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About the pastoral letters:

In 2005-JAN,  Bishop Frederick B. Henry (1943 -) wrote a pastoral letter to fellow Roman Catholics in the Diocese of Calgary, Alberta concerning Same-Sex Marriage (SSM). 1 The letter was read to about 250,000 Roman Catholics in churches throughout southern Alberta on 2005-JAN-16. It is described below.

During 2005-MAY, he issued a second pastoral letter on the same topic.

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Some of the main topics raised in the first letter:

The letter made a number of points, most of which are either statements of fact, or teachings which match those of the Roman Catholic Church about same-sex marriage and homosexuality. Most echo a statement approved by Pope John Paul in a 12-page set of guidelines on same-sex relationships which said: "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family," it says. "Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law." 2

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The points which appear to be factual and/or which match church teachings:

We have added our own comments to points raised by Bishop Henry.

  1. The Supreme Court of Canada has not required Parliament to expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. A series of senior provincial courts unanimously declared that denying  marriage to same-sex couples violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada's constitution. These decisions were not appealed by the Federal Government. The Supreme Court declined to overturn those decisions. Thus, they were binding on the government and required the passage of SSM legislation.
  2. Fewer than 5% of gays and lesbians in Canada have married during the 18 months since SSM became available in some provinces of Canada. There are at least two reasons for this:
    bullet Bisexuals and homosexuals of marriageable age matured in a culture that denigrated same-sex relationships, and denied them the hope of ever marrying the individual that they might grow to love and made a commitment to.
    bullet Many gays lesbians and bisexuals are still in the closet and unwilling to take on a public marriage ceremony.

    It will probably take generations before the marriage rate among same-sex couples will match that of heterosexuals.

  3. Natural law requires us to reject SSM. Other religious and secular individuals and groups feel that natural justice requires that SSM be made available.
  4. "A same-sex union is not a physical union that transmits human life, producing children....Simply stated, a same sex union is not marriage."

    It is important to realize that there are many situations concerning childbearing among married couples:
    bullet Most opposite-sex couples of childbearing age can conceive children by the physical act of sexual intercourse.
    bullet Some opposite-sex unions, in which the wife is of childbearing age, cannot produce children this way by reasons of infertility. They need to use artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization -- a technique forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church. 3
    bullet Other opposite-sex unions, in which the wife is past menopause, cannot produce children.
    bullet A lesbian couple can conceive children either; they would need to use artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization in order to produce children.
    bullet Some opposite-sex couples of childbearing age decide to have no children.

    If the government were to make the potential or the intention to bear children a criteria for marriage then millions of Canadians would not be allowed to marry -- including the author of this essay.

  5. "A same-sex union is not the joining of two complementary natures that complete each other." This reflects a belief that is nearly universal among religious conservatives: that men and women are intrinsically so different that it is almost as if they are two different species. From this belief flows the concept that men and women must be restricted to performing very different roles in marriages, the church, the military, etc. Religious liberals tend to stress the similarities between men and women, the importance of both spouses adopting flexible roles in marriage that are compatible with their individual strengths and interests, and the importance of equal opportunities for men and women in the church and in the rest of the culture.
  6. A man and woman who wish to marry may be different in terms of "colour, ethnicity, in wealth and social status, physical attributes, and educational background." But a same-sex couple does not represent "...the requirements of nature" to form a marriage. Apparently, not all opposite-sex couples meet these requirements either. The church has refused to marry some couples in which one party was disabled and unable to engage in sexual intercourse.
  7. Justice requires that same-sex couples be denied permission to marry. Other individuals, churches and other groups feel that elementary justice requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry.
  8. People who are distressed at the possible legalization of SSM have a right and a duty to debate the issue and make their beliefs known by political leaders and other citizens. This is true. But many groups and individuals believe that distress among one cultural group must not be allowed to deny elementary human rights to another group.

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One point that appears to be in error:

bullet Bishop Henry stated that the Bible restricts marriage to one man and one woman, and that this is supported by numerous biblical quotations. Actually the Bible contains multiple forms of marriages and families, some of which involve other than one man/one woman.

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An additional point in the first letter:

He does make an additional point, which is his personal interpretation of what motivates supporters of SSM. He believes that those promoting SSM are not inspired by the desire that same-sex couples:

bullet Obtain financial benefits from the government.
bullet Attain "stability or exclusivity in a homosexual relationship."
bullet Have rights equal to opposite-sex couples.

Presumably Bishop Henry also believes that supporters of SSM are not motivated by a desire to see same-sex couples and their children to have an increased level of security -- equal to those enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples and their children.

Instead, Bishop Henry suggests that their motivation is to force society to accept the homosexual lifestyle as normal. The term "homosexual lifestyle" is generally defined by religious conservatives as referring to same-sex sexual behavior. By calling it a "lifestyle" they imply that homosexual orientation is a choice, like other lifestyles such as living in the country rather than the city, marrying instead of remaining single, traveling by mass transit instead of a personal automobile, etc. However, essentially all gays, lesbians, bisexuals, religious liberals, mental health professionals, and human sexuality researchers believe that homosexual orientation can neither be chosen nor changed.

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A tenth point in the first: an ambiguous call for government oppression:

In a remarkable paragraph, he states:

"Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good."

The first paragraph associates homosexuality -- by which he presumably means homosexual behavior -- with adultery, prostitution and distribution of pornography -- four activities which Bishop Henry correctly describe as attacks on the family unit.

Others look upon homosexuality as an orientation, one that is not chosen and is unchangeable, and one of three sexual orientations which are morally neutral. They look upon the availability of SSM as the most family-positive development for same-sex couples.

The reference to the demand that the government "must use its coercive power" appears to have distressed many gays, lesbians, bisexuals, civil libertarians, etc. Unfortunately, Bishop Henry did not specifically define the form that the government's "coercive power" is to take.

The Oxford Dictionary of Current English explains that "coerce" comes from the Latin word "coercere" which means to physically restrain. It means, in English, to "persuade (an unwilling person) to do something by using force or threats."

Many readers of Bishop Henry's letter have assumed that he is suggesting that governments harass, fine, or assign jail sentences to persons engaging in same-sex behavior, even if performed in private as part of a loving committed relationship. Certainly, governments in other countries use this type of coercive force.

It is doubtful that he would include capital punishment as an example of coercive force, because the Church opposes the death penalty, and Canada stopped hanging people decades ago. But many readers interpret the letter as advocating all government coercion short of execution against sexually active gays and lesbians.

One factor does not seem to have been discussed in the media: the possible effect of Bishop Henry's letter on the number of gay-bashing incidents in the country. When a bishop of the largest religious institution in Canada calls for the government to use its coercive power against gays and lesbians, susceptible individuals may have become convinced that individual coercive force -- in the form of physical attacks -- might be acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, Bishop Henry did not incorporate a statement in his pastoral letter specifically calling on people to refrain from assaulting homosexuals.

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An eleventh point: homosexual behavior is evil:

Following the above paragraph is one almost as notable:

"It is sometimes argued that what we do in the privacy of our home is nobody’ s business. While the privacy of the home is undoubtedly sacred, it is not absolute. Furthermore, an evil act remains an evil act whether it is performed in public or in private."

Here, Bishop Henry implies that homosexual activities go beyond merely being sinful within his religious terms of reference. He considers them to be evil acts.

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References used:

  1. F.B. Henry, "On Same-Sex Marriage," 2005-JAN, at:
  2. "Vatican campaigns against same-sex marriage," CBC News, 2003-JUL-31, at:
  3. Joseph Ratzinger, "Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation," 1987-MAR-10, at:

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Site navigation:
"SSM" means "same-sex marriage"

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > SSM menu > SSM submenu > Canada > Henry > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > SSM menu > SSM submenu > Canada > Henry > here

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JUL-15
Latest update: 2005-NOV-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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