Revised statement issued on July 22, 1992.
Recently, legislation has been proposed in various places which would
make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal. In some
cities, municipal authorities have made public housing, otherwise reserved
for families, available to homosexual (and unmarried heterosexual)
couples. Such initiatives, even where they seem more directed toward
support of basic civil rights than condonement of homosexual activity or a
homosexual lifestyle, may in fact have a negative impact on the family and
society. Such things as the adoption of children, the employment of
teachers, the housing needs of genuine families, landlords' legitimate
concerns in screening potential tenants, for example, are often
While it would be impossible to anticipate every eventuality in respect
to legislative proposals in this area, these observations will try to
identify some principles and distinctions of a general nature which should
be taken into consideration by the conscientious legislator, voter, or
church authority who is confronted with such issues.
The first section will recall relevant passages from the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith's "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic
Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" of 1986. The second
section will deal with their application.
I. Relevant Passages from the CDF's "Letter"
1. The letter recalls that the CDF's "Declaration on Certain Questions
Concerning Sexual Ethics" of 1975 "took note of the distinction commonly
drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual
homosexual actions"; the latter are "intrinsically disordered" and "in no
case to be approved of" (No. 3).
2. Since "[i]n the discussion which followed the publication of the
(aforementioned) declaration ..., an overly benign interpretation was
given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it
"neutral or even good," the letter goes on to clarify: "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. Therefore
special 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
is not" (No. 3).
3. "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 understood" (No. 7).
4. In reference to the homosexual movement, the letter states: "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" (No. 9).
5. "There is an effort in some countries to manipulate the church by
gaining the often well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view to
changing civil statutes and laws. This is done in order to conform to
these pressure groups' concept that homosexuality is at least a completely
harmless, if not an entirely good, thing. Even when the practice of
homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large
number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider
the magnitude of the risks involved" (No. 9)
6. "She (the church) is also aware that the view that homosexual
activity is equivalent to or as acceptable as the sexual expression of
conjugal love has a direct impact on society's understanding of the nature
and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy" (No. 9)
7. "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 behavior 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 (No. 10).
8. "What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning
assumption that the sexual behavior 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" (No.
9. "In assessing proposed legislation, the bishops should keep as their
uppermost concern the responsibility to defend and promote family life"
10. "Sexual orientation" does not constitute a quality comparable to
race, ethnic background, etc. in respect to non-discrimination. Unlike
these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder (cf. "Letter," No.
3) and evokes moral concern.
11. There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take
sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children
for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic
coaches, and in military recruitment.
12. Homosexual persons, as human persons, have the same rights as all
persons including the right of not being treated in a manner which offends
their personal dignity (cf. No. 10). Among other rights, all persons have
the right to work, to housing, etc. Nevertheless, these rights are not
absolute. They can be legitimately limited for objectively disordered
external conduct. This is sometimes not only licit but obligatory. This
would obtain moreover not only in the case of culpable behavior but even
in the case of actions of the physically or mentally ill. Thus it is
accepted that the state may restrict the exercise of rights, for example,
in the case of contagious or mentally ill persons, in order to protect the
13. Including "homosexual orientation" among the considerations on the
basis of which it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead to regarding
homosexuality as a positive source of human rights, for example, in
respect to so-called affirmative action or preferential treatment in
hiring practices. This is all the more deleterious since there is no right
to homosexuality (cf. No. 10) which therefore should not form the basis
for judicial claims. The passage from the recognition of homosexuality as
a factor on which basis it is illegal to discriminate can easily lead, if
not automatically, to the legislative protection and promotion of
homosexuality. A person's homosexuality would be invoked in opposition to
alleged discrimination, and thus the exercise of rights would be defended
precisely via the affirmation of the homosexual condition instead of in
terms of a violation of basic human rights.
14. The "sexual orientation" of a person is not comparable to race,
sex, age, etc. also for another reason than that given above which
warrants attention. An individual's sexual orientation is generally not
known to others unless he publicly identifies himself as having this
orientation or unless some overt behavior manifests it. As a rule, the
majority of homosexually oriented persons who seek to lead chaste lives do
not publicize their sexual orientation. Hence the problem of
discrimination in terms of employment, housing, etc., does not usually
Homosexual persons who assert their homosexuality tend to be precisely
those who judge homosexual behavior or lifestyle to be "either completely
harmless, if not an entirely good thing" (cf. No. 3), and hence worthy of
public approval. It is from this quarter that one is more likely to find
those who seek to "manipulate the church by gaining the often
well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view to changing civil
statutes and laws" (cf. No. 5), those who use the tactic of protesting
that "any and all criticism of or reservations about homosexual people ...
are simply diverse forms of unjust discrimination" (cf. No. 9).
In addition, there is a danger that legislation which would make
homosexuality a basis for entitlements could actually encourage a person
with a homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality or even to seek
a partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law.
15. Since in the assessment of proposed legislation uppermost concern
should be given to the responsibility to defend and promote family life
(cf. No. 17), strict attention should be paid to the single provisions of
proposed measures. How would they affect adoption or foster care? Would
they protect homosexual acts, public or private? Do they confer equivalent
family status on homosexual unions, for example, in respect to public
housing or by entitling the) homosexual partner to the privileges of
employment which could include such things as "family" participation in
the health benefits given to employees (cf. No. 9)?
16. Finally, where a matter of the common good is concerned, it is
inappropriate for church authorities to endorse or remain neutral toward
adverse legislation even if it grants exceptions to church organizations
and institutions. The church has the responsibility to promote family life
and the public morality of the entire civil society on the basis of
fundamental moral values, not simply to protect herself from the
application of harmful laws (cf. No. 17).