Given recent victories of “marriage” redefinition advocates at the state level, and their prospects for national advances via two U.S. Supreme Court decisions expected by early summer, Catholics need to resist the temptation to view those struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA) as incontrovertible enemies or social/ecclesiastical lepers.
Many who struggle with SSA are not on the cultural front lines pushing for a redefinition of marriage, and even those who are, and who do so with animosity toward the Church, are not implacable enemies. Unlike the devil and his demonic associates — who have made an irrevocable, everlasting choice against God — even the most hardened member of the homosexual lobby is certainly not beyond the redemptive, merciful love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
To be sure, we must strongly resist efforts on the political level to redefine marriage for the good of all in society, including those dealing with SSA, who desire to love and be loved, but who often are misdirected in attempting to fulfill those desires. And while we might be inclined to view their sins with greater disdain, since they are “contrary to the natural law” (Catechism, 2357), we should be humbly reminded that we ourselves are sinners in need of a Savior too.
The Catechism reminds us that homosexuality is indeed an objective disorder and that homosexual acts “do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (Catechism, 2357-2358). Yet, as the Catechism also reminds us, an SSA inclination “constitutes for most of them a trial” (2358).
Thus, for all of these reasons, we must reach out in love to those dealing with SSA. A key factor to SSA developing in males, for example, can be an impaired relationship with their fathers, and/or a failure to bond with peers as they progress through adolescence and into adulthood. They don’t connect well with a key male figure(s) in their lives for different reasons, and they can thereby be more prone to compensate via SSA relationships.
They can be further alienated by fellow Catholics who rightly oppose homosexual conduct, but who often fail to live out the Gospel otherwise, including by how they speak about people with SSA in casual conversations, often unaware or uncaring about whom they’re addressing or who may be listening to them.
In my work as a theology adviser at EWTN, I recall reviewing a program on the great work of Courage, a Catholic apostolate that administers to persons with SSA and their loved ones. One man complained that those who viewed him as an ecclesiastical leper shared in his guilt, arguing that they pushed him into the arms of another man when they failed to show him authentic brotherly love, which encourages one to live chastely (see Catechism, 2359). He also said he didn’t have a good relationship with his father while growing up, yet noted a poignant encounter when his dad was in his early 70s. He sat in his father’s lap as an adult and cried for more than an hour, the father and his “little boy” at last connecting and embracing at length.
As heterosexual males, for example, we should not be embarrassed or afraid to embrace a brother in Christ — or friend or neighbor — who is struggling with SSA, or otherwise extend personal friendship to such a person. In that light, I recall a former classmate at the University of Missouri, where we both went to grad school for broadcast journalism in the mid-1980s. “Sloan” — his nickname — had grown up in Alabama in a Christian faith that did not benefit from the doctrinal and pastoral insights of Catholicism regarding SSA. He subsequently lived in San Francisco, and so he was unusual for college students at that time in being rather open about his homosexual lifestyle.
While Sloan knew that I disagreed with his lifestyle, we nevertheless cultivated a friendship. He could see that I sincerely loved him. I wasn’t afraid to hug him in public, and we got together socially with other students, including in a gathering at his home. We kept in touch a bit after graduation, and, then, in the late 1980s, I heard from a classmate that Sloan was living in the San Francisco area and dying of AIDS. I reached out to him and, in the course of our phone conversation, let him know that I was working as a staff reporter for The Catholic Observer, which serves the Diocese of Springfield, Mass. Sloan responded with contempt, saying, “So you still believe in all that (expletive deleted) enslaving Catholic stuff?”
Given Sloan’s lifestyle and its sad consequences, the immediate thought that popped into my mind was, “Look who’s talking!” Yet that would not obviously do as a Christian witness, and so I paused momentarily and joyfully said, thinking of Our Lord’s words in John 8:32, “Well, I don’t see it as enslaving. I see it as the truth that sets me free.” I think I disarmed Sloan with my comment, as we continued our conversation and parted on a good note.
Later, I wrote him a letter in which I said that if there was anything about which he needed to reconcile with God, I encouraged him to do so. I thought he would know what that would mean, coming from me, and I thought a gentler approach that confronted his lifestyle would be more effective in planting seeds. By the time he received my letter, as I learned later from a fellow former classmate, Sloan had become blind and needed that classmate to read it to him. Months after that, in early November 1989, Sloan died. I prayed for the repose of his soul then and am reminded again to do so now.
Through persistent, loving efforts toward those with SSA, we will emulate the merciful love of Christ. It is only with Christlike love that we can not only transform ourselves and others, but our culture as well, as we give witness to the One whose love none of us can ultimately do without, the only One who can set us truly free, now and forever.
Tom Nash is a theology adviser at EWTN and the author of
Worthy Is the Lamb: The Biblical Roots of the Mass (Ignatius Press).