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by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Over the centuries, the Church has often issued decrees defending Catholic morality. Among these decrees more than one has condemned the practice of homosexuality. Until recent years, however, the more common term used by the Church was “sodomy” and not homosexuality.
The reason for the shift in vocabulary has been mainly the widespread denial that sodomy is anywhere formally condemned by Sacred Scripture. Another reason is that homosexuality has become so prevalent in the modern world that one psychological science after another has developed a library of literature defending the practice of homosexuality.
This catechism is an in-depth analysis of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality as found especially in two Vatican documents on the subject. The first was issued in 1975 under the authority of Pope Paul VI; the second was published in 1986 under the authority of Pope John Paul II.
Our catechism will follow this chronological sequence of the two documents. The first document is called the “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics”. A large part of the first section of this document does not deal directly with homosexuality. Yet it seemed proper to include this part of the document in our catechism because it lays the foundation for Catholic moral teaching on homosexuality.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of what the Church’s magisterium teaches on sexual morality in general and on homosexuality in particular. Clarity here is indispensable for the preservation of the true faith.
The reference sources will be identified by the letter P for the Decree authorized by Pope Paul VI, and by the letters JP for the document authorized by Pope John Paul II.
Human persons receive their characteristics from their sexuality. Whether a person is a man or woman largely determines the qualities of their personality. In other words, in God’s providence, the difference between men and women is not only, or mainly, biological. It is especially spiritual. (P1)
There has been a widespread corruption of morals, and one of the most serious signs of this corruption is the unbridled exaltation of sex. Through the modern means of communication, this corruption has invaded the field of education and infected the mentality of whole nations. (P1)
They have put forward ideas and forms of behavior that are absolutely contrary to the true morality of human persons. Some have gone so far as to promote a licentious hedonism. (P1)
The net result has been confusion, even among Catholics, on what is still binding by the divine moral laws. (P1)
It is the bishops of the Catholic Church, relying on the teaching and directives of the Bishop of Rome. (P2)
The reason is that, although some bishops have addressed themselves to the prevalent moral confusion, it was not enough to stem the tide of moral errors. It was therefore by a mandate of the Supreme Pontiff that the declaration on sexual morality was published. (P2)
It is the realization that we should discover the values of our human nature by the light of our own intelligence. More and more people are recognizing that these values should be constantly developed. (P3)
In the document on The Church in the Modern World, the council declares that in moral matters man cannot make value judgment according to his personal whim: “In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience…. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.” (P3)
No, God has made His will known not only by the light of reason, but by His own supernatural revelation. Consequently, we have Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition to enlighten our minds on God’s will in the moral order. (P3)
Yes, all development of morals and every adaptation to different cultures must be kept within the limits imposed by the unchangeable principles of the divine law. (P3)
They appeal to what they call the general law of charity and respect for human dignity. They support their claims by saying that the norms of the natural law or the precepts of Revelation are only expressions of a form of particular culture at a certain period of human history. (P 4).
The Church declares that human nature is always essentially the same. Consequently, there cannot be any fundamental change in the moral obligations of human beings over the whole span of human history. Moreover, these moral principles apply equally to all human beings since they all possess the same essential human nature. (P 4)
Both Revelation and philosophical wisdom are from the one God who is Lord of all His creation. God does not contradict Himself as would follow if the morality of human beings shifted with time and different cultures. (P 4).
The Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit she transmits without error the truths of the moral order. Moreover, she authentically interprets not only the revealed positive law but also those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature and which concern man’s full development and sanctification. (P 4)
Emphatically yes. This is part of the Church’s mission as teacher of the truth to the whole human race. No matter what the opinions and moral practice of the world may be, as the divine guide for human beings, the Church’s moral principles cannot change. They never become out of date or doubtful under the pretext that a new cultural situation has arisen. (P 5).
As expressed by the Second Vatican Council, this constancy of the Church’s moral doctrine takes into account the equal dignity of man and woman while respecting their differences. (P 5).
The basic principle is that the sexual nature of man and the human faculty of procreation are essentially superior to all other lower forms of life. At the root of this superiority is that human sexuality pertains to marriage and to a finality which is unique in the visible world of living beings. (P 5).
It teaches that sexual actions belong to conjugal life. They do not depend solely on sincere intentions or on people’s motives. Sexual morality must be determined by objective standards. These standards are based on the nature of human beings and their acts, while preserving the full sense of mutual self-giving and procreation in the context of true love. (P 5).
Guided by divine Revelation and her authority to interpret the natural law, the Church declares that the use of the sexual function has its true meaning and moral rectitude only in true marriage. One word in the foregoing sentence needs to be emphasized. It is the word “true”, as applied to true meaning and true marriage. Over the centuries, the meaning of sexual activity has been given an ocean of interpretations, which are not true. So too co-habitation between men and women who are two persons of the same sex has been called “marriage.” What is crucially important, especially in our day, is to make sure that sexual morality applies to true marriage and not one of its spurious counterfeits. (P 5).
Its purpose is not to deal with all the abuses of the sexual faculty, nor with all the elements involved in the practice of chastity. Rather its object is to repeat the Church’s perennial doctrine on certain particular aspects of sexual morality which are currently opposed by serious errors and widespread abuse of sexual behavior. Underlying this exposition is the belief of the Catholic Church that she was founded by the Son of God to preserve the truth, not only in faith but also in morality. (P 6).
One of the main contributors to the plague of sodomy which has infected the modern world is the claim that sexual union is allowed before marriage. This erroneous opinion is not only contrary to Christian morality, it opens the door to the claim that two people can have mutual sexual experience independent of the purpose for which God created the two genders of men and women. The desecration of the sexual powers outside of marriage opens the door to the degeneration of homosexuality (P 7).
Unmarried cohabitation either excludes the possibility of children, or is a grave detriment to the welfare of the children who need the stability of a lifelong commitment of married love from their parents.
Homosexuality by its very nature, excludes the procreation of offspring. It is the selfish indulgence in sexual pleasure of two persons of the same gender whose claim of loving one another excludes the love of children who cannot be conceived or born (P8).
Basically these two forms of homosexuality are identified as the curable and the incurable. The curable forms, it is said, are the result of false education, a lack of normal sexual development, habit, bad example, or other similar causes. This kind of homosexuality is said to be transitory or at least not incurable (P8).
People are claimed to be incurable when their homosexuality is some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution of their nature (P8).
As a result, the practice of homosexuality is justified. Homosexual relations within a sincere communion of life and love are said to be similar to marriage. The assumption is that such homosexuals cannot endure a solitary life (P8).
They are to be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties. Their guilt will be judged with prudence. But under no circumstances is their behavior to be justified (P8)
The verdict is uncompromising. Homosexual relations lack an essential and indispensable purpose. The purpose of sexual activity is for married people to cooperate with God in the beginning of children; and to both express and cultivate their mutual love for each other (P8.)
It is Catholic doctrine that masturbation constitutes a grave moral disorder. Consequently,
when fully consented to by the will, it is a mortal sin. Not surprisingly there are many who deny this today. They claim that psychology and sociology show that masturbation is a normal phenomenon of sexual development, especially among the young ( P9).
Masturbation which is not controlled becomes habitual. As a result, the person is strongly tempted to increase the sexual pleasure by indulging the sexual passion together with another person of the same gender. Thus homosexuality is really mutual masturbation with a person and without the risk of pregnancy (P9).
According to the fundamental option theory, there is no mortal sin committed unless a person completely rejects God or completely closes himself to the love of others. On these premises, homosexuals would not be committing grave sin.
They deny that they totally reject God and also deny that they completely close themselves to the love of others. In fact, they claim that their homosexuality is an expression of deep love for another person of the same gender. Moreover, there are professed moralists who defend sodomy as totally consistent with the will of God (P10).
The number of these statements is almost beyond counting. The following is only one example of how wide spread and how deep is the defense of homosexuality by professedly Catholic writers and teachers.
A notorious speech was given by a member of the hierarchy at a national conference of professed Catholics who are openly homosexual. The quotation is rather long but deserves to be given because of its devastating implication. Says the bishop:
I can’t tell you the number of letters I have received from priests who say they are gay, but they are afraid to come out.
What a loss that is to our Church. If they were willing to stand up on Sunday morning in front of the community and say who they really are, our Church would much more fully and effectively appreciate the gifts that homosexuals can bring to the whole community of our Church and our society as well.
I encourage this because I hope within our Church every gay person, every lesbian person, and every transgender person will come out. Because that is how our Church is going to truly change, when everyone from this homosexual community is…courageous enough to come out.
