Homosexuality is unique to people

CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH

 

LETTERS TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
ABOUT PASTAL CARE FOR GAY PERSONS

 

1. The problem of homosexuality and the moral judgment of homosexual acts has increasingly become a topic of public debate, including in Catholic circles. The fact that in this discussion arguments are often put forward and positions taken that do not correspond to the teaching of the Catholic Church has aroused the justified concern of all those who are active in pastoral care. This Congregation has therefore come to the conclusion that the weight and spread of the problem justify addressing this letter on the pastoral care of homosexuals to all the bishops of the Catholic Church.

2. An exhaustive treatment of this complex topic cannot of course be undertaken at this point; rather, attention will tend to focus on the particular context of the view of Catholic morality. This has received confirmation and enrichment through the secured results of the human sciences, which have their own research area and their own method, which enjoy justified autonomy.

The standpoint of Catholic morality is based on human reason enlightened by faith and guided by the conscious intention to do the will of God our Father. In this way the church is on the one hand able to learn from the scientific research results, but on the other hand it is also able to go beyond their perspective. She is certain that her broader view respects the complex reality of the human person who, in both spiritual and physical dimensions, was created by God and, thanks to his grace, is called to eternal life.

Only within this context can one clearly see in what sense the phenomenon of homosexuality, as complex and consequential as it is for society and church life, represents a problem that actually affects the pastoral care of the church. On the part of the pastors, this requires careful study as well as a concrete commitment and honest reflection, which should be carefully considered theologically.

3. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealt with this problem in detail in the "Declaration on Some Questions of Sexual Ethics" of December 29, 1975. That document emphasized the task of seeking an understanding of the homosexual disposition and noted that the guilty of homosexual acts must be judged with prudence. At the same time, this congregation took into account the common distinction made between homosexual disposition or inclination and homosexual acts itself. The latter were described as "deprived of their essential and indispensable purpose", as "not in order in themselves", and of such a nature that they "can in no way be approved in any way" (cf. No. 8, Section 4).

In the discussion that followed the publication of the Declaration, however, the homosexual disposition received an overly benevolent interpretation; some went so far as to portray them as indifferent or even as good. In contrast, the following clarification must be made: The specific inclination of the homosexual person is not inherently sinful, but it justifies a more or less strong tendency that is oriented towards morally bad behavior. For this reason, the inclination itself must be viewed as objectively disordered.

It is therefore necessary to look after people with such a disposition with particular pastoral care so that they are not led to believe that the activation of such an inclination in homosexual relationships is a morally acceptable decision.

4. An essential dimension of genuine pastoral care is to identify the causes of confusion about the teaching of the Church. One of these causes is a new interpretation of Scripture that the Bible says nothing at all about homosexuality, or in any way tacitly approves it; or according to which it finally offers moral instructions which are so much an expression of a particular culture and history that they are no longer applicable to life today. Such views, which are profoundly erroneous and absurd, therefore require special vigilance.

5. It is true that biblical literature owes a good deal of its different patterns of thought and expression to the different epochs in which it was written (cf. Dei Verbum, No. 12). Certainly the Church today proclaims the Gospel to a world very different from the previous one. On the other hand, the world in which the New Testament was written was already considerably different from the situation in which, for example, the scriptures of the Israelites were drawn up or edited.

Nevertheless, the following should be noted: within the framework of such remarkable diversity, there is a clear internal unity in the scriptures themselves regarding the question of homosexual behavior. Therefore the teaching of the Church on this point is not based on out of context sentences from which one can derive questionable theological arguments; rather, it is built on the solid foundation of a consistent biblical testimony. The faith community of today, which is in unbroken continuity with the Jewish and Christian communities within which the ancient scriptures were composed, continues to be nourished by the same scriptures and by the spirit of truth of which they are the word. It is also essential to recognize that the Scriptures are not properly understood when interpreted in a manner contrary to the living tradition of the Church. The interpretation of Scripture, if it is to be correct, must be in real agreement with this tradition. The Second Vatican Council put it this way: 'It thus appears that the Holy Tradition, the Holy Scriptures and the Magisterium of the Church are so linked and associated with one another in accordance with the wise counsel of God that none exist without the others and that all together, each in its own way, effectively serving the salvation of souls through the work of the one Holy Spirit "(Dei Verbum, No. 10). In the light of these statements, the relevant teaching of the Bible is now briefly presented.

