January 14, 2002
Mel White ED
P.O. Box 4467
Laguna Beach, Ca. 92652
Dear Dr. White:
Thank you very much for your letter of November 26, 2001, in which you express congratulations on my election as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). I am grateful to you and your colleagues at Soulforce, Inc for these sentiments.
Let me also express my gratitude to you for the very clear way in which you present me with the position of Soulforce concerning the teachings and pastoral practice of the Catholic Church on homosexuality and request to have a dialogue on these matters with the USCCB. It is to this position and to your request that I would like to respond.
When it comes to promoting, in a nonviolent way, the respect and dignity that should be accorded to each and every human being despite the differences which may exist among people, however grave they may be, we undoubtedly have points of agreement.
I can assure you that all of us Bishops deplore the presence in our society of an attitude toward persons with homosexual inclinations that is malicious, hateful and even conducive to violence. When we see examples of this hatefulness we condemn it. One of the principal intentions of the Administrative Committee of our Conference in approving the statement of the Committee on Marriage and Family, Always Our Children, was to make it clear that the Church’s opposition to homosexual acts in no way justifies these attitudes and behaviors. The love and respect to be shown persons with homosexual inclinations are essential to the Church’s teaching about homosexuality and not something that can simply be ignored.
With respect to Soulforce’s position that the only respectful way to deal with persons of homosexual inclinations is to affirm that acting on these inclinations is morally permissible and the equivalent of heterosexual relations within the lifelong monogamous union of marriage there can be no agreement between us. It has been the constant belief of the Catholic Church that any sexual activity, heterosexual or homosexual, outside marriage, as it is given to us by God, is not morally permissible. Thus single people do not enjoy the right to engage in the sexual intimacy which belongs to marriage and married people are not to engage in such intimacy with anyone but their spouses.
This teaching is founded not only on nature and right reason but also on the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ who upheld marriage as God’s plan from the beginning for man and woman. The Lord preached a restrained and ascetical approach to sexuality according to which even lustful thoughts counted as acts of adultery and the Mosaic Law’s acceptance of divorce was no longer permissible for his disciples. This was entirely consistent with his attitude toward other realities of this world which can rise up as obstacles to true discipleship, such as money or power. The challenge that our Lord presented in these matters did not prevent his compassionate response to individuals or their sense of his mercy. The Catholic Church seeks to follow this example.
Having received this Gospel message, the Lord’s disciples re-iterated and further explained his teaching. While for some this is a teaching that is difficult to grasp and accept, the Church believes that it cannot be reduced to the reflection of a bygone culture but must be received as genuine prophetic demand.
A hallmark of Catholic teaching is our belief in free will by which a person can choose to do right. In our pastoral experience, we find that many who have homosexual inclinations come to the Church for help because they are troubled by these feelings. The pastoral efforts of the Church for these persons are directed to enabling them to find strength for living according to the Gospel through the Sacraments, spiritual direction, and communal prayer and reflection. I am not sure that you fully understand how deeply offensive we find your description of this pastoral assistance as a form of spiritual violence. On the contrary, it is and many have said they experience it as spiritual liberation.
Dialogue implies, at a minimum, the willingness of the parties to try to understand one another. While the Church accepts and understands the need for all persons, including those with homosexual inclinations, to be treated with respect and protected from physical, psychological and spiritual harm, it is difficult to find in Soulforce’s response to what has been written or said to you over the past two years, especially by my predecessor, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, a willingness to understand why the Church remains committed to her teaching and believes that it is of spiritual benefit to people. Sadly, therefore a dialogue on these matters would seem to serve no purpose at this time.
With the hope that Soulforce might one day regard the genuine beauty of the Church’s prophetic teaching on the authentic nature of the human person and with prayerful best wishes, I am
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory
Bishop of Belleville
cc: Karen Weldin, DO