Catholic Church and homosexuality

The Catholic Church and homosexuality describes the relationship between the Christian denomination and the sexual orientation. The Christian tradition has generally proscribed any sexual activity between members of the same sex, and the Catholic Church maintains this teaching today. The Church also holds that LGBT people must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.

While varying from diocese to diocese, the Church has provided pastoral care for LGBT Catholics through a variety of official and unofficial channels. In the late 20th and 21st centuries, there has been a call from some popes, bishops, and other church leaders to improve the amount and quality of pastoral care this population receives.

Some scholars and church leaders have dissented from the Church's teaching on homosexual activity, while others have supported it. The Church has been described as sending "mixed signals" regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation. It opposes gay marriage and civil unions for same sex couples, and also teaches that LGBT people should not be unjustly discriminated against. In many parts of the world, it is active politically around issues of importance to the LGBT community. The opinion of lay Catholics tends to be more supportive of gay marriage than the hierarchy.

There have been a number of notable Catholics who have been gay or bisexual, including priests and bishops. Gay activists have also staged protests against church teachings, sometimes disrupting mass and desecrating the Eucharist.

Church teaching

Catholic teaching condemns homosexual acts as gravely immoral, while holding that gay people "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity," and "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."[1] "The Catholic Church holds that, as a state beyond a person's choice, being homosexual is not wrong or sinful in itself. But just as it is objectively wrong for unmarried heterosexuals to engage in sex, so too are homosexual acts considered to be wrong."[2]


The Christian tradition has generally proscribed any and all noncoital genital activities, whether engaged in by couples or individuals, regardless of whether they were of the same or different sex.[3]:193 The Catholic Church's position specifically on homosexuality developed from the teachings of the Church Fathers, which was in stark contrast to Greek and Roman attitudes towards same-sex relations including the "(usually erotic) homosexual relationship between an adult male and a pubescent or adolescent male" that is called pederasty.[4][5][6]

Canon law regarding same-sex sexual activity has mainly been shaped through the decrees issued by a number of ecclesiastical councils.[7] Initially, canons against sodomy were aimed at ensuring clerical or monastic discipline, and were only widened in the medieval period to include laymen.[8]

In the Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas stated that "the unnatural vice" is the greatest of the sins of lust.[9] In January 1976, Pope Paul VI published a homily, Persona Humana: Declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics, that outlawed extra-marital sex, including gay sex,[10] but homosexuality received no mention in papal encyclicals until Pope John Paul II's Veritatis Splendor of 1993. In John Paul II's teaching, homosexual intercourse is performed by a choice of the will, unlike homosexual orientation, which he acknowledged is usually not a matter of free choice.[11]

Pastoral care for gay Catholics

In response to the push within the United States for greater recognition within the Church for gay men and lesbian women, Courage International was established in New York City in September 1980. Chapters have subsequently been established around the world. Courage also has a ministry geared towards the relatives and friends of gay people called Encourage.[12]

Beginning in the 1970s, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have taught that gays "should have an active role in the Christian community" and have called on "all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons. We understand that having a homosexual orientation brings with it enough anxiety, pain and issues related to self-acceptance without society bringing additional prejudicial treatment."[13]

A number of individual bishops around the world have held diocesan events with the goal of reaching out to gay Catholics and ministering to them, and more have spoken publicly about the need to love and welcome them into the church. Several assemblies of the Synod of Bishops have struck similar themes while maintaining that same-sex sexual activity is sinful. Pope Francis has also spoken out about the need for pastoral care for gay and transgender Catholics, and has said that God made LGBT people that way.[14]

In 2018, the Vatican used the acronym LGBT for the first time ever in an official document, in a paper which stated, “some LGBT youth” wanted to “benefit from greater closeness and experience greater care by the church.”[15] This move was regarded as intending a sign of respect to the community.[16]

Dissent from Church teaching

There have a number of practical and ministerial disagreements within the clergy and hierarchy of the Catholic Church concerning the Church's position on homosexuality. A number of Catholics and Catholic groups have sought to adopt an approach they consider to be more inclusive.[17][18][19][20]

Such individuals and groups make the general argument that the Catholic Church's line on homosexuality emphasises the physical dimension of the act at the expense of higher moral, personal and spiritual goals.[21] Many gay and lesbian Catholics also feel that the practice of total, life-long sexual denial risks personal isolation.[3]:194 John J. McNeill writes that since gay people experience their sexual orientation as innately created, to believe that it is therefore a tendency towards evil would require believing in a sadistic God; and that it is preferable to believe that this element of Church teaching is mistaken in arguing that God would behave in such a way.[22]

In several cases, clergy or laypeople have been fired from jobs at Catholic schools or universities because of their support for LGBT rights campaigns[23][24] or their marriages to partners of the same sex.[24][25][26] In the United States, more than 50 people have reported losing their jobs at Catholic institutions since 2010 over their sexual orientation or identity, according to New Ways Ministries.[27]

In response to Church policy on AIDS and gay rights, gay rights activists have protested inside and outside of Catholic churches.[28][29] Activists have disrupted masses[30][29][28] and desecrated the Eucharist.[31][30][32][33] Others have splattered paint on churches,[34] assaulted clerics,[35] or protested outside the ordination of priests.[36] In 1998, Alfredo Ormando died after setting himself on fire to protest the church's position on homosexuality.[37]

Defense of Church teaching

The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organisation, have also been active in political campaigns across the United States to oppose the legal introduction of same-sex marriage. The Order contributed over $14 million, one of the largest amounts nationwide, to help maintain the legal definition of marriage as one man and one woman in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington.[38][39] The Catholic Medical Association of North America claims that science "counters the myth that same-sex attraction is genetically predetermined and unchangeable, and offers hope for prevention and treatment."[40]

The Catholic League, a Catholic anti-defamation and civil rights organization, has frequently opposed LGBT policies and positive depictions of gay men and women. Its president, Bill Donohue has described the Church child sex abuse crisis as a "homosexual" problem rather than a "pedophilia" problem since most of the incidents involved sex between men and boys rather than girls.[41] Donohue has repeatedly opposed the inclusion of LGBT groups in St Patrick's Day Marches across the US. After organizers of the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade announced in 2015 that they were ending the ban and allowing a gay group to march under its own banner for the first time, Donohue announced that the League would not march in the parade. He also indicated his belief that 'Corporate America' was lined up with the gay rights movement: "It's not a secret. And they've done the same thing here."[42] In 2016 the Catholic League publicly supported the cancellation of the gay-themed sitcom, The Real O'Neals, which had been loosely based on the life of columnist Dan Savage and dealt with his conservative Catholic mother's reaction to his sexuality.[43]

The Youth Ministry organization Life Teen has a series of blog posts written on the topic of the love God has for LGBT people, explaining the Church's teaching, and offering advice on how LGBT people can live in harmony with the Church's teaching.[44] It also features a number of entries written by gay and transgender Catholics.[44]

Gay clergy

Homosexual clergy, and homosexual activity by clergy, are not exclusively modern phenomena, but rather date back centuries.[45] Estimates presented in Donald B. Cozzens' book The Changing Face of the Priesthood of the percentage of contemporary gay priests range from 23–58%, suggesting a higher than average numbers of homosexual men (active and non-active) within the Catholic priesthood.[46] Instructions from Vatican bodies on admitting gay men to the priesthood have varied over time. In the 1960s chaste gay men were allowed but, by 2005 a new directive banned gay men "while profoundly respecting the persons in question."[47][48]

The existence of gay bishops is a matter of historical record.[49] Homosexual activity was engaged in secretly. When it was made public, official response ranged from inaction to expulsion from Holy Orders.[50] Although homosexual sexual acts have been consistently condemned by the Catholic Church, a number of senior members of the clergy have been found or alleged to have had homosexual relationships - including Rembert Weakland, Juan Carlos Maccarone, Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira, and Keith O'Brien.[51][52][53] [54] A number of Popes were thought to have been homosexual or to have had male sexual partners - including Pope Benedict IX, Pope Paul II, Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Leo X, Pope Julius II and Pope Julius III..[55][56]

Political activity

The Church supports legislation that conforms with Catholic moral theology and Catholic Social Teaching surrounding issues of importance to LGBT peoples. The Church condemns all forms of violence against LGBT people and all criminal penalties against them, and also supports legally defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The Church is active in local, national, and international forums.

In various countries, members of the Catholic Church have intervened on occasions both to both support efforts to decriminalize homosexuality, and also to ensure it remains an offence under criminal law. The Catholic Church has been described as sending "mixed signals" regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation. It holds that because of "moral concern," sexual orientation is different from qualities such as race, ethnicity, sex, or age, and therefore it actively opposes the extension of at least some aspects of civil rights legislation, such as nondiscrimination in public housing, educational or athletic employment, adoption, or military recruitment, to gay men and lesbians.[3]:194 It said that such a limitation of rights is permissible, and sometimes even obligatory, to "protect the common good,"[57] and does not constitute unjust discrimination.[3]:193[58]

Notable lesbian, gay and bisexual Catholics

There have been a number of notable gay Catholics throughout history. Writers such as Oscar Wilde, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Lord Alfred Douglas, Marc-André Raffalovich, Robert Hugh Benson, Frederick Rolfe, and John Gray, and artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, were influenced by both their Catholicism and their homosexuality, via the physicality and eroticism of the image of Christ and the idea of a relationship with him. Gay Catholic academics such as John J. McNeill and John Boswell have produced work on the history and theological issues at the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality. Some notable LGBT Catholics are or were priests or nuns, such as McNeill or Jean O'Leary, who was a Roman Catholic Religious Sister before becoming a lesbian and gay rights activist.

See also


  1. John L. Allen, Jr., The Catholic Church: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press 2013 ISBN 978-0-19997510-5), p. 180 or another link; and cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357-2358
  2. Church Stewart, Gay and Lesbian Issues: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO 2003 ISBN 978-1-85109372-4), p. 184
  3. 1 2 3 4 Jeffrey Siker, Homosexuality and Religion
  4. David Sacks, Oswyn Murray, Lisa R. Brody (editors), Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World (Infobase Publishing 2009 ISBN 978-1-43811020-2), entry "Homosexuality"
  5. Michael Gagarin, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, Volume 1, pp. 25ff. ISBN 978-0-19517072-6
  6. Louis Crompton, Homosexuality and Civilization (Harvard University Press 2006 ISBN 978-0-67403006-0), pp. 118ff
  7. Derrick S. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, London, Longmans, Green, 1955, p185
  8. Derrick S. Bailey, Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition, London, Longmans, Green, 1955, cited in Paul Halsall, "Homosexuality and Catholicism Bibliography"
  9. "SUMMA THEOLOGIAE: The parts of Lust (Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 154)".
  10. Hitchens, Christopher (28 February 2013). "Christopher Hitchens on the death of Pope Paul VI". New Statesman.
  11. Charles E. Curran, Richard A. McCormick (editors), John Paul II and Moral Theology (Paulist Press 1998 ISBN 978-0-80913797-8), p. 178
  12. "Encourage". Courage. Archived from the original on 19 January 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  13. Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, 1991, p. 55
  14. Gallagher, Delia (2018-05-21). "Pope Francis tells gay man: 'God made you like that'". CNN. Retrieved 2018-06-12.
  15. Barnes, Tom. "Vatican officially uses term 'LGBT' for first time in its history". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  16. Gehring, John (July 5, 2018). "Can the Catholic Church 'Evolve' on L.G.B.T. Rights?". Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  17. Kuruvilla, Carol (22 December 2012). "Pope Benedict denounces gay marriage during his annual Christmas message". NY Daily News. New York.
  18. "AROUND THE NATION; Catholic Group Provokes Debate on Homosexuals". The New York Times. 26 September 1982. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  19. "Boulder Colorado, News, Business, Sports, Homes, Jobs, Cars & Information". Boulder Daily Camera. Archived from the original on 5 January 2004. Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  20. "WYD site limits gay debate | Star Online". Retrieved 5 December 2011.
  21. John J. Allen, The Catholic Church: What everyone needs to know, USA, 2013, p.125
  22. McNeill, The Church and the Homosexual, 4th ed.
  23. "Fired Priest to Pope: Listen to LGBT Catholics' Concerns". 21 July 2015.
  24. 1 2 "Gay Priest Fired From Chaplain Job Asks Pope To Meet LGBT Catholics In U.S". Huffington Post. 20 July 2015.
  25. "Déjà vu: Gay Catholic teacher recalls his firing".
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  28. 1 2 "104 Activists Arrested at Roman Catholicism's National Shrine". Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  29. 1 2 Rosin, Hanna (14 November 2000). "Gay Activists Interrupt Catholic Bishops' Conference". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  30. 1 2 "ACTUP Capsule History 1989". ACT UP. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  31. "ACTUP Oral History Project, Interviewee: Tom Keane, Interview Number: 176" (pdf). The New York Lesbian & Gay Experimental Film Festival, Inc. February 24, 2015. pp. 20–21. Retrieved August 3, 2018. I put my hands out, and suddenly I have the Communion wafer in my hands, and the priest says, “This is the body of Christ,” and I say, “Opposing safe-sex education is murder.” Then I sort of—I didn’t really know what to do, and I think in some sense, some part of me was sort of saying, “Well, fine. You guys think you can tell us that you reject us, that we don’t belong, so I’m going to reject you.” So I took it and I crushed it and dropped it.
  32. Allen, Peter L. (June 2002), The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present, University of Chicago Press, p. 143, ISBN 978-0-226-01461-6, retrieved July 27, 2018
  33. DeParle, Jason (January 3, 1990). "Rude, Rash, Effective, Act-Up Shifts AIDS Policy". New York Times. p. B1. Retrieved August 7, 2018.
  34. Soble, Ronald L. (4 December 1989). "4 Catholic Churches Defaced in AIDS Protest : Vandalism: Caller says gay activists were angered by Archbishop Roger Mahony's condemnation of the use of condoms to fight the deadly disease". LA Times. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  35. "Topless FEMEN Protesters Drench Belgian Archbishop André-Jozef Léonard, Protest Homophobia In Catholic Church". 24 April 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
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  43. "Gay sitcom The Real O'Neals got cancelled and homophobes are overjoyed".
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Further reading

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