Dignity Canada Dignité
Vatican Documents | What the Bible Says | Dignity Home Page
Letter on Pastoral Care of Gay and Lesbian
This document is the response of Dignity/USA to the Vatican's
Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church
on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons of October, 1986.
It was approved by the Dignity/USA House of Delegates in Miami, July, 1987.
"By the grace of God I am what I am, and God's grace to me has not
been without effect." (I Corinthians 15:10)
We are gay men and lesbian
women, and we are Catholic. We find that we are able to integrate both
our sexual and our spiritual identities into our lives and are richer for
doing so. Dignity exists as a group to communicate the joy of this
experience to others and to celebrate that joy in worship.
Nevertheless, we also sadly acknowledge our experience of alienation
between gay/lesbian Catholics and some other members of the Church,
including many leaders. Faced with this alienation, we have devoted
ourselves to a ministry of reconciliation.
Homosexual Catholics are often tempted to abandon their faith and the
practice of their religion out of anger against a Church in which they feel
unwelcome. Dignity invites them instead to worship in a mutually
supportive atmosphere. Dignity invites other members of the Church to
dialogue and understanding in order to heal this brokenness within the
As faithful followers of Jesus Christ, we have been incorporated into His
body by our baptism. We look to our church for ministry based on
justice and charity. At the same time, we accept our responsibility to
live our lives based on virtue and good conscience. We fully accept
both the comfort and the challenge of our faith. Like all Christians, we
strive to be earnest seekers after the truth.
It is in this spirit that the faith community of Dignity addresses itself to
the leaders of the Catholic Church in this country. From the substantial
store of our ministry experience with gay/lesbian people, we offer the
following counsels. We urge Catholic bishops and others involved in
ministry and teaching to give this advice serious consideration and to
join us in the necessary work of reconciliation.
1. We counsel the uprooting of prejudice against gay and lesbian
persons. Homosexuals are often the objects of vicious prejudices that
are clearly an offense against Christian morality. The Washington State
Catholic Conference and some individual bishops have made
statements that affirm the full humanity of homosexual persons and that
oppose demeaning and harmful attitudes. Such repudiation of
prejudicial attitudes by Church leaders is a necessary precondition for
effective ministry to gay and lesbian persons.
2. We counsel the rejection of sexism and oppressive behaviors
towards women and gay men. Lesbians women often feel a double
alienation from the Church, as women and as homosexual persons.
Like other women, they find their personhood denied by exclusive
language and behaviors. The American bishops have already decided
to address these issues in a pastoral letter on women. The adoption of
inclusive prayer language, the use of other than male images of God,
and the removal of barriers to women's full participation in the Church
are some specific remedies that both lesbian women and gay men find
necessary and just.
3. We counsel support for laws protecting the basic human rights
of homosexual persons. Homosexuals are frequently deprived of
access to housing and employment simply because of their orientation.
A number of bishops and many clergy and religious groups have
supported the inclusion of homosexual persons among protected classes
in civil rights laws. They have recognized that opposing discrimination
does not imply condoning homosexual behavior but that opposing legal
guarantees fore basic rights does condone injustice. Supporting such
laws is one of the principal ways for church leaders to reduce the
alienation between gay/lesbian Catholics and the rest of the Church.
4. We counsel strenuous opposition to violence against gay and
lesbian persons. Both lesbian women and gay men are subjected to
unprovoked physical abuse, sometimes even rape and murder. The
perpetrators of such violence frequently go unpunished by courts that do
not respect the rights or lives of homosexual persons. Church leaders
could be helpful by decrying such violence and being careful to say
nothing that implicitly condones or inspires it.
5. We counsel a compassionate perspective on the AIDS crisis.
The bishops of California have rejected as bad theology the notion that
AIDS is a plague visited by God upon gay people for their sins. They
preach the same compassion and caring for gay people with AIDS as for
all victims of disease. They have given credit to the gay community for
its support services to persons with AIDS. They urge education on AIDS
prevention. They support guaranteeing the rights of infected persons.
We recommend their statement to other Church leaders as a model of
Christian compassion and reconciliation.
6. We counsel openness to discussion on the morality of
homosexual acts. We recognize that the Church's leaders have been
taking a strong stand on this issue. Yet in the past, the Church has
revised its stance on grave moral issues, such as the taking of interest,
the ownership of slaves, and the condemnation of the Jews. Vatican
Council II made a major advance in sexual theology by solemnly
acknowledging the unitive dimension of human sexual experience in
addition to the procreative dimension. As further understanding about
the biological, psychological, and personal dimensions of sexuality
emerges, we ask the Church's teachers to present their teaching with
some measure of humility and openness.
7. We counsel a reexamination of the use of Scriptures against gay
and lesbian persons. Contemporary Christians no longer regard as
moral guides many Scriptural passages about sex, such as the stricture
against intercourse during menstruation, Paul's recommendation of
virginity whenever possible, or the description of the roles of husbands
and wives. Impressive scholarship has now demonstrated that in even
more serious ways the Biblical passages concerning same-sex acts are
irrelevant to the contemporary discussion about homosexuality. We
urge Catholic leaders to examine and respond to this scholarship-- either
with a reasoned and credible rejection of its findings or with an honest
and humble acknowledgment of its conclusions. We further urge
Catholic leaders to look beyond these Scriptural passages to the total
"Gospel perspective" on gay persons or anyone else.
8. We counsel study of the Catholic tradition on homosexuality.
Contemporary historical research has shown that central Christian
doctrines-- like the divinity f Christ, the hierarchical structure of the
Church, the nature and number of the Sacraments, salvation outside the
Church-- have not always been the same, but have developed over
time. Similar scholarship demonstrates that Church teaching on
homosexuality has not been clear and constant and that factors other
than ethical concerns explain the current severe condemnation of
homosexual acts that stems from the 13th century. We urge Catholic
leaders to study this scholarship and to respond to it, faithful to our
respected Catholic intellectual tradition.
9. We counsel accepting the finding of human sciences about gay men
and lesbians. Homosexual people have been often been regarded as
sick or criminal. But psychologists have found homosexual persons to
be as emotionally healthy as other persons. Sociologists have found
that the social adoption of homosexual persons to be nondeviant.
Anthropologists have found them to be a variant in virtually all cultures.
We urge Catholic teachers to be faithful to the traditional Catholic
insistence that truth is one, that scientific truth and religious truth must
be reconcilable. Gay/lesbian Catholics would welcome ministry based
on this concept that their difference is a normal variation within the
10. We counsel listening to the witness of gay and lesbian
Catholics. Many testify that they experience their sexuality as God's
good gift that enables them to relate intimately and responsibly to others
and more securely and passionately to God. Some bishops have already
begun discussions with gay/lesbian Catholic groups, and other church
leaders have attended educational seminars. Gay and lesbian Catholics
want their personal spiritual experience to be heard and taken seriously.
They would like the profound influence that Church leaders have on their
lives to be more sensitive and more positive.
11. We counsel respect for the consciences of homosexual
persons. Neither scripture nor tradition nor the human sciences nor
personal experience seems to support the official Catholic teaching
about homosexuality. Accordingly, and usually after much soul-
searching, many gay and lesbian Catholics have formed consciences
that differ from that teaching. In this respect they are like many married
couples who cannot accept the official teaching on contraception or
those who do not accept the official teaching on masturbation. Catholic
teaching defends the ultimacy of responsibly formed conscience in
every moral decision. All Catholics would welcome recognition of their
personal integrity and respect for their consciences.
12. We counsel healing and nurturing ministry for gay and lesbian
persons. Homosexuals who come to the Church for ministry often feel
wounded by a hurtful and prejudiced society. But they may perceive the
Church as trying to alienate them from the God who made and loves
them. To be effective, ministry to such persons needs to concentrate on
the healing of these hurts. A Church environment that accepts honest
self-disclosure of gay and lesbian persons would promote their self-
esteem and the healing process.
13. We counsel the development of a variety of ministries to gay
and lesbian persons and their families based on their needs. Gay
people who are "coming out" want help in that often difficult process.
Their families want healing, advice and support. Gay people want
meeting opportunities that foster friendships and growth, rather than
promiscuity. Lesbians may want some women-only space within the
Church. Gay couples want respect for their relationships. Lesbian
couples with children want to be accepted as families within the parish
community. Gay alcoholics and drug abusers want spiritual help in their
rehabilitation process. Many of these ministry activities already occur
within the Church. We ask for a more concerted effort by the leaders of
the Church to take all these needs into account both in general ministry
activities and in specific gay outreach.
14. We counsel the establishment of special ministries for persons
with AIDS. People suffering from AIDS are the lepers of our time. A
number of Church leaders have spoken out against the ways in which
these people, who are sick to death, are often treated by society. The
Catholic bishops of New Jersey have proposed an anti-discrimination
policy for persons with AIDS. We encourage more Church leaders to
follow suit. And such witness can be made more effective through the
establishment of hospices and social support programs based on healing
15. We counsel acceptance for priests and religious who provide
pastoral care for gay/lesbian people. Some bishops have appointed
clergy or religious specifically to gay ministry. Other educators and
ministers who have ventured into the field have often found themselves
held in suspicion for doing so. Church leaders could do much to reduce
the climate of fear by publicly legitimizing this ministry and by providing
spiritual and financial support to those who have taken on this task.
16. We counsel acceptance of and cooperation with like-to-like
ministries organized by gay and lesbian Catholics. Sincere gay
Catholics have banded together to promote their spiritual growth and
participation in the liturgy. Such groups offer the primary hope for
reconciliation between the gay/lesbian community and the rest of the
Church in our time. Some church leaders have provided an
understanding and supportive presence. We urge bishops to respond in
this manner and not to impose special conditions on gay ministry
Elsewhere we have criticized recent statements and actions that have
served to deepen the alienation many homosexual persons feel toward
the Catholic Church. In this letter we have focused upon the
accomplishments of church leaders in reducing the alienation between
gay/lesbian Catholics and the rest of the Church. While we must decry
injustices, we must also do our part to promote the work of reconciliation
through encouragement and positive advice. We do so willingly. We
are angry but loving as well.
In their 1976 pastoral letter "To Live In Christ Jesus," the American
Catholic bishops affirmed the basic rights of gay people to freedom from
prejudice, to respect, friendship, and justice, to an active role in the
Christian community, and to a special degree of pastoral understanding
and care. Dignity now calls upon the leaders of the Catholic Church in
this country to deepen their commitment to these principles. We invite
them to join hands with us in prayer and to dialogue with us in charity to
heal the wounds of alienation.