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What the Catholic Church teaches about homosexual inclination, homosexual acts, and persons with homosexual inclinations
CatholicNews---Sunday February 4, 2007
There are many forces in our society that promote a view of sexuality in general, and of homosexuality in particular, not in accord with God's purpose and plan for human sexuality.
In the face of pervasive confusion, the document "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care" was developed by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to provide basic guidelines for pastoral ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination. It was approved for publication by the full body of bishops at its November 2006 General Meeting.
"Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care" quotes many Catholic Church documents including the Catechism of the Catholic Church and pastoral letters from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In this CatholicNews article based on the document, we have dispensed with these references for ease of reading. Those interested in reading the full text and references can find the details at http;//www.nccbuscc.org/dpp/Ministry.pdf
Respecting Human Dignity
GOD HAS CREATED every human person out of love and wishes to grant him or her eternal life. All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected.
In keeping with this conviction, the church teaches that persons with a homosexual inclination must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. We recognize that these persons have been, and often continue to be, objects of scorn, hatred, and even violence in some sectors of our society. Sometimes this hatred is manifested clearly; other times, it is masked and gives rise to more disguised forms of hatred. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever it occurs.
The Place of Sexuality in God’s Plan
The Phenomenon of homosexuality poses challenges that can only be met with the help of a clear understanding of the place of sexuality within God's plan for humanity. In the beginning, God created human beings in his own image, meaning that the complementary sexuality of man and woman is a gift from God and ought to be respected as such. "Human sexuality is thus good, part of that created gift which God saw as being `very good', when he created the human person in his image and likeness, and `male and female he created them"' (Genesis 1:27). The complementarity of man and woman as male and female is inherent within God's creative design. Precisely because man and woman are different, yet complementary, they can come together in a union that is open to the possibility of new life. Jesus taught that "from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh' (Mark 10:6-8)."
The purpose of sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children. The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. This is the order of nature, an order whose source is ultimately the wisdom of God. To the extent that man and woman cooperate with the divine plan by acting in accord with the order of nature, they not only bring to fulfilment their own individual human natures but also accomplish the will of God.
Homosexual acts cannot fulfil the natural ends of human sexuality
BY ITS VERY nature, the sexual act finds its proper fulfilment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the bond of marriage does not fulfil the proper ends of human sexuality. Such an act is not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life. It is disordered in that it is not in accord with this twofold end and is thus morally wrong. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.
There are a variety of acts, such as adultery, fornication, masturbation, and contraception, that violate the proper ends of human sexuality. Homosexual acts also violate the true purpose of sexuality. They are sexual acts that cannot be open to life. Nor do they reflect the complementarity of man and woman that is an integral part of God's design for human sexuality. Consequently, the Catholic Church has consistently taught that homosexual acts are contrary to the natural law. . . . Under no circumstances can they be approved.
In support of this judgement, the church points not only to the intrinsic order of creation, but also to what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture. In the book of Genesis we learn that God created humanity as male and female and that according to God's plan a man and a woman come together and the two of them become one body. Whenever homosexual acts are mentioned in the Old Testament, it is clear that they are disapproved of, as contrary to the will of God. In the New Testament, St. Paul listed homosexual practices among those things that are incompatible with the Christian life.
Homosexual inclination is not itself a sin
WHILE THE CHURCH teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not. To the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination is not subject to one's free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency. Although one would be morally culpable if one were voluntarily to entertain homosexual temptations or to choose to act on them, simply having the tendency is not a sin. Consequently, the church does not teach that the experience of homosexual attraction is in itself sinful.
The homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, i.e., it is an inclination that predisposes one towards what is truly not good for the human person. Of course, heterosexual persons not uncommonly have disordered sexual inclinations as well. It is not enough for a sexual inclination to be heterosexual for it to be properly ordered. For example, any tendency toward sexual pleasure that is not subordinated to the greater goods of love and marriage is disordered, in that it inclines a person towards a use of sexuality that does not accord with the divine plan for creation. There is the intrinsic disorder of what is directed toward that which is evil in all cases (contra naturam). There is also the accidental disorder of what is not properly ordered by right reason, what fails to attain the proper measure of virtue (contra rationem).
It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered. Nor does it mean that one has been rejected by God or the church. Rather, the disorder is in that particular inclination; the person retains his or her intrinsic human dignity and value.
Furthermore, it is not only sexual inclinations that can be disordered within a human person. Other inclinations can likewise be disordered, such as those that lead to envy, malice, or greed. Simply possessing such inclinations does not constitute a sin, at least to the extent that they are beyond one's control. Acting on such inclinations, however, is always wrong. (See "Culpability" below)
Therapy for homosexual inclination?
A CONSIDERABLE NUMBER of people who experience same-sex attraction experience it as an inclination that they did not choose. Many of these speak of their homosexual attractions as an unwanted burden. This raises the question of whether or not a homosexual inclination can be changed with the help of some kind of therapeutic intervention.
There is currently no scientific consensus on the cause of the homosexual inclination.
There is no consensus on therapy. Some have found therapy helpful. Catholics who experience homosexual tendencies and who wish to explore therapy should seek out the counsel and assistance of a qualified professional who has preparation and competence in psychological counselling and who understands and supports the church's teaching on homosexuality. They should also seek out the guidance of a confessor and spiritual director who will support their quest to live a chaste life.
The necessity for training in virtue
THERE IS ANOTHER kind of "therapy" or healing of which we all stand in need, regardless of whether one is attracted to the same or the opposite sex: Every person needs training in the virtues. To acquire a virtue we must repeatedly perform acts that embody that virtue, acts that we accomplish with the help of the Holy Spirit and with the guidance and encouragement of our teachers in virtue. In our society, chastity is a particular virtue that requires special effort. All people, whether married or single, are called to chaste living. Chaste living overcomes disordered human desires such as lust and results in the expression of one's sexual desires in harmony with God's will. Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.
It is sad to note that in our society, violation of chastity and the pervasive human suffering and unhappiness that follow in its wake are not uncommon. Many families experience firsthand the human devastation that results when marriage vows are broken, or the human heartbreak that can lie in the wake of sexual promiscuity. Chaste living is an affirmation of all that is human, and is the will of God. It is we who suffer when we violate the dictates of our own human nature.
The acquisition of virtues requires a sustained effort and repeated actions. The more one repeats good actions, the more one's passions (such as love, anger, and fear) become shaped in accord with good action. It becomes easier to perform good actions.
Therefore, merely to experience disordered passions should not be a cause for despair. Through persistent effort we can reduce the resistance of our passions to acting well.
The necessity of friendship and community
ONE WAY IN which the church can aid persons with a homosexual inclination is by nurturing the bonds of friendship among people. Friendship is absolutely essential for the good life, for true happiness. Friendships of various kinds are necessary for a full human life, and they are likewise necessary for those attempting to live chastely in the world.
It would not be wise for persons with a homosexual inclination to seek friendship exclusively among persons with the same inclination. They should seek to form stable friendships among both homosexuals and heterosexuals.... A homosexual person can have an abiding relationship with another homosexual without genital sexual expression. Indeed the deeper need of any human is for friendship rather than genital expression.
True friendships are not opposed to chastity; nor does chastity inhibit friendship. In fact, the virtues of friendship and of chastity are ordered to each other.
While the bonds of friendship should be carefully fostered at all levels, loving friendships among the members of a family are particularly important.
The local church community is also a place where the person with a homosexual inclination should experience friendship.
Growth in holiness
WHILE HUMAN FRIENDSHIP is indeed necessary for the good life of a human person, friendship with God constitutes our ultimate end. Integral to friendship with God is holiness. Persons with a homosexual inclination ought to receive every aid and encouragement to embrace this call to holiness personally and fully. This will unavoidably involve much struggle and self-mastery, for following Jesus always means following the way of the Cross. The Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance are essential sources of consolation and aid on this path. Moreover, crucial support for the spiritual struggle is to be found through diligent fostering of the Christian life, including the reading of Scripture and daily prayer.
ALL MINISTRY TO persons with a homosexual inclination must be guided by church teaching on sexuality. The basis of this ministry, if it is to be effective, has to be a true understanding of the human person and of the place of sexuality in human life. Departure from the church's teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Love and truth go together. The Sacred Scriptures tell us that the way to grow more Christ-like is by "living the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). The church cannot support organizations or individuals whose work contradicts, is ambiguous about, or neglects her teaching on sexuality.
The church's teaching on homosexuality is attentive to the natural law imprinted in human nature and faithful to the Sacred Scriptures. This teaching offers a beacon of light and hope in the midst of considerable confusion, intense emotion, and much conflict. Within our culture, however, there are various obstacles that make it more difficult for some people to recognize the wisdom contained in this teaching.
One obstacle is intolerance of those perceived as different. It remains true that some persons identified as homosexual are victims of violence. The fact that homosexual acts are immoral may never be used to justify violence or unjust discrimination.
At the same time, there is a strong tendency toward moral relativism in our society. Many do not admit an objective basis for moral judgements. They recognize no acts as intrinsically evil but maintain that judgements of good and bad are entirely subjective. In this view, matters of sexual morality should be left for individuals to decide according to their own preferences and values, with the only restriction that they not cause manifest harm to another individual.
Because church teaching insists that there are objective moral norms, there are those in our culture who portray this teaching as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights and interfering with individual freedom.
In fact, the church actively asserts and promotes the intrinsic dignity of every person. As human persons, persons with a homosexual inclination have the same basic rights as all people, including the right to be treated with dignity. Nevertheless “’sexual orientation' does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc., in respect to non-discrimination". Therefore, it is not unjust, for example, to limit the bond of marriage to the union of a woman and a man. It is not unjust to oppose granting to homosexual couples benefits that in justice should belong to marriage alone. When marriage is redefined so as to make other relationships equivalent to it, the institution of marriage is devalued and further weakened. The weakening of this basic institution at all levels and by various forces has already exacted too high a social cost.
Another common characteristic that poses an obstacle to the reception of church teaching is the widespread tendency toward hedonism, an obsession with the pursuit of pleasure. This tendency is closely related to the consumerism of our culture, which promotes an approach to life that is marked by a concern to maximize pleasure. Viewed from this perspective, sexual relations are seen as simply another form of pleasure. Promiscuity is regarded as not only acceptable but normal. The virtue of chastity becomes incomprehensible. It can even appear to be an unhealthy and unnatural denial of pleasure. Moreover, there are many in our society, particularly in the advertising and entertainment industries, who make enormous profits by taking advantage of this tendency and who work to promote it by their actions.
In the face of this challenge the church must continue her efforts to persuade people through rational argument, the witness of her life, and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Where the word "sexual" is used, as in "sexual act" or sexual relations" it means "genital".
"IT HAS BEEN argued that the homosexual orientation in certain cases is not the result of deliberate choice; and so the homosexual person would then have no choice but to behave in a homosexual fashion. Lacking freedom, such a person, even if engaged in homosexual activity, would not be culpable.
Here, the church's wise moral tradition is necessary since it warns against generalizations in judging individual cases. In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance; or other circumstances may increase it. What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable."
---- "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons: Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
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