Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Two Meanings of "Unjust Discrimination"

by Kenneth D. Whitehead


In this essay Kenneth D. Whitehead examines the two different meanings of "unjust discrimination" in relation to homosexuality and treatment of homosexual persons themselves. The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs that homosexuals should be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and unjust discrimination against them should be avoided. Many Catholics including some Church leaders misunderstand this to mean homosexuals and their lifestyle should be accepted, when in fact the homosexual rights movement is one of the most successful enemies of the Church itself and should be actively opposed.

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review


6 – 17

Publisher & Date

Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, March 2007

One of the most frequently quoted paragraphs today from the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the paragraph that specifies that homosexuals:

. . . 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 (CCC #2358).

What seems to be meant by "unjust discrimination" here is surely what is most commonly meant by the term, namely, that homosexuals should not, because of their condition alone, be subjected to disadvantages or penalties in such things as their persons, residence, employment, and the like; or, especially in the present social climate, that they should not be subjected to ridicule, harassment, or abuse.

Most Catholics today, including the present leadership of the Catholic Church in America, seem to be not only very comfortable with this teaching but strongly approving of it. For one thing, like Jesus in the case of the woman caught in adultery, they don't have to condemn anything or anybody in this case. For another thing, it means that Catholics actually find themselves in the mainstream and non-controversial for a change, unlike in the very contemporary cases of, say, abortion, assisted suicide, cloning, contraception, embryonic stem-cell research, and the like, where the teaching of the Catholic Church very definitely places Catholics outside of the current mainstream.

In an era when the social or moral disapproval that might formerly have been applied to certain behaviors or practices is instead today, as often as not, itself disapproved of as being "judgmental," moral disapproval of discrimination of almost any kind still remains very strong in America. To oppose discrimination of any kind is thus to be very much in tune with the spirit of the times.

Most people are aware, though, of how effectively in today's climate the organized homosexual rights movement in America has been able to exploit today's anti-discrimination sentiment to further its own agenda. Just as the civil rights movement beginning in the 1960s succeeded in getting rid of the legal disabilities formerly imposed on blacks because of their race, so it is now argued that all disabilities based on what has come to be called "sexual orientation" should also be removed, and this supposedly as a matter of simple justice. Many people today certainly appear to find this logic compelling, and even many Catholics tend to go along with this way of looking at things, as if the teaching of the Catechism against "unjust discrimination" actually applied here.

Many Catholics also tend to accept the concept of "sexual orientation." It makes it possible to distinguish what homosexuals are — human persons possessing human dignity, whom the Catechism says "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" and what some, or perhaps, even most homosexuals do, namely, engage in same-sex acts. Everybody knows that the Catholic Church severely condemns any sexual acts outside of the marriage bond, and this certainly includes all homosexual acts. Yet a person's sexual orientation in itself is not blamable or evil; only the acts in which a person might engage are susceptible of being so characterized.

"Sexual orientation" is thus not unlike concupiscence, or the tendency to be led by one's appetites or desires into behavior that is sinful. Concupiscence itself is not evil; it is merely a tendency that because of Original Sin can lead to doing evil (but this can be as true for a heterosexual as it is for a homosexual). Meanwhile, the maxim that one must love the sinner even while hating the sin surely still applies in the case of homosexuals.

In practice, though, loving the sinner while hating the sin can sometimes slide over into excusing the sin (perhaps even sometimes out of genuine love for the sinner). Or, even though homosexual behavior may not be overtly or explicitly excused, there can still be a strong tendency simply to downplay the fact of it — or just not to get into what homosexuals actually do at all. Isn't the main object, after all, to insure that they are not being subjected to unjust discrimination?

An approach like this, it seems, probably provides the explanation for some of what, unfortunately, must be called the "gay friendly" phenomena that, increasingly, have become rather pronounced among some Catholics and within the Catholic Church. Many Catholics, including a fair number of pastors and bishops, are apparently not content merely to eschew overt "gay-bashing" or other manifestations of public disapproval towards homosexuals. They appear to believe that accepting homosexuals as the Catechism prescribes means positively and uncritically affirming them in their homosexuality (and not merely in their human dignity). Unlike Jesus this time, who told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more, those inclined towards this kind of affirmation of homosexuals generally appear to think it preferable just to pass over in silence any mention of any possible sin that might be involved in living out the homosexual condition.

Bringing up the very idea that, yes, sin might sometimes be involved in affirming homosexuality is not only considered to be in bad form today; often it is considered to be a possibly grave failure of Christian charity as well. Homosexuality evidently has to be affirmed as it manifests itself today. We need think, for example, only of the "dignity Masses" or "gay-pride Masses" that are celebrated in various churches today, sometimes with the express permission of the bishop. Then there are the various GLBT ("Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgendered") "ministries" that are also encountered today — as are "gay" student organizations or the sponsorship of pro-"gay" speakers on Catholic college campuses. All these and similar phenomena would seem to indicate nothing else but acceptance of the homosexual condition pretty much as those homosexuals who have "come out" themselves define it.

And today's homosexuals generally define their homosexuality as an unchangeable condition which, because it is "the way God made me," must also, in their view, entail moral acceptance of the acts in which homosexuals so often feel impelled to engage. There is no point in "coming out" or affirming one's "gay pride," after all, if one has no intention of carrying out the acts that characterize the condition or the living of the homosexual lifestyle. It has been correctly noted that homosexuals who do not announce their condition are unlikely to be discriminated against because of it. In practice, the distinction between orientation and act, maintained in Catholic theology, and much favored by the homosexuals as well when they are claiming moral and legal sanctions for their typical lifestyles and behavior, can become quite blurred when it is a question of whether or not the acts in which homosexuals typically engage deserve to be morally approved or not.

Modern homosexuals, after all, define themselves as individuals who engage in same-sex acts and same-sex relationships. To accept the very category of "gayness," as the homosexuals have established it, is for most practical purposes to accept, even if only tacitly in some cases, the legitimacy of the behavior and the acts they engage in as well. To sponsor (or even allow) such things as GLBT "ministries" involves the same kind of acceptance and accords a degree of moral legitimacy to those engaged in these so-called GLBT "lifestyles." Not to understand or acknowledge this is to be either naive or blind or a combination of the two.

But to accept the legitimacy of homosexual acts is, of course, to collide unavoidably with Catholic moral teaching. The paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which immediately precedes the paragraph quoted above stigmatizing any unjust discrimination against homosexuals very plainly also teaches that:

. . . homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved (CCC #2357; emphasis added).

This teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can under no circumstances ever be morally approved is obviously not quoted either as widely or as frequently as the one condemning unjust discrimination against homosexuals which immediately follows it in the text of the Catechism. In the present cultural climate, in fact, this teaching even tends to be overlooked or disregarded in practice, if it is not actually forgotten, by those Catholics primarily concerned to avoid any unjust discrimination against homosexuals. Too often homosexuality is not viewed or treated by them as the disorder that the Church plainly teaches is the case. Typical homosexual behavior or acts, if they get mentioned or alluded to at all, are generally treated as if they are not necessarily disordered. Certainly the homosexuals themselves vigorously reject the idea that their condition or their conduct could possibly be disordered. They consider this characterization to be nothing else but — unjust discrimination!

On the Catholic side, meanwhile, if they are not actually ashamed of it, some Catholics nevertheless seem distinctly uneasy about the fact that the Church even has any such teaching as the one characterizing homosexuality as a disorder. For some this seems to amount to "gay-bashing" in and of itself. There seems to be little or no sense in some minds that today's organized homosexual rights movement just might constitute a danger to society or actually be a formidable enemy of Christ's Church. Rather, in focusing so exclusively on possible discrimination against homosexuals, some Church leaders seem to view those homosexuals who have "come out" almost as a group that has to be placated or appeased by the Church, certainly not as one that might need to be actively opposed.

Meanwhile, the homosexuals themselves go right on aggressively claiming both normality and legitimacy for their homosexual tendencies, including their choices to act upon those tendencies. More than that, they claim this as both a right and an entitlement. Society must not only accept and tolerate homosexuality and the behaviors that characterize it; society must positively affirm the morality and legitimacy of the claims of today's organized homosexual movement. For them there is no middle ground or room for compromise. They strongly oppose the "don't ask, don't tell" policy in the military; for them, again, this is a form of unjust discrimination.

Too many pastors and bishops, however — and certainly not a few theologians and other Catholic theoreticians — do not seem either to have grasped this aspect of the contemporary "gay rights" message, or to have realized its implications either for society or for the Church. There seems to be a huge disconnect here, in fact. A definite pro-"gay" attitude on the part of not a few of the Church's leaders still persists in the face of what has by now become one of the most visible, aggressive, and successful movements openly opposed to Christian morality that the Church has ever encountered.

Yet many Catholic leaders persist not just in accommodating but in many ways actually befriending — certainly not attempting seriously to combat — this declared open enemy of the Church and her teaching, the contemporary homosexuals rights movement. This attitude manifests itself in a number of ways, only a few of which can be looked at here. But it is worthwhile looking at these few examples.

It continues to be widely denied by many Church leaders that today's clerical sex-abuse crisis is predominantly a homosexual crisis, mainly involving clerics engaged in illicit relations with post-pubescent adolescent boys. Yet the statistics on this have been fairly constant from the time that the present crisis first burst upon the world with the revelations of clerical sex abuse and episcopal cover-ups in the Boston archdiocese in January 2002. The statistics from the latest annual report of the USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection, issued at the end of March, 2006, for example, continue to show that four out of five of the victims of clerical sex abuse have been males, while only one out of five has been female. This figure accords completely with the 81 percent figure which the bishops' National Review Board originally announced for this same category.

Yet another relatively constant figure has been the figure showing that around 50 percent of the victims have been aged between 10 and 14, while another 25 percent of them have been aged between 15 and 17. Thus, these figures too continue to show clearly that the on-going clerical sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church definitely does remain predominantly one of homosexuals engaged in illicit same-sex relations with post-pubescent adolescent boys.

The crisis is not, in other words, predominantly a crisis of predatory pedophiles taking advantage of wholly defenseless younger children, as so many commentators, including much of the media, have continued to suggest. It has apparently been important for some people to go on trying to maintain the pedophilia thesis because otherwise they might find themselves in the position of having to fault the Church for condoning homosexual relationships as such — when, all the while, most of these same people do not normally disapprove of homosexual relationships as such. They are even prepared to affirm the legitimacy of such relationships.

The relevant statistics also show that the current crisis does not follow the pattern according to which, as so many of the experts contend, most child sex abuse takes place at home and is perpetrated by a relative or some other person known to the child. Once again, some have tried to maintain that this pattern somehow applies to the present predominantly clerical sex abuse crisis. Indeed many of the actual child protection measures adopted by the bishops seem to assume such a pattern. Just as the bishops have never wanted to admit frankly that the crisis primarily involves personal immoral behavior by some priests and bishops, so too they have insisted on turning it into one primarily involving child protection, not immoral behavior. The media generally go along with this, again perhaps because focusing on adult homosexual conduct is not thought to be politically correct or in accord with their own particular biases.

The focus on child protection certainly does serve to take some of the heat off the bishops. This is true to the extent that the problem is no longer seen as almost exclusively a problem involving clerical discipline and the failure of some bishops to enforce it. The fact remains, however, that the problem nevertheless does go back primarily to homosexuals in the ranks of the clergy who have been willing and able to act on their proclivities, while in too many cases they were allowed to go on doing so until public exposure finally forced a change in the way the bishops typically dealt with this behavior.

As a direct result of the way the bishops have primarily defined the crisis, then, that is, in response to public and media pressure, and primarily as a crisis of child protection rather than of clerical misbehavior, they have now created an elaborate new bureaucracy where anyone having anything to do with children at all within the structure of the Church's institutions now has to be security checked and finger-printed, while the children themselves have meanwhile been herded into "programs" where they are now being trained to be the first-line judges of whether or not they are being abused. Yet some of these same supposed child-protection "programs" are themselves questionable, both as to age-appropriateness as well as to conformity with Catholic moral teaching (as contained, for example, in the Pontifical Council on the Family's 1995 document The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality). What began as a problem of mostly homosexual clerical misbehavior and episcopal "benign neglect" very soon became transformed into a situation where practically everybody is now considered to be a potential child abuser.

Meanwhile, all Catholic dioceses are now themselves supposedly obliged to undergo annual "audits" from a National Review Board, itself composed of some members who, on the public record, in some cases do not themselves even agree with important Church moral teachings. The "overseers" (episcopoi) established by Christ have thus willingly surrendered a portion of their own oversight responsibilities to an outside and essentially alien body which they themselves have empowered.

The fact that this National Review Board has actually not worked out too badly since it was established does not alter the fact that this was never a solution that accords with the Christ-established episcopal structure of the Catholic Church. It may have served to get the bishops temporarily off the hook in the public mind, but a frank recognition on their part of the basic cause of the crisis as being toleration of immoral sexual behavior by clerics, particularly homosexual behavior, combined with a real episcopal determination simply to root out such behavior with no further ifs, ands, or buts, would have served the Church and the faith much better.

Yet in spite of the damage done by homosexual clerics, it continues to be widely denied that homosexuality as such should really constitute any bar to the priesthood. This denial was seen, most markedly, in the rather less than enthusiastic reactions of some bishops and religious superiors to the Holy See's Instruction on homosexuality and the priesthood issued on November 4, 2005. It will be recalled that this Instruction specifies that the Church "cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.'"

If consistently followed, this Instruction would effectively bar in the future nearly all homosexuals from entrance into the seminary, not to speak of barring them from ordination to the priesthood. This was undoubtedly the intent of the Congregation for Catholic Education in issuing the Instruction. The Congregation thus seems to have a clearer insight than some of the American bishops into the connection between the acceptance or at least the toleration of homosexuals in the priesthood and the present crisis of clerical sex abuse.

Yet a not untypical reaction on the part of a number of bishops and religious superiors to the issuance of this Instruction revealed an uneasiness if not a kind of embarrassment similar to that often encountered in connection with the Catechism's teaching that homosexuality is a disorder. Or else, it was quickly said by some of them, that the Instruction was unnecessary because American seminary practice already provided suitable remedies for the problems envisaged in the Instruction (as if the glaring consequences of the clerical sex abuse crisis were not visible and evident to nearly everybody). A number of bishops declared publicly that the many fine priests already in the ranks of the clergy who were also homosexuals called into question if it did not give the lie to the Roman policy that homosexuals should not be ordained. This opinion was even expressed rather vehemently by some Church leaders. How the crisis had ever come about at all was not generally adverted to in their discussions of the new Instruction.

Typical of the viewpoint that homosexuals could make perfectly fine priests was the opinion of the president of the USCCB, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Washington. Bishop Skylstad wrote in his diocesan newspaper just before the actual issuance of the Roman Instruction (when strong rumors were flying around about it) that "there are many wonderful and excellent priests in the Church who have a gay orientation, are chaste and celibate, and are very effective ministers of the Gospel . . . Witch-hunts and gay bashing have no place in the Church."

Even granting the truth of at least some of what Bishop Skylstad wrote here, yet especially in view of the overwhelming fact of the whole on-going clerical sex abuse crisis — and certainly in view of the melancholy facts concerning the massive financial payouts for the settlement of sex abuse claims which have continued on uninterruptedly and still show few signs of diminishing at least in the foreseeable future — the USCCB president could with equal or greater truth have written that, unfortunately, there have also been not a few homosexual priests who have not been "chaste and celibate," and who in too many cases were allowed to go on until their immoral and even criminal activities were finally exposed by the secular press — to the great shame of the Church.

The very fact that Bishop Skylstad could characterize the removal of active homosexual priests from positions where they were in fact preying upon adolescents as a "witch-hunt," like the very fact that he could employ the term "gay bashing" — which by itself implies that the "problem," again, is some kind of unjust discrimination against homosexuals and not anything that avowed homosexuals might actually have done or be doing — all this points to an episcopal mind-set that has been lamentably, tragically, unable to measure up to the seriousness of the present clerical sex abuse crisis in the Church.

