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Larry Gross
Larry Gross is the director of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and is a pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian studies....


Inventing Sin: Religion and Homosexuality

No matter their own scandals, religious institutions through history have a consistent scapegoat: homosexuals.

(Page 3)

The Philadelphia legislation was defeated when City Council President John Street declared his opposition to the legislation in a statement that parroted Cardinal Bevilacqua’s words. When Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell later issued an executive order granting domestic partner benefits to mayoral appointees, Cardinal Bevilacqua held a news conference at which he warned that the executive order would end civilization as we know it in Philadelphia. 

If civilization in Philadelphia was threatened by domestic partner benefits, Rome was even more alarmed at the increasingly successful movement to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe. Playing his familiar role as the pope’s enforcer, Cardinal Ratzinger took aim.

In July of 2003 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued yet another letter to the bishops of the Church, this time enumerating “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.” The purpose of the letter was to “provide arguments drawn from reason which could be used by Bishops in preparing more specific interventions, appropriate to the different situations throughout the world, aimed at protecting and promoting the dignity of marriage, the foundation of the family, and the stability of society, of which this institution is a constitutive element.” The letter also addressed Catholic politicians in countries or localities where same-sex marriage was being debated:

If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. . . . When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.

Then, during the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign Cardinal Ratzinger ratcheted up to direct intervention, telling American bishops that Communion must be denied to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. In August of 2005, fulfilling the spirit of this injunction, Bishop Thomas Olmsted ordered that politicians who support gay rights and abortion be banned from speaking at Roman Catholic churches in the Phoenix diocese. In keeping with this order, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano was forbidden to speak at a Scottsdale church.

The 2003 Letter also condemned the possibility of permitting lesbian or gay couples to adopt children: “Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.” This Letter was promulgated, as many noted, at the same time that the Catholic Church was beset with its own ethical and legal travails over its failure to seriously address the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

When the sexual abuse scandals broke over the Catholic priesthood in the United States in the late 1990s the Vatican responded by scapegoating gay priests, despite abundant evidence that pedophiles are not gay and that gays are not pedophiles. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Novarro-Valls broke the Vatican’s official silence on the scandal, telling The New York Times in March 2002 that gay men should not be ordained as priests. Philadelphia Cardinal Bevilacqua, returning from a meeting of cardinals with Pope John Paul in Rome, expanded on the Church’s increased hostility towards homosexuality:

“We feel that a person who is homosexually oriented is not a suitable candidate for the priesthood, even if he did not commit an act [of gay sex],” he said. “There is a difference between heterosexual candidates and homosexual candidates,” he said. “A heterosexual is taking on a good thing, becoming a priest, and giving up a very good thing, the desire to have a family.” A gay seminarian, even a chaste one, he said, “by his orientation, is not giving up family and marriage. He is giving up what the church considers an abomination.”

In February 2005, Pope John Paul II published his last book, “Memory and Identity,” described by the Reuters news service as “a highly philosophical and intricate work on the nature of good and evil.” However, in his final months, ill and facing death, Pope John Paul’s highly philosophical ruminations did not preclude an attack on same-sex marriage, recently legalized in several European countries.

Referring to efforts in the European Parliament to promote same-sex marriage, he wrote, “It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”

Despite the evident hostility of the Catholic Church, some lesbian and gay Catholics have searched wistfully for silver linings. Conservative journalist Andrew Sullivan tried to reconcile his homosexuality and his religion, arguing that the Church made a monumental concession by using the term “homosexual persons” because “the term ‘person’ constitutes in Catholic moral teaching a profound statement about the individual’s humanity, dignity and worth; it invokes a whole range of rights and needs.” But not, of course, the right to sexual expression; that, according to the Ratzinger Letter, is “behavior to which no one has any conceivable right.”

Sullivan seemed less concerned over whether his church grants him the right to express his sexuality than grateful that it found a place for him in the natural order. And what is this place? Sullivan writes, “As albinos remind us of the brilliance of color . . . as the disabled person reveals to us in negative form the beauty of the fully functioning human body; so the homosexual person might be seen as a natural foil to the heterosexual norm, a variation that does not eclipse the theme, but resonates with it.”

The view that homosexuality can only be seen as the distorted reflection of a heterosexual norm is not limited, of course, to tortured gay apologists. The religious right has placed what it calls “family values” as the centerpiece of its crusade against minorities (single mothers on welfare), feminism (women daring to seek employment and careers outside the home), and gay people (who “recruit because they can’t reproduce”).


Dig last updated on Nov. 30, 2005

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By Dave Trowbridge, December 2, 2005 at 2:42 pm Link to this comment
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Michael, one “draws” the line at non-consensual relationships: marriage can only exist between consenting beings. (This understanding, BTW, is in line with Catholic teaching, which holds a marriage null—non-existent—if not freely consented to.) Adults of whatever gender can consent to a relationship, children and animals cannot.

Frankly, I think those who condemn homosexuality have not the mind of Christ.

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By Yankee in exile, December 2, 2005 at 10:27 am Link to this comment
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Thank God for science.

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By Rob Burke, December 2, 2005 at 7:29 am Link to this comment
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The “threat to the family” presented by the opponnets of gay rights and gay marriage imples that if homosexuality is recognized as a valid way of life for those who freely choose it, many more people would go that way. If a significant number of traditional marriages occur because the partners consider the gay alternative attractive but reject gayness only because it is unnatural and sinful, then the human race is indeed in deep trouble. It must be quite heartbreaking for the wives of Dobson, Phelps etc to know that they are only the second choice of their tormented but devout husbands.

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By M Henri Day, December 2, 2005 at 7:13 am Link to this comment
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But dear Ms Respess, you are not <u>expected</u> to get it ; you’re just expected to do as you are told. That is why the Benedictines, for example, chose as their motto not sape, but ora et labora....

Credo quia absurdam....

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By Andy Hurvitz, December 1, 2005 at 4:26 pm Link to this comment
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The Catholic Church is increasingly part of the lives of Africans and Asians where traditional and public “family vaules” are adhered to. While Western Europe and North America may be moving towards liberalization in our secular laws in regards to gay issues, we can’t expect that the Church is going to suddenly reverse its teachings and say homosexuality is OK.

However, as a non-Catholic and a gay person, I object to and fear any faith that condems those biological facts that cannot be changed. We are born gay and remain that way—but Christianity is a lifestyle choice and how one practices it can be reformed and modified to tolerate and understand the truth about human sexuality. If it is “true” that Christ was born in immaculate conception then anybody who accepts the Church’s teachings on sexuality is being informed by a lie.

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By rheomode, December 1, 2005 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment
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A quote from J. Krishnamurti cuts to the heart of the matter:  “All following is evil.”  Until that is understood, there will continue to be those who are torn between their “faith” and the reality of their lives.

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By Michael, December 1, 2005 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment
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Sexual taboos in western society has for centuries included adultery, sodomy (homosexuality), pedophila and intercourse with animals.

While adultery hardly gets a notice except with the parties involved, sodomy has “come a long way” down this same path. However, heterosexuals are the majoritiy and thus homosexuality holds less attraction than does adultery. Pedophila has fewer advocates still and “farmsex” is still way down there on societal approval lists.

So where do you draw the line? All or nothing? Or is it “do as I say and not as I do?”  Ideally, none of the above is the healthiest for society. But would a lesbian couple approve of their child (adopted or otherwise) marrying a horse? How would they answer the very same questions they put forth to justify their position? Okay then marry your horse because that is your sexual preference? Or would it be well that’s different, a horse is not a huuman being. To which heterosexuals will say, well that’s different, we’re of opposite sexes and can naturally produce offspring.

So if one has to draw a line then best to draw it at none of the above because then any argument used to justify one can be used to justify the other. The road to Singapore, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

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By Michael, December 1, 2005 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment
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Disjointed comments from a 20 year convert to Catholicism…
The thing about the “new” strictures of the Vatican against practicing gay priests is overblown.  The Vatican need only say the same thing about heterosexuals.  Heterosexual priests aren’t allowed to practice either, so what’s the big deal?
It’s time for priests to be allowed to marry. And gays too, while we’re at it.

It’s time for gays to be allowed in society to live openly and with the same rights as heteros, including marriage.

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By Grok Your World, December 1, 2005 at 11:49 am Link to this comment
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Great photo! We “used” that one ourselves at

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By natalie brown, December 1, 2005 at 11:00 am Link to this comment
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The church is the last stand of the patriarchial establishment of spiritual and state control.  The collusion between the two is nothing more than the bullies on the playground of our lives.  They are so desperate to control what is in heaven and on earth that they have confused themselves relative to God.

They function only by what is ordained by man, not by the creator, their souls are veiled with power, greed and control in order to satify their own inadequacies, real or imagined.  They require our love and prayers, they too are born into sin and are of sin.

I would rather be the camel that slipped through the hole of the needle rather than the one left to hold the needle looking up at the light trying to find the hole.

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By Nicole Grande, December 1, 2005 at 10:49 am Link to this comment
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For the love of God, why do we have to continue this debate?  It seems to me that the only people who put their energy into this matter are the religious fanatics.  Perhaps if they moved on to more pressing matters, like, peace and feeding the hungry, they would get over their hidden perversions.  I think their interest in what goes on in someone else’s bedroom is just their own perversion looking to be quenched.

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By peter, December 1, 2005 at 10:32 am Link to this comment
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as a homosexual myself, i have come to realize that i play an essential role in society and organized religion. without me - and the millions of other men and women like me - politicians, clergy, and the “faithful” of all stripes would have no convenient way to distract themselves from that tedious, old question of navigating a moral, ethical, godly course in a world of ever-increasing information and ever-dwindling resources.

and that would just suck, y’know?

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By Margaret Harnish MD, December 1, 2005 at 10:09 am Link to this comment
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Excellent article. Those of us who have bothered to study the subject of homosexuality know that there is abundant proof of the genetic basis for homosexuality. The very unchrist-like posturing by the culture’s “moral” leaders is just the continutation of the tradition of exclusion of what they peceive as different from themselves. Apparently SOMEONE must be the scapegoat or the enemy. The Church has a long history of genetic discrimination ; look how they continue to perceive women! The heart goes out to those who have been demonized by an ignorant, bigoted hierarchy so bereft of christlike or even human kindness.

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By Sandy, December 1, 2005 at 9:05 am Link to this comment
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Until the church can show me when or where Love is ever a sin then it’s incessant teaching of condemnation towards homosexuals is one of the most blatent heresies of Christ’s teaching ever. It takes the second commandment to love your neighbor as yourself and adds this caveat, unless your neighbor is gay. And make no mistake two people of the same gender can most definitely love one another with the very same love a hetersexual couple does. The emotion is one and the same.

However I as a lesbian take up my cross and hang there saying “Father forgvie them, they know not what they do”. Perhaps one day these self-righteous hypocritical Saducees and Pharisees will one day come to know they are forgiven, only as they forgive, and that blaspemy of the Holy Spirit (Love) is the only sin that isn’t be forgiven.

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By Marsha L. Respess, December 1, 2005 at 8:54 am Link to this comment
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As a lesbian I feel threatened and unwelcome in my own country.  I live in California where anti-gay groups are trying to put at least 3 propositions on the ballot for next year that would not only ban same-sex marriage but would also overturn all the hard-won domestic partner legislation we have and I fear that this will pass because even the people I always considered to be progressive are opposed to same-sex marriage and their arguments are just as nonsensical as the rigt-wingers.  I am at a loss to understand the hostility that we engender.  After Gene Robinson was installed as the first openly gay bishop the Anglican Church has started to splinter over it and one of the most vociferous critics was the archbishop from Uganda who somehow saw this as terrible threat yet not the civil war raging in his own country that continues to kill thousands of people every year.  With all of the poverty, misery, disease, death, and war in the world it is a mystery why homosexualty is seen as a terrible threat.  When the Catholic pope issues an edict it is about not the suffering in the world but gay priests.  I don’t get it and I never will.

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Dig Director's Blog

Jan. 17, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI has intervened in the upcoming Italian elections, specifically on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage—no extra credit for guessing what side he’s on.  The topic of same-sex marriage is especially touchy, as Spain, another predominantly Catholic country, recently legalized same-sex marriage despite the Church’s explicit opposition, something the pope seems to have taken as a personal affront.  If the same thing were to happen in Italy it would be truly insulting to the newly installed Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ….

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Dec. 14, 2005

Scapegoats talk back, and the boys in black squabble over the meaning of the Vatican “instruction.”

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Dec. 13, 2005

The fight between several conservative Southern California episcopal parishes and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles escalated…

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Dec. 1, 2005

Speaking of religion, the current controversies over same-sex marriage are mostly derived from the hostility of religious institutions to the inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the “sacred institution” of marriage.

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