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Scots Catholic

Calling Scotland's 841,000 Catholics to unite as one voice

Homosexuality and the

Catholic Church

Picture: bbc.co.uk

This article is an attempt to clarify the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality. It is hoped that it will assist the reader to understand the basis of the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality and also assist the reader to appreciate that the Church is a place for all people.

The brilliant video ('The Third Way') at the end of the text should be considered a ‘must see’! It is incredibly uplifting and, although forty minutes long, you must watch it right through to the end. It is a beautiful summary of the true relationship between the Church and homosexuality and is not muddied by bigotry or discrimination. It also tells the story of a number of Catholic people who have same-sex attraction. 

There are further resources, specifically at chastityproject.com, that are worthy of attention and a link to the site is provided.

I cannot stress how important it is for Catholic people to read through this text and the resources which follow. The fact is that many people outside the Church do not understand the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. That is not surprising. But what is surprising is the number of people in the Church who do not understand the Church’s teaching. We are all under a duty to know our faith and to be able to engage with others about it. Remember, it’s not bad news, it’s Good News so let’s get to know it!

And for people outside the Church, particularly those who have same-sex attraction, it is hoped that this article and the video resources which follow will clarify the truth of the Church’s teaching and allow you to see that the Church calls all people to compassion and conversion. This call goes for everyone, not just people with same-sex attraction. 

Protests such as this one by a US Baptist Church has no place in Catholicism

Homosexuality and the Catholic Church

It is a common misconception that the Catholic Church is ‘against gays’ and that it is ‘homophobic’. 

While there are undoubtedly many people in the Catholic community who hold strong and often unreasonable views on the subject of homosexuality there can be no doubt that with respect to the Church herself, the story is very, very different. The Church is called to make all people welcome.

Before going any further it is important to consider what the Church says about homosexuality. Now, many of you will not like what is stated here; at least not at first. But I ask that you consider bearing with me as I try to make some sense of where the Church is going with her teaching.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Catholic ‘rule book’ if you like) states the following:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

I appreciate that much of what is said above will cause frustration to many and perhaps even anger. But let’s for a moment give this teaching its place and consider it in a little more detail.

Firstly, paragraph 2357 speaks about what it considers to be homosexuality. Much of this is not in dispute but our first real challenge comes when the Catechism states that Sacred Scripture ‘presents homosexual acts (note the emphasis on ‘acts’ and not merely ‘thoughts’ or ‘feelings’ as these are, in the main, not wrong as far as the Church is concerned) as acts of grave depravity’. Ouch! The Church sees homosexual acts as depraved. That is, it views them as morally corrupt or wicked. So we start to see the issues people have with the Church’s teaching. It just seems so unreasonable. 

However, let us explore this further and consider the scriptural basis for the Church’s teaching. For those interested in considering what scripture says on this matter, consider Genesis 29:1-29, Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:10, and 1 Timothy 1:10. This isn’t the most appropriate forum to explore these passages in great detail but we will briefly consider some of the texts to give you an idea as to why the Church holds the view it does in relation to homosexual acts. I think it is essential to be clear about the scriptural basis for Catholic belief.  

Let us firstly consider the Genesis passage. The scene is the city of Sodom, with Lot sitting at the gates to the city. He sees two Angels and eventually they all go to Lot’s house to eat. They then set off for bed but before they do it is stated that: ‘the men of the city surrounded the house, from boys to old men, all the people together. And they called out to Lot, and they said to him: “Where are the men who entered to you in the night? Bring them out here, so that we may know them.”’

Now, to ‘know’ someone during these times means a lot more than simply becoming accustomed to their name and where they come from and so on. It’s not a simple coming together as it is today. Rather, it is a sexual encounter. It basically means to have sex with someone. Now, Lot’s response is telling. He said: “Do not, I ask you my brothers, do not be willing to commit this evil.” Lot, now aware of the intentions of the men outside to ‘know’ the men in his house, urges them not to commit this ‘evil’. The act is perceived as an evil one. It then goes on to speak about the Lord having sent the Angels to destroy the men of the city because of their inclinations.

Now, there is no doubt that this will be hard for many people to stomach but it gives you some insight into the basis of the Church’s view on homosexual acts.

Taking it even further, the New Testament supports the same view when St Paul’s letter to the Romans states: ‘males doing with males what is disgraceful’. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is perhaps even more hard hitting when he writes: ‘For neither fornicators, nor servants of idolatry, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor males who sleep with males, nor thieves, nor the avaricious, nor the inebriated, nor slanderers, nor the rapacious shall possess the kingdom of God.’ None of these people, it states, shall ‘possess the kingdom of God.’ This is incredibly hard hitting, especially for Christians who abide by scripture and who aspire to the kingdom of the Father. It does not make easy reading and does give the impression of a religion that just seems to hate homosexual people, even listing them among thieves and adulterers!    

Set against the backdrop of this society, these texts are very hard to take. They just don’t fit! Yet, they did fit at one time. But the truth is this, whether they ‘fit’ or not is irrelevant. As far as the Church is concerned, this is the Word of God. It is God, the Father, the Creator of the Universe who is speaking, and what He says goes! Time is irrelevant. The Word of God lasts through all of time and we, as His created, cannot simply change it.

Does this justify the Catholic Church referring to homosexual acts as morally corrupt or wicked? Well, it should if you are Catholic because it is the Word of God. For others, it is not so easy and that is understandable, but we will come back to this in a moment.       

Let’s move on to the next part of paragraph 2357 which refers to homosexual acts being ‘intrinsically disordered’. The word disordered will have many a haunch up in the air. It does seem a bit harsh yet we must always set this against the backdrop of what the Church believes to be ordered when it comes to human sexuality. From the beginning the Church has believed in the union of one man and one woman, as per the account in Genesis. It also believes in man leaving his mother and father and cleaving his wife, and them becoming ‘one flesh’. Now this idea of becoming one flesh goes a lot deeper than simply living together and acting as a team. The human form, in man and woman, is physically ordered to come together in a certain way. It is also ordered by God (in Genesis) that male and female should “increase and multiply, and fill the earth.” Now, in coming together physically (becoming ‘one flesh’) man and woman are able to create another; they increase and multiply, as intended by God.

This, you see, is the natural order as decreed by God. That is why homosexual acts are referred to as ‘disordered’. It’s not that it is some kind of mental disease that requires medical attention. It simply does not conform to God’s intended order for mankind which is why it is also stated in paragraph 2357 that such homosexual acts ‘close the sexual act to the gift of life’. A homosexual act cannot produce life in the way that a heterosexual act can. It must be noted that this is also true for heterosexual couples who use contraception. Further, the Church states that it is wrong for anyone to have sexual relations outside of Christian marriage. It then becomes clear that this isn’t some kind of war on gay people and gay people only. 

If anyone is familiar with St John Paul’s II’s fantastic writings on ‘Theology of the Body’ you will know that love on a human level is not the receiving of something; rather it is the complete and unconditional giving of ones whole-self to another. And this includes the complete giving of ones self in the sexual act. The homosexual act does not allow for the complete giving of one to another and neither too does a sexual act involving contraception. For anyone who might be interested, Christopher West's book on St John Paul's writings is an incredible insight into what is arguably the Catholic Church's most untapped treasure. It is a must read. 

St John Paul II's 'Theology of the Body' is an untapped treasure 

Now, continuing with the Catechism. Paragraph 2358 talks a little more about a disorder but it also introduces a new idea; that homosexuality is a ‘trial’. Again, this is hard to take! First they say it is disordered and now they say it’s a trial! To most homosexuals, this will not be the case. I’m sure most are quite happy with life and do not see it as a trial. But let us at least explore what the Church is trying to say. We already know that the Church believes homosexual acts to be wrong. Therefore, it believes that anyone who has tendencies towards such acts is having to deal with this ‘wrong’ on a daily basis and battling daily to keep them at bay. Now again, most homosexual people will say that this is nonsense and that there is no such battle to keep their homosexual feelings at bay, but we have to remember scripture (above) and the Divine Word which the Church holds so dear. 

The next section of paragraph 2358 is intriguing, especially set against the backdrop of today’s world which often sees the Catholic Church has some kind of gay-hating institution.

The Catechism states that people with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’. Now, homosexual people will understandably think that the Church should treat all people like this anyway! Why does it need to be stated in the case of homosexual people? Well, given that God, through His Word, appears to be against homosexual acts the Church has rightly made it clear that while this is the case there can never be any ill-will towards homosexual people; that all homosexual people must be treated with respect and compassion. There can be no discriminating of homosexual people by any member of the Church, a point reemphasised by Pope Francis last year when he said that the doors of the Church must be open to all. This point of respect and compassion is absolutely critical. The Church should be the safest place on earth for everyone. There should be no place on earth where people, no matter who they are or what they stand for, are made more welcome than the Catholic Church. 

 Peace Rainbow Flag in St Peter's Square

The final paragraph is a call to chastity for all homosexual people. Because the sexual act in a homosexual relationship is deemed to be wrong, anyone with homosexual tendencies is called to abstain from any sexual act. Again, this isn’t the exclusive domain of homosexual people as it is also the case for single people in the Church or people in relationships outside of marriage. They too are called to live a chaste life. As Christopher West (author of ‘Theology of the Body’) says in ‘The Third Way’ video: “Chastity is the virtue that orients our sexual desires according to God’s design so that we can reach our destiny.” You see, chastity is not a restrictive concept; it is a reality that sets us free.

Ultimately it is difficult for today’s society, including many Catholic people, to accept what the Church teaches on this issue. Yet, it isn’t something that the Church has just pulled out of thin air. It is the Word of God. It is God who has spoken on these issues and the Church cannot do anything other than adhere to God’s will and try to encourage the world to do the same. Yet the Church states that, while we are subject to the Will of God, there should be no ill-will or discrimination toward people attracted to the same sex. While certain ‘acts’ may be wrong in the Church’s eyes it is not an excuse to abuse.

This article does not seek to increase the divide between the Church and people of same-sex attraction. Perhaps that will be the case for some but it does not seek to cause a greater rift. Rather it seeks to bring us all closer together, and people of same sex attraction may at least acknowledge that the Church has a reason for its stance even if they still think it is an unreasonable one. But remember this: there are many people in the Church, including priests, who live with same-sex attraction each and every day of their lives. The Church recognises this and wants to welcome them. It wants to welcome everyone and invite them to be a part of the Church! Think about the Vatican and the way the Basilica of St Peter stretches round St Peter’s Square like arms with a gap at the end. This is no accident! Those are the arms of the Church and they are reaching out to the world. That gap is for all of us to walk through into the loving arms of the Church! 

It is sad that some people will have experienced personal difficulties with some bishops, priests and lay Catholic people on this issue. But remember, the Church has no place for those who seek to hurt or discriminate against homosexual people. All people are welcome in the Catholic Church and all bishops and priests and even lay Catholic people should be ready and willing to engage with people of same-sex attraction, to welcome them into the Church as a member of the universal family. The Church cannot discriminate against anyone. Her doors must be open to all. This always has been, and always will be, the Church’s teaching. 

I will leave the last word to Father Michael Schmitz (features in ‘The Third Way’ video) who said, “The Church will never stop saying ‘I love you’….you belong here with us.”