There is no intent here to single out Bishop Skylstad for special criticism. Not a few of his colleagues, unfortunately, have taken essentially the same position as he. He himself has in any case had more than his share of the problems related to the current crisis. His diocese is one of those that have actually gone into bankruptcy as a result of trying to settle sex-abuse claims and it is further threatened by adverse court decisions that threaten Church independence and Church property in the Spokane diocese. Nevertheless, Bishop Skylstad is the current USCCB president, and his mind-set unfortunately does reflect that of too many of his fellow bishops, who do not seem to have learned very much about the real nature of the crisis they have been undergoing; nor do they seem to have drawn any particular conclusions from the betrayals they have suffered in the ranks of their clergy as to how their clergy ought to be handled in the future.

The bishops can surely not be expected to put proper remedies in place if they have failed to identify the nature of the problem that needs to be remedied. Many of them, apparently, still cannot see this, even while Rome does see it and even issues an Instruction about it which the American bishops certainly ought to be taking more seriously.

This is not to say that there has been no improvement in the overall situation as a result of the measures that the bishops have taken to date. There certainly has been improvement. But there still does not seem to be any clear sense on the part of much of the Church's leadership concerning what the crisis has really been all about. In particular, there does not seem to be a clear recognition of the degree to which the acceptance or toleration of homosexuality in the priesthood has been one of the principal causes of the crisis and still contributes to some of its continuing unhappy consequences.

For the crisis remains undeniably one largely caused or at least greatly aggravated by the numbers of active homosexuals who got themselves admitted into the ranks of the priesthood during an era — coinciding with the outbreak of the sexual revolution in the culture at large — when the Church's traditionally strong moral disapprobation of sexual misbehavior on the part of anyone, not merely of priests, became greatly attenuated in practice and sometimes even inoperative.

To come out with testimonials about what great priests homosexuals can make at the very time that active homosexuals in the priesthood turn out to have been one of the major causes of perhaps the worst crisis the Catholic Church in America has ever undergone is certainly not to be attuned very closely to current reality. To go on deploring so-called "gay bashing" so strongly while the organized homosexual rights movement goes on "bashing" the Church and her teachings relentlessly and at will — and with very great effect — is, again, as was once so famously said (by General of the Army Omar N. Bradley speaking about the Korean War), to be fighting "the wrong war, in the wrong place, with the wrong enemy."

It is as if today's self-announced and proud homosexuals, now organized into a very well funded and amazingly successful movement and lobbying enterprise — which, moreover, is favored and even fawned upon by cultured opinion and the mass media — were still the ones principally being made to suffer in today's world. Where suffering is concerned, though, it might have been thought that the leaders of the Catholic Church would be more focused on the victims of clerical sex abuse and their families — or upon the otherwise uninvolved members of their flocks now forced by a runaway system of legal tort claims to finance with their contributions to the Church millions upon millions of dollars in damage claims resulting from clerical sex abuse.

The Catholic Church today seems well on her way, in fact, to replacing asbestos or big tobacco as the biggest new cash cow for the American trial lawyers and their clients. While it is unhappily true that, because of the wrongs done and crimes committed, the Church in too many cases deserves to pay some penalty, one would nevertheless have hoped that the very fact of all that has occurred would at least have persuaded most Catholic Church leaders by now that unjust discrimination against homosexuals is hardly the gravest moral problem connected with homosexuality in today's world.

The organized homosexual rights movement in the United States has in fact largely succeeded in changing the definition of what is meant by "unjust discrimination" against homosexuals in the minds of many if not most Americans today. While many Catholics, including some bishops, theologians, and other leaders still seem mainly focused on the article of the Catechism forbidding unjust discrimination against homosexuals, the situation of avowed homosexuals in America has meanwhile become drastically changed, perhaps in large part as a result of the amazingly successful efforts of the organized homosexual rights movement itself. Just a few short years ago, hardly anyone would have predicted the degree to which not just homosexuality itself but the contracting of homosexual unions would come to be so widely accepted in America, including especially by the courts.

What must strike any unbiased observer looking at American society today is the degree to which self-identified homosexuals have actually come to constitute a favored class. Cultured opinion and the mass media no longer disapprove of but actually celebrate the doings of homosexuals today. The well-heeled and well organized homosexual rights movement, in the past few years, has succeeded to a simply astonishing degree not only in removing most of the moral and legal disabilities under which admitted homosexuals may once have labored, but also in establishing "sexual orientation" as a category now entitled to civil rights protection. This is already the case according to a number of state laws and municipal ordinances (if not yet in any federal civil rights legislation), and it is certainly a position that is increasingly favored by some of the courts.

