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Homosexuality in the eyes of the Catholic Church
By Father David Garcia, O.P.
CatholicNews---Sunday February 4, 2007
LET ME BEGIN on this complex topic by stating that I am not interested in presenting my opinion of homosexuality. My opinion is irrelevant. What I wish to do is to open paths of dialogue and understanding. As a church, we can only make progress if we increase pastoral concern for people who have "same-sex attraction" and at the same time manage to convey in a reasonable manner the church's teaching on this matter.
First, let us ask the question openly. Is anything "wrong" with the homosexual act? If two people voluntarily engage in homosexual activity, how is it anyone else's business? They are not harming anyone. They have the right to express their love in a natural (sexual) way, so... What could be possibly wrong with homosexual sex?
This question is not a psychological or medical question, but an ethical one, and it should be addressed as such.
The ethical question
Most ethics questions today are answered with reference to the consequences of the action and the intention of the agent. See, for example, the recent debate on the sale of human organs. It all revolves around two points of view: the subjective ethical reference and the objective one, that is, the intention and the consequences of the action. If the intention is not wrong, and the consequences of the action are more beneficial than harmful, the act becomes permissible, advisable or even obligatory.
By these standards, there is nothing wrong with the homosexual act. Indeed, people can engage in it with the purest intention of expressing their sincere love. There is apparently no harm caused to anyone since the act is consensual and private. It even seems as permissible or as praiseworthy as the heterosexual act, since both seem to proceed from similar intentions.
Is this ethical examination sufficient? If that were the case, there would be no ethical or moral objections even to prostitution. However, this way of looking at the morality of human acts is myopic as it fails to see the totality of the human meaning of our actions.
The morality of our acts is important, not just because of the impact they have on the world, but mainly because of what they do to our hearts and wills. This is not pious thinking, but common sense. Socrates believed that it was better to suffer injustice than to commit injustice. The church teaches that sins "poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practise them than those who suffer from the injury." (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, n. 27 and Veritatis Splendor, n. 80). What matters primarily is the internal movement of the will even before the decisions have an impact in the external world, that is, before there are any consequences at all. This is not an idea that proceeds from any ethical system, but from the core of the message of Jesus of Nazareth himself: "For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. `You have learnt...: You must not kill... But I say this to you; anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court... if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:20-28). It is ethically or morally wrong to will "something that is wrong in itself'.
The church holds that "There are concrete acts that it is always wrong to choose, because their choice entails a disorder of the will, i.e., a moral evil. One may not do evil so that good may result from it." (CCC 1761). Acts like theft, murder, and rape are always wrong and may not be justified under any circumstances (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 27). Only if we maintain this point can we say that all persons are equal under the standard of the moral law: "When it is a matter of the moral norms prohibiting intrinsic evil, there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the `poorest of the poor' on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 96).
We have so far concluded that moral actions must be firstly examined objectively, independent of the person who commits them---and that some acts are wrong because they harm the person who commits them by the mere fact that he chose to do something that is wrong in itself. If we apply this to the homosexual act, it means that the church views homosexual acts as wrong in themselves, and therefore to be avoided by all, no matter what their sexual attraction.
What is wrong with the homosexual act?
At this point, we must ask therefore what is wrong with the homosexual act in itself. Here again we encounter a case of "ethical myopia". If the sexual act is merely the exercise of one's sexuality, then nothing is wrong with homosexual activity, just as nothing is wrong with masturbation or prostitution. But if the sexual act is a act by which two spouses give themselves to each other totally and unconditionally in an act that confirms them into the union which is husband and wife, then, only the sexual act in the context of marriage fulfils the reality that indeed it is called to be.
Once more, this is not fidelity to any philosophical system, but a faithful vision of reality and a realistic vision of faith. Complementarity is important. It was purposefully created by God. We are not created hermaphrodites, as some animals are, but sexually dimorphic: "Male and female, He created them" (Genesis 1:27). And Jesus himself confirms that they are two to become one: "They are no longer two but one body" (Matthew 19:4). Faith and human experience coincide in observing in the masculine and the feminine a complementarity that is achieved precisely because they are different and which would be impossible to achieve were they alike, or not-complementary. This explains the vision of the church regarding homosexual acts: "Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living." (CDF, 1986, n. 7)
With this, we reach another conclusion: homosexual acts, objectively considered, are not the same as heterosexual acts and this difference affects their morality. Homosexual acts do not measure up to the moral standard of heterosexual acts because they fail to meet some conditions for morally acceptable sexual activity: complementarity and fecundity.
But this fact is not anyone's "fault", and it does not amount to judging anyone. This conclusion is not the result of homophobic opinions. This is just an assessment of the reality of these acts, even if no one committed them, which is independent of how people feel about them. We could compare this with the act of eating. There is nutritious food and non-nutritious food. Even if I say that cellulose is nutritious, the truth of the matter lies outside my best intentions: I am not a termite and I cannot digest cellulose. We can accuse the church of having a different vision of sex and ethics, but certainly not of teaching homophobic doctrines.
This is a vision of reality, not a decision of the church. "The church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection." (Familiaris consortio, n 33 and Veritatis splendor, n. 95). And this teaching is not an imposition: "The church addresses people with full respect for their freedom. Her mission does not restrict freedom but rather promotes it. The church proposes; she imposes nothing. She respects individuals and cultures, and she honors the sanctuary of conscience." (Redentoris missio, n. 39). "The authority of the church... in no way undermines the freedom of conscience... The church puts herself always and only at the service of conscience." (Veritatis Splendor, n. 66)
Furthermore, we must make an effort to distinguish between the objective act and the subjective motivation to commit the act. For example, a kleptomaniac may have the impulse to steal, and hypothetically we could even grant that he feels an unavoidable urge to steal. However, no matter how strong the urge, or how many people suffer from it, this will never change the fact that stealing is in itself wrong. We may excuse, exonerate or condone the kleptomaniac's stealing; but we cannot say that stealing is right.
This is exactly the church's position regarding homosexual acts. They are wrong no matter who commits them or the situation, even if "circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance" (CDF, 1986, 11). The church does not judge persons. She judges acts. "God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason He forbids us to make judgements about the internal guilt of anyone." (Gaudium et spes, n. 28) "This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves." (CDF 1986, 7)
Compassion and mercy cannot be blind to reality. If they are, they harm more than they help. "The church's teaching, and in particular her firmness in defending the universal and permanent validity of the precepts prohibiting intrinsically evil acts, is not infrequently seen as the sign of an intolerable intransigence, particularly with regard to the enormously complex and conflict-filled situations present in the moral life of individuals and of society today; this intransigence is said to be in contrast with the church's motherhood. The church, one hears, is lacking in understanding and compassion. But the church's motherhood can never in fact be separated from her teaching mission, which she must always carry out as the faithful Bride of Christ, who is the Truth in person. As Teacher, she never tires of proclaiming the moral norm..." (Veritatis splendor, n. 95) When Jesus was compassionate towards the "adulterous woman" (cf. Jn 8:3 ff), he forgave her, and summoned her to "sin no more" Jesus did not overlook her adultery. He neither accused nor excused her. This is the kind of compassion the church must exercise. Because the church is our teacher, she must be faithful to the truth; but because she is also our mother, she accepts everyone.
We can draw a final conclusion now. The teaching of the church in this matter is neither founded in any philosophical system nor unreasonable but faithful to the core of the Gospel.
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