The Vatican's latest condemnation of homosexual acts, issued Thursday, was seen by some churchmen here as another in a series of blunt warnings to European and North American Catholics to abandon their increasingly liberal views concerning sexuality and other social issues.
Conservative Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, instructed bishops to stamp out pro-homosexual views within the Roman Catholic Church and to oppose any attempt to condone homosexuality through legislation or other means.
Ratzinger, in a letter endorsed by Pope John Paul II, reiterated the church's view that although "the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin," homosexual acts are "an intrinsic moral evil," "intrinsically disordered" and "self-indulgent."
The 12-page "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" exhorted church leaders to minister to gays as they would to other Catholics but only after "clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral."
The letter, dated Oct. 1 and made public Thursday, accused gay rights organizations of "deceitful propaganda" and trying to gain a foothold in the church. "Increasing numbers of people, even within the church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity," it said.
The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the church's watchdog of doctrinal deviation and a powerful force within the church.
Ratzinger's letter was interpreted by several respected Roman Catholic scholars here as another in a series of warnings to the American and Northern European churches, several of whose theologians and bishops have been punished in recent months for their liberal views.
"For the Americans, it completes a Bermuda Triangle of condemnation," said one liberal theologian, citing Vatican condemnation earlier this year of Father Charles Curran, an American Catholic theologian at Catholic University in Washington, and Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle, both of whom were accused by Ratzinger of holding unacceptably liberal views on human sexuality, including homosexuality. "It's a triangle of Hunthausen, Curran and Ratzinger," he said.
Hunthausen, an archbishop since 1975, was stripped of much of his authority in the Seattle archdiocese in September because of liberal practices that included allowing the first-ever homosexual Mass in a Catholic cathedral. Curran was banned from teaching moral theology after he refused to disavow views that included respect for homosexuals who develop stable sexual relationships.
Another Catholic scholar here accused Ratzinger, a German, of being "like the Red Baron, shooting down people who are different from him."
Church scholars and others contacted for reaction to the Ratzinger letter agreed to talk only on condition that they remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.
"Ratzinger's letter means that in his and the Pope's view, all homosexuals are predestined by nature to perpetual virginity since acting out their inclinations is reprehensible, while heterosexuals are free to enjoy sexual relations in marriage," said another critical priest.
The Ratzinger letter explained that current debates "inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church" made this an opportune time to reiterate the views first expressed in a declaration of the congregation in December, 1975. That document noted "the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions" and called such acts "intrinsically disordered."
'Intrinsic Moral Evil'
Discussion of the 1975 document led to "an overly benign interpretation" of homosexuality, "some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good," said the new letter. This interpretation made it necessary for the congregation to reassert its view that "although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."
"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," Ratzinger wrote in an apparent reference to the epidemic of AIDS and venereal diseases that has affected the homosexual community.
The letter totally rejected the view that homosexuals are born with specific sexual preferences. "What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable," the Ratzinger letter said.
The cardinal stressed in the letter that bishops should beware of gay rights and pro-homosexual organizations that try to "manipulate the church by gaining the often well-intentioned support of her pastors with a view to changing civil statutes and laws."
"Increasing numbers of people today, even within the church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered," Ratzinger wrote. He urged them to withdraw their support from such people and organizations and not to allow the use of church facilities or schools for their meetings.
But he stressed that homosexuals are still welcome in the church and that "violent malice in speech or in action" against them is to be condemned. But he added, "Christians who are homosexual are called, as all of us are, to a chaste life."
The letter cited a number of biblical references to support its view that homosexual acts, in themselves, are sinful.
Concerning gay rights legislation such as the March, 1986, New York City law banning discrimination in employment and housing against homosexuals--which the church opposed--the letter stated:
"When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase."