Homosexuality and Love’s Duty

Dante and Virgil in Hell

In November of 2007 Fr. Richard John Neuhaus penned this brief article that looked back to the statement of the US Bishops, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.” I introduce it here followed by reading selections from the statement.  I do it in answer to a recent reader who thought my concern with abortion and gay marriage detracted from the other pieces and more theological meditations found on payingattentiontothesky.

I would hope what follows shows how the Church’s thinking is rooted in its readings of Scripture (Genesis, Paul) and its beliefs concerning Christian anthropology, Temperance and Charity. In fact to get to the idea that Gay Marriage should be supported by the faithful you need to trample upon so much Catholic dogma and teaching one wonders how to remain Catholic at the end of that thought process. I guess I am a little in awe of those who seek for the Church to give a pass on homosexual acts yet to oppose adultery, fornication, masturbation, and contraception (all of which also violate the proper ends of human sexuality).

One of the problems of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is how little of it is understood by the faithful. There is an onslaught of Catholics righteously intoning the “disorder of homosexuality” or ‘the sinfulness of homosexuals” when the Church specifically teaches that homosexual inclination is not itself a sin. Neither is the inclination to masturbation or fornication. The very fact that the Rainbow Sash Movement originates in the Catholic Church shows how little some of us understand what it is to be Catholic.


Last November the U.S. bishops adopted a thoughtful statement, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.” The statement unambiguously affirmed Catholic teaching on the moral disorder of same-sex desires and the sinfulness of same-sex acts. It just as unambiguously affirmed love for all, understanding that teaching the truth is an obligation of love.

Bishops’ conferences propose collectively; bishops dispose individually. That is the way of Catholic ecclesiology, and rightly so. The recognized risk is that some individual bishops will, in disingenuousness or ignorance, undermine the Church’s teaching. Origins, a publication of the bishops’ conference, features a column by Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona. The bishop says he has been listening to people interested in ministry to people with a homosexual inclination, and he has heard many things. “I heard that we need to be clear about the Church’s moral teaching on homosexuality.” He also heard “that pastoral leaders must listen carefully to the lived experiences of their people and try to relate the Church’s teaching to those experiences in a convincing way.” But of course, unless the suggestion is that the clarity of the teaching is to be accommodated to what people find convincing.

The bishop also heard that “it would be helpful if there would be a parish where Catholics of same-sex orientation could worship in an accepting environment that would help them in living faithfully as Catholics.” The bishop does not say whether or not he approves of the idea, but the way he puts it is problematic. Designating a parish for those of same-sex orientation is like designating a parish for those who have an orientation to committing heterosexual adultery. The question is not orientation but action; not what people feel a desire to do but what people do.

A parish for those of same-sex orientation would be known as a “gay parish,” as is the fact with LGBT parishes — or, as they are often called, “gay friendly” parishes — in some of our major cities. Perhaps the bishop does not know this because Tucson does not have a gay subculture, but that seems improbable.

Yet more problematic is the formulation that in such a parish “Catholics of same-sex orientation could worship in an accepting environment that would help them in living faithfully as Catholics.” Of course, every parish should be that, and not only for those of a same-sex orientation. But if, in fact, we’re talking about a parish for gays and lesbians who make no secret of their engaging in same-sex acts, who reject the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, and who are part of a subculture defined by such practice and rejection, it is hard to see how such a parish “would help them in living faithfully as Catholics.”

For what other category of sinners, sinful behavior, or desire to engage in sinful behavior should the Church designate sin-specific parishes? The only qualification for admission to the Church is that one knows himself to be a sinner in search of salvation. There is, given the diversity of disordered human propensities and desires, no shortage of possible candidates for sin-specific parishes. Fashionable sins backed by a powerful lobby should not be privileged.

From Bishop Kicansas’ listening sessions in which he learned many things, we return to the thoughtful statement adopted by the bishops last November. They said:

Every person needs training in the virtues. To acquire a virtue — to become temperate, brave, just, or prudent — we must repeatedly perform acts that embody that virtue, acts that we accomplish with the help of the Holy Spirit and with the guidance and encouragement of our teachers in virtue.

In our society, chastity is a particular virtue that requires special effort. All people, whether married or single, are called to chaste living. Chaste living overcomes disordered human desires such as lust and results in the expression of one’s sexual desires in harmony with God’s will….

In this effort to train our desires to be in accord with God’s will, as Christians we do not have to rely solely upon our own powers; we have the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts. The New Law of Christ, which is principally the power and life of the Holy Spirit, gives us an ability that does not come from nature itself to fulfill the natural law. The natural law shows what we should do (as does divinely revealed law, such as the Ten Commandments). Sin weakens the will, however, so that we choose to do what we know is wrong. The New Law of grace, the Holy Spirit in our hearts, overcomes the power of sin and enables us to do what we should. We are no longer mastered by sin….

