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Roman Catholicism  
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The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the Western world. Organized complexly and hierarchically, the Church is united in doctrine and worship under the supreme jurisdiction of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Roman Catholics believe that the Church alone possesses the system of truths, laws, and practices that was instituted by Jesus Christ for the governance of humankind and that has been passed down in apostolic succession from Saint Peter. They hold that the Church has been given a gift of infallibility and jurisdiction over all believers.

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships. Through its interpretation of biblical passages and its embrace of a "natural law" theology that heavily influenced the secular laws of most of the Western world, the Church is deeply implicated in, and has sometimes actively promoted, the brutal persecution of sexually variant people throughout the Christian era.

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These persecutions range from the torture and execution of "" during the Middle Ages and the early modern period to the imprisonment of thousands of homosexuals on charges of "crimes against nature" in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to say nothing of the guilt, alienation, and despair (sometimes leading to suicide) that millions of glbtq people have felt as the result of the Church's pronouncements.

Attraction of Roman Catholicism for glbtq People

Notwithstanding the hatred that the Church has fomented against sexual minorities, at some points in its history, it has served as a haven for those whose sexual desires were unorthodox. The sex-negative attitudes of the Church led to the establishment of a celibate male clergy and of sexually segregated monasteries and convents, which undoubtedly provided a refuge for individuals who failed to conform to heterosexual norms yet sought respectability and esteem from the community and an opportunity to find spiritual fulfillment. Moreover, the Church has frequently served as patron to some of the world's greatest artists, including Michelangelo, Leonardo, Caravaggio, and El Greco, whose lives not only exhibited same-sex sexual interest, but whose created works are noteworthy for their .

At some times in its history, the Roman Catholic Church has been more accepting of glbtq people than have other Christian faiths. Indeed, during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, many English homosexuals--including Oscar Wilde and Radclyffe Hall--converted to Roman Catholicism precisely because it was seen as more tolerant of sexual variation than Protestant religions. Other converts, such as Cardinal John Henry Newman and other members of the nineteenth-century Oxford Movement, found in the Church the possibility of intense masculine friendships, which were at least homoerotic if not actually homosexual.

The Church's emphasis on spiritual mystery, mystical experience, elaborate ritual, and rich symbolism, as well as its beautiful architecture and transcendent art, has had and continues to have a strong appeal to some glbtq people, including many who became (and become) priests. Not only does Catholicism offer a unique cultural experience valued by many glbtq people who find in the Church a sense of belonging and community, but Catholicism's traditions of selfless community service and of sublimating sexuality into religious devotion may hold particular attraction for individuals who are uneasy with or feel guilty about their sexual desires.

This latter tradition especially may explain the disproportionate number of homosexuals in the Catholic priesthood and other religious orders. Although they are expected to observe vows of chastity, individuals of a homosexual orientation have been estimated to comprise from 30 per cent to more than 50 per cent of American priests. While speculation about the number of lesbian nuns has not attracted the same attention as speculation about the number of homosexual priests, it is believed that the percentage of lesbians among the ranks of nuns is also large.

Theological Positions Regarding Homosexuality

In many ways the Roman Catholic Church remains a medieval institution, especially in regards to its sexual doctrines, which condemn artificial contraception and masturbation as well as same-sex sexual acts. However, since 1975 it has accepted the conclusion of modern psychologists and sexologists that a minority of human beings are sexually oriented toward their own sex. Moreover, it acknowledges that this orientation is not something that individuals choose, but something they discover.

The Church makes a distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts. In the Catholic view, homosexual desires are not in themselves sinful, for they are involuntary. A homosexual orientation, then, is not regarded as in itself evil.

According to the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, "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 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."

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Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI (above) in 2005. In 1986 Ratzinger declared homosexuality "an objective disorder" in a letter to Catholic bishops. Photograph by Sergey Kozhukhov.
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