In Massachusetts, for example, the state's supreme court decided, as has by now been very well-publicized, that the unjust discrimination against homosexuals it found lay not in anything disadvantageous being imposed or laid upon homosexuals as a class; rather, it lay in what the court decided was a denial of their "right" to "marry" each other. The traditional understanding, found at all times and in all societies (except now in present-day American society), that marriage consists of the union of a man and a woman with a view towards establishing a family and producing children and carrying society on, now suddenly was judged to be nothing but an irrational prejudice against the desires of homosexuals to contract same-sex unions. Such unions are not, and in the nature of things can never be, marriages, in any real sense; but the Massachusetts court nevertheless did not hesitate to decree its own new definition of marriage if that is what was required to affirm the supposed "rights" of homosexuals.

One of the first of what will no doubt be other unfortunate consequences stemming from this particular court decision affecting the Catholic Church directly was the sadly necessary closing down of long established Catholic adoption services no longer able to "discriminate" against same-sex couples when placing adopted children. Other consequences will also follow once the law enshrines these new homosexual "rights" in the law books. Publicly disapproving of homosexual unions can quickly be made into a "hate crime," for example, as has already happened in such places as Sweden and Canada, where criminal penalties have been imposed upon people opposed to homosexuality. People have even been prosecuted for quoting the Bible against homosexuality!

Other courts in other jurisdictions seem poised to follow the lead of Massachusetts in rendering perverse decisions of the same kind. Court cases in more than a dozen states, for example, are currently threatening to end the unjust discrimination supposedly involved in legally allowing only persons of the opposite sex to marry each other. What these courts may decide unjust discrimination consists of is only too likely in the present climate to differ rather considerably from anything that the drafters of the Catechism of the Catholic Church ever had in mind when they produced their teaching banning unjust discrimination against homosexuals.

For what the organized homosexual rights movement is demanding in these so-called same-sex marriage cases (and not only in these cases) is not just that homosexuals should be free from harassment or abuse — and certainly not that they should just be left alone, a proposition that most reasonable people could agree to. What is being demanded, rather, is that homosexuals should be recognized as a formerly discriminated against class now entitled to special civil rights protection — just as blacks formerly discriminated against by the old Jim Crow laws now enjoy special protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Necessarily entailed in the claim that homosexuals should be entitled to special civil rights protections is the legal recognition of the legitimacy of engaging in same-sex relations and homosexual acts. For, as already pointed out, this is how the so-called "gay rights" movement defines itself: namely, as a movement composed of people who engage in homosexual acts and who are now, in such cases as the same-sex marriage court cases, claiming the legal entitlement to be able to do so. Marriage, precisely, does entitle spouses to engage in sexual relations with each other, and that is exactly what same-sex couples are now claiming the legal right to do.

The moral distinction so favored by Catholics between a morally neutral homosexual "orientation" and the homosexual "acts" that alone can be considered immoral pretty much falls to the ground here. Legal recognition of same-sex "marriage" means legal recognition of the moral licitness of homosexual acts. It is significant, by the way, that the Congregation for Catholic Education's new Instruction on homosexuality and the priesthood nowhere employs the term "sexual orientation," nor does it seem to recognize it as a valid category. Like the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself, the Instruction speaks only of persons with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" — another respect in which the Holy See has not bought in to contemporary society's understanding of the homosexuality issue in the way that, too often, important figures in the leadership of the church in America do seem to have done.

With the threat of so-called same-sex "marriage" now looming as a disconcerting legal reality in a number of areas, though, it must be said that the Catholic bishops have finally roused themselves and have not failed to recognize that the traditional definition of marriage represents a moral and legal line that cannot be crossed. The Catholic bishops of both the United States and Canada have thus strongly opposed the legalization of homosexual unions as true marriages. In the United States, the Administrative Committee of the USCCB, in September, 2003, issued a carefully reasoned statement clarifying what marriage necessarily consists of in Catholic teaching and actually endorsing a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution of the United States stipulating that marriage consists of the union of a man and a woman; the statement opposes even civil unions or anything designed to grant "the equivalent status and rights of marriage." This 2003 statement was specifically re-affirmed by the USCCB Administrative Committee on March 14, 2006. The American bishops are thus definitely on board in favor of a federal marriage amendment.

In Canada, where same-sex marriage was legalized by means of a Civil Marriage Act in July of 2005, the Canadian bishops nevertheless came out with a statement insisting that "marriage remains the exclusive union of a man and a woman for life," regardless of what the civil law might decree — and it is significant, of course, that in Canada the civil law has decreed that so-called same-sex marriage is legitimate. Still, the Catholic Church has not failed to reaffirm the truth of the matter in the face of these discouraging setbacks.

It nevertheless remains remarkable that, even while recognizing the threat that the legalization of so-called same-sex marriage poses to society and to the moral law, not to speak of its effect on the Church and her teachings, the bishops in both the United States and Canada still cannot seem to get very far away from their preoccupation with possible discrimination against homosexuals, that is, with disadvantages or burdens that might possibly still be imposed upon them because of their homosexuality. In both the U.S. and Canadian episcopal statements — which both clearly oppose anything but the union of a man and a woman being accepted as a "marriage" — the apparently obligatory bow towards forbidding anything that might possibly be disadvantageous to homosexuals continues to be prominently included as well.

The statement of the American bishops makes a definite point of stating the actual words of the Catechism already quoted above that homosexuals "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." The statement of the Canadian bishops (dated 7/20/05) quotes the same words exactly. It is thus salutary to note the degree to which the episcopal conferences of both North American countries do still insist on affirming the teachings of the Catechism.

However, a greater realization of how this teaching of the Catechism actually applies today might perhaps be desirable. This teaching says nothing about favoring homosexuals, but only that they should not be discriminated against. But the fact is that, while the leadership of the Catholic Church has continued to be keenly concerned about any disabilities that homosexuals might possibly continue to suffer as a result of their condition, the organized homosexual rights movement in North America has meanwhile largely succeeded in changing the definition of what unjust discrimination against homosexuals means. The term now seems to mean principally denying to homosexuals the "right" to "marry." Needless to say, this latter definition surely cannot be squared with the Church's teaching forbidding unjust discrimination towards homosexuals, nor is it a definition that in any conceivable circumstances the Catholic Church could ever accept.

In the light of all this, greater attention to the meaning of this widely if not now largely accepted new definition of unjust discrimination against homosexuals deserves to be focused on much more sharply by the Catholic Church leadership. The organized homosexual rights movement and its fellow travelers in North America could well succeed in abolishing the legal definition of marriage — not to speak of up-ending the natural moral law in society — before some Church leaders get around to recognizing the seriousness of the threat posed for society and the faith by the acceptance, even tacitly, of homosexuality and the claims of the organized homosexual rights movement.

And at the same time that more thought is given to how the Catechism's teaching forbidding unjust discrimination against homosexuals actually applies in a society in which the homosexuals have now become a favored class in some cases enjoying special legal protections, Church leaders should also perhaps be paying greater attention to the Catechism's other teaching to the effect that homosexuality is a disorder. Today the very success of the organized homosexual rights movement provides abundant new evidence about just how disordered the consequences of the acceptance of homosexuality as normal and natural can be for a society. It is past time to focus more seriously on what is actually happening in society today as a result of this acceptance. Rather than continuing to dwell unduly on the possible disadvantages that homosexuals might sometimes possibly suffer as a result of their condition, Catholic Church leaders ought to be focusing more on the harm that can be done to society and to the faith by the legal acceptance of homosexuality and homosexual acts as legitimate.

Kenneth D. Whitehead is a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, who now works as a writer, editor, and translator in Falls Church, Virginia. He is the author, most recently, of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Early Church Was the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2000). A revised edition of a book he co-authored with James Likoudis in 1981, The Pope, the Council, and the Mass, is forthcoming from Emmaus Road Publishing. His work previously appeared in the January 2004 issue of HPR.

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