Link back to index.html
Are homosexuals welcome in the Catholic Church?
Father Albert Renckens
(CatholicNews---Sunday January 7, 2007)
Some Catholic homosexuals in Singapore have the impression that they are not welcome in our church and, consequently, they have left us for some other church, Father Albert Renckens writes. Is their impression wrong or are homosexuals not welcome indeed? Here is part one of a two-part deeply felt personal reflection by Father Renckens on the treatment of homosexuals in the church.
THIS QUESTION LOOKS to me a bit strange. What would you think of the question "Are people taller than six feet welcome in the Catholic Church?" Does the question not suggest that there may be something wrong with people taller than six feet, so that we are questioning whether or not they belong to us? So does the question about homosexuals /span> not imply the same presumption?
Unfortunately some Catholic homosexuals in Singapore do have the impression that they are not welcome in our church and consequently they have left us for some other church. Is their impression wrong or aree homosexuals not welcome indeed? Are we right in rejecting them or are we guilty of pushing these people out of the church due to our ignorance? This is the reason for this article.
To answer the question "Is there something wrong with homosexual people?" we should ask first: "What are actually homosexual people?"
Homosexuals are human beings with a different sexual orientation from the majority. Most people (about 90-95 percent) are heterosexuals; that means they are sexually interested in and attracted to humans of the opposite (hetero) gender (sex). Homosexuals (5-10 percent of people) are humans who are sexually inclined towards people of the same (homo) gender (sex). Women of this kind are sometimes called lesbians.
What is in the sexual nature of heterosexuals (or straight people)---to be attracted to, to admire, tto fall in love with, to hold hands, to hold each other, to dance with, to be in each other's company, to kiss each other, to have the desire to be one body; all these with somebody of the opposite sex---is also in the nature of homosexuals (or gays, as they are sometimes called), but with people of their own sex.
Heterosexuals find this natural inclination of homosexuals hard to understand and may even see itt as repugnant. But is it wrong for Christians to have a homosexual orientation?
In this first part we do not question the behaviour of homosexuals which, as with behaviour of people taller than six feet, can be good or bad; that will be the content of the second article.
Now we talk about these people as they are, as a group. Is it wrong to have this orientation?
Let me first clarify some aspects of being homosexual:
1. Belonging to any minority group is never easy in society, as you are easily avoided or misunderstood and will anyhow not be that popular.
2. Where homosexuals are concerned, they are easily misunderstood because other people do not expect and cannot imagine them to be homosexual. Due to a taboo in the past, most parents have never been prepared to expect that one of their children might be homosexual. On the contrary they expect their children to get married and they hope to be grandparents. As a result when they are told by their child that she or he is homosexual, they feel disappointed and have difficulty accepting it. They advise such a child to get over it, to try to change
3. As a result many homosexuals wait a long time before "coming out". This means that they have to hide their true identity from their loved ones, which psychologically can be damaging and make them feel lonely during their younger years.
4. Homosexuals have not made themselves what they are. It is also not their choice to be different. They find themselves to be homosexual in the same way people find themselves female, or Chinese, or short, or shortsighted. So, to ask them to change is a sign of ignorance. It is like asking somebody who is Chinese to be Indian instead.
5. It is true that some heterosexuals do get involved in homosexual activities due to circumstances (living conditions, sleeping accommodation, peer pressure, fear, loneliness), and can even get used and attached to it. This way they may get confused about themselves and certainly need help to rediscover their true identity, which was not changed but only obscured by their homosexual experiences. The same can happen to homosexual.
6. One of the consequences of being homosexual is that you are unable to enter into a valid marriage, as you cannot promise to be a loving sexual partner to somebody of the opposite sex. As a matter of fact, quite a few homosexuals do get married, but that happens out of ignorance about themselves, the desire to change, parental and social pressure, business or job interest, social status, etc.
7. Homosexuals, however, are able to enter into a permanent relationship of love and care with a partner of their own sex. In such a homosexual relationship there is a kind of similarity with marriage, as one partner is more the male type and the other the female type. As such they can divide the responsibilities: Both can be working outside, or one works outside while the other is part-time or full-time homemaker.
8. This kind of stable homosexual relationship is, of course, much better than loose contacts. It is in no way an alternative to or an undermining of the marriage relationship (as it is often stated) because it is only open to homosexuals who are anyhow unable to enter into marriage. In many countries this relationship can be legally regulated.
9. However good this homosexual relationship may be, the "couple" will suffer for not having children of their own (though in some countries they are allowed to adopt them). This loss is sometimes partly compensated by their job or involvement in social or church work. Homosexuals, being different, sometimes have special gifts that heterosexuals don't have: Because of the special mixture of male-female elements in them, they are often very dedicated and good at specific jobs (as teachers, nurses, artists, fashion designers, hairdressers, etc) and they are also often very religious (and keen to serve the church).
After all this do we still have to ask the question, "What is wrong with being a homosexual?" Is the orientation itself wrong? I refer now to the present official teaching of the Catholic Church. Among other things it says:
1. All people are asked to get beyond the superficial identities of being "heterosexual" or "homosexual" and contemplate one's fundamental identity as a creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.
2. "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." (Refer "The Homosexual Person" by J. F. Harvey, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1987, p.16-23)
The first point stresses rightly that all discrimination is wrong: All people, without distinction or condition, are loved by God as they are.
The first line of point 2 is very important: It is not a sin and you are not less loved by God when you are homosexual.
The rest of point 2, however, I fail to understand. The term "objective disorder" is clearly based on the Thomistic philosophy of human nature from the 13th century. I hope that in future documents the homosexual orientation will be understood as a "variant" or "diversity" of our human condition.
For now there is enough to chew on. In our next article we will write about what the church expects from homosexual Christians. In the meantime it is already clear that we and they should learn to thank God for all that they are and for the variety that they bring to our human family and to the church.
Readers’ Reactions to the above article
CatholicNews Jan 21, 2007
Are we really ignorant?
NOT ONLY DO I disagree with Father Renckens' opinions on such a topic, but I also think that both his style of writing and explanations may mislead young or lapsed Catholics into thinking that the church endorses homosexuality and homosexual unions. This is especially so when it is printed in CatholicNews.
Throughout his nine points which claim to clarify homosexuality, Father Renckens plays up empathy for homosexuals by stating that they are ostracized, lonely, have no choice over their "nature" and he suggests that such relationships can be permanent and stable. But through the article he fails to differentiate between active homosexuals who display affection openly with their partners and those who live their Christian vocation faithfully despite their difficulties. Instead, he says that there is nothing wrong with their sexual orientation and that asking homosexuals to deny their orientation is an ignorant request equivalent to asking them to change their race. This line of reasoning is highly illogical and weak.
In the first place, homosexuals are welcome in the church, as God loves us all. Secondly, the church does not force anyone to change their sexual orientation but challenges all to live chastely and responsibly. Being homosexual does not mean that one cannot be in a state of grace. However, nobody is forced to be Catholic. This is a choice every individual makes for himself and having chosen to be Catholic, he should be obedient to church teachings.
There has been tremendous debate on whether homosexuality is nature or nurtured, but there has been no conclusive scientific evidence to date. As such, I feel that it is unfair for the writer to assert such sweeping statements on their sexual orientation, and, in so doing, try to change church teachings on the subject. This is all the more regrettable when it comes from a priest.
Our priests in this diocese need to understand that their words and actions have great impact on the Catholic community and thus should exercise more responsibility in how they live, act and speak.
Priest's view is disturbing
I AM NOT against our brothers and sisters with a homosexual orientation. But Father Renckens' views seem to go beyond orientation.
It was saddening to read such views from a priest and also disturbing that it was allowed to go to print. It was rather evident that Father Renckens holds quite deviant views from church teachings on the subject. While it was stated upfront that this is Father Renckens' personal views, Father Renckens surely must know that generally in this diocese, priests are still regarded very highly, and rightfully so given the holy office that they have been called for. As such, many a laity regard priests' views almost to be Gospel truth. In the Catholic social context, the priest is still regarded as the teacher of the faith.
It is quite hard to fathom a teacher sharing, on a public platform, personal views which are opposed to that which he is supposed to be teaching and upholding. Father Renckens is certainly entitled to his personal views but it is quite something else when expressed on such a forum.
Father Renckens' analogy comparing homosexuals to those born above six feet is rather odd to say the least. Points 7 and 8 in Father Renckens' article seem to point to a liberal stand towards homosexual unions. Father draws similarity between marriage and homosexual unions solely from an economic standpoint. I quote "Both can be working outside, or one works outside while the other is part time or full-time homemaker." I am sure Father Renckens knows that the marriage relationship goes much further and deeper than mere economics.
In point 8 Father Renckens says that the homosexual relationship does not undermine marriage since it is only open to homosexuals who are unable to enter into marriage. Father Renckens also adds that such relationships are “better than loose contacts”. Does this also mean that if I am divorced, it is alright for me to enter into a permanent relationship with another woman since this will only be open to divorcees and it is better than having loose contacts?
Father Renckens clearly disagrees with church documents and expresses hope that future documents would be in line with his thoughts---individualism above the collective wisdom of the church and objectivity.
I hope the above points from a lay perspective are worthy enough to be considered and that we can expect a clarification on the local church's stand on this.
I conclude with the words of our Holy Father just before the conclave in which he was elected, "Beware the dictatorship of relativism".
WE READ THE article with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we are glad that CN has taken the step to feature an article on the subject of homosexuality, to educate/inform the general public. This is long overdue. On the other hand, we are concerned that the approach taken in the article may unwittingly confuse the general public.
1) Rather than accept the labelling "homosexuals", would a reference such as "people with homosexual orientation/ inclinations" be more accurate? They are man or woman, and not a third sex called "homosexuals". At the least this point should be clearly made. The person and the action (or tendency to the act) is different. If they are different, the person has a choice, a freedom of will to act. Labelling tends to combine the person and the act as one and the same.
2) The article tends to give the impression that it is a fact that such people are born (created) with this orientation---i.e. it is "natural" (which then makes it easy to say the homosexual act is "natural"). The comparison with people who are born "taller" or of a certain race, tends to again emphasize the author's opinion that this is an inborn characteristic (similar to height or race). Is this indeed the case? When we last read the many websites on this subject, the information suggested that, as yet, there is no scientific evidence to support this opinion. Does the author (or CN) have new scientific evidence accepted by the church, to support this opinion?
3) Towards the end of the article, the author states his disagreement with the church's teachings, and reiterates his opinion that "homosexual orientation" should be "understood as a `variant' or `diversity' of our human condition". The CN is not a publication directed at a special audience---for example, clergy---to debate the teachings of the church. The CN is a means of communicating to the general public, who may or may not be well versed in such matters. The average reader tends to accept what is written without much question (except for a minority who may or may not write in to ask for clarification). And when an article is authored by a priest, it has even greater weight/influence on the average reader.
4) The key message is that we should all treat every human being (man or woman, and not describe them as heterosexuals or homosexuals) with love. Might it not be more effective to just talk about man or woman? Or that all man or woman, however different they are (whether with homosexual inclinations or other inclinations), should be treated with the same love and respect and not be discriminated against? Or that any discrimination should be on the act, and not on the person?
5) Perhaps the second instalment of the article will address/clarify the subject. Unfortunately, some may not get to read it. Even if they do, an impression is already formed and this impression will cause the reader to be unconsciously biased, even while reading subsequent articles. If an average reader, after reading this first article, goes away with the impression that "homosexuality" is "natural" (even if the thrust of the article is on homosexual "inclinations") and cannot be changed (i.e. controlled by free will, mistaking the reference to homosexual "inclination" as reference to the homosexual act), then further clarification on this would be an uphill task. It would have been better then, to have had one complete article instead of two instalments.
Thomas & Cecilia Chia
AS FAR AS I know, anyone (including homosexuals and six-feet tall people) are welcome in the church as long as they follow the church’s teachings. I am shocked to read in this article the following phrase: "I hope that in the future documents, the homosexual orientation will be understood as a `variant' or `diversity' of our human condition". The church is quite clear on homosexuality. As conclusion of the attached Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarification dated June 2003 states: "The church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself."
Not in line with church teaching
THE ARTICLE IS disturbing, to say the least, not because Christian compassion is advocated for our brothers and sisters struggling with their sexual orientations, but because Father Renckens' arguments and claims are clearly not in line with Catholic moral teaching.
Father Renckens seems to sacrifice objective truth for compassion and political correctness. As a result, everyone I know who has read this article is confused about the diocesan position on this subject.
The analogies used in comparing natural dispositions like height and race to disordered sexual orientations defy common sense and is irrelevant. There is little distinction in this article between homosexual persons and homosexual lifestyles, attitudes and practices. At certain points in this write-up, there are implicit suggestions that support such choices and cohabitations.
Father Renckens implies that homosexuals sometimes leave the Catholic Church for other churches because of the lack of openness and support in traditional Catholic teachings. Should we change doctrine then just to keep different communities happy and comfortable in the church?
Reading on, it becomes hard to distinguish between relativism and human compassion. The article blurs moral boundaries for the most part and is a confusing conundrum of thoughts.
The only reference to official church teaching in this long article comes in two short paragraphs at the very end.
Even then, he quotes from a privately authored book and not the Catechism of the Catholic Church or some other conciliar document. That's selective reasoning enough, but Father goes even further to question the wisdom and righteousness of church teaching in the second half of his quotation, and ends part one of his discourse with a hope that future church documents will evolve to reflect his personal theology.
In all fairness, this is only part one of a two part reflection, confined to the safe refuge of a column entitled "Viewpoints". And the author could well clarify his intentions and doctrinal fidelities in the next issue.
Nevertheless, this is the sharing of a Catholic priest published under the banner of the official diocesan newspaper, under the auspices of the archbishop, and with a major circulation. It's safe to say there is no such thing as a personal viewpoint under those conditions; especially when those views are given more than half a page.
What message is being communicated here---that the diocese tacitly endorses such reckless expositions from its priests, or that the editors of CatholicNews don't even check the orthodoxy of its content?
I believe that it's neither, but simply that things sometimes slip through.
I hope that this little reminder will improve the journalistic quality of a Catholic newspaper we've all come to appreciate, and which I pray we can still confidently bring home to our families and children.
More confident now in serving church
I AM GRATEFUL that after so many years, we are finally brave enough to broach this subject on homosexuality and the church. This is a rather sensitive and controversial topic that many may still not be able to accept.
I myself have orientation towards people of my own sex. For many years, hard as I tried to lead a good life and do good deeds (according to the Catholic Church) I found no peace. I couldn't understand why God or the church would be disapproving if I were to pick someone of the same sex to love faithfully and wholeheartedly. I had struggled to accept this part of the teachings. Much as I was eager and wanted to serve in ministries, I always feared that I will not be a good witness as being homosexual seemed to be contrary to church teaching. I thus felt unaccepted and hung my head down most of the time, even those times when I served in the various church ministries.
One day, I was attending a retreat when it suddenly dawned on me, that whatever the church teaches is for us to live in harmony and build the community, not to tell us plainly right from wrong. I realized that it was my feelings of guilt of being in a homosexual relationship that kept me from being who I can be. I decided to lift this part of me to God and I found the conviction and strength to stay single.
I would not expect all homosexuals to choose to stay single. I have heard that being close or in a relationship with another may not be sinful as long as we do not engage in physical activity, just like heterosexual couples. Is it true?
I am also trying to understand what is there for them if they cannot crystallize their love in marriage and feed the relationship with loving physical gestures. Is there a way for them to let themselves fall in love yet be faithful witnesses of God?
At times I still yearn for a permanent relationship which will be acceptable and supported by my family and friends, which does not seem possible as I find it really hard to find that connection with people of the opposite sex, but I thank God for giving me all these experiences to learn and grow from and especially the peace that I get from living a celibate life.
Having read the article, I am happy and feel more confidant in serving in ministries knowing that I will still be welcomed and loved by the church.
I am looking forward to the next part of the article.
"Someone trying to be faithful"
(Editor's note: The real name of the writer is not disclosed here for obvious reasons.)
CatholicNews---Sunday February 4, 2007
Clarification of "Are people with homosexual orientation welcome in the Catholic Church?"
Father Albert Renckens
I AM VERY happy about the responses to my article as its purpose is to get people with a homosexual orientation out from under the carpet in Catholic circles and to have them openly accepted as they are.
I regret, however, that my article also gave rise to some confusion, misunderstanding and disagreement, so that I now will try to clarify the matters concerned.
I purposely divided the article into two parts, to make very clear the distinction between the homosexual orientation or being a homosexual (Part One) and the behaviour of homosexuals (Part Two).
In Part One, I referred to the book by J. F Harvey, printed with "ecclesiastical approval" and quoting the relevant church documents, for the very reason that the book is easier for people to find than the church documents themselves, which are spread over several years.
So far as stable homosexual unions are concerned (my nos. 7-9), they exist. I never said that they should be legally recognized, but only stated the fact that they are legally recognized in some countries.
I never suggested that these "couples" can engage in genital expression of their love, but only mentioned that they live in an exclusive partnership and committed friendship with one another. (How they express their love, is for Part Two.)
I am well aware that there has been a tremendous debate on whether the origin of being homosexual is nature or nurture, the result of genes or of environment. I have not said a single word about the origin of this sexual orientation. Some people, however, feel that I give the impression that I consider this orientation as predetermined, inborn or "natural". That is not my opinion, but they draw this conclusion from my statement that these people have not chosen to be homosexual but find themselves at a certain age being such.