6. The theology of creation as described in the book genesis provides the basic point of view for an adequate understanding of the problems raised by homosexuality. In his infinite wisdom and in his almighty love, God calls everything into existence as an expression of his goodness. He creates man and woman in his image and likeness. That is why human beings are God's creatures and are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator in their sexual relationship to one another. They do this in a unique way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life, namely in the act of mutual gift-giving in marriage.

The third chapter of the genesis shows how this truth about the human person who is God's image has been obscured by original sin. From this inevitably follows a loss of consciousness of the covenant character of the community that these persons had with God and with one another. The human body does retain its "nuptial meaning", but it is now obscured by sin. So the degeneration ascribed to sin continues in the story of the men of Sodom (cf. gene 19, 1-11). There can be no doubt about the moral judgment here against homosexual relationships. In Lev 18, 22 and 20, 13, when describing the prerequisites necessary to belong to the chosen people of Israel, the author excludes from the people of God those who behave homosexually.

Against the background of this theocratic law, St. Paul develops an eschatological perspective in which he takes up the same doctrine and also includes those who behave homosexually among the people who will not inherit the kingdom of God (cf. 1 cor 6, 9). In another section of his collection of letters - based on the moral traditions of his ancestors, which he brings into the new context of the conflict between Christianity and pagan society at the time - he presents homosexual behavior as an example of the blindness that has overpowered humanity. In place of the original harmony between the Creator and his creatures, there has been a deep perversion in idolatry, which has led to all sorts of excesses in the moral field. St. Paul finds the clearest example of this disharmony in same-sex relationships (cf. Rom 1, 18-32). In full continuity with this biblical line of tradition, finally, when listing those who violate healthy doctrine, those who commit homosexual acts are expressly designated as sinners (cf. 1 Tim 1, 10).

7. The Church, obedient to her Lord, who founded her and established her sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of love and the life-giving union of man and woman in the sacrament of marriage. Only in marriage can the use of sex be morally good. Therefore, a person who behaves homosexually acts immorally.

Choosing a partner of the same sex for sexual activity means invalidating the rich symbolism, the meaning, not to speak of the goals, of the Creator's plan for the sexuality of man. Homosexual activity does not lead to a complementary union that would be able to pass on life and therefore contradicts the call for a life of such self-giving, of which the Gospel says that this is the essence of Christian love. This is not to say that homosexual people are not often generous and do not behave selflessly; however, when they engage in homosexual activity, they reinforce within themselves a disordered sexual inclination that is characterized by complacency.

As is the case with any moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness because it goes against the creative wisdom of God. When the church rejects erroneous opinions about homosexuality, it defends human freedom and dignity, which is understood realistically and authentically, rather than restricting them.

8. Accordingly, the teaching of the Church today is organically related to the perspective of Scripture and the enduring tradition. Although the world today has really changed in many ways, Christianity feels the deep and lasting bonds that bind us with the generations who have gone before us, "marked with the seal of faith".

Nonetheless, a growing number of people today, including within the Church, are exerting enormous pressure to accept the homosexual disposition as if it were not disordered and to legitimize homosexual acts. Those within the church who are advancing the problem in this direction often have close relationships with those outside the church who act similarly. The latter groups are guided by a conception that runs counter to the truth about the human person which has been fully revealed to us in the mystery of Christ. Even when they are not fully aware of it, they manifest a materialistic ideology which denies the transcendent nature of human existence, as well as the supernatural calling of each individual.

Church officials must ensure that homosexual persons entrusted to their care are not misled by these opinions, which profoundly contradict the teaching of the Church. The danger is great, however, and there are many who seek to create confusion about the church's position and then exploit the confusion for their own ends.

9. A tendency has also developed within the Church which, formed by pressure groups with different names and different sizes, tries to give the impression that it represents all homosexual persons who are Catholic. In reality, however, its followers are mostly limited to those who are either ignorant of the doctrine of the Church or who seek to undermine it in some way. One tries to collect under the shield of the Catholic also those homosexual persons who have no intention of giving up their homosexual behavior. One of the tactics used is to use the tone of protest to explain that any kind of criticism or reservations about homosexual people, their behavior and their lifestyle are merely forms of unjust discrimination.

Therefore, in some countries there is a real attempt to manipulate the church in such a way that one tries to win the support of her pastors, often given in good faith, for changes in state regulations and laws. The intention of such actions is to bring legislation into line with the conception of those pressure groups who believe that homosexuality is at least a perfectly harmless, if not an entirely good thing. While the practice of homosexuality seriously threatens the lives and welfare of large numbers of people, defenders of this tendency persist and refuse to consider the extent of the risk involved.

The Church, on the other hand, cannot be without worry; therefore it is sticking to its clear position in this regard, which neither the pressure of state legislation nor the current trend can change. It sincerely cares for the many people who do not feel represented by the movements in favor of homosexuality and at the same time for those who might be tempted to believe in their deceptive propaganda. It is well aware that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to, or at least equally acceptable, the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct impact on society's view of the nature and rights of the family, and puts it in serious danger.

10. It is deeply regrettable that homosexual persons have been and continue to be the object of defamation and violent acts. Such conduct deserves to be condemned by the Pastors of the Church wherever they occur. They express a lack of respect for other people that violates the elementary principles on which healthy state coexistence is based. The dignity of every person must always be respected, in word and deed and in legislation.

However, the appropriate response to the injustices against homosexual persons should in no way lead to the claim that the homosexual disposition is not disordered. If such an assertion is made, and consequently homosexual conduct is accepted as good, or if state legislation is introduced to protect conduct for which no one can claim any right, then neither the church nor society as a whole should be surprised as other misconceptions and practices gain ground and irrational and violent behaviors increase.

11. Some argue that in certain cases homosexual inclination is not the result of free choice; the homosexual persons would have no choice but to behave homosexually. Therefore, even if such a person engages in homosexual acts, he is not guilty of a lack of freedom.

Here it is necessary to adhere to the wisdom of the moral tradition of the Church, which warns against generalizations in the judgment of all individual cases. Indeed, in one particular case circumstances may arise or have arisen in the past which reduce or even eliminate the individual's culpability, while other circumstances may in turn increase it. What must be avoided in any case is the equally unfounded and humiliating assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual partners is always and completely subject to coercion and therefore free from guilt. In reality, even among people with homosexual inclinations, that fundamental freedom must be recognized which characterizes the human person as such and gives him a special dignity. As with any repentance from evil, thanks to this freedom, efforts, enlightened and strengthened by Divine grace, can permit those persons to refrain from homosexual activity.

12.So what should homosexual people do who want to follow the Lord? Basically they are called to carry out the will of God in their lives by uniting with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross all the sufferings and difficulties they have to endure because of their situation. For the believer, the cross is a blessing sacrifice, because life and redemption arise from that death. While any call to carry the cross or to understand the suffering of a Christian in this way is likely to be ridiculed by some, it should be remembered that this is the path to salvation for Alles is those who follow Christ.

In reality this is nothing more than the instruction given by the apostle Paul to the Galatians when he says that the Spirit brings forth "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control" in the lives of believers; and then goes on: "You cannot belong to Christ unless you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5, 22. 24).

This appeal, however, is easily misunderstood when viewed as a futile attempt at self-denial. The cross is certainly an expression of self-denial, but it is at the service of God's will, who gives life to life and enables those who trust him to walk the path of virtue instead of vice.

The paschal mystery is really only celebrated when it is allowed to penetrate the fabric of daily life. Those who refuse to obediently submit their own will to God's will are in reality an obstacle to salvation. Just as the cross is the central expression of God's redeeming love for us in Jesus Christ, so the self-denying uniformity of homosexual men and women with the Lord's sacrifice establishes for them a source of self-giving that saves them from a life to which they continually give threatens to destroy.

Homosexual persons, like Christians as a whole, are called to lead chaste lives. If in their lives they seek to understand the nature of God's personal calling to them, they will celebrate the sacrament of penance with greater faithfulness and receive the grace of the Lord so generously offered here for more perfect conversion to his discipleship.

13. On the other hand, it is evident that clear and effective proclamation of the Church's teaching to all believers and to society as a whole depends to a large extent on the correct instruction and piety of their pastors. The bishops have a particularly heavy responsibility to see that their co-workers, above all the priests, are properly informed and personally equipped to fully proclaim the doctrine of the Church to everyone.

The particular zeal and good will that many priests and religious demonstrate in their pastoral care for homosexual persons is admirable; this congregation hopes that both will not wane. Such zealous pastors should trust that they will faithfully obey the divine will in encouraging homosexual persons to lead chaste lives and in reminding them of the incomparable dignity that God has bestowed upon them.

14. With that in mind, this Congregation would like to ask the Bishops to be particularly vigilant of any programs which seek to press the Church to change her doctrine, even if they pretend that this is not the case. A careful study of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a deliberate ambiguity that seeks to mislead Shepherds and believers. For example, you sometimes set out the instruction of the teaching office as if it were merely to make the individual conscience a facultative one. However, his unique authority is not recognized. Some groups even use the word "Catholic" for their organizations or for the people they want to address; in reality, however, they do not defend or promote the teaching of the Magisterium, in fact, they sometimes even openly attack it. While their followers claim to conform their lives with the teaching of Jesus, they are in fact giving up the teaching of his church. This contradicting behavior should by no means find the support of the chief shepherds.

15. This Congregation therefore encourages the Bishops to promote pastoral care for homosexual persons in their dioceses, in full accordance with the teaching of the Church. No authentic pastoral program should include organizations in which homosexual persons associate without undoubtedly maintaining that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral attitude will emphasize the need for homosexual persons to avoid the next opportunity to sin.

Encouragement should be found in programs in which the dangers mentioned are avoided. However, it must be made clear that deviating from the teaching of the Church or keeping silent about it in order to offer pastoral care in this way is neither an expression of genuine concern nor valid pastoral care. Ultimately, only the truth can also be pastoral. But anyone who disregards the position of the church prevents homosexual men and women from experiencing the care to which they need and to which they have a right.

A real pastoral program will support homosexual persons at all levels of their spiritual life: through the sacraments, especially through the frequent and reverent reception of the penitential sacrament, through prayer, through witness, through counseling and individual care. In this way the whole Christian community can recognize its own vocation, namely by standing by those of its brothers and sisters without disappointing them or driving them into isolation.

16. There are numerous advantages to be gained from this diversified approach, not the least of which is the observation that a homosexual person, like any human being, urgently needs to be promoted at different levels simultaneously.

The human person, who is created in the image and likeness of God, cannot be adequately described if one restricts them to their sexual orientation. Everyone on earth has personal problems and difficulties, but also opportunities to grow, skills, talents and their own gifts. The Church offers the urgently needed context that is felt today for concern for the person of man when it refuses to classify a person exclusively as "heterosexual" or "homosexual" and insists that every person should have the same fundamental identity: To be created and, by grace, a child of God, heir to eternal life.

17. In offering these clarifications and pastoral guidance to the Bishops, this Congregation wishes to support their efforts to ensure that the teaching of the Lord and his Church on this important subject is fully communicated to all believers.

The local bishops are invited, in the light of what has been set out here, to weigh up the need for special interventions within their competence. In addition, if they deem it useful, they can embark on wider action, coordinated at the level of their national bishops' conference.

In particular, the bishops should urgently support the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons with all means at their disposal. This can include the collaboration of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences, always maintaining full fidelity to the teaching of the Church.

Above all, the pastors should not fail to call on the cooperation of all Catholic theologians. If these teach what the Church teaches, and if their reflections promote a deeper understanding of the true meaning of human sexuality, Christian marriage according to God's plan, and the virtues associated with it, they will be of useful help in this specific area can offer pastoral care.

The bishops must then pay particular attention to the selection of those pastors who are entrusted with this delicate task, so that, because of their loyalty to the magisterium and their high degree of spiritual and psychological maturity, they can really help homosexual people to achieve their holistic fulfillment can offer. Such pastors will reject theological opinions which contradict the teaching of the Church and which therefore cannot serve as guidelines for pastoral care.

It will also be appropriate to promote appropriate catechetical programs based on the truth about human gender in their relationship with family life, as the Church teaches. Such programs do indeed provide a good context within which the issue of homosexuality can also be addressed.

This catechesis will also be of help to families in which there are homosexuals when they grapple with this deeply moving problem.

All support must be withdrawn from organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, whether because they are ambiguous about it or because they disregard it altogether. Such support, by the very appearance of it, can become a source of serious misinterpretation. Particular attention should be paid to the planning of religious celebrations and the use of church buildings, including the provision of Catholic schools and colleges for such groups. To some, permission to use church property may seem like an expression of justice and love; but in reality it contradicts the aims for which these institutions were founded. It can become a source of misinterpretation and annoyance.

In any proposal for civil legislation, efforts will primarily have to be made to protect and promote family life.

18. Jesus Christ said: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Joh 8, 32). Scripture urges us to do the truth in love (cf. Eph 4, 15). God, who is truth and love in one, calls the Church to serve every man, woman and child with the pastoral zeal of our merciful Lord. In this spirit the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has addressed this letter to you, Bishops of the Church, in the hope that it will help those whose suffering can be aggravated by erroneous teaching but alleviated by the word of truth.

 

In the course of an audience granted to the undersigned Prefect, Pope John Paul II approved and ordered the publication of this letter, which had been adopted in the Ordinary Assembly of this Congregation.

 

Rome, at the headquarters of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, October 1, 1986.

 

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
prefect

 

+ Alberto Bovone
Titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Numidia
secretary