Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church, the largest Christian denomination in the United States with an estimated 62 million members, has welcomed celibate gay and lesbian people into its church life but increasingly is becoming more intolerant even of this population. Most recently, the Vatican has issued plans to release a document to the church worldwide that will bar celibate gay men from Catholic seminaries. The Human Rights Campaign condemned the document for scapegoating gays. (The document will not affect already ordained priests and does not address lay members.)
The church does condemn legal discrimination against gays and lesbians and supports increased research into the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS; however, the decision to bar celibate gay men from the priesthood indicates that the Roman Catholic Church is taking a more aggressively anti-gay stance. In addition, the church has also been a staunch opponent of marriage equality for same-sex couples and rejects adoption by gay and lesbian parents.
It has been silent to date on transgender members.
On a Gay or Lesbian Orientation
The Roman Catholic Church does not consider a gay or lesbian orientation to be inherently sinful because it is not a choice, and “morality presumes the freedom to choose,” according to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Marriage and Family’s 1997 statement, “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children.”
Yet the church does consider a gay or lesbian orientation “unnatural,” “disordered” and one of the many manifestations of original sin. The Catechism states:
“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
Pope Benedict XVI, who was named pope in April 2005, has not shown support for GLBT equality in the church. During an address to a conference of the Diocese of Rome in June 2005, he criticized the movement for marriage quality, saying:
“The various forms of the dissolution of matrimony today, like free unions, trial marriages and going up to pseudo-matrimonies by people of the same sex, are rather expressions of an anarchic freedome that wrongly passes for true freedom of man.”
Before he became pope, he also made several statements condemning gays and lesbians. In 1986, while a cardinal, he had delivered a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, saying, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”
In addition, the Vatican also condemned gays and lesbians in a July 2004 document denouncing feminism. Entitled "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and the World," the letter asserted that feminism would “call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.”
Funeral Denied Gay Man
In March 2005, San Diego Bishop Robert Brom received national media attention when he refused to allow a funeral to be performed in a local Catholic church for a gay man, John McCusker, who ran several gay nightclubs. Brom called McCusker’s business activities “contrary to sacred Scripture and the moral teachings of the church” and said that by denying him a Catholic funeral, he was trying to avoid a “public scandal.” After McCusker’s funeral was held in an Episcopal church, Brom apologized to McCusker’s parents and offered to celebrate a Mass for him.
Sex and Marriage
Sex and marriage are intended for procreation only, according to the Catholic Church. Heterosexual Catholics, therefore, are expected to remain celibate until marriage and then refrain from using birth control. Gay and lesbian Catholics are expected to remain celibate for life. Failure to do so is judged a sin.
On the other hand, if gays and lesbians refrain from acting on their sexual impulses, they are said to have the potential to achieve “Christian perfection.” The Catechism states:
“Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”
Discrimination against Gays
The church allows gay and lesbian Catholics full participation in the church, provided they are celibate. Moreover, it supports the basic human rights of gay and lesbian people and rejects as sinful any acts of prejudice and discrimination against them.
Catholic parents of gay, lesbian and bisexual children are urged to accept and love their children. The 1997 “Always Our Children” statement tells parents:
“First, don't break off contact; don't reject your child. … Your child may need you and the family now more than ever. He or she is still the same person. This child, who has always been God's gift to you, may now be the cause of another gift: your family becoming more honest, respectful, and supportive. Yes, your love can be tested by this reality, but it can also grow stronger through your struggle to respond lovingly.”
Despite its stand against discrimination, however, the church rejects marriage rights for same-sex couples, adoption by gay and lesbian parents and openly gay clergy.
Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couples
The church has actively opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples, backing its opposition with both strong statements and money. These statements have been issued by both the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The church has also instructed Catholic lawmakers and voters to oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Contrary to the counsel of church leaders, however, 82 percent of American Catholics say they can accept the idea of a same-sex couple living together “like a married couple,” according to a March 2004 survey by The Los Angeles Times.
