Roy Bourgeois: Catholic Church Must Change Its Teachings on Homosexuality

Today’s post is from guest blogger Roy Bourgeois, a former Roman Catholic priest and the author of My Journey From Silence to Solidarity.  Bourgeois is a nationally-known speaker on conscience and church reform.  He founded the School of the Americas Watch, which holds an annual protest against the training of Latin American soldiers at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.

Homophobia, according to Webster’s dictionary, is “the irrational hatred or fear of homosexuals.”

Roy Bourgeois

The language we use breeds hatred and fear, which often leads to violence.  It’s time to disarm hatred and fear.  A good place to start is with church teachings.

According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, as stated in its Catechism, section 2357:

“Basing itself on Sacred Scriptures, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’  They are contrary to the natural law.  They close the sexual act to the gif of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity.  Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

This teaching instills shame and self-hatred.  It has contributed to gay people being rejected by their families, fired from their jobs, bullied, and even killed.

Throughout history, the Bible and “tradition” have been used to justify discrimination.  The Bible was used to support slavery, as it was used to oppose the right of women to vote.

Growing up in Louisiana, we used our “tradition” and the Bible to justify our segregated schools and worshiped in a Catholic Church that reserve d the last five pews for blacks.  And today, once again, we are using the Bible and tradition to discriminate against gay people.

Over the years, I have had to deal with Catholic church teachings.  I served as a priest with the Maryknoll Fathers for 40 years.  In 2012, I was expelled because of my public support for the ordination of women.

Being kicked out of the priesthood and my community of long-time friends was very painful.  However, this experience gave me a glimpse of what millions of people have gone through, on a much deeper level, because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.

Since my expulsion from the priesthood, I have been hearing the stories and experiences of gay people  Two stand out and kept me awake at night:

  1.  Catholic parents told me about their high school son who was gay.  While they expressed unconditional love for him, he was bullied at school and did not feel welcome at their church.  Two weeks before graduation, he committed suicide.  They told me that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality contributed to the death of their son, and they left the church.
  2. On a recent human rights delegation to El Salvador, we met with LGBT people.  They told us about the danger of coming out in El Salvador and how some of their good friends were killed.  El Salvador is a very Catholic country. When asked about support from the church, they said Catholic bishops and priests were their biggest enemies.

Outside the Catholic Church, others see homosexuality differently:

  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”
  • In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality.
  • On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutional right.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, “Nearly two-thirds of LGBT Americans report having experienced discrimination in their personal lives,” and  “only 19 states explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Today, 25 countries have legalized gay marriage, while 75 nations treat homosexual behavior as a crime.  In 10 countries, it is punishable by death.

When we are born, we do not choose our race, gender, or sexual orientation.  No matter how hard we may try to justify discrimination against others, including using the Bible and tradition, in the end, it is not the way of a loving God who created everyone of equal worth and dignity.  There are no exceptions.

It is time for the Catholic Church and other churches to change the oppressive teachings on homosexuality.

–Roy Bourgeois

Ignorance of Catholic Teaching Warps Cardinal’s Comments on Homosexuality

Cardinal Onaiyekan

A recent interview with Nigeria’s Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, illustrates one important reason why LGBT people still do not have full equality in the Catholic Church:  Church leaders do not know their own teaching and they publicly speak mistakes about it.

The cardinal was interviewed recently by The Sun, a national newspaper in Nigeria.   During the interview, the reporter asked:

“Do you foresee the Catholic Church sustaining its stance on gay marriage in the future?”

The cardinal’s complete answer to the question was:

“Unfortunately, we are living in a world where these things have now become quite acceptable but for the fact that they are acceptable doesn’t mean that they are right. The Catholic Church considers itself as carrying the banner of the truth in the world that has allowed itself to be so badly deceived.

“On gay marriage or homosexuality in general, everybody knows that the Catholic Church is about the only group that among the Christian groups that has stood very firmly against it and we insist that it is against God’s will. Therefore, it is not a question of something for us to discuss and decide whether we shall accept it or not. Even if people don’t like us for it, our church has always said homosexuality is unnatural and marriage is between a man and a woman. There is no such thing as marriage between two men or marriage between two women. Whatever they do among themselves should not be called marriage. There is no question of the Catholic Church changing its positions on this matter.”

What’s wrong with that statement?  Well, for one thing, church teaching does not state that homosexuality is “unnatural.”  In one of the earliest Vatican statements on homosexuality in the modern era, 1975’s Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethicsthe Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) wrote:

“A distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tenecy. . . is transitory or at least no incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct. . . “

The particular term, “innate instinct,” indicates that the Vatican does not label a homosexual orientation as “unnatural.”   In The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which appeared almost two decades later, the Vatican discussed homosexuality, saying, in part:

“Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.”


“The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.”

While the CDF also used the term “objective disorder” to describe a homosexual orientation, it is important to underline that the term does not refer to a medical or psychological condition, but to moral evaluation.  In the 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, the CDF wrote:

“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.”

Moreover, Church teaching never makes a blanket against “homosexuality,” as Cardinal Onaiyekan does.  Church teaching makes a distinction between homosexual people and homosexual acts.  As the above quotation indicates, the Church does not morally disapprove of homosexual people (“not a sin”), but it does not morally approve of homosexual activity.   Lumping both people and acts under the title “homosexuality” is not responsible use of language, and neither does it show a careful awareness of Church teaching.

Thus, though Church teaching, based on natural law philosophy, does not approve of any sexual activity between people of the same gender, it does not describe either the act or the person as “unnatural.”   I grant that this is a very fine, nuanced distinction, and, even at that, is still problematic.   But it is important to make the distinction to see that someone like Cardinal Onaiyekan either does not understand the Church’s official position or is describing this position carelessly, perhaps influenced by his own prejudiced opinions on the matter.

Personally, I do not like splitting hairs like this theologically, but it is important to do so because of the tremendous harm that the cardinal’s words can have, especially in a nation like Nigeria where homosexuality is criminalized.  Such ignorance or carelessness on the part of a Church official fuels the homophobia that causes violence.

Finally, some comments in regard to the cardinal’s statement:

“On gay marriage or homosexuality in general, everybody knows that the Catholic Church is about the only group that among the Christian groups that has stood very firmly against it and we insist that it is against God’s will.”

First of all, in Africa, as elsewhere, the Catholic Church is not the only religious institution which opposes same-gender marriage, and, as we saw above, the Church does not condemn “homosexuality in general.” More importantly, though, using language to describe homosexuality as “against God’s will” again strengthens negative attitudes which often lead to physical and emotional harm.  In fact, the Catechism says of homosexual people:

“These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives. . . ”


“They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Cardinal Onaiyekan, and, indeed, other Church leaders, have expressed statements that reveal more ignorance than wisdom on the topic.  For an earlier post about this topic, click here.

It is astonishing that someone in Cardinal Onaiyekan’s position would be so ignorant or careless regarding Church teaching.  To me, it is an indication that cultural attitudes and personal biases, unfortunately, creep into our church’s official rhetoric.  Such mis-education is harmful to LGBT people, the wider Church, and Cardinal Onaiyekan himself.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post

Bondings 2.0:  “Nigerian Bishops Support Anti-Gay Law; Help Get the Pope to Speak Out



Separating Civil and Sacramental Marriage–Part 2

Yesterday, I noted that I had recently read two opposing essays on marriage equality, both written by priests.  Though they came to different conclusions, both of them based a good deal of their argument on the idea that we have reached the point where civil and sacramental marriage need to be considered as separate institutions.   Yesterday, we looked at the essay supporting marriage equality, written by an Australian Jesuit law professor.  Today, we will examine the essay of Msgr. Charles Pope,  pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Parish, Washington, DC.

Msgr. Charles Pope
Msgr. Charles Pope

On a blog for the Archdiocese of Washington’s website, Msgr. Pope posted an essay with a title which asks a question, “Do we need to set aside the Word ‘Marriage’ and use ‘Holy Matrimony’ exclusively?”  His answer to that question is a “Yes.”

Msgr. Pope recognizes that society has already gone through a major shift in the definition of marriage:

“It is a simple fact that word ‘marriage’ as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean.”

Noting that the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines marriage as a permanent commitment, open to procreation, and involving a man and a woman, Msgr. Pope explains that society has shifted from this definition over time:

“The redefinition has actually come in three stages:

  1. “In 1969 the first no-fault divorce law was signed in California. Within 15 years every state in this land had similar laws that made divorce easy. No longer did state laws uphold the principle which the Catechism describes as a partnership of the whole of life. Now marriage was redefined as a contract easily broken by the will of the spouses.
  2. “The dramatic rise in contraceptive use and the steep drop in birthrates, though not a legal redefinition, amount to a kind of cultural redefinition of marriage as described in the Catechism which sees the procreation and education of offspring as integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional at the will of the spouses. Having sown in the wind (where we redefined not only marriage, but sex itself) we are now reaping the whirlwind of deep sexual confusion and a defining of marriage right out of existence.
  3. “This final blow of legally recognizing so called gay “marriage” completes the redefinition of marriage which the Catechism describes as being a covenant, …which a man and a woman establish between themselves. Now secular American culture is removing even this, calling same-sex relationships ‘marriage.’ ”

Msgr. Pope concludes that these departures for the Catechism’s definition of marriage warrant the use of separate terms:

“So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word ‘marriage’ is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.

I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as ‘Holy Matrimony.’ ” [emphasis, his]

Msgr. Pope goes further with his recommendation, suggesting that Catholic priests and deacons no longer perform marriages as agents of the state:

“A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

Msgr. Pope’s latter proposal is that it flows logically from the first one.  If the Catholic clergy do not consider the civil institution of marriage to be the same thing as the sacramental view of marriage, then it makes sense for them not to participate in that system.

The same argument has been used by many Protestant clergy who support marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.  Many of these Christian ministers have refused to sign civil marriage licenses until their states adopt equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.  So, again, we find two opposing sides of the argument advocating for the same measure, albeit for different reasons.

What do you think?  Have we reached the point where civil marriage and sacramental marriage need to be separated?  Offer you ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry