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Response of Father Robert Nugent, SDS
to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding
"Erroneous and Dangerous Propositions in the Publications
Building Bridges and Voices of Hope by
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS"


This response is to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's (CDF) contestatio resulting from a study of my pastoral writings forwarded to me in a communication from my Superior General dated December 23, 1997. I will identify each area of concern pointed out to me by the CDF and substantiated by the use of selected passages from Building Bridges and Voices of Hope. I will also attempt to clarify and correct those opinions which have been judged erroneous and dangerous. Sections A and B of my response refer to the material found on pages 1, 2 and the first part of page 3 of the contestatio. The Roman numbers 1 through 3 correspond to the numbering of the paragraphs of the contestatio found on pages 3 through 6. I am pleased that the CDF has judged my pastoral activity "necessary and positive" to the extent it is intended to help homosexual Christians live in an authentically Christian manner.

A. The "naturalness" of a homosexual inclination and acts and the concept of sexual complementarity


The CDF has concluded that I do not clearly and sympathetically present the Church's teaching on homosexuality, especially in regard to the homosexual inclination and the morality of homosexual acts because of my apparent acceptance of the naturalness of the homosexual inclination and acts through an unclear use of the world "natural."

A significant part of my priestly ministry since 1971 has been one of pastoral outreach to gay and lesbian Catholics and their families. I have attempted in this ministry to present and explain the full body of teachings of the Church on the issue of homosexuality. I have concentrated in particular on certain generally unfamiliar elements which I had hoped could provide as basis for the healing of feelings of rejection and alienation from the community as experienced by many homosexual Catholics. In attempting to promote reconciliation with individuals who have felt ignored, excluded or rejected from the Church's care, I believed it was a sound pastoral methodology to foster dialogue and promote reconciliation around issues on which there is acceptance and agreement without challenging or ignoring other more widely known and basic components of Church teaching.

The Church's teachings on the objective immorality of homosexual acts and the "objective disorder" of the homosexual inclination are generally well know in the Catholic community, especially by homosexual Catholic and their pastoral ministers. While neither intending to deny or neglect these fundamental components, I attempted to foster reconciliation by educating on issues such as civil rights, pastoral care, human dignity, unjust discrimination and violence. I have never embraced or endorsed any position concerning homosexual acts and inclination contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium.

I explained carefully and at some length to the Commission precisely how I understood and intended to use the word (Cf. Nugent and Gramick, "Response to Maida Commission Report," 1995, page 4). I acknowledged at the time that there is a distinct danger of misinterpretation and, consequently, false conclusions. One such conclusion would be to assert that homosexual acts are humanly naturally and morally good because they proceed from a natural homosexual inclination. I explicitly stated that in my use of the term it was not my intention to endorse or promote such an argument. I reject as false the reasoning that merely because a human behavior is denoted as natural in a sense that is sociologically or scientifically descriptive -- not ethically prescriptive -- that it is thereby justified as morally permissible. I accept the statement of Persona Humana relevant to this point: "...some people conclude that their tendency is so natural that it justifies in their case homosexual relations...But no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to these acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people" (#8).

Since my discussions in 1994 with the Maida Commission and in light of continued reflection and consultation with others, I can see how the word "natural" in reference either to homosexual acts or inclination could be misinterpreted and potentially misleading or even harmful. Since the word is capable of multiple interpretations, including those drawn from a philosophy of natural law, it is pastorally problematic to use it without a clear explanation of its precise meaning in a given context or without providing the necessary caution to readers to help them avoid drawing erroneous conclusions or making false applications.

The referencing of questions of contemporary theologians who are exploring the meaning of human complementarity as it affects the moral life is not limited to the views of some who propose a new understanding of sexuality in which biological and physical differences are not essential to ethical evaluations. (Building Bridges, p.180; p.154). Human differences understood as a kind of complementarity are alluded to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC): "Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived for social commerce, and the distribution of wealth...These differences belong to God's plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others... (CCC #1936, #1937). In a similar vein, Dr. Piero Schlesinger states: "Actually, the difference of the sexes is not restricted to mere biological diversity but is expressed in a complex specialization of the respective personalities of man and woman, extending to the areas of spirituality, social relations, morality, etc..." (Do homosexual couples have a right to marry?, L'Osservatore Romano, N.22 - 28 May, 1997, p. 10). The use of "complementarity" referring to sexual differences only, however, without proper clarification can be problematic. By referencing those authors, I did not mean to imply that their views are mine. They are not. In hindsight, I can see how such citations in my discussion of complementarity might give the false impressing that I accept their views. Such a conclusion, however, would be a misreading of my own purpose and position.

I accept and support the teaching on the meaning of the human sexual differentiation as articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out: (CCC, #2333).

B. The category of human experience and objective norms for morality


In utilizing the experience of homosexual persons in pastoral writings on homosexuality, I do not intend to make that or any other limited and unexamined human experience the primary, much less the sole, criterion on the basis of which the objective norms of morality are either determined or rejected. I refer to it in order to acknowledge human experience as one source in the personal search to discover moral truth. The U.S. Bishops, for example, say that "…data from the physical sciences, information from the social sciences, and the insights of human reason can all contribute to one’s discovering moral truth" (Human Sexuality, p. 23). This source, however, always needs to be utilized in a correct and balanced relationship with the primary authoritative sources, most especially Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium. As the Holy Father says in Veritatis Splendor, "Conscience expresses itself in acts of ‘judgment’ which reflect the truth about the good, and not in arbitrary ‘decisions’" (#61).

The task of applying the general objective norms of moral truth to individual and concrete pastoral situations involves the art of discernment (or conscience formation) and the virtue of prudence. The ultimate goal of pastoral help in the formation of a correct conscience is to help individuals act morally in truth so that the subjective discernment of what to do coincides with the requirements of objective moral standards. The Church has consistently taught that a person of sincere conscience may have perceived and acted on a moral situation objectively inconsistent with the teaching of the Church. If this person does so with no intentional malice or desire to do wrong, the Christian tradition recognizes the possibility of mitigated subjective culpability for a decision that is objectively wrong. Subjective culpability is determined by how diligently one strives to form correctly his or her conscience and how sincerely one follows that conscience. Human experience and reasoning is one element in the formation of conscience, but the experience must always be evaluated and re-examined in the light of the teaching of the Church.

Those who fail to understand, or who arrive at indifferent judgments, or who make sincere mistakes concerning the objective norms of morality must be met with compassion and understanding. When their subjective conscience decisions (and subsequent acts) are in conflict with objective moral norms taught by the Church, that conscience is correctly described as "objectively erroneous." Pastors must strive to help people form their consciences with all the legitimate means available so that they are formed in good faith. This task includes a responsibility to call the conscience, in a compassionate and pastorally sensitive way, to be in conformity with the teaching of the Church.

To teach the Church’s full doctrine concerning sexuality and sexual morality and to call upon Catholics to accept this teaching in the face of strongly held personal subjective (but objectively erroneous) discernment, requires balance and sensitivity. To teach objective moral truth about sexuality, while recognizing the impact of personal subjective experience of those who find themselves in irregular situations, vis-à-vis an intellectual acceptance or behavioral compliance, requires speaking the truth but always in love and compassion. Appropriate pastoral guidance does not abandon objective morality when a person is unable to measure up to the objective truth, but helps a person progress one step at a time toward a deeper integration of the demands of objective morality. Pastoral guidance, as distinguished from the teaching of objective moral norms, does not use objective morality in a way that discourages people who might, for a variety of reasons be unable to live up immediately to its full demands. Pastoral guidance holds in tension the objective norms or morality and the particular person’s capacity for responsibility. Pastoral judgments are always related to normative standards and subject to them but one cannot be collapsed into the other.

In any such attempt it would be inappropriate to give public or tacit support to the view that the only doctrines that matter in Catholic moral life are those which are infallibly taught and that all other teachings not so defined are either secondary or unimportant. The Christian life is a comprehensive reality consisting of both moral and doctrinal teachings which cannot be neatly or artificially divided into infallible and non-infallible teachings or reduced to a minimalist view of truth. The complex question about the role of legitimate dissent and its limitations remains an ongoing topic of exploration among theologians and the Magisterium. Still, it would be pastorally counterproductive to justify any or all forms of public dissent as responsible or helpful, especially that which is based solely on personal, subjective experience. Nor do I intend to do that.

The roles of experience, reason and theological reflection in ascertaining the truth of the moral law is expressed clearly by the Holy Father: "This truth of the moral law – like that of the deposit of faith – unfolds down the centuries: the norms expressing that truth remain valid in their substance, but must be specified and determined eodem sensu eademque sententia in the light of historical circumstances by the Church’s Magisterium, whose judgment is preceded and accompanied by the work of interpretation and formulation characteristic of the reason of individual believers and of theological reflection" (Veritatis Splendor, #53, emphasis added).

As a religious and representative of the Church, I acknowledge my obligation to avoid any semblance of public support for beliefs or behavioral choices in the area of sexuality which the Church has judged to be objectively erroneous, even when due to such defects as inculpable ignorance, habit or other external pressures and interior weaknesses and problems, and even though these decisions are arrived at in good faith. I regret if I have caused any harm by any perception that I personally believe that subjective human experience is the final arbiter of objective and subjective morality. I do not believe it is. I accept the teaching of Vatican II that "the moral aspect of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective standards. These (are) based on the nature of the human person and [his] acts…" (Gaudium et Spes, #51). The challenge is to faithfully uphold the moral teaching of the Church while, at the same time, acknowledge the struggle of those who are sincerely trying to live up to that teaching, but are not yet able to integrate it in its fullness. Admittedly, there is sometimes a certain tension between being true to the norms of objective morality and still respecting the limited capacity of persons to comprehend those norms, appropriate them personally and live by their requirements.

1. Tendentious use of documents


In the Preface of Voices of Hope it is stated that "almost all the entries in this collection are excerpted from the full text of the original documents, most of which are still available. Readers may wish to read them in their primary settings" (p. x). The main purpose of Voices of Hope was not to reproduce all the relevant documents in toto, but to include only those portions suited to our purpose of indicating the variety and depth of ecclesial statements on homosexuality, especially in those areas generally unfamiliar to many Catholics. It was my hope that the educated reader would realize that the Church’s fundamental teachings on homosexual acts and inclincation are included as well in the original sources. The complete documents, then, were meant to be seen as the primary source and context of the excerpted portions.

In terms of the relative authority of the various statements published in Voice of Hope, educated English-speaking Catholics, to whom the work is addressed, are aware that there are different levels of authority among papal encyclicals, documents from Vatican Congregations, pastoral letters from a national episcopal conference, regional episcopal conferences, an individual diocesan bishop, Catholic newspapers or journals, and Catholic organizations. Each document in Voices of Hope stands on its own authority as to its origin and competency. Nowhere do I state, or even imply, that all of them are of equal weight, authority or competence. I presupposed that Catholic readers understand that papal documents and documents from the various Roman Congregations hold primacy of place, especially when they speak or act on behalf of the Pope. In articulating the clear and consistent teaching of the Church, they carry much more weight than other related documents. It would have helped to make this clearer, however, if the various documents had been arranged in hierarchical (encyclicals, other papal documents, Congregational documents, Episcopal documents, etc.) order rather than chronological order. This arrangement would have helped more clearly to indicate to the reader the primacy of papal and other magisterial documents. I accept that for Catholics the Magisterium is a source of moral authority that is not simply one voice among many, but normative.

