Homosexuality and the Church


The recent Vatican decision concerning Father Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick stopping their work with homosexual persons has caused some publicity in the Post. I think that the Church's position was not well represented. The media makes it seem like the Church hates homosexuals. Could you please address this issue in one of your columns?

Before addressing the recent Vatican decision and the moral issue of the practice of homosexuality, we must first review some basic truth principles: First, each of us, whether male or female, is made in God's image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). We must be ever mindful of the inherent dignity of each person, a dignity heightened by the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Second, in accord with God's plan, the union of man and woman as husband and wife in marriage is a sacred covenant of life and love (Genesis 1:28, Matthew 19:3ff); the complementarity of the sexes reflects the inner unity of the Creator (Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, #4). Third, the conjugal expression of love in marriage is both unitive and procreative: a sacred symbol of the two who have become one flesh and a sacred expression which may bring human life into this world.

Given these principles, the practice of homosexuality — "relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex" (Catechism, #2357) — is considered "intrinsically disordered" (Declaration on Certain Problems of Sexual Ethics, #8). An "intrinsically disordered" act defies both the goodness of God's design for how life ought to be lived and the dignity proper to each person. Please note that a distinction is made between the homosexual condition or tendency and the practice of homosexuality; the practice or act is what falls into the realm of sin.

Why does the Church preach that the practice of homosexuality is a sin? The answer is first of all based on the revelation found in Sacred Scripture. In Genesis, we find the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (18:16-19:29), a place where "their sin was so grave" (18:20); here, Lot has to protect his two male visitors (not knowing they were angels of the Lord) from the townsmen who desired "intimacies" with them. St. Paul also condemned the practice of homosexuality: "God delivered them up in their lusts to unclean practices; they engaged in the mutual degradation of their bodies, these men who exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . . God therefore delivered them up to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and the men gave up natural intercourse with women and burned with lust for one another. Men did shameful things with men, and thus received in their own persons the penalty for their perversity" (Romans 1:24-29). In other letters, he also condemns the acts of "sexual perverts" (I Corinthians 6:10 and I Timothy 1:10).

Sadly, some individuals would like to contort these passages to say they really do not condemn the practice of homosexuality but rather some other problem; such a reading is erroneous and defies the consistent teaching of the Church, as found even in first century documents such as the Didache and Letter of St. Clement to the Corinthians.

While these explicit condemnations exist, the teaching of Sacred Scripture which extols the sanctity of marriage between male and female as husband and wife and their marital love clearly provides the foundation for prohibiting the homosexual action. Secondly, therefore, the answer is based on the principles established at the outset of this article. An homosexual union defies the union of husband and wife as designed by God. Such a union cannot capture the symbolism of the two — male and female — complementing each other and becoming one flesh: In such a union the participants cannot be God's instruments in bringing human life into this world through the normal act of marriage. Even using our reason alone, without any reference to divine revelation, we would have to conclude that the practice of homosexuality is contrary to the natural law.

Some individuals, though, try to exonerate or to justify homosexual activity by saying that homosexuals do not choose their condition or that their condition is due to biological factors. Granted, homosexuals may not willfully choose their condition. Some psychiatrists and psychologists attribute homosexuality to faulty education, bad example, family environment, or a lack of normal sexual development; in these instances, proper treatment may help the person.

On the other hand, other researchers assert that homosexuality is a permanent condition due to biological differences. For, instance, Dr. Simon LeVay has published research promoting such a stance. Such evidence is still considered by the academic community as being inconclusive, and Dr. LeVay's findings have never been replicated in other studies..

Keep in mind that many psychiatrists and psychologists do think that the disposition of homosexuality can be treated through therapy. Dr. Charles Socarides, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and several colleagues addressed this issue in an editorial printed in the Wall Street Journal (1998). Dr. Socarides wrote, "Every day young men seek help because they are experiencing an unwanted sexual attraction to other men, and are told that their condition is untreatable.... How would this man and his family feel when they discovered years later that numerous therapeutic approaches have been available for his specific problem for more than 60 years? What would be his reaction when informed that, although none of these approaches guaranteed results and most required a long period of treatment, a patient who was willing to follow a proven treatment regime had a good chance of being free from this condition?"

The authors later cite that studies indicate that 25-50 percent of those seeking treatment will experience significant improvement in their condition. Sadly, they also note that the treatments available are often discounted, ridiculed, or withheld because of today's political climate.

Nevertheless, no matter what the etiology of homosexuality may be, the act is still objectively wrong. Granted, the personal culpability may be diminished because of what causes the homosexuality and thereby how freely a person wills the action. Nevertheless, please note that in no way can we justify the homosexual action or deem it a good action; however, the degree of culpability must always be judged "prudently" (Declaration on Certain Problems of Sexual Ethics, #8).




Saunders, Rev. William. "Homosexuality and the Church." Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.


Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald

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