Responses to the 1992 Vatican Statement on Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons

In June, 1992, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [cdf] published an unsigned statement concerning homosexuality and discrimination entitled Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons. The Apostolic Nunciature sent the statement to all the bishops of the United States through the office of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops [nccb]. On June 25, Msgr. Robert Lynch, General Secretary of the nccb, informed the bishops, without further comment, that he was sending them a document from the cdf.

The existence of the statement remained unknown to the larger Catholic community until July 15. On that date, New Ways Ministry released a copy to the Catholic and secular media along with its own analysis. On July 17, The Washington Post published a front-page account on the Vatican document and the story was quickly picked up by major news wire services around the world. Responses from concerned individuals and groups followed immediately. 1

The Vatican, apparently disturbed by the fact that the document had become public knowledge, was forced to issue its own response. On July 23, the Vatican’s press office issued a second version of the document with an introduction by an official spokesperson, which clarified the purpose and the background of the statement. This second version contained only slight changes in the original wording and one additional paragraph arguing that legal protection might encourage people to declare their homosexuality or seek partners to exploit provisions of a law. Both versions of the statement remain official texts, although the second version is the one commonly cited and the one reprinted in the appendix of Voices of Hope. It is preceded by a brief statement from the Vatican press officer, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls. All references throughout this book are to the second version of the Vatican statement.

Level, Timing, and Origin

The cdf issues many different kinds of analyses and statements which vary both in importance and impact. The official status of a particular document depends on the nature of the topic under discussion, whether the audience is general or limited, whether the document is signed or unsigned, and the expected effect of the pronouncement.

The use of the description “considerations” in the title of the 1992 statement and the fact that it was unsigned indicate that it is a low level document in the Vatican’s hierarchy of official statements. Archbishop John R. Quinn, for example, noted that it was not intended to be any kind of “mandate” to the bishops. It is neither a doctrinal statement nor a universal document intended for all the world’s Catholic bishops as was the previous 1986 letter. Apparently, it was sent only to the U.S. hierarchy, although there was an unsubstantiated report that the Italian Bishops’ Conference received a similar version shortly after the U.S. version became public.

While the 1992 statement carries no major doctrinal weight, it was obviously intended to signal Vatican concern about episcopal responses to gay rights legislation in the United States and perhaps elsewhere. The initial draft referred specifically to “American states” and “Italian cities.” The second text, however, noted only that “this question is a particularly pressing one in certain parts of the United States.”

The document does not read as if it were a direct translation of an Italian original. The official version was published in English in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. A close reading shows that its authors are familiar with various kinds of U.S. gay rights legislation. All these factors may indicate that the original draft was written either in the U.S. or by an American in Rome familiar with arguments used to advance the gay civil rights movement.

This suspicion was confirmed on July 25, 1992 by Msgr. Michael Swalina, an official at the cdf, in a meeting with Kevin Calegari, then President of Dignity/USA. Msgr. Swalina acknowledged that the document was written by the cdf’s “consultants” in the United States and that it had been requested by certain American bishops. Although the names of several Cardinals and Archbishops were mentioned in subsequent speculation, only the spokesperson for Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, D.C. denied any involvement.

Like its 1986 predecessor, the 1992 Vatican statement precipitated impassioned criticisms from gay, lesbian, and heterosexual Catholics. Part Three contains a selection of responses to this document from the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, England, and Belgium. What shocked so many readers was the unprecedented call to justify active discrimination by appealing to a concern for marriage and family values.

John Tuohy, a moral theologian, suggested it was an attempt to re-write traditional Catholic moral principles. Many rejected the main thrust of the document as untenable and dangerous. It was further evidence of the continued diminution of the Church’s credibility and authority in the area of sexuality. The U.S. hierarchy’s response was notable for its pro forma acceptance and for its evident lack of enthusiasm. A few bishops did welcome the statement as a clear and helpful guideline. Most bishops attempted to distance themselves from the document by maintaining a silence, by attempting to put it in context, or by reiterating their pledge to work for justice for lesbian and gay people while upholding church teachings on sexuality.

Only three bishops (Thomas Gumbleton, Walter Sullivan, and Charles Buswell) were willing to state publicly what many of their fellow bishops were thinking and saying privately. These three signed a public statement prepared by New Ways Ministry which rejected and countered many of the document’s major claims. The statement appeared in the November 13, 1992 issue of the National Catholic Reporter with the endorsement of 1,624 Catholics. Bishop James Malone formally received it, along with signatures from 13,000 additional Catholics, on behalf of the U.S bishops at their 1992 annual meeting in Washington, D.C. In a stronger personal statement, Bishop Gumbleton rejected the document outright, as inconsistent with the Gospel and said that he could not in good conscience implement it.

The Vatican statement has spurred many religious congregations and justice and peace groups to inform and involve themselves more actively in protecting the civil rights of lesbian and gay citizens. Part Three presents many international voices which have been heard in support of lesbian and gay civil rights as a result of the 1992 Vatican statement. The statement itself is contained in the appendix.


1   For further analyses and commentaries on this document, see Robert Nugent, “The Civil Rights of Homosexual People: Vatican Perspectives,” New Theology Review, vol. 7, No. 4, November, 1994, 72-86 and Robert Nugent, “Homosexual Rights and the Catholic Community,” Doctrine and Life, vol. 44, March, 1994, 165-173.


July 15, 1992

New Ways Ministry
Mt. Rainier, Maryland

Human Dignity and the Common Good

The June, 1992 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons is further evidence of a growing and serious gap between the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops on the issue of civil rights for homosexual persons. In light of these differences and traditional Catholic moral principles, the latest Vatican pronouncement is more accurately termed “a” Catholic response rather than “the” Catholic response.

Its arguments, based as they are on several crucial misconceptions, unfounded assumptions and unproven claims, will not find a serious hearing especially when compared with the informed, balanced, and reasoned approach of Catholic bishops and laity in the United States. A May, 1992 Gallup poll indicated that Catholics overwhelmingly support civil rights for gay and lesbian people in the area of employment (78% support with a margin of error of + or – 4%). U.S. Catholics are simply unconvinced that any serious harm will result to society from the recognition of civil rights for homosexual citizens though they have heard these same arguments time and time again.

Not only do Catholics in the pews generally reject the line of argumentation employed in the latest Vatican “Considerations,” but also many individual U.S. bishops and state conferences of Catholic bishops since the late 1970s have taken a different approach. For example, bishops from the dioceses of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland opposed an anti-gay legislative proposition in California in 1978. The Archbishop of Milwaukee supported the passage of the Wisconsin state gay rights bill in 1982. In publicly decrying anti-gay violence in 1991, the bishop of Houston stated, “The ‘image of God’ in every person, whether a homosexual, a bisexual, or a heterosexual, is what gives dignity and worth to each individual, and is the reason that every person is the subject of human and civil rights.”

The first section of the new Vatican statement on civil rights recalls what it describes as “relevant passages” from its own 1986 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” The claims of that document have been thoroughly and adequately analyzed and evaluated in other places. (Cf. Gramick, J. and Nugent, R. [Eds.]. The Vatican and Homosexuality. New York: Crossroad, 1988.) There is no need to repeat those critiques here.

The present Vatican statement does not explain the reason for its increasing hard line position on civil rights, and what seems to be a direct contradiction of its own support for civil rights in 1986. In the 1986 letter, the Congregation stated, “The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected…in law” (par. 10).

In responding to the 1986 Vatican letter, Archbishop John Quinn distinguished between affirmations of a doctrinal nature and affirmations that pertain to the realm of social commentary. The latter do not call for the same measure of assent as the former. Doctrinal affirmations witness the constant moral teachings of the Church; social commentary affirmations are judgments about the social effects of certain ways of thinking and acting and do admit of disagreement.

The second part of the new Vatican statement on civil rights is called “Applications.” They are applications of the general principles of the 1986 letter to current legal and social situations. These judgments are concerned with social commentaries and it is with these particular claims by the Vatican that we find ourselves in strong disagreement and, in some instances, outright rejection.

We find it important to respond to each paragraph of these applications. We consider these applications seriously flawed and ultimately unconvincing because they are based on myths and stereotypes or lack a sound foundation in theology or in the empirical and social sciences.

1   Comparing Sexual Orientation to Race and Ethnic Background

In paragraph 10 the Vatican statement rejects the comparison of sexual orientation with race and ethnic background. Compelling reasons, however, validate the comparison. Like race and ethnicity, sexual orientation is not freely chosen.

Secondly, like race and ethnicity, sexual orientation is a vital part of one’s human identity. The importance of human sexuality to personhood has already been acknowledged by the Vatican in the 1975 Declaration on Sexual Ethics which stated that “the human person is so profoundly affected by sexuality that it must be considered as one of the factors which gives to each individual’s life the principal traits that distinguish it.” In this view, then, sexuality (including sexual orientation) is as central to human identity as is race and ethnic background.

2   Legitimate Discrimination

In paragraph 11 the Vatican says it is not unjust to take sexual orientation into account in such areas as adoption, foster care, employment of teachers and coaches, and military recruitment. The myths that underlie these concerns are obvious to knowledgeable people. It is both sad and embarrassing for U. S. Catholics to see their leadership embrace and perpetuate such groundless fears.

Fortunately, more enlightened voices have already rejected such blatant stereotypes. In 1983 the Catholic bishops of the state of Washington wrote, “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… Accordingly, there is no need to make efforts to screen out all homosexually oriented persons from our educational system.”

3   The Personal Dignity of Homosexual Persons

The statement fails to see how its position on civil rights offends the very dignity which paragraph 12 proposes to protect and uphold when it says that homosexual persons have the right “of not being treated in a manner which offends their personal dignity.” Yet in the very section about human dignity the Vatican equates same-sex expression with a contagious disease or the harmful acts of mentally ill individuals. This comparison is not only logically repugnant, but also personally offensive to any right-thinking person. The deliberate spreading of contagious diseases and destructive actions of some mentally ill individuals are obviously harmful to the common good; same-sex behavior simply is not. In the U. S. basic civil rights to employment and housing cannot be arbitrarily denied to an entire class of persons merely because their behavior conflicts with the tenets of a particular church.

The reasoning used by the Vatican to deny civil rights to homosexual persons could also be applied to restrict housing and jobs to Catholic spouses practicing artificial contraception and to unmarried couples living together since their sexual behavior is also judged by the Vatican to be “objectively disordered external conduct.” The social implications of such reasoning is obviously frightening and a great cause for concern in a religiously pluralistic society. One wonders why the Vatican does not write documents to curtail the civil rights of these other groups of persons. Why are lesbian and gay people singled out.

4   Orientation as a Basis for Human Rights

In paragraph 13 the statement warns against regarding homosexuality

as a positive source of human rights. Examples given include affirmative action plans and the filling of quotas in hiring practices. Yet neither of these practices has ever been linked with particular pieces of civil rights legislation affecting gay and lesbian people in the U. S.

The Vatican expresses a fear that protection based on sexual orientation would affirm homosexuality. The Vatican believes that legal protection ought to arise out of a violation of basic human rights, not out of sexual orientation. This might make sense only if one could separate sexual orientation from the basic reality of human personhood from which certain rights originate. Are the violations of the basic human rights of African-Americans separable from their color? Such a false and destructive dichotomy of the person into sexuality and human personhood or into color and individual humanness is conceivable only in convoluted and often desperate reasoning employed to plead a questionable cause.

5   Blaming the Victim

Paragraph 14 argues that one’s sexual orientation is generally not known unless it becomes known through public self-identification or overt behavior. Discrimination, according to the Vatican, is not a problem unless the person is known to be homosexual. This reasoning implies that gay and lesbian people would be better off to pretend, hide, or deny their sexuality to avoid problems in society. Does this not also encourage unhealthy and destructive lifestyles? Is this not blaming the victim rather than blaming the cause of anti-gay prejudice, which is homophobia? This tactic is equivalent to asking Jewish people to pass as Gentiles or African-Americans to pass as Caucasians.

6   Family Life and Homosexuality

We acknowledge, as does the Vatican in paragraph 15, that the Church has a concern to defend and promote family life. What we do not accept is the myth that civil rights for gay and lesbian citizens are in any way necessarily harmful or destructive to family life. The Washington State Catholic Conference stated that speaking about homosexuality as “a dangerous attack on marital values” distorts church teaching and causes prejudice against gay and lesbian persons.

What is harmful to family life is the rejection of gay and lesbian members by parents and families, the pressures on homosexual people to hide their identity and enter into heterosexual marriages, and the pain and disruption of divorces which result from such unions.

The definition and experience of “family” continue to evolve. The fear that the heterosexual family will no longer be the dominant mode of socialization if society supports civil rights for homosexual people is groundless. Empirical evidence indicates that cities, towns and municipalities which have enacted civil rights for homosexual people remain predominantly heterosexual.

7   Non-Neutrality on the Issue of Civil Rights

Paragraph 16 asserts that “it is inappropriate for Church authorities to endorse or remain neutral toward adverse legislation” or “harmful laws.” What actually constitutes “adverse legislation” or “harmful laws” is a prudential judgment best left to local Church authorities. We believe that it is important for the moral well-being and common good of a society that Church authorities endorse and support sound, positive, and helpful legislation protecting the civil and human rights of gay and lesbian citizens.


It is equally important for the common good that the principle of subsidiarity be respected. Local church authorities should make those decisions which affect their own social, ecclesial and political situations. Individual Catholic bishops, theologians and scholars in the United States have closely examined the complex interplay of legality and morality in U.S. society. These individuals are much better equipped to comment on the realities involved in the theoretical and practical distinction between moral issues and civil rights.

It is unfortunate, once again, that their experience and knowledge have been bypassed. This latest Vatican pronouncement is an attempt to impose a unified ideology that appears out of touch at least with contemporary and firsthand awareness of these issues in our society. Such an attempt in the judgment of fair-minded people will only effect the very opposite of what it intends.

July 17, 1992

Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland
Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Press Statement

The Vatican Statement reflecting on anti-discrimination laws concerning housing and employment of homosexuals raises serious questions of discrimination, fairness and compassion. The statement, while written for the universal church, poses many theoretical and practical problems. Every nation and often various areas of a nation have unique circumstances that require different solutions. It is not clear how helpful the document will be in the United States.

July 20, 1992

Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy
Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington

Press Statement

The Catholic Church recognizes and affirms the God-given human dignity and value of homosexual persons. The issue of human dignity and rights, along with corresponding responsibilities, is at the heart of the Gospel, of American democracy and of our tradition as a community of faith.

The document is an internal memorandum from a Vatican office to the bishops. It does not carry the name of the pope or any Vatican official. The questions it raises will undoubtedly be discussed by the American bishops.

The Archdiocese of Seattle continues its commitment to provide compassionate pastoral care to homosexual persons. It will also oppose any harassment, prejudice and discrimination against any member of the human family.

July 22, 1992

Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk
President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops;
Washington, D.C.

Press Statement

From time to time, various Roman Congregations communicate with individual bishops and bishops’ conferences throughout the world on a variety of matters regarding Church teaching and discipline. Most often, these communications are elaborations of positions previously articulated by these same Congregations…

The Congregation’s concern is that proposals to safeguard the legitimate rights of homosexual persons not have the effect of creating a new class of legally protected behavior, that is, homosexual behavior, which, in time, could occupy the same position as non-discrimination against people because of their race, religion, gender, or ethnic background. The document rightly warns against legislation designed more to legitimate homosexual behavior than to secure basic civil rights and against proposals which tend to promote an equivalence between legal marriage and homosexual lifestyles.

Bishops will continue to evaluate local legislation with these “considerations” clearly in mind. However, as the “considerations” note, “it would be impossible to foresee and respond to every eventuality in respect to legislative proposals in this area… .” I believe that the bishops of the various local Churches in the United States will continue to look for ways in which those people who have a homosexual orientation will not suffer unjust discrimination in law or reality because of their orientation. In our teaching, pastoral care, and public advocacy, bishops will, of course, continue to strive to be faithful to Church teaching on homosexuality, to uphold the values of marriage and family life, to defend the basic human dignity and human rights of all and to condemn violence, hatred and bigotry directed against any person.

July 23, 1992

Bishop J. Kendrick Williams
Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky


Let us remember that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith approaches issues from a mindset of protecting the faith. This approach will emphasize the legal aspects of issues. The Church always tries to balance the legal and pastoral approaches. Reaction to this statement only makes it clearer to us that as a loving Church each Catholic must double his/her efforts toward healing the brokenness of humankind…Jesus commands us to root out prejudice…

The Congregation’s document calls us to be faithful to the Church’s long teaching tradition as we work through this developing issue. Balancing between the legal and pastoral is always difficult and our call as Church is to struggle in finding that balance. I pray no one will use this document as an excuse for acts of hatred–the Gospel is clear about this. I pray that no one will use this document as an excuse to leave the Church.

July 25, 1992

Gay/Lesbian Catholic Group
London, England


Quest’s executive officers have carefully considered the Vatican’s latest statements concerning homosexuality. Even in the light of the Vatican Information Service declaration (23 July) and promise of a slightly revised text, the document in question remains a most unhelpful contribution to any balanced discussion of civil rights legislation for homosexual people. It will be widely, and very understandably, seen in the lesbian and gay community as more evidence of homophobia on the part of officialdom in the Catholic Church. It marks a further lamentable stage in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s chronic inability to understand and come to terms with the realities of human sexuality.

Much that was essential and positive in the Congregation’s pronouncement six years ago on homosexuality is no longer said to be relevant. The advice now given to bishops (and others) is so insensitively expressed that it will unhappily reinforce unreasonable prejudices in society against lesbians and gay men. They are insultingly bracketed with those who suffer from mental illness or contagious diseases. It is abusively implied that they are a danger to children and young people, that they should often not be teachers or sports instructors, and that they ought not to serve in the armed forces. It is absurdly suggested that if only gays and lesbians would conceal their homosexuality there would never be any need to consider their civil rights.

The Vatican officials expressing these offensive views are displaying their inadequate knowledge of what it is to be homosexual, and they are out of line with much main-stream Catholic moral theology. These officials sadly lack the practical benefits which would come from having met and consulted with a wide range of homosexual people about whom they write with such theoretical, but misplaced, confidence. Without that experience, officials are in no position to be lecturing bishops on their pastoral duties. In Britain, bishops are quite capable of deciding for themselves, without uninvited Vatican intervention, whether any proposed legislation on gay civil rights is, or is not, in accordance with church doctrine.

Quest has looked closely at the provisions of the draft Homosexual Equality Bill recently sponsored by the Stonewall Group. Nothing in what is sought there for gay men and lesbians seems in any way contrary to the essentials of Catholic moral teaching. Such legislative proposals ought, therefore, to receive support from bishops in Britain. It should be strong support, like that wisely given by Catholic bishops in England and Wales to the homosexual law reforms recommended by the Wolfenden Committee and accepted by Parliament in 1967.

The Vatican Information Service says that the “observations were not intended to pass judgement on” anything already said by local bishops about “legislative proposals.” Quest welcomes the fact that bishops in England and Wales, in virtue of the Catholic Social Welfare Commission’s 1979 guidelines An Introduction to the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People (section 13), have clearly recognized that,

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.

Loyalty to all that is best in the Catholic Church requires that Quest should not allow the Vatican’s deplorable statement to impede its work of ministry to homosexual people. Quest is proud to be part of the lesbian and gay community and part of the community of the Church.

July 26, 1992

Archdiocesan Catholic Gay/Lesbian Ministry
Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington


The ministry would like to thank the archbishop [Thomas Murphy] and the diocese for their continued support of the ministry and for the positive response against the Vatican memo.

The ministry is greatly concerned with the Vatican memo. Nowhere in church history has the Vatican ever encouraged discrimination until now. The document is retrogressive rather than progressive.

The memo states that homosexuality is an “objective disorder.” Psychological and psychiatric studies show just the opposite to be true. Recent scientific studies show being homosexual is genetic. It is like having blue eyes or brown eyes, or being left handed or right handed. This supports that God made us who we are.

The Vatican memo is filled with myths. They cannot substantiate any of the statements regarding homosexuality. Therefore the document is unfounded.

Our biggest concern is the lack of Christianity shown in this memo. It appears the memo insinuates that homosexuals are not Christians. This is one issue we need to address.

—  Catholic gays and lesbians across the nation are caring for the sick and dying. This is being done especially for those who cannot afford care or do not have anyone else to care for them. Is this the act of a non-Christian person?

—  In Seattle, ACGLM has a sacrificial giving program. Since the program began, Catholic gays and lesbians have given over $14,000 to homeless, health care, shelters, to the needy and to disaster recovery funds. This has been done without discrimination to heterosexual or homosexual orientation.

—  We support each other, not only in good times but in bad—we are there for each other.

—  Across the nation, Catholic gays and lesbians worship together. There are areas of the country which are not as fortunate as Seattle to have a ministry responding to this need. In these areas, Dignity steps in and provides some form of service, if not a mass, so we can still worship God together.

Are these not the acts of Christian people?

…We want you all to understand the ministry is not affected by this memo. We will continue to minister to the lesbian and gay community. The Archbishop continues his support of the ministry and for this we are thankful. We want to encourage Thomas Murphy to carry his message of opposing discrimination to the bishops on the national level. We would also like to encourage other dioceses throughout the country to develop ministries to gays and lesbians, and recognize us as the children of God we truly are!

July 28, 1992

Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
Archdiocese of Detroit, Michigan

Press Statement

The statement is clearly based on an ignorance of the nature of homosexuality. It is also totally in conflict with Gospel values that condemn discrimination and insist that we recognize the dignity inherent in all persons. The recommendations suggested to implement the 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons would make impossible any hope of acceptance of homosexual persons by the Church unless they deny or hide who they are. Based on his example, teaching, public ministry and outreach, especially to people marginalized or rejected by others, it is impossible to imagine Jesus supporting this call to discrimination.

I cannot in good conscience accept the statement as consistent with the Gospel nor can I justify implementing it.

July 31, 1992

National Catholic Reporter
Kansas City, Missouri

“Vatican Document on Gays Is Not Christian”

We called a friend at a Catholic Worker House back east and told her about the latest Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document saying that social discrimination against homosexuals may be justified. “But that’s not Christian!” she said. Precisely. Her response rose right from the heart and flew right to the heart of the matter.

The cdf document builds upon its earlier pronouncements on homosexuality, in 1975 and 1986, and in that light it is altogether consistent. Once you brand homosexual activity as “an intrinsic moral evil” almost anything is possible. The latest statement does reiterate that it is “deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech and action,” and at least we can be grateful for that…

Moreover, the document says that, while homosexuals have the same basic rights as anyone else, those rights “are not absolute” and they can be “legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct.” In other words, folks, stay in the closet, because if you declare yourself and attempt to live an openly homosexual life-style, you are not entitled to any special protection under the law and you can be legitimately denied such things as work and housing.

This discrimination is compared to the state’s authority to restrict the exercise of rights “in the case of contagious or mentally ill persons, in order to protect the common good.” Such an odious comparison ignores a whole body of contemporary literature on the nature of homosexuality. It seems about as enlightened as the church’s condemnation of Galileo for affirming that the planets revolve around the sun.

The cdf offered the document as guidance for bishops in states that are considering gay-rights legislation. But many of those bishops are a good deal more enlightened on the issue than the cdf appears to be, and it will be interesting to see how they play it politically.

Once again, Rome has shown itself to be embarrassingly out of touch, both with this pluralistic democracy and with American Catholics in particular. In the recent Gallup Poll, 78 percent of the U.S. Catholics surveyed said homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities.

Rome is spitting in the wind here, just as it is on most women’s issues, partly because its pronouncements involving sex and gender come from the same Procrustean mind-set.

The document says the church “has the responsibility to promote the public morality of the entire civil society” and indeed it does. But if the Vatican continues to exercise that responsibility in ways so unchristian, ways vastly out of touch with the tolerance of the Gospel, who will be listening?

July 31,1992

Catholic Herald
London, England

“Be Fair and Just to All”

The Letter from the Congregation of the Faith last week curtailing the right of homosexuals to practice certain professions has already stirred controversy within the Catholic and non-Catholic communities and sparked protest among gay rights groups—so much so that the Vatican Information Office has deemed it necessary to issue an addendum that aims to “clarify” its original letter. Now that the headlines’ dust has settled, let us examine the document for content and message.First and foremost, the letter from Rome runs contrary in spirit to the letter on homosexuality which the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued in 1979. In their letter, the bishops stated categorically that “the Church has a serious responsibility to work to eliminate injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society” and that “the homosexual condition is rarely, if ever, a matter of choice.” The Church in England has gone on to make counselling services available to priests who are homosexual, and seminaries throughout this country, as part of their programs, address the issue of human sexuality in its many facets. Never does the hierarchy in this country turn its back on homosexuals, and such open recognition of homosexuality as a sexual orientation goes hand in hand with the Government’s respect of the gay community’s civil rights.

The difference in spirit and instruction between the British bishops’ letter and the Congregation’s document points to a dangerous (if not unprecedented) mixing of signals: one hand waves to the homosexual to draw forth, promising a friendly reception, while the other shoots out to prevent him from taking a step closer. The Church ought to be careful about sounding discordant notes in its teaching, for as any advertiser will point out, a message must be wholly cohesive to make the necessary impact. Homosexual rights, moreover, constitute a particularly powerful keg of emotional gunpowder, and confusion over their status and objective could prove harmful for more than one life.

A second noteworthy point about the letter from the Congregation is that it offers proof that the Vatican persists in viewing homosexuality as a matter of choice (a Catholic’s exercise in free will) rather than as a consequence of nature. A growing number of scientific evidence points to the error behind this argument: to be gay is, in the majority of cases, to be born gay. When the Congregation argues that “sexual orientation does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc.” they are mistaking orientation for activity. The former is not a matter of choice, the latter is. It would be as impossible for a gay man or woman to change his sexual orientation as it is for a black man to become white.

With England and Rome, science and the Congregation sounding different notes, what position should the Catholic community adopt? The answer is no clearer when we turn to our original moral guidelines, the holy texts. The Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22) firmly states that homosexuals are not the Chosen People; and in Genesis we find only disgust for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, who lead the most lust-crazed of existences—though it is clear that in practicing homosexual acts they were perversely experimenting with sexuality rather than acting out their instincts. But do we follow by-the-letter the Old Testament? Do we embrace its warring, autocratic spirit whole-heartedly, and subscribe to its every notion? Do we practise circumcision, or respect dietary laws?

In the New Testament, St. Paul says that homosexuals are blind (Romans 1:18-32) and guilty of spreading wrong doctrine (Timothy 1:1). But read Paul on women and he is equally harsh, and few will today subscribe to his view of woman’s subjugation to man, which he calls for repeatedly (1 Corinthians 11; Timothy 2; and Ephesians 5).

In the end the real issue is how we, the Catholic community, should behave towards homosexuals. Here at least, the answer is clear: any behaviour that smacks of prejudice or injustice, or that might inflict suffering upon others, is inimical to the teachings of Our Lord. To treat the homosexual community without respect, and let us add, without brotherly love, is certainly to go against the spirit infusing the New Testament.

August, 1992

Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement
Roman Catholic Caucus
London, England

“Christians for Human and Civil Rights for Lesbian and Gay People”

… The document is riddled with homophobia and although it does not appear to have magisterial status it will be used by many within and outside the Church as a license to discriminate against and even persecute gay and lesbian people. It flies in the face of thirty years of the Church’s teaching on justice and human rights and ignores medical, scientific and sociological evidence in arriving at its conclusions. And it also appears to contradict previous teaching on homosexuality which made clear that the homosexual condition in itself is not to be regarded as culpable or sinful. The cdf document is clearly incompatible with the stance taken by the Bishops of England and Wales in 1979. Its language is not the language of the gospel of love and liberation; it is the language of hate and fear and darkness.

We ask the Bishops of England and Wales as pastors of thousands of lesbian and gay people to resist the homophobia which appears to have gripped certain parts of the Vatican. We ask them to stand by their 1979 statement and to do so publicly. And we ask all Catholics and other Christians of good will to raise their voices in protest against this attack upon the human dignity and rights of an already oppressed section of society and part of the body of Christ.

August 2, 1992

Archbishop John R. Quinn
Archdiocese of San Francisco, California

“Civil Rights of Gay and Lesbian Persons”

The following was a homily at the close of a 40 Hours devotion at Most Holy Redeemer Parish in San Francisco, located in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro District where the city’s gay population is most heavily concentrated. Quinn has celebrated the closing Mass each of the eight years the parish has held the 40 Hours for those with aids and HIV.

During the more intense period of the Cold War in the early ’60s, Pope John xxii was often asked what his policy was toward the Eastern bloc. Quietly but decisively he replied, “As long as I am able, I prefer to be the kind of man who shows warmth rather than cold.”

As I was looking forward to my visit here today, that story came to mind, and I too would like to be the kind of man who shows warmth rather than cold.

As questioners put Pope John on the spot, so too in this Gospel we see a questioner putting Jesus on the spot. He asks him, “Tell my brother to give me my share of our inheritance.” The question itself indicates that there were some divisions between the brothers.

And in recent weeks we too have experienced some divisions among ourselves deriving from publication of a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I acknowledge the hurt that many have experienced, and I hope that the crucified and risen Lord, ever present in our midst, will open a path of healing.

I myself, the bishops of California and the national conference of bishops have over a period of many years affirmed the human and civil rights of gay and lesbian persons, including the right to be free of unjust discrimination in housing and employment. It was precisely because those rights were placed in jeopardy that I publicly opposed the Briggs initiative several years ago. I intend to continue to be in dialogue with Father Shore, with other informed advisers in the archdiocese and with other bishops as we make sincere and shared efforts to assimilate and understand this latest document.

However, several points need to be made.

First, the recent Vatican document falls under the canons of interpretation approved and used by the Vatican itself. According to those canons, this document is not a mandate but is a document intended as an informal aid to bishops looking for some assistance in dealing with problems of legislation. This fact was publicly affirmed by the official Vatican spokesman.

The Vatican spokesman also stated that the observations made in the document were not intended to pass judgment on any response which may have been given already by local bishops or conferences of bishops to legislation. And in a more official document in 1986, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith held that, given the complexity of these issues, the bishops would have to make their own judgments at the local level.

Consequently, my policy and the policy of the archdiocese will continue to be what it has been: to affirm and defend the human and civil rights of gay and lesbian persons; to oppose unjust or arbitrary discrimination in housing or employment; to affirm and defend the church’s teaching on marriage and the family; to affirm and defend the church’s teaching on the distinction between sexual orientation and behavior, but especially always to remember that “there are three things that last, faith, hope and charity. And the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13).

My policy is to proclaim the truth respectfully, to extend the hand of friendship to those who disagree and to open my heart to all men and women created in the divine image, who are by that fact brothers and sister to me. I will also be guided by the words of Pope John xxii in his address opening the Second Vatican Council that the substance of the church’s doctrine is one thing, but the way in which it is expressed is another. While faithfully holding the substance of the church’s teaching, I hope to express it with kindness and in a spirit of encouragement, and not in a spirit of condemnation and coldness.

Turning, then, to the Gospel of today, there stands before us a rich man. Jesus uses the rich man to warn us, “Beware of greed in all its forms.” And that is an obvious danger for this man who appears fixated on his possessions. But another way of looking at the man is to recognize that he is a man with ever narrowing horizons. In his case it is wealth and possessions which stifle his spirit and narrow his heart. But other things can stifle your spirit and mine and drain the authentic vitality of our hearts. The problem is the absolutizing of material goods. But it can also be the absolutizing of other goods such as power, honors, recognition.

As we reach the whole of the Gospels we find much that is profoundly consoling. The Gospel reveals the unchanging love of God for us, reveals our inherent human dignity, reveals the loving and tender providence of God. But the Gospel is not only consolation. It is also challenge. And this passage of the Gospel comes in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem to be crucified and rejected. And so today Jesus challenges us all not to grow rich for ourselves, but to grow rich in the sight of God.

It is precisely that we might find consolation in our trials and strength in our challenges that our crucified and risen Lord has given us the Eucharist. For it is the property of this heavenly bread to transform the one who eats into him whom they eat. In this ineffable sacrament the risen Lord, truly present, gathers us up into the mystery of his glory and transforms us and all earthly reality into the symphony of redemption and salvation.

With reverence and faith, with humility and gratitude, let us come to this fountain of grace and mercy so that we may no longer live in a closed and fixated world but in the ever expanding horizon of the pierced heart of Jesus, from whom flows the never-ending stream of sacramental life in the church.

August 3, 1992

Gay/Lesbian Catholic Group
Washington, DC


Dignity/USA is outraged, saddened and dismayed by the recent Vatican document directing American bishops to actively oppose legislation that would protect the civil rights of gay men and lesbians.

Stating that discrimination is not only just but “obligatory,” is a morally-bankrupt posture and a statement that is blasphemous to the Gospel the bishops are called to teach. It is impossible to imagine Christ issuing such a statement. The Vatican has clearly disregarded Christ’s mandate to love.

