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social sciences

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Roman Catholicism  
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However, even though a homosexual orientation is not in itself viewed as evil, it has since 1986, in a harsh modification of the Church's 1975 position, been regarded as an "objective disorder," a "tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil." In a "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," issued on October 31, 1986, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, speaking as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, declared that "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed to those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not."

Thus, while a homosexual orientation is "an objective disorder," but not sinful it itself, homosexual acts are, in the Church's view, intrinsically evil. The commission of homosexual acts is regarded as gravely immoral, for they are freely chosen.

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According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. 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 Church's condemnation of homosexual acts is rooted both in the biblical passages censuring same-sex sexual activity, as interpreted by the Church Fathers, and in the belief that such acts are "unnatural." The latter belief derives from the Roman Catholic adherence to the dubious principle of Natural Law, as articulated by the medieval scholastic Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas condemned same-sex sexual activity as "unnatural," and it is on this basis that "crimes against nature" were ultimately proscribed in the legal codes of most Western nations.

In addition, homosexual acts are considered "contrary to the natural law," for they do not lead to procreation. For the same reason, artificial contraception is condemned. In the Roman Catholic view, the purpose of sexuality is procreation. Thus, the Church regards homosexual acts as inhuman and akin to bestiality, for, as Pope John Paul II recently announced, in a condemnation of same-sex marriage, "Sexual relations are human when and insofar as they express and promote the mutual assistance of the sexes in marriage and are open to the transmission of new life."

The teaching of the Church is that homosexuals should lead chaste and celibate lives. As expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "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."

A Roman Catholic homosexual who confesses occasional homosexual acts is usually absolved with the admonition to go and sin no more and is allowed to receive communion. However, if he or she is involved in a permanent relationship with a person of the same sex, then a priest is supposed to deny him or her both absolution and the sacraments unless and until the relationship is terminated.

Is the Church Homophobic?

Although the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church ostensibly speaks with a single voice, and priests, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals--and theology professors in Church-supported institutions--are prohibited from expressing views contrary to the Church's official policies, those policies are given slightly different nuances depending on the speaker and the audience to whom the messages are addressed.

Hence, depending upon who is speaking and which documents are cited, the Church may be seen as virulently or as mildly accepting (though never approving) of homosexuality. In the official pronouncements of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger, bristling as they do with references to "deviance," "immorality," "depravity," and "evil," the Church's intolerance is obvious. In the more soothing declarations of individual priests engaged in pastoral care for gay and lesbian congregants, the Church might seem to accept, if not embrace, sexual diversity.

Moreover, there are differences in the temperaments of the various branches of Catholicism. Although the teachings of the Church are uniform throughout its vast expanse, Italian Catholicism may seem more indulgent than, say, Irish Catholicism, which might emphasize punishment more than forgiveness. One diocese might be led by a bishop less concerned with homosexuality than a neighboring diocese; hence the issue might be at the fore in one jurisdiction but recede to the background in another. Jesuits may be seen as more intellectual and more prone to questioning Church traditions than members of other orders, while the Franciscans, for example, may appear more intent on pastoral care.

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