The National Catholic Review

The Catholic Church’s stance on homosexual activity is well known.  There probably isn’t an intelligent Catholic in this country, perhaps even in the Western world, who isn’t aware of the church’s clear teaching.  The Catechism teaches that homosexual activity is “intrinsically disordered,” that is, always and everywhere wrong.  It also teaches that the inclination itself is an "objective disorder."

More recently, the Vatican and many local church leaders have communicated the church’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage, as that issue has increasingly come to the fore in many countries.  Archbishop (soon Cardinal) Timothy Dolan of New York, who serves as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has spoken out against same-sex marriage, calling it an “ominous threat” to society. The archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul, John Nienstedt, recently wrote to his priests about the “gravity of this struggle, and said he expected them to support his efforts opposing same-sex marriage or remain silent.  (Last year Archbishop Nienstedt sent out 400,000 DVDs explaining the church’s position to Catholics in his archdiocese.)  And Charles J. Chaput, the newly installed archbishop of Philadelphia, called it “the issue of our time.” 

As I said, the church’s stance on homosexual activity and its opposition to same-sex marriage are well known. The excerpt from the Catechism that underlies these teachings may now be one of the most well known of all church teachings.  Line 2357 reads: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual activity is intrinsically disordered’.” (The quote within the quote comes from a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.)   

I’m not writing to contradict these teachings in any way, nor to contradict any of these church leaders.  (Some of the men above are friends as well.)  Rather, I’d like to turn our attention to another part of the church’s official teaching, something equally as valid.  It is contained in the very next line, and is an important aspect of our tradition that is often overlooked.  Line 2358 of the Catechism reads: "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." (The original 1994 version included the line "They do not choose their homosexual condition.")

That line says much that is important, even though it is less well known than the previous line. 

First, it says that gays and lesbians are not a negligible part of the population, Catholic or otherwise.  They are not a minuscule minority that can be overlooked or that should be ignored; as such, they are a valid concern for the church and its ministers.  To use the language of the Second Vatican Council, their “joys and hopes, and their griefs and anxieties,” matter.

Second, while some gays and lesbians may not appreciate having their situation described as a “trial,” the Catechism reminds Catholics that being a homosexual in many modern cultures is still fraught with difficulty.  It can be a painful struggle for a gay person to accept himself or herself as someone loved by God.  As most of us know, bullying, beatings and, in rare cases, murder, is often part of being a gay or lesbian teen.  As a result, the rate of suicides among gay teens is significantly higher than it is for straight teens in our country.  In other parts of the world the situation is more dire: in some countries homosexual activity can bring imprisonment or execution. 

Finally, the Catechism says that every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided when it comes to gays and lesbians.  That’s every sign.  (And remember a “sign” in Catholic theology is a broad term.)

But buried within #2358 are three words that warrant further attention, particularly in these times, when tensions flare, controversies arise and people feel pitted against one another.  Gays and lesbians, says the Catholic church’s official teaching, are to be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” What might that mean?


My old Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “respect” as a verb that means “to consider someone worthy of high regard.”  The definition of the noun form includes words like “honor,” “deference” and “esteem.”  The word derives from the Latin respectus, meaning to look back, or to “regard.”  Respect is a way of looking at someone, and looking at them with “high regard.”  The Catechism says that Catholics should look at gays and lesbians in this way—with respect.  But what does that mean?

Certainly this means not denigrating them in any way, not making sweeping generalizations about them, not treating them as second-class citizens.  But that’s the minimum.  Showing someone honor, deference and esteem means going far beyond that; it means treating them with a special care.  Respect is more than just acceptance.

One of the hallmarks of respecting a person, for example, is listening to him or her.  If a child interrupts an adult, or fails to listen to a teacher, the child may be told, “Show some respect.”  You would scarcely say that you respected a person if you showed no real concern for what they said, or, likewise, for their personal experiences.  So, to show real respect Catholics need to listen carefully to the experiences of gays and lesbians.  Indeed, I think one reason for the fraught nature of the church’s relations with gays and lesbians is an absence of listening.  (On both sides.)

Also, out of respect for the church, gays and lesbians may themselves be moved to share their experiences and thoughts.  This should sound familiar to American Catholics in particular.  In the first line of the Declaration of Independence, the writers state that they are setting forth their grievances “out of decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”  The signers respected the rest of humankind enough to explain why they were taking a momentous step.  Respect impelled them to speak out.  This is something of what I mean when it comes to gays and lesbians.  No, I’m not comparing them to the Founding Fathers.  But in a similar way they respect the church by sharing their joys and hopes, their griefs and anxieties, and especially, the way that God is at work in their lives.  

What would it mean for the church to listen to the experiences of gays and lesbians?  First, it would mean willingly and honestly listening to what it is like to grow up as a homosexual child and adolescent.  It would mean paying attention to the voices of young people who feel persecuted or who are bullied.  It would mean taking seriously the heightened threat of suicides among gay and lesbian youth, which is, after all, a “life issue.” It would also mean listening to what it is like to be an adult gay or lesbian, particularly within the church.  That would mean another, more difficult, kind of listening: trying to understand the widespread feeling among many gay and lesbian Catholics that their own church doesn’t “respect” them.  Then it would mean asking the difficult question: “Why is this?”

The Holy Spirit works not only from the top-down, but also from the bottom-up.  It “blows where it will,” as Jesus says in the Gospel of John.  Each of us, as St. Paul says, is a Temple of the Holy Spirit, wherein God dwells.  Respect means not only loving each person as a child of God, with a unique vocation, called in baptism to the Body of Christ.  It also means accepting the way that the Spirit might be at work in that person.  As the Second Vatican Council says, “The holy People of God share also in Christ's prophetic office.”  The Spirit blows where it will; it’s up to us to listen to it.  Or not.

The prophetic office is often exercised in a powerful way by people on the margins, by the “unexpected” ones.  Think of people in the Old Testament, like Samuel, the young boy who surprisingly hears God’s call, or David, the last person imaginable thought worthy to be a leader.  The prophet who speaks from the margins may give voice to experiences that are not well known, or in some cases understood, but are nonetheless important.  This is not to say that every gay Catholic is a prophet.  But can the church listen to the experiences of gays and lesbians to discern where God might be at work in new ways?  Because the question “How much does the church listen?” is the same as “How much does the church respect?”


When Jesus sees someone who is struggling, the Gospels often say that he is moved with pity.  But the original Greek word used is far more vivid: splagchnizomai.  It means that his bowels were moved with compassion.  In other words, Jesus feels that emotion “in his guts.”  Catholics are called to treat gays and lesbians with that same kind of visceral compassion.  When we see them suffering, we are called to be moved in the same profound and transformative way.  

What about our use of the term?  The English word “compassion” comes from a Latin root meaning to “suffer with” or “experience with.”  What would that mean in this case?

To suffer with gays means to be with them, and to stand with them, in solidarity.  It means to be, and to be seen to be, on their side, battling "every sign of unjust discrimination.”  It means sticking up for them when others mock or belittle them.  It means reaching out in ways that might move us beyond our comfort zones.  It might mean finding ourselves mocked as a result.  It means aligning ourselves with them. That’s what Jesus did, after all.  Even more than that, it means showing the kind of love that Jesus shows for those on the margins—a special kind of love.

Jesus made a special effort to reach out to those on the margins.  He could easily have ministered solely to those who were thought to be “acceptable,” like observant Jews and the wealthy and the well.  Over and over, though, Jesus moves beyond those groups, and takes his ministry to those who have been shunned by polite society—the “unclean,” the lepers, the poor, the sick, the tax collectors, prostitutes, “sinners.”  It is an intentional ministry on the margins.

For Jesus there is no “other.”  He works to bring all—through healing, welcome and forgiveness of sins—into the community.  And often he does this before the sin is forgiven.  For example, the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector (a hated role among the Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine).  Passing through the town of Jericho, Jesus sees the short man climbing a sycamore tree and calls up, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”  This was a public sign of acceptance, and it must have seemed shocking to those for whom Zacchaeus was supposed to be hated.  After he climbs down from his branch, Zacchaeus offers to pay back anyone that he has cheated four times over and give his money to the poor.  But Jesus offers to go to his house before Zacchaeus does any of that. 

Jesus is not afraid to stand with those on the margins.  He always calls people to conversion, but most of all he “suffers with,” and “experiences with.”  This is one of the meanings of compassion. 

There are many examples of such compassion in the Catholic church.  Gay and lesbian ministry is more widespread than most observers (and most Catholics) may think.  On the local level, in parishes, gays and lesbians are ministered to in quiet and private ways by pastors and pastoral associates.  More publicly, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, to take one of many examples, runs a successful and long-lasting (founded in 1986) ministry to gays and lesbians, a sign of their respect for these men and women.  “The Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics (MLGC) recognizes that all persons with a homosexual orientation are capable of living a full Catholic life in union with all the members of the Church,” says its website, quoting the former archbishop, Roger Cardinal Mahony. “MLGC has as its primary goal "to foster a spirit of community and fellowship among gay Catholics so that they can offer and receive mutual support in living their lives of faith with the Church."


What would it mean to treat gays and lesbians with “sensitivity” in the church? The word connotes that you are dealing with something that is itself “sensitive.”  And that’s true.  This is not to say that gays and lesbians are not strong people; rather, their experiences growing up often leaves them hurt and scarred.  (Yes, other groups are also hurt and scarred but we’re talking about one group that often feels that the church has not been “sensitive” to them.)  Can Catholics treat gays and lesbians with the same sensitivity that they would treat another victim or wounded soul? 

What do you do with someone who has been hurt?  You treat them with great attention and a special care.  This would mean going out of our way to be loving and listening.

Another thing for Catholics to remember: Words matter.  Words can hurt.  Words can also heal.  Not long ago, Francis Cardinal George, the archbishop of Chicago, compared certain gays and lesbians activists to the KKK--out of fear that a gay pride parade could possibly turn anti-Catholic.  The cardinal’s original fear was that a scheduled pride parade would interfere with people entering a Sunday Mass along the parade route.  The remark stung many in the gay community.  In response, the organizers changed the time of the parade.  Initially the cardinal issued a statement that repeated the analogy of the KKK, which caused further hurt.  Later on, though, he issued an outright apology.  “I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused,” he said. “Particularly because we all have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian. This has evidently wounded a good number of people. I have family members myself who are gay and lesbian, so it’s part of our lives. So I’m sorry for the hurt.”  His apology, to me, seemed an example of sensitivity. 

Another area of sensitivity is the way that the church’s overall teaching on gays and lesbians (not just about activity but about individuals as well) is presented.  Or not presented.  Some Catholic leaders lead off with the “thou shalt nots” and never get to the “thou shalts.”  If all gays and lesbians hear about is the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage (to the exclusion of anything else about gays and lesbians), then it’s perhaps not surprising that many would report feeling rejected.  Some of this may be the result of the media coverage focusing on one issue—but not all.  What a difference it would make if Catholic leaders could speak as often about the great contributions of gays and lesbians in the church, for example.  Or about treating gays with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.”  Or if they raised their collective voices against gay suicide. 

This way of proceeding has always struck me as surprising.  It would be as if the first thing that a priest said to a group of married Catholic couples at a retreat was not “Welcome,” but “No extramarital sex!” Or if a group of Catholic business leaders was greeted at a luncheon by a bishop who said, “No unfair wages!”  Or if a group of Catholic physicians was told at the beginning of a conference, “No abortions!”  Gay people sometimes feel as if the “thou shalt nots” are the entirety of the church’s teaching on who they are.  Because sometimes that’s all they hear. 

An old scholastic dictum is helpful here.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologiae, "Quidquid recipitur secundum modum recipientis recipitur."  Loosely translated:  That which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.  So when trying to communicate something, one needs to be sensitive not only to how it is communicated, but how it is received. 

Part of sensitivity, in other words, is knowing how your message is coming across.  And presenting the whole message, not just part of it. 

As I said, none of what I say contradicts Catholic teaching.  Quite the contrary.  Treating gays and lesbians with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” is Catholic teaching.  It may sound odd to hear these things discussed, which are all perfectly in line with church teaching, because Catholics don’t hear it all that much.  And that is a great loss to gay and lesbian Catholics, to all Catholics for that matter; indeed, to all people of good will.

Show Comments (58)

Comments (hide)

Bruce Snowden | 7/18/2013 - 11:22am

Hi Michael , Your comprehensive reflection on my simple post on same sex orientation is much appreciated, insightful and informationally replete. I find myself in agreement with your scholarly presentation, experiencing only “two bumps in the road” relative to (1) the morality of artificial insemination and (2) in vitro fertilization. I am not sure of exactly what developing Catholic morality says about #1, so I have to withhold judgment until I know for sure. But as far as I can see #1 could (should) be morally licit if sperm contribution comes from a spouse, for the spouse (wife) assuming that normal intercourse is not possible even though masturbation would be required. As far as I understand it, artificial insemination for any other reason would be morally non-permissible across the board according to Catholic teaching. Regarding #2, seems to be more problematic for as I understand it, in vitro fertilization involves a kind of “conception” outside the womb and for me red flags pop up, since as a moral guide I follow the principle that says just because something is possible does not justify its implementation.

But because I always look for better answers to old problems, especially as they assist our sisters and brothers to live in greater freedom, flexibility and joy, supported in the veracity of sound moral judgment, I have open mind and heart to everything. In the little I know about moral theology one of its most satisfying allowances says, if there are two opposite opinions from two equally competent sources on a moral question, we may follow either in good conscience. That’s a liberating principle!

Again thanks for taking the time to respond to my post. To you, peace and all that’s good!

Michael Barberi | 7/17/2013 - 2:42pm

Thanks for your kind remarks. If a married couple wants children but have fertility problems, and fertility drugs will not work, then IMO:

1. Artificial insemination should be licit in these circumstances and self stimulation to produce the male seed for testing and use should be a permitted act. I will not go into the theological arguments for and against it.

2. In vitro fertilization with embryo transfer is a procedure that is used over 70% of the time. The sperm and ova are collected and fertilization takes place outside the woman's body (when #1 above will not work), then after 40 hours of development the zygote/pre-embryo is transfer into the womb of the woman. This procedure can produce several zygotes/pre-embryos and excess healthy embryos can be frozen, not destroyed.

These issues are complex and my brief comments do not do justice to the entirety of this subject. IMO this is a decision of conscience between spouses. If you are interested in more details and arguments for and against, see Todd Salzman's book "Sexual Ethics", chapter 6.

Bruce Snowden | 7/16/2013 - 11:11am

One of our Church’s Six Sins crying to heaven for vengeance is Sodomy and when so designated the focus was on homosexuality itself as an “intrinsically disordered” life style “always and everywhere.” But as in doctrinal development where progression in understanding exists, so too, I venture to suggest that, regarding homosexuality, our Church should also now list as part of the “sin crying to heaven for vengeance” for Catholics is the lack of “respect compassion and sensitivity” relative to same sex orientation.

Does anyone really understand the radix of same sex attraction? Is it genetic, environmental, a combination of both, or simply a matter of choice rooted in sometimes malicious attitude towards moral law? To some degree isn’t all sin, homosexual sin included “iintrinsically disordered?”

I do not know the whole answer. But I do feel quite certain that as with any moral transgression, adultery, fornication, stealing, even God forbid, child abuse, which is also a crime or whatever, all sin is a violation the moral order, in which circumstances alter cases and mitigating factors affect culpability. The same understanding applies to same sex attraction.

Again I admit I do not know the answer in full. I do know however, that no matter the moral transgression and degree of personal responsibility, we are mandated through Baptism into Christ, to show the same respect, compassion and sensitivity that Christ showed for sin human weakness, even crime, as when he protected the woman caught in adultery, to everyone without exception, including homosexual infraction if and when they exist. Is what I’ve tried to say a lot of baloney, or does it make sense?

Michael Barberi | 7/16/2013 - 4:33pm

Bruce -- your comments make a lot of sense. I would add a few thoughts for additional reflection.

We continually learn through scholarship and exegesis that the Bible must be interpreted carefully and in context of the knowledge, customs and beliefs at that time. There was no such thing as homosexuality or a same sex orientation in ancient times to the 19th century. The natural order was assumed and believed to be heterosexual. Therefore, if a heterosexual who was naturally oriented to a person of the opposite sex had sexual relations with a person of the same sex, it was an immoral choice and a grave sinful action. It was unnatural.

Staying with this fact, the Sodom story was more about the evil and immoral choice of a heterosexual crowd that wanted to violate Lot's visitors by raping them. Lot offered the crowd his daughters instead of his angelic visitors because of a twisted reasoning of hospitality. Would raping his daughters be less of an intrinsic evil than the rape of his visitors?

The Sodom story continued for more than 1,000 years as an example where God destroyed this city for the sin of Sodom, or homosexuality. Many scholars today challenge this narrative. For homosexuals, sex with a person of the same sex is natural, and for heterosexuals sex with a person of the opposite sex is also natural. However, it is not the concept of "natural" that makes sex with anyone morally right. Sex outside of a marriage is sinful but licit for heterosexuals in a loving, caring, faithful, fruitful and permanent union or marriage. The issue is why is sex licit for heterosexuals in a marriage, but not sex for homosexuals in a marriage or civil union? The reason often used is that procreation is not possible for homosexual couples. However, this has been challenged by many theologians.

For example, procreation is not a mandatory requirement in marriage for good reasons. In 1951, Pius XII in his address to the midwives exempted couples from their procreative obligation in marriage for good reasons. With these good reasons, he permitted a program of periodic continence or natural family planning "even for a lifetime" for this purpose. Since this program separates the unitive and procreative dimensions of the marital act, one finds it unintelligible how this program does not violate Humanae Vitae. Additionally, many heterosexual couples are infertile, marry during menopause or have other good reasons for not bearing children. Many heterosexual couples in permanent loving relationships adopt children or have children by artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization. So can many gay and lesbian couples in a permanent, faithful, and loving relationship.

There is much more to this argument. However, like you, I do not have the answers to homosexuality and a same sex orientation. However, the scientific community does not refer to this condition as "intrinsically disordered" but natural. People are born that way and do not voluntarily choose their orientation or sexual preference.

It is hard to imagine that the RCC can proclaim that people with a same sex attraction should be treated with "respect, compassion and sensitivity" when they also say that these individuals have an intrinsic disorder that moves them to commit grave evil actions. They teach that the only answer to their salvation is a lifetime of sexual abstinence. No gay or lesbian that I know believes that the Church treats them with respect, compassion and sensitivity.

Jim McCrea | 7/14/2013 - 6:09pm

Glad to see that this site is still up and running ... with current comments ... even after 18 months or so.

Michael Barberi | 7/13/2013 - 5:45pm

I think Allen raises an important point about the degree of openness that bishops have about discussing "respect, compassion and sensitivity" in treating gays and lesbians. The fact is that very few lay people, theologians and priests in any diocese have a serious discussion about these issues in a conference or meeting that is attended and organized on this subject by a diocesan bishop. Bishops avoid these issues like the plague.

Consider the fact that the opinions and beliefs of priests in the U.S. are only made know by confidential surveys. These surveys demonstrate that a significant percentage of priests disagree with many sexual ethical teachings of the Church. Since Church-going Catholics rely on their priests for spiritual and moral guidance, it is no wonder that this is one of the major reasons for non-reception. I don't believe that priests who disagree with some church teachings are being unfaithful. However, a major problem in the Church is that the clergy themselves undermine the authority of the Magisterium but the hierarchy does little to correct this for fear of the consequences.

Note the results of a 2002 LA Times Survey of Roman Catholic Priests in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Adobe PDF
It is the second Los Angeles Timessurvey of Roman Catholic priests in the United States. ... All US5 LA Times Priests Priests Poll 2002 Diocesan, Active 48% 54%

1. 15% of all priests identified themselves as homosexual or somewhere in between, but more on the homosexual side. But among younger priests, those ordained 21 years or less, the figure was 23%.

2. The percentage of priests who believe it is seldom or never a sin:

a. 19% to engage in homosexual behavior. 18% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same belief.
b. 43 % to use condoms as a protection against AIDS. 38% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same belief.
c. 40% to use artificial methods of birth control for married couples. 31% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same belief.
d. 42% to masturbate. 39% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same belief.

3. 58% believe that Catholics can disagree with some teachings and be faithful. 57% of younger priests ordained less than 21 years had the same opinion.

As mentioned, I don't believe that priests are being unfaithful because they have these beliefs. I call attention to the hypocrisy of the hierarchy who call for obedience to every Church teaching among the laity, but do nothing about this so-called disobedience among its priests. Perhaps the message here is that something is wrong with some of these teachings and responsible reform is being called for by the winds of the Holy Spirt.

Allen 2Saint | 7/13/2013 - 12:11am

It's a little disingenuous to say that the clergy and laity "need" to address homophobia in the Church. I ask you, have the US Bishops created an atmosphere where anyone can discuss a hot button issue without feeling like they are risking some horrible retribution? They are the ones who have bought into the Karl Rove style political maneuvering and pushed these harsh talking points in such a way that no self respecting Catholic who wished to remain in the Church in good standing would approach these topics. That's the truth. The "ominous threat" is that we have been painted into a corner by people who have lost sight of the primary Gospel values. Gay men and women are better marrying than living lives that where their desire to commit to each other is devalued, regardless of the theology. They deserve that much dignity, happiness and chance to lead their lives as Catholics.

Thomas Marbson | 11/11/2012 - 5:19pm
And for those who ask 'What does it hurt ?' with regard to Same-Sex marriage, well the answer is that it makes marriage more and more meaningless.

Obviously marriage as an institution had ups and downs over time, so nothing is irreversible, but the current trajectory is clearly towards oblivion. And no, that didn't start with same-sex marriage. The current practice of divorce already carved out a large chunk by shifting the concept of marriage from permanent to essentially temporary. Same-sex marriage now goes one step further and changes the definition, and if it goes on marriage simply becomes a contractual arrangement and then will loose all meaning it still has.

Don' get me wrong, should society find institutional ways to recognize and value the love of same-sex partnerships, yes it should, but sacrificing marriage to do so should not be part of this
Marie Rehbein | 7/15/2013 - 12:01pm

It appears that you might not be up to date on how no-fault divorce laws have already made marriage little more than an excuse for a big party and that lasting marriages reflect the character of the spouses and not the civil laws. If you understand that homosexual people are fully people, you will not feel threatened by them attempting to make life-long commitments that are acknowledged by the government and benefit from that status.