The Vatican position is an affront to the conscience and sensibilities of all persons, homosexual, heterosexual, Christian and non-Christian. It has no place in a society and a church that seek justice. This vile public pronouncement of hatred and bigotry and the directive to institute this as official church policy as well as government policy, is an affront to all Americans. What had been thought to be the shrinking province of the Ku Klux Klan, fascists and the neo-Nazis is now a part of what the Church stands for. We are saddened by this.

Abandoning the church’s mandate to seek truth, the Vatican has ignored the wisdom of modern science. It callously continues to label as “disordered” an orientation the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have determined to be normal and healthy.

The Vatican has sought to counter the long tradition of civil rights developed in western democracies by proposing the rights of a particular group of persons be summarily limited. This is, on its face, antithetical to American values and the Gospel mandate.

Ignoring numerous studies that prove the contrary, the document states that homosexual persons are a “threat to the family” and should, therefore, be barred from certain professions. The Vatican states that homosexuals seduce or recruit heterosexual persons into homosexuality, again ignoring all scholarship that shows that homosexuality cannot be imposed on one individual by another.

This mean-spirited and unjust attempt by the Vatican to propagate myths and further lies will only cause or result in increased violence directed to gay and lesbian persons. Such violence has increased in recent years—often resulting in death. The blood of people whose only “crime” is being who they are, will be on the hands of the writers of this document and those in the church who implement its directives.

While we express our outrage, we are also heartened by the knowledge the Vatican statement does not reflect the views of the majority of American Catholics. A recent Gallup survey showed 78% of all American Catholics believe gay men and lesbians should enjoy the same civil rights protections as all other citizens. Those who are called “leaders of the church” are clearly out of touch with the movings of the Holy Spirit in the lives of its members. The Catholic people of this country have wrestled mightily with this issue. They have listened to God in their own hearts and minds and have soundly rejected bigotry and hatred. We call on the bishops to do the same by rejecting this document, actively moving to eliminate discrimination in all its forms and embracing civil rights protections for all persons.

The institutional church will remind us the church “is not a democracy.” We respond in the knowledge that this dialogue is not a matter of “gathering enough votes” to change a policy. Rather, it is a matter of encouraging those in leadership who have a moral responsibility to learn, to do so, and to do what is good and just. In 1987 we asked that the church enter into dialogue with the gay community. They abdicated their pastoral responsibility and refused. Now the question has been called.

We ask all Americans who seek justice to raise their voices in opposition to the Vatican’s attempt to rob human beings of their right to housing, jobs, security and safety. We need only to look at the history of the holocaust and slavery to see the consequences of good people not speaking out.

We ask all Catholics who take their baptism seriously to express their outrage to their pastors and bishops over this hateful document and fully voice their expectation that its directives will be ignored by the local church. We ask that this expression take the form of a boycott of the Peter’s Pence collection that is taken up during the summer months in the American church to support the Vatican.

We ask the press to question bishops and diocesan officials and learn how they plan to respond. If the hierarchy of the institutional church chooses to respond in accordance with the Vatican’s directive, they must be held accountable for their actions. Their deeds should be seen by all. We are reminded in scripture “What you hear in the dark, you must speak in the light.”

August 3, 1992

Loretto General Assembly
El Paso, Texas


We, the Loretto Community meeting in General Assembly in 1992, find incomprehensible the Vatican’s recent statement… We believe that the gospel of Jesus calls us to love one another, and that love calls us to a profound respect for the human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, including their right to employment, participation in public service and the adoption and care of children.

We concur with the Vatican’s assertion that “the intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, action and law,” and we are pleased that the statement condemns the “violent malice in speech or in action” to which lesbian and gay people have been frequently subjected. Unfortunately, the larger message of the document, by approving of discriminatory behavior, contradicts a belief in basic human dignity and helps create the very climate which fosters the violence and “gay-bashing” which it seeks to condemn.

Finally, as U.S. citizens, we believe that our constitutional tradition—properly understood and interpreted—ought to guarantee basic civil rights and equal protection of our laws to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. It saddens us that the Vatican would enter the U.S. political arena by encouraging a departure from the finest ideals of our political tradition, ideals which promote equality and basic civil rights for everyone.

Consequently, we call upon our political leaders to guarantee the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in the law of our land. We call upon the U.S. Catholic Bishops to support such legislation as an authentic expression of the gospel call to respect the intrinsic human rights and dignity of all persons.

August 13, 1992

Eugene Kennedy
Kansas City, Missouri

“We Are in Danger of Losing Our Good Name”
Column in the National Catholic Reporter

The Catholic Church rightly has the reputation of being comfortable and compassionate with sinners.

One could make a gentle argument that the Catholic Church is much better at dealing with the fallen than with the upright, far more skilled at its human process of embracing sinners than at its highly politicized and possibly corrupt one of identifying saints.

Perhaps this was best expressed by an intervention of the late Cardinal Albert Meyer of Chicago when Vatican ii was trying to shape a fresh definition of the Church. One of the best descriptions of the Church, he reminded his fellow bishops, was “the home of sinners.”

And home, as we all know and Robert Frost reminds us, is “the place where when you have to go there they have to let you in.”

One more memorandum such as the recent one on homosexuality from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, however, and that good name of leaving a light in the window for all of us sinners will pass easily to the Salvation Army or some other group that, like Jesus and all the truly holy, never asks questions before it does good for people.

This document, stumbling onto the stage of our attention under the ponderous title Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons, recommends and rationalizes opposition by Church leaders to laws forbidding discrimination in housing on the basis of sexual orientation.

The statement refers then to homes, to shelter and life that homosexuals might choose to share with each other. And it reflects, out of fear, uncertainty or profound defensiveness, the deplorable attitude of smug ecclesiastical bureaucrats who would allow gay men and women neither a physical nor spiritual home.

This communication might better be called “Cardinal Ratzinger Strikes Again,” for it raises its gloomy structure of argumentation on foundations which, like those laid by corrupt builders, are three parts sand to one part cement.

The authors refer back to a 1986 letter on “Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” which depicted the latter as possessing “a tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself be seen as an objective disorder.”

This letter must not merely be decried nor, as may be the temptation, chewed upon by liberals until its pale marrow is extracted and cast aside. On the contrary, it must be examined and taken seriously, not only because it violates the generous spirituality that is a hallmark of real Catholicism, but also because of its internal inconsistencies, its failed pastoral tone and its ill-justified confidence in making judgments about homosexuality.

The most serious of these matters, of course, is the latter. In this dispatch—for it seems to come from a zone of intense conflict if not outright battle—homosexuality is presented as a condition that is well understood and whose psychological and moral contours can be easily demarcated.

This presumption—and unfortunate mixture of disciplines—reveals an intellectual character that may find a sufficient parallel only in that of the long dead Holy Office bureaucrats who self-righteously condemned Galileo and others on presumptions that dishonored both theology and science.

To make sweeping and inclusive moral conclusions on claims that homosexuality is well understood is a sin against the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge. The authors of this document profess a subtlety of diagnosis and a sureness of judgment that is shared by nobody who has ever seriously attempted to understand the nature of homosexuality.

That the self-styled experts at this Vatican office persist in confounding psychological and moral categories to reach their conclusions that homosexuality is an “objective disorder” tells us more about their own tendencies than it does about homosexuality. These men may well shield themselves against any serious examination of their own personalities through their habits of passing judgments on the personalities of others.

They hardly speak in a pastoral tone of voice when, as representatives of the Church that is a home for sinners, they would not let homosexuals in, except on condition that they live as Vatican authors of this document must, as sexual neuters.

These pinched bureaucrats make their way through life, not by forging relationships or friendship and love in the imperfect human family, but in the barren isolation from which they control others through techniques that demean and shame ordinary men and women.

Authoring these hard words against homosexuals is a wicked substitute for that most wonderful pastoral work that the Church, through its healthiest ministers, does by reconciling all of us sinners to ourselves, to a merciful God, and to each other. There is work enough for the Church to turn to in this sorrowful world instead of so sadly wasting its energy to make sure that homosexuals remain humanly and spiritually homeless.

August 20, 1992

Bishop Matthew H. Clark
Rochester, New York

“Letter’s Intent Is Misunderstood”
Column in Catholic Courier, the diocesan newspaper

…As so often happens in this age, the document was leaked to the public and generated a considerable amount of negative reaction. I know that I have received a fair measure of it from homosexual persons and from their parents and others who love them. They tell me that they feel as though the document isolates them and rejects them, de-personalizes them and makes them enemies of community.

In addition to such response, I also have spoken with several pastors and pastoral ministers who were critical of the document for what they felt was its lack of a caring pastoral tone and its failure to demonstrate significant engagement with or awareness of the life experience and struggles of homosexual persons.

I can understand that criticism. Indeed, I think there is some truth in those observations. But at the same time, and in fairness, I also must say that the document was meant to be a background paper for use by the bishops and was not intended to substitute for their judgment in particular pastoral circumstances. Indeed, the more official, weightier document of 1986 recognized the complexity of these issues and supported the appropriateness of bishops making their own practical judgment at the local level.

I recognize and support fully the intent of the congregation to affirm and defend the church’s teaching on marriage and family, to affirm and defend the church’s teaching on the distinction between sexual orientation and behavior.

With them I want to deepen my understanding of homosexual persons and their experience, the better to be able to support them in their daily life and stand by them in those things that test their spirit….

In pursuit of that goal, I propose to:

1) strive for the ideal expressed in the letter that the “dignity of each person…always be respected in word, in action and in law.”

2) consider individually each piece of legislation relevant to this subject.

3) hold conversations about these sensitive issues with Catholics who are homosexual so that we might deepen mutual understanding in order that when we disagree we might do so with respect, so that we can continue together on our common journey of faith.

August 23, 1992

Kevin Doyle
Legal Counsel to Archbishop Remi DeRoo;
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

“Homosexuality Letter Only a ‘Prudential Admonition’”
Column in the newspaper, Times-Colonist

…It is not intended as a dogmatic statement, still less an “official instruction,” but is what American Jesuit Avery Dulles has called a “prudential admonition.”

…Why did the Vatican target U.S. bishops for a “prudential admonition?”

  1. U.S. bishops and theologians have advanced theological reflection on the issue of homosexuality far more than the Catholic church elsewhere in the world. Numerous bishops (with some notable exceptions) have courageously and consistently condemned anti-gay legislative initiatives, decried anti-gay violence and, specially, promoted pastoral outreaches to gays and lesbians.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Victoria’s recently concluded synod, after five years of deliberation throughout Vancouver Island, adopted a number of “decisions for action,” including resolving “to work in partnership with other faith communities to create a more just society, especially responding to the marginalized persons of our society.”

On a number of social justice issues surrounding sexuality, the synod resolved to “respond pastorally to the issues and needs expressed by homosexual persons.”

The task is well started. It will not be completed until there is no societal, economic or religious prejudice felt by any individual because of his or her sexual orientation, gender, color, religious or political bias.

August 26, 1992

Msgr. James P. Lisante
Director of Family Ministry
Rockville Center, New York

“Lacking Compassion”
Column in The Long Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper

…The Vatican has published a document on the rights of homosexual persons in society. It is a failure in precisely the same way pro-lifers can fail when we fight for a value, but forget the people involved.

The Vatican document fears that the United States may make homosexual rights equivalent to heterosexual rights. It endorses certain discriminations based on sexual preference or orientation. Quite frankly, such a position badly serves the Church. The Church has historically worked to eradicate any prejudice against all human persons. And in fighting discrimination, the Church gives credibility to its belief that all life is sacred, that every person is a gift from God and that every person is made in the image and likeness of God.

The Church surely has the right to promote her teachings, but she also has a duty to see that none of her teachings can be viewed as a reason to support bigotry. That, I fear, is exactly what this new document may do….

Years ago I remember working a summer program in a New York City parish. It was a teen program where the kids hung out at the parish each night. I recall that several of the high school aged boys had a real thing for hating people they called “queer.” Their comments went, for the most part, unchallenged. That is, until they moved beyond words of prejudice. One July night the boys had a few too many beers on their way home. And following their partying, they set out to find homosexuals to “trash” at a local park. They found one poor fellow, and with blind abandon, beat him into unconsciousness. He remained in a coma for months. And to this day he will never be whole. I’ve wondered, often, if that act of violence might not have been prevented had we in the Church spoken more often about the homosexual person as a child of God just like everyone else….

Recently, I had the chance to interview a wise and deeply spiritual man…Cardinal Basil Hume…I asked him his view of current pronouncements of the Church on homosexuality. He spoke less about the content of the documents than about their soul. Cardinal Hume said he felt compelled to challenge Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger about the teachings. He did this because he said they lacked a true pastoral compassion. They did not, he suggested, reflect the face of the always empathetic Jesus….

I think this new Vatican document underestimates a prejudice that’s old and deep. And while the Church will not change its position on homosexual activity, does it make any sense for the Church to fuel a stereotype which diminishes the human dignity of a child of God? The Church will teach as it must, but Catholics also need to hear words of genuine love and acceptance for the homosexual person. Lives and hearts might well be saved. And that, I suspect, is the truly pro-life thing to do.

August 28, 1992

Fr. Russell Connors
Moral Theologian, St. Mary Seminary
Cleveland, Ohio

Column in the Catholic Universe Bulletin, the diocesan newspaper

…In my judgment the arguments needed to support the conclusions, i.e., the proposed areas for discrimination, in the Vatican’s Considerations are not made well. In fact, the arguments are mostly absent. The result is a document that is unclear and perhaps pastorally hurtful to some members of the Catholic Christian community.

As a Catholic moral theologian, I offer two reflections in response. First, I have some general comments about discrimination. Secondly, I would like to make an application of those comments to homosexuality.

Although it may seem to go “against the grain” of what is comfortable for American Catholics, discrimination is neither new nor necessarily inappropriate. We obviously discriminate as to who is admitted into medical school, and who is not; who is awarded a place on the Olympic gymnastics team, and who is not. Within the Catholic community, we choose among those who offer themselves as candidates for the liturgical ministries.

Discrimination in itself is not inappropriate. What is important is fairness. Discernment for ministry in the church, for example, should be based on the community’s best judgment about the essential characteristics of the ministry in question. Factors such as racial background or political party affiliation are inappropriate as discernment criteria.

If it is true that discrimination is sometimes necessary, I believe it is also true that there is an appropriate suspicion about it in the Christian community.

We are all created in God’s image and, thereby, enjoy a fundamental personal equality as children of God. Further, is it not core Christian faith that “in Christ, there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28)? This may not mean that everyone has the same role in the Christian community, but I believe, at the very least, that it confirms that the burden of proof is on the one who would discriminate in the community.

Judgments, for example, that certain persons (or groups of persons) are not appropriate candidates to be pastors, or teachers, or coaches should be based on criteria that are fair and reasonable. Without appropriate justification, such judgments are pre-judgments, i.e., prejudice…

It is my view that the greatest weakness of Considerations is precisely where its greatest strength needed to be: in articulating just why it is that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the ways suggested is appropriate. What is it about the homosexual orientation itself that makes someone unfit as a teacher or coach, or, more controversially, as a foster parent?

What might the “legitimate concerns” of landlords actually be in screening potential tenants? Such discriminations need justification and explanation. In my view, the primary fault of Considerations is its silence where it needed to be most articulate: in providing explanations and justifications for the proposed discriminations based on sexual orientation.

Without such justifications the document is likely to invite some to provide explanations the authors may not have intended—such as that all persons with a homosexual orientation are sexually active, or that all such persons can not be trusted around children. Such interpretations, presumably unintended, would be most unfortunate…

It should be acknowledged that at least the beginning of an explanation or justification for some of the proposed points of discrimination can be found in the document. In several places the point is made that the provision of public housing to homosexual couples, made on the basis of non-discrimination, might confer “equivalent family status on homosexual unions,” and could undermine society’s rightful promotion of family life.

Not everyone will share that concern, of course, but it is at least the beginning of an explanation for the proposed discrimination. Further elaboration on such a sensitive and controversial point would have helped.

Secondly, Considerations attempts to apply the church’s moral teachings about homosexual, genital activity and about the homosexual orientation to practical and political questions concerning discrimination regarding persons with a homosexual orientation. In my judgment, the move in the document from moral teachings to these social and practical applications has not been made clearly or convincingly…

The relevant moral teachings are that homosexual, genital acts are “intrinsically disordered”…and that the homosexual condition, though not sinful, involves “an objective disorder.”

As one who has been charged at times to explain these teachings to both individuals and groups of Catholics with a homosexual orientation, I can attest to the tendency for such persons to receive these teachings as degrading and derogatory judgments about themselves.

Even for one who accepts these moral teachings, it is not obvious why a conclusion—for example, about excluding one from the teaching profession because of a homosexual orientation—follows…

I believe that any Christian community may rightly be judged by the way in which it treats its most vulnerable members. In my view, persons with a homosexual orientation may be seen as vulnerable persons within the Catholic community.

In addition to sharing the burden of cultural stereotypes, fears, and prejudices that weigh upon all persons with a homosexual orientation, Catholics in this group are presented with moral teachings regarding homosexuality that are, at the least, challenging and difficult for some, and—more painfully—a source of confusion or alienation for others.

Recognizing this vulnerability, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have denounced oppression and prejudice regarding persons with a homosexual orientation.

To its credit, Considerations does the same. Nevertheless, the suggested points of discrimination, especially because the justifications and explanations are either brief or absent, appear in the end—at least to this reader—not only to be unconvincing, but unwarranted, and even hurtful.

On such a pastorally sensitive topic, involving such an already vulnerable group of sisters and brothers in the community, we must do better.

August 29, 1992

Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Washington, D.C.

Board Statement

The National Board of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men in the United States expresses its concern with the content and lack of appropriate process of the recently issued statement from the Vatican’s cdf, Some Considerations. It is our judgment that this statement clouds the institutional Church’s stated views on justice and human rights.

We view this statement as a hindrance to the church leaders of the United States in this most difficult and sensitive area of human living. It is particularly open to misrepresentation and confusion during the present political campaign in the United States, already charged with distorted and manipulative references to “family values” and the “Judeo-Christian foundations” of our country.

We are shocked that the statement calls for discrimination against gay men and lesbian women. We find the reasoning for supporting such discrimination to be strained, unconvincing and counterproductive to our statements and actions to support the pastoral needs and personal dignity of such persons. Far from a help to the Bishops and other religious leaders in the United States Catholic Church, the statement complicates our already complex ministry to all people. Moreover, we find the arguments used to justify discrimination are based on stereotypes and falsehoods that are out of touch with modern psychological and sociological understandings of human sexuality.

We are unaware of any expressed need for guidance on the part of the church leaders in the United States. Once again, a Vatican congregation seems to be responding to the concerns and “agenda” of a relatively small segment of concerned Catholics without adequate consultation or process with established leadership groups such as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops or national leadership groups of women and men religious.

We regret such actions by the cdf, and we reaffirm our support for the human rights of all our brothers and sisters. In our efforts to carry out the Catholic social teaching that “the intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law”(1986 cdf Letter), this most recent statement is neither helpful nor enlightening.

August, 1992

David Van Ooijen
The Hague, Netherlands

“A Document to Be Forgotten as Soon as Possible”
Statement of a Dominican priest and a Labor Party member with a seat in the First Chamber

…A Call to the Legislator

Some Considerations gives evidence of so much malignance that it is bound to cause irritation to the “conscientious legislators, voters and Church authorities” to whom it is addressed and thus to bring about the opposite of what it wants to do.

Although the piece was not intended as such, in my opinion the gay and lesbian movement can look on it as a gift from God. The cdf reveals itself in the document as an animal driven into a corner. Recognizing that its earlier moral appeal to the Catholic faithful not to tolerate homosexuality had no effect, it turns to the legislator to force by law something which could not be achieved on a voluntary basis. Such an appeal to the legislator cannot have any positive outcome for the Congregation as has already been seen in comparable cases in the past.

Of course, the cdf cannot be reproached for concerning itself with fundamental questions of faith. But when it goes outside its competence and strays into the political field by laying down how the law should be formulated, then that political position becomes a subject for discussion in society in precisely the same way as any other political position. In politics, arguments have to be convincing, and anyone who is convinced by the Congregation’s arguments is welcome to say so.

A Fixed Pattern

Anyone who carefully examines the cdf’s position on a large number of political questions during the last few decades will discover a certain pattern in its interventions.

First, the subject in question is given a fundamental treatment. Concrete judgements for everyday life are pushed very much into the background. Secondly, the document often deals with the practical consequences for those directly concerned with a distinct lack of nuance. And then, if that seems insufficiently effective, the legislator is called upon.

Many issues thus dealt with over the last few decades have been connected with reproduction and respect for human life. On that terrain, major developments have taken place, and not in technical and medical respects alone. Subjects to which Church authorities have given a lot of attention are divorce, contraception, abortion, artificial fertilization, euthanasia, and homosexuality.

For a number of years, the issue of divorce dominated politics in many European countries. The Roman Catholic Church described such law as “a grave encroachment on God’s law.” Politicians were not permitted to give it their support. Lawyers were not to provide legal assistance and judges not to give decisions in such cases. Because of the influence of the Church in some countries, people were obliged to leave the country in order to remarry. There was also a great offensive launched from Rome to prevent the use of contraceptives. On more or less all fronts, the battle was lost. Even in Ireland, contraceptives were sold under the counter. For years the Irish have been bringing back contraceptives from abroad when returning from holiday or from trips to Ulster.

Social Benefit

In all European Community countries except Ireland, as well as in the u.s., there is liberal legislation on abortion. The threats from Rome have at most produced some delay in the legislation. In Germany, pressure on the Bundesverfassungsgericht from conservative Catholics only served to slow down the process.

In 1978, the Irish Government was pressured by the local Church to prevent the introduction of measures on social benefit which would enable unmarried mothers to claim support for mother and child. The bishops feared that the number of unmarried mothers would increase if they were enabled to claim minimum support. The bill in question was passed and, of course, the dreaded increase in the number of unmarried mothers failed to materialize. It is clearly an unreal assumption to think that someone would choose to be an unmarried mother simply in order to enjoy minimum social benefit.

Similarly, I believe it is unreal for the cdf to assume that legal acceptance of homosexuality will, in and by itself, induce persons of homosexual orientation to “seek a partner in order to make use of the legal possibilities.”

In Conflict with the Constitution

There is a mistaken impression that there is a great degree of continuity in the Church’s pronouncements on subjects which have played an important role in politics. That is certainly not the case. Numerous matters have been forbidden by the Church in the past, under threat of hell and damnation, such as: freedom of religion, freedom of education, freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, the abolition of the monarchy, political and social democracy, the abolition of capital punishment, and punishment by mutilation. Over the years, many condemnations have been retracted, sometimes expressly, sometimes only in silence. The Second Vatican Council explicitly recognized freedom of conscience and of religion.

On a few points there is still obscurity. In the seventies, I had a long correspondence with a professor of Church Law in Rome who maintained that the Catholic Church did not permit a fundamental rejection of the death penalty and of punishment by mutilation. This question was then under discussion because of the intention to outlaw the death penalty and punishment by mutilation in the Netherlands Constitution. In the amendment of the Constitution passed in 1987, the death penalty (article 114) and punishment by mutilation (article 11) were nonetheless outlawed by unanimous vote.

In article 1 of the same 1987 amendment, a provision was introduced which forbade discrimination (unequal treatment of equal cases) on grounds of, among other things, sexual orientation. The discrimination of homosexuals advocated by the cdf is in conflict with that principle as laid down in our Constitution.

More Factors

It is well-known that the Roman Catholic Church, often through the mouth of the cdf, uses extremely stringent standards where sexual behavior is concerned. Only in the marriage relationship is the full use of sexual powers considered a moral good and then only where there is the intention of transmitting life; thus no contraception. In all other cases, according to the Congregation, only sexual abstinence is moral; this view is valid not only for Catholics but for everyone…

One may expect a politician to think not only of the few persons in society whose behavior imitates Philip ii of Spain. (Philip made sexual approaches to his wife only when strictly necessary in order to produce an heir to the throne.) In a society of varied opinion on sexuality and other matters, and in particular in a democracy in which decisions have to be made by majority vote, many factors are involved in political decisions. The directives of a church whose members are often in a minority and seem themselves disinclined to take any notice of those directives are simply one factor in political decision making.


In a democracy, laws are not promulgated simply to please the majority. The implementation of laws is made a good deal easier where an effort is made to give them a wide political base. This often means that in those laws respect is shown for minority opinions. Tolerance of minority opinions and lifestyles may often prevent an increase in “irrational and violent reactions.” That should be an attractive prospect for the cdf. But this does not seem to be the case.

The Congregation apparently no longer feels sensitive to “the condemnation of every discrimination” by the Second Vatican Council: “We cannot possibly call God the Father of all if we refuse to behave as brothers to certain people, created in God’s image. The relation of the human person to God our Father and the relation of the human person to others who are their brothers, are so intimately bound up with each other that the scriptures say: ‘Whoever does not love does not know God.’ With this the foundation is swept away from any theory or practice which intends to set up discrimination between one person and another, between one people and another, as regards human value and the rights which flow from it.” (Nostra Aetate 5, Declaration of the Second Vatican Council of October 28, 1965).

Standards and Practices

The cdf has a tendency to reason exclusively from the standard case. It gives no sign of understanding the particular rules of politics. Thus the Congregation not only takes the stand that abortion must be prevented (with which I too would agree), but also gives its further opinion that the legal system should, under all circumstances, make abortion a criminal offence. Consequently, the Netherlands, with the lowest number of abortions in the world, is hauled over the coals because the occurrence is not punished under all circumstances. Yet a country with ten times as many abortions per capita is praised because it forbids abortion under all circumstances, even though it is unable to enforce the law.

Here the better seems to be the enemy of the good. A good politician is not happy with a law that embodies the correct standard but proves impossible to put into practice. Sometimes the fact that a law accommodates minorities who are of a different opinion may influence the applicability of that law. Only in this way can society find a sufficient basis for implementation.

Because the dogmatists of the cdf show absolutely no understanding for the particular responsibility of the politician, they should not be surprised if politicians see them as “irrelevant.” Anyone who fails to take other people seriously should not be surprised when they are not taken seriously themselves.

September, 1992

Raphael Gallagher, C.Ss.R.
Dublin, Ireland

“Homosexuality, Discrimination, and a Vatican Document”
Article in the journal, Doctrine and Life


…I know many teachers who are of a homosexual orientation, who lead exemplary moral lives and are known to be homosexual to at least some members of the staff and students. Do they deserve to be ‘discriminated’ against? Of course not, the Observations will try to say. But because the implication is given that to declare one’s homosexual orientation is part of a political agenda regarding rights according to homosexual acts, there is a real pastoral danger that discrimination would be used against good teachers who, in God’s mysterious providence, are of a homosexual orientation. To discriminate, in the technical legal sense, on the basis of sexual orientation seems to me to be the same as discriminating on the basis of race. A black person is not separable from his condition (i.e., color). Can a homosexual, as a person, be separated from his condition (i.e., sexual orientation)?

…But because the Observations reveal a homophobia in not acknowledging with sufficient clarity the distinction between homosexual condition and activity, the use of the term “not unjust discrimination” will cause anxiety and fear to many good homosexuals employed in socially sensitive positions.

Appeals for Understanding

…Homosexuals who struggle to lead chaste lives need some public acknowledgement of their orientation in order to have the support, understanding and friendship which is necessary for their own sense of dignity and self-worth…They could end up leading double lives: publicly giving the appearance of trying to be heterosexual, privately living the torture of not being allowed to explain who they are. It is easy to see the pastoral damage that can be caused to the emotional and spiritual health of homosexuals if the implication is given that any disclosure of their orientation is taken as some sort of political statement where, in most cases, it is an appeal for understanding and support. Which of us heterosexuals could hope to lead chaste lives if all our agonies and struggles were regarded as a potential threat to the public order?

Objective Disorder

…Whatever about the philosophical language used–which is itself the subject of a vigorous debate–the phrase [objective disorder] will continue to cause anxious confusion to homosexuals on a personal level. The pastoral problem here is a simple one. For some homosexuals there is no other ‘order’ but the one they have personally experienced, even if they never engaged in homosexual activity. These people will continue to feel that the Church regards them as outside the norm of valid human experience because their orientation is, objectively speaking, judged to be a disorder. Where does that leave them if, subjectively speaking, they know no other order of the experience of sexuality which is at the core of their personality?…

Listening to Experience

Ecclesiologically, the Observations confirm the current centralized model of the Church…On a sensitive public issue like homosexuality, would it not be wiser to listen to the experiences of the local Church, as was the case in the excellent pastoral guidelines issued by the Catholic Social Welfare Commission of the English Hierarchy…Homosexuals are not all of one mind, not of one political persuasion. They are not a monolithic group. Listening to their varied stories and experiences would, at the very least, help the Church develop a more sensitive and nuanced use of language on the topic of homosexuality…

Pastoral Care

I have read and commented on these Observations as a priest who has had pastoral contact with a homosexual group over a fifteen-year period. It is a difficult ministry, trying to remain loyal to the Church and to be sensitive to a group of people many of whom are extremely angry with the Church. I have known the pain of being misunderstood by Church authorities, and the distress of being ridiculed for being inconsistent because I have never supported politically active homosexual causes. One conviction has not changed over the years. While homosexuality is a complex issue to understand, and presents the Church and society with enormously difficult questions, the effort to understand homosexuals and listen to them is a necessary precondition for any sound pastoral care that would lead to spiritual union with God and communion within the Church. I am not so naive as to think that there are not homosexual groups whose political aim is to change the Church’s teaching, so the question of agreeing with everything homosexuals say does not even arise for me.                There are some areas of concern identified by the Observations that I can agree with, but in general this document will not help in the pastoral care of homosexual people in Ireland. The language used is neither nuanced enough nor sensitive enough for homosexuals to identify with. And if we do not have the right pastoral approach to people (not just homosexuals), then any political judgements made by the Church authorities will fall on rocky soil…

September, 1992

Island Catholic News
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

“The Church and Gay Rights”

Perhaps there is no current issue that more evenly divides the church than gay rights. The Vatican is testament to this fact. A recent U.S. Gallup poll indicates that for the first time, more Catholics in that country disagree with the Vatican stand than agree.

Some people argue that sexual morality is not a fit subject for popularity polls, but the trends certainly indicate the widening gap between Vatican pronouncements on this subject and where the people are at. Not a healthy situation for any authority, to have wider and deeper disagreement about the conclusions and the arguments put forward.

Certainly this recent statement is problematic. It is based upon a particularly narrow interpretation of natural law theory. Natural law theory has been severely attacked by many theological schools as inadequate as a basis in a scientific era for Christian or humanitarian ethics. Its categories of thought are seen as too rigid, and not responsive enough to the subtleties and nuances of contemporary ethical thinking. The anti-contraceptive birth control encyclical Humanae Vitae was critiqued on the same basis. Certainly Humanae Vitae was a case study in lack of credibility due to the inadequacy of its theoretical framework and insensitivity to the voice of the Spirit as revealed in the discernment of the people.

Many people suspect that this recent document is much more of a political statement than a serious theological one. As a prudential admonition to the U.S. Bishops, which was meant to remain secret, it was obviously an effort to counter certain pastoral practices by that national bishops’ conference.

A close scrutiny of the statement reveals many weaknesses. It is always suspicious when an argument is based on references to statements made by the same source, as the footnotes of this document illustrate. The assumptions behind many of the statements are not developed or even revealed. Too much is taken for granted about tenets that are no longer commonly held even within the church.

By overstating its case, the document violates certain sacred principles of ethical decision-making such as its use of “in no case” logic, when sound ethical deliberations always allow for exceptions, or the epikea principle. The logic of much of the argument founders on its own inconsistencies, showing that the statement is more of a declaration than an argument meant to convince by weight of its conviction.

September 12, 1992

John F. Tuohey
New York City, New York

“The CDF and Homosexuals: Rewriting the Moral Tradition”
Article in the periodical, America

In recent years, it had become anathema in Roman Catholic moral theology even to suggest that anyone could commit a moral evil to achieve a moral good. Anyone familiar with casuistry knows that there are ways of tolerating and even cooperating in the performance of evil indirectly, but never directly. With the publication of Some Considerations… it appears that, on this issue at least, the end may justify the means after all.

…Certainly, the family and the common good are moral goods to be pursued and protected. Discrimination, as it has been understood in the tradition, is a moral evil when it is directly intended. Since 1950, discrimination in hiring has been described as a violation of social justice. For a contemporary understanding, reference need only be made to the 1989 document from the Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission, The Church and Racism: Toward a More Fraternal Society. With casuistry, the tradition can tolerate some indirect discrimination. However, and this is critically important, it can do so only when there is a proportionate reason to justify the evil. The cdf, in contrast to this tradition, not only calls for direct discrimination, it does so without presenting any proportionate reason that might justify it.

Nowhere does the statement attempt to show that recognizing the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons would harm the “genuine” family or the common good. The cdf says merely that it “may” harm them (Foreword). Even those moralists who have been criticized by the cdf for suggesting that the presence or absence of proportionate reason is sufficient to judge the appropriateness of an act would never justify the performance of evil simply on the grounds that doing so might prevent some other harm that “may” result. Even these so-called revisionist theologians insist on hard evidence to support a claim that a lesser evil is being tolerated or performed for a greater good. By calling on “conscientious” persons (Foreword) to engage in direct discrimination on the grounds that failure to do so “may” result in harming the goods of family and community life, the cdf has rewritten the rules of moral theology: It is so opposed to homosexuality, it will sometimes make obligatory the performance of a direct evil and require no proportionate reason to justify it.

The absence of any evidence from the cdf that gay and lesbian persons pose a threat to society is easy to explain. No credible evidence exists. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest exactly the opposite. On the occasion of its 1992 Gay and Lesbian Pride Celebration, the city of St. Louis, Mo., issued a proclamation recognizing the contribution the gay and lesbian community has made to the welfare of that city. Rather than being harmed, the community of St. Louis is better off because gay and lesbian persons actively participate in the historic restoration, culture, and artistic life of that U.S. city. Corporate policies of such Fortune 500 companies as AT&T, Xerox, and Levi Strauss affirm that a healthy attitude toward gays and lesbians makes good business sense. The people Congressman Barney Frank (D., Mass.) represents seem to think it makes good political sense as well. In reality, the only harm to families or society that has any relevant connection to homosexuality is the harm resulting from the rejection of a gay or lesbian parent, child, or sibling.

If there is no evidence that gays and lesbians themselves threaten the family or the common good, there is a great deal of evidence that the lack of civil recognition is harmful to them. Theologians recognized this in the mid-1950’s and began calling for the repeal of penal sanctions against homosexuality because these made the homosexual person vulnerable to such crimes as blackmail.

Instances of physical violence against gays is presently on the increase in the United States. At a July 11 Ku Klux Klan rally in Daytona Beach, Fla., klansmen called for the death penalty for anyone guilty of the “crime” of homosexuality. While the cdf condemns such violence, this condemnation is mooted by the suggestion that gays and lesbians have no one to blame for it but themselves…

There are other forms of violence the cdf has not explicitly condemned and may have encouraged. The cdf does not recognize the economic violence gays and lesbians suffer. Instead, it encourages the non-hiring and dismissal of people from their jobs because of their sexuality (No.11). The cdf does not recognize the violence to personal dignity that results from pejorative stereotyping. Instead, it encourages this by explicitly mentioning the exclusion of gay and lesbian persons from such professions as teaching and coaching (No.11). When it suggests that gays and lesbians should simply keep quiet about their private lives to avoid violence and discrimination (No.14), the cdf exposes its ignorance of the psychological and self-inflicted violence among youth who struggle with their sexuality. The Government’s own estimates are that fully one-third of all teen-age suicides in the United States are related to the difficulties gay and lesbian adolescents have in finding healthy role models and acceptance in a society that refers to them as “faggots” and “dykes.” Silence will not stop the violence.

The impact of denying the civil liberties of gay and lesbian persons is not explored by the cdf. One can only wonder how many attacks and job dismissals will be considered justified, and how many confused and despairing young people will consider or attempt suicide as a result of the cdf message that “conscientious” people of faith are sometimes obliged to work actively to deny their civil liberties. The prospect of millions being unemployed and without health benefits is somehow not perceived as a threat to the common good. Nor, it seems, is the tragic and preventable death of a teen-ager. Perhaps “genuine” families do not have gay children.

Even if the cdf has encouraged these acts of violence only by default, it is guilty of encouraging the violence of injustice. Within the church’s social teachings, violence is not only the threat or accomplishment of physical harm. Where there is injustice itself, there is violence. The prophets spoke of the injustice of keeping people from the land, which the cdf seems to suggest ought to be done with regard to housing (Foreword; No.12), as nothing less than “bloodshed” (Is.5:8-10). But, the cdf insists, all of this is permissible. The family and the common good are so important that the civil rights of an entire population of Americans is expendable because of the harm that “may” result. Their sexual activity is a “moral disorder.” They engage in “disordered external conduct” (No.12). It is therefore now permissible to perform a moral evil without even attempting to justify it with a proportionate reason.

In reality the only true characterization that can be made about gay and lesbian persons is that they are different, and therefore not particularly welcome. There was a time not so long ago when being a Roman Catholic was different, and we were not particularly welcome either. With perseverance and a fidelity to our moral tradition, we survived and excelled by always seeking to do the good, and only reluctantly tolerating some limited, indirect evil. As a result, the U.S. church is able today to be a strong moral and political voice on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginal. Among these are gay and lesbian citizens who are, in the words of Lieut. j.g. Tracy Thorne, dismissed from the Navy because he is gay, “just like you.” It would be a tragedy to abdicate that credibility now.

The cdf’s opposition to homosexuality is clear. It may be too much to ask the Congregation to rethink that position, but it is not too much to ask it to refrain from rewriting our moral tradition to oppose homosexuality.


October 25, 1992

Kenise and Fintan Kilbride
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

“Catholic Parents Reflect on a Vatican Document Regarding Homosexuals”
Column in the newspaper, Catholic New Times

…As Catholic parents of heterosexual teenagers, we were struck by the coldness of the document, by its lack of insight and compassion, by how tortuous are its arguments made in the name of “protecting the family and society,” and, ironically, by its potential for dividing families in a most hateful and gratuitously painful way. We reject it for two principal reasons: its harsh position on homosexuality and its encouragement of discrimination against the human rights of homosexuals.

We want what all parents want for their children: that they be reasonably successful, happy, productive, loved, and loving members of a caring society. We deeply hope and believe that they will contribute significantly to the building of the Kingdom of God, to justice and peace that characterize it.

If one of our children had turned out to be homosexual, should any of that have altered? We have always hoped that our children would one day experience the joy and comfort we have found in our relationship as loved and loving partners. Would we say, “Oh, but not for you!” to the child who had discovered a homosexual orientation?

We wouldn’t; we couldn’t; for us, it would be a totally irresponsible and immoral abdication of our enduring commitment to the well-being of each child. And if our love for them could not be so ungenerous, how much more the generosity of an all-loving God?

It was precisely this insight, at a time when both our children were still pre-schoolers, that made us realize that the church’s current position on homosexuality was so very wrong. No individual and no loving family should ever be put into such a hurtful and divisive bind.

Our position is not a rejection of celibacy, freely chosen by an adult for a serious personal, professional, or religious reason; “celibacy for the sake of the kingdom” has a long and honored tradition where it is the true choice of an individual rather than an arbitrary requirement. The church itself has taught that it is a special charism given for the work of God. But celibacy as a life-sentence incurred for homosexuality is a very different matter.

If one child had turned out to be gay or lesbian, how should our expectations of her place in society have changed? Would we have accepted more intolerance of her on the part of society? Would we have agreed that her basic human rights were diminished, and she could be barred like “contagious or mentally ill persons in order to protect the common good”?

Would we have sat idly by and accepted discrimination against her in her work and housing? in our parish? Then why should we accept it against the children of our friends and relatives, or against anyone’s children? It does not “defend and promote family life” as this terribly offensive document claims. It is highly disruptive of innumerable families, since about 10 percent of children are born homosexual.

And how do we teach any of our children, gay or straight, to prize gospel values, when these values are translated by the church to include active discrimination against those among them whose relationships do not meet its narrow standards? Such a blindly rigid and uncaring stance will hardly merit their respect.

This document actually blames the victims of gay-bashing for the violence they suffer…This stance (coupled with the church’s position on the role of women in the church) may explain why, rather than respect, we find a growing contempt for the church and an increasing difficulty in helping young people distinguish between the gospel message of justice and love, and the messenger’s proclamations of justifiable discrimination and oppression.

Thankfully, there are some church leaders who have the courage to reveal their insight and caring…We are hoping that Canadian church leaders will also reject such a platform of systemic discrimination against this segment of our population.

Theology is based on both the traditions of the church and the lived experience of the people. The lived experience of marriage and parenting, reflected upon in the context of a life-long commitment to the gospel, convinces us that the church’s teaching on human sexuality is in urgent need of reform. Any teaching that legitimates a continued discrimination against homosexual people is itself immoral and must be firmly opposed by Canadian Catholics.

November 22, 1992

Louis Janssens
Professor Emeritus
The Catholic University of Lovain, Belgium

“The Vatican on Homosexuality”
Article in the journal, Wereldwijd

…For very many homosexuals, heart and soul implanted in the Christian community, this document is like a blow in the face. But many moral theologians and pastoral workers are likewise unable to agree with it. I feel solidarity with them and my conscience would convict me of insincerity if I were to keep silent.

  1. The document describes homosexual orientation as an objective disorder. Responsible members of the medical profession, psychologists, and psychiatrists have removed homosexuality from their list of disorders and defects. They no longer consider it as a disturbance but as variant sexual behavior. The homosexual orientation is not the result of a personal choice. It is a given fact which persons discover when they finally realize that they are spontaneously attracted exclusively to persons of the same sex. Lesbian and gay people are a minority and, like every minority, have a right to be recognized and valued.
  2. It is more than likely that a gay or lesbian person will fall in love with another person of the same gender and that this love will lead to a permanent friendship with that person. The Vatican document condemns all homosexual acts, even within the context of a permanent relationship. In order to say anything sensible about the sexual relationship in marriage, one must start from the experience of Christian marriage partners. Similarly the experience of homosexual partners must form the starting-point for reaching a responsible view of the purpose and value of the sexual component of their behavior. From their evidence and from publications of pastors engaged in ministry to them, it appears that they, like married couples, are subject to a process of development. All aspects of each personality are involved. Naturally, there are tensions in relationships. During my many years in moral theology, many gay and lesbian friends came to visit me to talk with a priest. From them I learned that gay and lesbian couples can find their relationship a support in time of trouble, that they enrich each other’s religious life, and that each finds a warm acceptance in the other. They give each other courage to tackle their daily tasks. Together they take part in social and cultural groups. As a result of these contacts, I developed a positive perspective on gay and lesbian relationships.
  3. The Vatican document says that viewing homosexual acts as acceptable as the sexual expression of conjugal love directly influences society’s understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy. Rather, do not lesbian and gay people hold family life in great esteem and frequently experience their own childlessness as a loss? Nor should it be forgotten that a negative attitude towards homosexuality weighs very heavily on Christian families in which one of the children is lesbian or gay.
  4. The Vatican document holds that persons known to be homosexual should not be considered for the position of teacher. Are they confusing homosexuality with pedophilia? Among homosexual as well as heterosexual people, distinction must be made between persons of integrity and others who are not to be trusted.
  5. Finally, this document deals with the rights of gay and lesbian persons. As human people, homosexuals and heterosexuals are characterized by inalienable civil and social rights. For us Christians this has even greater force because we see in every person the image of God. Jesus came for the liberation of all. Personal rights are inalienable but the exercise of these rights is limited by the rights of the next person and the demands of the common good. The Second Vatican Council solemnly confirmed the right to religious freedom. It emphasized that the exercise of that fundamental right is restricted by the freedom of conscience of those who do not share our Christian way of life and by the demands of public order.

