by Paul Scalia
Part 1: Sexuality and Homosexuality (Arlington Catholic Herald, October 6, 2010)
Part 2: The Church's pastoral response (Arlington Catholic Herald, October 13, 2010)
Part 3: The Courage apostolate (Arlington Catholic Herald, October 20, 2010)
Part 4: Fidelity to both love and truth (Arlington Catholic Herald, October 27, 2010)
One of the greatest issues before us now is that of homosexuality. The phenomenon of homosexuality is nothing new. But now we face something completely new in the history of the world: the demand that homosexual relationships be approved as normative and recognized as “marriages.” Such approval would radically change the understanding of marriage and family that has been at the heart of our civilization for millennia. Given not only this threat but also the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the Church’s teaching, we must know the truth about homosexuality.
But first we must review the Church’s teaching on sexuality in general. For the Church does not propose different standards of sexual morality (one heterosexual and another homosexual). Rather, she articulates the truth about human sexuality for all — a truth that is not her exclusive possession but pertains to the nature of man. She bears witness to the natural law, to the design and purpose of human sexuality. The truth is this: Human sexuality has meaning, purpose and design — all discernible by natural reason. It is for something: for procreation and union.
We want our lives (especially the most intimate part of them) to have meaning and purpose. But these come with limits. Consider this in a less controversial context. Eyes and ears have a purpose and design — both physical and spiritual. Physically, they have a particular design that enables us to see and hear. Spiritually, they have a purpose as well: to see reality and to hear the truth; to see others and to hear them. The design brings limits. To disobey the physical design brings pain, perhaps blindness and deafness. To disobey the spiritual purpose brings moral decline — the inability to know the truth and form relationships.
So also with human sexuality. Physically, human sexuality is designed for procreation by the union of man and woman. Biologically it makes sense no other way. Human genitalia have no other purpose or meaning. Their physical design is inexplicable apart from this. Further, the physical is a sign of the spiritual. The physical complementarity of man and woman indicates a deeper, spiritual complementarity. As one writer puts it, one-flesh unity is the body’s language for one-life unity. Human sexuality is designed for the consummation and expression of the one-life unity of a man and woman. The moral norms follow. It is immoral to use one’s sexual faculty in any manner that violates either procreation or union.
This review is important because the current demand to approve the homosexual lifestyle does not exist in a vacuum. It must be seen within the broader context of sexual immorality. The truth about human sexuality has been violated for decades by widespread contraception, adultery, fornication, divorce, pornography, etc. Yes, these things have always existed. But in recent decades they have been approved and thus have grown. This disregard for the truth about human sexuality in heterosexual relations logically prompts the question why homosexual relations should be wrong. If by contraception heterosexual sex can be closed to life and frustrate spousal union, then what makes it special? Why only a man and a woman? And if heterosexuals can divorce and remarry with such frequency, then what is so special about marriage?
Thus the first step in addressing the challenge of homosexuality is to rededicate oneself to the full truth of human sexuality as the Church has always taught it.
As regards homosexuality, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2357—59) identifies three distinct levels in the Church’s teaching: the act, the inclination and the person. It is essential to maintain these distinctions in order to respond charitably and faithfully to the issue.
First, homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. The word disordered means that such acts fail to observe the design and purpose of human sexuality. They lack the natural ordering to procreation. They also lack the complementarity necessary to achieve the union of two persons in one flesh. The word intrinsically means that the disorder is in the nature of the acts themselves. They are always and at all times immoral. No situation, circumstance or affection can make them moral. Some accuse the Church of saying that homosexual persons are intrinsically disordered. The Church has never said any such thing. As we will see, that error comes only from those who reduce personal identity to sexual activity.
Second, the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered. Same-sex attractions, which a person may experience in varying degrees, tend toward a use of sexuality contrary to its twofold purpose. This is not a moral statement insofar as a person who experiences homosexual inclinations is not morally culpable for such feelings. Feelings in themselves are morally neutral. They become morally charged (for virtue or vice) only when we act on them. The inclinations themselves are not a sin. Nevertheless, they incline individuals to unchaste actions and therefore are disordered.
Finally, and most importantly, the person. The human person is always a good and always to be respected — indeed, loved. The person — no matter his attractions — is a child of God, bears the likeness of God and is redeemed by the blood of Christ. Those with same-sex attractions are not an exception to this. They are called to chastity, to holiness — to heaven. They experience a particular struggle, and at times a deeply painful one. But that does not undermine their dignity as persons.
We must always distinguish the person from the attractions. Most errors in this area come from the reduction of the person to the attractions: to say, “A person who has homosexual attractions must be homosexual.” This reduces the human person to the sum total of his sexual inclinations. Two extremes make this error. On one extreme the homosexual culture contends that those with same-sex attractions are “gay” or “lesbian” and therefore ought to live the lifestyle — that they harm themselves by not acting out. On the other extreme are those who contend that those with same-sex attractions are gay or lesbian and therefore are somehow hated by God. Caught between these two extremes is the person himself — precisely the one who needs to be helped.
Such is the Church’s teaching. Let me add one more thing. For the last six years I have run a group called Courage — a spiritual support group to help those with same-sex attractions live chaste lives. The truly courageous men and women who come to our meetings find the teaching articulated above to be tremendously freeing. It frees them from a confined and limited identity and restores their deeper human dignity. Indeed, the Church’s teaching resonates with the sense of truth within their hearts. Let us not be ashamed of the Church’s teaching but see in it a vindication of the person’s dignity and lofty, if difficult, calling.
Many myths surround the issue of homosexuality. Some of them arise from ignorance, some from misguided compassion, and some from the misinformation and propaganda of the radical homosexual community. Last week we addressed one of the greatest myths — namely, that the Catholic Church condemns people with homosexual attractions. This is a calumny against the Church. The truth is that the Catholic Church emphasizes the intrinsic dignity of each and every person, and refuses to restrict a person’s identity to the sum total of his sexual attractions.
Another myth: Homosexuality is genetic. This is found in the claim, “I was born this way.” Now, some may sincerely feel that way. But a feeling, no matter how profound, does not prove an innate condition. Others, unfortunately, will use this mistaken belief for political gain. They propagate this myth to gain approval for the homosexual lifestyle by claiming that, since it is genetic, it must be “natural” and therefore acceptable. Their argument fails on several counts.
First, no scientific research has established that homosexuality is genetic. Contrary to popular belief, there is no “gay gene” — nor a hormonal or chromosomal explanation. Science tells us only that certain biological factors (e.g. temperament) can predispose someone to homosexual attractions. But that is a far cry from saying that people are “born that way.” The origin of homosexual inclinations is too complex to reduce to one cause, but certain patterns do emerge among those with same-sex attractions: sexual trauma, emotional wounds, poor father or mother relationships, poor body image, etc.
Second, it does not follow that if homosexual attractions were genetic then homosexual behavior would be morally acceptable. The existence of something in nature does not exempt us from moral responsibility. Someone who has inherited a genetic disease (e.g. hemophilia) cannot claim that, since he was born that way, he can therefore do whatever he wants. Rather, his inherited condition obliges a certain way of life that can be inconvenient. If alcoholism were genetic (as some suggest it is), we would not conclude that those “born that way” could drink whatever they want. Disorders exist in nature and they place crosses on us as we strive to live authentic human lives.
Another myth: sexual orientations. Although our culture speaks about various “orientations,” there is really only one: heterosexual. This is simply another way of expressing the truth that human sexuality is ordered and designed for a purpose. It is oriented toward heterosexual union for procreation and marital bonding. Anything apart from that is a dis-orientation — meaning it is not oriented to the proper purposes of sexuality.
Further, once we lose sight of the one orientation of human sexuality, we simply create confusion. We do not end up with two orientations but sexual chaos. And so now we have a seemingly endless proliferation of “orientations”: gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, transgendered, transsexual, queer, questioning, etc. Again, the rejection of the truth about sexuality has not created freedom but dissolution and disorder.
Another myth: People cannot change. This myth is the necessary consequence of the mistaken belief that people are “born that way.” In many cases the homosexual inclinations are so powerful and deep-seated that an individual may not be able to understand that they do not define him as a person. He may not be able to understand himself in any other way. Nevertheless, research and experience indicate that, with effort and dedication, a person can achieve a greater or lesser degree of freedom from the attractions and at times even the development of heterosexual attractions. The National Association for Reparative Therapy (NARTH), a group of psychologists, teachers, and counselors provides journals, whitepapers and other educational materials for those seeking to move away from homosexual attractions. For more information, visit narth.com.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Nonsense. This old phrase may have had the original purpose of keeping children from being too sensitive to name-calling. But fundamentally it is false. We all know that words can be extraordinarily hurtful. Or, rather, used in a hurtful manner. Words have meaning and therefore power. No one likes to be called a hypocrite, for example, precisely because it hurts — or angers — to be thought of that way.
We should keep this truth in mind when considering the language used regarding the issue of homosexuality. Our use of certain words and terms can indeed cause pain. Now, this does not mean that we fail to speak the truth out of fear of offending. Some people will take offense simply in the truth. This means, rather, that in speaking the truth we avoid terms that hurt people unnecessarily.
For example, in high school the words “gay” and “fag” are cast about carelessly and, worse, as insults. Whether the speaker intends to or not, he can do great harm to a person who struggles with same-sex attractions. Name-calling and simple carelessness can solidify in the hearer’s mind the mistaken thought that his same-sex attractions define him. They can increase his sense of isolation, of being trapped, and of shame. Simple human courtesy should keep us from name-calling — all the more so should Christian charity.
As regards language we should keep another phrase in mind: All social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering. Msgr. William Smith, moral theologian at Dunwoodie Seminary for years, coined this phrase. And he was dead on. We see this truth already in the abortion debate. The promoters of abortion on demand coined the phrase pro-choice to cloak the slaughter of the unborn under the very palatable concept of choice. So also the promoters of euthanasia talk about end of life choices and compassion in dying.
A similar phenomenon is at play as regards the issue of homosexuality. We must recognize that particular words that in some quarters are innocent and perhaps years ago were benign now carry a certain political and/or cultural meaning. Gay and lesbian, for example, are politically charged terms indicating not simply attractions but a particular philosophy and way of life. Orientation, as we saw last week, is also charged with political meaning because it conveys that sexuality has no clear purpose and can be used any way we desire.
Some years ago Vatican documents used the term homosexual person. The Church has since backed away from that term — once again because it implies that the person is defined by the attraction. The word person cannot be modified by homosexual for the simple reason that a human person cannot be redefined by sexual attractions.
In discussing homosexuality we must therefore strive for precision in terms. This may be at the cost of linguistic convenience. Popular culture and ease of speech make the less accurate words more attractive. Nevertheless, it is better to speak of same-sex attractions, homosexual inclinations or tendencies. Most of all, we should avoid words and phrases that identify the person with the inclination. It is not enough for us to speak the truth, we must do so in a manner worthy of the truth — in a manner that accurately conveys the truth and respects the hearts of others.
We must know the doctrine and first principles in order to address this issue accurately, always keeping in mind that doctrinal and moral truth is necessary for love. We must speak the truth in love, as St. Paul the Apostle says (cf. Eph 4:15). Nevertheless, to conclude this series I would like to give a more personal reflection on the basis of my almost six years of serving as chaplain for Courage in the Arlington Diocese.
First, a little background. Courage is a support group for men and women with same-sex attractions. The members meet weekly in strict confidence to share their thoughts, experiences and struggles, and by so doing to give and receive needed support. Members of Courage dedicate themselves to the goals of chastity, spiritual growth, fellowship, support and good example.
Courage is aptly named. The world offers two extremes in response to the issue of homosexuality. One extreme is love without truth. That is, to "love" the person by approving whatever lifestyle he may choose. Thus, homosexual activities are approved in the name of love. The other extreme is truth without love – that is, to run roughshod over persons in the articulation and pursuit of the truth. Thus true doctrine is proclaimed, but the person is left without help. Men and women with same-sex attractions therefore find themselves caught between the extremes of a false love and a loveless truth. One side condemns them to a life of immoral behavior, the other to cold doctrine. It takes courage to resist both the depravity of the first and the discouragement of the second.
Courage follows the words of Pope Paul VI: "To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls" (Humanae Vitae). Love for the truth and love for the person are not in competition or conflict. The human heart is made for the truth, and the Church possesses the fullness of truth about the person. So it is not enough for the Church to teach against homosexual activity. She must also provide assistance to those who have same-sex attractions – so that they can live the truth and beauty of the Church's teaching. Courage strives to affirm both the dignity of the person and the full truth of human sexuality.
Unfortunately, some see Catholic truth in conflict with the human person. So they try to help without speaking the truth – and thus out of misguided compassion they only enable destructive behavior. There have been and, unfortunately, still are other groups that claim to be Catholic and claim to "help" people with same-sex attractions. But such groups either dilute the Church's teaching or remain silent about it. They practice what then-Cardinal Ratzinger called a "studied ambiguity" about the Church's teaching. Dignity and New Ways were two such groups and some years ago were officially condemned by the Church. They in no way represent the Church.
So, Courage has really a very simple purpose: to help men and women with same-sex attractions live the truth of human sexuality. We call that chastity. Courage has full confidence both in the Church's teaching and that it can be lived joyfully. Anyone with same-sex attractions who desires to live chastity and strive for holiness is welcome.
Courage has chapters in many cities (not enough, in my opinion) throughout the nation and the world. Each chapter typically has a priest chaplain and follows the same general format at its meetings: prayers (usually the rosary), the reading of the goals of Courage, a reflection, and time for discussion and sharing. Our chapter meets weekly and up until two years ago I was the priest present almost every week. Now, although I still serve as the official chaplain, several other priests from the diocese also assist. Allow me to share some of the blessings I have received in this work.
First, to witness the freeing power of the truth. Now, we know in principle that the truth sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32). But to see this in action is something entirely different. Many Courage members have experienced the freedom of knowing, first of all, that their struggles are not without reason. When they encounter the Church's teaching on homosexual attractions as a disorder they have responded, "Yes, that is true. That is what I have felt." As one member said to me, "I have felt this disorder for years. It was just great to hear someone speak honestly about it." Indeed, it is freeing to hear someone else confirm that your struggle is genuine and real.
Another member wrote the following:
"I came to Courage at a time in my life when my struggles had led me to the breaking point. I found myself praying for death ... and wishing that I had never been born. I begged God with all of my being to lift this burden from me. I felt such immense shame. … In time, through prayer and support, I have come to realize that this very unique struggle has made me dependent on God's unconditional love. I am learning to truly accept myself and others who share this immense cross, which is slowly and steadily freeing me from the shackles of self-hatred and judgment. The comfort which I have derived from being not only accepted but truly understood is a gift beyond any imaginable. My prayer now is not to have this cup pass from me, but to love the way God intends, instead of the way that I wanted. I ask for the grace to unite my will with His, and to let my light shine forth in reflection of His love. I have hope again that I may indeed one day be fit for eternal glory in God."
Members also find the freedom of knowing that their struggles are not without purpose: that there is hope. Many members thought for years that there could be no relief, no way out. Once they believed they must either live in secret shame or come out of the closet – neither of which brings peace. Now they find the freeing truth that chastity is possible. This truth brings hope: that they are able to live chastity even with the same-sex attractions. And although Courage does not require its members to pursue reparative therapy (i.e., the reduction of homosexual attractions and cultivation of heterosexual attractions through psychological or psychiatric counseling or treatment), it is certainly supportive of those who seek it.
Second, I have discovered that so little of this issue actually has to do with sex. The homosexual community would have us believe that the only difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality is sexual practice. But that is not true. Sexuality always engages more than just the body; it engages the soul as well. So, more often than not the discussions at a Courage meeting center on the deeper issues that give rise to or accompany same-sex attractions: for example, lack of masculine/feminine identity, family wounds, isolation, anger, addictions and shame. (In this context it is worth noting that the homosexual lifestyle is characterized by higher rates of alcohol and drug addiction, suicide and depression – even as our surrounding culture has grown more approving of it.)
Third, the importance of friendship and fellowship. More than once I have seen relief and peace on a newcomer's face as he learns that he does not struggle alone, that he finally has people he can speak with about his troubles. The sharing and fellowship at a meeting produces such relief.
Finally, I have gained a great admiration for the men and women in Courage. There would be nothing easier for them than to surrender to society's siren song and live the homosexual lifestyle. But they have the spiritual honesty to acknowledge that that would provide only a false and ephemeral peace. They have the spiritual courage to look at their sins, wounds and struggles. They also appreciate more than most the importance of the Church's doctrines and sacraments.
The Courage apostolate, a support group for those with same-sex attractions, has a corresponding support group called Encourage — for the parents, siblings, children, and other relatives and friends of persons who have same-sex attractions. People with relatives and friends in the homosexual lifestyle find themselves trapped between two extremes: on one side, those who insist on fidelity to Church teaching – to the exclusion or condemnation of persons in the lifestyle; on the other side, those who insist on "compassion" or "love" for persons in the lifestyle – to the exclusion or condemnation of the truth. They sacrifice either truth out of love for a person, or the person out of love for the truth.
Encourage seeks to help people live between these extremes – that is, to maintain love for both the truth and the person. Indeed, it would be better to say that they live both extremes – holding both complete fidelity to the truth about sexuality and uncompromising love for the person. This image of holding both extremes brings out starkly what a difficult place it is to be. Those who find themselves there will feel like Our Lord, whose hands were stretched to two extremes. Encourage provides the support needed to live both extremes without growing discouraged, despondent, bitter or hardened.
This brings up in a more general way the issue of how to respond to those who "come out of the closet" and desire our approval of the lifestyle they have chosen. How do we continue to love them without approving their lifestyle? Do we still welcome the person home? What if they have a partner? Can the partner stay with us? Do we meet their partner? Do we go to the wedding? Do we celebrate their adoption of children? And so on.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. As is always the case in moral acting, we must begin from first principles and proceed according to prudence. In this case, the most important principles are the truth about human sexuality and the truth about the person. We want to avoid any words or actions that can be reasonably construed as giving approval to the homosexual lifestyle by treating the persons as a couple (therefore having a partner visit overnight, or going to a wedding or celebrating an adoption is ill advised). At the same time, we want to make every effort to communicate our love for the person (so we keep contact and open lines of communication and welcome them home).
The greatest difficulty arises from the fact that those in the homosexual lifestyle have chosen to equate themselves with their sexual attractions – and insist that we do the same. But we cannot. To accept a person's self-identification as homosexual does a disservice to that person, whether he realizes it or not. To approve a person's embrace of the homosexual lifestyle in fact hurts the person because the lifestyle does grave harm to him both spiritually and physically.
At the heart of all these issues is the unity of truth and love. In a fallen world, we find these two set at odds. But they need not be. They should not be. Truth without love can be hostility, and love without the truth is sentimentality. We must in all things – and especially in this most controversial issue – maintain fidelity to the truth and love for the person. Be confident that truth finds its most accurate expression in love – and the best way to love is in the truth.
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Fr. Paul Scalia is Pastor at Saint John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia and chaplain of Courage, a support group for those with same-sex attractions. He received a Master of Arts degree from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in Rome in 1996 and was ordained a Priest for the Diocese of Arlington the same year. Fr. Scalia has published articles in various periodicals including This Rock, First Things, Religion and Liberty, Adoremus Bulletin, and Human Life Review, and is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Fenwick Review.
© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010
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