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The Roman Catholic Church and homosexuality

Events from 1998 to 2001

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Gay murders in Italy

Arcigay, an Italian gay-rights group, estimates that 150 to 200 gay men are known to be murdered annually in Italy because of their sexual orientation. They suspect that the total number is much higher, because many families of origin suppress information about the victim. Franco Grillini, psychologist and president of Arcigay stated that Italy is " the face of a real and true national emergency." He links the deaths to "social violence generated by homophobia." He called upon the government to "end this wave of homicides and to begin seriously removing obstacles that prevent all homosexuals from living a peaceful life in full safety." Gay rights groups recommended a number of proposals to the Italian government in mid-1996. One suggestion was to appoint a government minister to be a liaison to the gay and lesbian community. This is frequently done in Northern European countries. As of the beginning of 1998, there has been no response.

Mr. Grillini blames the Vatican and the Roman Catholic hierarchy of creating a "homophobic atmosphere" that was "in large part responsible for this culture of violence."

On 1998-JAN-14, a gay man doused himself with gasoline near the Bernini colonnades of St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. This is a location that is a center of pilgrimage and the scene of papal ceremonies. He set himself on fire and attempted to run towards the main portals of the basilica. He collapsed unconscious before reaching the entrance. He suffered burns to 90% of his body and was later reported in serious condition in a Rome hospital. He had written a note before his immolation which stated that his family, the Roman Catholic church and society did not understand the problems that he faced as a homosexual. The Vatican has denied that the man's protest was aimed at the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to homosexual activity.

1998 declaration by the Pontifical Council for the Family

On 1998-FEB-27, the Council issued a document called "On Decrease of Fertility in the World." While referring to various articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1 it included a passing reference to equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians:

"Here, great vigilance is needed. Faithfulness to the Declaration [UDHR] implies the exclusion of all efforts which seek, under the guide of so-called "new rights", to include abortion (cf. article 3), to leave physical integrity unprotected (ibid.), or to undermine the heterosexual, monogamous family (cf. article 16). Some are currently striving for these harmful goals, seeking to deprive some human beings of their fundamental rights, and to impose upon the weakest new forms of oppression (cf. articles 4 and 5). The lies which undergird these efforts inevitably lead to violence and barbarity and introduce the 'culture of death'." 2

Here, the efforts by gays and lesbians for equal rights in the area of marriage is interpreted as undermining heterosexual families, as harmful, and as oppressive to the weak and as leading to death. They did not explain their reasons for these conclusions.

1999 Prohibition of pastoral work with gays

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) released a "Notification Regarding Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS" on 1999-JUL-13. 3 In 1977, Gramick and Nugent had organized New Ways Ministry in order to promote "justice and reconciliation between lesbian and gay Catholics and the wider Catholic community." They had written two books on these topics. 4,5 Because they were critical of the Church's stand on homosexality and homosexuals, they were ordered to separate themselves from the New Ways Ministry. They allegedly removed themselves from leadership roles in the ministry but continued as members and continued to promote beliefs that were contrary to the church. The CDF concluded that Gramick and Nugent continued to disregard "the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination" and that they did not "faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church in this area." 6 The CDF ruled that they are "permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes."

Dignity/USA commented: "The work of Sister Gramick and Father Nugent is good work; it is necessary work; it is holy work. The members of Dignity wish them well in the long time to come. We thank them for their ministry and we pray for them at this critical time." 7

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Sex-ed in British schools:

The British conservative government introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act in the 1980s. It states that local school boards: "shall not promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship." The present government is considering scrapping of the regulation. Roman Catholics and conservative legislators are attempting to retain it. 

Generally speaking:

  • Conservative politicians and theologians believe that homosexual behavior is a chosen and changeable preference; it is unnatural, abnormal and condemned by God. Thus, any attempt to accept homosexuality as a normal, natural orientation is not acceptable. They feel that it will have the undesirable effect of increase the number of youth who choose  homosexuality.
  • Liberal politicians, liberal theologians, gays, lesbians, human sexuality researchers, mental health professionals and others believe that homosexual behavior is not chosen, not changeable; a natural, normal sexual orientation for a minority of youth. Thus, any attempt to accept homosexuality as a normal, natural orientation is to be supported. They feel that it would have the desirable effect of increasing the acceptance of youth and adults who have a homosexual orientation.

Without an agreement at a fundamental level, consensus is impossible.

On Friday, the two churches involved said nothing had been finalized, but a reputable London newspaper reported that a deal had been struck.

On MAR-3, The Daily Telegraph said that a compromise had been reached between the government, the Roman Catholic church and the Anglican Church. Section 28 would be deleted; new legislation would require teachers to promote heterosexual marriage. Teachers would also be forbidden to engage in "inappropriate teaching." However this section would not mention homosexuality. The churches have said that no deal has been finalized. Baroness Young, a senior Conservative Party member of the upper House of Lords, wants to retain Section 28. She said that the apparent compromise "Requiring local authorities to promote marriage will not prevent them from promoting homosexuality as well." Cardinal Winning of the Catholic Church in Scotland is also distressed at a possible compromise, warning that: "If we are not very, very careful, we will inadvertently promote a lifestyle for our children which will reduce their life expectancy, increase their chances of HIV infection and expose them to predatory and abusive relationships." 8

Pope verbally attacks gays and lesbians:

Pope John Paul II was distressed at the World Pride Rome 2000 celebrations which were being held in Rome during the Roman Catholic church's Grand Jubilee year. The church successfully pressured the Italian government into removing its support for the gay pride celebration. However, partly because of the church's opposition, the celebration was considered by gays and lesbians to be a great success. The pope delivered a message to pilgrims at St. Peter's Square:

"In the name of the Church of Rome, I must express sadness for the affront to the Grand Jubilee of the year 2000 and for the offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of the Catholics of the world...Homosexual acts are against nature's laws. The church cannot silence the truth, because this would not help discern what is good from what is  evil." 9

Later in his speech, he called homosexuality "objectively disordered."

The speech produced strong reactions among the homosexual community:

  • Editor Michelangeo Signorile of The Advocate commented: "It was nothing but pure, unadulterated hate speech-grade-A homophobia and bigotry couched in religious theology in the manner of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. John Paul II has long shown his intolerance by his repeated threatening and silencing of clergy who reach out to gay Catholics, but by uttering these words so vehemently and so publicly, he revealed before the whole world that he is a hateful man with little regard for the discrimination and violence he brings upon people's lives.
  • Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, commented: "As a Catholic, it's hard to find the pope is a hateful man. There's so much that he does that's good. Thinking of him that way is difficult. You want to believe that it's motivated by something less vicious than hate."
  • The Rev. Penny Nixon, of San Francisco's Metropolitan Community Church, called the pope's words "an incredible misuse of power" [that will result in] "beaten, bruised, and battered bodies." 10

Friction in British seminaries:

Mark Dowd, a former Dominican friar and a gay male, commented on a 2001-APR TV documentary "Queer and Catholic" that the priesthood is becoming a "gay profession" like hairdressing.

Father Kevin Haggerty is the rector of St. John's Seminary in Wonersh, Surrey (UK) appeared on the program. He later told The Telegraph that: "The growing number of homosexual men training for the Roman Catholic priesthood is creating 'divisive cliques' of gay and straight students. It would seem to me that sub-cultures are a danger. They are inappropriate for the priesthood and contrary to the openness required for a priest...I don't think we can avoid the issue anymore. A lot of people's gut reactions to this issue are not rational - they immediately think of the risk of child abuse. Homosexuality is not a problem in itself; the important point is the sexual maturity of the priests." 11


  1. The text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is at:
  2. Pontifical Council for the Family, "Declaration by the Pontifical Council for the Family on Decrease of Fertility in the World," 1998-FEB-27,  at:
  3. "Notification Regarding Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Online at: 
  4. J. Gramick, Ed., "Voices of Hope: A Collection of Positive Catholic Writings on Gay and Lesbian Issues," Center for Homophobia Education, (1995) Page ix. Order this book safely from online book store
  5. R. Nugent & G. Gramick, "Building bridges: Gay & Lesbian reality and the Catholic Church," Twenty Third Publ., (1992) Order this book
  6.  "Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics," Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 8: AAS 68 (1976).
  7. "Gay Catholics dismayed and angry at Vatican authorities," at: 
  8. "UK church leaders consider homosexuality compromise," Maranatha Christian Journal, at:
  9. "Gay Catholics dismayed and angry at Vatican authorities," at: 
  10. The Advocate, 2000-SEP-12 
  11. " 'Cliques of gay priests are dividing Church' says rector in England," ReligionToday, 2001-MAY-7, at:

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Copyright 1998 to 2003 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-AUG-1
Author: B.A. Robinson

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