Homosexuality: 1. The Disorder Question
This is one of those blog entries one hates to write. I received an email yesterday (in response to The Lessons of the Scandal: Hypocrisy and Discipline) which began: “I am a practicing Catholic. I do not believe that homosexuality is a ‘disordered state’. Many gay people have the sexuality they were born with. It does not reflect their morals, nor does it reflect their ‘normality’ in terms of sexuality.”
The author went on to argue that whether someone is sexually “disordered” is “not determined by whether they are gay or not but by whether they, for example, are addicted to porn, or perhaps they are promiscuous, or they abuse or use others for their sexual gratification.”
There was a bare possibility that the correspondent was confusing “disordered” with “sinful”, so I responded accordingly. I noted that, because we are fallen, we are afflicted by all kinds of disorders that are not of our own making—physical, mental, emotional, sexual, you name it. In Catholic parlance, what determines whether something is naturally disordered is whether or not it is operating according to its proper end, whether it is properly ordered to its natural purpose. If it is not, we call it “disordered”. Inclinations with respect to any of our faculties which make us want to use those faculties in a manner inconsistent with their proper end are not sinful; they simply reflect our own disorder, our lack of perfect integrity.
But such inclinations often become significant temptations, and if we proceed to indulge an inclination to act in a manner inconsistent with the relevant proper ends, we do in fact sin. Thus, I reminded the correspondent that the Church does not hold a homosexual inclination to be sinful—it is merely disordered—but the Church does regard homosexual activity as sinful, in keeping with the clear witness of Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium.
I think it is important to recognize the distinctions that both common sense and the Church make in these matters. One can argue about whether our disorders are the result of our genes, our environment or (as they develop over time) our perverse wills—very likely all three are frequently in play—but it seems clear that there are many disorders—including most of our initial disordered inclinations—that we are not responsible for, and for which we bear no blame. And again, as fallen beings, we are a mightily disordered lot. We experience either occasional or prolonged desires and attractions for all kinds of things that are contrary to reason, contrary to any careful analysis of how our faculties really ought to be used, contrary, that is, to right order.
Now our sexual instincts are clearly part of a larger natural system of sexuality oriented toward reproduction. Therefore, these instincts and attractions are properly ordered when they are consistent with their reproductive purpose, and they are disordered when they point toward things and actions which are divorced from this purpose. In addition, within this reproductive context, sexual instincts and inclinations contribute to a special kind of fruitful love between a man and a woman, a love that, insofar as it grows and stabilizes, provides the ideal context for the nurture of the children engendered through the reproductive character of our sexual faculties.
It follows, as the Church teaches, that any inclinations which divorce from sexuality either its reproductive or its unitive elements are in fact disordered. Same-sex attraction, no matter how “unitive” it appears on an emotional level, is necessarily incapable of full natural unity (what the Judeo-Christian tradition calls “two in one flesh” unity), and it is also necessarily divorced from reproduction. In fact, only the procreated child perfectly represents both the reproductive and the unitive ends of human sexuality. Therefore, homosexual inclinations are always disordered. Perhaps it is unnecessary to point out that part of what it means to be human is to recognize, control and redirect our disordered inclinations so that we can live ever more integrated lives.
A final word before I proceed to a second entry on this same correspondence. If we are to take the argument seriously that whether our sexual inclinations are disordered cannot be determined by “whether they are gay or not”, then we must suppose that the object of an inclination cannot make that inclination disordered. That this is false can be seen easily by reflecting on the not uncommon desire to thrust one’s hand into a fire or to throw one’s body into the Niagara River just above the Falls. But I really do hope it will suffice here simply to quote the latest sex education program recently introduced into third-grade classrooms in Cordoba, Spain: “Nature has given us sex so we can use it with another girl, with a boy, or with an animal.”
Soon our culture may be unable to detect what is disordered even about this, which brings me to my next point.
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Posted by: jplaunder1846 -
Apr. 17, 2010 6:37 AM ET USA
Thank you for your clear exposition of the rational thinking that is at the centre of our faith, even if it fluffed occasionally and not adhered to by some of the hierarchy, viz; the terrible impact of the sex abuse scandal not only on the victims of that abuse but secondary, third impact victims such as the souls of those whose faith is destroyed, and the morale harm that it has caused the great majority of innocent priests.