Revised Post July 12, 2007
Currently there is a great deal of media coverage and interest on subjects dealing with homosexuality and gay rights. The intention of this reflection is to provide a Catholic/Christian perspective on this controversial and sensitive subject. I hope that it will provide sufficient information, better understanding and deeper
appreciation of the teachings of the Catholic Church, enabling a more comfortable and confident participation in the continuing debate. This paper will focus on single young people both Catholic and secularist, who are faced with difficult but possible moral choices.
The Catholic Church (CC) respects the human rights of all men and woman. We are all created by God who loves each of us unconditionally. We in turn are challenged by God’s love and the example of Jesus Christ our Lord to love all our brothers and sisters unconditionally.
Unconditional love is not synonymous with permissiveness. It does not prevent us from correcting or challenging each other in lives of virtue. On the contrary love often calls upon us to teach and correct our brothers and sisters as true friends when their behaviors are manifestly self-destructive this is often referred to as tough love and it is difficult for the corrector and corrected. We can easily see a manifestation of this in the love of a parent for a child. The parent does not hesitate to correct and teach a child in order to protect him from a variety of dangerous behaviors and situations.
Good or evil can be known by understanding our human nature and its requirements as created by God. It is fundamental to this task to ask why God has created us. The old Baltimore Catechism (OBC) gave a very succinct answer to this question. God made us that we may know, love, and serve Him in this life and be happy with him forever in the next. The CC teaches that, we are all called to be “saints.” All those who enjoy eternal life in heaven are in fact “saints.”
The call to “sanctity” which we all share is our starting point (St Paul in 1 Tim 2:4 “God wills all men to be saved”). This universal vocation to holiness points to a set of conclusions that differ from those proposed by our
secular culture. We may express the secular starting principle as “the pursuit of happiness” without any reference to God or eternal varieties. This foundational secular starting point includes what may be called “self fulfillment and expression or self actualization.” “The pursuit of happiness” cannot strictly be called a “vocation,” for there is no “caller” outside of the individual. This starting point recognizes no absolute truths but relies on the individual’s freedom and ability to decide for himself what is true or best for him. This principle of moral reckoning can be named “relativism” or “nihilism” or more benignly “secularism.”
“Secularism” implies relativism or nihilism because it recognizes no “truths” or “behaviors” as “malum in se” (evil in itself). Truths or actions are judged relative to their perceived usefulness to the individual. These decisions are not made relative to “human nature” because no such thing is recognized to exist. Many media and campus debates revolve around these very different starting points. The result being that the debaters do not really engage one another in a building dialectic but rather attempt to win points with their audience. What must be engaged in order to reach any fundamental understanding are the starting principles. These principles must be examined for their interior and exterior logic. Are they internally consistent and logical? Are there expressions truly good for the individual or society and why?
Here we will examine the interior and exterior logic of the CC teaching on “homosexuality” in the light of its definition of “human nature” and fundamental teachings efficiently expressed in the OBC. “God made us to know love and serve Him in this life and to be happy with him eternally in the next,” this is our fundamental call to “Sanctity” that comes from God who created all of us, and all things.
All of us, who hold and teach the Catholic faith, do so by the grace of God. Faith is a theological virtue, which is a gift from God that enables us to be in a loving relationship with God, who we call Father. Faith then enables us to “know” God’s will for us as church and as individual members of that church. Our faith teaches us that we are called to be “saints” we are called to know, love, and serve him in this life, so that we might enjoy eternal life with Him. Logic supports the statement that the imperfect cannot be united with absolute perfection without first being relatively perfected. The Sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Reconciliation enable us to begin this journey in this life and give us Hope (another theological virtue and gift from God) that it will be completed in the next after a purification also begun in this life and completed by the grace of God as we pass into the next life. More simply expressed in faith language we may need to pass through “purgatory” in order to be fully united to God in heaven. We hope but cannot be certain that we will pass from this life already having achieved the perfection we call “sanctity”; this is in keeping with our vocation to sanctity, i.e. holiness.
How do we journey toward sanctity in our lives? We do so by doing God’s will in this life “perfectly”, “ you must be perfect (holy) as your heavenly Father is perfect (holy)” (Mt 5:48). This could immediately discourage us, because as human beings we know that we can do nothing perfectly. However, God our loving Father knows our weakness and has provided the remedies in the Sacraments of Baptism, by which we are perfected in God’s grace. If death were to follow Baptism before sin, “sanctity” is achieved as pure gift from God. The perfection of grace exists in that person and eternal life is assured. It is in a sense already present in the newly baptized. Historically you may recall that the first Catholic Roman Emperor, Constantine deliberately deferred Baptism until his deathbed, because as emperor he believed deadly sin was inevitable. After Baptism, the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation feed and heal us in our sinful imperfections.
The Catholic asks how do I know and act on God’s will for me today and throughout my life. In contrast, a person with a secularly informed way of life asks what, do “I” wish to do today or with “my” life. The secularist is directed by his own resources accepting no judge of his well-being outside of himself, or no guide that does not conform to the interior logic of his basic premise “the pursuit of happiness” as self defined.
The Catholic believes that God has a particular will for him. He believes that God has established the CC through His only begotten Son who entrusted Peter and the apostles with the keys to bind and loose His disciples. All of this is subject to the basic project of striving to be saints, to be holy. The Catholic wishes to do nothing deliberately that will put his pursuit of holiness, his reason for existing, in jeopardy. If he does sin out of personal weakness or failed logic, he does not seek to justify his sins but to confess them honestly, sincerely and contritely in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Having been properly catechized by his church, the Catholic is aware of the self-destructive nature of sin. Sin always presents itself as an apparent “good,” as pleasurable in some way that is actually an “evil,” and thus destructive to the sinner.
It is through the practice of virtue that the Catholic gradually develops habits of grace and avoids habits of vice. Where does the Catholic learn what is virtuous and what is vicious? There are several ways this is achieved. First the CC teaches him what has been revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the fullness of revelation. He learns through the proclamation of the Gospel how Jesus lived and died and rose again. He learns what Jesus taught and he learns ultimately that Jesus is the way the truth and the life. The Catholic conscience is therefore instructed in the truths of the Catholic faith and is able to make moral decisions based on the logic of these truths. He also has another advantage. In times of doubt and confusion, in times of emotional or moral crisis, he has the rock of the CC to lean on and turn to in faith, believing that the CC is the arbiter of God’s truth in this life.
Practically thinking and speaking the young Catholic who is in the process of becoming a Christian man or woman has a clear guide as to what is the best way to live the life of grace and to become that person that God wills him or her to be. In this way he or she finds true happiness and joy in this passing world, as well as eternal life in the next.
Meanwhile the “secularist” has only personal resources on which to make those moral decisions that are intended to bring happiness. These choices may only bring passing pleasure along with self-destruction in the end. Admittedly these young people may certainly seek out advice and guidance from others who are also “secularists”. However, the advisor himself has only personal experiences or his accumulated knowledge on which to rely and can appeal to no “higher” authority. In addition, the enquirer will most likely accept only that advice that fits with his particular logic and worldview, which is ultimately dependant on himself. A monadic and less than reliable system is constructed. This can be compared with drawing your own map of a country you have never visited, in order to navigate that landscape when you get there. Because the “secularist” in effect creates his own world, there is no one who has been there prior to himself who can provide a reliable map. The Catholic has the advantage of 2000 thousand years of communal accumulated knowledge, historical conscience, and experience, thoroughly examined and tested in the light of the reliable word of God, incarnated in the Catholic Church.
Perhaps, the above has provided a thumbnail portrait of the secular and Catholic moral reasoning processes. It is in the fundamental differences of these basic premises that the moral debate occurs.
The Catholic argument may be presented in this manner. , e.g., our subject is a single young man or woman, who is aware of his call to holiness. He has been taught the minimal requirements of the 10 commandments. He has learned from his church, scriptures, and tradition the more challenging teachings of Jesus that call him to perfection (holiness) in his life of grace. He is therefore aware that as a Christian he is called to sexual abstinence, chastity not only in a negative way, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” but also in the practice of the opposing positive virtues, for the sake of the kingdom of god in imitation of Christ. He strives to be Christ like in all his thoughts, words and actions that concern his sexuality and all other areas of his spiritual life. If he were to fall short of these ideals, he would recognize his sins and confess them completely, truthfully and humbly. His sexual orientation is not pertinent; he is called to purity and chastity whether he is heterosexual, homosexual, or ambivalent in his orientation. He is first an adopted son of God the Father by virtue of Baptism and he is called to holiness and a life of virtue regardless of his sexual orientation.
The “secularist” might argue that the young person in question is free to decide with whom he will engage in genital activity based on mutual consent. For him there is no higher purpose or value to sexuality. The virtues of purity or chastity have no inherent value in fact they are not recognized as virtues at all. These would be defined as unfortunate states of deprivation.
This manner of moral reasoning has permeated our secular culture. It is reinforced in countless ways in both what is referred to as “high” and “pop” cultural.
The counter cultural values are proposed almost predominately by the CC and by more evangelical/fundamentalist Christian churches. Unfortunately, the young Catholic absorbs the secular philosophical panoply of amoral reckoning with little or no awareness, unless he regularly participates in Sunday worship and deliberately seeks out the teachings of the CC. This results in moral confusion in reckoning and behavior, for the inadequately informed Catholic. It is therefore more difficult for him to resist sexual and other temptations, virtue fails and sin is common. Adding to these sins, the secular reasoning effects the evaluation of sin itself. Having committed serious sin the young catholic may appeal to secular reasoning for self-justification. Secular thinking sees no necessity to confess these actions. These are not sins to the “secularist.” They are natural expressions of sexuality. The commingling of secular thought with Catholic values in the minds of young Catholics all too often results in self-justification. It rationalizes away the healing benefits of naming and sacramentally confessing the darkness in their lives. This matrix of thinking and behavior produces spiritual bluntness or callousness, often with accompanying physical, emotional, and psychological harm.
It is a difficult proposition to break through this spiritual bluntness, sometimes referred to as “a callused conscience.” The individual so afflicted becomes insensitive to spiritual and faith based argumentation. His conscience has been overcome by the secular, relativistic, and nihilistic philosophical principles. In thought and action, the young person no longer thinks or acts according to Catholic values.
Not all is lost however, because there is in the secular argument an inherent weakness, “contra factum non valet argumentum,” (“against the facts there is no valid argument”). What facts are we speaking of, the “facts” are the fruits of “sinful” behavior. The secularist does not consider these acts as “sin,” but as acts of self-expression and freedom. They expect to find not only pleasure in the homosexual or premarital heterosexual act but also human fulfillment.
Genital-sexual activity outside of marriage is prone to promiscuity and even addiction. This is especially true in the casual almost anonymous sexual relations that young people seek in the hook-up culture of our times. The demonstrable truth is that casual and promiscuous sexual relations provide a transitory emotional high, followed often by feelings of meaninglessness and emptiness in unfulfilling human relationships. This in turn creates a desire for more sexual activity and a cycle of momentary erotic highs and their consequent emotional lows tend to produce a dependency like any mood altering substance or activity. The “facts” then are that the “secularist” approach to moral reasoning does not achieve the self-actualization or fulfillment that it promises. The “facts” are that casual and or promiscuous sexual activity is emotionally and psychologically harmful and medically risky. Accepting (without approval) for the sake of argument the relativistic and nihilistic starting point of secular thinkers, it is possible to demonstrate with “facts” that it does not deliver on its promises. “Contra factum non valet argumentum” therefore the secularist, relativistic and nihilistic argument fails. It is not a reliable map for human fulfillment. It is an argument that makes the individual the measure of all things, resulting in isolation, self-absorption, and self-destructive behaviors. [For more details concerning the destructive nature of homosexual acts, please see the Statement of the Catholic Medical Association: Homosexuality and Hope
The Catholic argument for purity, chastity, or any virtue is based on faith and church teachings. Jesus Christ the Son of God came to earth as the God/man to set us free from our sins, not to encourage us to be enslaved by them. The false “Christian Prophets” of our day are very busy attempting to convince other Christians that homosexual feelings are “normal” and homosexual acts are thus perfectly legitimate expressions of these feelings. The scriptures Hebrew and Christian consistently condemn homosexual acts, (the sin is condemned the sinner called to a new life in God). The CC has always considered and still does consider homosexual acts disordered in relation to the natural and God given design of human sexuality. The CC’s teaching contains a very realistic understanding of human nature, tested over millennia, which makes for a happy, well-adjusted, self-disciplined, and responsible person. It delivers on its promises. It is philosophically consistent. It provides a map for the young person provided by countless men and women who have gone before them “marked with the sign of faith” (from Eucharistic prayer II of the Roman missal). It is not self-generated, but part of a consistent ethic and tradition. Thus, it is highly reliable.
The opposition responds, “You cannot tell me what to do or not do. You can not tell me how I may use my body or who I may or may not have sex with.” In a way these statements are true, one individual can not tell another individual any of these things, but independent facts and a long standing and reliable tradition of faith and morals can make a powerful argument as to what is good or evil, what is healthy and what is not for the individual human person.
In the case of homosexual genital acts, it is possible to argue from faith for the Catholic young person that this is just as sinful as heterosexual genital acts outside of marriage. It is also possible to argue from the facts that homosexual genital acts are unhealthy and risky business. “Some homosexual acts are physically harmful because they disregard normal human anatomy and function. These acts are associated with increased risks of tissue injury, organ malfunction, and infectious diseases. These and other factors result in a significantly shortened life expectancy.” (Page 1, Statement by the Christian Medical & Dental Associations,
Here the “secularist” argues for “equal rights” for those of Homosexual orientation. They too should be allowed to marry to form life long unions, in this, way promiscuity, casual anonymous sex is eliminated, and fidelity to a life long partner is possible. In a purely secular context, this argument appears to have merit. It appears to be the lesser of two evils fidelity to a monogamous homosexual relationship being preferable to multiple transient sexual relations with all the accompanying dangers. However, the dangers and risks stated above are still present.
In the Catholic and Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian context, however it is untenable. In order for sexual intercourse to be truly a marriage act and to be spiritually fruitful for the couple, it must be open to “Love and Life” (see Paul VI, “Humanae Vitae”). The sexual union of a same sex couple is not open to life, even if the partners truly love one another and there is no reason to impugn this possibility, the sexual union is still sinful. They cannot enter into a Sacramental Marriage. Their sexual union is not procreative as God intended. It is according to its nature, disordered. The CC however, greatly values chaste same sex and opposite sex friendships in which many saints were formed, e.g. St John Bosco and St. Dominic Savio, St. Francis and St. Clare, St. Ambrose and St Augustine. The teachings of “Humane Vitae” have consequences for the validly married heterosexual couples as well, for it requires that their sexual union be open to Love and Life, neither contraceptive nor abortafacient and most certainly not coerced. Only in this way are they spiritually fruitful and share in the Sacramental character of Marriage.
The secularist argues this is discriminatory. How can Christians argue for sexual relations to be limited to marriage and at the same time prohibit same sex couples from entering into marriage? This would require all homosexuals to be celibate, pure, and chaste. Yes indeed, it would, as it also requires all single heterosexuals to be celibate, pure, and chaste. The heterosexual however does indeed have the capacity for Sacramental Marriage, barring any preexisting impediments (such as consanguinity or impotency). However, homosexuality, an exclusively same sex orientation, is an impediment to marriage for how can they “be fruitful and multiply.” The CC opposes same sex “civil marriage” because it desires to preserve both the traditional definition of marriage and in the larger context the vestiges of the Christian ethic that once guided our civic polity. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, same sex marriage is now a reality. There is no need however for the CC to stop or alter its teaching.
The Catholic must always be mindful that God’s grace is never lacking for those who seek it. History and human experience testifies that what is difficult is not necessarily impossible. Although a young person may experience same sex attractions, it is not required that he or she act on those feelings and desires. Here we begin to touch on the mystery of the cross and its centrality to Christian life. The CC understands its responsibility to support all those who carry this cross like any other cross with its Sacraments especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist and with making psycho-spiritual counseling and direction available to assist all those who seek it. Despite statements to the contrary science has not isolated “the homosexual gene” (Page 1 part 1, #1, Statement of CMA
Here again the Catholic, Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian homosexual is able to understand the clear traditional teaching of his faith. The difficulty is found in the efforts to be pure and chaste. Here we return to the fundamental call of all Christians to holiness by virtue of their baptism. Remember we are all created by God to know love and serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next. This is true for the Catholic or Christian without exception. The heterosexual young person may be called to holiness in Marriage or in some form of celibacy lived out for the sake of the kingdom of God. The homosexual young person is also called to holiness, to sanctity, lived out in celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God. Certainly, for the Catholic homosexual person the road to holiness is lived out in part in the struggle for purity and chastity. This can be seen as a sharing in the cross of Christ and like all crosses that the Christian carries, it has its own blessings that come from God in the midst of suffering. If the homosexually oriented young person by God’s grace can embrace this cross that life presents, the road to Sanctity is difficult but open. Keeping in mind that God’s grace is never lacking and the reality that all vocations to holiness entail the cross no one need be envious of, or impugn another’s call or road to holiness. Accepting the crosses fashioned for us in our universal call to holiness and our individual vocations opens the road to holiness for each and all.
The secular way of thinking cannot appreciate or accept this faith based reasoning. The CC becomes then the voice crying in the wilderness and the light in the midst of darkness. In the face of an unbelieving society, it must continue to pass on what it has received from God. The CC also has history and medical realities on its side. The witness of Catholics young and old who fight the good fight living out their vocations to holiness may provide the strongest arguments. Witness can speak louder than well-reasoned words.