The Catholic dissent Print
By Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the U.N.   
Friday, 01 July 2011

First, there has been some unnecessary confusion about the meaning of the term “sexual orientation,” as found in resolutions and other texts adopted within the UN human rights system. The confusion is unnecessary because, in international law, a term must be interpreted in accordance with its ordinary meaning, unless the document has given it a different meaning. The ordinary meaning of “sexual orientation” refers to feelings and thoughts, not to behavior.

Second, for the purposes of human rights law, there is a critical difference between feelings and thoughts, on the one hand, and behavior, on the other. A state should never punish a person, or deprive a person of the enjoyment of any human right, based just on the person’s feelings and thoughts, including sexual thoughts and feelings. But states can, and must, regulate behaviors, including various sexual behaviors. Throughout the world, there is a consensus between societies that certain kinds of sexual behaviors must be forbidden by law. Pedophilia and incest are two examples.

Third, the Holy See wishes to affirm its deeply held belief that human sexuality is a gift that is genuinely expressed in the complete and lifelong mutual devotion of a man and a woman in marriage. Human sexuality, like any voluntary activity, possesses a moral dimension: it is an activity that puts the individual will at the service of a finality; it is not an “identity”. In other words, it comes from the action and not from the being, even though some tendencies or “sexual orientations” may have deep roots in the personality. Denying the moral dimension of sexuality leads to denying the freedom of the person in this matter, and undermines ultimately his/her ontological dignity. This belief about human nature is also shared by many other faith communities, and by other persons of conscience.

And finally . . . we wish to call attention to a disturbing trend in some of these social debates: People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behavior between people of the same sex. When they express their moral beliefs or beliefs about human nature, which may also be expressions of religious convictions, or state opinions about scientific claims, they are stigmatized, and worse – they are vilified, and prosecuted. These attacks contradict the fundamental principles announced in three of the Council’s resolutions of this session. The truth is, these attacks are violations of fundamental human rights, and cannot be justified under any circumstances.