When we think of Catholic LGBT teaching, most of us think automatically of the well-known rules on sexual acts (easily summarised in three little words – “Don’t do it”). But in fact there’s far, far more – much of it unduly neglected. The Catechism balances its blanket prohibition on same – sex genital acts with an insistence that homosexual persons are to be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”. Broadly speaking, we may contrast these two approaches as those of emphasising sexual ethics, or pastoral practice.
The rules on same – sex genital acts are widely known (easily summed up as “Don’t do it”). As the guidelines on pastoral practice are less well – known, and often neglected, I introduce these documents first.
Extracts from the Catechism:
2332 Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.
2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. …..
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. …… They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Guidelines from Bishops:
US Bishops, “Always our Children” (1997)
“Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message To Parents Of Homosexual Children And Suggestions For Pastoral Ministers”, to give it its’ full title, was addressed specifically to the parents of LGBT children, emphasising the importance of continued love and respect.
Sexual Ethics and Genital Acts
Although not dealing with homosexuality, or even with sexuality in general, the core document underlying modern Vatican intransigence on sexual matters is Humanae Vitae, written specifically on the topic of contraception, which insisted that every genital act must be open to procreation. This conclusion, in contravention of the Vatican’s own papal commission to study the topic, is the primary reason why all non-procreative sexual acts are forbidden, along with sex before marriage (which must avoid pregnancy, and cannot safely do so without contraception).
For most of Church history, there was no recognition of even the concept of “homosexuality”. The word did not enter official documents until 1975, in the document ”Persona Humana“, a “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics”, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This was a general discussion of aspects of sexuality, not specifically homosexuality. It was notable as the first document to recognize the existence of “homosexuals” as a distinct class of people, and of “homosexuality” as an in-born orientation.
“Homosexualitatis Problema“, (The Problem of Homosexuality), a “Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, known to gay activists as the “Hallowe’en Letter”, was the first and only letter dealing exclusively with homosexuality and homosexuality, presenting two main elements of teaching: while the homosexual acts cannot be approved, just as all other genital acts which are not open to procreation, homosexual persons are to be treated with “compassion, dignity and respect”.
Two later documents presented the Vatican response to proposals in the secular sphere for legal protection of homosexual persons and their relationships: