New pope on homosexuality: "Intrinsic moral evil"

In July 1999 the National Catholic Reporter delineated what was already a staunchly antigay stance posited by Cardinal Jospeh Ratzinger of Germany, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday. At the time, Ratzinger had imposed a lifetime ban on pastoral work by pro-gay Salvatorian Fr. Robert Nugent and School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick. The move was just the latest step in an effort by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to prevent evolution in church teaching toward acceptance of openly gay and lesbian people, the paper reported. Here is the Reporter's review of key moments:

May 1984: Ratzinger orders the imprimatur lifted from Sexual Morality by Fr. Philip S. Keane, published in 1977 by Paulist Press. Keane argues that homosexual conduct cannot be understood as "absolutely immoral."

September 1986: Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen in Seattle announces that he has transferred final authority in five areas, including the pastoral care of gays, to Auxiliary Bishop Donald Wuerl in accord with Vatican instructions. The action follows a written critique by Ratzinger, citing, among other flaws, Hunthausen's decision in 1983 to permit a Mass for Dignity, a Catholic gay group, in his cathedral.

October 1986: Ratzinger publishes a document titled "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." The letter warns of "deceitful propaganda" from pro-homosexual groups. It instructs bishops not to accept groups that "seek to undermine the teaching of the church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely." The letter refers to homosexual orientation as an "intrinsic moral evil." In the wake of the letter, many Catholic bishops bar Dignity from using church facilities.

October 1986: Acting on instructions from Ratzinger, the head of the Jesuit order informs Jesuit Fr. John McNeill that he must either abandon pastoral ministry with gays or be expelled from the order. McNeill chooses not to give up his work. McNeill had been silenced by the Vatican in 1977 for his book The Church and the Homosexual, which argued that stable homosexual relationships should be judged by the same moral criteria as heterosexual relationships. The book was originally published with the permission of McNeill's Jesuit superiors.

November 1986: Ratzinger directs Bishop Matthew Clark of the Rochester, N.Y., diocese to remove the imprimatur from Parents Talk Love: The Catholic Family Handbook About Sexuality, written by a priest and a high school teacher. According to the priest, Ratzinger objects to the lack of a clear condemnation of homosexual conduct.

January 1987: After prolonged debate, the Catholic University of America fires Fr. Charles Curran, a moral theologian known for his dissent from official church teaching on sexual ethics. On homosexuality, Curran has written: "Homosexual acts in the context of a loving relationship that strives for permanency can in a certain sense be objectively morally acceptable."

December 1988: Dominican Fr. Matthew Fox is silenced by Ratzinger, citing his failure to condemn homosexuality, among a host of other issues. Fox is expelled from the Dominican order in 1992.

February 1992: Canadian theologian Fr. Andrew Guindon is notified that he is under investigation by the doctrinal congregation for his book The Sexual Creators. Ratzinger demands that he clarify his views on homosexuality, birth control, and premarital sex. Ratzinger's 13-page critique is published in L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper.

July 1992: Ratzinger sends a letter to the U.S. bishops supporting legal discrimination against gays in certain areas: adoption rights, the hiring of gays as teachers or coaches, and the prohibition of gays in the military. In such situations, Ratzinger writes, "It is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account."

November 1992: The new Catechism of the Catholic Church is published. Though the text acknowledges that homosexual persons "do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial" and forbids any disrespect or failure of compassion for gays, the Catechism repeats the position that the homosexual orientation is "intrinsically disordered."

December 1996: Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of the doctrinal congregation, publishes an article in L'Osservatore Romano asserting that certain church teachings must be considered infallible even in the absence of a formal declaration to that effect. The bans on homosexuality and contraception are among the teachings mentioned by Bertone.

February 1997: Following a warning to the Society of St. Paul from Ratzinger, the Vatican imposes a new leader on the order. The Paulines' flagship publication, Famiglia Cristiana, published an article in 1996 suggesting that parents should not force their moral views on a gay child. Bishop Antonio Buoncristiani is appointed the society's temporary leader and charged with ensuring that Pauline publications better reflect church teaching.

July 1998: The Committee on Marriage and Family of the U.S. bishops' conference reissues its letter to parents of homosexuals, "Always Our Children," after making several changes demanded by Ratzinger. They include referring to homosexuality as a "deep-seated" rather than "fundamental" dimension of personality; suggesting that homosexual acts by adolescents may not indicate a homosexual orientation; adding a footnote describing homosexuality as "objectively disordered"; and deleting a passage that encourages use of terms such as "homosexual, gay, and lesbian" from the pulpit in order to "give people permission" to discuss homosexuality.

September 1998: Clark removes Fr. James Callan from his position as pastor of Rochester's Corpus Christi Parish. Callan asserts that Clark is acting under pressure from Ratzinger. Among other things, Callan is criticized for blessing same-sex unions.

December 1998: Ratzinger, other curial officials, and a group of Australian bishops put out a document citing problems in the Australian church resulting from a "worldwide crisis of faith." Among other deviations, the document cites a moral view in which "heterosexuality and homosexuality come to be seen as simply two morally equivalent variations."

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