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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Natural law requires us to reject SSM.
Other religious and secular
individuals and groups feel that natural justice requires that SSM be made
"A same-sex union is not a physical union that transmits human life,
producing children....Simply stated, a same sex union is not
It is important to realize that there are many situations concerning
childbearing among married couples:
Most opposite-sex couples of childbearing
age can conceive children by the physical act of
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
Other opposite-sex unions, in which the
wife is past menopause, cannot produce children.
A lesbian couple can conceive children either; they would need to use
artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization in order to produce children.
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.
"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.
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
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
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.
One point that appears to be in error:
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.
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:
Obtain financial benefits from the government.
Attain "stability or exclusivity in a homosexual relationship."
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.
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
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
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.
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.