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Explainer: What does the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality actually say?

Archbishops launching the Papal visit were met with questions about LGBT members – but what’s the official position?

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

MANY OF THE questions for the two Archbishops launching the Pope’s official itinerary in Ireland this week focused on the Catholic Church’s stance on the LGBTQI community and whether people in same-sex relationships would be welcome at high-profile Church-run events later this summer.

Pope Francis will spend two full days in Ireland on 25 and 26 August this year to coincide with the Church’s week-long World Meeting of the Families. Half a million tickets are being made available for his mass at Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

The question of whether LGBTQI couples who are members of the Church would be welcome at the event first came under focus earlier this year after it emerged pictures featuring same-sex partners were removed from a reissued booklet about August’s event sent to parishes.

A US-based bishop’s welcome to same-sex couples was also edited out of a video promoting the World Meeting of the Families – a move described by Association of Catholic Priests here as being “very damaging” to the event.

Earlier this month the group We Are Church Ireland launched a petition calling on Pope Francis to change theological language which they described as “gravely insulting” to LGBTQI people.

So what does Church teaching on homosexuality actually say? 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Sacred Scripture has presented homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity and that tradition has always declared that ”homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”.

It continues:

They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The Catechism, which is regarded to contain the essential and fundamental content of the Catholic faith, continues:

“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.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

The Amoris Laetitia, a 2016 exhortation by Pope Francis which Irish Archbishops have said will be the guiding document of the World Meeting of the Families, makes several statements in this area too.

Regarding family members who experience same-sex attraction it states that the situation is “not easy either for parents or for children”.

“We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”

It continues:

Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.

anmor Source: Vatican.va

And how about same-sex marriage? 

The Amoris Laetitia says regarding “proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage” that 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 is unacceptable that local Churches be subjected to pressure on this issue, the document adds.

Elsewhere, it is stated:

There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life.
We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage.
No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.

What has the Pope himself been saying? 

Pope Francis signalled a more tolerant approach from the Church with his 2013 statement:

If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?

Source: ABC News/YouTube

More recently a survivor of sexual abuse in Chile who was a guest at the Vatican in April said he had discussed his sexuality with Pope Francis. The man, who is gay, said the Pope had told him:

It doesn’t matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this.

Contrarily, media outlets in Italy reported that Pope Francis recently spoke to the Italian Bishops’ Conference about gay men studying for the priesthood, and, according to one bishop, said:

“If in doubt, better not let them enter.” (Meaning that if they are gay they should not be allowed join the seminary).

As CNN noted, this would put the Pope more in line with his predecessor Benedict who said that men with ”deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” shouldn’t be allowed study for the priesthood.

What have bishops here said? 

Asked at this week’s Maynooth briefing on the Papal visit whether same-sex couples were welcome to volunteer at the World Meeting of the Families, Archbishop Eamon Martin said:

I’ve absolutely no idea that anyone would be asked about their sexual orientation in becoming a volunteer. But I imagine that all of those who attend the World Meeting of the Families as visitors as participants … the difference here is we don’t necessarily reveal our particular sexuality when we’re coming along to any event and I imagine it’s the same for the World Meeting of the Families.

Asked again if they were welcome, he said:

“Of course. At the world meeting of the families this is a gathering of people to whom everyone is welcome. I know the families who are going there would be the last to say that they are perfect in any way

“Even in terms of living up to the teaching of the Church, we all struggle in that. As a bishop I struggle in that. I’m welcome, I hope, at the World Meeting of the Families, but so is everyone where they are at in their particular journey of faith.

It’s also a Catholic event, the World Meeting of the Families is an event of the Catholic Church. So I don’t think we make any apologies for the fact that the Catholic Church has a very clear teaching on marriage and the family.

Martin, who is the leader of the Church in Ireland, said the week’s events would also allow for the exploration of the kinds of challenges and realities of modern family life in Ireland.

“Only two weeks ago I met with a mother whose daughter has just come out and said she’s a lesbian,” the Archbishop said.

That particular mother… Her question for me is like she says ‘I love my faith and I love my daughter’. And I suppose as a mother church we too love our faith, we love the teaching of our church and all it stands for but we also love our people.

Martin also stressed that the Amoris Laetitia would be the guiding document of the week’s events.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Speaking in the wake of 2015′s same-sex marriage referendum, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said the Church needed a “reality check”.

He told RTÉ News:

“I think really that the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, ‘Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?’

It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general.

What are LGBTQI campaigners saying? 

Former President Mary McAleese has been among the high-profile Church members to criticise its official stance.

Speaking in 2014, in advance of the marriage equality referendum, she said that homosexuality was “not something that is perceived as something that is intrinsically disordered” these days and that things written by figures like former Pope Benedict were contradictory to the understanding of most Catholics today.

She said that the issue of homosexuality was “not so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants” for the Catholic Church and that she did not like the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ attitude the Church has towards gay people.

Royal visit to Ireland - Day 2 Former Irish President Mary McAleese. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Writing in support of the We Are Church Ireland petition calling for a change in the Church’s official language, former TV3 political editor Ursula Halligan argued:

“Why does the hierarchical Catholic Church continue to use such horrible language in its catechism and official documents about LGBTQI people?

If a business or company were to use such language, they would be publicly reprimanded and penalised by the state. The hierarchical church needs to wash its mouth out before speaking about LGBTQI people.

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