Please come out, come forward! Share your gifts with the Church!
The Church’s teaching is said to be unjust and out of touch with the times. In fact those who oppose homosexuality on moral grounds are said to be psychologically sick. They are infected with the disease of homophobia.
The root cause is the claim that each person has the right to determine what is morally good and what is morally bad. There are so-call moralists who claim that we are free to determine what is good and evil. This is absolutely not true. It would give the human will the right which belongs to God alone, namely to determine what is morally virtuous and what is sinful.
They are claiming that the Church can only set down certain moral intentions or generalities. They deny that divine revelation and the Church’s teaching include specific moral imperatives. Such interpretation of the autonomy of human reason is incompatible with Catholic moral doctrine. With such moral errors penetrating people’s minds, it is no wonder that homosexuality is not only defended but openly praised as consistent with Christian morality.
In general, homosexuality is some form of sexual relationship among persons of the same sex. It is most important to understand what this means from the perspective of Christian morality.
It is so important because the same word is used by different people in different ways. To identify a person as homosexual is, to say the least, ambiguous.
The Church distinguishes between homosexuality as a tendency, as an attraction, and as an activity.
Homosexual tendency in any person is within the normal range of human nature. Our fallen condition includes every kind of impulse, whether morally good or morally bad. We may therefore have a sexual inclination towards persons of the same or opposite gender to our own. Our inclination towards persons of another gender is called heterosexual; our inclination towards persons of the same gender is called homosexual. With sincere efforts and divine grace the homosexual impulse can be controlled.
Homosexual attraction is for members of the same sex. This may be partly due to the peculiar make up of certain individuals. More often, however, it is the result of indiscretion or seduction and presents a greater problem. But, once again, this too is not by itself sinful. In fact, it may be an occasion for great supernatural merit. When the condition is pathological, it requires therapy, but always consistent with the basic principles of Christian morality.
Homosexual activity is sexual relations between two or more persons of the same gender. It is the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, based on divine revelation and Christian tradition, that homosexual activity is morally indefensible. The reasons for this are founded on the revealed truth that sexual experience is divinely reserved to husband and wife in their marital relations. Moreover, as we shall see, homosexual activity is destructive of the very foundations of human society.
In 1986, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document on “The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” The reason was the widespread dissemination of ideas and assertions inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church. Since then, these erroneous opinions have become more devastating than ever before in the history of Christianity (HP1).
This teaching is based on human reason and divine revelation (HP2).
There are two sources, namely reason and revelation, because most people would not normally be able to recognize the moral sinfulness of homosexuality by reason alone (HP2).
The rational grounds are the harm caused to human society by the practice of homosexuality. Moreover, history shows that homosexuality destroys the foundations of the family. Finally, as we are now learning, homosexual behavior is the root cause of such epidemic diseases as AIDS, that is, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HP2).
The basic reason was that so many Catholics, including professedly Catholic moralists, were giving an overly benign interpretation to the practice of homosexuality. Some went so far as to call it not only morally neutral, but even good (HP3).
The Church distinguishes between the homosexual condition or tendency and homosexual actions. Homosexual actions lack the essential and indispensable purpose. They are therefore intrinsically disorder. Consequently homosexual actions can never be approved (HP3).
Yes, they are gravely sinful no matter how strong a person’s homosexual tendency may be (HP3).
Yes, homosexual inclinations are objectively, that is, by their very nature morally wrong. They are a disorder which is contrary to the purpose for which God has given us sexual desires (HP3).
The Church is especially concerned to have such people believe that living out their orientation in homosexual activities is morally sinful (HP3).
Among the reasons for this confusion is an unjustified explanation of sacred Scripture, which claims that the bible has nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality. Another reason is the claim that the Church somehow tacitly approves homosexuality. Still another reason is that moral prohibition are so culture-bound that they are no longer applicable to contemporary life. All of these views are gravely erroneous and demand special attention (HP4).
The response is that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is not based on isolated passages in the Bible or clever theological argumentation. Her teaching is founded on the constant biblical witness of the Old and New Testaments. This witness continues to be nourished by the same divine Spirit of Truth whose word they are (HP5).
The Church’s living Tradition is a basic norm for the interpretation of Sacred Scripture. This Tradition is first of all the unwritten revealed word of God which, along with the Bible, was completed by the end of the apostolic age. It is secondly the Church’s magisterium or teaching authority by which God’s revealed truth will be preserved from error until the end of time (HP5).