It would not be wise for persons with a homosexual inclination to seek friendship exclusively among persons with the same inclination….Catholics who are living in accord with the Church’s moral teachings are invited and encouraged to participate fully and regularly in the sacramental life of the Church…. The Christian life is a progressive journey toward a deepening of one’s discipleship of Christ. People do not all move forward at the same pace, nor do they always proceed in a direct line toward their goal. Those who stumble along the way should be encouraged to remain in the community and to continue to strive for holiness through conversion of life. In this regard, frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is of great importance….

Many virtuous people who experience same-sex attraction are ardently striving to live their faith within the Catholic community so as not to fall into the lifestyle and values of a “gay subculture.” The Church’s ministries are to encourage them to persevere in their efforts through teaching, guidance, and fellowship….Persons with a homosexual inclination should not be encouraged to define themselves primarily in terms of their sexual inclination, however, or to participate in “gay subcultures,” which often tend to promote immoral lifestyles. Rather, they should be encouraged to form relationships with the wider ­community.

Bishops propose collectively; bishops dispose individually. Mind you, the above reflection is no brief for the authority of episcopal conferences. The U.S. bishops’ conference, for instance, has said some very questionable and a few downright silly things over the years. “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,” however, is a wise and pastorally sensitive statement fully in accord with the doctrine of the Church. It declines the suggestion that there is a contradiction, or even a tension, between love and truth. Speaking the truth, and inviting all of us to live in the truth, is love’s duty.

More reading selections from this document:

Respecting Human Dignity
The commission of the Church to preach the Good News to all people in every land points to the fundamental dignity possessed by each person as created by God. God has created every human person out of love and wishes to grant him or her eternal life in the communion of the Trinity.

All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected. In keeping with this conviction, the Church teaches that persons with a homosexual inclination “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” We recognize that these persons have been, and often continue to be, objects of scorn, hatred, and even violence in some sectors of our society. Sometimes this hatred is manifested clearly; other times, it is masked and gives rise to more disguised forms of hatred. “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

Those who would minister in the name of the Church must in no way contribute to such injustice. They should prayerfully examine their own hearts in order to discern any thoughts or feelings that might stand in need of purification. Those who minister are also called to growth in holiness. In fact, the work of spreading the Good News involves an ever-increasing love for those to whom one is ministering by calling them to the truth of Jesus Christ.

The Place of Sexuality in God’s Plan
The phenomenon of homosexuality poses challenges that can only be met with the help of a clear understanding of the place of sexuality within God’s plan for humanity. In the beginning, God created human beings in his own image, meaning that the complementary sexuality of man and woman is a gift from God and ought to be respected as such. “Human sexuality is thus a good, part of that created gift which God saw as being ‘very good,’ when he created the human person in his image and likeness, and ‘male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27).”

The complementarity of man and woman as male and female is inherent within God’s creative design. Precisely because man and woman are different, yet complementary, they can come together in a union that is open to the possibility of new life. Jesus taught that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh’” (Mark 10:6-8).

The purpose of sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children. “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life.”

This is the order of nature, an order whose source is ultimately the wisdom of God. To the extent that man and woman cooperate with the divine plan by acting in accord with the order of nature, they not only bring to fulfillment their own individual human natures but also accomplish the will of God.

Homosexual Acts Cannot Fulfill the Natural Ends of Human Sexuality
By its very nature, the sexual act finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality. Such an act is not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life. It is disordered in that it is not in accord with this twofold end and is thus morally wrong.

“Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.” Because of both Original Sin and personal sin, moral disorder is all too common in our world. There are a variety of acts, such as adultery, fornication, masturbation, and contraception, that violate the proper ends of human sexuality. Homosexual acts also violate the true purpose of sexuality. They are sexual acts that cannot be open to life. Nor do they reflect the complementarity of man and woman that is an integral part of God’s design for human sexuality.

Homosexual Acts “Are Contrary To The Natural Law.”
Consequently, the Catholic Church has consistently taught that homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law. . . . Under no circumstances can they be approved.” In support of this judgment, the Church points not only to the intrinsic order of creation, but also to what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture. In the book of Genesis we learn that God created humanity as male and female and that according to God’s plan a man and a woman come together and “the two of them become one body.” Whenever homosexual acts are mentioned in the Old Testament, it is clear that they are disapproved of, as contrary to the will of God.

In the New Testament, St. Paul teaches that homosexual acts are not in keeping with our being created in God’s image and so degrade and undermine our authentic dignity as human beings. He tells how homosexual practices can arise among people who erroneously worship the creature rather than the Creator:

“Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. St. Paul listed homosexual practices among those things that are incompatible with the Christian life.” [See 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10.]

Homosexual Inclination Is Not Itself a Sin
While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not. To the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination is not subject to one’s free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency.

Although one would be morally culpable if one were voluntarily to entertain homosexual temptations or to choose to act on them, simply having the tendency is not a sin. Consequently, the Church does not teach that the experience of homosexual attraction is in itself sinful. The homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, i.e., it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person.

Of course, heterosexual persons not uncommonly have disordered sexual inclinations as well. It is not enough for a sexual inclination to be heterosexual for it to be properly ordered. For example, any tendency toward sexual pleasure that is not subordinated to the greater goods of love and marriage is disordered, in that it inclines a person towards a use of sexuality that does not accord with the divine plan for creation. There is the intrinsic disorder of what is directed toward that which is evil in all cases (contra naturam). There is also the accidental disorder of what is not properly ordered by right reason, what fails to attain the proper measure of virtue (contra rationem).

It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered. Nor does it mean that one has been rejected by God or the Church. Sometimes the Church is misinterpreted or misrepresented as teaching that persons with homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered, as if everything about them were disordered or rendered morally defective by this inclination. Rather, the disorder is in that particular inclination, which is not ordered toward the fulfillment of the natural ends of human sexuality.

Because of this, acting in accord with such an inclination simply cannot contribute to the true good of the human person. Nevertheless, while the particular inclination to homosexual acts is disordered, the person retains his or her intrinsic human dignity and value. Furthermore, it is not only sexual inclinations that can be disordered within a human person. Other inclinations can likewise be disordered, such as those that lead to envy, malice, or greed.

We are all damaged by the effects of sin, which causes desires to become disordered. Simply possessing such inclinations does not constitute a sin, at least to the extent that they are beyond one’s control. Acting on such inclinations, however, is always wrong.

Many in our culture have difficulty understanding Catholic moral teaching because they do not understand that morality has an objective basis. Some hold that moral norms are nothing more than guidelines for behavior that happen to be widely accepted by people of a particular culture at a particular time.

Catholic tradition, however, holds that the basis of morality is found in the natural order established by the Creator, an order that is not destroyed but rather elevated by the transforming power of the grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ. Good actions are in accord with that order.

By acting in this way, persons fulfill their authentic humanity, and this constitutes their ultimate happiness. Immoral actions, actions that are not in accord with the natural order of things, are incapable of contributing to true human fulfillment and happiness. In fact, immoral actions are destructive of the human person because they degrade and undermine the human dignity given us by God.

Therapy for Homosexual Inclinations?
A considerable number of people who experience same-sex attraction experience it as an inclination that they did not choose. Many of these speak of their homosexual attractions as an unwanted burden. This raises the question of whether or not a homosexual inclination can be changed with the help of some kind of therapeutic intervention.

There is currently no scientific consensus on the cause of the homosexual inclination. There is no consensus on therapy. Some have found therapy helpful. Catholics who experience homosexual tendencies and who wish to explore therapy should seek out the counsel and assistance of a qualified professional who has preparation and competence in psychological counseling and who understands and supports the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. They should also seek out the guidance of a confessor and spiritual director who will support their quest to live a chaste life.

The Necessity for Training in Virtue
There is another kind of “therapy” or healing of which we all stand in need, regardless of whether one is attracted to the same or the opposite sex: Every person needs training in the virtues. To acquire a virtue — to become temperate, brave, just, or prudent — we must repeatedly perform acts that embody that virtue, acts that we accomplish with the help of the Holy Spirit and with the guidance and encouragement of our teachers in virtue. In our society, chastity is a particular virtue that requires special effort. All people, whether married or single, are called to chaste living. Chaste living overcomes disordered human desires such as lust and results in the expression of one’s sexual desires in harmony with God’s will. Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.”

It is sad to note that in our society violation of chastity and the pervasive human suffering and unhappiness that follow in its wake are not uncommon. Many families experience firsthand the human devastation that results when marriage vows are broken, or the human heartbreak that can lie in the wake of sexual promiscuity. Chaste living is an affirmation of all that is human, and is the will of God. It is we who suffer when we violate the dictates of our own human nature. The acquisition of virtues requires a sustained effort and repeated actions.

As the ancient philosophers recognized, the more one repeats good actions, the more one’s passions (such as love, anger, and fear) become shaped in accord with good action. It becomes easier to perform good actions. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true: the more one repeats bad actions, the more one’s passions become shaped in accord with bad action. It becomes more difficult to perform good actions, for the disordered passions provide resistance. If one resolves to follow the path of virtue, however, one can make progress. By avoiding bad actions and by repeating good actions one can train one’s passions so that they become more spontaneously disposed toward good action. One eventually acquires and perfects the basic virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

Therefore, merely to experience disordered passions should not be a cause for despair. This is the common starting point for people at the beginning of training in virtue. The passions are not fixed, unchanging obstacles to moral action. They do not simply have to be repressed in order for one to act morally. Repeated good actions will modify the passions that one experiences. In fact, passions that have been properly disposed aid one in acting well. It may not always be possible to reach the point where one’s passions are so well ordered that one is always spontaneously moved to act rightly. In such cases, to do what is right and rational will involve a healthy restraining of some desires. Nevertheless, through persistent effort we can at least reduce the resistance of our passions to acting well.

The New Law of Christ
In this effort to train our desires to be in accord with God’s will, as Christians we do not have to rely solely upon our own powers; we have the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts. The New Law of Christ, which is principally the power and life of the Holy Spirit, gives us an ability that does not come from nature itself to fulfill the natural law. The natural law shows what we should do (as does divinely revealed law, such as the Ten Commandments). Sin weakens the will, however, so that we choose to do what we know is wrong. The New Law of grace, the Holy Spirit in our hearts, overcomes the power of sin and enables us to do what we should. We are no longer mastered by sin. As Pope John Paul II has encouraged us:

Only in the mystery of Christ’s Redemption do we discover the “concrete” possibilities of man. “It would be a very serious error to conclude . . . that the Church’s teaching is essentially only an ‘ideal.’ . . . Christ has redeemed us! This means that he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence.”

 Christ accomplishes in us a healing from the wounds of sin that we cannot accomplish on our own.

The Necessity of Friendship and Community
One way in which the Church can aid persons with a homosexual inclination is by nurturing the bonds of friendship among people. In their analysis of human nature, the ancient philosophers recognized that friendship is absolutely essential for the good life, for true happiness. Friendships of various kinds are necessary for a full human life, and they are likewise necessary for those attempting to live chastely in the world. There can be little hope of living a healthy, chaste life without nurturing human bonds. Living in isolation can ultimately exacerbate one’s disordered tendencies and undermine the practice of chastity. It would not be wise for persons with a homosexual inclination to seek friendship exclusively among persons with the same inclination. They should seek to form stable friendships among both homosexuals and heterosexuals…A homosexual person can have an abiding relationship with another homosexual without genital sexual expression. Indeed the deeper need of any human is for friendship rather than genital expression.

True friendships are not opposed to chastity; nor does chastity inhibit friendship. In fact, the virtues of friendship and of chastity are ordered to each other. The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends (cf. John 15:15), who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.

Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one’s neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.

While the bonds of friendship should be carefully fostered at all levels, loving friendships among the members of a family are particularly important. Those ministering in the name of the Church should encourage healthy relationships between persons with a homosexual inclination and the other members of their families. The family can provide invaluable support to people who are striving to grow in the virtue of chastity. The local Church community is also a place where the person with a homosexual inclination should experience friendship. This community can be a rich source of human relationships and friendships, so vital to living a healthy life. In fact, within the Church human friendship is raised to a new order of love, that of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Growth in Holiness
While human friendship is indeed necessary for the good life of a human person, friendship with God constitutes our ultimate end. Every human person has been created to share in the communion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Church to persons with a homosexual inclination must always have the overriding aim of fostering the greatest possible friendship with God, participation in the divine life of the Trinity through sanctifying grace.

Integral to friendship with God is holiness. God is holy and all who would come near to God must likewise become holy. The Second Vatican Council made it clear that striving for holiness does not belong only to an elite few within the Church. The Council taught that “all Christians in whatever state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity, and this holiness is conducive to a more human way of living even in society here on earth.” The Council also made it clear that this is not simply our own doing but depends on the gift that comes to us through Christ. “In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that, following in his footsteps and conformed to his image, doing the will of God in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor.”

The Church seeks to enable every person to live out the universal call to holiness. Persons with a homosexual inclination ought to receive every aid and encouragement to embrace this call personally and fully. This will unavoidably involve much struggle and self-mastery, for following Jesus always means following the way of the Cross. “There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.” The Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance are essential sources of consolation and aid on this path. These sacraments invite every person to enter into the dying and rising of Christ, for the Paschal Mystery is at the center of Christian life. At the same time, they also provide us with a constant reminder of the great hope held out for all who follow Jesus with perseverance. Moreover, crucial support for the spiritual struggle is to be found through diligent fostering of the Christian life, including the reading of Scripture and daily prayer.

Cultural Obstacles
All ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination must be guided by Church teaching on sexuality. The basis of this ministry, if it is to be effective, has to be a true understanding of the human person and of the place of sexuality in human life.
“Departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral.” Love and truth go together. The Sacred Scriptures tell us that the way to grow more Christ-like is by “living the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). The Church cannot support organizations or individuals whose work contradicts, is ambiguous about, or neglects her teaching on sexuality. The Church’s teaching on homosexuality is attentive to the natural law imprinted in human nature and faithful to the Sacred Scriptures. This teaching offers a beacon of light and hope in the midst of considerable confusion, intense emotion, and much conflict. Within our culture, however, there are various obstacles that make it more difficult for some people to recognize the wisdom contained in this teaching.

One obstacle is intolerance of those perceived as different. It remains true that some persons identified as homosexual are victims of violence. The fact that homosexual acts are immoral may never be used to justify violence or unjust discrimination.

Moral Relativism
At the same time, there are features specific to contemporary Western culture that inhibit the reception of Church teaching on sexual issues in general and on homosexuality in particular. For example, there is a strong tendency toward moral relativism in our society. Many do not admit an objective basis for moral judgments. They recognize no acts as intrinsically evil but maintain that judgments of good and bad are entirely subjective. In this view, matters of sexual morality should be left for individuals to decide according to their own preferences and values, with the only restriction that they not cause manifest harm to another individual. Because Church teaching insists that there are objective moral norms, there are those in our culture who portray this teaching as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights.

 Such claims usually follow from a form of moral relativism that is joined, not without inconsistency, to a belief in the absolute rights of individuals. In this view, the Church is perceived as promoting a particular prejudice and as interfering with individual freedom. In fact, the Church actively asserts and promotes the intrinsic dignity of every person. As human persons, persons with a homosexual inclination have the same basic rights as all people, including the right to be treated with dignity. Nevertheless “‘sexual orientation’ does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to nondiscrimination.”  

Therefore, it is not unjust, for example, to limit the bond of marriage to the union of a woman and a man. It is not unjust to oppose granting to homosexual couples benefits that in justice should belong to marriage alone. “When marriage is redefined so as to make other relationships equivalent to it, the institution of marriage is devalued and further weakened. The weakening of this basic institution at all levels and by various forces has already exacted too high a social cost.”

Another common characteristic of Western societies that poses an obstacle to the reception of Church teaching is the widespread tendency toward hedonism, an obsession with the pursuit of pleasure. This tendency is closely related to the consumerism of our culture, which promotes an approach to life that is marked by a concern to maximize pleasure. Viewed from this perspective, sexual relations are seen as simply another form of pleasure. Promiscuity is regarded as not only acceptable but normal. The virtue of chastity becomes incomprehensible. It can even appear to be an unhealthy and unnatural denial of pleasure.

Moreover, there are many in our society, particularly in the advertising and entertainment industries, who make enormous profits by taking advantage of this tendency and who work to promote it by their actions. Given such strong influences in our culture, it is not surprising that there are a number of groups active in our society that not only deny the existence of objective moral norms but also aggressively seek public approval for homosexual behavior. The message of such groups misleads many people and causes considerable harm. In the face of this challenge the Church must continue her efforts to persuade people through rational argument, the witness of her life, and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


  1. [...] Homosexuality and Love’s Duty [...]

  2. Thanks, Derek, for the thoughtful post. At the risk of being a gadfly, just a few thoughts, since you mentioned me in your first paragraph…

    I do accept, basically entirely, the Church’s teachings on sexuality — both the spirit and the letter, though especially the spirit. I do think that a lot of people who defend the Church’s teachings on sexuality have a distorted sense of what spirit it is that they are opposing. Some of the most visible gay communities and organizations — with their gay pride parades that flaunt the erotic body and their iconoclastic attitude that lauds promiscuity and mocks the commitment of marriage — have no doubt brought this misunderstanding upon themselves.

    But I think that many anti-gay marriage writers shortchange true homosexual love, reducing the orientation precisely to a “burning lust.” I am not gay and so don’t have any direct experience of the strange-sounding thesis that sexual “complementarity” is necessary for a healthy romantic love to grow between two people, but based on personal experience, the idea is, for me, quite suspect. These are not just people who want to have a kind of sexual relationship deemed illicit. They are not just pathetically hungry for human companionship. They fall in love for the same, very intangible reasons that we heterosexuals do, with all the desire for fidelity and charity that that entails. And so I think that we either need to speak less of gay lust and more of gay love in trying to arrive at an understanding of the justice of the Church’s attitudes, or else question more pressingly the very real entanglement of lust and love in even the ideal heterosexual marriage…which we may sometimes be guilty of sugar-coating.

    I do wonder what the growing influence of personalism on Catholic ethics will have on the Church’s understanding of homosexuality. To close oneself intentionally to the creation of new life is one thing; I can understand and accept the prohibition on contraception. But of course, many gay couples desire children, which complicates things considerably. My favorite scene in the film “Milk” is when Councilman Brown protests to Harvey Milk that gay sex is not procreative. “Yes,” replies Milk, “but I’ll be damned if that doesn’t stop us from trying.” I think that line is quite nearly a theological statement. Volitionally speaking, how is a gay couple any different from a heterosexual couple that is infertile, post-menopausal, or what have you?

    This is what I mean about the growing influence of personalism. The argument is, I think, that “volitionally speaking” there may be no difference — but that it is still a question of “natural law.” This is where I have the most trouble. It is a law of nature that human beings are not just created heterosexual man and heterosexual woman. Some seem to be created homosexual. That’s the way they were made. Yes, Genesis states that every new human life will be born of an act of love (and so I don’t believe in laboratory conceptions, and yes, I do acknowledge that the growing acceptance of gay unions has often coincided with a growing acceptance of artificial reproductive technologies), but does this mean that every act of love must produce a new human being? I just don’t see (believe me, I’ve tried!) what the difference is between a loving homosexual “marriage” and a loving heterosexual marriage apart from the question of procreation. But again, non-procreative heterosexual marriages are allowed by the Church. That’s what stumps me. None of the other sexual sins you list are based on orientations intrinsic to a person. The question of homosexuality is radically sui generis and cannot, I think, be lumped together with other sexual questions.

    One last point: we have to admit the heavy reliance of all this reasoning on Catholic theology. So my main question is, is gay marriage a *civil,* even if not *religious,* right? We Catholics are against masturbation, but we hardly think it fair for masturbation to be illegal in civil society. Same with something which is in my mind far graver than homosexual erotic relations: adultery. It’s wicked, it’s wrong, but it’s legal, because the state can’t be THAT draconian. (And I’m no libertarian, believe me.) Even if the Church is going to oppose sacraments for homosexual unions, aren’t we obliged to concede that civil unions are a legal right? I can think of one or two paltry reasons that this shouldn’t be the case, but they don’t convince me…

    And I just haven’t read any analyses that depart sufficiently from a single-minded interpretation of Genesis or a retrogressive insistence on some supposed “natural law” to convince me…if you know of any, I’d love to read them!

    Thanks for reading my very long diatribe.
    Very respectfully,

    • Nicholas wrote: “I do accept basically entirely, the Church’s teachings on sexuality — both the spirit and the letter, though especially the spirit”
      Well, if you do you aren’t making it apparent in your reasoning here. Complementarity is a real issue that deserves more of your thought, as well sexual differentiation. The human person is not created simply as an individual and we cannot exist humanly as isolated individuals. From the first moment of life we are social beings who can only be human in communion with others. To be human means to be-in-relation, to be-with. Our humanity is something always profoundly greater, even other, than we are.

      Sexual differentiation highlights this, What and who our real “self” is, is a mystery which is constituted by the mystery of others. Each of us, male or female, must realize the fact that there is another mode and experience of being human which is different from, and not reducible to, one’s own. There is another way of being human which remains inaccessibly mysterious.

      Therefore, no human being can claim to experience or understand the mystery of what it means to be human only from his or her humanity. The real humanity of each person, male or female, is something that points beyond itself to a real other. This is a paradox. Male and female are not simply accidental characteristics of human being; neither are they two different creatures. They are irreducibly different in one humanity.

      This, it seems to me, expresses something of the mystery of God and about our relationship with God. The mystery of the sexually other human is a symbol of the absolute mystery of God’s other-ness and of our relatedness to and transcendence towards God as our final personal wholeness and fulfillment.

      Those who deny the possibility of true bodily communion between the two sexes, reduce marriage to the status of instrumental goods.This denial presupposes a dualism of person (as conscious and desiring self), on the one hand, and body (as instrument of the conscious and desiring self), on the other hand, which is flatly incompatible with this unity.

      None of this Christian (Catholic) Anthropology occurs when you reject this understanding of sex and marriage and say that “Love Makes a Family.” Arguments that true marriage is something other than or broader than the union of two sexually complementary spouses necessarily suppose that the value of sex must be instrumental either to procreation or to pleasure, considered as an end in itself or as a means of expressing affection, tender feelings, etc.

      Thus, critics of traditional norms of marriage and sexuality like yourself say that homosexual sex acts, for example, are indistinguishable from heterosexual acts whenever the motivation for such acts is something other than procreation. That is to say, the sexual acts of same-sex partners are indistinguishable in motivation, meaning, value, and significance from the marital acts of spouses who know that at least one spouse is temporarily or permanently infertile. The argument is that the traditional understanding of marriage is guilty of unfairness in treating sterile persons of opposite sexes as capable of marrying while treating same-sex partners as ineligible to marry.

      To adopt that argument (which you have here: “I just don’t see (believe me, I’ve tried!) what the difference is between a loving homosexual “marriage” and a loving heterosexual marriage apart from the question of procreation.”) rejects vast amounts of real estate in the Church teachings that I have recited above. And it’s not just all obscure theology. This has all great reverberations to the idea of fidelity for example.

      A lot of the above is copy and paste from payingattentiontothesky posts on readings of Genesis and my latest post that has Robert P. George responding to these questions.

      Thank you for your time in responding to the stuff I throw up here. Often enough I am proceeding from one point of dogma that I accept to another so your questions make me rethink where I am. The gay marriage issue lies in a nexus of Christian anthropology, human sexuality and personalism and if you don’t get all three secular liberalism can make you feel heartless and unfair to our fellow man.

      Trust that your Church has fashioned a true loving response to the issue. Learn what it is and learn how to explain it to others and you will be a true Son of the Church.

      In Christ.


      • Thanks, Derek, for responding so generously and charitably.

        You write that we can only be human in communion with others. I agree. One might suggest that what a homosexual person seeks in a relationship with another is precisely this communion; it might be nice if she could choose her sexuality, and choose to love a member of the opposite sex instead (so as to form a “single reproductive principle,” etc.), but this is not how she has been made, and it would compromise her integrity – and her ability to give her whole self – for her to pretend it is.

        That’s what “one” might suggest. It would not be my own first response. Strictly speaking, of course, there are other forms of communion beyond the sexual. That’s why I think you’d agree with me that a celibate priest or widow or widower is not starved of human communion. What I would suggest, myself, is that sexual intercourse is not crucial to our happiness, our thriving, or our understanding of our self. It may be a vocation of some, which is allowed them, but not of everyone. (Naturally, since this train of thought could be used to tell homosexual people to just stop whining about their sexual desires, we need to interrogate not only what is necessary to human flourishing, but also what is allowable. For instance, it is not necessary for a biracial couple to have sex in order for them to flourish as human beings, but this is not a good enough reason for the laws of church and state to prohibit them from doing so — let’s say, within a committed, monogamous marriage — if they choose.)

        You write that “each of us, male or female, must realize the fact that there is another mode and experience of being human which is different from, and not reducible to, one’s own.” I agree. But is this knowledge accessible only through sexual intercourse? Again, one thinks of a priest or religious who would be left in the dark were this the case. I would agree with you that gender essentialism in society is necessary, and that structures like the ban on women’s ordination or on gay parenting can be helpful to upholding a basic essentialist structure. (In this sense I am assuredly not a “secularist” on matters of gender and sexuality.) But the idea that a homosexual person (who, let’s face it, probably understands the “mode of being” of the other gender better than heterosexuals do!) needs an opposite-gender spouse to understand all this seems faulty to me.

        While it is necessary for us to imbibe the influence of both genders, I don’t know that it necessarily has to come from our sexual relationships, which some might claim are unique among relationships (Platonic friendships, familial relationships) in their ability to bring us into contact with the extremity of alterity. I have never had a homosexual erotic experience and so could never say for sure, but people I’ve spoken to who have had such experiences seem to find in them an encounter with the Other which is as powerful as a heterosexual might. And it is difficult for me, as a heterosexual without homosexual urges, to say whether my spiritual attraction to the alterity of women I’ve loved has been because of the gender of their spirituality, or whether it is only my physical sexual orientation – working rightly according to the principles of Darwinian evolution – which has conditioned me to find experiences of love for the Other exclusively among women.

        For opposing radical spiritual alterity to the “mere” alterity of a person’s biological gender, Professor George might accuse me of dualism. Fair enough. Still, as I’ve pointed out before, Jesus’ only explicit teaching about gender is precisely that we shall have none in Heaven. Yes, while on earth we are embodied – we “are bodily persons, not consciousnesses, or minds, or spirits inhabiting and using non-personal bodies.” Modern neurology supports this claim. But we risk a non sequitur: non-dualism might mean that we experience spiritual communion through physical intercourse, but where does it say that we are meant to experience the fullest form of communion only with members of the opposite sex?

        Here is an idea which I will admit is fanciful: Can we say that the orientation of gay erotic love is more eschatological (pointing towards a non-gendered, non-discriminatory Heaven) than incarnational? And, not to slight the incarnational awareness, can we suggest – just as it has been suggested that we need both masculinity and femininity if we are to understand sexual complementarity – that we need both homosexuality and heterosexuality if we are to understand humanity’s metaxical situation?

        Professor George makes some great points. For instance, though I bristle at the implication that any old liberal view of homosexuality opens the floodgates to bigamy, he is right, I think, that there is that risk when advocacy of homosexuality is articulated by a secular rather than a religious spirit. What is bothersome to me about gay marriage is that it redefines marriage not away from “between man and woman” but away from “for the good of the spouses AS WELL AS for the procreation and right raising of children.” I do think that heterosexual marriage is ontologically different from homosexual marriage in terms of its openness to life, and so maybe the role of heterosexual marriage should somehow be privileged. (I like what Raz has to say; Stanley Kurtz also speaks powerfully of society’s need for certain pre-modern taboos.) I am not convinced that this ontological difference means that homosexual unions should not be allowed rights or recognition *at all.*

        Maybe I would argue, against most gay rights advocates, that a homosexual love is in some way wounded…just as an infertile heterosexual couple is in some way “broken,” so too is a homosexual couple. Yet in neither case is it obvious that the inability to procreate results in the futility of that other end of marriage – “the good of the spouses.” George’s linkage of “the single reproductive principle” with “real unity” represents a beautiful ideal, but to claim that the rupture of these two notions constitutes a sin and not just a tragedy requires more than what he’s offered. (In the end, what he’s offered sounds to me like sophistry.)

        Derek, I do trust that the Church has fashioned – or, at least, is fashioning – a true loving response to the issue. There’s no other place than the Church in which I can imagine working these issues out, because her vocabulary is the right one and her frame of reference is the truest truth. But the Church’s understanding of things is always evolving. If we are true students of history, we need to admit as much. Particularly notable, in my view, is this analysis of the Church’s evolving understanding of marriage (the post-script is especially pertinent): http://www.yawningbread.org/apdx_2004/imp-141.htm

        I, too, thank you for your time in responding, and in case it’s not obvious, I’m far from sure where I fall on all of this…you do make me think through so many concepts of which I have, perhaps, only a slight grasp. Thank you. Of course, it’s a lot easier for me to hold forth on dualism and reproductive principles and the like with someone like you than with a gay man or woman whose experiences of love and pain and discrimination are far more concrete than our language is….and we should probably not forget that.


  3. I found the writer of this article to be wholly ignorant of the actual life of a real homosexual.

    The writer of this article seems to be talking about a subject with which he has no acquaintance or understanding.

    Nothing in this article is helpful to the homosexual man. The Catholic Church and this writer espouses ideas that are so crooked and warped in human understanding, they harm those who are homosexual and who are seeking truth since the writer and the Church here obviously do not possess the truth when it comes to homosexuality.

    To make a church of gay men is not the same thing as to make a church of heterosexual adulterers as this writer claims. The assertion itself presumes that gay men will necessarily be attracted to other members of the same sex if they are joined together in a separate church. If the writer and the church were honest and believed that desire is not a sin and that only action on the desire is, then the suspicion that a church of gay men would turn into a swinger’s club is an altogether illogical notion. It condemns the homosexual of sin because it does not really believe desire is not a sin.

    What foolish intolerance this writer’s whole stance is, and if he speaks for the Church, what foolish inconsistency and stupidity lies within it.

    • Charles you have profoundly misread the article and misunderstood its intent. One of the strengths of the Church is to unite sinners of all stripes and diversity and to oppose sub-Churches of LGBT or any other populations who would band together to oppose Church teachings or seek a justification of their own particular brand of sinfulness.

      Nowhere do I find the words “swinger’s club” in Fr. Neuhaus’ writing BTW. “Foolishly intolerant,” “stupid,” “crooked,” “warped:” the truth you defend is the very sinfulness you fail to see and the misery it causes. You have made yourself pitiable and someday you will awaken to the truth you deride here. And why that may cause you despair, let me tell you it is never too late. Thank you for your comment.


      • You deliberately misread my response. But I forgive you. You’re just a hatefilled idiot.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers

%d bloggers like this: