CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon, even in those
countries where it does not present significant legal issues. It gives rise to
greater concern in those countries that have granted or intend to grant – legal
recognition to homosexual unions, which may include the possibility of adopting
children. The present Considerations do not contain new doctrinal elements; they
seek rather to reiterate the essential points on this question and 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 present Considerations are also intended to give
direction to Catholic politicians by indicating the approaches to proposed
legislation in this area which would be consistent with Christian conscience.(2)
Since this question relates to the natural moral law, the arguments that follow
are addressed not only to those who believe in Christ, but to all persons
committed to promoting and defending the common good of society.
I. THE NATURE OF MARRIAGE
AND ITS INALIENABLE CHARACTERISTICS
2. The Church's teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the
sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such
by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship
between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature,
essential properties and purpose.(3) No ideology can erase
from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man
and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves,
tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect
each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of
new human lives.
3. The natural truth about marriage was confirmed by the Revelation contained
in the biblical accounts of creation, an expression also of the original human
wisdom, in which the voice of nature itself is heard. There are three
fundamental elements of the Creator's plan for marriage, as narrated in the Book
In the first place, man, the image of God, was created "male and female" (Gen
1:27). Men and women are equal as persons and complementary as male and female.
Sexuality is something that pertains to the physical-biological realm and has
also been raised to a new level – the personal level – where nature and spirit
Marriage is instituted by the Creator as a form of life in which a communion
of persons is realized involving the use of the sexual faculty. "That is why a
man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one
flesh" (Gen 2:24).
Third, God has willed to give the union of man and woman a special
participation in his work of creation. Thus, he blessed the man and the woman
with the words "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28). Therefore, in the
Creator's plan, sexual complementarity and fruitfulness belong to the very
nature of marriage.
Furthermore, the marital union of man and woman has been elevated by Christ
to the dignity of a sacrament. The Church teaches that Christian marriage is an
efficacious sign of the covenant between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph
5:32). This Christian meaning of marriage, far from diminishing the profoundly
human value of the marital union between man and woman, confirms and strengthens
it (cf. Mt 19:3-12; Mk 10:6-9).
4. There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in
any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and
family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral
law. Homosexual acts "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".(4)
Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts "as a serious depravity... (cf.
Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10). This judgment of
Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer
from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the
fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered".(5)
This same moral judgment is found in many Christian writers of the first
centuries(6) and is unanimously accepted by Catholic
Nonetheless, according to the teaching of the Church, men and women with
homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion and
sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be
avoided".(7) They are called, like other Christians, to
live the virtue of chastity.(8) The homosexual inclination
is however "objectively disordered"(9) and homosexual
practices are "sins gravely contrary to chastity".(10)
II. POSITIONS ON THE PROBLEM
OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
5. Faced with the fact of homosexual unions, civil authorities adopt
different positions. At times they simply tolerate the phenomenon; at other
times they advocate legal recognition of such unions, under the pretext of
avoiding, with regard to certain rights, discrimination against persons who live
with someone of the same sex. In other cases, they favour giving homosexual
unions legal equivalence to marriage properly so-called, along with the legal
possibility of adopting children.
Where the government's policy is de facto tolerance and there is no
explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish
carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in
every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is
contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination
against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be
effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might
be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral
nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the
phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above
all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and
marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to
the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the
legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be
reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different
from the toleration of evil.
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or
have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and
emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal
cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as
far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In
this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.
III. ARGUMENTS FROM REASON AGAINST LEGAL
RECOGNITION OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
6. To understand why it is necessary to oppose legal recognition of
homosexual unions, ethical considerations of different orders need to be taken
From the order of right reason
The scope of the civil law is certainly more limited than that of the
moral law,(11) but civil law cannot contradict right
reason without losing its binding force on conscience.(12)
Every humanly-created law is legitimate insofar as it is consistent with the
natural moral law, recognized by right reason, and insofar as it respects the
inalienable rights of every person.(13) Laws in favour
of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason because they confer legal
guarantees, analogous to those granted to marriage, to unions between persons of
the same sex. Given the values at stake in this question, the State could not
grant legal standing to such unions without failing in its duty to promote and
defend marriage as an institution essential to the common good.
It might be asked how a law can be contrary to the common good if it does not
impose any particular kind of behaviour, but simply gives legal recognition to a
de facto reality which does not seem to cause injustice to anyone. In this
area, one needs first to reflect on the difference between homosexual behaviour
as a private phenomenon and the same behaviour as a relationship in society,
foreseen and approved by the law, to the point where it becomes one of the
institutions in the legal structure. This second phenomenon is not only more
serious, but also assumes a more wide-reaching and profound influence, and would
result in changes to the entire organization of society, contrary to the common
good. Civil laws are structuring principles of man's life in society, for good
or for ill. They "play a very important and sometimes decisive role in
influencing patterns of thought and behaviour".(14)
Lifestyles and the underlying presuppositions these express not only externally
shape the life of society, but also tend to modify the younger generation's
perception and evaluation of forms of behaviour. Legal recognition of homosexual
unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the
institution of marriage.
From the biological and anthropological order
7. Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and
anthropological elements of marriage and family which would be the basis, on the
level of reason, for granting them legal recognition. Such unions are not able
to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race.
The possibility of using recently discovered methods of artificial reproduction,
beyond involv- ing a grave lack of respect for human dignity,(15)
does nothing to alter this inadequacy.
Homosexual unions are also totally lacking in the conjugal dimension, which
represents the human and ordered form of sexuality. Sexual relations are human
when and insofar as they express and promote the mutual assistance of the sexes
in marriage and are open to the transmission of new life.
As experience has shown, the absence of sexual complementarity in these
unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children who would be
placed in the care of such persons. They would be deprived of the experience of
either fatherhood or motherhood. 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 is
gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in
the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best
interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the
paramount consideration in every case.
From the social order
8. Society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on
marriage. The inevitable consequence of legal recognition of homosexual unions
would be the redefinition of marriage, which would become, in its legal status,
an institution devoid of essential reference to factors linked to
heterosexuality; for example, procreation and raising children. If, from the
legal standpoint, marriage between a man and a woman were to be considered just
one possible form of marriage, the concept of marriage would undergo a radical
transformation, with grave detriment to the common good. By putting homosexual
unions on a legal plane analogous to that of marriage and the family, the State
acts arbitrarily and in contradiction with its duties.
The principles of respect and non-discrimination cannot be invoked to support
legal recognition of homosexual unions. Differentiating between persons or
refusing social recognition or benefits is unacceptable only when it is contrary
to justice.(16) The denial of the social and legal status
of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not
opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.
Nor can the principle of the proper autonomy of the individual be reasonably
invoked. It is one thing to maintain that individual citizens may freely engage
in those activities that interest them and that this falls within the common
civil right to freedom; it is something quite different to hold that activities
which do not represent a significant or positive contribution to the development
of the human person in society can receive specific and categorical legal
recognition by the State. Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual
unions fulfil the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific
categorical recognition. On the contrary, there are good reasons for holding
that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human society,
especially if their impact on society were to increase.
From the legal order
9. Because married couples ensure the succession of generations and are
therefore eminently within the public interest, civil law grants them
institutional recognition. Homosexual unions, on the other hand, do not need
specific attention from the legal standpoint since they do not exercise this
function for the common good.
Nor is the argument valid according to which legal recognition of homosexual
unions is necessary to avoid situations in which cohabiting homosexual persons,
simply because they live together, might be deprived of real recognition of
their rights as persons and citizens. In reality, they can always make use of
the provisions of law – like all citizens from the standpoint of their private
autonomy – to protect their rights in matters of common interest. It would be
gravely unjust to sacrifice the common good and just laws on the family in order
to protect personal goods that can and must be guaranteed in ways that do not
harm the body of society.(17)
IV. POSITIONS OF CATHOLIC POLITICIANS
WITH REGARD TO LEGISLATION IN FAVOUR
OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS
10. 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. Faced with
legislative proposals in favour of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are
to take account of the following ethical indications.
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
When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is already
in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible
for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth.
If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician,
recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae,
"could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law
and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and
public morality", on condition that his "absolute personal opposition" to such
laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.(18)
This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered
just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful
attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total
abrogation is not possible at the moment.
11. The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in
any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of
homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and
protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal
recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage
would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of
making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values
which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to
defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience of March 28, 2003,
approved the present Considerations, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this
Congregation, and ordered their publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
June 3, 2003, Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and his Companions, Martyrs.
Joseph Card. Ratzinger
Angelo Amato, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Sila
(1) Cf. John Paul
II, Angelus Messages of February 20, 1994, and of June 19, 1994;
Address to the Plenary Meeting of the Pontifical Council for the Family
(March 24, 1999); Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2357-2359, 2396;
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Persona humana
(December 29, 1975), 8; Letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons
(October 1, 1986); Some considerations concerning the response to legislative
proposals on the non-discrimination of homosexual persons (July 24, 1992);
Pontifical Council for the Family, Letter to the Presidents of the Bishops'
Conferences of Europe on the resolution of the European Parliament regarding
homosexual couples (March 25, 1994); Family, marriage and "de facto"
unions (July 26, 2000), 23.
(2) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in
political life (November 24, 2002), 4.
(3) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution
Gaudium et spes, 48.
(4) Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2357.
(5) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Declaration Persona humana (December 29, 1975), 8.
(6) Cf., for example, St. Polycarp, Letter to the
Philippians, V, 3; St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 27, 1-4;
Athenagoras, Supplication for the Christians, 34.
(7) Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358;
cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on the pastoral care
of homosexual persons (October 1, 1986), 10.
(8) Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.
2359; cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on the pastoral
care of homosexual persons (October 1, 1986), 12.
(9) Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358.
(10) Ibid., No. 2396.
(11) Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium
vitae (March 25, 1995), 71.
(12) Cf. ibid., 72.
(13) Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae,
I-II, q. 95, a. 2.
(14) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium
vitae (March 25, 1995), 90.
(15) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Instruction Donum vitae (February 22, 1987), II. A. 1-3.
(16) Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae,
II-II, q. 63, a.1, c.
(17) It should not be forgotten that there is always
"a danger that legislation which would make homosexuality a basis for
entitlements could actually encourage a person with a homosexual orientation to
declare his homosexuality or even to seek a partner in order to exploit the
provisions of the law" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some
considerations concerning the response to legislative proposals on the
non-discrimination of homosexual persons [July 24, 1992], 14).
(18) John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium
vitae (March 25, 1995), 73.