Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
A steady march of the sexual revolution into deeper and deeper confusion has left many Catholics and fellow Christians confused themselves. But there should be no confusion nor is there permissible dissent by any Catholic (lay or cleric) from Church teaching on human sexuality. Both Scripture and Church doctrine are very clear that all forms of illicit sexual union, whether adultery, fornication, or homosexual acts, are sinful and cannot in any way be approved.
Some Catholics formally dissent due to a knowing and willful rejection of Church teaching, but the dissent of others is due more to the confusion brought on by a loud culture and a quiet pulpit.
Particularly culpable is any deacon, priest, or bishop who spreads error either by direct statements, intentional ambiguity, or questionable policies that offer mercy without reference to the necessary repentance. Caring for all sinners is a constant work of the Church. All sinners deserve love and careful, respectful pastoral care. But calling good or insignificant what God calls sinful, whether by direct statement or obfuscation, is not pastoral care; it is malpractice. All of us, clergy and lay, are called to be God’s prophets, spreading His teaching; we do well to remember that one day we will have to account to Him.
I have written before on various aspects of the sexual confusion in our culture (e.g., fornication, adultery, contraception, transgenderism, the battle against lust, marriage, divorce and Holy Communion, and victims of the sexual revolution). In today’s column, I focus particularly on God’s teaching regarding homosexual acts.
Tragically, in recent months, certain clergy have spread incomplete and sometimes patently false notions that such acts can be acceptable; they cannot.
Hence, I feel compelled once again to teach on this matter, reasserting Scripture and Church doctrine. The Scriptures are very clear by unambiguously and uncompromisingly describing homosexual activity as a serious sin and a moral disorder. Attempts by some to reinterpret Scripture to mean something else are fanciful at best. They typically present theories that require twisted logic and questionable historical views in order to set aside the very plain meaning of the texts.
I’d like to share a few of these biblical texts with you, but before doing I’d like to describe the context for this reflection and to make two very important clarifications.
Context - My reflections are directed to fellow Christians, hence I use Scripture as the main point of departure, as we should all share belief in the normative and authoritative status of God’s Word. In other settings, for example addressing the secular world, Natural Law arguments would be more suitable. But, here today, the Scriptures and Church teaching form the foundation. Catholics, who should accept that the Scriptures are inspired by God and unerringly teach on faith and morals, must have a clear, biblical understanding of the teaching lest we share in the widespread confusion in the world.
Clarification #1: It is homosexual activity that is condemned, not persons of homosexual orientation. Some individuals are attracted to members of the same sex. Why this is or how it comes to be is not fully understood, but it is, nonetheless, a struggle for some people. Because sexual orientation is not usually a matter of direct choice or even immediate control, it is not itself an object of moral condemnation. To be tempted to commit a sin does not make one evil or bad, or even guilty for that temptation. Rather, it is giving way to the temptation that makes one a sinner.
Many homosexual persons live chaste lives. Although tempted to commit homosexual acts, they do not do so. This is courageous, holy, and praiseworthy. Sadly, though, others with same-sex attraction not only commit the sin of homosexual activity, but openly flaunt it and dismiss biblical texts that clearly forbid it. We can only hope and pray for their conversion. However, we must distinguish between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity.
Clarification #2: We should not single out homosexual activity as though it were the only sexual sin condemned by God. Heterosexuals are also called to sexual purity. The same Bible which condemns homosexual activity also clearly condemns acts of fornication adultery. Scripture describes these as serious sins that can and do exclude people from the Kingdom of God and from Heaven (cf Eph 5:5-7; Gal 5:16-21; Rev 21:5-8; Rev. 22:14-16; Mt. 15:19-20; 1 Cor 6:9-20; Col 3:5-6; 1 Thess 4:1-8; 1 Tim 1:8-11; Heb 13:4). Sadly, many people today live in open violation of biblical teaching. Many engage in premarital sex, saying it is all right because “everyone’s doing it.” This, like homosexual activity, is sinful and should be repented of at once.
Hence, homosexual activity is not singled out by the Bible or by Christians. Every human being, without exception, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is called to sexual purity, to chastity and self-control. Any violation of this is a sin. Put more positively, God’s command of chastity means that with God’s grace, sexual purity is possible for everyone. God empowers us to do what He commands!
With the context and these clarifications in mind, we can now turn our attention to the biblical teaching on homosexuality.
As stated above, the Bible clearly and unambiguously condemns homosexual acts. For example:
- You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Leviticus 18: 22).
- If a man lies with a male as with a female, both of them have committed an abomination (Lev 20:13).
- Likewise, the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah depicts, among other things, the sinfulness of homosexual activity. It is too lengthy to reproduce here in its entirety, but you can read about it in Genesis 19. Some have tried to spread the error that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is merely about “hospitality,” and I have written on that subject here: The Sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. And let every Catholic note that the Catechism includes Genesis 19 in it scriptural notes on the biblical basis for forbidding homosexual acts.
- For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them … in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse; they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools … For this reason, God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct (Romans 1:18ff).
- Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9).
- The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, for those who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1: 8-11).
Note that in many of these texts, homosexual activity is listed as one among other sexual offenses; it is not singled out. Here, then, is what the Bible teaches: homosexual activity is sinful, as are other sexual sins such as fornication and adultery. It is true that there are not a large number of texts speaking of homosexual activity, but whenever it is mentioned, it is clearly and uncompromisingly condemned. Further, this condemnation occurs at every stage of biblical revelation, right through to the end.
Some say that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. Well, He never mentioned rape, or incest, or sexual abuse of minors either, and His “silence” in these matters should certainly not be taken as approval. Further, Jesus said that whoever hears His apostles hears Him (see Luke 10:16), and the Epistles of the Apostles clearly mention homosexual acts and exclude them along with fornication, adultery, and all sexual impurity.
Sadly, many today have set aside these teachings on homosexual activity. Not only do they declare that it is not sinful, but they even celebrate it as though it were good. It is bad enough when non-believers do this, but it is even more tragic when people who call themselves Catholics and Christians do such things.
Do not be deceived. Those who sanction homosexual acts or any other illicit sexual behavior are setting aside the Word of God or are reinterpreting it to suit their own agenda. Psalm 2:1 laments, And why do the people imagine a vain thing? Jesus knew that some would use Him to promote their own wrongful agendas, and so He warned, Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying “I am he!” and they will lead many astray (Mark 13:5). St. Paul also knew that some would distort the Christian faith: I know that, after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:29).
We must speak the truth that comes from God and then live it. Suppressing the truth leads to distortion, confusion, and suffering. The sexual promiscuity of our day has led to great suffering: sexually transmitted disease, AIDS, abortion, teenage pregnancy, broken marriages, divorce, single parenthood, addiction to pornography, sexual abuse, sexual confusion, and cultural decline. Scripture says, They sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8). Our culture is surely reaping the destructive effects of the sexual revolution. As always, it is the children who pay the highest price for adult misbehavior.
Some who oppose the teaching of Scripture and the Church have taken to calling opposition to their view “hatred” and “bigotry.” We who are of faith must declare that the Church’s opposition to homosexual behavior is rooted in the Word of God, to which we owe obedience and docility. We can say and teach no other than what God has revealed consistently in His Word. It is never loving to lie to others or to confirm them in practices that will imperil their health or their ultimate salvation. To assert that certain classes or categories of people (in this case those with same-sex attraction) cannot reasonably live according to biblical teaching is its own form of bigotry.
Perhaps it is best to conclude with a statement from the Catechism, which expresses clarity of doctrine but also loving respect persons with same-sex attraction:
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (CCC 2357-2359).
I write today in the hopes that you will in no way share in the error of our times. We are not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (cf Rom 12:1). The proper pastoral care needed today is to clarify and confirm everyone in the ancient and apostolic faith entrusted to the Church. It is to that end that I hope you have found this reflection helpful. May we all, clergy and laity, prophets by baptism, speak the truth with love, perseverance, and courage.