What did people find harsh and uninformed in that 1986 Vatican letter?
It backed away from the prevailing ethical opinion that a homosexual orientation is morally neutral and called it "an objective disorder." Whatever this is supposed to mean, it suggests that gay people are sick, despite massive evidence to the contrary in medical, psychological, and sociobiological research. As if blaming gay people for the AIDS epidemic and ignoring their heroic — and virtually solitary! — efforts to stem it, the letter said: "Even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved." Regarding gay-bashing it read: when gay people seek to "protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase." As for securing the civil rights of gay people: "The bishops should keep as their uppermost concern the responsibility to defend and promote family life" — as if lesbian and gay children, sisters, brothers, fathers, or mothers were not part of family life.
The Vatican's 1992 follow-up letter actually required the American bishops to oppose all gay rights legislation, even legislation exempting the churches. It compared homosexuality to contagious disease or mental illness and argued that, for the common good, the state has the right and obligation to curtail people's civil rights. In the case of teachers, athletic coaches, military personnel, and adoptive or foster parents, this document said "it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account." Ignoring all the evidence, the Vatican presumed that lesbian and gay people, and not heterosexuals, are the greatest sex offenders or are automatically unfit role models or are incompetent. Quite inconsistently, the Vatican suggested there would be no problems if homosexual people just kept their sexual orientation secret.
In fact, however, stating what many bishops were known to believe, Bishops Charles Buswell, Thomas Gumbleton, and Walter Sullivan publicly criticized the 1992 document. Moreover, since 1992, through their respective Catholic conferences, bishops in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington have opposed discriminatory legislation and/or supported gay rights legislation.
Taken from Daniel A. Helminiak, FAQs: Catholicism, Homosexuality, and Dignity, written for DignityUSA, 1996, 2000.