I can be blamed, however, for my remark that I hope that this orientation in future documents will not be described as an "objective disorder" but as a "variant' or "diversity" of the human condition. But is this, my personal hope, a sign of individualism or relativism with respect to the teaching of the Catholic Church?
Father Albert Renckens
Some of the confusion over Part One of Father Renckens' article may have arisen because of the use of words and phrases that have a meaning in church documents that is different from that understood in everyday, normal speaking or writing. We apologize to Father Albert Renckens and CatholicNews readers for the shortcoming in our editing.
CatholicNews has decided that it is not necessary to publish Part Two of Father Rencken's article as the subject is already extensively covered in the Special Report (pages 16-19). However, here is a summary of some of the points that Father Renckens made:
Some males and females feel sexually attracted and complemented by the different features of people of their own gender. These people are called homosexuals (or people with homosexual orientation), not because of what they do but because of what they are and experience.
Although expression of love between people with homosexual inclination is "natural" to them in the sense of this being in accordance with their sexual orientation, it does not mean that they can do sexually anything they like with other people with homosexual orientation, no more than people with heterosexual orientation can do with others of the same orientation.
As human beings, all of us are called by God to live and express our sexuality in a responsible manner. We may fail sometimes, but we know that God always pardons the repentant sinner. Many of us Catholics act as if people with homosexual orientation do not exist or that they should be swept under the carpet, and as a result, quite a few people with homosexual orientation have gone abroad.
There is no Catholic support group for homosexuals in Singapore. Father Renckens feels that as Catholics we should do more. If we are to love also people with a homosexual orientation, the first step is to understand and accept their condition. This is not only needed for priests but especially for the families and parishes they belong to.
To promote better understanding and acceptance is the purpose of his article in CatholicNews.
Don’t Accuse: help them
SOME OF THE letters in the last issue of CN have missed the point in Father Albert Rencken's article on welcoming homosexuals in the church.
I am a catechist in an adult RCIA journey and some of the lessons on morality see full attendance by catechumens.
Invariably this question is asked: If a person is engaging in actions contrary to church teaching can he still go to church? What follows is always a lively discussion, especially when the subject concerns homosexuality and premarital sex.
Many of us have Catholic friends or know of people and acquaintances who have a homosexual orientation and engage in homosexual acts. But how many of us have walked with such individuals as they struggle in the hope of finding some acceptance in their immediate social and religious groups? I have, and I feel their pain. They just want to be accepted as they are and carry on to contribute meaningfully with their gifts and talents to society.
In our daily activities, secular and religious, we Catholics cannot ignore and dissociate ourselves from "dysfunctional" individuals in our society. Before we start condemning the Mary Magdalenes among us let us recall the greatest commandment in John 15:12, "This is my commandment, love one another as I have loved you."
The "lowly" of our society must be lifted up by us, the stronger and enlightened ones, and let us sit together at the table of the Lord of Life.
It is very easy to remain in our comfort zones,intellectualizing and moralizing on church teachings. Knowing so much and just remaining there is one thing, putting it into practice is a very different ball game!
I am sure it was not Father Renckens' intention to contradict church teaching in his article and neither is it mine. I am sure too that he will not refuse the Sacrament of Reconciliation to people expressing remorse and looking forward to rejoining the community again.
There is lack of understanding
WHEN I FIRST read Father Renckens' article I felt heartened that a priest has the courage to speak his mind. I felt dismay when I read the many responses which seemed more like knee-jerk reactions.
I am a homosexual, and have had to deal with discrimination in its myriad forms. Many of the priests that I have spoken to in the sacrament of reconciliation have been less than kind and rather judgemental. I was called a number of derogatory terms and described as someone "obviously in need of professional help" and someone "who obviously doesn't pray".
For the record, I am a virgin, have sought counselling before and prayed fervently for the removal of such a condition. Sometimes, after the confessions, instead of feeling cleansed and reborn, I was left feeling dirty.
This psychological damage that the priest can inflict on his flock is very real, as Francis Pushpam so aptly puts in his letter, "the priest is still regarded as the teacher of the faith".
A Struggling Catholic
It’s a plea for understanding
FATHER RENCKENS' ARTICLE was written with compassion and is a plea for understanding for people with homosexual inclination.
It is heartening to note that amidst all of the negative readers' feedback in the last issue of CN, there was a letter that spoke of a fellow Catholic being able to relate to our church in a more confident and happy manner because of what Father Renckens wrote. I enjoyed reading that letter, and I hope Father Renckens did too.
Gerard M. C. Lim
Link back to index.html