On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons
CONGREGATION FOR THE
DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH (Cardinal Ratzinger 1986)
LETTER TO THE BISHOPS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
1. The issue of homosexuality and the moral evaluation of homosexual
acts have increasingly become a matter of public debate, even in
Catholic circles. Since this debate often advances arguments and makes
assertions inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church, it is
quite rightly a cause for concern to all engaged in the pastoral
ministry, and this Congregation has judged it to be of sufficiently
grave and widespread importance to address to the Bishops of the
Catholic Church this Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.
2. Naturally, an exhaustive treatment of this complex issue cannot be
attempted here, but we will focus our reflection within the distinctive
context of the Catholic moral perspective. It is a perspective which
finds support in the more secure findings of the natural sciences,
which have their own legitimate and proper methodology and field of
However, the Catholic moral viewpoint is founded on human reason
illumined by faith and is consciously motivated by the desire to do the
will of God our Father. The Church is thus in a position to learn from
scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and
to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the
rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical
dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life.
It is within this context, then, that it can be clearly seen that the
phenomenon of homosexuality, complex as it is, and with its many
consequences for society and ecclesial life, is a proper focus for the
Church's pastoral care. It thus requires of her ministers attentive
study, active concern and honest, theologically well-balanced counsel.
3. Explicit treatment of the problem was given in this Congregation's
"Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics" of December
29, 1975. That document stressed the duty of trying to understand the
homosexual condition and noted that culpability for homosexual acts
should only be judged with prudence. At the same time the Congregation
took note of the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual
condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions. These were
described as deprived of their essential and indispensable finality, as
being "intrinsically disordered", and able in no case to be approved of
(cf. n. 8, $4).
In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration,
however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual
condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even
good. 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; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as
an objective disorder.
Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed
toward 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.
4. An essential dimension of authentic pastoral care is the
identification of causes of confusion regarding the Church's teaching.
One is a new exegesis of Sacred Scripture which claims variously that
Scripture has nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality, or that
it somehow tacitly approves of it, or that all of its moral injunctions
are so culture-bound that they are no longer applicable to contemporary
life. These views are gravely erroneous and call for particular
5. It is quite true that the Biblical literature owes to the different
epochs in which it was written a good deal of its varied patterns of
thought and expression (Dei Verbum 12). The Church today addresses the
Gospel to a world which differs in many ways from ancient days. But the
world in which the New Testament was written was already quite diverse
from the situation in which the Sacred Scriptures of the Hebrew People
had been written or compiled, for example.
What should be noticed is that, in the presence of such remarkable
diversity, there is nevertheless a clear consistency within the
Scriptures themselves on the moral issue of homosexual behaviour. The
Church's doctrine regarding this issue is thus based, not on isolated
phrases for facile theological argument, but on the solid foundation of
a constant Biblical testimony. The community of faith today, in
unbroken continuity with the Jewish and Christian communities within
which the ancient Scriptures were written, continues to be nourished by
those same Scriptures and by the Spirit of Truth whose Word they are.
It is likewise essential to recognize that the Scriptures are not
properly understood when they are interpreted in a way which
contradicts the Church's living Tradition. To be correct, the
interpretation of Scripture must be in substantial accord with that
The Vatican Council II in Dei Verbum 10, put it this way: "It is clear,
therefore, that in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred
Tradition, sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so
connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the
others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the
one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of
souls". In that spirit we wish to outline briefly the Biblical teaching
6. Providing a basic plan for understanding this entire discussion of
homosexuality is the theology of creation we find in Genesis. God, in
his infinite wisdom and love, brings into existence all of reality as a
reflection of his goodness. He fashions mankind, male and female, in
his own image and likeness. Human beings, therefore, are nothing less
than the work of God himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes,
they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this
in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of
life by a mutual donation of the self to the other.
In Genesis 3, we find that this truth about persons being an image of
God has been obscured by original sin. There inevitably follows a loss
of awareness of the covenantal character of the union these persons had
with God and with each other. The human body retains its "spousal
significance" but this is now clouded by sin. Thus, in Genesis 19:1-11,
the deterioration due to sin continues in the story of the men of
Sodom. There can be no doubt of the moral judgement made there against
homosexual relations. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, in the course of
describing the conditions necessary for belonging to the Chosen People,
the author excludes from the People of God those who behave in a
Against the background of this exposition of theocratic law, an
eschatological perspective is developed by St. Paul when, in I Cor 6:9,
he proposes the same doctrine and lists those who behave in a
homosexual fashion among those who shall not enter the Kingdom of God.
In Romans 1:18-32, still building on the moral traditions of his
forebears, but in the new context of the confrontation between
Christianity and the pagan society of his day, Paul uses homosexual
behaviour as an example of the blindness which has overcome humankind.
Instead of the original harmony between Creator and creatures, the
acute distortion of idolatry has led to all kinds of moral excess. Paul
is at a loss to find a clearer example of this disharmony than
homosexual relations. Finally, 1 Tim. 1, in full continuity with the
Biblical position, singles out those who spread wrong doctrine and in
v. 10 explicitly names as sinners those who engage in homosexual acts.
7. The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the
sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and
live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is
only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can
be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behaviour therefore
To chose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul
the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the
Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary
union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of
that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of
Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not
often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in
homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual
inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.
As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own
fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of
God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding
homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and
dignity realistically and authentically understood.
8. Thus, the Church's teaching today is in organic continuity with the
Scriptural perspective and with her own constant Tradition. Though
today's world is in many ways quite new, the Christian community senses
the profound and lasting bonds which join us to those generations who
have gone before us, "marked with the sign of faith".
Nevertheless, increasing numbers of people today, even within the
Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept
the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to
condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this
fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it.
These latter groups are guided by a vision opposed to the truth about
the human person, which is fully disclosed in the mystery of Christ.
They reflect, even if not entirely consciously, a materialistic
ideology which denies the transcendent nature of the human person as
well as the supernatural vocation of every individual.
The Church's ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their
care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to
the teaching of the Church. But the risk is great and there are many
who seek to create confusion regarding the Church's position, and then
to use that confusion to their own advantage.
9. The movement within the Church, which takes the form of pressure
groups of various names and sizes, attempts to give the impression that
it represents all homosexual persons who are Catholics. As a matter of
fact, its membership is by and large restricted to those who either
ignore the teaching of the Church or seek somehow to undermine it. It
brings together under the aegis of Catholicism homosexual persons who
have no intention of abandoning their homosexual behaviour. One tactic
used is to protest that any and all criticism of or reservations about
homosexual people, their activity and lifestyle, are simply diverse
forms of unjust discrimination.
There is an effort in some countries to manipulate the Church by
gaining the often well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view
to changing civil-statutes and laws. This is done in order to conform
to these pressure groups' concept that homosexuality is at least a
completely harmless, if not an entirely good, thing. Even when the
practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and
well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred
and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved.
The Church can never be so callous. It is true that her clear position
cannot be revised by pressure from civil legislation or the trend of
the moment. But she is really concerned about the many who are not
represented by the pro-homosexual movement and about those who may have
been tempted to believe its deceitful propaganda. She is also aware
that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to, or as
acceptable as, the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct
impact on society's understanding of the nature and rights of the
family and puts them in jeopardy.
10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the
object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment
deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It
reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most
fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of
each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons
should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered.
When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently
condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior
to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor
society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and
practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.
11. It has been argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases
is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person
would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion.
Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity,
would not be culpable.
Here, the Church's wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns
against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact,
circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would
reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance;
or other circumstances may increase it. What is at all costs to be
avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual
behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and
therefore inculpable. What is essential is that the fundamental liberty
which characterizes the human person and gives him his dignity be
recognized as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every
conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will
require a profound collaboration of the individual with God's
12. What, then, are homosexual persons to do who seek to follow the
Lord? Fundamentally, they are called to enact the will of God in their
life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in
virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross. That
Cross, for the believer, is a fruitful sacrifice since from that death
come life and redemption. While any call to carry the cross or to
understand a Christian's suffering in this way will predictably be met
with bitter ridicule by some, it should be remembered that this is the
way to eternal life for all who follow Christ.
It is, in effect, none other than the teaching of Paul the Apostle to
the Galatians when he says that the Spirit produces in the lives of the
faithful "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness,
gentleness and self-control" (5:22) and further (v. 24), "You cannot
belong to Christ unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and
It is easily misunderstood, however, if it is merely seen as a
pointless effort at self-denial. The Cross is a denial of self, but in
service to the will of God himself who makes life come from death and
empowers those who trust in him to practise virtue in place of vice.
To celebrate the Paschal Mystery, it is necessary to let that Mystery
become imprinted in the fabric of daily life. To refuse to sacrifice
one's own will in obedience to the will of the Lord is effectively to
prevent salvation. Just as the Cross was central to the expression of
God's redemptive love for us in Jesus, so the conformity of the
self-denial of homosexual men and women with the sacrifice of the Lord
will constitute for them a source of self-giving which will save them
from a way of life which constantly threatens to destroy them.
Christians who are homosexual are called, as all of us are, to a chaste
life. As they dedicate their lives to understanding the nature of God's
personal call to them, they will be able to celebrate the Sacrament of
Penance more faithfully and receive the Lord's grace so freely offered
there in order to convert their lives more fully to his Way.
13. We recognize, of course, that in great measure the clear and
successful communication of the Church's teaching to all the faithful,
and to society at large, depends on the correct instruction and
fidelity of her pastoral ministers. The Bishops have the particularly
grave responsibility to see to it that their assistants in the
ministry, above all the priests, are rightly informed and personally
disposed to bring the teaching of the Church in its integrity to
The characteristic concern and good will exhibited by many clergy and
religious in their pastoral care for homosexual persons is admirable,
and, we hope, will not diminish. Such devoted ministers should have the
confidence that they are faithfully following the will of the Lord by
encouraging the homosexual person to lead a chaste life and by
affirming that person's God-given dignity and worth.
14. With this in mind, this Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to
be especially cautious of any programmes which may seek to pressure the
Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A
careful examination of their public statements and the activities they
promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead
the pastors and the faithful. For example, they may present the
teaching of the Magisterium, but only as if it were an optional source
for the formation of one's conscience. Its specific authority is not
recognized. Some of these groups will use the word "Catholic" to
describe either the organization or its intended members, yet they do
not defend and promote the teaching of the Magisterium; indeed, they
even openly attack it. While their members may claim a desire to
conform their lives to the teaching of Jesus, in fact they abandon the
teaching of his Church. This contradictory action should not have the
support of the Bishops in any way.
15. We encourage the Bishops, then, to provide pastoral care in full
accord with the teaching of the Church for homosexual persons of their
dioceses. No authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in
which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly
stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach
will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near
occasions of sin.
We would heartily encourage programmes where these dangers are avoided.
But we wish to make it clear that departure from the Church's teaching,
or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither
caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The
neglect of the Church's position prevents homosexual men and women from
receiving the care they need and deserve.
An authentic pastoral programme will assist homosexual persons at all
levels of the spiritual life: through the sacraments, and in particular
through the frequent and sincere use of the sacrament of
Reconciliation, through prayer, witness, counsel and individual care.
In such a way, the entire Christian community can come to recognize its
own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or
16. From this multi-faceted approach there are numerous advantages to
be gained, not the least of which is the realization that a homosexual
person, as every human being, deeply needs to be nourished at many
different levels simultaneously.
The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be
adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual
orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal
problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents
and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context
for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the
person as a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every
person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace,
his child and heir to eternal life.
17. In bringing this entire matter to the Bishops' attention, this
Congregation wishes to support their efforts to assure that the
teaching of the Lord and his Church on this important question be
communicated fully to all the faithful.
In light of the points made above, they should decide for their own
dioceses the extent to which an intervention on their part is
indicated. In addition, should they consider it helpful, further
coordinated action at the level of their National Bishops' Conference
may be envisioned.
In a particular way, we would ask the Bishops to support, with the
means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of
pastoral care for homosexual persons. These would include the
assistance of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences, in
full accord with the teaching of the Church.
They are encouraged to call on the assistance of all Catholic
theologians who, by teaching what the Church teaches, and by deepening
their reflections on the true meaning of human sexuality and Christian
marriage with the virtues it engenders, will make an important
contribution in this particular area of pastoral care.
The Bishops are asked to exercise special care in the selection of
pastoral ministers so that by their own high degree of spiritual and
personal maturity and by their fidelity to the Magisterium, they may be
of real service to homosexual persons, promoting their health and
well-being in the fullest sense. Such ministers will reject theological
opinions which dissent from the teaching of the Church and which,
therefore, cannot be used as guidelines for pastoral care.
We encourage the Bishops to promote appropriate catechetical programmes
based on the truth about human sexuality in its relationship to the
family as taught by the Church. Such programmes should provide a good
context within which to deal with the question of homosexuality.
This catechesis would also assist those families of homosexual persons
to deal with this problem which affects them so deeply.
All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to
undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or
which neglect it entirely. Such support, or even the semblance of such
support, can be gravely misinterpreted. Special attention should be
given to the practice of scheduling religious services and to the use
of Church buildings by these groups, including the facilities of
Catholic schools and colleges. To some, such permission to use Church
property may seem only just and charitable; but in reality it is
contradictory to the purpose for which these institutions were founded,
it is misleading and often scandalous.
In assessing proposed legislation, the Bishops should keep as their
uppermost concern the responsibility to defend and promote family life.
18. The Lord Jesus promised, "You shall know the truth and the truth
shall set you free" (Jn. 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in
love (cf. Eph. 4:15). The God who is at once truth and love calls the
Church to minister to every man, woman and child with the pastoral
solicitude of our compassionate Lord. It is in this spirit that we have
addressed this Letter to the Bishops of the Church, with the hope that
it will be of some help as they care for those whose suffering can only
be intensified by error and lightened by truth.
(During an audience granted to the undersigned Prefect, His Holiness,
Pope John Paul II, approved this Letter, adopted in an ordinary session
of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and ordered it to be
Given at Rome, 1 October 1986.
JOSEPH CARDINAL RATZINGER
Titular Archbishop of Caesarea in Numidia