Although the magisterium of the Catholic church insists that violence against homosexuals is always wrong, it also depicts homosexuals as a grave threat to society: homosexual unions do “violence” to children raised within these unions[1], homosexuals are a threat to any child and for this reason they should not be teachers or coaches[2], and “even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved[3]”.  Clearly, according to the magisterium, homosexuality is itself a violent attack upon society—at times, homosexuality is explicitly likened to violence.  Thus, it is not surprising that the church reaches the following conclusion about homosexuality: “when homosexual activity is consequently not condoned…neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted and irrational practices gain ground and irrational and violent reactions increase[4]”.  In other words, the magisterium believes homosexuality to be a type of contagion that unleashes a host of disorders upon society.  In addition to being disturbed by the fact that the magisterium’s moral assessment of homosexuality is based upon a complete disregard for the lived reality of lesbian and gay existence, we should also be troubled by the implication that violence is the expected and even appropriate response to homosexuality.

It should also be remembered that this statement implying that the violence is a reasonable response to the homosexual “invasion” was written in 1986, a time in which gays and lesbians had few if any legal rights or protections.  In most parts of the United States, for example, homosexuality itself was illegal.  In other words, this letter was written in reaction to events like the decriminalization of homosexuality in a very small number of countries.

Moreover, despite the church’s repeated condemnation of violence against homosexuals, it is telling that the magisterium (to my knowledge) has never issued a pastoral letter or any official statement of any kind condemning any specific act of violence against any homosexual person.  This is all the more telling given that the Vatican as well as various bishops’ conferences released very pointed and direct condemnations of civic legislation to allow same-sex marriage.  In light of the magisterium’s claim that all “unjust discrimination” against “homosexual persons” is wrong, one wonders, what, if anything, is an example of such unjust discrimination?

[1] Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Pastoral Letter Regarding Same-Sex Marriage.”  Origins 32 #27. (22 Nov. 2002).

[2] Vatican. “Discrimination Versus Homosexuals.” (22 July 1992).

[3] Vatican. “Care of Homosexual Persons.” (1 Oct. 1986).

[4] Vatican. “Care of Homosexual Persons.” (1 Oct. 1986).

6 thoughts

  1. Good post. I think church rhetoric does promote hatred against gays, though I don’t doubt they’d deny that’s the intention.

    It was only recently that the pope compared homosexuality to environmental disaster. Never have I read an “official” comment from the church when things like the suicide of Tyler Clementi or the murder of David Kato occur, and I recall James Dobson spoke out against the The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill. The church’s actions, or lack thereof, speak for themselves.

  2. Katie–
    Thanks for this, it’s a very good post on the problem of church rhetoric. In fact, one wonders why the church does think violence against homosexuals is a problem at all. After all, if we’re as dangerous to society as this makes out, surely some degree of self-defense on society’s part justifiably arises? Or perhaps that can be accomplished by “just” discrimination instead?

    In case you haven’t seen it, I’d also direct you to Mary Rose D’Angelo’s article “Perfect Fear Casts Out Love” that gives–albeit anecdotally–a rather terrifying example of Catholic religious rhetoric taken to violent extremes.

    And one final point. As much as I think the thrust of what you’re saying is correct, it would probably be better to say that the church finds this violence “understandable” rather than “reasonable.” After all, they do call it irrational themselves. I’m willing to grant them a little benefit of the doubt, even if they are internally incoherent.

    1. Andy–good call in pointing out that “understandable” is more precise than “reasonable.” I think you are right on there. 🙂

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