STOCKHOLM, Sweden, DEC. 3, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Public critics of homosexuality increasingly run the risk of being penalized with sanctions. Laws designed to punish so-called hate crimes mean that opposition to homosexual behavior, even when based on moral grounds, is often risky. The Church carefully distinguishes between judgments about acts and the person involved. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in Nos. 2357-8, clearly states that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered," and that "under no circumstances can they be approved."
At the same time, the Catechism asks Catholics to treat men and women who have homosexual tendencies with "respect, compassion and sensitivity." The text exhorts: "Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."
This distinction by the Church regarding homosexual behavior, nevertheless, is lost on many critics. A case in point is this week's publication of the Vatican document regarding candidates for the priesthood who have homosexual tendencies.
The document, issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, cited the numbers from the Catechism quoted above and stipulated that persons with homosexual tendencies "must be accepted with respect and sensitivity."
Reacting to the document, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "For me, to make someone suffer penalties because of their sexual orientation is on the same level as making people be penalized for their gender, or race," Reuters reported Tuesday.
"It's incitement to hatred," claimed Eoin Collins, director of policy change with the Irish group Gay and Lesbian Equality Network. He was quoted by the Irish Examiner. "It goes back to this continuing prejudice and hatred that the official Church has for gay people."
Swedish pastor finally acquitted
Accusations of hatred can have serious legal consequences, as one Swedish pastor found out the hard way. Ake Green was accused of hate speech for having criticized homosexuality in a 2003 sermon. The Pentecostal pastor reportedly told the congregation that homosexuality was "a deep cancerous tumor on all of society."
In 2004 a court declared Green guilty of violating Swedish hate-crimes laws, sentencing him to a month in prison. The ruling was later overturned by an appeals court, but Sweden's chief prosecutor appealed the acquittal to the Supreme Court.
On Tuesday, the Sweden's Supreme Court decided that his comments were protected by the guarantees of freedom of speech and religion present in the European Convention on Human Rights, the Associated Press reported that day.
Green is not the only one to run foul of Sweden's hate laws. According to the October 2004 issue of the U.S. evangelical magazine Charisma, another pastor, Ulf Ekman of the Uppsala World of Life Church, was told he would be prosecuted for alleged hate speech.
Authorities subsequently decided not to proceed with the accusation, but Ekman told the magazine: "There is a deliberate political move in all of Europe toward restricting the freedom of religion, with Sweden serving as a sort of European Union pilot project."
Also on Tuesday, in Canada, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal decided that a Catholic group, the Knights of Columbus, was within its rights to reject a request by a lesbian couple who wanted to hold a wedding reception in its property.
The tribunal accepted arguments made by the Knights of Columbus that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protected it from using its property for a purpose that contradicts its beliefs.
But the decision had a sting in its tail. The tribunal held that the group had offended the couple's "dignity, feelings and self-respect," for which it was ordered to pay $1,000 to each woman, the national newspaper Globe and Mail reported Wednesday.
The couple, Deborah Chymyshyn and Tracey Smith, decided to wed after same-sex marriage became legal in British Columbia. They booked the Knights of Columbus hall in the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam for a reception. The women alleged that they were unaware the hall was operated by a Catholic organization and said they would not have rented the hall if they had known. Those who accepted the booking were unaware it was for a same-sex couple. The booking was canceled once the Knights realized it was for a homosexual couple.
The matter might well not be over, the Edmonton Sun newspaper reported Thursday. The couple announced they are planning to appeal the decision.
Another human rights commission, this time in Alberta, received a complaint, subsequently withdrawn, about comments made by Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, reported the National Post on April 4. The complaint came after Bishop Henry published a letter in January explaining Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage. The article noted that when Parliament debated last year, adding sexual orientation to the hate law bill, religious organizations warned it could lead to restrictions on religious freedom.
Homosexual activists also have the tax status of churches in their sights, according to a report published June 22 on the Canada.com Web site. Kevin Bourassa, who in 2001 was one of the first to be married in a same-sex ceremony, said that churches opposed to same-sex marriage should lose their tax status of charitable organizations, awarded by the federal government.
Churches on edge
Concern over hate crimes legislation exist in a number of other countries. In France, late last year legislation was approved curbing insults against homosexuals.
The law put anti-gay and sexist comments on an equal footing with racist or anti-Semitic insults, the British newspaper Guardian reported Dec. 24. In theory courts could fine offenders up to ?45,000 ($52,800) and hand out jail sentences of up to 12 months.
Critics of the law warned that Christians who denounce homosexuality as "deviant" could be prosecuted, the Guardian reported. And the Catholic Church in France expressed concern that the law might prevent it from opposing same-sex marriage.
In Britain, meanwhile, a bank forced an evangelical group to close its account because of its opposition to homosexuality, the BBC reported June 24. The Co-operative Bank, based in Manchester, said the opinions of Christian Voice were incompatible with its support for diversity.
"It has come to the bank's attention that Christian Voice is engaged in discriminatory pronouncements based on the grounds of sexual orientation," a spokesman for the bank said.
In the United States, anti-homosexual views got a Christian fired from an insurance company. The Chicago Tribune reported Aug. 18 that J. Matt Barber, wrote an essay, published online, denouncing same-sex marriage.
Afterward, his employers at Allstate Corporation told him he was suspended without pay and had him escorted from the company grounds in Northbrook, Illinois. He was fired three days later, setting off a legal dispute that is still unresolved.
Barber said he never mentioned his Allstate affiliation in the biographical information that accompanied his articles. But the Web site included the information without his permission when it published his article.
On Nov. 23, Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley published a pastoral letter on the theme of homosexuality. "The Church's efforts to defend the institution of marriage," he noted, "has been interpreted by some as an indication of the Church's hostility toward homosexual persons."
The Church, the archbishop explained, is not motivated by any such hostility, and regards all persons as equal in the eyes of God. He also argued that the Church must strive to eradicate prejudices against homosexuals.
"At the same time the Church must minister to all people by challenging them to obey God's commands," he explained. "It is important to express the moral teachings of the Church with clarity and fidelity," and with "compassion and humility." A combination that is increasingly running into legal barriers.