From time to time I find myself attending an education workshop outside of my school. In one of the rooms where these workshops are held there’s a poster of a cute baby with the slogan Homosexuality is not a choice. Each time I’m in the room I’m sorely tempted to add a post-it note stating: No, but homosexual acts are! I get the marketing behind the poster – who doesn’t love babies, and if you’re passing judgement against homosexuals, then you’re passing judgement against this innocent. So, according to this poster, if I’m against homosexual activity, I must also be anti-baby.
What bothers me most about the whole thing is that I’ll be (and have been) shouted down as judgmental if I try to explain the Catholic Church’s position regarding homosexuality, and those on the other side won’t even take the time to try to understand Catholic teaching. Unfortunately for the dialogue, from everything I’ve read, the Catholic Church is NOT homophobic.
In today’s information age, in fact, there really is no excuse not to know the counterpoint to your argument to be able to formulate a strong foundation for your own. For many, however, the urge is to taint the Catholic Church as homophobic without looking at exactly what the Catholic Church teaches with regards to homosexuals and homosexuality. A quick search of an online catechism tells us forthrightly that the Catholic teaching on homosexuals is as follows:
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. (CCC 2358)
In a more cotemporary language, the YOUCAT restates this teaching:
God created man as male and female and destined them for each other in a bodily way as well. The Church accepts without reservation those who experience homosexual feelings. They (persons who experience homosexual feelings) should not be unjustly discriminated against because of that. At the same time, the Church declares that all homosexual relations I any form are contrary to the order of creation. (YOUCAT 415)
In a similar vein, in its document Respecting Difference, written to deal with bullying in Ontario schools (and particularly homophobia), the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association states:
The Roman Catholic faith views all people as children of God. Thus, respect is due to everyone irrespective of their race, gender, age, stage of development, disability, sexual orientation (same-sex or opposite-sex attraction), gender identity, class or religion. The Catholic faith stands resolutely against injustice including injustice in interpersonal relationships such as those typified by bullying. The scourge of bullying in education and in society must be resisted in Catholic schools who see bullying as completely unacceptable. (Respecting Difference, p. 7)
I find it hard to believe that there can be any misinterpretation from any of these 3 quotes. People of a same-sex attraction or homosexual feelings are to be loved and cared for – valued for the talents that they bring to society.
What Respecting Difference states so well with regards to Catholic teaching and the differentiation between homosexuals and homosexual activity is this:
Respecting difference does not mean insisting that another person share our views. Being “tolerant” of another person does not mean accepting that what he or she says is correct or immune from moral evaluation and criticism. (Respecting Difference, p. 5)
So, although we are called to be loving and tolerant of homosexuals, inviting them into our prayer community, what the Catholic Church cannot be tolerant of (and nor should the rest of society) is the acceptance of homosexual activity as a societal norm. When then Canadian Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau argued his case to decriminalize homosexual activity in 1967 he famously stated, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” (CBC interview – Dec. 21, 1967) In many ways I would argue to the contrary, that the bedrooms of the nation should not be foisted upon the state – which seems to be exactly what is happening these days.
These teachings against homosexual activity are not something the Catholic Church or the Pope have dreamt up recently as a reaction to a hostile interest group. This teaching goes back over 2,000 years of developing sacred tradition and is strongly rooted in sacred scripture:
So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”(Gen 1:27-28)
As well as,
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Lev 18:22)
To be certain, the words found in both scripture and the Catechism – abomination, deviant and disordered - can seem very harsh, especially if when we think of people we love who have homosexual feelings – colleagues, friends and family. What tends to be forgotten, however, is that these words are being used to describe the actions and not the person. In using such language to describe homosexual activities, the Church isn’t trying to attack individuals personally, but rather actions that are detrimental to the common good of humanity, and with good reason.
Male and female he created them. Both men and women are created in the image of God, and both have an important role to play in creation. Spiritually and physically men and women were created to compliment each other for the furthering of God’s Kingdom, through the propagation of humanity, and their unique instruction and witness born within the family. Imagine for a moment that all marital unions were of a homosexual nature; what would happen to the human race within a generation? and if they did have children, how would these families find a nurturing balance with the complimentary tendencies of both male and female missing from their family structure (the difficulties of which are documented here). It’s in defense of this natural state of humanity that the Catholic Church defies the individualistic urges of a minority in support of the true notion of family being one man and one woman to the exclusion of homosexual activity.
There is a reason why lying with a male as with a woman is an abomination, not only is it unnatural in that it does not lead to the procreation of humanity, it is also medically detrimental to those who partake in such homosexual activities. As I wrote above, male and female are created complimentary to each other, their bodies fashioned for the divine call to procreation. On the other hand, it is a simple fact of nature that certain body parts were not created to receive other body parts, the physically damaging effects of such homosexual activity being well documented in the medical community. It’s in keeping this in mind that the Catholic Church can state with certainty:
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. (CCC 2357)
Advocates of homosexuality will cry foul that Catholic teachings are denying them the right to act upon natural and intrinsic tendencies which they were born with. To this I would counter argue that the Church calls us all to practice our sexuality with the creative restraint with which God intends it. As heterosexuals, if we were all to act upon our base urges to procreate as much as possible with as many partners as possible outside of the singular male and female union created by God, we too would run many of the health risks faced by active homosexuals. As well, wouldn’t others dare to judge in such a role, pushing us to the margins of society.
We are all called to carry our sexual crosses. Are some more difficult to bear than others – yes, but this is the beauty of the creation of unique individuals in the image of God. And this is why the Catholic Church can give the following directions with regards to homosexuals (yet much the same direction could be given to heterosexuals):
Homosexual 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. (CCC 2359)
If we look at all of these Catholic teachings (CCC 2357-2359, YOUCAT 415 and Respecting Difference to name just a few), then how can we not see that the Catholic Church is not homophobic, but rather a church that calls all humanity to itself with prayers of support and guidance.
As members of humanity we are all sinners in need of God’s saving grace. We are fortunate as Catholic Christians, regardless of race, heritage or sexual orientation, to be able to receive God’s saving grace through the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession).