The relationship between LGBTQ Catholics and the church

Peace & Justice

1969: Dignity, the first group for gay and lesbian Catholics, is founded. The Stonewall Riots, considered the beginning of the gay rights movement, follow a police raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village.

1973: The American Psychiatric Association votes to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

1974: The National Federation of Priests Councils and the National Coalition of American Nuns adopts a platform supporting the “civil rights of homosexual persons.”


1975: The Vatican issues a declaration on sexual ethics: “Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.”

1975: Dignity meets with the Liaison Committee of the National Conference of Bishops.

1976: Jesuit Father John McNeill publishes The Church and the Homosexual, the first full-length theological challenge to the magisterial prohibition of same-sex activity.  He receives the imprimi potest, (it can be printed) from the Jesuit superiors.

1976: The U.S. Catholic Conference hosts a conference on social justice.  Five of its final recommendations promote pastoral care for gay and lesbian people and oppose discrimination against them.  The American bishops’ To Live in Christ Jesus states gays “should have an active role in the Christian community.” The Diocese of Richmond, Va., establishes the first diocesan ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics.


1977: Save Our Children, a conservative anti-gay rights group, leads the effort to repeal a gay rights measure in Dade County, Florida, with the assistance of the Miami archbishop. The repeal succeeds with 70 percent of the vote.

1977: New Ways Ministry is founded by School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent in response to Brooklyn Bishop Francis Mugavero’s invitation to reach out in “new ways” to lesbian and gay Catholics.

1978: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger orders Father McNeill to silence in the public media.

1979: The Diocese of Trenton, N.J., appoints a liaison for sexual minorities.


1980: The Association of Priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago honors Dignity/Chicago as the organization of the year.

1980: The Democratic National Convention supports gay rights.

1980: Father John Harvey founds Courage, a ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics to help them remain celibate.

1981: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) first reports a cluster of diseases in five gay men in Los Angeles.


1981: New Ways Ministry holds its first national symposium on homosexuality and the Catholic Church. Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, D.C., writes Catholic bishops and communities, asking them not to support the event, but more than fifty Catholic groups endorse the program.

1982: The CDC now classifies the disease as AIDS.


1984: The Vatican informs Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Bob Nugent that they must disassociate themselves from New Ways Ministry.

1984: Ann Landers urges closeted gay men to contact DignityUSA, where they’ll “meet compassionate and understanding people there who will calm your fears and help you find a comfortable niche in society.”


1986: The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issues “A Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” which stated 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.” It further directed that organizations that did not conform to this teaching should not receive Catholic sponsorship.

1986: Georgetown professor Father Charles Curran is silenced on issues of sexuality. Jesuit Father John McNeill issues a press release saying he cannot in conscience obey an order to give up ministry to gay people or be dismissed from the Society of Jesus.

1986: U.S. bishops begin to ask Dignity chapters to leave Church buildings. Dignity chapters continue their ministry elsewhere.

1987: Father McNeill is dismissed from the Society of Jesus.


1987: Bishops ban a number of DignityUSA chapters from meeting on Church property.

1987: Archbishop Roger Mahony of Los Angeles establishes an archdiocesan Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics.

1988: The Archdiocese of Seattle establishes a gay/lesbian ministry.

1990: The U.S. Catholic Conference releases Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, which includes a section on homosexuality.

1990: The Diocese of Oakland, Ca., establishes an outreach to gay and lesbian communities and their families, joining ministries in Trenton, NJ; St. Augustine, Fla.; Los Angeles; and Seattle.

1992: Bishops Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit; Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Michigan; and William Hughes of Covington, Kentucky conduct workshops at the third annual New Ways Ministry’s national symposium.

1992: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops sends U.S. bishops a Vatican document, “Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reservations regarding civil rights for gay and lesbian people in some instances, including adoption, teaching, and the military.

1992: A Gallup survey for DignityUSA shows that 78 percent of Catholics are in favor of gay/lesbian civil rights, and 46 percent agree that “sexual relations between gay or lesbian persons in a committed relationship could be morally acceptable.”


1993: Ban on openly serving as a gay in the U.S. military. (“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”)

1993: Three same-sex couples successfully challenge Hawaii’s heterosexual-only marriage code. The Hawaii state legislature amends the state constitution in response.

1995: Utah passes the first U.S. state law banning same sex marriage.

1996: Defense of Marriage Act, in which the federal government formally passed a resolution codifying the federal government’s lack of recognition. Only 80 members attend the Dignity conference in Detroit.

1997: The U.S. bishops release Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to the Parents of Homosexual Children. The Vatican requests and receives modifications to make clear the church’s teaching that the homosexual orientation is an “objective disorder.”

1998: President Bill Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids the federal government from recognizing the marriage of two members of the same sex.

1998: The ex-gay movement, supported by conservative organizations like Focus on the Family, gains traction, suggesting that gays and lesbians can be cured gains prominence with a number of advertisements.

1998: Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student, dies after being brutally beaten.


1999: California adopts a domestic partnership ordinance granting hospital visitation rights. In Vermont, three same-sex couples sue the state for denying them the right to marry. The court upholds their case.

1999: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issues a notification stating that the founders of New Ways Ministry, School Sister of Notre Dame Jeannine Gramick and Salvatorian Father Robert Nugent, “are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.”

2000: Vermont establishes civil unions, the “separate but equal” solution found in Brazil, France, New Zealand, and twenty other countries.

2000: Nebraska passes constitutional amendment banning same-sex civil unions and marriages.

2000: At Lent, Cardinal Roger Mahony issues an apology to those that he or the Roman Catholic Church may have offended, including: “I ask pardon of our Catholic homosexual and lesbian members when the church has appeared to be non-supportive of their struggles or of falling into homophobia.”

2001: The Diocese of Cleveland institutes a gay and lesbian family ministry, joining the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the dioceses of Orlando, Fla.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Rochester, N.Y.

2001: Franciscan Father Mychal Judge, a longtime Dignity member, is the first victim of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

2002: Vatican spokesman Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls blames clergy sexual abuse on gay priests. DignityUSA urges the bishops to “Stop Blaming Gay Priests” at the November U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference.


2003: The Vatican issues Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, opposing efforts to create civil legal relationships for same-sex couples.

2003: Vatican issues “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.”

2003: U.S. Supreme Court, in Lawrence v. Texas, overturns the fourteen remaining sodomy laws. Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania pass anti-discrimination legislation.

2004: Fortunate Families is founded.

2004: Massachusetts becomes the first state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

2004: The FBI finds that 15.6 percent of reported hate crimes were for sexual orientation. Of those, 61 percent were against gay men; 2 percent were against heterosexuals.

2004: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah pass constitutional amendment banning all types of same-sex civil unions and marriages. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn states that the issue is more dangerous than terrorism.

2005: (November 4) Pope Benedict issues “Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.” He wrote: “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture.”


2006: Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin pass constitutional amendment banning all types of same-sex civil unions and marriages. Voters in Arizona reject such a ban.

2008: Connecticut and California join Massachusetts as the second and third states to perform same-sex marriages. Californians vote in November to pass Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution limiting marriage to those between a man a woman. California recognizes same-sex marriages but no longer allows granting the licenses.

2009: The District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine, and Vermont allow same-sex marriage. Maine voters then ban it. Nevada and Washington allow civil partnerships.

2009: The California Supreme Court upholds Proposition 8 with a 6–1 vote.

2010: New Hampshire legalizes same-sex marriage.

2010: U.S. district judge strikes down Proposition 8 as being in violation of the U.S. constitution’s 14th amendment.

2010: Call to Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry form  Equally Blessed, a coalition to support full equality for LGBT people in the church and civil society.

2011: New York legalizes same-sex marriage. Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, and Rhode Island legalize civil unions.


2011: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed.

2012: Barack Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. president to declare support for same-sex marriage.

2013: Supreme Court strikes down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, entitling same-sex couples to federal benefits.

2013: Pope Francis makes his “Who am I to judge?” comment, in reference to gay priests.

2015: In Obergefell vs. Hodges, the Supreme Court guarantees civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in the entire United States.

2015: Boy Scouts of America removes the organization’s restriction on openly gay leaders and employees.

2015: Final documents for the Synod on the Family, despite reported diversity of opinion by the bishops, are released without significant changes to church language on interacting with LGBT members.

2016: Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation in response to the Synod on the Family is released. It acknowledges that “a variety of family situations can offer a certain stability” but reinforces that “de facto same-sex unions” cannot be equated with marriage.


2016: Shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida kills 49 people. The event served as inspiration for Jim Martin, S.J., to write Building a Bridge in part due to the language he heard from the church when responding to the event.

2016: Congregation for the Clergy restates guidelines on admitting gay priests, saying: “The Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’. Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

2017: Moonlight becomes the first film representing LGBT issues to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

2017: The Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in a case where a Colorado baker refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

This is a web-only sidebar that accompanies Pride and prejudice: The uneasy relationship between gay and lesbian Catholics and their church, which appeared in the March 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 3, pages 12-17). It was updated in April 2018.



About the author

Kristen Hannum

Kristen Hannum is a freelance journalist based in Denver, Colorado.

About the author

Elizabeth Lefebvre

Elizabeth Lefebvre is a writer living in Chicago.

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