people, married priests or those not able to live according to the official moral teachings and rules of the Church leadership, which they experience as being harsh.

The position of gay men within the Church forms our point of departure. This is very specific, since we cannot but start from our own situation as gay men who also have pastoral responsibilities. Once again, we hope to show in this letter that much of our feelings and insight will have validity for many more people than gay men alone. We are striving for a Church in which there is room for all who genuinely wish to follow the way of Jesus of Nazareth, regardless of sexual orientation, gender or status. We hope, therefore, that those who are not gay will also recognize something of themselves in these reflections.

This letter is also specific in that it is written by male homosexuals and not by lesbian women. The Working Group has no female members. Moreover, the situation of lesbian women in the Church and in society is different from that of gay men. We believe that it is not appropriate for us, as men, to speak on behalf of women.

This letter has come about as the result of an intensive exchange of ideas in the Working Group, and it has been approved by the membership. We submitted an earlier draft of the text to people in various church-affiliated gay and lesbian movements and to a number of experts in theology and the social sciences.2 We have gratefully incorporated their comments. The responsibility for the content of this letter is solely ours, however.

2   Developing Issues of Sexuality and Homosexuality

2.1 The reason for this letter

At the first meeting, in 1985, of what has become known as the “Eighth of May” movement, the “other face of the Church” let itself be seen. The Working Group has been a participant in this movement from the very beginning. The bishops have been very displeased with this, especially when, at the gathering in 1987, the Working Group used a banner to focus attention on the situation of homosexual priests and pastoral workers in the Church. After having called the movement’s executive committee to account in a letter, Cardinal A. J. Simonis, as chairman of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference, wrote directly to the Working Group on the 5th of February, 1988. The banner, and in particular its reproduction as a postcard, had “evoked astonishment and repudiation among the bishops and many of the faithful,” according to the cardinal. He reminded the members of the Working Group about the “faithful obedience to the ordinary doctrinal authority in the Church” which is asked of every Catholic and referred to the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium. He also considered it unacceptable that “pastors evidently ignore — or at least give the impression, in what they say, by their lifestyles, and by the way they conduct themselves, that they ignore — the teaching of the Church on an important matter.”

That letter from Cardinal Simonis directly prompted the writing of the pastoral letter which you are reading. The developments of the past few years have made it even more clear that there is a need within our faith community to discuss openly with each other about sexuality and relationships.

2.2 A new view of sexuality

In 1953 the centenary of the restoration of the Roman Catho­lic hierarchy in the Netherlands was celebrated. Cardinal J. de Jong could not participate in the events held in the Galgenwaard Stadium in Utrecht but spoke on the radio to the Dutch Catholics. His speech was a stirring appeal for the preservation of unity in the public life of the Church. There was reason for this appeal. Signs of change had begun to appear within the tightly closed bastion which the Dutch Catholic community had formed, at least superficially, until after the Second World War. These signs became manifest when the bishops published their “Mandate” in May, 1954. In it, the faithful were called upon to close their ranks and forbidden to join any of a number of political and social organizations, among which was the Bond for Sexual Reform.3 All in all, the episcopal mandate was an attempt to preserve traditional ways. Such an appeal to authority no longer appears to be effective, however; certainly not on the political and societal levels, and not even on the level of one’s personal life. Developments in Dutch society have not passed Dutch Catholics by unnoticed. Liberation appears to be an irrevocable fact.

In contemporary thought on sexuality and relationships there are also shifts taking place among Catholics, in which human experience is central. Not only Catholic doctrine, but also day to day experience seems to be a reliable source of insight. For the first time, wider circles of the faithful are questioning Catholic doctrine that there are unchangeable laws, planted firmly within human nature, viz. that sexuality is intended exclusively for procreation. The reality of human experience appears to be different, though much courage is needed to be able to acknowledge this reality. Wherever this new insight is clearly articulated, it is experienced as being liberating. This was certainly the case with the talks on the radio by the Catholic psychiatrist, Dr. C. Trimbos, in 1960 and 1961.

At the same time, this criticism of traditional morality has brought with it a stronger emphasis on personal conscien­ce. Not only official Church teaching, but also one’s own personally, well-formed conscience plays an important role when conscientious decisions are made about sexual relations­hips and procreation. Not even church authorities deny these developments. Some of them, like Bishop W. Bekkers  of ‘s Hertogenbosch, encouraged them. In 1968, however, the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae was promulgated. It considers all artificial means of birth control contrary to human dignity. With this, it becomes apparent how wide the gap is which has developed between official Church teaching and the opinions and practices of many members of the Church, not only in the Netherlands but worldwide.

Meanwhile, in the time of the Second Vatican Council, many Catholics had begun to appreciate sexuality in other ways. They discovered that sexuality and intimacy are gifts from God which all people may enjoy. More and more, people are realizing that there can be many expressions of intimacy and tenderness between people outside of the marriage rela­tionship. This development calls into doubt traditional church teaching that it is God’s intention that only a man and a woman can complement each other within a legitimate marriage. Due to increasing contact with other cultures, an awareness is growing of the relativity of our own, western pattern of family life. People are also beginning to see how the expe­rience of relationships and sexuality are influenced by the power relations within society.

2.3 A new view of homosexuality

With this new way of viewing sexuality, the realization is growing that homosexuality can be seen and experienced as a unique opportunity for humanness and love. For many gay and lesbian people, this development has come too late. In the mean time, they have left the Church where they had become marginalized by Church authorities. There are others who have not let themselves become discouraged, however. These lesbian women and gay men bear witness to the fact that they have a unique and specific contribution to make to what is called the Body of Christ.

Does homosexuality offer a unique opportunity for human­ness? Recent Vatican documents do not think so, and over the past few years we are increasingly confronted with official Church statements on homosexuality. Why is there this increa­sed interest in the topic of homosexuality? The answer seems to be that both in society and in the churches, including the Catholic Church, a different atmosphere concerning homosexua­lity is beginning to emerge. As far as Dutch churches are concerned, this fact is evidenced in the book, A Person Does Not Have To Be Alone, a gospel view of homosexuality published in 1977 by the Dutch Council of Churches and presented to the member churches, including the Catholic Church. The book states that homosexuality is not an illness or a deviation but something quite ordinary and that homosexual expressions based on love are just as legitimate as heterosexual ones.

The appearance of this book makes it clear that, during the course of this century, a change has taken place in the Netherlands. Although homosexual behavior had not been punis­hable by law in the Netherlands since 1811, at the instigation of the Catholic cabinet minister, Regout, a regulation that discriminated against homosexual persons was introduced into the code of Dutch law in 1911. The notorious article 284b reads as follows: “A person who is of age, who commits lechery with a minor of the same sex shall be punished with a prison sentence of up to four years.” This article was only repealed in 1971, following a sixty year long gay rights struggle. Catholics played no leading role in this effort. On the con­trary: in 1950, the Center for Political Education, the research bureau of what was then known as the Catholic People’s Party, published the report “Government and Public Morals.” In that report they made a plea for the punishment of all homosexual activity and for the incarceration of all offenders “until they are healed of their tendencies or have acquired sufficient will power to resist them.” These recommendations did not lead to any proposals for parliamentary laws about homosexuality, however. In 1960, the tide turned. At that time, the pastoral care of homosexual persons was established on an ecumenical basis. Rev. Alje Klamer, Rev. Rein Brussard and Fr. J. Gottschalk, M.S.F. should be mentioned here as the pioneers for a “gay-friendly climate” within the Dutch chur­ches.

The book, A Person Does Not Have To Be Alone, also evoked negative reactions, however. The Dutch bishops were divided. The Vatican, which in 1975, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published a statement on several questions concerning sexual ethics, requested the Dutch bishops to clarify the issue of homosexuality so that people would not get the impression of rampant doctrinal confusion. The Dutch bishops discussed this request at their meeting in July, 1979. The press was told the following: “The Bishops’ Conference does not consider it feasible to issue a joint statement on homosexuality at this time. They consider it prudent to give priority to the Special Synod of the Bishops of the Nether­lands that is to be convened by the pope to discuss theologi­cal and pastoral problems that exist within the Roman Catholic Ecclesiastical Province of the Netherlands. At the same time, the bishops will conduct a study for a joint declaration on homosexuality. They will be guided by the consideration that homosexuality cannot be separated from human sexuality as a whole, nor from questions concerning human relationships and how to deal with life.” This joint statement on homosexuality never appeared. The Bishops’ Conference did speak out against the proposed “Equal Treatment” anti-discrimination legislati­on in 1982, however, because the bishops said it would infrin­ge on the constitutional right to freedom of religion and education.

In the Fall of 1986, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a new letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons to all the bishops of the Catholic Church. In that document, the declaration of 1975 was accentuated. Whereas the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not sinful in itself, it signifies a more or less strong tendency towards intrinsically evil behavior in moral terms. “The inclination itself must therefore be considered to be an objective disorder,” according to the letter. Naturally, there must be pastoral care for homosexual persons, but only when starting from the position that all homosexual activity is immoral. Every form of support for organizations that reject Church teaching or seek to undermine it is prohibited, and Church facilities may not be put at their disposal. Violence against homosexual persons is not considered incomprehensible in that letter, and a direct causal relationship is suggested between homosexuality and the spread of aids.

In the mean time, the book Homosexual and Pastor was published. This book, initiated by our Working Group among others, contains research on the opinions and practices con­cerning homosexuality among Roman Catholic pastors in the Archdiocese of Utrecht. From this research, it appears that 86% of the pastors who responded advise homosexual persons in pastoral counselling to accept their feelings and give their lives the form which they deem best. The report, Women and the Church, which was published in 1987, showed that only 11% of the Catholic women interviewed agreed with the position of the Church on homosexuality, while 64% rejected it. It should be obvious that a change has been taking place on the grassroots level of the Church in regard to homosexuality. This pastoral letter is a part of that development.

3   Room for an Open Dialogue

3.1 The importance of experience

Each one of us has a personal history in regard to our dealing with homosexual longings. We have friendships with many gay and lesbian people searching for the presence of God in the Church and outside of it. Through pastoral ministry, we have become acquainted with all kinds of situations in which people live. These experiences have taught us how important it is that Christians be able to integrate their sexuality into their striving for goodness and authenticity, towards the source of all goodness and towards a lifestyle in imitation of Jesus Christ. In short, they must be able to integrate their sexuality into their spirituality.

Unfortunately, however, experience has also taught us that several official Church teachings on sexual morality not only do not help many people, but, on the contrary, block the integration of sexuality and spirituality. A morality that only approves of sexual activity when it occurs within marria­ge and when it is open to procreation (i.e. without the use of contraceptives) and that condemns every other form of sexuali­ty as sinful, is both alien and alienating for gay men and lesbian women. And not only for them; this is also true of many heterosexual believers, such as married, divorced, sin­gle, or handicapped people.

Nevertheless, the purpose of this morality is to help people on their way towards a dignified practice of sexuality and to interpret God’s intentions which are oriented towards the happiness and development of humankind. But that purpose is no longer understood by many people. Why? We think this is because official Catholic moral teaching does not take into account the moral experience and the prudent insights of the faithful who give expression to their sexual potential. They are hardly listened to, and thus they play no part in the process of truth seeking that ought to precede official pro­nouncements on moral questions.

Gay people feel this especially strongly. Their experien­ces, often acquired in a different struggle to distinguish between good and evil and to determine what gives them peace, are hardly known to the community of the faithful. Like many gay believers, whose expertise simply consists in their well-contemplated personal experience, we too are convinced that homosexual people can give expression to their longings in ways that are good, ways that make them whole and which affirm them in their faith in God’s love for them and for the world. We are also convinced that in the Church, homosexual friends­hips and relationships can be made publicly known and are deserving of all respect there.

