Did the Pope Declare Homosexuality Unforgivable?

In this AP story, it is speculated that Pope John Paul II’s recent pronouncement on penance and absolution was referring to homosexual activity.

Although the article specifies that the Pope did not identify who he was talking about, and that Joseph, Cardinal Ratziger and (in a more extended version of the AP story) Ramon Navarro-Valls refused to comment on the question of whether the pope meant either homosexual people, child molesters, or divorced Catholics.

However, the AP reporter said:

Nothing like a sterling example of good Christian compassion, is there?

Actually, the idea of repentance in Christian thought involves turning from sin to Christ and would imply that one would move from “a state of serious sin” – but of course nothing herein makes the distinction between orientation and act that is worth bringing into the picture.

Although I’m merely looking for posters’ opinions on the story and the ideas behind it, I’m putting it in GD because I suspect strongly that an argument will erupt involving religious thinking.

I think the pope’s logic is, in order to get forgiveness for sin, you have to repent for your sin, and intend not to commit the sin again…i.e. a priest can refuse absolution to somebody who murdered somebody, for example, if the person isn’t sorry he murdered someone and/or, while he’s requesting absolution, is planning to kill someone else.

Part of the whole idea behind it is you’re supposed to stop doing whatever you’re requesting absolution for.

Polycarp, i think this is the important passage:

This is a far cry from saying that such people can never be forgiven: it is saying that people who confess but who have no plans to change do not make a valid confession. The assumption is that if you say you are sorry you are doing something, and say you know it is wrong , but you don’t take any action that suggests you have any plans to stop doing whatever it is, you are not really repentant.

Polycarp, yep, I think that is the gist of the article: while individual homosexual acts may be forgiven if one truly repents and “turns back to Christ”, homosexuality itself – in the sense that some people mistakenly label a “lifestyle” – cannot be forgiven if one continues in it. The useful thing about a “lifestyle”, rather than an orientation, is that it implies a choice rather than a state of being. And choice is essential to sin. If I remember the official Catholic Catechism, homosexuals are encouraged to live chaste lives and are deserving of compassion from others because of the cross they [homosexuals] must bear. And this disturbs me.

Another thing that I have found disturbing are declarations by Church officials along the lines of “zero tolerance for homosexuals in the priesthood”, “we don’t want the priesthood to be a haven for gay men” and so on – and yet still the church insists on celibacy. If a priest is expected to deny his sexuality and accept the “gift” of celibacy, if he doesn’t engage in any kind of sexual conduct, what does his sexual orientation matter?

Unless, of course, the Church’s concept of homosexuality is rooted not in sexual acts but in the individual’s inherent nature, something which is not changed by suppression – a view which the catechism would seem to support. This seems contradictory: a priest of heterosexual orientation who remains celibate is fine; but a priest of homosexual orientation who remains celibate – as the catechism encourages all homosexuals to do – is undesirable? And I’m not even going to get into the “crisis of faith” which leads some homosexual men to become Catholic priests in the first place.

A third thing which disturbs me: as far as I am aware, there has been no indication of which priests accused of child molestation are actually gay. The implication seems to be that they all must be gay, even though it has been adequately demonstrated that pedophiles are no more likely to be gay than other segment of the law-abiding population.

I say all this as a gay man who was raised Catholic but no longer practices Catholicism.

They can quote Ratzinger and Navarro-Valls refusing comment, but they can’t come up with the name of the “theological experts”?

It would be interesting to discover whether the “theological experts” were members of Ratzinger’s cohort giving “off the record” confirmation of “the real word” or whether they were opponents of church policy putting their spin on the matter (or whether they were even Catholic).

Other than that, the church continues to maintain that homosexual activity is sinful and the church has always said that a person who confesses a sin with no intention to avoid it is guilty of an invalid confession, so there is nothing new in the pope’s actual spoken words.

Oh, man… so Navarro-Valls and Ratzinger stuck to the no-comment route. And by neither confirming nor denying they keep the spin alive. I wonder about them, and the “theologians” who gave it this spin.

JP2’s statement would stand perfectly well by itself as what others have stated starting with Captain Amazing, specifically the part about how “penitents living in a habitual state of serious sin and who do not intend to change their situation cannot validly receive absolution”.

This restates the long-held teaching that those with obviously no intention of changing their life are not to be granted the benefit of sacramental absolution and reintegration to the fullness of the communion with the RCC. (I can see how this would be a way of tacitly “inviting” the gays and the divorced to go find themselves a different Church – quite a lousy way of dealing with the issue in itself)

JP2 could not call ANY behaviors ** “unforgiveable”** – he could not, that would contradict basic doctrine. The use of that word looks like a combination of (a) sensationalistic spin from the media and (b) opportunistic spin from the puritanical faction within the Church (as usual, misdirecting attention from the real problems).

In Catholic communities all over Earth we have situations of people who continually transgress and (a) believe that dropping in at the confessional every Saturday and saying the right magic words is a “Get Out Of Hell Free” card and (b) expect it’s the priest’s job to get them the GOOHF card, or else. This involves all sorts of stuff: cheating spouses; people in nonmarital sexual relationships (whatever your gender or orientation); drug dealers, Mafia Dons, sweatshop operators, terrorist supporters, unscrupulous corporate executives, dictators who make political opponents “disappear”, etc.

Sadly, this combines with a Church where, around the world, “social absolution” is endemic – too many priests and bishops will rather bend than cause the awkwardness of refusing to allow the Mayor’s son, or the Head of the Ruling Junta, to partake of the Eucharist.

Unfortunately, I fear what will happen is that whatever JP2’s intentions were, these people I’ve just referred to are already spinning it so that only thosee with unconventional sexualities or lifestyles get slammed, while those who “are bleached tombs, who shine on the outside but are full of putrefaction” will keep getting a good pew in the front row.


I would just like to point out the irony of including human sexuality in a list of sins that include terrorism and dictatorships. This reminds me of a priest on EWTN giving examples of mortal sins (sins that can send you directly to hell) as murder, rape, sexual fantasy!

I believe you meant hyperbole?

In the Church, it’s supposed to be that mortal sin is mortal sin is mortal sin. But they do harp on and on about petty sexual issues while dropping the ball on all sorts of major cases of immorality.

In tradtional Christian doctrine, God does not differentiate between “little” sins and “big” sins. In God’s eyes a sin is a sin. The person commiting a little white lie is equally guilty as the terrorist; and equally freed of guilt, once they have repented. (repent- to turn completely away form sin and towards God).

You are quick, JED.


So a homosexual man can’t take the same vow of chastity as a heterosexual man and become a priest?

I had not heard that.

I guess as an institution, the Roman Catholic Church can have an opinion on Homosexual acts if they want to. I’m thinking that that edict by the Pope applies equally as well to heterosexuals who are using birth control as it does to homosexuals having sex.

I also guess that if a heterosexual couple occasionally engages in oral sex, they are committing the exact same recurring sin as a homosexual and would be similarly incapable of penitance.

Because of that we really can’t call this edict an anti-homosexual one unless of course it only gets used against homosexual sinners, and not their heterosexual counterparts.

No pun intended but anybody who masturbates from time to time is screwed, too.

I hadn’t heard that gay men were excluded from the priesthood simply because of their preference.

I don’t doubt you, but I’d like to hear the reasoning for this. May I trouble you for a cite?

I read an article to this effect in the papers about a month ago, Scylla, but I don’t have a cite for it - sorry. It quoted some priest/psychologist at the Vatican as speculating that the vows of a homosexual priest could not be valid. The article noted that other theologians were puzzled by this argument, since it seems to be contrary to the RC church’s position on homosexuality and celibacy, as noted by Jerevan Somerville.

Well, evidently the Pope and I are at odds on the extent of the Lord’s authority and ability to save sinners. I think, what with Him being God and all, He don’t miss nobody, not even Popes, and pedophile priests. But hey, he is Pope, I am a nobody.

Fortunately, it isn’t up to the Pope, or me.

Let’s all just leave the theology to the theologians, and try to find a way to love everyone who isn’t being loved enough. Perhaps the Lord God of all creation can handle this sin thing on His own.


You should not have heard that a (chaste) homosexual cannot be a priest, because your interpretation of the rules of chastity should have precluded it. Your view is the one that has been discussed pretty openly in and out of the church for a number of years.

It has only been in the past month or so that the aforementioned Navarro-Valls made a statement that homosexual men should not be ordained. (There was a thread on the subject at the time.)

My take is that he is full of hooey. He and some others are trying to make the whole pedophile issue into one of “Ooops, we ordained some gay guys and they are messing up.” The premise is wrong, the logic is twisted, and the conclusion is baseless.
(Guys like Shanley give him some ammunition for making idiotic statements, but the statements remain idiotic.)

Scylla – You may be confusing your posters, as I had not raised the issue of non-ordainability of a chaste homosexual(*) On that issue I am with tomndebb, who has already answered as to where THAT came from, in the public statements by Msgr. Navarro-Valls (discussed here in the SDMB when it was reported) and others. Not doctrine, but a policy with some powerful proponents.

(*)Of course, that is implicit in the reference to being admitted to the fullness of sacraments – but that, according to the Church, applies to all those who have not repented. The chaste would BE those who have repented. Nothing in the doctrine I’ve heard of indicates there are entire classes of human who are intrinsecally incapable of repentance. Navarro-Valls is blowing wind out the skirts of his cassock.

Hey, RCC doctrine is it DOES! See all the above posts re: Nobody who is not really repentant and at least trying in good faith to give up the sinful behavior gets a valid absolution.

What is a problem is that in the practice, Church leaders have allowed an “all mortal sins are mortal but some are more mortal than others” policy to be specifically hard towards sexual/marital matters (nonmarital sex, birth control, divorce, celibacy), and within that specially against the “socially unacceptable”(homosexuality). That is one of the (many) things that turned me off from active participation years ago. IF the papal decree is aimed at reminding the clergy they should crack down on ALL sinners, at least it’s a consistent, if kinda hard-line, attempt at rectifying. Like I said, I’m pessimistic on the implementation in the field.