The 1992 Vatican document cites an example of a restriction on the exercise of personal rights. Each person has the right to social contact and to life in the community, but where people suffering from infectious diseases are segregated to prevent the spread of infection, their right is restricted in a responsible fashion. The choice of this example is not a very good one because lesbian and gay people are not suffering from infectious disease and their involvement in social life is not a danger.

Negative attitudes towards homosexuality are the result of a lack of knowledge. The best remedy lies in listening to the evidence of gay and lesbian Christians. In our Flemish region, we have a quarterly publication called Gerust Geweten, Tijdschrift voor homosexualiteit en geloof (A Clear Conscience, Magazine for Homosexuality and Belief, C. Meunierstraat 95/98, 3000 Leuven). I respect this periodical and its contents. It was of great assistance in freeing me from a negative attitude towards lesbian and gay people and homosexuality.

The document demands discrimination in connection with adoption. My mother died when I was 16 months old. I had an exceptionally good father. Yet I sensed an emptiness. When I saw how my friends related to their mothers, I understood what I was missing. Children need a father and a mother. The premature death of one of their parents is a great tragedy. So I do not think it responsible to have children adopted by a single man or a single woman or by two men or women living together, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual. It has nothing to do with their sexual orientation. It comes down simply to making the best possible provision for the welfare of the adopted children from the very start by placing them in a household where they have a mother and a father. Where legislation meets this demand there is no implication of discrimination of homosexuals.

November 6, 1992

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin
Chicago, Illinois

“Protecting the Human Rights of All”
Column in The New World, the archdiocesan newspaper

In a recent New York Times book review, noted Chicago scholar, Robert V. Remini, wrote: “An ugly, frightening streak runs through the entire course of this nation’s history, and Americans need to remind themselves regularly of its lurking presence lest they forget that organized bigotry is not a foreign contagion. It is as American as violence, capitalism and democracy.”

I was struck by this statement because, as a person born in the South, I had seen firsthand the institutionalized bigotry known as segregation. I also experienced bigotry personally as a Catholic. Later, as I worked on the national scene, I came to feel the pain experienced by our Jewish sisters and brothers who were also objects of bigotry.

Bigotry is an insidious reality. It involves stripping others of their dignity because for some reason, that which distinguishes them from other humans is judged to make them less than human. Under the banner of protecting the human family, the bigot seeks to isolate and hurt another person in word and deed. I have often been amazed at how otherwise good people can so easily be seduced by bigotry.

It almost seems as if they need to have another group of persons as the outcast and the rejected in order to prove their own self-worth or importance. And like Remini, I am continually amazed at how a land that is a potpourri of races, creeds, and cultures can so easily identify one group from among the many and make it the object of scorn.

Over the last few months I have received an increasing number of letters from another group of persons who are again the object of a renewed bigotry and violence that is often associated with it. They have written to me of the increasing level of discrimination and violence to which they are subject. I am speaking of persons who are homosexual.

In this context, I was appalled at some of the rhetoric aimed at persons who are gay and lesbian during this year’s political process. Nowhere is the bigotry that lurks behind this rhetoric more evident than in the State of Oregon, which considered an initiative that many felt would give legal recognition to such bigotry. The Catholic bishops of Oregon opposed it.

Recently, many people were confused by a document that came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled, Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons. They felt that it could be used to justify bigotry and violence aimed at gay and lesbian persons.

I cannot devote a great deal of space to that document here. It is a collation of previously published statements. And it offers, as the title notes, some considerations on applying those statements to the development of public policy.

As other bishops have noted, these considerations are not a mandate. It remains my responsibility as diocesan bishop, in consultation with many others, to apply church teaching in the complex arena of public policy. I regret that this document has resulted in so much pain and confusion.

Allow me to be quite clear. I affirm the fundamental human and civil rights of persons who are gay or lesbian. Echoing what Pope John Paul ii said in his encyclical, “Dignitatis Humanae,” I affirm that “the protection of and promotion of the inviolable rights of humanity ranks among the essential duties of government.” I will continue to work to ensure that government fulfills this responsibility with special attention to unjust or arbitrary discrimination in housing or employment.

I condemn all violence aimed at another human being and, in a particular way, violence that flows from bigotry. Bigotry toward persons because of race, creed, national origin, gender or sexual orientation must be rooted out of our society.

I am confident that people of goodwill throughout our metropolitan area join me in this testimony.

As a Roman Catholic pastor, I must also speak of other aspects of our tradition. While affirming the inviolable dignity of a gay or lesbian person and the goodness of their stable, loving, and caring relationships, I cannot endorse homosexual genital expression. Intimate sexual relations are appropriate only in the context of a heterosexual marriage.

I realize that, when I say this, I upset many who are gay and lesbian. They do not understand how I can support fundamental rights and at the same time not endorse homosexual activity. Some, in fact, become quite angry and accuse me of being duplicitous. To their anger I can only respond with love and ask that, as I respect them, could they not respect me and my beliefs?

It is also important that I speak of the church’s commitment to the family. The family is one of the most important bedrocks on which any society must be built. In fact, it is so essential to the well-being of society that it must be given priority and protection.

Today the family is taking shapes and forms quite different from the traditional two-parent, “Ozzie and Harriet” family of the past. Some of these developments are quite positive. Others are problematic. And in previous columns I have written about our commitment to protect and support the family.

In this context I want to make it clear that I understand that to be gay or lesbian is not to be anti-family. Lesbian and gay persons come from and remain members of families. As all other persons, they need to have the caring environment of familial relationships.

I mention this because some legislative proposals that have been put forth with the intention of protecting the rights of homosexual persons seem to compromise society’s commitment to the family. And as a result, they have been opposed by church leaders and will be opposed in the future.

Obviously, such opposition is the result of a prudential judgment that seeks to weigh the significance of the family and the needs of lesbian and gay persons. It would be unfair to describe them as acts of discrimination or to associate them with the bigotry I have condemned. Rather than the polarization that often results from such rhetoric, it would be better to develop legislative proposals that would accommodate both commitments.

It is my hope that as a society and as a church, we will renew our commitment to undo what the scholar Remini described above. I am confident that bigotry need not be an essential aspect of our national experience.

November 13, 1992

New Ways Ministry
Mt. Rainier, Maryland

“A Time To Speak”
Paid advertisement in the National Catholic Reporter

This statement was signed by 1,692 Catholics, including Bishops Charles Buswell, Thomas Gumbleton, and Walter Sullivan, and presented, along with 13,000 signatures of other Catholics, to Bishop James Malone who received them on behalf of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As Catholics, we affirm the inherent dignity of lesbian and gay persons and we pledge our renewed support for their basic civil rights in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations.

In June, 1992, the Vatican sent the statement, Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons to the U.S. bishops. In their 1986 letter on homosexuality, the Vatican acknowledged Catholic social teaching that “the intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.” However, the 1992 statement claimed that there are situations, such as teaching, athletic coaching, adoptive parenting, and military recruitment, in which this principle can be discarded.

Underlying their reasoning are several misconceptions regarding homosexuality. There is an irrational fear that lesbian or gay people influence the sexual orientation of children or youth with whom the live or work. There are erroneous beliefs that lesbian and gay persons are erotically attracted to every person of their own gender and that they cannot control their sexual impulses in same-sex environments. There is no empirical evidence to support these opinions.

We believe that lesbian and gay people are, in fact, numbered among our finest teachers and coaches. Gay and lesbian youth need responsible role models which these educational personnel can provide. Thousands of lesbian and gay persons, both individually and as partners, have provided loving and nurturing homes for many children. A recent government study showed that gay and lesbian military personnel are no less qualified or effective than any other group.

The Vatican statement asserts that legal protection for lesbian and gay persons threatens heterosexual marriage and family values. We contend that irrational prejudice and unfounded fears of gay and lesbian persons constitute a real threat to heterosexual marriage and family life in our society.

Societal pressures on gay and lesbian people to deny or hide their sexual identity from parents and siblings cause division and alienation in family life. Marriages between lesbian or gay individuals and heterosexual persons most often result in painful divorces. We deplore a value system which rejects gay and lesbian reality and thus results in suicide for some individuals. This kind of anguish contributes to the breakdown of family life.

The image of God in each and every human being is the foundation of Catholic social teaching on human dignity. The gospel ministry of Jesus challenges every Christian to promote respect for all persons in word and in action. Our U.S. constitution is likewise founded on the principle of equality of each citizen before the law.

Therefore, we “call on all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality”1 and ask our bishops and all Catholics to support local, state, and federal legislation to protect the civil rights of our lesbian sisters and gay brothers.


1    National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, 1990.


Gerald D. Coleman, SS
Rector, St. Patrick Seminary
Menlo Park, California

“Homosexuals and Spirituality”
Article in Chicago Studies (vol. 32, pp. 222-233)

The cdf’s Response to Legislative Proposals on Discrimination Against Homosexuals also affirms that “Homosexual persons, as human persons, have the same rights as all persons, including the right of not being treated in a manner which offends their personal dignity” (n. 12)….

When homosexuality is understood principally as an orientation to certain sexual or genital acts, justice is not done to homosexual persons. This is precisely the point of the Church’s teaching that the human person cannot be adequately described by a “reductionist reference” to his or her sexual orientation (Letter, n. 16). In other words, a homosexual person cannot be circumscribed within the narrow limits of sexual and/or genital relations.

Consequently, the homosexual orientation itself is a manifestation of the capacity and need of human persons to grow in loving relationships that in some way mirror the life-giving love of the God in whose image and likeness we are all created: i.e., homosexuality is not an orientation to sexual activity as such anymore than definitive heterosexuality is. Any sexual activity must be seen in the context of the totality of the persons involved. A homosexual person is not driven in some compulsive manner, as the cdf Letter rightly points out (n. 11), to sexual activity: the person is “driven” to experience love, fidelity, meaning, intimacy, in human terms, in terms of relationships that bond individuals to one another in ways that manifest the presence of the God whose love grounds our being.

…Homosexual people are not an aberration of nature but a variation. We must dismiss, then, the “problem approach” to spirituality for homosexual persons with a “gift approach” which teaches us to treasure our sexuality and to reverence it. As we respect the gift and the Giver, we choose not to abuse it. In other words, we find ways to express our sexuality that are healthy, chaste, and life-giving. This approach enables the homosexual person to reclaim his or her inner authority by acting out of one’s giftedness rather than re-enacting to a dysfunctional co-dependent system.

It is thus important for homosexual persons to acknowledge their own sacredness, the mystery of the Lord Who resides in their depths.

…While many accept the fact of homosexuality as an orientation, many are not able to conceive of homosexuality as a possibility for authentic love: i.e., homosexuality is kept on the level of a physical, sexual urge or drive. It is for this reason that some authors counsel that we should stop using the word “homosexuality” and rather adopt the concept “homophilia.” It is very important to keep in mind a point made earlier: that one’s sexual orientation is integral to one’s very self. In other words, one’s homosexual orientation does not simply encompass sexual desires, but influences (although it does not determine) the ways one thinks, the ways one decides, the ways one responds, the ways one relates, the ways one creates and structures his or her whole world. All these actions are influenced by one’s orientation. 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…