Vatican opposes “discriminatory penal legislation” against gays

I have only just come to know of this: On 10 December 2009, at a panel discussion about the treatment of homosexuals by governments around the world, Philip J Bene, the Vatican’s legal attaché  to the United Nations issued a statement  putting the Holy See on record as opposed to “violations of human rights against homosexual persons.”  The discussion was held as part of the observance of Human Rights Day, which commemorates the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Here is the full text of the statement, which I found on the website of the California Catholic Daily. Link.

Of course, it is still open to interpretation. What did he mean by saying “unjust discrimination”, as opposed to “discrimination”? What did he mean when, after saying “discriminatory penal legislation” he added the qualifier  “which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person”.

Or are we nitpicking? Is the drift of the letter not significant by itself? It would seem to me to be quite clear – that the Vatican opposes laws like our Section 377A. Clearly criminalising something like our personal lives undermines our inherent dignity and worth. How else can one put it?

Interestingly, I had heard at the beginning of November that something like this was afoot. Someone with a clerical background had told me that the Vatican was beginning to shift its position on homosexuality and was drafting something. I just didn’t expect to see it so soon.

18 Responses to “Vatican opposes “discriminatory penal legislation” against gays”

  1. 1 Francis Pimentel-Pinto 5 January 2010 at 00:11

    Could we be given an example of ‘just’ discrimination, please?

    • 2 Robox 6 January 2010 at 01:09

      Another example of “just” discrimination in addition to the ones already put forth by [Just Discrimination]:

      “We are sorry that your application for the postion of cabibn crew has been rejected. At 1.27 m, you would be unable to reach the cabins that are above the passenger seats.”

  2. 3 Robox 5 January 2010 at 02:04

    Re: “Of course, it is still open to interpretation. What did he mean by saying “unjust discrimination”, as opposed to “discrimination”? What did he mean when, after saying “discriminatory penal legislation” he added the qualifier “which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person”.”

    This is what I have gathered so far:

    1, The Catholic Church – obviously – cannot reverse what they claim is written in the Bible;


    2. The Catholic Church has always had a stand against the death penalty for any crime or ‘crime’.

    3. At a UN General Assembly at the close of 2008, the Vatican called on all member states to oppose ANY criminalization of homosexuality in the law, and directed its call especially to those states that have the death penalty for LGBTs; and,

    I suspect that this latest could be a reflection of the growing alarm worldwide over the recent imposition of the death penalty agaisnt LGBTs in (at least two) African countries.

  3. 4 Kentz 5 January 2010 at 15:18

    Hmmm Robox,

    I think a lot of catholic would argue that the evanglical christian in those 2 states are not Roman Catholics, so not their sins.

    I know Arix seem to think so.

    • 5 Robox 6 January 2010 at 01:05

      Hi Kentz,

      I do know that the Christians in those two states – I am assuming you mean the two African ones – are not Catholics; indeed, in one of them, Uganda, the entire government has already been steeplejacked by the same type of Christians as those who steeplejacked AWARE.

      However, not being from the same religion has never prevented the Vatican from issuing calls to be made applicable worldwide. In the UN General Assembly of end-2008 that I wrote about, the call for decriminalization ‘especially in those countries with the death penalty’ was seen as a direct refernce to those Muslim countries, the only ones at that time before these two Africa states, that had the death penalty.

      I believe that the Vatican only has observer status in the UN, but it is an independent state in its own right, and it is therefore perfectly conventional under international law, to issue such calls that cross the boundaries of religion.

      It would be like Belgium having made that same call, say.

    • 6 Arix 16 February 2010 at 10:03

      Naturally, since the Vatican as an institution is separate from the Evangelicals in Uganda.

  4. 7 Just Discrimination 5 January 2010 at 15:35

    Hi Francis,

    To discriminate means to differentiate and treat differently and so discrimination per se is morally neutral. Three examples of just discrimination would be:

    1. A company’s fashion-wear business caters to Chinese. There is nothing wrong for this company to hire only Chinese models to showcase its clothes (which means the company is not wrong to discriminate against non-Chinese in its selection of the models to hire for this situation).

    2. Say, a church believes that sex between persons of the same gender activity is sinful. There is nothing wrong for that church not to hire any gay pastors who is actively involved in sex with other men (i.e. this church discriminates against sexually-active gay pastors in its hiring policy and it seems this church is not wrong to do so).

    3. Say, a gay go-go bar wants to hire performers and waiters. There is nothing wrong for it to hire only good looking gay persons (i.e. it discriminates against straight persons and ugly gay persons and it seems it is not wrong to do so)

  5. 8 Just as bad as eachother in Uganda? 6 January 2010 at 22:07

    If you accept the blog of a guy known as Gay Uganda, many of the Catholic and Anglican clergy in Uganda are just as bad as the others and have been supporting the Kill the Gays Bill, encouraged to do so from the pulpit, regardless of what the Vatican or Archbishop of Canterbury says outside the country. Most people there seem to have bought into the bizarre lies and moral panic about gays started by the US religious extremists (which also cropped up in Singapore forum discussions – remember all the deceitful propaganda about “recruiting schoolchildren” – particularly thrown in as an afer-the-event afterthought to justify the AWARE takeover? At least they didn’t claim that gays want to rape their children though, as they claim in Uganda – a claim made specifically there by US evangelist Scott Lively according to Gay Uganda, which has resulted in the hysteria and the Bill.

    While the extremists make the Vatican’s pronouncements seem moderate in comparison in that at least the Vatican is against killing or criminalising gays in any way, the current administration of the Vatican does still buy into many of the myths and moral panic put out by US extremists, and has allegedly been interfering in politics around the world, pressurising Catholic politicians in positions of power to prevent even Civil Partnerships being allowed to gay couples in longterm loving, committed relationships, – allegedly on pain of being excommunicated from the Church.

    At the end of the day, the official stand of both the Catholic and Anglican churches is that homosexuality should not be criminalised. However, local ignorance and prejudice still tend to hold sway with many clergy, whether in Uganda or in Singapore.

    • 9 Arix 16 February 2010 at 10:18

      The stand of the Vatican is not quite so simple as you put it. Supporting the de-criminalisation of homosexuality is not the same as, nor implies, the moral condonement of homosexual behaviour. In principle, the Vatican supports the de-criminalisation of homosexual behaviour; in practice, where such law is seen to hold a moralizing function (i.e. acknowledging the moral rightness of homosexuality), the Vatican opposes it.

      Therefore the Vatican opposes Civil Partnerships as much as it opposes the Death Penalty for homosexuals in Uganda. The Vatican does not view homosexual couples as being capable of fully-loving relationships. Because of the objective disorder of homosexuality, all homosexual expressions lack some degree of self-giving love.

      The Anglican Church is more vague on the issue, still being engaged in a Listening Process.

  6. 10 Just as bad as eachother? 6 January 2010 at 23:04

    Following on from my previous post, there are three video clips of Scott Lively at the conference at the link below. Not only does he claim that gays were behind the Nazis (though he is also reputedly a holocaust denier), but also that they were behind the Rwanda massacres! No wonder the Ugandans want to kill gays. One of the comments details just how false those allegations are, and also explains the involvement of some local Catholic priests in the massacres.

  7. 11 Just as bad as eachother? 6 January 2010 at 23:33

    Just to correct my last comment on Scott Lively; on reading further, he allegedly does not deny that the holocaust occurred, but bizarrely seeks to blame gays for it.

  8. 12 Just as bad as eachother? 6 January 2010 at 23:56

    Here is an example of local Catholic mindset from the Catholic Online Forum:

    “These perverts are obviously seeking satan’s vengeance for the glory of Uganda represented by St. Charles Lwanga and 22 Companions, who where martyred in various sadistic ways at Namugongo in 1886 after they had refused to give in to the abominable demands of the sodomite King Mwanda. He therefore decided to eradicate the religion embraced by men who would sooner be tormented to death than renounce purity and freedom in Christ.

    St. Charles Lwanga and companions, pray for Uganda, pray of all of us.

    A couple pictures of the 1964 canonization (during the Second Vatican Council) of these chaste heroes of the Church in Africa:…”

    I’m not sure how this ties in with parallel claims that homosexuality is a foreign import.


  9. 13 Kentz 9 January 2010 at 17:19


    I totally agree with your statement.

    Addition to that, is what i find appalling with the Christianity and all its glorious denomination.

    When it suits them, or making a statement that requires strength in numbers. Suddenly it become ‘We Christians’.

    But nothing stop them from changing tunes when it comes to assigning blames too. Then, it becomese ‘We Catholics, We Anglicans’ so on and so forth.

    Honestly the christian really know how to use the phrase ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. What happen when that common enemy is gone?

  10. 14 Anonymous 11 January 2010 at 23:46

    As they say if it sounds too good to be true…

    Last year, the Holy See issued a similar statement advocating that “every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them.”

    But “homosexual persons” do not equate “homosexual acts”.

    When Fridae contacted the Archbishop of Singapore Nicholas Chia last year to ask if they would support the repeal of Section 377 after the statement was issued, Fr James Yeo, a diocesan priest and Parish Priest of St Anne’s Church, replied on his behalf:

    1. There is no current or past official position of the Catholic Teachings on the laws that criminalise homosexual acts. The Catholic Church stands united so the position of the Archdiocese of Singapore is that of the Official Catholic Church, namely that there should be no violence and discrimination towards homosexual persons. The Church teaches that all persons have dignity and must be treated with respect, love and care.

    2. If we read the latest Vatican’s statement, there is nothing new. It merely says that we must not criminalise homosexuals. But the constant teaching of the Catholic Church is to differentiate between homosexual persons (orientation) and homosexual acts. Homosexual acts are morally wrong. The Church differentiates the sinner from the sins. We condemn sins but not the sinner.

    3. I don’t think that we need to campaign for anything as our teachings are clear unless people wants to misinterpret them. [b]Laws in Singapore do not criminalise homosexual persons. But homosexual acts are different.[/b]

    4. Whether one is homosexual or heterosexual, one has to be responsible in the use of one’s sexual faculty. Any abuse of one’s sexuality regardless of whether one is a homosexual or heterosexual is wrong. It does not mean that if one is heterosexual, he or she can express this irresponsibly in any way he or she wants. Similarly the Church does not condemn persons with homosexual tendencies (orientation) but asks that they like anyone should refrain from irresponsible sexual acts.

    5. The Church always differentiates between what is legal and what is moral. Something which is legal may not necessarily be moral.

  11. 15 Brendan 15 January 2010 at 00:18

    Anonymous @ 11 January 2010 at 23:46

    “Similarly the Church does not condemn persons with homosexual tendencies (orientation) but asks that they like anyone should refrain from irresponsible sexual acts.”

    This line is the danger. Please understand that I am not trying to stir a honet’s nest but this spawns an unswered question. Basically, what I can infer here is that the church see it as a level playing field when it comes to sexual morality (or ethics)

    But what if a person truely refrains from sexual immoral acts as described (read: no sex before marriage). Now does that mean people with that orientation can get married to the same gender and stick to one partner like their hetro counterparts? Would that be considered morally wrong (or sinful)?

    Christians often use the line of “God made Adam and Eve” to rebut the proposition of gay marriages.

    This has not been addressed and probably for a good reason. If this is true, then I believe a position shift is in the making.

    • 16 Arix 16 February 2010 at 10:08


      (2) Sexual immorality is more than just sex before marriage. Since the homosexual orientation is objectively disordered, homosexual acts are considered sexual immorality as well.

      (3) And they are correct, although not quite accurate enough.

  12. 17 Starch 16 January 2010 at 22:25

    The choice of words is probably intentionally ambiguous — he’s trying to play both sides now that the church can see that the tide is turning. But who knows? It took them almost 400 years to admit that Galileo was right about the world being round. So who knows how long it will take them to admit that gays, too, are entitled to basic human rights.

  13. 18 Raphael Wong. 17 April 2010 at 00:49


    The Church accepts that the homosexual orientation is involuntary, but still considers it “intrinsically disordered”; that has not changed, and I don’t think Fr James Yeo intended anybody to think otherwise.

    Because it is still “intrinsically disordered”, any attempt to act on it or legitimize it is still sinful. Since the act of homosexual intercourse is in itself sinful, simply undergoing a wedding ceremony will not make it any less sinful.

    “God made Adam and Eve” is technically correct, if too short and cliched. The more complete version would be “God made Adam and Eve for each other”.

    “Irresponsible sexual acts” include homosexual intercourse, and are also “undermines the inherent dignity of a person”.

    Any changes you think are afoot are imaginary.

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