Interview: The Vatican on Just vs. Unjust Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

During a human rights panel discussion at the United Nations last week, Rev. Philip J. Bené, J.C.D., Legal Attaché  for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, reiterated a little publicized position of the Vatican regarding “violations of human rights against homosexual persons.”

The December 10 statement, which Fr. Bené sent to (LSN) says “the Holy See continues to oppose all grave violations of human rights against homosexual persons, such as the use of the death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

The panel discussion on “Opposing grave Human Rights Violations on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

“The Holy See,” the statement added, “also opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person.” According to the Holy See representative, the statement was a virtual repetition of a statement made last December before the UN General Assembly.

In a written statement, sent to LSN, Fr. Bené quoted from the documents of the discussion, to provide the essential context for the Holy See statement.

The purpose of the panel discussion was to “explore grave and extreme human rights violations and discrimination occurring on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Such violations include attacks on the security of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the practice of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and arbitrary arrest or detention.”

“For this reason,” said the Holy See representative, “while referring to our position on the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, our statement focused only on the above-named violations.”

In a telephone interview with LSN Fr. Bené said, “Certainly the Holy See does not advocate that lifestyle, and certainly is against same-sex adoption and same-sex pseudo-marriage, I would call it.”

Fr. Bené explained to LSN that “The Church distinguishes between just and unjust discrimination.”

He used the example of his 10-year-old niece not being permitted to marry – a situation, which, although clearly discrimination of a kind, “is just discrimination, because she’s not old enough.”  He added: “Discrimination is not a bad thing in itself, but it has been interpreted that way.”

A 1992 Vatican document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spelled out some of the areas in which such discrimination is permissible.  “There are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment,” says the document titled Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons.

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