Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
A reader writes:
Thank you for your time. I have been trying to resolve an issue I have with my Church the Catholic Church for some time now unsuccessfully. I have made the observation that the Church has come to accept the existence of the “homosexual person”. This I believe to be an error the Church must correct.
I have communicated with a number of people in the Church over the past nine years and have been unsuccessful resolving this issue. I do not judge anyone we all have the gift of freewill and will all be judged by the Lord for our lives. However the Church does not have freewill but has an obligation to the Lord to be consistent with the faith of our fathers and the traditions of the Church.
I believe that human sexuality is a very complicated issue that I am ill equipped to discuss with any level of competence. My issue is much simpler “Church 101” if you will. Sexuality of any kind is only involved due to the nature of the change in Church teaching. The heart of this issue is the Church’s handling of temptation.
Here is what leads me to believe that the Church has accepted the existence of the homosexual person”.
This section of the Catechism 2357 I believe defines “homosexuality”:
“Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive … sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.”
I leave out the words “or predominant” as that just makes the group size smaller and clarifies the definition. This statement says that there is a group of people who “experience an exclusive … sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex”. If this group has an “exclusive … sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex” they are incapable of being attracted to people of the opposite sex.
2359 says “Homosexual persons are called to chastity” I do not see how this is not an acceptance of the “homosexual person” who is fundamentally different than the “heterosexual person”. I reject this idea.
I noted that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says:
"Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. "
I use a Catholic translation and checked the Vatican site this quote is from the Vatican site.
The implication being that there are “non-practicing homosexuals”. “fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers” are not qualified as “practicing”. I do not believe that Paul was familiar with the concept of the “homosexual person”. I do not believe it right and just for the Church to change the Evangelists thoughts to correspond with its current teaching.
2357 says “Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained” as far as I can tell this is the only justification for the Churches acceptance of the “homosexual person”. To accept something that is “unexplained” can only be done as an act of faith. As a Catholic I am required to accept much on faith and I do. For me to accept “homosexuality” as an article of faith it would need to be consistent with the faith of my fathers, Church history and tradition, and in this case natural law. Since “homosexuality” is consistent with none of these I reject it as a false premise.
Let me say I believe that psychology does wonderful things for many people. I also believe that psychology is a soft science. Some in psychology say that God is a delusion. I believe it is wrong to look at this with the rubric of psychology. I believe the correct lens is morality. I believe God is not provable by design I believe God wants us to come to Him through faith. A provable God and faith are not possible. If God is not provable then it is reasonable to come to the conclusion that there is no God. My belief is rooted in faith and the faith of my fathers as well as the Church. If one concludes there is no God then why is one person’s morality better than an others and who is to say “same-sex behavior” wrong. Since I believe in God I believe God determines morality. At my father’s funeral the Priest said “If there is no God then life is a cruel joke”. I believe this to be true.
In communicating with a fair number of people in the Church over nine years. Generally they fall in two camps. Those who believe as I do that the Church has changed its teaching and accepts the existence of the “homosexual person” and those who don’t. Those who believe that the Church has changed its teaching for the most part think that it should. A small subset think that the Church should accept “same sex behavior” presumably in “marriage”. Most say the Church has not changed its teaching.
I have been looking for the rational explanation for the Church’s action unsuccessfully. All I have found are “self-identification”, “same-sex behavior”, “group think”, “political correctness” and “false compassion” none of which is substantial enough to change Church teaching in my view.
It is also clear to me that the normalization of this behavior in the secular world is well underway. I believe that with Adam and Eve the Lord created the most basic unit of society the family. I believe that same sex “marriage” is a direct assault on the institution. I believe that the Churches acceptance of the “homosexual person” ties its hands while fighting this evil.
We all face innumerable immoral temptations in our lives and of course the Church has an obligation to update its teaching as new things are learned. “Same sex behavior” is just sinful behavior and the Church is cruel if it continues to tell people who engage in “same sex behavior” that they are fundamentally different. It is my belief that this is the only immoral temptation the Church tells practitioners that they are fundamentally different than others.
One of the Bishops who was kind enough to respond wrote “you may find it helpful to review an earlier section of the Catechism, from #355 to #421 on creation, human dignity, the fall and redemption. May the Holy Spirit continue to guide you in your quest for Truth. ”. When I asked if 387 and 2357-2359 are contradictory he did not respond.
I believe that the Church is making it harder for the lost sheep to find its way home with
this error. 387 says “Without the knowledge Revelation gives of God we cannot recognize sin
clearly and are tempted to explain it as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness”.
I believe that 2357-2359 feeds this temptation. Everyone tries to rationalize their behavior. I know that I do. I know of no other sinful behavior that the Church hands out a tool to rationalize the sinful behavior.
If we lived in a vacuum I would be silly pursuing this but we do not. I believe the Lord has purpose for his Church in the real world. I believe that action or lack of action by the Church has consequence. I believe if the Church had stood up 50 years ago and properly said that the “homosexual person” does not exist the reality of same-sex “marriage” in the secular world would not be accepted today. I believe it is never too late to correct an error the Lord is forgiving.
I do not believe this to be a complicated issue but an important issue. The Church has come to accept the existence of the “homosexual person” to teach something new is a change of teaching. I believe this a profound change of teaching. I believe the Church does not disavow the existence of the “homosexual person”
As a member of the Church I feel an obligation to the Lord to point out an error by the Church if I see one. I also feel the Church has an obligation to the Lord to either correct the error or explain my error to me the Church has done neither to date.
I believe that acceptance of the existence of the “homosexual person” is an evil pervasive in the world today. I believe that next to spreading the Gospel in the world standing against and exposing evil in the world is the Church’s highest obligation to the Lord.
If you can give a rational explanation as to why my observation is an unreasonable one
that would be helpful to me.
The Church has always distinguished between concupiscence and sin. Concupiscence refers to the weakened will, darkened intellect, and disordered appetites to which fallen human beings are heir. Here is the Catechism:
1264 Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, "the tinder for sin" (fomes peccati); since concupiscence "is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ." Indeed, "an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules."
The point of this distinction between sin and concupiscence is, in part, to avoid the evil that Jesus condemns in the Pharisees: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4). One of the heavy burdens many religious people tie up for others is condemnation, not because somebody has sinned, but merely because they have felt tempted. The Church says that if you feel tempted and resist it, you have acted virtuously.
Now the simple fact is this: those who experience homosexual temptation report that they are sexually attracted to people of the same sex as themselves. We can either call those people liars for no good reason, or we can accept their testimony that they do indeed feel this sexual attraction. The smart money is on accepting their testimony that they do in fact feel the sexual attraction.
Given that, two questions arise 1) “Why do they feel that sexual attraction?” and 2) “What should be done about it?”
As to the first question, there are all sorts of theories proposed by various human sciences that have researched the question. The Church leaves the sciences to do their work and remains agnostic about the genesis of the orientation, just as she remains agnostic about why some people have a disordered need to purge after meals, or to drink to excess, or to engage in sexually addictive behaviors with multiple partners, or whatnot. All of these things are expressions of “disordered appetites” and the Church’s interest is not in trying to dictate to scientists what their research should show, nor in dictating to homosexuals, or gluttons, or anorexics what they feel. Feelings have no moral content. What has moral content is action. And it is here that the Church focuses its attention in trying to help people with disordered appetites re-order their lives toward Christ, not in trying to tell them “You are not experiencing disordered appetites” when they obviously are.
So, for instance, the Church is not going to fight with a person who describes himself as an “alcoholic” or an “anorexic” person. Instead, the Church grants that, for whatever reason, the person experiences a disordered appetite and needs help dealing with that. The only thing the Church says has the character of sin is when we give in to our disordered appetite and indulge it.
Exactly the same thing obtains with homosexual persons. The fear that lies behind your question is that in describing a homosexual person as a homosexual person, this is somehow to say “God made them that way” and therefore the disordered appetite is good But this is not so, any more than it is true to say that God “makes” people anorexic, or gluttonous, or prone to any other disordered appetite. All disordered appetites find their origin, not in creation, but in the defect in creation we call “original sin”. And the reality is that all of us suffer from disordered appetites, not merely homosexuals.
Far more important than the triviality of the Church describing homosexual persons as “homosexual persons” is the fact that the Church, having acknowledged the existence of this particular form of concupiscence, also says the grace of Jesus is available to help homosexual persons live grace-filled lives, just as it is available to the rest of us with disordered appetites. It does not matter one whit that St. Paul never heard the term “homosexual person” just as it does not matter one whit that he never heard the term “Trinity”. The Church has developed all sort of specialized jargon since Paul's day. And in any case, St. Paul is perfectly familiar with the interior battle of concupiscence and describes it acutely in Romans 7:7-25:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Nobody gets upset when a sober alcoholic stands up at an AA meeting and says, “I am an alcoholic”. Nobody gets upset when an anorexic woman declares, “I am anorexic.” But, for some reason, when even a chaste, celibate and faithful homosexual says, “I am a homosexual” he is told that he must not say that and, in some circles, told that he is a bad Catholic even if he lives chastely, merely because he experiences temptation. If we want to send the message to homosexuals that the Church has no place for them and that, no matter what, God will never accept them, I can think of no better way to do it than to identify this one form of temptation with sin.