The Congregation correctly says that in Voices of Hope we have reprinted texts which employ methodologies which could lead to a "development" of magisterial teaching. This statement is correct. However, it is not my intention to suggest that the development spoken of in any way refers to Church teaching on homosexual acts. When I speak of "developments in magisterial teaching," I mean those refinements which have come about as a result of the "attentive study" advised by the CDF in its 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (#2). Examples of such developments occurred in 1975 when the CDF recognized the distinction between homosexual acts and a homosexual inclination, and the crucial distinction between a temporary or curable homosexual inclination and a permanent or incurable homosexual inclination.

The contestatio comments on my discussion of ecclesial recognition of homosexual love as a bottom line issue and one of social justice from the perspective of some homosexual Catholics as an example of our promoting the hope for a change in Church teaching on homosexual acts. In speaking of "homosexual love," I intend to carefully distinguish between homosexual friendship and sexual acts. It is apparent that I did not make this distinction between acts and inclination clear enough in the passage cited and I regret any harm or misunderstanding such an expression might have caused. The phrase "homosexual love" can refer to a friendship without including sexual acts. Cardinal Basil Hume makes the same point: "Homosexual people…can and often do give a fine example of friendship and the art of chaste loving" (A Note on the Teaching of the Catholic Church Concerning Homosexual People," March, 1995, Voices of Hope, p. 60). In 1973, the Principles to Guide Confessors in Questions of Homosexuality, from the U.S. bishops said that "a homosexual can have an abiding relationship with another homosexual person without genital sexual expression. Indeed the deeper need of any human is for friendship rather than genital expression" (p.11). I realize now that the use of the term "homosexual" love can be misinterpreted to refer to sexual acts. That is not my intention in employing this phrase. I will in the future make this crucial distinction perfectly clear.

Secondly, when I wrote about the tension between magisterial teaching on homosexual acts and the desire of some homosexual Catholics for a Church acceptance of such relationships. I did so only to illustrate the significant intellectual and emotional differences that continue to surround this issue. I intended to stress the need for more convincing arguments to help Catholics understand that Church teaching about homosexual relationships is not a matter of injustice, a lack of full equity or lack of basic respect for their personhood. The tensions which some homosexual persons express between their feeling truly affirmed by the Christian community and the magisterial teaching on homosexual acts constitutes a major pastoral challenge.

Church teaching on homosexual acts and inclination, which I accept, needs to be an integral part of any ministry to homosexual persons. How and when it is presented, explained, and defended is a vital and necessary component of authentic pastoral care. Such are, in any case, certainly requires that these two key teachings on act and inclination be presented as part of the Church’s more comprehensive witness to truth, love and justice and not apart or in isolation from that context. This is what I have endeavored to do in my pastoral ministry. I agree that it is a disservice to homosexual people to offer a false hope that Church teaching will one day change simply on the grounds that it is not infallible. That has never been my intention. What I have noted earlier about fallible and infallible teachings and their relevancy to the moral life is applicable here.

The contestatio also speaks of Voices of Hope as vitiating the organic connection between truth, goodness and freedom stemming from consistently excising fundamental elements of church teaching on homosexuality and thus suppressing the fullness of truth. As noted earlier, the purpose of the book was to hold up those other less known or appreciated elements of Church teaching which, even though not perhaps as fundamental as teachings on sexual acts and inclination, are indispensable components in an effective pastoral approach to homosexual people both within and outside the Church. The HIV-AIDS crisis, together with certain other social, political and religious movements in the U.S. culture, which actively promote or condone unjust discrimination against homosexual people, has made the need to emphasize relevant elements of Catholic teaching on human dignity, civil rights and compassionate pastoral care more timely than ever.

It is a sound pastoral practice to promote educational, motivational and concrete initiatives on topics of mutual concern and common agreement without denying, compromising or neglecting any other part of the teaching that might be misunderstood, contested or even rejected. The truth must always be presented in all its fullness and precision and in a compassionate way, geared to the capabilities of the subjects of teaching and utilizing sound principles of education, catechesis, evangelization and human psychology. The U.S. bishops’ decision, when speaking of the homosexual inclination in their document on human sexuality, to confine the term "objective disorder" to a footnote citation of the CDF rather than to include it in the main body of the text, is an example of communicating the full teaching of the Church in a sensitive way that avoids contributing to further unnecessary polarization. A similar point is made by the Pontifical Council for the Family when it advises that young people should be helped to distinguish between "subjective guilt and objective disorder, avoiding what would arouse hostility" (The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, 1996, #104, emphasis added).

Even though many contributors to Voices of Hope address aspects of Church teaching other than homosexual acts, magisterial teaching on homosexual acts is clearly and strongly articulated:

"I cannot endorse homosexual genital expression. Intimate sexual relations are appropriate only in the context of a heterosexual marriage" (Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, p. 220).

"…we believe that it is only within a heterosexual marriage relationship that genital sexual activity is morally acceptable. Only within marriage does sexual intercourse fully symbolize the Creator’s dual design, as an act of covenant love, with the potential of co-creating new human life. Therefore, homosexual genital activity is considered immoral" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, pp. 37-38).

"Homosexual activity, however, as distinguished from homosexual orientation, is morally wrong" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, p. 10).

"The Church teaching is very clear: Homosexual orientation is morally neutral, homosexual activity is sinful…" (Bishop Michael J. Sheehan, P. 30).

"The Church also consistently teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, against the natural law, and not to be practiced by any person who wants to follow God’s laws" (Archbishop John Whealon, p. 41).

"…the moral teaching of the Church considers homosexual activity…morally wrong" (Archbishop William J. Levada and Bishop Thomas J. Connolly, p. 44).

"The Christian position holds in high honor the sexual bond between husband and wife, even regarding it as a special expression of God’s love for his people. But homosexual behavior falls far short of this sexual and personal ideal. It lacks both the complementarity which exists between masculine and feminine personalities and the possibility of the deepening that can come through sharing the joys and burdens of parenthood and family living" (Archbishop John R. Roach, p. 46).

"Any expression of our sexuality that is not informed by these qualities demeans not only another person, but our own person as well. The genital expression of our sexuality achieves its unique and fullest meaning within a context of life-giving and commitment. These obligations connected with sexual expression, arising as they do from the very meaning of human sexuality, bind all people, whether their orientation be heterosexual or homosexual" (Archdiocese of Baltimore, pp. 85-86).

"The Church sustains a long history of sexual morality, based on its understanding of Scriptural principles, human nature and theological reflection. The principles of this sexual morality are clear: all men and women are called to live chastely outside of marriage and to live chastely in exclusive love with one’s spouse in marriage. The Church rejects the concept that sexual activity is neutral or that homosexual activity is objectively good" (Archdiocese of San Francisco, p. 101).

I recognize and accept the essential organic connection among "truth, goodness and freedom" and would reject any conscious attempt to manipulate truth in any way as counterproductive to authentic pastoral ministry. In determining how to teach truthfully, especially in pastoral settings aimed at reconciling or welcoming those who feel excluded from the Church, Church teaching must be presented fully, sensitively and compassionately suited to the conditions of the individual without compromise or distortion. Were I to produce such a resource again I would arrange the various teachings in such a way that It would be clear that the various statement do not have the same weight or authority, and that certain documents, depending on their original sources, take priority over others. Presenting the teaching of the Church requires both an indication of the weight of a teaching relative to the kind of document in which it appears and respect for the level of the magisterial source from which it comes. In my seminars and workshops, I have always distinguished the various levels of authority of the Church documents I employ.

2. Critical attitude to the Magisterium and the use of questions


The contestatio states that my writing of the belief on the part of homosexual people that their inclination is not "sick," "criminal" or "sinful" constitutes a critical attitude towards the Magisterium. The CDF has never employed such language when speaking of the inclination and teaches explicitly that "the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin" (Homosexualitatis Problema, #3).

The pastoral impact of the term "objective disorder" was discussed at some length at the hearing of the Commission. I explained that it was my experience that this terminology causes many pastoral difficulties when not correctly understood. Archbishop John Quinn’s attempt and the response of the CDF was helpful. I continue to try to probe the specific meaning of that term in light of the Church’s tradition and the reasons for its choice which might enhance its pastoral implications. The personal experience and disclaimer of some homosexual people that their orientation is not disordered or, more positively, a part of God’s plan for creation and essential for developing the human family, represent subjective dispositions which are objectively in conflict with the teaching of the Magisterium. In citing the experience of some homosexual Catholics, it is not my intention to validate or embrace the claims made on the basis of that experience. I intended to call attention to a serious issue which must be addressed in any pastoral effort toward reconciliation and to effect a correct understanding and respectful response to Church teaching. For anyone to act in a responsible way in light of the teaching of the Church, he or she must first be able to grasp the truthfulness of the teaching. To enable this to happen, the teaching must be explained and the learner must be open to it. The pastor has the duty to teach clearly but also "to hear, distinguish, and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in light of the divine Word" (Gaudium et Spes, #44).

In citing the experience of some homosexual people, I did not intend to support any claim that the category of subjective experience is the sole or primary criterion for objective moral judgments. In articulating views of some homosexual people – even views in opposition to the teaching of the Church – I did not intend to either criticize or contradict the Magisterium, but to describe and highlight the depth and personal convictions of those who find themselves in a state of conflict on this fundamental issue.

The teaching that a homosexual inclination is an objective disorder involves a complex reasoning process not easily accessible to most people. As a result, this teaching is perceived by many homosexual people to be demeaning of their human dignity. Presenting the Church’s teaching so that it does not appear damaging to the fundamental human dignity of homosexual people constitutes a serious and continuing pastoral challenge. In the case of individuals who have difficulties with the arguments proposed to justify it or the manner in which it is presented, the CDF has already offered guidelines. If a theologian has serious difficulties for reasons which appear to him or her to be well-founded in accepting a non-irreformable magisterial teaching, that theologian has a duty to make those difficulties known in an evangelical spirit and with a desire to resolve the difficulties. The objection to a certain wording of church teaching then can serve as a "stimulus to the magisterium to propose the teaching…in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the argument" ("Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian," Origins 20, 1990, par. 28, 30, p. 123).

I do not intend that any questions I posed in my writings to be perceived as propositions, much less propositions which are erroneous and dangerous. Their sole purpose is to indicate some of the tone and directions of contemporary discussions of homosexuality both within and outside the Church. The primary purpose of raising such questions is to present a more comprehensive overview of the major directions of current theological and philosophical academic discourse about homosexuality. In the article "Do homosexual couples have a right to marriage," for example, Dr. Piero Schlesinger employs a similar methodology when, after arguing that the denial of civil marriage to homosexual people is not a form of discrimination, says that marriage has "shown remarkable flexibility" and that it is logical to ask "whether the limitations of heterosexuality could eventually be overcome" (L’Osservatore Romano, N. 22-28 May, 1997, p. 10).

The apparent contradiction cited by the contestatio in a statement suggesting that one might have to choose between "defending Church teaching" and proclaiming Jesus’ message of love can be understood in light the author’s comments in a section on homophobia in Building Bridges (pp. 74-75).

The author signaled a certain intent by deliberately placing quotation marks about "defending Church teaching" in the text. That intent was to highlight the apparent contradiction perceived by some, between the basic teachings of Christian love and a certain style of defending Church teaching that seems to be unloving. The contradiction, if any, would be then not among doctrines, but between a certain manner of defending those doctrines and the loving way that Jesus taught. As the Congregation rightly points out, there can be no such contradiction in terms of Church doctrines. In regard to this point, the author was simply saying what Cardinal Hume previously noted: "Nothing in the Church’s teaching can be said to support or sanction, even implicitly, the victimization of homosexual men and women. Catholic teaching is not founded on, and can never be used to justify, homophobic attitudes" (Voices of Hope, p. 60). I reject any attempt to create opposition between authentic and true Church teachings and Jesus’ message of love, or the need to choose between them as a false dichotomy and unhelpful in any effort to minister to homosexual Catholics. I do not believe such an opposition does or can exist when truth is proclaimed in a way that embodies the love of Jesus.

In articulating the experience or questions of some homosexual Catholics which are judged in opposition to the teaching of the Magisterium concerning homosexual acts or inclination, I do not propose either to criticize or contradict the Magisterium. I regret that this perception has been given and any harm it may have caused. I utilize that experience and those questions only to illustrate the serious pastoral gap between magisterial teaching on homosexual inclination and the understanding and reception of this teaching by certain segments in the Catholic community. My pastoral efforts have been directed toward lessening that gap by promoting reconciliation and justice.

While the proposing of certain contemporary questions is a legitimate part of the educational process and academic discourse, I recognize now that in the popular arena it can cause serious problems. This procedure should be limited to professional academic forums. In the future I would refrain from employing this methodology in a non-academic setting.

The contestatio expresses concern about my reporting certain theological questions concerning the normativity of heterosexuality or the desirability of reexamining the grounds for this teaching. I acknowledge that such explorations in the public arena can give rise to unacceptable interpretations and must be clarified by the teachings of the Magisterium that "there can be no true promotion of human dignity unless the essential order of human nature is respected. In the course of the history of civilization many of the concrete conditions and needs of human life have changed and will continue to change. But all evolution of morals and every type of life must be kept within the limits imposed by the immutable principles based upon every human person’s constitutive elements and essential relations – elements and relations which transcend historical contingency" (Persona Humana, #3).

3. Promotion of homosexuality


The contestatio concludes that I argue for the promotion of homosexuality to the point of stating that I hold that homosexuality to be superior to heterosexuality. It is not my intent and I have not argued for the promotion of homosexuality either as act or inclination. I have written in support of continued pastoral care, for the defense of human dignity, for the safeguarding of certain civil rights, and for the elimination of unjust discrimination and violence. I have never argued for the superiority of homosexuality, nor do I believe that homosexuality is superior to heterosexuality. I have not spoken of homosexuality in terms of either superiority or inferiority. While such valuative language is generally intended to be predicated of a particular sexual inclination or acts, the terms superior and inferior are too easily transferred to the individual person in order to justify persecution, rejection, ridicule or violence.

I have never publicly spoken of or argued for the legal recognition of same-sex unions. On the contrary, I explicitly stated to the Commission that I "would not support any legislation which is opposed to the Church’s fundamental moral principles concerning marriage and family life" (Minutes of the July 24, 1994 meeting, p. 80, 1. 33-39).

I have never deliberately intended either to contradict the constant teaching of Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium concerning homosexual acts or to devalue those homosexual Catholics who live in keeping with the principles of Catholic sexual morality. I have supported such Catholics in my personal counseling and spiritual direction and publicly when I say that "the chaste state excludes genital intimacy…chaste homosexual relationships are not outside valid pastoral possibilities…Catholic teaching, then, can already be seen as supportive of homosexual, committed relationships that exclude genitality" (Building Bridges, p. 143, emphasis added).

In presenting or discussing positions of others which have now been judged as dangerous and erroneous, without comment or correction or, in what could be interpreted as a positive light, I did not intend to align myself personally with such positions. In keeping with accepted academic standards of discussion, these views are presented only to inform the reader of such positions and approaches, even when not in keeping with Church teaching, so that they can be evaluated, judged, and responded to by those so capable. However, since not all readers are sufficiently trained tomake such judgments or to respond to erroneous views, I can see now in posing those views, I could give the false impression that I accepted them personally. That was not my intent and I regret that such a perception was given. I will in the future clearly distinguish my own views from those of other authors I might discuss.

4. Statements regarding celibacy


The contestatio refers to my writing of a feminist interpretation of celibacy which is clearly at odds with the Church’s traditional understanding of celibacy, without rejecting that view, and in a way that might imply that I accept it (Building Bridges, p. 116).

To conclude that I personally hold any view which I simply present as informational is a misunderstanding of my purpose and methodology. My rejection of this so-called feminist understanding of celibacy and my personal adherence to the traditional Catholic understanding of celibacy as excluding genital acts is not explicit in the quotation cited by the contestatio. On the page immediately preceding, however, I clearly indicate my own personal adherence to the Church’s understanding. When speaking of candidates for priesthood and religious life who either reject or misunderstand the Church’s meaning of celibacy, I write: "The applicant needs some common understanding of the intellectual and affective meanings and parameters of celibacy as understood by this diocese or congregation. We have to face the new reality that some people come to the seminary or religious life either with an entirely different working definition of celibacy or with simply an a priori rejection of the traditional understanding which excludes genital intimacy (Building Bridges, p. 115, emphasis added). Dioceses and congregations need to find ways to present the Church’s understanding clearly to the candidates during the admission process.

I have never personally questioned or challenged the Church’s understanding of celibacy as excluding genital acts. Indeed, in retreats and workshops, as well as in personal counseling and spiritual direction with homosexual clergy and religious, I have consistently rejected novel definitions, justifications or explanations which compromise celibacy by redefining it in ways that would allow for genital intimacy. It is my personal belief that both heterosexual and homosexual clergy and religious are equally called to an authentic practice of celibate chastity which necessarily includes total abstinence from all genital acts, while of course, also including much more.

I reaffirm my acceptance of and commitment to the Church’s understanding of celibacy as excluding genital acts and continue in my pastoral ministry to support clergy and religious in the healthy practice of celibacy integrated with their sexual identity. I do not accept in theory or practice a definition of celibacy which compromises the received tradition and ecclesial understanding of this commitment. I continue to support homosexual Catholics who live chastely in the single state as understood by the Church.


The Congregation has found several elements of my writings which it perceives as erroneous and dangerous. I have attempted in this response to acknowledge, clarify, and correct those elements to the best of my ability. I regret that certain of my writings have been seen by the Congregation as "favoring or advancing dissent" from Church teaching. I take comfort in the fact that the contestatio nowhere alleges any personal dissent on my part in my writings or pastoral activities. If my presentations have lacked a clear, accurate, and sympathetic presentation of Church teaching, as the Congregation indicates, it has not been intentional. The quotations cited in the contestatio need to be understood in light o the clarifications and corrections which I have attempted to make, and in my rejection of any intent to promote false hope for a change in church teaching on homosexual acts.

I accept the profound relationship between truth and authentic pastoral care and believe that, in the words of the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," "only what is true can ultimately be pastoral" (#15). Related to this is the delicate endeavor to apply the comprehensive moral teaching of the Church’s truth on human sexuality to particular concrete situations through pastoral ministry. In this effort, I have attempted to balance a commitment to the teachings of the Church with a pastoral sensitivity that does not contribute to the further experience of rejection or neglect by those whose beliefs or lives do not yet fully embrace or exemplify the Church’s moral vision.

I recognize that homosexual men and women have a right to pastoral care which does not neglect or compromise any component of the Church’s full teaching on homosexuality. I trust that the corrections of the perceived erroneous and dangerous propositions in my writings will provide sufficiently clear and convincing evidence that the fundamental purpose of my pastoral ministry has been, and will continue to be, to assist homosexual persons to live in an authentically Christian manner.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Nugent, S.D.S.

February 6, 1998

Feast of St. Paul Mik and Companions

Baltimore, Maryland, USA