Poly, I think you read too much into this. Particuarly, you go too far here:

True, but then again the statement itself doesn’t even mention homosexuality, much less make any distinctions. You are piling an interpretation on top of an interpretation.

Homosexual orientation is not susceptible to forgiveness because it is not a sin. In the church’s eyes, homosexual activity, even repeated instances, is a sin that is susceptible to forgiveness.
However, contrition is a necessary element of the sacrament of reconciliation, and a necessary part of contrition is an intent not to repeat the sin. This applies to any sin.

Thus, a teenager who has engaged in one homosexual act, and intends to do so again, does not have sincere contrition and is not forgiven in god’s eyes. However, a person who has repeatedly engaged in homosexual sex for 20 years and goes to confession with the full intent to cease, can be forgiven, even if he/she later “slips”.

So let’s not bash the Church for this tidbit, and get back to bashing them for their ludicrous notions about homosexuality. :smiley:


Hmm… well Sua may be right in saying that the Papal statement referred to in the OP does not specifically condemn being homosexual as inherently unforgiveable, just homosexual acts which one does not intend to avoid in the future. However, I would point out a few things:

(1) Being homosexual is not the same as being divorced. . . or is it? The latter is defined by the act(s) of abandoning one sacramental marriage, dissolving it legally, living accordingly and perhaps even entering into another legal marriage. One repents of the sin by reversing these acts and returning to the sanctioned spouse. But how exactly does the Church define the former? I have suggested earlier in this thread that the Church recognizes homosexuality as a state of being, irrespective of the acts in which one engages or from which one refrains. Oddly enough, most homosexuals would agree that homosexuality is a matter of who one is, not what one does. (I do not have a Catholic catechism handy to quote or paraphrase the appropriate section, but perhaps someone out there does.)

So, if contrition requires one to intend to refrain from the sinful act, why even speak of homosexuality as a state of being? Why teach that homosexuality is something which cannot be expunged, even by chastity? Here, it seems (to me), is an ambivalence if not a contradiction – an implication that being homosexual constitutes an unforgivable state. A new kind of “gay vague”, if you will.

(2) The Church’s recent, militant stance against allowing gay men to become priests does suggest that homosexuality is intrinsically unforgivable – so that a chaste man who identifies himself as having a homosexual orientation would be excluded from the sacrament of holy orders. By what doctrine or principle is this exclusion supported, if not by the idea that a homosexual cannot be forgiven for being homosexual?

Given these two ideas, it is difficult (for me) not to interpret the Papal statement in the OP as practical condemnation of homosexual orientation, because I cannot stop being homosexual in the same way a divorced man could reverse the act of divorce, and the Church appears to agree.

FWIW, from the catechism:


In an odd way, they are, to the RCC’s way of thinking. To clear one thing up, there is nothing at all sinful about a Catholic getting a civil divorce. In the eyes of the RCC, that’s all well and good; the couple has ended the civil aspect of their marriage. Their perspective is that the couple remains married in the eyes of god and the church.
So the divorce wasn’t a sin. The sin associated with divorce is adultery - if, after civil divorce, a divorce sleeps with someone else (or gets remarried and then sleeps with new spouse), the divorce has violated his/her marriage vows from the original marriage and has engaged in adultery.
So, the linkage here is that remarriage, like homosexual orientation, causes a likelihood of sin.

Homosexual orientation, to the church, is not a sin, but a “disorder.” To oversimplify, disorder means propensity - a person with anger management issues is “disordered” in that he/she would have a propensity to harm others, etc.

The Church’s recent stance is a combination of witchhunt and scapegoating - it has no real basis in church teaching.


beagledave, thank you very much for posting the relevant section.

Understood. That I knew already, I just did not make my understanding of that point clear in my last post.

Partly, yes. But I still think there is a difference between saying the act of divorce/remarriage results in a likelihood of sin, and saying that the state of being homosexual (whatever the root cause) results in a likelihood of sin. My point is that the catechism seems to speak of homosexuality specifically as something one is, not just what one does. Or to put it another way: where else in Church doctrine is the propensity for a specific, sinful act so specifically defined by the “deep-seated tendencies” (of whatever “psychological genesis”) in the individual? That is, are there other instances where “sin” is defined by something beyond the intent and/or action of the individual?

The question is not rhetorical; if it can be demonstrated that the Church approaches other sinful acts in this way, I would willing to concede the point. For instance, your example about “anger management issues” is well-taken, but I doubt the Church has a specific, catechismatic stance on such people.

Wherever we end up with this, sua, do you understand my perspective, or am I just way out on a limb here, all on my own? If so, that’s OK; I can live with it. :wink:

Perhaps, but none of the Ecclesiastic hierarchy – among them Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia – seem to be making that distinction, and as far as I know, the Pope has not chastised or corrected them for their unfounded remarks. So much for Church teaching, then:

*"[Homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." *