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Religious Tolerance logo


Overview of major social teachings
promoted by the Roman Catholic Church

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Conservative teachings by the Church:

The Church opposes:

bulletSame-sex marriage: In the U.S., the federal and state governments automatically grant on the order of 1,400 rights and benefits to all opposite-sex couples who marry. The church opposes these being granted to same-sex couples. Their interpretation of the Bible precludes any form of same-sex marriage or civil union. Unlike other conservative religious denominations, the Roman Catholic Church does teach that, in most cases, a person's sexual orientation is not chosen and is unchangeable. However, in common with other religious conservatives, it regards minority sexual orientations as abnormal, unnatural, and disordered. They expect persons with a homosexual orientation to remain celibate. They expect persons with a bisexual orientation -- those who are sexually attracted to both men and women -- to restrict their sexual relationships to a member of the opposite sex, and then only within marriage.

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines homosexuality as: "...Sexual activity between persons of the same sex. It is not a normal condition, the acts being against nature are objectively wrong." 1

The Most Reverend Michael Sheridan, the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Colorado Springs, CO, writes: "no one has a right to that which flies in the face of Godís own design. Marriage is not an invention of individuals or even of societies. Rather it is an element of Godís creation. It is God who created us male and female. It is God who joined man and woman so that they could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Every civilization known to mankind has understood marriage as the union of a man and a woman for the procreation and rearing of children." 2 This statement appeals to conflict with the description of eight types of marriages and families mentioned in the Bible.
bulletAbortion access: The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest supporters of the pro-life movement in the U.S. They teach that human life, in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon, becomes a human person at the instant of conception. Thus, they teach that abortion causes the murder of an innocent human person -- whether it be a pre-embryo, embryo or fetus. They believe that human life must be preserved from conception to natural death.

In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI wrote:

"It is not licit, even for the gravest reasons to do evil so that good may follow there from, that is, to make into the object of a positive act of the will something which is intrinsically disordered, and hence unworthy of the human person, even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social well being...directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons [is] to be absolutely excluded." 3

When a delivery goes terribly wrong, and the attending physicians have the choice of:

bulletKilling the fetus, and saving the life of the woman, or
bulletAllowing nature to take its course, and watching both the woman and fetus die,

the moral decision in the eyes of the church is the latter. Fortunately, few physicians follow this directive.

The church does make exceptions in a few unusual cases, like ectopic pregnancies and cancer of the uterus where the death of a fetus is an indirect result of a medical procedure.

bulletStem cell research: Human stem cells are primitive cells that can theoretically be coaxed to develop into any of the over 200 cell types in the human body. Some can be extracted from adult humans; others are removed from pre-embryos. The church opposes the extraction or use of the latter, because they regard pre-embryos as human persons, and because the removal of the stem cells results in its death. Unfortunately, adult stem cells have limited potential, whereas stem cells from pre-embryos have great potential to treat and cure many diseases which cause disability and premature death.
bulletPhysician assisted suicide: The church opposes all suicide, whether it is performed by an individual alone or with the help of their physician. They teach that all human life must be protected, from conception to natural death. A person has no right to terminate their life, even if they are in intractable, untreatable pain from a terminally illness.

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Liberal, often countercultural teachings by the Church:

bulletDeath penalty: The Church takes a pro-life, abolitionist view towards the death penalty for a variety of reasons, including:
bulletThere is no conclusive proof that the death penalty reduces the homicide rate; there are some indications that it does the opposite.
bulletA main justification for retaining the death penalty is retribution -- often pure revenge. This conflicts with one of of Jesus' main messages: forgiveness.
bulletMistakes happen. People can be executed for crimes they never committed.
bulletExecuting people prevents any chance at reform.
bulletThe death penalty causes agony to the family and friends of the person executed.

In 1980, the U.S. bishops stated:

"We believe that in the conditions of contemporary American society, the legitimate purposes of punishment do not justify the imposition of the death penalty." 4,5

bulletOther matters: The Church also takes a generally liberal approach to arms control, world debt, the environment, housing, labor Issues, migrants, refugees, nonviolence, poverty, peace, Social Security, trafficking, and welfare.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Robert Broderick, Ed., "Catholic Encyclopedia: Revised and updated edition," Nelson, (1987), Page 272.  Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. Michael Sheridan, "A pastoral letter to the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Colorado Springs on the duties of Catholic politicians and voters," at: http://www.diocesecs.org
  3. Pope Paul VI, "Humanae Vitae. Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the regulation of birth," 1968-JUL-25, at: http://www.vatican.va/
  4. Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J., "The Death Penalty: Why the Church Speaks a Countercultural Message," American Catholic, atL http://www.americancatholic.org/
  5. "USCCB Statement, 1980," Office of Social Development & World Peace, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at: http://www.usccb.org/

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Copyright © 2004 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-MAY-15
Latest update: 2006-OCT-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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