NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CATHOLIC FAMILIES
Letter on the Pastoral Care
of Homosexual Persons
1 October 1986
1. The issue
of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual acts have increasingly
become a matter of public debate, even in Catholic circles. Since this
debate often advances arguments and makes assertions inconsistent with
the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is quite rightly a cause for concern
to all engaged in the pastoral ministry, and this Congregation has judged
it to be of sufficiently grave and widespread importance to address to
the Bishops of the Catholic Church this Letter on the Pastoral Care of
an exhaustive treatment of this complex issue cannot be attempted here,
but we will focus our reflection within the distinctive context of the
Catholic moral perspective. It is a perspective which finds support in
the more secure findings of the natural sciences, which have their own
legitimate and proper methodology and field of inquiry.
It is within
this context, then, that it can be clearly seen that the phenomenon of
homosexuality, complex as it is, and with its many consequences for society
and ecclesial life, is a proper focus for the Church's pastoral care.
It thus requires of her ministers attentive study, active concern and
honest, theologically well-balanced counsel.
treatment of the problem was given in this Congregation's "Declaration
on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics" of December 29, 1975.
That document stressed the duty of trying to understand the homosexual
condition and noted that culpability for homosexual acts should only be
judged with prudence. At the same time the Congregation took note of the
distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency
and individual homosexual actions. These were described as deprived of
their essential and indispensable finality, as being "intrinsically
disordered", and able in no case to be approved of (cf. n. 8, $4).
In the discussion
which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly
benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some
going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. 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.
concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have
this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this
orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It
4. An essential
dimension of authentic pastoral care is the identification of causes of
confusion regarding the Church's teaching. One is a new exegesis of Sacred
Scripture which claims variously that Scripture has nothing to say on
the subject of homosexuality, or that it somehow tacitly approves of it,
or that all of its moral injunctions are so culture-bound that they are
no longer applicable to contemporary life. These views are gravely erroneous
and call for particular attention here.
5. It is quite true that the Biblical literature owes to the different epochs in which it was written a good deal of its varied patterns of thought and expression (Dei Verbum 12). The Church today addresses the Gospel to a world which differs in many ways from ancient days. But the world in which the New Testament was written was already quite diverse from the situation in which the Sacred Scriptures of the Hebrew People had been written or compiled, for example.
What should be noticed is that, in the presence of such remarkable diversity, there is nevertheless a clear consistency within the Scriptures themselves on the moral issue of homosexual behaviour. The Church's doctrine regarding this issue is thus based, not on isolated phrases for facile theological argument, but on the solid foundation of a constant Biblical testimony. The community of faith today, in unbroken continuity with the Jewish and Christian communities within which the ancient Scriptures were written, continues to be nourished by those same Scriptures and by the Spirit of Truth whose Word they are. It is likewise essential to recognize that the Scriptures are not properly understood when they are interpreted in a way which contradicts the Church's living Tradition. To be correct, the interpretation of Scripture must be in substantial accord with that Tradition.
The Vatican Council II in Dei Verbum 10, put it this way: "It is clear, therefore, that in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls". In that spirit we wish to outline briefly the Biblical teaching here.
a basic plan for understanding this entire discussion of homosexuality
is the theology of creation we find in Genesis. God, in his infinite wisdom
and love, brings into existence all of reality as a reflection of his
goodness. He fashions mankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness.
Human beings, therefore, are nothing less than the work of God himself;
and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the
inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation
with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self
to the other.
3, we find that this truth about persons being an image of God has been
obscured by original sin. There inevitably follows a loss of awareness
of the covenantal character of the union these persons had with God and
with each other. The human body retains its "spousal significance"
but this is now clouded by sin. Thus, in Genesis 19:1-11, the deterioration
due to sin continues in the story of the men of Sodom. There can be no
doubt of the moral judgement made there against homosexual relations.
In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, in the course of describing the conditions
necessary for belonging to the Chosen People, the author excludes from
the People of God those who behave in a homosexual fashion.
background of this exposition of theocratic law, an eschatological perspective
is developed by St. Paul when, in I Cor 6:9, he proposes the same doctrine
and lists those who behave in a homosexual fashion among those who shall
not enter the Kingdom of God.
In Romans 1:18-32,
still building on the moral traditions of his forebears, but in the new
context of the confrontation between Christianity and the pagan society
of his day, Paul uses homosexual behaviour as an example of the blindness
which has overcome humankind. Instead of the original harmony between
Creator and creatures, the acute distortion of idolatry has led to all
kinds of moral excess. Paul is at a loss to find a clearer example of
this disharmony than homosexual relations. Finally, 1 Tim. 1, in full
continuity with the Biblical position, singles out those who spread wrong
doctrine and in v. 10 explicitly names as sinners those who engage in
7. The Church,
obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life,
celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men
and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship
that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging
in homosexual behaviour therefore acts immorally.
To chose someone
of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism
and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator's sexual design.
Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life;
and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which
the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean
that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves;
but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves
a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.
As in every
moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and
happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church,
in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit
but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically
8. Thus, the
Church's teaching today is in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective
and with her own constant Tradition. Though today's world is in many ways
quite new, the Christian community senses the profound and lasting bonds
which join us to those generations who have gone before us, "marked
with the sign of faith".
9. The movement
within the Church, which takes the form of pressure groups of various
names and sizes, attempts to give the impression that it represents all
homosexual persons who are Catholics. As a matter of fact, its membership
is by and large restricted to those who either ignore the teaching of
the Church or seek somehow to undermine it. It brings together under the
aegis of Catholicism homosexual persons who have no intention of abandoning
their homosexual behaviour. One tactic used is to protest that any and
all criticism of or reservations about homosexual people, their activity
and lifestyle, are simply diverse forms of unjust discrimination.
10. It is deplorable
that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice
in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the
Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for
others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society.
The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word,
in action and in law.
But the proper
reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be
to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a
claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or
when civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no
one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large
should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground,
and irrational and violent reactions increase.
11. It has
been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the
result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have
no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such
a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable.
Here, the Church's
wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations
in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may
have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability
of the individual in a given instance; or other circumstances may increase
it. What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning
assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and
totally compulsive and therefore inculpable. What is essential is that
the fundamental liberty which characterizes the human person and gives
him his dignity be recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as
well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual
activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with
God's liberating grace.
12. What, then,
are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the Lord? Fundamentally,
they are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever
sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition
to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. That Cross, for the believer, is
a fruitful sacrifice since from that death come life and redemption. While
any call to carry the cross or to understand a Christian's suffering in
this way will predictably be met with bitter ridicule by some, it should
be remembered that this is the way to eternal life for all who follow
It is easily
misunderstood, however, if it is merely seen as a pointless effort at
self-denial. The Cross is a denial of self, but in service to the will
of God himself who makes life come from death and empowers those who trust
in him to practise virtue in place of vice.
the Paschal Mystery, it is necessary to let that Mystery become imprinted
in the fabric of daily life. To refuse to sacrifice one's own will in
obedience to the will of the Lord is effectively to prevent salvation.
Just as the Cross was central to the expression of God's redemptive love
for us in Jesus, so the conformity of the self-denial of homosexual men
and women with the sacrifice of the Lord will constitute for them a source
of self-giving which will save them from a way of life which constantly
threatens to destroy them.
who are homosexual are called, as all of us are, to a chaste life. As
they dedicate their lives to understanding the nature of God's personal
call to them, they will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance
more faithfully and receive the Lord's grace so freely offered there in
order to convert their lives more fully to his Way.
13. We recognize,
of course, that in great measure the clear and successful communication
of the Church's teaching to all the faithful, and to society at large,
depends on the correct instruction and fidelity of her pastoral ministers.
The Bishops have the particularly grave responsibility to see to it that
their assistants in the ministry, above all the priests, are rightly informed
and personally disposed to bring the teaching of the Church in its integrity
14. With this
in mind, this Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially
cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the Church to change
her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination
of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied
ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful.
For example, they may present the teaching of the Magisterium, but only
as if it were an optional source for the formation of one's conscience.
Its specific authority is not recognized. Some of these groups will use
the word "Catholic" to describe either the organization or its
intended members, yet they do not defend and promote the teaching of the
Magisterium; indeed, they even openly attack it. While their members may
claim a desire to conform their lives to the teaching of Jesus, in fact
they abandon the teaching of his Church. This contradictory action should
not have the support of the Bishops in any way.
15. We encourage
the Bishops, then, to provide pastoral care in full accord with the teaching
of the Church for homosexual persons of their dioceses. No authentic pastoral
programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate
with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral.
A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons
to avoid the near occasions of sin.
pastoral programme will assist homosexual persons at all levels of the
spiritual life: through the sacraments, and in particular through the
frequent and sincere use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through prayer,
witness, counsel and individual care. In such a way, the entire Christian
community can come to recognize its own call to assist its brothers and
sisters, without deluding them or isolating them.
16. From this
multi-faceted approach there are numerous advantages to be gained, not
the least of which is the realization that a homosexual person, as every
human being, deeply needs to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously.
The human person,
made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described
by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one
living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties,
but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today,
the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person
when she refuses to consider the person as a "heterosexual"
or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental
Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal
17. In bringing
this entire matter to the Bishops' attention, this Congregation wishes
to support their efforts to assure that the teaching of the Lord and his
Church on this important question be communicated fully to all the faithful.
In a particular
way, we would ask the Bishops to support, with the means at their disposal,
the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons.
These would include the assistance of the psychological, sociological
and medical sciences, in full accord with the teaching of the Church.
They are encouraged
to call on the assistance of all Catholic theologians who, by teaching
what the Church teaches, and by deepening their reflections on the true
meaning of human sexuality and Christian marriage with the virtues it
engenders, will make an important contribution in this particular area
of pastoral care.
are asked to exercise special care in the selection of pastoral ministers
so that by their own high degree of spiritual and personal maturity and
by their fidelity to the Magisterium, they may be of real service to homosexual
persons, promoting their health and well-being in the fullest sense. Such
ministers will reject theological opinions which dissent from the teaching
of the Church and which, therefore, cannot be used as guidelines for pastoral
the Bishops to promote appropriate catechetical programmes based on the
truth about human sexuality in its relationship to the family as taught
by the Church. Such programmes should provide a good context within which
to deal with the question of homosexuality.
would also assist those families of homosexual persons to deal with this
problem which affects them so deeply. All support should be withdrawn
from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church,
which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely. Such support,
or even the semblance of such support, can be gravely misinterpreted.
Special attention should be given to the practice of scheduling religious
services and to the use of Church buildings by these groups, including
the facilities of Catholic schools and colleges. To some, such permission
to use Church property may seem only just and charitable; but in reality
it is contradictory to the purpose for which these institutions were founded,
it is misleading and often scandalous.
18. The Lord
Jesus promised, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set
you free" (Jn. 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in love (cf.
Eph. 4:15). The God who is at once truth and love calls the Church to
minister to every man, woman and child with the pastoral solicitude of
our compassionate Lord. It is in this spirit that we have addressed this
Letter to the Bishops of the Church, with the hope that it will be of
some help as they care for those whose suffering can only be intensified
by error and lightened by truth.
audience granted to the undersigned Prefect, His Holiness, Pope John Paul
II, approved this Letter, adopted in an ordinary session of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, and ordered it to be published.)
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