Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world, with approximately 1.2 billion members across the globe. With its origins in the earliest days of Christianity, the Church traces its leadership––in the person of the Pope––to St. Peter, identified by Jesus as “the rock” on which the Church would be built.
The Catholic Church in the United States numbers roughly 78 million members, and is organized in 33 Provinces, each led by an archbishop. Each bishop answers directly to the Pope, not to an archbishop. Those Provinces are further divided into 195 dioceses, each led by a bishop. At the base of the organizational structure are local parishes, headed by a pastor, appointed by the local bishop. The Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States meets semi-annually.
As part of a global organization with its institutional center at the Vatican, the Catholic Church in America is shaped by worldwide societal and cultural trends. It is further shaped by leadership that is entirely male, with women excluded from the priesthood and thus from key leadership roles.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a text which contains dogmas and teachings of the Church, names “homosexual acts” as “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law,” and names “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.” While the Catholic Church does not consider “homosexual orientation” sinful in and of itself, it does have a very negative attitude toward it. The 1986 Letter states, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”
The fact that Catholicism does not consider the “inclination” sinful is very different from more fundamentalist Christian churches. It is one of the reasons that the Catholic Church has not officially approved of reparative therapy. The Catechism further states that “Homosexual persons are called to chastity.” However, the doctrine also specifies that, “Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
The actual experience of LGBT parishioners can vary widely across dioceses and parishes. Many Catholic communities reach out to LGBT members to offer as full of a welcome as possible within the limits of a Church policy that does not approve of same-sex relationships, even committed ones. Other parishes have denied membership to LGBT individuals and families. There have also been recent instances of LGBT employees in the United States being dismissed from Catholic schools and parishes following the celebration of a same-sex couple’s marriage.
There is no official policy regarding transgender individuals in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, though doctrinal teachings clearly equate birth anatomy with gender. The Vatican’s Extraordinary Synod, convened in October 2014, debated several issues related to LGBT inclusion but did not address questions regarding transgender church members. However, the experience of transgender Catholics varies depending on their communities, (Tia Pesando, a transgender woman, recently made news when she was accepted to a Carmelite Sisters’ novitiate in Canada.)
In September 2015, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responsible for enforcing Catholic doctrine, did not permit a transgender man in Spain to serve as a godfather effetively barring transgender Catholics from serving as a baptismal sponsors. The statement concluded:
"[...] the result is evident that this person does not possess the requisite of leading a life conformed to the faith and to the position of godfather (CIC, can 874 §1,3), therefore is not able to be admitted to the position of godmother nor godfather. One should not see this as discrimination, but only the recognition of an objective absence of the requisites that by their nature are necessary to assume the ecclesial responsibility of being a godparent."
On Marriage Equality
The Catholic Church does not celebrate or recognize same-sex marriages, yet the Catholic laity have been increasingly vocal in their support. Lay organizations, such as Catholics for Marriage Equality, played a key role in the United States during the 2012 elections, and have maintained an active presence since then.
A 2005 Vatican document, approved by then Pope Benedict XVI, instructed that the Church “cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.”
Despite Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” comment––made in response to a question about the acceptability of gay men as priests––his statement is not official church teaching. However, many Catholic observers see that his remark neutralizes the instruction given in 2005 under Pope Benedict. Today, many men’s religious orders and some bishops often make their own decisions regarding gay men as candidates for the seminary and priesthood.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not issued an official policy regarding the Equality Act, a comprehensive bill that would, if passed, add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the federal civil rights protections that already exist based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.
In the past, the USCB opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), stating that it “could be used to punish as discrimination what many religions – including the Catholic religion – teach, particularly moral teaching about same-sex sexual conduct.” The Vatican’s policies, however, state that those with “homosexual tendencies . . . must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
There is a significant gap between the views of Catholic laity and the policies enacted by Catholic leadership. As noted above, a Pew Research study found that 75 percent of Catholics in the United States, ages 18-29, support marriage for same-sex couples. It’s only among members older than 65 that the majority does not favor inclusion.
At the Vatican’s 2014 Extraordinary Synod, which addressed issues of family and marriage, there was much debate regarding the role of LGBT members. While the final results did little to promote a welcoming stance, the conversation, in itself, is recognized as an important step in the right direction.
It is essential that Catholic laity, both LGBT people and their allies, inform their priests and bishops of their personal, faith-based commitment to the inclusion of all people who wish to worship and to serve in the Catholic Church.
Resources for LGBT Catholics
Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, an association of diocesan, parish and campus-based ministries working affirm and provide inclusive pastoral care with lesbian and gay people, their families and friends in the Catholic community.
DignityUSA, a national organization working for respect and justice for people of all sexual orientations, genders, and gender identities—especially LGBT persons—in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy, and support.
Fortunate Families, a national organization of Catholic parents with LGBTQ and Multiple children supporting others like us to affirm, celebrate and seek equality for our families.
New Ways Ministry, a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for LGBT Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
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