In creating the human race, God wants men and women to cooperate with Him in the transmission of life by mutual donation of the self to one another. Homosexuality denies this divine purpose. Men and women are created to complement each other. For two men or two women to have sexual relations with one another is to contradict the divine purpose for their distinct genders (HP6).
The root cause is original sin. Original sin blinded the human mind from clearly seeing the purpose of sexual pleasure. This purpose is for the procreation and education of children and for the mutual exchange of selfless love between two married persons (HP6).
Yes. There can be no doubt that these accounts in the Old Testament are condemnations of homosexuality. They reflect the punishment that God visits on those who commit this sin. Moreover, they show that God excludes from His friendship those who practice homosexuality (HP6).
That there are three passages in St. Paul on this important doctrine.
In his first letter to the Corinthians (6:9), the apostle identifies homosexuals among those who will not enter the Kingdom of God.
In the letter to the Romans (1:18-32), St. Paul uses homosexual behavior as an example of the blindness which has overcome human beings. Instead of the original harmony between Creator and creatures, idolatry has lead many people into moral depravity. The clearest example of this depravity is the practice of homosexuality.
Finally in the first chapter of his first letter to Timothy, St. Paul singles out the sin of homosexuality as evidence of heretical doctrine (HP6).
Yes, according to the Church’s infallible teaching “a person engaging in homosexual behavior acts immorally” (HP7).
The Church teaches their claim to practicing love is in contradiction to the purpose of the God given sexual activity. This purpose is the self giving of two married persons cooperating with the Creator in order to transmit human life. Homosexual persons can be generous and loving. But this love may not contradict the divine law which defines why and how human love is to be exercised (HP7).
According to the creative wisdom of God, we must use our freedom in conformity with His divine will. Our freedom becomes self debasement when we choice to act in contradiction for the purpose for which God made us free (HP7)
Indeed, these pressures are so strong that even Catholics are arguing in favor of homosexuality. It is the materialism in the modern world which is behind this pressure. In effect, the materialistic ideology denies that the human person is no mere animal. Human persons are made for a heavenly destiny which they must earn by their practice of divinely prescribed. Moreover, they have a supernatural vocation to life in God’s friendship here on earth and enjoy His beatific vision in eternity (HP8).
Their basic argument is that some people have a homosexual condition, which they claim is not disordered. At root, those defending homosexuality reflect a materialistic ideology which denies both the transcendent nature of the human person, as well as the supernatural vocation of every individual (HP8).
Yes. Under various names, they try to give the impression that their ideas represent all homosexual persons who are Catholics. As a matter of fact, these professed Catholics who promote homosexuality are, by and large, persons who either ignore the moral teaching of the Catholic Church, or try to undermine this teaching. Their organizations, publicized under allegedly Catholic auspices, are groups of once-believing Catholics who concentrate on protesting the Church’s moral doctrines. They protest that any and all criticism of their position or any reservation about homosexual people are simply different forms of unjust discrimination (HP9).
No, they strive to manipulate the Church by gaining the support of bishops and priests in order to change the existing civil-statutes and laws. Their argument is that homosexuality is at least completely harmless, if not an entirely good thing (HP9).
They do so, under the aegis of a pseudo-science in which homosexuality is neither pathological nor reversible. They claim it is a natural, genetic, and biological trait. According to this theory, sexual intimacy with the same sex is simply a normal variation, like left-handedness.
No, it has been demolished by a number of systematic studies. It is also contradicted by the fact that many homosexuals have been treated and freed from the chains of their morally and psychologically disordered compulsions.
Yes, as Pope Paul VI declared in one of his most outspoken denunciations of homosexuality. In context, he is speaking of the immoral practices among professed Catholics who are defending homosexuality:
“The Church finds herself in an hour of disquiet, of self-criticism, one might even say of self-destruction. It is like an acute and complex interior upheaval, which no one expected after the Council. One thought of a blossoming, a serene expansion of the mature concepts of the Council. The Church still has this aspect of blossoming. But since “bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu,” the aspect of sorrow has become most notable. The Church is also being wounded by those who are part of her” (Allocution to the students of the Lombard Seminary, Dec. 7, 1968).
He is speaking to the religious and priests participating in the First Italian National Congress on Missions to the People:
“One must be realistic and acknowledge with a deep and pained sentiment that a great part of today’s Christians feel lost, confused, perplexed, and even disillusioned: ideas contradicting the revealed and unchanging Truth have been spread far and wide; outright heresies in the dogmatic and moral fields have been disseminated, creating doubt, confusion, and rebellion; even the liturgy has been altered. Immersed in intellectual and moral “relativism” and therefore in permissiveness, Christians are tempted by atheism, agnosticism, a vaguely moralistic illuminism, a sociological Christianity, without defined dogmas and without objective morality” (L’Osservatore Romano, February 7, 1981).
They do so by receiving support from priests, even bishops, and from religious men and women.
In one word, the heart of this strategy is gradualism. It is assumed that homosexuality will not soon be approved by all Catholics, and still less soon by Catholic Church authority. The following quotation is lengthy, but it deserves to be quoted in full. Publicly stated by the chairman of the Department of Moral Theology at the Catholic University of Louvain, it clearly expresses the gradualist strategy for the Church’s acceptance of sodomy.
“Is the teaching going to continue to evolve? With respect to the homosexual relationship, will it evolve toward encompassing it? Yes, it will! We have already taken the first step. Begrudgingly as we might like to admit, even the teaching of the Church has recognized the homosexual person, the homosexual orientation. It may be very uncomfortable with its own statements, but it’s there! The homosexual person is a person and no less of a person than anyone else. This is the first step.
The second step is the recognition of the homosexual relationship. I think we are virtually on the edge of accepting the homosexual relationship. The Church will accept the homosexual relationship, like those divorced and remarried: We must live as brother and sister or brother and brother and sister and sister as the case may be… [The audience laughs.] What is important is that the relationship be recognized as a valuable, fruitful, meaningful, affirmative, creative relationship. We are on the verge of accepting this.
The third step is: Can we accept the homosexual act? Before we can talk about the morality of the homosexual act, we have to define it, to understand exactly what it is…. Our whole understanding of human sexuality needs to be rewritten, but rewritten not from a “procreative or reproductive” point of view. It needs to be rewritten from a ‘relational’ point of view” (The Meanings of Human Sexuality, New Ways Ministry, Fourth National Symposium).
They argue to a radical change in sexual morality. A clear statement on this position was voiced by a professed Catholic of the faculty at Yale University.
“As long as the Christian sexual ethic was focused on ‘procreation’ and the ‘control of sexual desire,’ there was no room for a positive evaluation of homosexuality. But in recent decades, under the pressure of new discoveries in the social sciences and scientific fields, traditional Catholic sexual morality is crumbling. Now, the ‘procreative norm’ is gone, the rigid stereotype of male/female complementarity is gone, and the time is ripe for a positive evaluation of homosexuality and same-sex relations” (Same-Sex Relations: An Ethical Perspective, New Ways Ministry, Fourth National Symposium).
The most important moral factor is the teaching of religion, especially, but not only, Christianity. That is why Sodomites concentrate on trying to change the historic condemnation of homosexuality. They realize that the religious factor is at the heart of the rejection of sodomy over the centuries.
It was part of a conference given in Pittsburgh in the winter of 1997. Again, the quotation is lengthy, but is worth giving in full.
“The most important thing that we can do in our pastoral care is to create a church community where gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people can be truly open about who they are…. I think it is very, very important that they experience a warmth and oneness within the Church to allow them to share their gifts with our Church…. I encourage this because I hope that within our Church, every gay person, every lesbian person, every bisexual or transgendered person will come out, because that is how our Church is going to truly change: when everyone who from this community of homosexual people is courageous enough, because it does take courage to come out….
“I would say this especially to bishops and priests within our Church. I cannot tell you the number of letters I have received in the last few years from priests who say they are gay, but are afraid to come out. What a loss this is to our Church! Because if they were willing to stand up on a Sunday morning in front of their community and to say who they really are, our Church could much more fully and quickly appreciate the gifts that homosexuals can bring to the whole community of our Church and to our society as well….
“As more and more people come out, more families are changed, more churches are changed, more parishes are changed, and our whole Church is changed. And so I appeal here publicly to all of us within the Church to create a community in which this can happen. But then, for those who are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered, please come forward. Say who you are, be proud of who you are, and share all of your gifts with the Church” (Pastoral Care of Lesbian and Gay People, New Ways Ministry, Fourth National Symposium).
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica