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That’s not right. That’s not even wrong.

There is no Church law or teaching that lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and/or transgender people “must be celibate their entire lives”. None.


According to Fr. James Martin, although the Church teaches that “LGBT people must be celibate their entire lives,” this expectation “has not been received” by lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and/or transgender people, and therefore it has failed to become “authoritative” in their regard.

I am reminded of a furrowed-brow comment a friend once made upon hearing some speaker bungle several ecclesiastical terms: “That’s not right,” he said. “That’s not even wrong. I don’t know what that is.” So, as when Martin misconstrued the significance of his book having an “Imprimi potest”, I pause to untangle these concepts for those who would like to understand and apply them more accurately.

First, there is no Church law or teaching that lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and/or transgender people “must be celibate their entire lives”. None.

While lots of people, for lots of reasons, are single, celibacy is the willed state of not marrying. Martin, for example, is not simply single, he is celibate because he chose, as a cleric (1983 CIC1087) and as a religious (1983 CIC 1089), to be bound by two impediments against marriage and to share thereby in the “special gift of God” (1983 CIC 277 § 1) that celibacy is. Other impediments whereby one is prevented from marrying can arise not by one’s personal choice but by conditions of life, such as being too young (nonage, 1983 CIC 1083) or being too closely related to another person (consanguinity, 1983 CIC 1091). Clearly some marriage impediments last only for a time or apply only in regard to certain potential spouses while others are permanent and universal.

But, getting back to Martin’s claim, the list of impediments by which one is prevented from marrying in the Church is taxatively presented in the Code of Canon Law (1983 CIC 1075) and, search that Code from start to finish, one will not find any of Martin’s subjects (lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals, and/or transgenders) listed as being impeded from marriage. In no wise, whether by incurrence of an impediment by choice or by imposition, does Church law or teaching require such persons to be celibate at all, let alone for their entire lives.

Second—and this is a guess born not simply of Martin’s own words earlier in the clip linked above, but of my seeing people muff these distinctions for many decades—Martin might be confusing “celibacy” (the choice not to marry) with “continence” (the choice to refrain from sexual relations) and, assuming his acceptance of settled Church teaching that sexual relations are only for married couples, Martin might be trying to say that Church teaching on the “continence” to which all non-married persons are called has not been “received” by at least some of the groups Martin has in mind and that they do not feel bound to observe it.

Martin’s causal invocation of “reception”, however, in regard to the moral teachings belies the actual concept of “reception” which (in the few instances that it is discussed at all) is almost always treated in regard to one community’s acceptance of another’s creedal assertions or juridic determinations. In other words, “reception”, a concept mostly of academic interest for the last millennium, is not a category by which the nature of moral teachings are typically assessed in ecclesiastical life. One can, of course, talk usefully about whether some moral teaching is being ‘complied with’ or is being ‘violated by’ individuals or groups, but not whether it has been “received” by some person or group.

Finally, Martin might regret that, in virtue of Canon 1055 (which presents the nature of marriage itself), two lesbians cannot marry each other, nor can two homosexuals, but, if that is what underlies Martin’s complaints about celibacy supposedly being imposed on such persons, he needs to take it up with the infallible Magisterium of the Church.

Meanwhile we need to be clear: if, say, a woman who experiences same-sex attraction is canonically free to marry, and she attempts marriage with a man who is also free to marry, their wedding enjoysthe same presumption of validity that every other marriage enjoys—unless and until it is proven null for reasons other than a non-existent impediment to marriage allegedly known as ‘lesbianism’. Because no such impediment exists.

The Church does not minimize the difficulties that people with same-sex attraction can encounter in marriage. But those difficulties do not include being required by Church teaching or law to remain celibate at all, let alone for life, and ministers engaged in outreach to such persons should not imply otherwise.

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


  1. As far as I can tell, there is no “Doctrine of reception” at all, at least not in church law. It appears that some theologians, centuries and centuries ago, mentioned it in connection with a general theory of which laws were just and which were not just. Those long gone theologians have theorized that such a doctrine might exist, but there is nothing more than speculation. Some of them vaguely theorized that in order for any law to be valid, it must be “received” by the larger “community” to which it is directed. But as far as I can tell, the church has never talked about the existence of any such doctrine. No papal encyclical discusses it, no body of canon law, etc etc.

    Even further, the notion of Father Martin that the “homosexual community” must “receive” the teachings of the church for them to be valid, is patently silly. Does the community of bigamists need to “receive” the church’s teaching on bigamy in order for it to be valid? Of course not. Only the larger community of Christians as a whole would need to “receive” it, if it had to be received at all, which it does not. The whole notion is yet another of Father Martin’s inanities.

    • Do you have a reference for the theologians you write of, Mr Samton909? They remain unfamiliar to me …

      I suspect thatMartin’s notion of “reception” has less to do with recherché theologians, and more to do with contemporary ethnography theory, explicitly ethnographies of reception. Ethnography of reception emphasizes the active role played by the subject in constructing and interpreting the meaning of a moral precept. In contrast to theories that understand the community as passive, simply absorbing the meanings and messages embedded in a moral teaching, reception theorists argue that meaning emerges in the interactive process between the texts conveying morality and the socially situated community. Reception theory, like many academic theories these days, has its roots in Marxism, and ranges over broad areas of the social sciences and humanities. Needless to say, it brooks no opposition to its hard-left practice and provides a popular refuge for Queer Theory proponents.

      It’s tailor made for heterodox priests like the Jebbie under consideration. Hanging around academia as most Jebbies do, he would very easily have picked up this infectious malady.

      With this approach, one can side step all Catholic arguments based on the Magisterium and Canon Law. He can twitter against all the rubes who still believe in all that Church nonsense, while claiming the mantel of academic sophistication.

      AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

    • I think you are right, samton. there is an article out there in the interwebs somewhere about, IIRC, varying local communities responses to what are certain disciplines, i.e., the nature and extent of fasting rules and such like, not moral laws OK I looked for it and there it is. I didn’t re-read it to see if my characterization still stands, but peruse it if you are interested in what is sometimes meant by the “doctrine of reception”, at least in comboxes. I think PDamian is probably on the right track with a broader understanding of what folks usually mean when discussing this, although perhaps there is either an effort or an effect of conflation of the two.

      • Thanks to jonnybeeski [and the other Bees who have been commenting] for providing the Internet post that sadly attempts to sell the notion of a “Doctrine of Reception.” It comes from the thoroughly discredited ARCC website founded by aged liberal theologian Leonard Swidler (only remembered by his work in the 1970s to get women priests; he failed then). Swidler’s aim was to to publicly contest the teachings of St John Paul II in the 1980s and 90s. Now ARCC has been taken over by ex-Catholics who wish to vent spleen on their former Church (yes, they will maintain they are still Catholics, but their opposition to true Magisterial teaching on just about every important doctrine shows that to simply be a ruse to trick the unaware).

        But the post is written by James Coriden, one-time crown prince of Canon Law in the U.S.A. But that was many years ago. I remember using his commentary in my own Canon Law studies over 20 years ago, and at that point it was considered somewhat long-in-the-tooth. Although I am not a canon lawyer, I did study it for two years during grad school. Note that Fr Coriden’s post was not published in any sort of peer-reviewed law journal, where it would have to do more in its argument than cherry-pick bon mots from the works of a few-canonists-down-through-the-ages. Simply piling up quotes from hither and thither does not establish the theme of the quotes as a “doctrine” of any sort. At most it shows that a scattered few canonists considered this among the many things they thought about. That there are few actual bishops among his crew also belies the idea that this amounts to anything like a doctrine. Authentic doctrine requires authoritative teaching, and this reception stuff certainly lacks that entirely. Merely one opinion among many, that’s what this reception stuff was,and even then (as Coriden notes) it was condemned in several concrete forms it took historically. Coriden holds that those historical condemnations shouldn’t be counted against it, but his argument comes off a special pleading for his hobbyhorse.

        So what does he actually establish in the post? That once upon a time several canonists had an opinion. Oh, and a “Doctrine of Reception” does not exist (and never has). He gives this away when after finding nothing about reception in the 1983 Code, the best he can muster is to write that “canon [25] is open to the possibility of the doctrine of reception.” Like the stand-up comedian who blurts, “I’d say anything’s possible!” when asked if he could get a laugh, Coriden sees fabled possibilities in the unlikeliest places.

        This is Small Potatoes. And it has nothing to do with the positions that the Jebbie under consideration wants to thrust upon Holy Mother Church.

        AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

        p.s. I still think that Martin’s use of Reception has more in common with the current Queer Theory “Ethnographies of Reception”, than with Fr. Coriden’s old post on the discredited ARCC website.

    • The views of Martin and Copeland are apostsy and heresey pure and simple. The fact that Martin like Roisica and Radcliffe’s views are promoted by the Jesuits and Vatican are disturbing beyond words. They like Paglia, Mc Elroy, Cupich and liberal cino bishops in dying west Europe believe in NONE of the Rc morals sexual and otherwise… As Pope Benedict.has stated the Rc faith is capsized and sinking fast. Shame on Francis and bishops like McElroy for promoting Martin etc.. In view of the damage by Homosexual clergy like Brom Mc Elroy predecessor 270 MILLION in damages to pderrast victims and scandals throughout Penn Philly, Johnstown and Altoona etc the disturbing.legacy of Homosexual Martin , Roisica and Copeland is what little is left.of the cono rc church in.the west.

  2. So a homosexual man who marries a lesbian woman — their marriage is valid? or a homosexual man and a straight woman? A lesbian who marries a straight man? These would not be impediments to a Catholic marriage? To raising children? If someone does not know that their spouse is a homosexual or lesbian but finds out later, is their access to an annulment not possible? Just wondering.

    • I thought about the same thing when I read Dr. Peters’ article above. And I rather suspect that it would probably not be difficult at all to find a judge on a diocesan matrimonial tribunal willing to grant an annulment of such a marriage later on, if the desire to annul arises, with the basis being “psychological incapacity for marriage” – which would knock the props out from under the false argument that two men can validly “marry” each other or that two women can validly “marry” each other.

    • Yes, this is how jesuits operate.
      Jesuit-speak seeks to make you feel inferior to the jesuit-speaker because he uses words and arranges words in such a “sophisticated” manner that you just can’t quite figure out the actual message. It is you who are the problem, of curse. Not the vague, Alice-in-Wonderland author of the message.
      It’s quite an art form, actually.

  3. Run for the hills people, here it comes. I still cannot fathom why the world and the RCC, seem to be dealing in/with extremes on issues. We have been taught that marriage is between a man and a woman with the expressed main concern being procreation. This does not mean that procreation is the only factor, but why get married at all then. Why not just live together and share each others lives? What then is fornication, masturbation, sexual predation, everything that steps outside the boundaries of what has been taught about marriage? Frankly, I do not follow canon law so it concerns me not what new interpretations it thinks it can come up with. Canon law is NOT God’s law nor even the revelations of what Jesus instituted as law. I serve only the 10 Commandments, the Gospels, and the New Testament. Everything else is designed by sinful man for his own glorification and power. Let the RCC reinterpret, twist, and bend “new” ideologies, but this Christian catholic serves not the humanistic machinations of the RCC.

    • If you take a little time to go over Canon Law, you might find it has been pretty handy for settling disputes and maintaining a (somewhat) orderly working of the Church. If you’ve ever known anyone who needed an annulment or if you’ve ever been to a Mass where certain parts were left out or added, you will find the answers in Canon Law. Do you know if a dead infant can be baptized? What are the impediments to marriage? Why do these impediments exist? Etc. It’s pretty interesting.

    • The Roman Catholic Church is responding to the “extremes” of society on the issue of marriage.

      It is you who has reinterpreted,twisted and bended here.

    • You know what you get when you don’t have any canon law? You get 30,000 denominations, each badly misinterpreting what the bible says. And all of them are dead sure their interpretation of the bible is the only correct one.

    • “I serve only the 10 Commandments, the Gospels, and the New Testament.”

      You’ve done a poor job familiarizing yourself with that which you purport to “serve”.

      “Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples, which are not written in this book.” John 20:30

      “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.” John 21:25

      “Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation. For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:20-21

      “And account the longsuffering of our Lord, salvation; as also our most dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, hath written to you: As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.” 2 Peter 3:15-16

    • If you mean ‘real Christian Church’ say it, don’t abbreviate it to RCC. If you mean ‘Catholic Christians’ or more briefly, ‘Catholic’, then say that. The term Catholic includes all the churches in communion with the Pope, these churches include Latin Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, Melkites, and many more.

  4. This talk about needing to receive a teaching comes very close to the passage in the Bible about Cain killing Abel. God practiced encounter, discernment, and accompaniment with Cain concerning Cain’s need to master an inclination to sin. I think that Judaism calls it the evil inclination. It fell on deaf ears as Cain goes out and kills Abel. When God asks Cain about Abel’s whereabouts Cain lies to God about not knowing and asks whether he is his brother’s keeper. After being punished by God for his transgression the first words out of Cain’s mouth were how his punishment was greater than he could bear. Notice the absence of contrition, repentance, or remorse. Cain is totally self-obsessed and self-centered.

  5. Why would a person with life long, strong same-sex attraction and little or no opposite-sex attraction seek to enter into marriage with an opposite-sex person? Legally they can do so, but why would they? They are attracted to people of the same-sex, and yearn to share in all the same things that heterosexual couples do – couples both inside and outside the Catholic Church. Those things that they yearn to share in include – being with their partner who they are intimately connected with in love; shared deep affection, physical and non-physical; being relaxed in the company of friends, family, and strangers; travelling together, having romantic nights together, falling in love all over again; suffering for each other, supporting each other,; knowing that they are each uniquely there for the other, now and always…..the list could go on. Such romantic, emotional, physical and spiritual bonds clearly do exist amongst same-sex couples, but the Catholic Church does not permit them at this level – i.e. Including the physical. We all know how important the physical element is in cementing such bonds, deepening such bonds and healing such bonds.

    I thus find the arguments of Edward Peters technical and lacking in charity. Yes, such people could marry. But why would they? The Catholic Church presents its teaching on this matter in a fixed, black and white way, and claims certainty over it (though i know from experience that many learned religious priests and respected spiritual directors are not so certain of the black and whiteness of it). This does indeed leave the person of same-sex attraction in a most painlful situation, which can of course be lifelong. I repeatedly find little true acknowledgement of this fact in the public dialogue on the subject within the Church. Fr James Martin may not have got it all right (I don’t think he has), but he has in my view shown one thing sorely lacking elsewhere – that is, he has shown true charity. He has gone out of his way to reach out, walk with, empathise with, and he has tried to make the Church an attractive place to be for those who feel excluded by rigid, black and white teaching that admits of no degree of uncertainty, and no acknowledgement of personal history and circumstances. Pope Francis has done the same – with subtlety and wisdom.

    Love conquers many sins, and true love can exist in same-sex partnerships and be instrumental in transforming the person to a deeper love. That is a little bit shocking for the average Catholic. If for the sake of the Kingdom, and a deeper union with Christ, a person of same-sex attraction accepts the call to celibate chastity (for it would be a phoney marriage), then please spare me the technical argument that i could have married. In the reality of my circumstances i could not, and Fr Martin is therefore right in common sense language. That is the sacrifice made, and should not be minimised. We do not have the opportunity to share in the same normal and lovely things that the heterosexual couple does. For those who are genuinely God-seeking, but outside of the Church for these very reasons (finding the celibate chaste life too hard, too lonely, too depressing), I believe there will be great Mercy. That is already evident within the friendships, partnerships and communities of many people of same-sex attraction, where i have often found a genuine spiritual and brotherly love exceeding that in some Church circles.

    For these reasons wherever i find genuine love, i will celebrate it. The path of celibate chastity is a hard cross to carry, and i am not convinced that all can bear it.

    • Try and be honest next time. Most gay relationships provide for having sex outside of the relationship with random partners. Tell me how this is an expression of love for the partner and how this is self giving. Get real.

      • Samton909 I had two long term relationshiips both of which were entirely monogamous, and they were both founded on love.

        Your comment is not helpful im afraid.

        • According to Saint Damian, the vice of sodomy “surpasses the enormity of all others,” because:

          “Without fail, it brings death to the body and destruction to the soul. It pollutes the flesh, extinguishes the light of the mind, expels the Holy Spirit from the temple of the human heart, and gives entrance to the devil, the stimulator of lust. It leads to error, totally removes truth from the deluded mind … It opens up hell and closes the gates of paradise … It is this vice that violates temperance, slays modesty, strangles chastity, and slaughters virginity … It defiles all things, sullies all things, pollutes all things …

          “This vice excludes a man from the assembled choir of the Church … it separates the soul from God to associate it with demons…. Unmindful of God, he also forgets his own identity. This disease erodes the foundation of faith, saps the vitality of hope, dissolves the bond of love. It makes way with justice, demolishes fortitude, removes temperance, and blunts the edge of prudence.”

    • St. Catherine of Siena writes of sodomy in what appears to be not her own mind, but God’s:

      “But they act in a contrary way, for they come full of impurity to this mystery, and not only of that impurity to which, through the fragility of your weak nature, you are all naturally inclined (although reason, when free will permits, can quiet the rebellion of nature), but these wretches not only do not bridle this fragility, but do worse, committing that accursed sin against nature, and as blind and fools, with the light of their intellect darkened, they do not know the stench and misery in which they are. It is not only that this sin stinks before me, who am the Supreme and Eternal Truth, it does indeed displease me so much and I hold it in such abomination that for it alone I buried five cities by a divine judgment, my divine justice being no longer able to endure it. This sin not only displeases me as I have said, but also the devils whom these wretches have made their masters. Not that the evil displeases them because they like anything good, but because their nature was originally angelic, and their angelic nature causes them to loathe the sight of the actual commission of this enormous sin.”

      The sin of sodomy is so unnatural that it is even repellent to the very demons who tempt men to engage in it.

      • Thank you Peter L. I hope you truly meant well with your quotes.

        However, I choose to stick with the image Jesus leaves us with in the Gospels instead – compassionate and attractive, full of amazing humility and glistening humanity – John 8:1-11; John 4:1-26.

        Let our hearts be converted by this image, and not heap on negativity which serves to keep people outside of the Church, away from hearing the true Gospel message.

        I seek builders of bridges to the masses of good people who feel excluded or rejected. So many of these people are doing amazing good works, with truly loving hearts. I do not believe those people are condemned, but that they are loved now by God, even though they may not yet know it. Help us to convey that message please – please make the Church community an attractive place for them to enter, with the compassion and humility of Christ, who invites with warmth, not by condemnation.

        Truth without love is cold. The face of Jesus is never cold.

  6. Love desires the best good of the beloved. Yes? “True love” then would protect the beloved from any and all harm, as much as that is possible. Sexual relations outside of monogamous marriage are associated with serious harm, not only for persons of the same sex but also for those who are of the opposite sex.

    You mention “genuine spiritual and brotherly love”. Its counterpart would be genuine spiritual and sisterly love. Such shared friendship banishes loneliness; it heals depression. A true friendship is a somewhat rare and very beautiful thing. It tends toward closeness between two persons in the wholeness of their being. It does not depend up and does not require sexual relations.

    The teachings of the Catholic Church are consistent with the best good of persons. The Church must teach the Truth. To fail in this mission would be to betray her essence. In Word and Sacrament she must preserve the Truth, no matter the cost. In doing so she will guarantee that, when persons seek the Truth,it will be found. It will have been preserved, available to sinners. And we are all sinners.

    May God forbid that the Church will ever fail to protect and proclaim the truth. This is true Mercy; the “great Mercy” that you mention. As long as the Church proclaims the truth of God’s mercy, it will be waiting for all when it is finally wanted; when it is most desperately needed.

  7. “Sexual relations outside of monogamous marriage are associated with serious harm,” – is that always the case? I was always happy before i entered the Church, and being happy i was able to give to others freely. Unhappiness caused by the Church attitudes and teaching can be a very lonely prison, and psychologically very damaging. I remember a deep perception of beauty that i used to experience frequently, a closeness to God, a deep gratitude for my life, and a deep beenvolence in existence. i expereinced this pretty much throughout my life t varying times. That was all before i entered the Church. I was not celibate and chaste then. Now i no longer have such experience. It is four years now. I used to have a wonderful community, but people in the Church advised me to leave it. They weren’t Saints, but they were human and and they had been my community for 10 years.

    I was outside the Church because of what i saw as Church hypocrisy (child abuse, cover-ups), so the message was not credible to me at a younger age. It seems that God worked with me outside the Church, for i was more God seeking than anyone else i know. I was genuinely much happier during those years. Life seemed more beautiful and made more sense.

    I wish the Church had more humility.

  8. Many possibly harmful things are not always harmful: Driving after drinking, for example – one may arrive home safely by chance. But it is dangerous and risks great harm, even death, to oneself and others. Surely one could not claim to be a truly loving person while subjecting others and oneself to such risks.

    So also sexual relations outside of marriage do not always lead to permanent harm. Sexually transmitted diseases can sometimes be cured. Children conceived to unmarried parents can bring blessings. This can be the case with all transgressions. As you say, God is Merciful. But the terrible risk incurred by human transgressions is always present. Many do not escape the consequences.

    A comment blog is not the place to explore the painful inner conflict you describe. But I offer just one thought: Life involves much suffering. This cannot be avoided. But these trials can function as do the sculptor’s tools; they “chip away” all that is not for one’s best good; all that is not holy. This is a “severe mercy”; it can involve much suffering but the result is beautiful and eternal.

    Meanwhile Mater Ecclesia stands ready, the sacraments in her loving hands, so to speak. And whatever happens, as you work through this struggle, the Church, through those who remain faithful to her essence, will preserve and proclaim the Truth you desire. It will be there when you seek it. And may God strengthen you on the way.

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