We would like to introduce these experiences and convic­tions into a public discussion within the Catholic faith community on human sexuality. After all, the ideas people have about homosexuality cannot be separated from their ideas about sexuality in general, about the relationship between men and women or about procreation and the education of children. It is true that the topic of homosexuality often has the function of serving as a “test case” for all of this. In a detailed discussion of homosexuality, three issues come clear­ly into view, each of which has a much broader importance: 1) anthropology, or the way we view humankind, particularly the vision of a male-female complementarity;  2) hermeneutics, i.e. the correct reading and use of the Sacred Scriptures, or the way we view Sacred Scripture in dealing with contemporary moral questions; and 3) the way we deal with human experience and with the sciences appropriate to it: psychology, sociology, medical and cultural science. It appears that this focus-function is true not only for the Catholic Church, but also for other churches when discussing homosexuality. Homosexuali­ty is therefore a very sensitive topic.

3.2 In search of the truth

When the faith community is confronted by concrete and contem­porary problems about proper human conduct, it has three sources at its disposal to help it resolve these questions: God’s revelation in the Scriptures, which are constantly read and re-read and lived by the faithful in a process called tradition; the service of doctrinal authority which has the task of explaining the Scriptures and the tradition; and, finally, human understanding and wisdom in which both reason and emotions are involved.

This last source, viz. experience, has already been discussed. We now wish to discuss first of all the way we deal with the Scriptures and the tradition. When we listen to the Scriptures, we learn to know and love a God who is concerned with humankind. God freed the chosen people from slavery and was their guarantee that they would enter the Promised Land. God broke the chains of death with the death of Christ by raising Him from the dead and filled the community of faith with hope for a new world of justice, truth and peace. These stories indicate what can also be expected of us: that we, as followers of this God, set people free and cooperate in buil­ding a world in which all people can live in dignity. It is from this starting point, nourished by faith, hope and love, that we should read the Scriptures. Only in the faithful application of love is justice done to the Scriptures and are they properly understood.

But we often read the Scriptures differently. We seek justification for our moral opinions and judgements and we try to get God on our side by means of certain texts. In doing so, we run the risk of doing injustice to the Scriptures. The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), for example, has been unjustly and incorrectly interpreted and used against homosexual people for centuries.  A biblical story about the importance of hospitality was turned into its opposite. Cruelty and even bloodshed have been the result.

The Scriptures do indeed contain texts in which homosexu­al behavior is rejected, but also stories, images and expres­sions which can support gay men and lesbian women in their struggles for a fuller humanity. In reading the Scriptures, texts must not be removed from their historical contexts nor be used as weapons to silence people. The two great stories, about the liberation from slavery in Egypt and the destruction of the bonds of death, must continually guide us in under­standing Scriptures. Many groups of believers, including groups of gay men and lesbian women, have experienced the liberating power of God’s Word and have obtained new insights into faith in this way.

Because the Scriptures have been heard, explained and applied for ages within the tradition, that tradition is consulted by the faith community. The community does not do this uncritically, however, because it knows that many ele­ments of our western cultural history have also been assimila­ted into it; some of these elements were liberating, while others were oppressive.

In this whole process of listening to God’s Word, assimi­lating the past and wisely applying it with an eye for the good and humane future of all people, we expect help and direction from the Church leadership. The Church has the competence and the task to teach. But all of us, each in accordance with his or her manner and within each one’s expe­rience, are involved in this process of searching for truth. Only when an official statement is accepted and supported by the community of faith does it have true authority. Hence, our appeal for a public discussion in the Church about humane and dignified sexuality.

4   Our Own Contribution to the Discussion

In the above sections, we have demonstrated that there is legitimate room in the Church for an open and constructive discussion about sexuality and about the proper norms for its humane and dignified expression. Now we wish to describe what homosexual people, based on their own experience, can contri­bute to the spiritual heritage and colorful diversity of the Catholic community of faith. As Catholics, we know that we are responsible for the life of the Church and for the Church’s mission in today’s society. We will now consider a number of subjects in greater depth.

4.1  Seeing reality as it is

People are inclined to close their eyes to those parts of reality which are not what they think they should be or which they don’t know how to handle. In the past, people preferred to remain silent about homosexuality, especially in Christian circles. “Scandals” were hidden away. Now that is no longer possible,  because the reality of homosexuality, both its pleasant and unpleasant sides, is visible in public life and thought. Homosexual people have nevertheless inherited from earlier times a particular sensitivity towards all the “polite talk” and false profundity about sexuality that really obscu­res the facts. To cite two examples: the suggestion that all normal boys of a certain age “naturally” desire sexual inter­course with girls (and vice versa) and the fact that sexual intercourse is still referred to as the “marital act.”

Sexual behavior, whether between people of different genders or the same, whether fantasy, desire or the act itself, has innumerable meanings: giving pleasure, exciting experimentation with the unknown, active or passive seduction, exercising power or being subjected to it, tiresome ritual, intimate and tender gestures between two persons who are comfortable with each other’s bodies and many more. The Dutch language, for instance, has many expressions for it which we tend not to use in the pulpit.

Homosexual people have had to find their own way through this luxuriant garden of meanings, unaided by traditional expressions and rules. Some require a lot of time and experimentation to discover what is good and constructive for themselves and their potential partners, as well as what is wrong and destructive. Others, perhaps aided by the way they were brought up to relate to other people, know fairly quickly what is good for them and what is not; they have chosen their lifestyles: a permanent relationship, a series of relations­hips, multiple partners without any permanent commitment or a life of celibacy.

Furthermore, an extensive gay culture exists in western countries, especially in the larger cities. In all of these countries, there are organizations that strive for emancipati­on and equal civil rights and against society’s compulsory heterosexuality. There are also numerous organizations that offer support and assistance, for example those of and for parents of homosexual people, and of and for married gays and lesbians and their children. Homoerotic themes can be found everywhere in artistic expressions: in poetry, novels, thea­ter, the fine arts and films. In recent years, these coun­tries have witnessed the emergence of groups for homosexual people based on their religious beliefs or church membership. In addition to these, there are the commercial enterprises where much money is spent and earned in connection with homosexuality. These range from the press, fashion, health clubs and the tourist industry, to prostitution, pornography and sex-tou­rism.

Some homosexual people want nothing to do with the social aspects of this culture, while others eagerly take part in them and feel very much at home in that world. That this “gay culture” exists, in all its variety, means that no one can choose to ignore it as in the past. This includes the chur­ches.

It is important that outsiders, and, for the sake of convenience, we include here our heterosexual sisters and brothers in the Catholic Church, should understand this social reality before they try to separate the wheat from the chaff. By this we mean  especially learning to understand the longing that leads homosexual people to set out on these paths, crooked or otherwise. As the turn-of-the-century gay Dutch writer, Jacob Israel de Haan, put it, in a phrase which has been inscribed on the monument to homosexual people near the Westerkerk (West Church) in Amsterdam, “for friendship, such a matchless lon­ging.” 4

We, too, are not served by imagining homosexuality to be different, more beautiful or pathetic, better or worse, than it really is. But we do know that we are constantly touched by the apostle Paul’s words: “Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavi­or change, modeled by your new mind. Then you will be able to discern the will of God and to know what is good, acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). As Christians we desire that God will direct and form our longings through the Holy Spirit.

Gay and lesbian people, too, have received the vocation to holiness. Sexual abstinence is not per se, and for most simply not, the way there. Nor does the way lie for anyone in the denial of one’s sexual desire. The “new mind” of which Paul speaks invites us to seek our salvation not in domination over others, the misuse of people, the possession of property or in esteem from peers, but in the vision of peace in which people are attractive for each other and in which they freely promote each other’s good, both physical and spiritual.

It is not good for a Church that wants to help people enter the Kingdom of God, not to understand the real life of people or only to come up with superficial analyses of it, such as moral deterioration, self-indulgence, subjectivism or secularization. In such a case, no one will listen to the Church and then no one is really helped. We find that regret­table, and would therefore like to make a contribution to the community’s understanding of the contemporary reality about sexuality and relationships. It will then become clear when and where moral boundaries are required, namely, every time respect for the other and the cause of justice are threatened.

4.2   Diversity regarding family, procreation and parenthood

Today, the modern western family, consisting of father, mother and a few young children, is presented to us again and again as the cornerstone of society. Such an assertion raises several questions. Historically speaking, can a fairly recent relationship form serve as a model for all other relationships in which people live together? Is starting a family and the engendering of descendants an assignment from God? To whom is the assignment being made? Must the family line be carried forward? The forming of a family, motherhood and fatherhood are all good things, but they are no “sacred” musts. One is free to choose them, but not obliged.

In his preaching, Jesus radicalized the biblical teaching on family, viz. that blood lines and family ties are subordi­nate to the new relationship, a brotherhood and sisterhood that comes about among all those who wish to orient their lives to the coming of the Kingdom of God.  (Cf. Mark 3: 31-35; Matthew 12: 46-50; Luke 11: 27-28.)

Moreover, gay and lesbian people call attention to the fact that many common forms of living together other than that of the modern family exist without their forming a threat to society. Already in 1985, the majority of households (53%) in the Netherlands consisted of one or two persons, and it is expected that this number will gradually increase to two out of three households (64%) by the year 2000. Apparently it is not only homosexual people who are asking serious questions about the role of the family in our society.

One may not blame homosexuals for the fact that their relationships do not lead to procreation, provided the relationships remain within the circle of those who prepare for a better world in faith and hope. Even the prophet Isaiah rejec­ted this reproach: “Let no eunuch say ‘And I, I am a dried up tree.’ For Yahweh says this: ‘To the eunuchs who observe my sabbaths and resolve to do what pleases me and cling to my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monu­ment and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will never by effaced.’ ” (Isaiah 56:3-5; cf. Acts 8: 26-39).

4.3 The experience of our bodies

Through our bodies we feel ourselves to be connected with other persons as well as with the animals and the earth around us. Physical, tangible presence that can be seen and smelled evokes in us both pleasure and displeasure, desire and repul­sion. Intimacy might be described as a situation of familiarity and security, in which, for example, people can reveal themselves to each other, not hiding their defects and stren­gths, and yet without being embarrassed by each other. Sexua­lity, in the narrow sense of the word, has little to do with these things. There can be a great deal of intimacy between people without their going to bed with each other; and there can also be sex without intimacy.

Of course, it is not only homosexual people who know about these things. Nevertheless, they have their own stories to tell about rejection, intimacy and satisfaction. Some find, for example, that sexual activity can mean something else again than just the personal affection of two persons for each other, namely, that people feel themselves to be involved in a greater whole, that they are connected in the very fibers of their being with all living things and are thereby reconciled with their physical being, with earthly existence itself. Women experience this in a different way than men do.

But is it desirable to speak of such things within the faith community? We think it is. First of all,  we live in a western civilization that wrongly teaches us to handle our bodies as instruments or machines which need to be polis­hed, tuned and repaired. It is a civilization that does not prepare us to deal with deformity, sickness and decay, nor with the beauty, strength and vitality of our bodies. aids has painfully confronted the gay community with all these aspects of life. Some persons with aids have learned, against the grain of our civilization, that the road to death was really a new way of living for them.

Secondly, how can we Christians maintain our belief in the Resurrection of the body, one of the Twelve Articles of the faith, and apply it to our way of life, if we deny the experience of our bodies? This belief does not teach us that we will one day be freed from our bodies, but that our bodies will one day be set free.

4.4   The diversity of loving relationships between people

Homosexual people have their own unique experience of intimate involvement between people, both in stable relationships and in brief encounters. These experiences do not correspond with current rules of society about how men and women ought to conduct themselves at work, on the street, among friends and in bed. We must admit with regret that the homosexual culture has often had a ready-made alternative set of rules of “how it should be.” All of us, homosexual and heterosexual, lack the imagination needed to do justice to the existing richness of loving, as well as to the physical interactions between people in which they are good to each other: women with women, men with men, gay men and heterosexual women, the physically handicapped and those who care for them, the aging celibate pastor and his likewise celibate housekeeper. There are also people who feel attracted to both men and women. We have the persistent and mistaken inclination to label everything, to ask, for example, “Is that relationship sexual or platonic?” or “Is that individual homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual?” We often lack imagina­tion, and, as a result, we lack respect.  Precious words, such as friendship, boyfriend, and girlfriend, are often used today in a superficial  and even banal way. We suffer from a language deficiency. Between vulgar language and medical-technical jargon, the poetic language of the erotic, the language of the Song of Songs, has grown faint.

We do not close our eyes to the hard reality of faithles­sness, deceit, exploitation and humiliation in the physical relationships between people. Homosexual people know all about these things. Nevertheless, we are certain that there must be more understanding, and thus a more richly variegated langu­age, for the wide variety of loving relationships between free and equal individuals. By faithfulness in relationships we are thinking not only in terms of not doing something with a third person, but of something positive, such as persistent attention for the well-being of the other person, reliability and openness, even in painful situations.

Our customary social and linguistic schedules (falling in love, engagement, marriage, and then never being unfaithful) are no longer sufficient. They do not help young people come to emotional maturity nor do they help them develop an awareness for the balances of power present in human relationships. Abuses which have recently come to light in Dutch society, like sexual violence in relationships, incest, rape, violence against gay and lesbian people and the exploitation of women and children, all have something to do with unequal balances of power, with the lack of freedom and with immaturity. The Church seems to lack the imagination and the language necessary to make a contribution to social education on these issues in our society. The public moral debate which we wish to promote could, as we hope, help the Church here.

4.5   Breaking stereotyped images and roles

In our society there are still deeply rooted opinions about what a real man and a real woman should be, how they should act, how their roles and tasks are to be divided: in public, in the home and even in the bedroom. The obligations that stem from these stereotypes are the source of a great deal of unhappiness, not only for homosexual people, but also for many heterosexual men and women, because their desires and ambiti­ons are suppressed. Whether or not they want to, homosexual males share in the privileges that being  male in our society bring with it. The more they conduct themselves in a “femini­ne” manner, the less they are accepted. Popular opinion, which says that men and women complement each other like the active and passive elements or like a nut and a bolt, sometimes has a certain religious veneer, as if that were what the Creator intended and should therefore remain so.

On this point, the Church conforms too much to the domi­nant cultural trend. The Church, at least in its own spheres of influence, ought to make room for a counterculture so that the pressures which these stereotyped role assumptions genera­te can be removed. The apostle Paul wrote, “All baptized in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between…male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 27-28). The commu­nity of Christ into which we have been baptized does not remove the differences between men and women, but does remove the pressure towards “masculinity” and “femininity.”

4.6 Speaking about God in images

The religious crisis in the western world requires all of us to contemplate the mystery of God and the way we respond to that mystery. Our images about the divine are always derived from experience and visible reality, as was the case when the Bible was written. These notions also determine the way we relate to God.

Quite common today is the psychological depiction of God as someone with authority, God as King and Lord. God is then the highest imaginable authority, and God’s laws reach us thro­ugh a holy book or through the person of an earthly authority, religious or secular, who fills God’s place. Our religious images of God can also move in other directions, however.

Christian mysticism has often envisioned God not as being someone different, but as the nameless Ground and Source of our existence. Jan Luyken, a Dutch mystic (1649-1712) wrote:

But in the depth of my feelings,
it became lovely and sweet.
Thence you came, rushing up from the depths
and like a spring flooding my thirsty heart.
So I found You, O God,
to be the ground of my ground.

The spiritual journey to our most inner being is therefore at the same time the approach to the secret that bears all and binds all. We discover this secret, which we often prematurely call “God,” to be like a friendly power, a friend. Thus we might apply the words of the philosopher Aristotle to the relationship between God and humanity: “…that which we can do by means of our friends, we can do to some extent by our­selves.” Indeed, a true friend gives us the impression, whene­ver he or she helps us achieve something, that we have done it ourselves. In the Scriptures we hear about God as a friend of the people within the Covenant. In Catholic spirituality and theology, friendship with God is an important theme. In the liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Christians, God is addressed as “Dear Friend of People” or “Dear Philanthropist.”

Perhaps gay men and lesbian women have the ability as well as the task to take up the theme of friendship with God once again, to deepen it and to enrich the spiritual life of the Church with it. More than others, they have distanced themselves from the marriage and parent-child models. The theme of friendship with God keeps people from despising themselves and helps us to befriend ourselves. In this way, homosexual people can help alleviate the religious impoverish­ment of society and the Church, an impoverishment that is due largely to the poor imagery for communicating the secret of the Unspeakable.

Of course, all images about the relationship between God and humankind are the result of fallible human labor. That is true of the “King and Lord” model already mentioned. It is also true of the traditional marriage-relationship model, in which God is the Bridegroom. And it is true of the parent-child model with God as Father or Mother and us as children. The title “Father,” which Jesus taught us, is irreplaceable, but it should not dominate our imagination. Even the image of God as “Wholly Other” is valuable, but it needs to be based on our experience with people who are strangers to us and with their appeals, whether defenseless, entreating or demanding.

The model of God as friend is also a relative one, of course, but it can help people think of God as being a loving and loyal friend when they suffer or feel guilty or as a loyal comrade in the struggle for justice.

5   Renewing the Church

As gay pastors, we love our Church, both as it is and as it is intended to be. That is precisely why we commit ourselves to a permanent renewal of the Church in the direction which the Lord meant for it to go. In this pastoral letter we invite you, our brothers and sisters, to join us in this work of renewal. The following conclusions and recommendations can be of help in this.

5.1 To look each other in the eye

Having faith, as we have maintained in this letter, presumes the courage to face reality as it really is and not as we would like it to be. This courage is more and more present at the grassroots level of the Church, and that is reason for rejoicing.

Facing the facts means that we as homosexual and heterosexual people must be ready to look each other in the eye. Homosexuality must not be a “phenomenon” in the Church, just another of the many subjects for discussion and concern. Homosexuality is all around us in real, living people, men and women with names and faces and personal stories of joy and sorrow. The Church usually speaks about homosexuality as if it were something alien to us; this approach must be replaced by a discussion with gay and lesbian people in the Church.

Those who are looking for such a discussion must of course be aware of the fact that, due to a centuries-long history of oppression and denial of homosexual people, and one which continues even in the present, coming out and standing up for their longings is not something which many gays and lesbians consider to be an obvious step. This is certainly true for a number of members of our own Working Group as well as for many married gay and lesbian people.

An honest and therefore also brotherly and sisterly way of dealing with each other requires of all of us that we engage ourselves in creating a climate within our Church where people will know that they have been invited to be who they are.

5.2   The discussion

We have noted that there is presently a growing gap between what the Church leadership holds up as good and true moral norms and the convictions about these norms which are manife­sted in the lives of the majority of the faithful, including pastors. This gap disturbs many people who care deeply about the Church. And rightly so, because it seriously damages the credibility of the Church and of Christian witness in society.

We call on parishes and other local faith communities to initiate discussions among themselves on what a truly human and evangelical morality for today might be. By this, we do not mean discussions about homosexuality itself. Rather, we appeal for an integrated approach, in which homosexuality will be considered as one form of sexuality and relationships, alongside others. In this way, homosexuality will be dealt with in the broader spectrum of how the community responds to changes in their own experiences of sexuality today. This includes questions of non-marital relationships, changing views on marriage and new ways of looking at the relationship between males and females.

Of course, such a discussion takes the participation of people with diverse experiences and of differing sexual status for granted: the married and the divorced, widows and widowers, homosexual and heterosexual people, the single and the celibate, those who live together, etc. This dialogue should occur on the basis of equality, and personal experien­ces should be situated and tested in the light of the Holy Scripture. We believe that such an open discussion is the appropriate place for developing insights into what is true and good. At the same time, people can become aware of what obstacles and impediments they create for each other in socie­ty and in the Church.

There are quite a number of organizations and instituti­ons that can assist the parish or local faith community in conducting these discussions. Good discussion materials are also available.5

5.3   An inclusive community

The multiplicity of living arrangements and lifestyles need not worry the Church. Rather, they can be a source of wonder and joy. The preservation and encouragement of this diversity requires of a parish that it see and conduct itself as an “inclusive” community; a community that includes people in a positive way.

A starting point for inclusiveness is for the parish to pay attention to the language which is employed. Language is important in the Church, a community in which things are proclaimed. We use the notion of proclamation rather broadly, as an indication of all the situations in which, both implicitly and explicitly, norms and values are introduced or passed on. Proclamation takes place not only from the pulpit or in a homily, but also in prayer, catechesis, educational groups, leadership groups, sacramental preparation and pasto­ral counselling, both individually and in groups.

What pastors and others proclaim is not unimportant for the well-being of homosexual members of the community. Does one include or exclude others with the kind of language used? One must be aware of the inclusive or exclusive effect of speech. The language employed should be inviting and not shut people out. For example, a prayer that sings the praises of men and women and their mutual complementarity without refer­ring to other kinds of relationships excludes gay and lesbian people. Words such as “family Mass,” “family ministry” or “family contribution” are not very inviting for all those who are not linked to a family. A prayer for “those who are diffe­rent” quickly creates the impression that homosexual people are to be pitied.

Another point we would like to bring up in connection with the idea of inclusiveness is the blessing of relations­hips. The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of blessings for persons in different situations at its disposal.  There are even blessings for animals and objects. For many Christian men and women, the blessing given at marriage is a high point in their lives. We recommend that, following the example of the Remonstrant Church, those within the Church who want a blessing for their gay or lesbian life-bond should have the possibility of receiving such a blessing. This recommendation is not an appeal for “homosexual marriage,” nor is it our intention here to comment negatively on those who follow other lifestyles. However, we do want to make an appeal for gay or lesbian unions to be taken seriously in a religious context.

A final point with regard to this discussion of inclusi­veness is that it can never be limited to the parish as an independent unit. An inclusive church community will persua­de its members to work for an inclusive society as well. Positive support for liberation groups in society should be as natural for such a community as working for change in one’s own circle.

5.4   Pastoral ministry with and by gay and lesbian people

For some decades now, good work has been done by pastors working within a specialized ministry who have been concerned with the welfare of gay and lesbian people. Although this ministry has not always been appreciated by everyone, we are grateful for these colleagues. Ministry to gays and lesbians can also occur in parishes, and this is to be preferred wher­ever possible.

It is precisely when a parish understands itself to be an inclusive community that it can happen that a homosexual believer, or someone from his or her community (parents, relatives, partner, children, etc.), will approach the pastor. The nature of the pastoral contact in these cases will depend largely on the concrete questions which the pastor is asked. In any case, however, this contact must be a meeting in soli­darity in which the pastor and the one with the question search together for clarity about the roots of the problem and for the perspective of faith. In our view, such a discussion can only be productive when the pastor has suffi­cient knowledge and skills both in the area of ministry and in the question of homosexuality. While knowledge can be had from the abundance of good literature on the subject, even better is that the pastor obtain it first hand by not avoiding con­tact with gay and lesbian parishoners.

This brings us to our next point: support groups. As members of the Working Group, we have experienced for oursel­ves the benefits of meeting with each other on the basis of our being both believers/pastors and homosexuals. We expect, therefore, that our parishes will benefit when support groups of gay and lesbian people arise within them. In this way, the development from a ministry for homosexual people to one by them can also be promoted.

We make an appeal for such groups, not in order to promo­te a ghetto situation or as an alibi, but because experience has taught us that homosexual believers can often find support and encouragement in each other’s company. Gay pastors will naturally be part of such groups. It is our hope that such groups can develop positive strengths that will benefit the parish as a whole.

5.5 Offices and functions within the Church

As Christians, we are convinced that sexuality is something beautiful and good, a gift from the Creator. Therefore, we consider it to be neither shameful nor disturbing when gay or lesbian people make the nature of their longings known in the Church. As members of the Working Group, we also strive for this openness ourselves. We invite others in the Church, whether they be bishops, priests or religious, to be open in this way too. We consider it unacceptable that someone who is called to any form of service in the Church should be disquali­fied or frustrated in his or her vocation merely because the person has publicly disclosed a sexual preference.

There are also lay people among the members of the Wor­king Group. It is our opinion that they are free to enter into homosexual unions, while being obviously bound by the moral obligations which the humane and Christian practice of such relationships imposes on them. We find it unacceptable that actively homosexual lay pastors as such are denied appoint­ments in the service of the Church by the responsible authori­ties. Nor is it acceptable that an appointment be made subject to improper restrictions, such as when the pastor in question is actually invited to lead a double life. Such denials and restrictions do occur in the Dutch Catholic Church at the present time.

These denials and restrictions are often motivated by practical considerations (“The people are not ready for this…”). We feel that parishes can make a great contribution towards changing this policy. We warmly support all those in the Church who are striving for a non-discriminatory appoint­ment policy. We believe that parishes do the right thing in developing their own criteria for the appointment of pastors and volunteers.

The Union of Pastoral Workers, the Human Rights Commission in the Church, the “Eighth of May” movement and the Coun­cil for Parochial Affairs can do useful work in this regard.

Among the members of the Working Group there are also priests and religious. They are bound by the obligation of their vows of celibacy or chastity. In the Working Group, we discuss with each other the relationship between celibacy and chastity on the one hand, and the reality of homosexual fee­lings on the other. In principle, we are of the opinion that celibacy and chastity demand the same of homosexual and hete­rosexual people alike.  Where their content is unclear and there is discussion about them within the Church, that lack of clarity goes for both homosexual and heterosexual indivi­duals.


As pastors, we see it as our duty to proclaim the Gospel as it is believed and handed on within the living tradition of the Catholic Church. We also consider it our task to make the teaching of the Church known and to explain and clarify its content, its purpose and its application. We also hope, by means of this letter, to be able to enter into discussion with you, our sisters and brothers, about what is good and true for people today, in the light of the gospel. This letter does not pretend to say the final word on the matter, but is intended as a contribution to the urgently necessary reflection in the Church which has only just begun.

Let us bless each other so that we might obtain the blessing to which we have been called.

Father Prof. Drs Theo Beemer,
Drs Cor Hoegen,
Drs Jan van Hooydonk,
Father Theo Koster, O.P.,
Father Toon Schermer, S.J., and
Father Jan Schlatmann

of the Working Group of Gay Catholic Pastors
Huissen, The Netherlands, 1989   


1   The substantial appendices to the Dutch version contain suggestions as to how this letter might be employed, as well as lists of addresses and literature which may be of use to the Dutch reader.

2   The names of these people can be found in the appendices to the Dutch version.

3  This was the precursor of the Netherlands Society for Sexual Reform (NVSH).

4  The Dutch original is as follows: “Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen.” The word “mateloos” (immeasurable) can also be read as “mate-less.”

5  In the Dutch version of this letter, a reference is made here to the appendices in that version


March 28, 1992

Bishop William A. Hughes
Diocese of Covington, Kentucky
Chicago, Illinois

A Caring and Compassionate Church
Address delivered at a New Ways Ministry Symposium

The 1992 St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York and Boston drew much publicity about whether or not gay and lesbian people should be permitted to march in the parade. If you watched any TV coverage of the parade itself, you probably noticed the emotional, violent reactions and the vicious looks on the faces of people who were protesting the presence of gay and lesbian people. This reaction is typical of a high percentage of our population. Frequently people look for a simple response to a complex question and want to see issues as black and white. This attitude allows them to be comfortable in responding to a stereotype and to easily discriminate against others.

I shall not present a theological treatise on homosexuality but will address the pastoral reality and examine the question, “How does the Church react to people who may be gay or lesbian?”  The Church must be concerned with all its members. We are all part of the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ is healthy only when we respect and love one another. As St. Paul said, “If one person suffers, we all suffer. If one person rejoices, we all rejoice.”  We are not a Church of saints but of sinners; therefore, there is a place for all of us, regardless of sexual orientation. Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God, worthy of respect and love. This is consistent with the life of Jesus, who cared about people: sick people, hurting people, people outside the pale of society. Jesus did not exclude anyone from his concern and love, even when the Pharisees complained that he ate and drank with publicans and sinners.

Episcopal Task Force on AIDS

I grew in my own understanding of this issue when I served as Chairman of the Episcopal Task Force on AIDS, which drafted the first statement from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on aids, The Many Faces of AIDS: A Gospel Response.  We began our writing process by listening to the stories of three persons. We struggled with the use of the words, “AIDS patients,” which we eventually changed to “Persons with the HIV virus.”  We interviewed people in the health care profession and listened to persons with the HIV virus. They were honest, caring, and hurting human beings who helped us see not abstractions, but real individual human beings, who were suffering at that point in their lives.

We heard many horror stories about parents who refused to visit their sons who had AIDS and about people dying alone with no one willing to minister to them. It was very difficult to hear that some religious communities ostracized their own members as if somehow they were not persons worthy of loving and saving. It was a time of growth for me because I began to realize that the real issue is persons, not sexual orientation.

At that time, I was invited to an elder hostel group of senior adults who visit college campuses or retreat houses. After an educational component in the morning, the seniors visit various places to get familiar with the culture of the location. I was asked to speak on the document, “The Many Faces of AIDS.”  There was very little sympathy in the group for what I was saying. Remarks such as, “Those people got what they deserved,” were typical. However, at one point a man stood up and began to speak about his personal trauma with his son who died of AIDS, about the hurt which he and his wife felt, and about their love for their son. They were now engaged in a diocesan ministry to persons with AIDS. The people were moved by what the man said. They experienced, not the abstraction of homosexuality, but real people whose lives were affected by this issue. The conversation changed completely. They no longer dealt with this reality in simplistic, moralizing judgments, such as “AIDS is God’s punishment.”

The ecclesial community is slowly coming to understand how unchristian it is to discriminate on the basis of sexual attraction. Discrimination and prejudice in our society are real sins because they show a lack of love, which is the heart of the Christian message.

Church Teaching

The Church has always opposed discrimination, prejudice, and injustice. In spite of this long-standing principle of the Church’s social teaching, homosexual persons were discriminated against, banned from certain types of employment, and removed from positions of authority if their sexual identity was discovered. But we are in a period of change in which the Church is now acknowledging that sexual orientation does not exhaust the totality of the human person.

Parents often ask the question, “How can I accept my gay son or lesbian daughter whom I love without accepting his or her lifestyle?”  Priests hear similar questions from parents about a daughter or a son who has married outside the Church. Although it might be easy to say that we love the sinner but hate the sin, it is always more difficult to make that distinction in practice. The homosexual orientation is in no way sinful. We are wrong to make any judgments about a person simply because we know he or she is homosexually oriented. There are many celibate gay or lesbian persons. Nor is all homosexual activity objectively sinful for all people at all times as the Vatican Declaration on Sexual Ethics affirms when it talks about those factors that might lessen responsibility. The moral evaluation of sexual activity can be as complex as the psychological and social evaluation. The Bishops from the State of Washington concluded, “Even with regard to homogenital activity, no one except Almighty God can make certain judgments about the personal sinfulness of acts.”


Let me consider four stereotypes which heterosexuals widely apply to all gay and lesbian persons. First, all homosexuals are attracted to children and adolescents and wish to have physical contact with them. Second, all male homosexuals are effeminate and lack the typical male characteristics of courage, aggressiveness, and strength. Third, all homosexuals are sexually active. And fourth, all homosexuals can change their orientation merely by willing to do certain acts and by cultivating heterosexual friendships.

Although these four stereotypes produce an incorrect and unfair image of all gay and lesbian persons, they are still, unfortunately, commonly accepted by many heterosexual people. The fact that lesbian and gay people themselves know that the image is false does not adequately protect them from the stigma, prejudice, and discrimination these stereotypes foster. Because society has attached an “outsider” status to homosexuality, which engenders self-hatred, one might expect gay and lesbian persons to manifest pathological personality profiles. The fact that many do not reflects to their credit, not to society’s.

In Cincinnati’s morning paper, I recently read,

In years past, widespread discontent in American society found outlets in physical and verbal attacks on Blacks or maybe Jews. The violent found they could beat up on an individual Black or vandalize Jewish shops with impunity. The nation fortunately has largely recovered from that kind of sickness. But there is evidence that gays and lesbians have become the new targets. A survey of major u.s. cities cites a 31% increase in anti-gay violence in 1991. The vandals rarely seem to act out of any deeply held moral conviction. They tend instead to be thugs looking for someone upon whom they can vent their anger and frustrations.

As a society we need to deplore this resorting to violence. Public officials need to be attentive to these manifestations of hatred and oppression.

The harshest words of Jesus were reserved for those Scribes and Pharisees who so easily passed judgment on others. He condemned their laying heavy burdens on people’s backs without lifting a finger to help them. Jesus clearly challenged his disciples to avoid the pretense of religiosity in favor of practicing charity. There is always the real danger that we self-righteously pass judgment on other people while we indulgently excuse ourselves.

I am not condoning or advocating all actions by groups that represent lesbian and gay persons. Some of these actions can be counter-productive. For example, in another area, the Church strongly supports the concept of labor unions, but this does not imply that the Church supports every activity of its members. Strategy is always a matter of judgment.

A Caring and Compassionate Church

Church teaching is clear as we form our own consciences in regard to homosexual activity or acts. Magisterial teaching is respected by the formation of the individual conscience. I am referring to the pastoral concern that any minister must have for a person who struggles with their own identity and relationship with the Lord.

No prejudice or discrimination based on sexual orientation is acceptable; full participation in the Church is desirable. Christians are called to be people of compassion. Gay and lesbian persons are asking for acceptance, not pity. We are making progress as a Church in understanding the difficulties that persons in certain circumstances experience.

For example, twenty-five years ago divorced and separated people were clearly outside the Church. Sadly, many times a divorced person was no longer welcomed at family celebrations. Sometimes divorced people moved out of town. If they remarried, their parents often did penance. We adhered to a rigid interpretation of the law. As more people divorced, more families were touched by it. Those willing to listen heard people who felt hurt and guilty because, they believed, they had failed in life. When divorce affected someone in one’s own family, attitudes began to change. Many priests, once very rigid, came to realize that more than law is involved here: I must minister to a person who is hurting.

As a result, the Church today in many dioceses has strong programs for the divorced and separated. They are welcomed, ministered to, and given time, love, and understanding. The church community reaches out to them. Does that mean that the Church is promoting divorce?  Not at all. It is simply living its best tradition of reaching out to people who seek help.

When I was a young priest, I was called from the dinner table to minister to a family at the rectory door, one of whose family members had committed suicide. At that time, the law clearly stated that a person who committed suicide could not be buried from the Church. I stood for the law, and returned to the dinner table and to the pastor, almost smug about the fact that the law was kept. I often ask myself how I could have done that. I probably do not make a retreat without thinking, “How could I have stood for that?”

The Church does not stand for it today. We invite the family in and pray with them. We minister to them. This is the caring, compassionate Church we are called to be. In this kind of caring, compassionate Church there is room for all of us. It is not a Church of exclusion, but one of inclusion, and all of us, including gay and lesbian people, have membership.

March 28, 1992

Bishop Kenneth E. Untener
Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan
Chicago, Illinois

Hallmarks of the Church
Address delivered at a New Ways Ministry Symposium

Through the window of ecclesiology, I will point out several trade marks of our Church which have a bearing on the issue of homosexuality. I will examine some common themes in magisterial statements on this topic and offer some personal reflections on these themes.

The Inclusive Church

When we are truest to our foundation, and when we are truest to our tradition, we are an extraordinarily inclusive church. Any study of ecclesiology and any study of Scripture will indicate that we have, from the very beginning, rejected any notion of being an elitist group, an inner circle, a better-than-thou, gnostic, angelic community.

When we were youngsters, my dad took us to ball games at Tiger Stadium (back then it was called Briggs Stadium) and we always sat in the center field bleachers. The bleacher crowd is different from the crowd in the box seats or even the reserved seats. It occurred to me years later after I had studied ecclesiology, that the bleacher crowd is a good image for what the Church ought to be. That is where you have all of humanity. That is the image I think of when I read the gospels and imagine the people who complained about Jesus and the kind of people who seemed to walk with Him. From our foundation by this person who walked with sinners, ate with them, and was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton, we have always been a remarkably inclusive Church.

The early Church was ridiculed for the riff raff that belonged to it. It was criticized for its lack of social standards and its lack of emotional control. Ever since then, we have, imperfectly, better in some areas than in others, lived up to that mark of inclusivity. It has been one of the trademarks of this Catholic Church.

Catholics are the ones who drink, gamble, swear, and smoke. Perhaps we should examine some of this behavior. But I find it interesting that of all the major Christian denominations, it seems more characteristic of Catholics to have a certain earthiness. We are also the ones who bury gangsters!

While we can be proud of the inclusivity of the Church, we have never been perfect. It was a paradox that, while we were burying gangsters, we would not bury divorced people. Although we have been far from, and will never be, perfectly inclusive, there is no mistaking the fact that we are at the core, a very inclusive Church. It is one of our characteristics we must constantly call ourselves to practice.

In the mid-70’s I used to help out on weekends at the University of Michigan. Sometimes the young people would talk to me about how the Catholic Church of their parents’ generation was hypocritical because of the kind of people who came to church. They would say something like, “We know what these people are like during the week, and then they come to Church on Sunday. It’s hypocritical.”  This seems to be a constant criticism of the young. In trying to respond, I would say, “You know, that would be something like standing outside a Weight Watchers meeting and saying, ‘Look at these hypocrites; they’re all coming to Weight Watchers and they’re all fat!’”

We are a people who have accepted the human condition which is called sin. We have also accepted the redemptive mercy of God. Just as people come to Weight Watchers because they acknowledge that they have to struggle to be fully human, as God has called them to be human, so the first thing we do when we come together for Eucharist is to acknowledge that we are sinners: “Lord, have mercy.”

The Caring and Accepting Church

What would catechumens say about us after they have seen the Church from the inside?  What would they say if you asked, “What did you notice, now that you have become part of this group?”  There are moments when I am afraid to ask the question because they might notice things I wish they would not. What would I like to hear them say?  I would like them to answer that they notice the way we care for each other, the way we accept just anybody, even people who leave Mass early, the way we greet people and sit easily next to people of all kinds, no matter how they are dressed, the way we are a mixture of Republicans and Democrats of every race, language, and color.

My hope is that caring and acceptance would be a trademark for Catholics as the horse and buggy is for the Amish. We would be true to our history and to our ecclesiology. We Catholics have it in our blood to be caring and accepting. We need to live up to our calling.

When we die, the only thing that will matter will be the way we treated each other. As a theologian, I do not say that lightly. I have come to believe strongly that the essential element of this life is our treatment of one another.

One might counter, “Then, why go to Church, if that’s all that will matter?  Why crawl out of bed early on Sunday morning?  Why belong to this community?  Just go and be nice to people.”

I would answer very easily, “I need to belong to this group in order to help me believe that such a farfetched idea makes sense!”  By far, this is the hardest thing which any community has been called upon to do. The most difficult words ever spoken were the teachings of Jesus about the way we are to treat others: to accept, to forgive as we are forgiven, not to judge, not to condemn, and to treat all people this way, with no exceptions.

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34).

The Magisterium

We can see that these trademarks of an inclusive and caring church are articulated in some of the statements of the magisterium about gay and lesbian persons. The book Homosexuality and the Magisterium, edited by John Gallagher, contains statements on homosexuality by Bishops, Episcopal Conferences, and Roman Congregations from 1975 to 1985. It is an interesting exercise to read those statements in one sitting and to notice how certain themes emerge, and how we bishops tend to quote each other without necessarily adverting to it.

It became clear to me that there were three things clearly agreed upon that were not ambiguous, questionable, arguable, or dangerous. They are: (1) homosexuality is a highly complex issue; (2) there is a clear distinction between the person with a gay or lesbian orientation and homogenital activity; (3) there is need for special, pastoral concern and sensitivity in reaching out to and responding to gay and lesbian people. I would like to comment upon each of these.

Complex Issue

We need to take seriously the evaluation that homosexuality is a complex question, yet I do not believe we always do. We have to be careful not to make life too simple. The Pharisees made that mistake. They made religion very complex, but treated life as though it were simple. They had complex rules about what one could or could not do and thought these could apply very simply to life. The complexity of their religious formulations took care of everything, and the rest, they thought, was simple.

Jesus did exactly the opposite. His religious teachings were very simple. He said that all the commandments of the law came down to two: love of God and love of neighbor. When they asked Him enormously complex questions, he would say, “Let me tell you a story…”

On the other hand, Jesus treated life as very complex, as His parables show. For example, the parable of the prodigal son was so simple until He introduced the last scene with the complexity of the older brother. And Jesus left it there. The parable ends with the older brother and the father still arguing out in the yard.

There are other examples. The parable of the workers in the vineyard who come in late recognizes the complexity of the human condition and of society. The deep faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman challenged the simple worldview of a Jewish cultural identity.

We need to be careful that we do not say on the one hand that homosexuality is a complex question, and then treat it as though there were simple solutions.

Acceptance of the Person

The second observation I made from these magisterial statements was the distinction between the person with a gay or lesbian orientation and homogenital activity. That too is very clear and not doctrinally or morally controversial. A person with a gay or lesbian orientation is a full-fledged member of the Church, a daughter or son of God, with no footnotes or asterisks. This is clearly Church teaching.

Although we may be inclined to say, “Of course, we all accept the fact that gay and lesbian people are children of God without asterisk or footnote,” we do not practice this teaching in our lives. This bridge of acceptance of the lesbian or gay person has not yet been crossed.

When it became public that I would speak at a New Ways Ministry symposium in March, 1992, I began to receive some mail condemning me for my participation. Although my topic was the pastoral care of gay and lesbian people, some considered my public presence reprehensible. Associating with people who gather to talk about homosexuality, some of whom would be gay or lesbian, was a despicable thing to do, according to them.

On the other hand, I discovered that our diocese had moved further along on the lesbian/gay issue than I thought we had. In preparation for the presentation, I spoke to regular folks about it. I was very surprised at people’s compassion and understanding. I sought every opportunity to talk about it. We spoke informally over coffee, at small gatherings, or one to one. Almost universally, people expressed an attitude that surprised me. Many of them said, “I’m glad you’re speaking on this issue.”

I observed firsthand how many people, because they were the parent, brother or sister, uncle or aunt, or close friend of a gay or lesbian person, had a pastoral attitude of which we could all be proud. In effect, they said, “This is a very complex issue, and we have to be very understanding.”  I was very moved by that and I learned something.

Need for Pastoral Sensitivity

The third theme permeating the magisterial statements on homosexuality is the need for special pastoral sensitivity.

Again the teaching is clear and unambiguous. It is a call for pastoral care for the individual. We always have to call ourselves back to this pastoral sensitivity. There is a certain “wind,” perhaps in all religions, that comes from somewhere, like a sirocco, that creates a drift toward severity. We have to resist that wind at times and tack against it.

In many of the early gospel manuscripts, the story about the woman taken in adultery is missing. Many Scripture scholars suggest that the Christian community just could not live with the mercy that Jesus seemed to show. If this explains why the text is missing, this same wind blows across the church in every age. We need to be sensitive to it and watch for it.

The blessing and distribution of oils during the Lenten Chrism Mass are a special symbol of the Catholic Church. They express a certain compassion and softness rather than severity. The oils are always soothing; they are applied individually and very kindly. The kind face of the church is symbolized in these fragrant, healing, soft oils.

If the gospels are good news, we always must ask ourselves two questions: “To whom are they good news?” and “To whom aren’t they good news?”  It is helpful to examine the pastoral practice of the Church in the light of those two questions.

Actually, the gospels are good news to everyone, rich or poor, whatever their condition. The good news of the gospel is that whoever you are, your life can have meaning. The gospel is good news particularly to people who do not think their lives can have meaning. Often they are the poor and the downtrodden. If God can make sense out of the redemptive mystery of the cross, then there is not a life or a moment in any life that need be without meaning.

Although the gospel is “good news,” it is never “easy news.”  Good news, yes; easy news, no. Not for anyone. It is not an “anything goes” gospel, but simply a gospel that says, “Before God, greatness is possible for anyone.”

I must always call myself to the good news of the gospel, and I am particularly called to proclaim that good news to others. I must always accept the fact and proclaim the truth that the gospel is not always easy news. It was not easy for me to speak publicly at the New Ways Ministry symposium. But Jesus promised that anyone who followed the gospel would experience peace and joy. I experienced a deep-down peace and joy at that gathering. I now experience a calming peace and satisfying joy in sharing these reflections on the ministry of a caring and inclusive church to lesbian and gay persons.

March 28, 1992

Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
Archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan
Chicago, Illinois

Parish-Based Ministry to Gay and Lesbian People and Persons with AIDS
Address delivered at a New Ways Ministry Symposium

For several reasons, I probably thought more about this presentation than almost any other in many years. I hoped that I would speak in a very sensitive, warm, and loving way. I wanted to be sure that I would not say anything offensive from sheer ignorance. I was also concerned because I became aware that certain church authorities were not happy that I and two other bishops were part of the symposium. In spite of all this, I was very proud, pleased, and grateful to be invited as a participant in the symposium.

I am speaking because I hope it will help you understand the obstacles that still are present in the Church. Perhaps it will help you summon up from the depths of your own spirit-life a patience and readiness to wait with the Church until more and more bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers are able to come to a better point of understanding, compassion, love, and care for all of those in the gay and lesbian community.

Many gay and lesbian people are seeking the opportunity to grow in their relationship with God. In response to that seeking to grow, I believe the Catholic Church must develop a very careful, pastoral approach marked by the compassion, understanding, love, and care of Jesus. But there are obstacles to this pastoral approach. One of the main obstacles is the lack of understanding and rigidity that sometimes is present in pastoral ministers, especially ordained ministers within the Church.

I recently heard of an appalling situation at a general hospital with an AIDS unit in a large city. A priest chaplain at that hospital is a rigid type of person who will not even enter the room of an AIDS patient to anoint, to bless, or to pray with that person. From the doorway, he tells the patients that they must repent of their evil ways. That is his pastoral approach. I could repeat many similar incidents.

Unfortunately, I am aware of how difficult it is going to be for the Church to change. How difficult it will be for bishops throughout our country to see that ordained priests have an openness to the gay and lesbian community. I know it will be difficult because I can speak from my own personal experience. The seminary formation I received was reinforced by the culture in which I grew up. It did not prepare me in any way to minister effectively to gay and lesbian people. When I recall my first years as a priest, I wonder how I could have spoken as I did many times in the confessional to gay people.

Not very long ago my own brother, Dan, wrote a letter to our family in which he declared that he is gay. He and his partner have a very good relationship. It is humbling for me to acknowledge that I would not even deal with that letter for several months. I simply refused to respond. For a while, I was unwilling to visit him.

Not too long after I received the letter, I met an extraordinary and beautiful woman named Olga, a 70-year old mother and widow. Olga shared her own story with me and said, “I am very fortunate to have the two best sons in the world, one on earth and the other in heaven. It is for the one in heaven that I have become an activist for gay rights and AIDS education. I promised my son, Raul, who died from complications of AIDS in June, 1990, that as long as I lived I will fight AIDS with all my heart and work for the dignity of gay society.”

Olga went on to explain. “I never had any shame that Raul was homosexual. He was a proud man, and I am a proud mother. Raul told me he was gay a year after his father died, when Raul was in college. Even though I knew in my heart that he was gay, I can remember how shocked I was at first. I wanted to die. But I looked at my son and I knew God loved him every bit as much as I did. So I took him in an embrace and that embrace lasted as long as he lived. I was able to have peace, serenity, and acceptance. It was God who showed me the way, which is why I know God approves of what I’m doing these days.”

I am very blessed that I met Olga because she helped me to be much more accepting of my own brother and his partner. I am especially grateful because, a short time before my mother died, she asked me, “What’s going to happen to Dan?  Will he go to hell?”

Of course, my mother was trained in the teachings of the Church very well. She was almost afraid to die with that terrible fear that somehow her youngest son would end up in hell just because he was homosexual. Because I had come to know Olga and to imbibe from her something of the compassion, the love, and the pride that she felt, I was able to speak with my mother in a very understanding way, which I might not have been able to do otherwise.

Hope and Life Generated by AIDS

AIDS is not a gay disease. Worldwide it affects heterosexual people in far greater numbers than homosexual people. Nevertheless, it is especially because of the scourge of aids that we discover in our Church and in the larger homosexual community an evidence of God’s love that is more inspiring than in probably any other segment of the Church. Ironically and tragically, AIDS is making possible a ministry that would have been far more difficult.

One cannot spend time in the lesbian and gay community without recognizing that the grace of God is powerfully active here, especially, but not only, as this community comes to terms with AIDS. There is a love here that is a function of God’s grace. Nowhere in my 60-some years, and 30- some years as a priest, have I found the resurrection meaning more fully embodied than in persons affected by AIDS and the HIV virus. People with AIDS are manifesting the power of unconditional love in ways that, I dare say, constitute something new in history. The power of the resurrection is breaking through in this community, and consequently for all of us. The experience of people affected by AIDS and the HIV virus will make a difference which will be experienced by everyone who takes the time to become a part of it.

AIDS calls forth in many the response of hope and the sense of risen life beyond death. This hope is intimately connected with the conviction that something is emerging within this community that is very important for the future of the human family. New connections are being forged. New relationships are being born. New ways of being in the world and new ways of loving are being tested and found to work. There is a hope experienced by many living with HIV and AIDS that, no matter what happens to them, will have meaning for others. They will leave us a legacy; their living and dying will not be in vain, especially for their own community.

There is hope that the lesbian and gay community will be renewed as it comes to acknowledge the powers and wonders of its own loving response to AIDS. There is hope that the unconditional love often found in the response of gay and lesbian people to aids will last after AIDS is over. There is hope that the community will be forever different and ever better because of the memory of those who have died and of those who cared for them.

There is hope that, because of the enormous self-sacrifice called forth in the lesbian and gay community, the rest of our society, the churches, and the synagogues will finally acknowledge that they have been wrong in their judgments of this community. There is hope that heterosexual people will confess their violent attitudes toward lesbian and gay people. There is hope that they will acknowledge that the gay and lesbian community has its own gifts, its own spiritual and cultural resources, and its own grace. These gifts, resources, and grace permeate the way gay and lesbian people live, the way they interact, and the way they love. It is pastorally necessary for our church to acknowledge and bless the gay and lesbian community for what they are teaching us: what it really means to love.

Parish Ministry

We can spread an awareness within our church that gay and lesbian people are truly God’s children and are to be accepted and loved completely. I see this beginning to happen, in some parishes at least. Extending this awareness to other parishes would change the pastoral approach of our whole church.

I was recently invited to speak in a Detroit parish as part of their weekly Lenten program. I was asked to speak about ministry to people with aids as a ministry of hope. I had anticipated a negative and hostile response but was very pleased when I was warmly received. People were truly open to hearing the message of God’s love for people in the gay and lesbian community. This is something to build upon. It is a responsibility of pastoral leaders in our Church to encourage the spirit that is present in seed-like form.

In another parish in the Detroit Archdiocese, the associate pastor described one of his first experiences with a gay couple. One of the couple, named Terry, was HIV positive and only in his late 20s. Terry’s partner, Tom, who was Catholic, worked and cared for Terry. The situation was producing great strain on Tom. The associate pastor placed an article in the parish bulletin about Terry and Tom and asked if anyone would be able to help the couple with their meals. The parish responded unbelievably. In a short time there were twenty families who were actively and personally involved with this couple. The parish provided visiting nurses and had a group of people willing to visit and care for Terry.

Everyone, the associate pastor said, learned a lot from Terry and Tom. Terry was not a person to deal with the situation spiritually. Although Lutheran, he was alienated from his church. Tom was not a practicing Catholic. But the whole experience brought each of them closer to the Church because they could recognize in the people who came to minister that the Church indeed is compassionate and caring. They saw that the Church is willing to accept and be present, and to reach out and give whatever possible.

Terry’s sickness was one of the worst. His body was covered with lesions. Flesh actually rotted in the last two days before he died. But the people of the parish kept coming to visit him to the very end. One woman even paid for the funeral breakfast.

The compassion that was sparked in that parish is a sign of hope of what the Church can be. It is a sign of what we, as a community of the disciples of Jesus, can be with love and support for our brothers and sisters.

My hope is that increasingly we will encourage this kind of caring, love, and compassion within our Catholic communities. Surely, it must be present in many parishes if only there is the pastoral leadership to bring it forth. My hope is that part of our pastoral response will be to engage every parish in some way to reach out to the gay and lesbian community and to persons with aids.

It is my hope that I, as a bishop, and all our bishops and pastoral leaders, will invite our whole Catholic community to show respect to lesbian and gay people.

September 13, 1992

Charles E. Curran
Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Washington, D.C.

Is There Any Good News in the Recent Documents from the Vatican about Homosexuality?
Address delivered after receiving the Bridge Building Award from New Ways Ministry

I maintain, together with many others, that official hierarchical Roman Catholic teaching should accept the moral value and goodness of committed homosexual relationships striving for permanency and including homogenital sexual relations.1  The most recent two documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [the 1992 Some Considerations and the 1986 Letter] strongly reiterate the teaching that homosexual relations are always and everywhere wrong. This essay will examine these two documents (primarily the 1986 Letter because the 1992 Considerations deals primarily with legislation and merely quotes the moral teaching from the earlier document)  to see if they indicate any basis for the hope that the official hierarchical magisterium will ever change its moral teaching.

What this essay discusses from an academic perspective has become a burning existential question for many today: should they leave the Roman Catholic Church because of its present teaching and strong unwillingness to ever change this teaching?  This academic and theological study alone does not pretend to solve anyone’s personal question, but it might furnish some helpful information. This essay starts with a prejudgment, but attempts to examine objectively these two documents as they stand on the basis of the texts themselves and the context. The first part will deal with the case for the negative answer to the question: the documents show no openness whatsoever to any possible change in the hierarchical teaching. The second part will attempt to indicate some bases for maintaining that a change in the hierarchical teaching is possible.

  1. The Negative Response

Universal and all inclusive statements remain difficult to verify and most academics rightly shy away from such pronouncements. However, I begin this section with just such a proposition. All those who share my position on the moral goodness of committed homosexual relationships have severely criticized these two documents. This section will not attempt to summarize all these criticisms, but will very briefly summarize the moral teaching of these two documents and will discuss at some length why the Congregation felt it necessary to maintain that even the homosexual orientation, as distinguished from homosexual behavior, constitutes an objective disorder.

The documents make the point that the moral teaching of the hierarchical magisterium remains absolutely clear: homosexual activity is always wrong. “It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good” (1986 Letter, n. 7).2  This “clear position cannot be revised by pressure from civil legislation or the trend of the moment” (n. 9). The 1986 Letter recognizes that increasing numbers of people today, even within the church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the church to change its teaching. Such a position reflects, even if not entirely consciously, a materialistic ideology which denies the transcendent nature of the human person as well as the supernatural vocation of every individual. These reasons are profoundly opposed to the teaching of the church (nn. 8-9).

The moral reasons leading to the conclusion taken by the hierarchical magisterium come from scripture, tradition, reason, and the teaching of the church. The Letter cites scriptural passages in support of its conclusion: Genesis 3, 19:1-11, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, I Corinthians 6:9, and Romans 1:18-32 (n. 6). In keeping with its pastoral nature, the 1986 Letter does not go into the tradition of the church, but simply points out that the present teaching has been the constant and traditional teaching of the church (n. 8). The church’s position is “founded on human reason, illumined by faith”(n. 2). The Letter forcefully insists that the proper pastoral care of homosexuals clearly proposes the true teaching of the hierarchical magisterium. Bishops are warned to be especially cautious of any programs pressuring the church to change its teaching even while claiming not to. It is wrong to present the teaching of the magisterium as if it were an optional source for the formation of conscience. “All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely” (n. 17).

This summary of the moral teaching and pastoral recommendations of the Letter indicates how forcefully and decisively this teaching has been proposed. No similar document with such admonitions and concrete pastoral measures to reinforce the teaching of the hierarchical magisterium has even been issued. Is it any wonder that all those who share the position of working for change in the teaching have unhesitatingly and strongly criticized the document?  Such a presentation of the teaching on homosexuality provides not even the slightest basis for a possible change in the teaching.

The Congregation found it necessary not only to condemn homosexual acts but also to describe the homosexual orientation itself (for which the individual person is ordinarily not responsible) as an objective disorder. The 1986 Letter emphasizes the objective disorder of the homosexual orientation, inclination, and condition more than any other point.

A great number of commentators have strongly disagreed with this understanding and have been quite perplexed about it.3  The document provides no psychological or psychiatric evidence to support its position. Why did the Congregation so forcefully emphasize this point?

Logically this emphasis is closely related to the position taken by the Congregation on the morality of homosexual acts and legal discrimination against gays and lesbians. The Letter strongly emphasizes the disordered nature of the homosexual orientation or inclination precisely because other recent documents had neglected it or even given the impression there was nothing disordered about the orientation. The Letter itself gives a partial glimpse of this history (n. 3).

The Declaration of Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on December 29, 1975, addressed the issue of homosexuality. The Declaration distinguished between “temporary homosexuals and homosexuals who are permanently such because of some innate drive or a pathological condition which is considered incurable.”  This condition, however, cannot justify homosexual acts. Homosexual acts are “disordered by their very nature” and “deprived of the essential ordination they ought to have.”  Thus the Declaration distinguishes between the homosexual condition or orientation and homosexual acts which are said to be always disordered. The 1986 Letter refers only to the Declaration, but other interesting developments occurred after the Declaration in the United States.

In November 1976 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued To Live In Christ Jesus, a pastoral letter dealing with all aspects of the moral life. The very brief discussion of homosexuality in this pastoral letter begins by recognizing that some persons find themselves through no fault of their own to have a homosexual orientation. Homosexuals have the same basic human rights as everyone else and should also have an active role in the church community. Homosexual activity, however, the bishops say, is morally wrong. Since the orientation is not described as morally wrong or disordered, and since the orientation is contrasted to the morally wrong acts, one could conclude legitimately that the orientation itself is not disordered and is neutral or even good. Some American bishops on the basis of this document in their own individual statements and teachings repeated the distinction between the orientation and the morally wrong activity.4  Pope John Paul II in his address to the American bishops in Chicago in 1979 praised them for rightly saying that homosexual activity, as distinguished from the homosexual orientation, is morally wrong.5

The 1986 Letter perceptively recognized that, in accord with its own moral methodology, the condemnation of homosexual acts logically involves the recognition that the homosexual orientation itself is objectively disordered.

A preliminary step requires a proper understanding of the term “disordered.”  According to the 1986 Letter the homosexual orientation is not a sin but is an objective disorder (n. 3). This same Letter later speaks of homosexual activity as being a moral disorder (n. 7). The Letter thus uses the term disordered to describe both homosexual orientation and homosexual activity.

Every human moral act contains two aspects: the objective and the subjective. The objective refers to the rightness or wrongness of the act in itself, whereas the subjective refers to the culpability or the responsibility of the agent who does an objectively wrong act. Right and wrong are the most correct terms to use about the objective aspect of the act; culpability or sin refers to the subjective aspect. The Catholic moral tradition in common with many other moral traditions has recognized that various factors might affect the culpability or sinfulness of the person who does a morally wrong act. Thus the present hierarchical teaching maintains that homosexual acts are objectively wrong, but various factors might affect the subjective culpability or sinfulness involved (n. 11). In the tradition of Catholic moral theology an act is objectively wrong because it is disordered. Thomas Aquinas long ago referred to law as an ordering of reason. The divine law, the natural law, and human law involve an ordering of reason. A disordering constitutes an objective wrongness which thus goes against the divine, natural, or human law.6

But why was it necessary for the Congregation to maintain that the homosexual orientation, condition, or inclination constitutes an objective disorder?

The documents under consideration help to provide an answer by mentioning significant aspects of the hierarchical magisterium’s teaching about moral methodology in determining whether or not an act is objectively well-ordered or disordered. The moral ordering of acts is determined by their ends. Teleology and the principle of finality play an important role in the moral methodology employed in hierarchical Catholic sexual teaching. The 1975 Declaration maintains that respect for the finality of the sexual act guarantees the moral goodness of the act (n. 5).

Natural law has been described as the participation of the eternal law in the rational creature. God has made us, and human reason by examining human nature can discover how we are to act. However, natural law does not involve a heteronomous or extrinsic understanding of law. We are not to do something just because God commands it. God made us to achieve our own happiness and fulfillment. By acting in accord with our nature and God’s plan or law we achieve our true happiness. Thus the 1986 Letter maintains that every morally disordered act prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God (n. 7).

But how do we know God’s creative plan and the proper finality and ordering of human acts?  The theory of natural law behind hierarchical Catholic sexual teaching, as illustrated in the 1975 Declaration, discovers the plan of God by looking at the nature and purpose of the sexual faculty or power. The sexual faculty exists for the twofold purpose of procreation and love union of male and female. This twofold finality must be respected in every sexual act and grounds the norm that it is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good (nn. 4, 5).

The 1975 Declaration applies these principles and norms to all the particular sexual questions. Thus, for example, artificial contraception between spouses is wrong because it goes against the procreative finality of the act. Homosexual relations are judged wrong because both finalities are missing: procreation and the love union of male and female.(n. 6 ff).

The 1986 Letter follows the same approach. “To choose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the creator’s sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union able to transmit life and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the gospel says is the essence of Christian living” (n. 7).

The teleology or finality fundamental to this natural law theory also controls with regard to the evaluation of inclinations. Note that the very word inclination itself has teleological overtones. One is inclined to certain ends or purposes. In fact Thomas Aquinas develops his fundamental approach to natural law on the basis of the three inclinations in human beings: what they share with all living things, what they share with animals, and what is specific to human beings as such. The order of the precepts of natural law is according to the order of the natural inclinations. Good is to be understood in terms of the end.7  Logic demands that if the act is disordered, the inclination or orientation to that act is also disordered. The end determines the judgment about the inclination or orientation. Stealing is morally disordered, so the inclination or orientation to steal is disordered. If the inclination or orientation to a certain end is good or neutral, then the act itself is good or neutral. The logic of the moral theory demands that if the homosexual act is disordered, then the inclination or orientation to that act is also disordered. The Congregation from its perspective could not continue to allow Catholic statements to imply or even maintain that the homosexual orientation is neutral or good.

Thus the 1986 Letter clearly states, “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” (n. 3). If the orientation or inclination is neutral or good, then the act is neutral or good.

The objectively disordered nature of the homosexual orientation is also logically necessary to support the position taken by the Congregation in Some Considerations on the legal aspects of homosexuality (nn. 10-16). Laws have been proposed and enacted to prevent discrimination against people because of race, ethnicity, gender, age, or sexual orientation. The Congregation holds that rights such as the right to work, to housing, etc. are not absolute. They can be legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct. The homosexual orientation is not the same as race, gender, age, or ethnic origin. It is an objectively disordered orientation. Homosexuals thus can and should be treated differently by the law whereas persons of different races, ethnic origins, gender, or age should not be discriminated against and treated differently. Logically the moral and legal positions taken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith require the Congregation to insist that the homosexual orientation is objectively disordered, even though so many have criticized that claim.

Thus this section proves that the Congregation has a strong, forceful, aggressive, and unequivocal commitment to the present position on homosexuality. In no other issue has the hierarchical magisterium in general taken such practical initiatives to ensure that this official teaching is so clearly enunciated and pastorally protected against contrary encroachments. This approach constitutes very bad news indeed for those calling for a change in the teaching. One can understand why such proponents have been so negative about the recent documents.

2. Positive Aspects

Can these documents provide any basis for the possibility of change in the teaching of the hierarchical magisterium on homosexuality?  Invoking Rynne’s Law constitutes one possible approach. Xavier Rynne was the pseudonymous author whose Letters from Vatican City first appeared in The New Yorker during the sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and provided the English speaking world with an inside view of the workings and machinations of Vatican officials and bureaucrats. In a 1981 book Francis X. Murphy claims to have discovered in an analysis of the ecclesiastical events described by Rynne a definite pattern of change discernible in the doctrinal, moral, disciplinary, and structural aspects of the church. When faced with a new or evolving position or issue in which many people and theologians are calling for change, the magisterium staunchly and forcefully refuses to acknowledge any possibility of change. However, change soon occurs.

Rynne’s Law maintains that with the publication of a papal or hierarchical document that expresses a refusal to budge on the issue, an unwitting acknowledgment has been made of the fact that the turnabout is already in process. Actual change is thus accomplished by “reverse English.”8

What about Rynne’s Law?  No one can doubt that Murphy has properly interpreted Rynne. A few years ago the heretofore coy Murphy publicly acknowledged that he was/is Xavier Rynne. However, is Rynne’s Law true?  Those looking for a change in the hierarchical teaching on homosexuality can find great solace in Rynne’s Law. All must acknowledge the very forceful and unprecedented defense of the existing teaching on homosexuality made in the most recent documents. The application of Rynne’s Law thus provides great hope even in the midst of the massive evidence to the contrary.

Undoubtedly Murphy-Rynne can point to many occasions in which Rynne’s Law has been verified. However, in more recent times one looks in vain for illustrations of Rynne’s Law. Begin with the issue of contraception. The hierarchical magisterium has been adamant and, despite massive disagreements by Catholic spouses in practice and Catholic theologians in theory, the hierarchical magisterium has not changed its teaching. In fact the hierarchical magisterium has even devised a new defense for the teaching. The church, in bearing witness to the message of Jesus, must often be counter-cultural. Even though the majority of people espouse a particular position, the church in the tradition of the prophets must remain faithful to and continue to practice and bear witness to the truth.9  (I do not see how such a counter-cultural emphasis is compatible with the traditional Catholic recognition that its moral teachings are based on natural law which is common to all human beings.)

Proponents of change in other areas of sexuality, church structures, and the role of women in the church have also been disappointed. Perhaps Rynne’s Law needs more time in order to become effective. But perhaps the law itself is somewhat biased and not always true.

Can proponents of change appeal to anything other than Rynne’s Law in their analysis and interpretation of recent hierarchical documents on homosexuality?  My response is yes. The 1986 Letter itself offers some basis for a positive answer, but this support is muted and barely visible to the naked eye. Yet its reality cannot be denied. The support exists not on the level of the specific conclusions about homosexuality but on the level of moral methodology. Again the 1986 Letter deals primarily with pastoral approaches, but it also mentions ever so briefly some of the methodological aspects of the Roman Catholic tradition in moral theology. Five methodological aspects mentioned there provide significant bases for changing the hierarchical teaching: the role of reason; the realization that God’s law and the natural law are based on what is for human good, fulfillment, and perfection;  the role of the sciences; the critical interpretation of the scripture; and the living tradition of the church with the dependent role of the hierarchical teaching office. The proponents of change in the teaching on homosexuality have appealed to these same methodological understandings to make their point. This section will now examine each of these issues.

The Role of Reason

The 1986 Letter states that “the Catholic moral viewpoint is founded on human reason illumined by faith…” (n. 2). The Roman Catholic tradition has consistently insisted on the importance of both faith and reason and has asserted that faith and reason cannot contradict one another. The significant role of theology in the Catholic tradition flows from the importance of human reason. Catholic theology rests on the twofold aspects of faith seeking understanding and understanding seeking faith. The role of reason has been prominent in moral theology. Catholic moral teaching has traditionally been based on the natural law or human reason and not directly on scripture or revelation. Human reason by reflecting on human nature can arrive at true ethical wisdom and knowledge. Contemporary Catholic social teaching recently appeals, and correctly so, to all people of good will.

Of course, the ultimate problem comes from determining whose reason or what reason. The 1986 Letter and contemporary hierarchical teaching on sexuality in general understand reason in terms of a manualistic concept of natural law which determines the proper ordering of acts on the basis of the faculty or the power from which they come.

Logically, reason constitutes a more general and broader term than natural law, which is a particular understanding of human reason. The present theory of natural law actually did not exist prior to the individual teachings which it supports. The theory actually arose as a way to explain consistently, coherently, and systematically all the existing particular teachings. The Roman Catholic tradition has consistently recognized a mutual relationship between theory and practice. The theory changes, develops, and is modified in the light of the developing practices. Reason, as the more general reality, can and should critically evaluate the existing theory or method which is being employed.

The methodological approach followed in the 1975 Declaration is basically the same as that on which the later pastoral letter is based. Many Catholic theologians have strongly criticized that methodological approach. For our purposes it suffices just to mention some of those criticisms: a failure to give enough importance to historical and cultural developments; a passive role for human reason merely discovering the values embedded in human nature;  an overly deductive methodology based on eternal, universal principles founded on human nature; an overemphasis on the finality of the sexual act and faculty and not enough emphasis on the person; a physicalism which too readily identifies the moral aspects of the act with the physical aspects; a deontological ethical model based on natural law which claims too great a certitude for its conclusions and applications; a failure to pay enough attention to the experiences of people.10

Those who disagree with the official hierarchical teaching on homosexuality have a different understanding of the meaning of sexuality for gays and lesbians. The historical Catholic emphasis on the goodness of human reason and its ability to come to true ethical wisdom and knowledge can be the basis for criticizing the very way in which reason is understood and employed in the teaching of the hierarchical magisterium.

Morality and Human Fulfillment

The Roman Catholic insistence on faith and reason and the goodness of reason stems from the central Catholic emphasis on mediation or sacramentality as it is sometimes called. According to the principle of mediation, the divine is mediated in and through the human. The human is not evil but is good and is positively related to the divine. As a result, Catholic theology has strongly acknowledged that the glory of God is the human person come alive. God’s law, if you want to use that term, calls for all human beings to come to their fulfillment and happiness. Thomas Aquinas in the very beginning of his Summa Theologiae maintains that the ultimate end of human beings is happiness (Ia q. 1-5). In this context morality is intrinsic in the sense that what is moral and good constitutes human happiness and perfection. (Of course, the Catholic tradition understands the human person in the broader context of community and not as an isolated individual.)  In the best of the Catholic tradition something is commanded because it is good and not the other way around.11  The 1986 Letter strongly supports this classical Catholic approach although using it for its own purposes. “As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God” (n. 7).

This principle, however, can and has been used against the existing hierarchical teaching. Yes, the questions of what constitutes true humanity and true fulfillment generate much debate, but the question remains about what actually does serve the fulfillment and happiness of gays and lesbians.

The Role of Sciences

A third somewhat related methodological issue concerns the role of the sciences in the moral judgment. The Catholic approach which is so open to the human and human reason must also be open to learn from the human sciences. The sciences can tell us quite a bit about the human and hence about morality. On the other hand, each individual science is limited and cannot simply be identified with the totality of the human. The human includes the different aspects: the psychological, the sociological, the eugenic, the biological, the physical, the psychic, etc. Human moral judgments must take all these aspects into account, but the human moral judgment comprises the ultimate and all inclusive judgment. Nothing in this finite world is ever perfect from every possible perspective. We all know the problems and difficulties in determining the proper balance among all these aspects. Think, for example, about the contemporary debate over sacrificing environmental concerns to economic concerns or vice versa. Sociologists, for example, might be able to achieve very important data by invading other people’s privacy, but we say no to such approaches in the name of the human. Thus the Catholic tradition in its contemporary understanding recognizes the importance but also the limitations of a particular science or all the empirical sciences taken together.

The 1986 Letter recognizes and accepts the epistemological place of the sciences in Catholic understanding. The Congregation claims that the Catholic moral perspective finds support in the more sincere findings of the natural sciences, which have their own legitimate and proper methodology and field of inquiry (n. 2). “The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that its more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in spiritual and physical dimensions created by God, and heir, by grace, to eternal life” (n. 2). The last part of the quotation appears to be overly defensive, but the basic thrust is in keeping with the best of the Catholic self-understanding.

Those who disagree with the present hierarchical teaching frequently appeal to contemporary psychiatry and psychology, although the practitioners of these disciplines do not all agree about the reality of homosexuality.12  The human moral judgment embraces more than the psychological and the psychiatric, but these aspects remain very significant.

The Use of Scripture

The Catholic approach, as distinguished from some Reformation approaches, has rejected the axiom of the scripture alone. The Catholic emphasis on tradition, the role of the church and the Holy Spirit, and the use of reason form the basis for the rejection of sola scriptura. In the first part of the twentieth century, Catholic hierarchical teaching firmly rejected the critical historical analysis of the scripture, but ever since Pope Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu in 1943 Catholics in general have accepted and used critical biblical scholarship. One cannot go directly from a scriptural text embedded in its own historical and cultural circumstances to the present with its very different historical and cultural circumstances.

The Catholic approach in general and in the manuals of moral theology insists that its moral teaching is based primarily on human reason. Since Vatican II moral theology has given more importance to the role of scripture, but the sexual teaching still claims to have a rational and natural law basis. Reason and the scripture cannot be opposed.

The 1986 Letter of the Congregation actually spends much more time discussing the scriptural basis for its judgment than the rational and natural law basis. The Letter focuses on the causes of confusion regarding the church’s teaching with special emphasis on recent scriptural interpretations. The Congregation cites and explains seven different texts to prove that homosexual relations are morally wrong. The 1986 Letter rejects this new exegesis of scripture “which claims variously that scripture has nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality, or that it somehow tacitly approves of it, or that all of its moral injunctions are so culture-bound that they are no longer applicable to  contemporary life. These views are gravely erroneous and call for particular action here”(n. 4). Thus the document explains why it pays so much attention to the scriptures.

Despite this strong condemnation of some contemporary interpretations of scripture, the Congregation remains true to the Catholic approach and even explicitly recognizes historical and cultural differences between the scriptures and our times (n. 5). The Letter explicitly recognizes that its own conclusion about homosexuality does not logically follow from this above understanding of the scripture. “What should be noticed is that, in the presence of such remarkable diversity, there is nevertheless a clear consistency within the scriptures themselves on the moral issue of homosexual behavior” (n. 5). Note the “nevertheless.”

Many scholars from Derrick Sherwin Bailey in 1955 down to the present have used the understanding of the scriptural diversity and conditioning accepted by the Congregation to justify homogenital behavior between constitutional homosexuals in a committed relationship.13  Thus one can appeal to the methodological understanding of the role of scripture in determining Christian morality as proposed by the 1986 Letter to come to a very different moral judgment about homosexual behavior.

The Living Tradition and the Role of the Hierarchical Magisterium

Without doubt the most discussed and the most significant issue in contemporary Catholic morality concerns the role of the hierarchical teaching office. While forcefully and even aggressively defending the hierarchical teaching on homosexuality, the 1986 Letter briefly indicates an understanding of that hierarchical magisterium which recognizes its somewhat limited and dependent role. The hierarchical magisterium is not the only or the highest authority in determining Catholic moral teaching in general.

An earlier section pointed out that the Catholic tradition sees the morally obligatory as what is for the good, the perfection, and the fulfillment of the human person called to live in community. Thus something is commanded because it is good. Consequently, the hierarchical magisterium itself does not make something true or good but must discover this basic truth or goodness. The hierarchical magisterium does not constitute the only or the highest source and goodness in the Catholic tradition.

The 1986 Letter refers to “the church’s living tradition” (n. 5). This comparatively innocuous reference is most significant. The document could have omitted the word “living” but it did not. Tradition thus is a living reality. The church grows and develops. The experience of the Second Vatican Council underscored the reality of living tradition. The church must understand, appropriate, and live the word and work of Jesus in the light of the historical and cultural situation of today. Too often in the past, tradition was understood to be something that stopped fifty years earlier. A recognition of living tradition means that the church in general, or the hierarchical magisterium in particular, cannot just repeat what has been said in the past.

The 1986 Letter (n. 5) explicitly cites the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation of the Second Vatican Council to show that the hierarchical magisterium is not the only source of knowledge and truth. It recognizes the magisterium functions in relationship to scripture and tradition. The paragraph in the 1986 Letter from the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (n. 10) spells out in greater detail what that relationship entails. The hierarchical magisterium is the servant of the scripture and tradition. The three sources are not on an equal plane.

One influential commentary on the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation stresses the significance and consequences of such a view of the magisterium:

When seen against this background, the explicit emphasis on the ministerial function of the teaching office must be welcomed as warmly as the statement that its primary service is to listen, that it must constantly take up an attitude of openness toward the sources, which it has continually to consult and consider, in order to be able to interpret them truly and preserve themnot in the sense of “taking them into custody” (to which sometimes the activity of the teaching office in the past may have intended), but as a faithful servant who wards off attempts at foreign domination and defends the dominion of the word of God both against modernism and against traditionalism. At the same time the contrast between the “listening” and the “teaching” church is thus reduced to its true measure:  in the last analysis the whole church listens and, vice versa, the whole church shares in the upholding of true teaching.

The author of this commentary is Joseph Ratzinger.14  Ratzinger sees in this paragraph of the Constitution a theology of the word and a renewed theology of the laity as totally rejecting the understanding of solo magisterio.15

Those who are calling for a change in the hierarchical teaching on homosexuality accept, endorse, and propose just such an understanding of magisterium in their attempt to change its teaching.

One cannot deny that the recent forceful reiteration of the hierarchical teaching on homosexuality is bad news for those trying to change that teaching. However, the 1986 Letter recognizes significant methodological approaches in the Roman Catholic tradition which are the same approaches employed by those who are trying to change the teaching. In the final analysis the methodological aspects are more important and will have more of an influence than the particular teaching itself.

3.  Practical Conclusions

I believe that the methodological approaches traditionally associated with Roman Catholicism’s discussion of morality support the arguments calling for a change in the hierarchical magisterium’s forceful condemnation of all homosexual behavior. However, I am not Pollyannaish. This change will take time, patience, much frustration, and great resolve. The factors aligned against such a change constitute a powerful force and will not quickly and readily disappear. Look at the record. The Roman Catholic Church has not changed on any of the significant points that have been discussed in the last twenty-five years.

In theory, in accord with the perspective of the hierarchical magisterium, change can only occur on those matters which are of church law and not of divine or natural law. The ordination of married men serves as one such example of church law. But even here the hierarchical magisterium refuses to change its teaching, even though more and more church communities are unable to celebrate the Eucharist together. The Eucharist has always served as the heart and center of the Catholic life, but Catholic bishops are now busy preparing, devising, and carrying out non-Eucharistic liturgies. Thus change has not occurred even on a matter that all admit is not by anyone’s definition unchangeable.

Matters of natural law by definition are said to be unchangeable precisely because they are the law that God has set down from all eternity and by definition cannot be changed. The church did not make these laws. God made them and the church cannot change them. I believe that just such an understanding lies behind the strong rhetoric used in defense of such teachings. God is on our side, and we are defending God’s law against all comers. Opponents point out that even Thomas Aquinas recognized that the secondary conclusions of the natural law are removed from the first principles and can admit of exceptions (Ia-IIae, q. 94, a. 5). But the hierarchical magisterium has never recognized such an approach.

The support at the present time for a change in the hierarchical magisterium’s teaching on homosexuality is weak if compared with those seeking a change in the teaching on artificial contraception for married couples. If the Catholic Church’s hierarchical magisterium will not change its position where the arguments, the pressure, and the numbers seem so strong, it is not going to change very quickly on the issue of homosexuality.

As all recognize, the hierarchical magisterium finds change difficult and above all is most reluctant to admit that its teachings have been wrong and need to change. Perhaps the most significant change of the Second Vatican Council on a specific issue concerned the teaching of religious liberty. The major issue concerned not the teaching itself but the problem of change. How could the church teach in the twentieth century what it denied in the nineteenth?  The problem was solved by a theory of development which claimed that the historical circumstances had changed so that the church was right in both centuries.16  I believe the unwillingness to admit that its teaching has been wrong constitutes the major reason why the hierarchical magisterium has not changed its teaching on artificial contraception. For all practical purposes Pope Paul VI admitted that in his encyclical Humanae vitae (n. 6).

Most of the problem areas in discussion today in the Catholic Church concern the issue of sexuality. I am sure many unconscious fears, anxieties, and power questions are involved in these issues. I do not have the competency to explore these matters. However, some very legitimate fears and questions also exist. Where should the church draw the line?  The church cannot merely accept everything being done today. A one-sided individualism infects many aspects of contemporary life including sexuality. Fear of what will follow if some changes are made grounds another strong reason in favor of the status quo.

Some maintain that change on homosexuality and other issues does not occur because of a few powerful personalities holding office in the church. Undoubtedly personalities do make a difference, but the opposition to change comes from deeper sources than just a few personalities. In other words, changes in personalities are not necessarily going to open the door to change.

I do not underestimate the forces working to uphold the status quo, but I still believe that the Catholic tradition, approach, and methodology in morality give grounds to support a change in the hierarchical magisterium’s teaching on homosexuality.


1  Different authors use different ways to arrive at this conclusion. For an overview see Edward Batchelor, ed., “Homosexuality and Ethics” (New York: Pilgrim, 1980); Anthony Kosnick, et al., Human Sexuality: “New Directions in American Catholic Thought (New York: Paulist, 1977), pp. 200-209.

2  The reference refers to the paragraph numbers of the document. All subsequent references are to the 1986 Letter unless explicitly indicated.

3  For a perspective analysis and critique of the Vatican’s position on homosexual orientation, see Robert Nugent, “Sexual Orientation in Vatican Thinking,” in Jeannine Gramick and Robert Nugent, eds., The Vatican and Homosexuality (New York: Crossroad, 1988), pp.48-58.

4  See statements by Archbishop John R. Roach, January, 1978; Archbishop John R. Quinn, May 5, 1980; Archbishop James A. Hickey, April 5, 1984 in previous pages of this book.

5  Pope John Paul II, “In Love, Faithful to the Truth,” Address to the Episcopal Conference of the United States, October 5, 1979, The Pope Speaks 24 (1979): 352.

6  John Mahoney, The Making of Moral Theology: A Study of the Roman Catholic Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987), pp. 224-258.

7  Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Theologiae” (Rome: Marietti, 1952), Ia-IIae, q. 94, a. 2.

8  Francis X. Murphy, The Papacy Today (New York: Macmillan, 1981), pp. 2-3.

9  For a description of the hierarchical teaching on contraception as prophetic, see Pope John Paul II, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World—Familiaris Consortio (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1981), n. 29, p. 47.

10 Richard A. McCormick, Notes on Moral Theology 1965 through 1980 (Washington: University Press of America, 1981), pp. 668-682.

11 Mahoney, pp. 235-245.

12 For appeals to psychiatry and psychology in ethical discussions of homosexuality, see many of the authors in Batchelor, Homosexuality and Ethics.

13 Derrick Sherwin Bailey, Homosexuality in the Western Christian Tradition  (London: Longmans, Green, 1955), pp. 29-63.

14 Joseph Ratzinger, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Chapter II, in Herbert Vorgrimler, ed., Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 3 (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), p. 197.

15 Ibid., p. 196.

16 John Courtney Murray, “Vers une intelligence du dévelopment de la doctrine de l’Église sur la liberté religieuse,” in Jerome Hamer and Yves Congar, eds., Vatican II: La liberté religieuse, declaration ‘Dignitatis humanae personae’ (Paris: Cerf, 1967), pp. 111-147.