Former Pope John Paul spoke out against same-sex marriage in Memory and Identity, a book published in February 2005. The book referred to “pressures” that have supposedly been put on the European Parliament to support marriage equality, calling them “part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”
In July 2003, the Vatican denounced same-sex unions as “evil” and called upon Catholics to oppose any legislation that would grant them equality. In a statement entitled, “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” it declared:
“Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth. … Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: … stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defenses and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”
Former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, directed the website where the statement appeared.
In November 2003, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops largely echoed the Vatican, with a document entitled, “Between a Man and a Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions.” The bishops stressed that Catholics consider marriage to be exclusively the union of a man and a woman, and said that marriage between same-sex couples would pose a threat to that tradition.
Such a position is not discriminatory against same-sex couples, the bishops asserted, because “marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities.”
The bishops also argued against lesser protections such as civil unions and domestic partnerships, declaring:
"The state has an obligation to promote the family, which is rooted in marriage. Therefore, it can justly give married couples rights and benefits it does not extend to others. … Some benefits currently sought by persons in homosexual unions can already be obtained without regard to marital status. For example, individuals can agree to own property jointly with another, and they can generally designate anyone they choose to be a beneficiary of their will or to make health care decisions in case they become incompetent.”
Church officials also have been actively engaged in influencing the political process concerning marriage equality. For example:
- In spring 2004, several Catholic bishops announced that they would refuse communion to politicians who failed to adhere to the church’s stand on a variety of issues, including marriage rights for same-sex couples.
- Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Colo., went a step further in May 2004, writing a pastoral letter that stated that any Catholic who voted for candidates who supported such issues should be refused communion.
- In June 2004, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a letter to all U.S. bishops asking them to encourage their senators to support the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment.
- In March 2004, a group of church officials in New York advised the governor against allowing marriage for same-sex couples.
- In June 2004, lobbyists for Massachusetts’ four Catholic dioceses sent letters to every parish asking Catholics to inform state representatives who had failed to oppose the state constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples of their “profound disappointment.”
- In 2003, the four Massachusetts bishops sent a letter to every Catholic pastor in the state, directing them to read a statement during Sunday services that denounced marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Adoption by Gay Parents
The Vatican has strongly condemned adoption by gay and lesbian parents. The 2003 document, “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” states:
“Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such [same-sex] unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.”
Openly Gay Clergy
There has been significant debate about whether the church should ordain openly gay and bisexual priests. Some officials have argued that gay men should never be ordained, while others have said gay and bisexual men are qualified for the priesthood as long as they remain celibate. Currently, the Vatican is planning to release a document to the church worldwide banning celibate gay man from Catholic seminaries. According to The New York Times, Vatican investigators have been instructed to visit each of the 229 seminaries in the United States, specifically with the plan to look for “evidence of homosexuality.”
The church has encouraged increased government research into the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. It also has stressed the need for support for the caretakers and family members of people with HIV/AIDS, denounced violence against those infected or perceived as being infected and condemned discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.
U.S. Catholic bishops also have stated the importance of ministering to people with HIV/AIDS. The 1997 statement, “Always Our Children,” declares:
“Though HIV/AIDS is an epidemic affecting the whole human race, not just homosexual persons, it has had a devastating effect upon them and has brought great sorrow to many parents, families, and friends. … We reject the idea that HIV/AIDS is a direct punishment from God.”
Resources for LGBT Catholics
- DignityUSA advocates for a more gay-inclusive agenda within the Catholic Church. It has a national office in Washington, D.C., and local chapters nationwide.
- New Ways Ministry, founded by the Rev. Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, provides a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.
- The National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries is an association dedicated to encouraging pastoral care of gay and lesbian Catholics and their families.
- The National Catholic AIDS Network is devoted to helping the Catholic Church respond with understanding and compassion to the pain and challenge presented by HIV/AIDS.
- Fortunate Families ministers to the Catholic parents of LGBT children, encouraging them to share their stories with others.
If you would like to communicate with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, here is their mailing address:
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth St., N.E.,
Washington, D.C. 20017