Thomas Marbson | 11/11/2012 - 5:10pm
Same years back I was at a talk in a student chaplaincy by one of the editors of catholic magazine similar to America, including a question and answer session. Besides the funny aside that half the room complained that the bishops talked to much about sex, and the other half said they didn't talk enough, the discussion also came to the issue of homosexuality and the predictable call for change in sexual teaching.

So I asked him, what reason the church has to change its teaching (and if the church changes the morality of homosexual behaviour it has to change a whole lot of other things), or in other words 'What changed and made the current teaching wrong ?'

and he couldn't answer

And that is in my view one of the problems with all those complaints about 'homophobia', namely the conflation between behaviour of catholics (which is unfortunately too often sinful in this regard, and Fr.Jim points out ways in which we all can improve in this regard) and the actual teaching of the church (which is internally consistent, based on scripture and tradition and an expression of God's love)
Anne Chapman | 1/16/2012 - 7:41pm
 #43 - It is time for clergy members, as well as laypeople, to take a stand and begin talking about institutionalized homophobia within the Catholic Church.

Yes it is, and it's also well past time for clergy and laity to talk about institutionalized misogny too.
Will Wake | 1/16/2012 - 4:01pm
As an ''out and proud'' Catholic who has been in a 26 year committed relation with my ''legal spouse'', Jim, I found Fr. Martin's article a bit perplexing.  Being raised Catholic, I was taught by my parents and well as my teachers to be respectful, compassionate, and sensitive to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, age, race, sex etc.  Should these basic acts of kindness be revelatory in 2012?  For me, the article had a us versus them tone to it.  I could not help but think as an ''intelligent Catholic'' of the thousands of closeted homosexual priests (at least here in America) who continue to play the ''don't ask, don't tell'' game and do not stand up against the formal Catholic Church stance on homosexuality and same sex marriage.  Are these priests fearful of losing their positions of influence among the people they serve?  Are they so inclined not to speak their consciences and stand up to their superiors?  Where are the John MacNeils of 2012?  Church leaders like Doan and Nienstedt, so-called friends of Fr. Martin, have substantial power and influence in political arenas.  It is time for clergy members, as well as laypeople, to take a stand and begin talking about institutionalized homophobia within the Catholic Church.
4337784 | 1/14/2012 - 9:46am
I really wish that the Church of Jesus would dispense, once and for all, with terms such as ''disordered'' when referring to loving, productive, and faithful members of our communities. Thank you, Father Martin, for another of your thoughtful pieces.
Allen 2Saint | 7/13/2013 - 8:24am

Amen. It is natural order lingo and, though the translation is probably not so hurtful sounding, the English is awful.

Michael Barberi | 1/13/2012 - 8:15pm
Thank you Fr. Jim for an excellent article. There is something seriously wrong with the proclamation that a same-sex attraction is "an objective disorder" and the fact that the sentence "they do not choose their homosexual condition" was part of, but now omitted from, the CCC. Nevertheless, you did not mention more serious issues.

According to the Church, homosexual persons must practice life-long celibacy. The problem with this moral assertion (a moral absolute) is that it is in contradiction with the Churh's own teaching about celibacy. Many men and women who wish to enter the religous order are called but few are chosen, because for at least one reason...they will not be able to embrace celibacy. The Church teaches that celibacy cannot be "imposed", it is a special gift from God given to the very few!!

If the gift of celibacy is given by God to the very few, it cannot be forced upon individuals by ecessiastic authority. If homosexual individuals must strive to embrace this moral abolute, they will fall under the weight of an unreasonable norm. They will become "habitual sinners" through no fault of their own. The principle of gradualness, given to "certain" habitual sinners in the sacrament of reconciliation, such as contraceptive couples, is not given to other habitual sinners like the divorsed and remarried or to homosexuals. This is called hypocracy at worse, and a contradiction at best. Contraceptive couples are given absolution without a firm purpose of amendment. They are expected to confess the sin, and "try" to avoid the sin. Realistically, this never happens. Most contracepion couples simply view this pastoral practice as absurd, and ignore it. They stand in line each week and receive the Eucharist when the pastor knows full well that most of these married couples practice contraceptoin.

The moral of this story is that the Chuch imposes a forced celibacy upon the great many Catholics who are homosexual. They are estanged from the Church and cannot receive the Eucharist if they have homosexual relations, even when they enter into a secular marriage with the promise of fidelity, a life-long commitment, et al. There is a clear contradiction between the theology of celibacy, the principle of gradualness for habitual sinners, and the Church's teachings about homosexual behavior.

There are many examples of contradiction and inconsistency regarding the sexual ethical teachings of the Church. Celibacy is the only option for a young husband who is seropositive, and for a young married woman whose life is threathened by another would be imprudent for her to practicie risky NFP. Somehow, celibacy seems like stoic insensibility in these cases as well.

The problematic is that the Church does not offer an adequate answer to these issues that cause suffering and moral dilemma for many Catholics. They merely repeat doctrine without remainder and ignore the reality of our times, and the voices and cries of the many. There are no easy answers to these issues. However, a Church that keeps its ears open to the winds of the Holy Spirit that blows within its heirarchy, but closes its ears to the winds of the Spirit that blows in and through many of its members, seems to be missing the message that Christ has taught us.
Kevin McManus | 1/13/2012 - 4:31pm
Fr. Jim, I have to respectfully disagree with you here. I understand your position and reluctance to have a debate on the matter of the Church's (erroneous, imho) teaching re the whole ''intrinsically disordered'' malarky, especially in light of the hierachy's reaction to Sister Jeannie Gramick, et al. Nonetheless, that debate needs to be had. In the words of MLK, it is ''time to break the silence''...
Brian Volck | 1/13/2012 - 4:13pm
Maria (@23):

As someone who, from experience, applies a hermeneutic of profound suspicion to what passes for the news industry's ''religion coverage,'' I tried to find the article you reference on the New York Daily News site, but I couldn't. Reuters, however, carries a story with the same title:

 though it's reading of the Pope's remarks:

seems tendentious at best. Here, as far as I can tell, is the address's offensive section:

...In addition to a clear goal, that of leading young people to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth, education needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself. The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and States; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue. It is in the family that we become open to the world and to life and, as I pointed out during my visit to Croatia, ''openness to life is a sign of openness to the future''. In this context of openness to life, I note with satisfaction the recent sentence of the Court of Justice of the European Union forbidding patenting processes relative to human embryonic stem cells, as well as the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemning prenatal selection on the basis of sex.

I suppose, with a great deal of work, an editor can get from these words to the sensational headline, but we are on a Jesuit website, and Ignatius would have us interpret another's words in the best possible light, though you and I may have different notions of ''best'' in this case. 


Kim Norris | 1/13/2012 - 3:33pm
Thank you for writing this article. I feel that several outspoken christian organizations are making christianity into a crusade against LGBT. I would be so proud of Catholics if we could set ourselves apart from those casting the stones. 
Anonymous | 1/13/2012 - 1:50pm
In addition to remarks from Bps Dolan and Nienstedt, there is also  the recent "State of the World Address" address of the  Holy Father on Monday:

'Gay Marriage Threatens Humanity's Future" @: 

Stephen O'Brien | 1/13/2012 - 1:07pm
Mr. Reidy, thanks for promising to prohibit anonymity on this forum!  That should be the policy of every online forum.
Douglas Brougher | 1/13/2012 - 12:06pm
Folks, fair warning: from now on those who do not post their full names will have their comments deleted.
Stephen O'Brien | 1/13/2012 - 11:40am
Father James Martin, S.J., should be commended for his outstanding article entitled “Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.”  Given the contours of the contemporary world, this unequivocally orthodox, carefully balanced, and exceptionally articulate presentation of official Catholic teaching concerns a topic with which all Catholics must deal as we keep, defend, and spread the Faith.  Thank you, Father Martin! 
Mary Nolan | 1/13/2012 - 11:26am
Is it possible to be a temple of the Holy Spirit and also objectively disordered?
How does it feel to be considered objectively disordered?
When others treat you with respect, compassion and sensitivity is it because you are objectively disordered?
Do these kind people sometimes feel "thank God I am not."

Mary E. Nolan
Michael Caputi | 1/13/2012 - 11:26am
In 1973, I was 18 years old and in my freshman year at Loyola Marymount University. I had gone in to speak with the Jesuit chaplain about a campus ministry project. When business was finished I found myself wanting to talk about what was going on for me. After minutes of struggling to get the words out, I said: ''I'm gay.'' I'll never forget his response. Without missing even a fraction of a beat, he replied: ''So? What else?''
Those words were prophetic to me. 
In the term following, I sat in a human sexuality course listening to Dr. Evelyn Hooker talk about the ground breaking studies she began in the 1940s with a group of gay men in Los Angeles. No, she found, gay men were certainly not intrinsically disordered. (It took the American Psychiatric Association until 1973 to come to the same conclusion.)
 Those words were prophetic to me. 
They were prophetic in no small part for their source and their context: A Catholic priest and university.
Fr. Martin, thank you for your reflections here. They are a beautifully articulate expression of a Christianity and a Catholic church I know. However, as a gay man I can't help but be somewhat disappointed that you do not go just one small step further. I think I can understand why you choose not to contradict church teachings or church leaders. But it is the prophetic step that must happen, actually is happening throughout the church. No gay man or woman can read line 2357 of the catechism and not cringe (if not feel a good deal of hurt and outrage). ''Intrinsically disordered.'' I can't imagine it is your intention, but those words—to our ears— are a hurdle that become an implicit ''but'' to everything you've shared here. The church loves and respects you, BUT ...'' It's a conjunction that I don't think Jesus used much.
What might prophetic sound like? It would not take much:
With all do respect to my brothers Benedict, Timothy, John and Charles: You are mistaken.
CASIMER LOPATA | 1/13/2012 - 10:50am
In their 1976 letter, To Live In Christ Jesus, the U.S Bishops said, ''Homosexuals ... have the right to respect, friendship and justice.''  Why, in the Catechism, was ''friendship'' changed to ''compassion,'' and ''justice'' changed to ''sensitivity''?  Do the bishops no longer believe that lesbian and gay people have a right to friendship and a right to justice?  Hmmm...
Sergio Leiseca | 1/13/2012 - 10:46am
Frankly, I do not understand why any of us is being critical of Catholic teaching on this subejct, or praising you for discussing it, when to quote you, "...none of what I say contradicts Catholic teaching.  Quite the contrary.  Treating gays and lesbians with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” is Catholic teaching".  I do have a suggestion, however.  Add the phrase "and anyone else for that matter" after the word "lesbians", so as to remind us all that treating gays, lesbians and anyone else for that matter is our Catholic teaching and mandate.  take care
Gerard McMahon | 1/13/2012 - 9:39am
If all doctrine (and doctrinal evolution and doctrinal ''reception'') orignates in some sense with a faith-based discernment of one's experience, it is hard to imagine a worse context for either reception of current doctrine or evolution of that doctrine than the current where one's experience is officially labelled as objectively disordered, sometimes in very strident tones.  A precondition for meaningful  respect, compassion, and sensitivity is an acceptance and openness to the fact that someone's experience MAY be ''of God''.  Otherwise these concepts (which I think are otherwise beautifully presented) are pretty meaningless in terms of treating someone like they are actually a full human being.
Sheila Harrison | 1/13/2012 - 7:21am
Thank You!! Excellent Article. When I look at God's creation ,I stand in awe.
Often we humans don't begin to understand the delicate balance of life systems.
Possibly human population is out of control in the delicate balance of earths system.
If we truly understand God creates out of Love,
 - and what God creates is Good , why would we have this conversation.
Possibly God is helping population find some balance. There are many mysteries
in life we can't begin to understand. Every part of Gods creation has value .
It is our job to discover it through Respect, Compassion, and Sensativity.

Francis DeBernardo | 1/12/2012 - 11:24pm
Many thanks to Fr. Martin for his clear and forthright essay.  Too often church leaders ignore the "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" part of their own teaching-to the great detriment of the church.  Why isn't this teaching as important as the teaching on sexual activity?  Jesus' own preaching seemed to emphasize "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" part of the Jewish law, and his teaching on sexual relationships was miniscule.  

Fr. Martin is correct in stating that there are a lot of ministry models being implemented which emphasize "respect, compassion, and sensitivity.  As he states, there is a lot of private pastoral counseling and also public solidarity.  Education is yet another model, especially since information about homosexuality, and sexuality in general, is often lacking in church settings.  
"Suffering with" someone is an important form of compassionate ministry.  Another equally important form of compassionate ministry is not just suffering with, but also working for.  While Jesus had a ministry of solidarity, he also had a ministry of healing and a ministry of advocating for the marginalized.  Gay and lesbian ministry in the church needs to grow in this direction of assisting and advocating.  It is a part of ministry to every other minority group in the church (racial and ethnic minorities, senior citizens, youth, immigrants, day laborers), so why isn't there advocacy for gay and lesbian people, too?  When gay and lesbian people see that church leaders are concerned about their social situation, and are working to improve it, they will easily see the "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" that the church teaches.

An easy first step in this direction would be to advocate against bullying.   

We are blessed to have Fr. Martin's voice in our church.
Joseph O'Leary | 1/12/2012 - 10:13pm
The alteration in the text of the Catechism shows that the Vatican is now more friendly to theories that see gayness as a choice. A Rome-based Jesuit touts the idea that with therapy one thirds of gays can become straight and another third can become capable of functioning heterosexually (which should enable them to fulfill their procreative duty and finding a wifey who will shelter them from loneliness in old age):
Chris Vogel | 1/12/2012 - 8:43pm
The authentic view of the Roman church is evident from the fact that it has always, everywhere, without exception, campaigned against every attempt to protect homosexuals from any and every form of discrimination, in every form of housing, employment and public services and everything else.  The Roman Catholic church has never, ever, anywhere, supported legal protection for the human or civil rights of homosexuals.
John Donaghy | 1/12/2012 - 7:45pm
Kiko and Father Jim,
If I am not wrong the passage that you quoted Fr. Jim was in the first edition of the catechism. There were a series of revisions and, if I'm not mistaken, this was one of the places where there was a change. (Another area of change was on the death penalty which was changed to reflect Pope John Pual II's strong statements.)
This I think helps to explan the discrepancy.
Thanks for addresing these and other issues.
Terence Weldon | 1/12/2012 - 6:21pm
Amen, Amen, Amen. What is there to add?

Just this. It is undoubtedly true that those who hold positions of power in the Church, need to ''listen'' to the voices of LGBT Catholics. But where are they to find those voices?  For many in our community, the perceptions and even experience of hostility are so strong and deeply hurtful, that they either stay away entirely from the sacramental life of the church, or if they do participate, they do so quietly, fearful of disclosing their sexuality. Even if fully out in the rest of the lives, the tendency is to remain closeted in church. 

The closet though is not good for either emotional or spiritual health - and also is in conflict with the verses from scripture which are quoted towards the end of the CDF letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons: ''Speak the truth with love'', and ''The truth will set you free''.

It's not easy, but we need LGBT Catholics to find the courage to be out and open in Church - and to speak up about their lives, so that others may find the voices to which they should be listening.

Anonymous | 1/12/2012 - 5:32pm
I started reading your post and immediately noticed that you inaccurately cited the CCC Fr. Jim.
You wrote: Line 2358 of the Catechism reads: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.  They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.  Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard must be avoided.” 
The CCC actually says:
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
So the phrase: They do not choose their homosexual condition… is not in the citation.
I am sure you will agree that it is important to present a citation accurately.
Jim McCrea | 1/12/2012 - 5:25pm
The only reason being gay or lesbian is "a trial" is because of the attitude of religious organization like the RCC and secular organizations that would prefer that we all be imprisoned.  Being LGBT in and of itself is not a trial.
Beth Cioffoletti | 1/12/2012 - 5:23pm
So why is the Catholic Church refusing to ordain men who are celibate but admitted homosexuals?
Stephen Taylor | 1/13/2012 - 10:13am
Has it occured to anyone yet that St. Paul did not have any intention of writing about homosexual people, but of the wide spread sexual immorality of the first century world?  Or, that the Bible could simply be wrong on this point?  Do you still consider epilepsy to be a disease?  Scripture was written in context of its time, not in the context of all time.  If we followed it as all time then we should all be walking around with one hand, one foot, and one eye.
Ruby Smith | 1/13/2012 - 6:35am
Well done!  A very interesting article and great perspectives.   As a Catholic, I never did agree with the gay/lesbian viewpoint.  If you look at Jesus and how he treated people whether they were lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and what not, they were the ones who people looked at unfavourably in society at the time.  But he loved and treated all with RESPECT, kindess and compassion.  Would he not do the same if he were here today?  He would treat everyone with respect regardless of race, colour, believe or sexual orientation. 

Thanks for writing this article!
Crystal Watson | 1/12/2012 - 5:51pm
It would help to believe that the church is against "unjust" discrimination (what is "just" discrimination?) if they would sign the UN Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity   ......
Joseph Amodeo | 1/12/2012 - 5:45pm
Fr. James Martin, thank you for providing such a beautiful discussion of Church teaching on LGBT people. Your voice is truly a light for many, especially LGBT Catholics and their families. I pray that the greater Church might thoughtfully discern what you have written and that it may guide hearts towards compassion and love.
Elaine Tannesen | 1/18/2012 - 8:50am
As a life long Catholic with a brain and a heart, I find the Church's teaching on homosexuality to be unsustainable.
A person's sexual orientation is not a choice, it is intrinsic to their unique personhood.  I believe that God made us all, all man and woman in His/Her image and likeness.  How can someone be called "disordered" if that is the way they were created? 
For those of us who live and work in the real world, we have friends, neighbors, work partners, children, and parents that are LGBT. They struggle, as we do, to lead a loving and moral life.  They also struggle with the ugly undercurrent of vicious hostility directed towards them because of their sexual orientation. As you so eloquently stated, Anne, I fail to see how their lifestyle is a threat to the traditional family.
To condemn a group of people to celibacy because of their sexual orientation, something beyond their control, seems to me to be the height of cruelty. Where is the "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" in this policy?  We are social sexual beings and that is the wonderful way we are designed. Chosen celibacy is a gift, usually supported by communities of similar lifestyles. But to deny a fellow human being the opportunity for a lifelong relationship with its friendship, daily kindnesses, challenges and opportunities to grow as a person is to deny him or her one of the great blessings of life. 
What are the bishops really afraid of?  A God that is more loving than they could imagine?
Jim McCrea | 1/17/2012 - 4:38pm
Will Wake:  as the Aussies say:  good on you, mate - good on you!
MATTHEW NANNERY | 1/17/2012 - 8:31pm
Cardinal Newman will soon be a saint.
And someday, odds are he'll be a doctor of the church.
But sometime in between, he may do something more important and emerge as a patron to many wonderful Catholics who feel like they've been left to wander on the margins of the church.
Jim McCrea | 1/15/2012 - 3:48pm
@ James #38:

"Will Gay People, like Galileo, suffer waiting 500 more years to be vindicated and liberated from a Catholic Church with official homophobic teachings?"

Only those silly enough to (1) consider that necessary, and (2) stick around continue to be beaten up by "Holy Mother" church.

Bill Freeman:  congrats on 24 years.  My Greg and I will celebrate 40 on May 15th.  And all without blessing of church nor approbation of state.  But, of course, we all know that to be threatening to the "sanctity" of holy matrimony.  Greg and I pray to Sts. Newt and Callista the Vestal Virgin for help each day.
C Walter Mattingly | 1/14/2012 - 4:38pm
As usual, another balanced and thoughtful article from Fr Martin, with a catholic, as in comprehensive, overview. To complement its respectful, compassionate, and sensitive tone, it adds the virtues of clarity of thought and a wise balance. Fr Martin here practices what he preaches. He walks the walk.
Lisa Fullam | 1/15/2012 - 12:43pm
I'm hoping this lovely essay will appear also in the print edition. Yes? 
Craig McKee | 1/14/2012 - 2:51am
This article, and the ensuing discussion made me think back to the Glenmary missioners' poster child: an Appalachian boy with the following quotation: GOD MADE ME, adding at the bottom GOD DOESN'T MAKE JUNK.
Crystal Watson | 1/14/2012 - 5:33pm
It's good that the church preches respect fot LGBT people, but while the chuch does this, it at the same time works to curtail their civil rights.  It's the same with women .... JPII says women have a "special dignity" but at the same time they're prevented from being priests, etc..  Nice words like respect and dignity cannot make up for actions which contradcit them.
Anne Chapman | 1/13/2012 - 7:34pm
Re #30. Whenever this subject comes up, I have asked a question of those who believe that legalizing same sex marriage will destroy the family, society, humanity etc. Not once have any of them answered. It seems like a combination of hysteria and paranoia really.  

People who are heterosexual will remain so, and most will marry, and most will have children. People who are homosexual will remain so. If they marry, some will adopt or perhaps some of the women will have a child using in vitro with a donor, and so some gay couples also will have families.  Some among both hetero and homosexual couples will not have children.  Nothing will change except that homosexual couples who can marry and choose to do so will automatically gain certain legal rights from the state accorded to all married couples related to inheritance, property division in the event of a split/divorce, certain rights in the medical system etc.  

How any of this is going to destroy the family/society/humanity I have no idea.  So if anybody wants to explain how gay marriage will wreak all of this havoc, please do comment. 
Angelo Roncalli | 1/14/2012 - 3:18pm
The Martin article makes good points.
It remains sad, however, that although Fr. Martin seems to be ''Gay Friendly,'' he does not have the guts (conviction) to stand up against the Church's official teaching that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered and that homosexual acts are sinful ? in spite of the building scientific evidence that sexual orientation is inherent, a biological characteristic like left-handedness or hair color: not a choice and therefore not a sin.
I would ask Fr. Martin to not be afraid to speak truth to power. 
           Would Fr. Martin also have been afraid to offend Catholic Church leaders by defending Galileo's treatise that the earth goes around the sun and not vice versa?  Would Martin have advised the Church to be kind and sensitive to Galileo while still being very careful not to disagree with the official condemnation of his science and his punishment?
            Will Gay People, like Galileo, suffer waiting 500 more years to be vindicated and liberated from a Catholic Church with official homophobic teachings?