Church Teaching on Homosexual Behavior is Unchanging
For 2,000 years, the Church has not wavered in her teaching on the immorality of homosexual acts.
Recently, a citation from Walter Wink has been quoted with approval by two well-known Catholic priests, Franciscan Father Richard Rohr and Jesuit Father James Martin. This is problematic as this quotation argues that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable, that the Bible is wrong, and that the Church should no longer call it immoral. We need to love people who struggle with these temptations and even those involved in these actions, but we cannot deny the moral teaching of 2,000 years of Christianity.
Where the Bible mentions [same-sex sexual] behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well and nowhere attacked it as unjust… Fifty years from now people will look back in wonder that the churches could be so obtuse and so resistant to the new thing the Holy Spirit was doing among us regarding [sexuality].
The analysis of slavery is very tenuous for various reasons. However, as Catholics we have both Scripture and Tradition. If Scripture might be unclear, Tradition helps us interpret it. Both of them condemn homosexuality. Others have shown this from Scripture, so I’d like to point this out from magisterial statements to show Church teaching on the immorality of homosexual relations is unchangeable.
Despite the clear condemnation of homosexual actions below, the Church has always been clear to distinguish actions and persons, teaching us to love all person, whatever their temptations or actions. We all have tendencies toward sin. Different people are more or less tempted to different sins. God judges us by how we deal with temptation, not by which temptation we had.
Fruitfulness of Sexual Acts
Various documents in the Church have indicated that any moral sexual activity must include an openness to life. This has been pointed out in married sexual activity but gives an underlying reason homosexual relations are immoral.
Pius XI, Casti Connubii, 57 (DH 3717):
The Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.
Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes 50 (DH 4473):
Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents… While not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. Who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.
John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio 11:
Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being “created in the image of God.” […]
The total physical self-giving [of opposite-sex spouses] would be a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal dimension, is present: if the person were to withhold something or reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by this very fact he or she would not be giving totally.
This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility. This fertility is directed to the generation of a human being, and so by its nature it surpasses the purely biological order and involves a whole series of personal values. For the harmonious growth of these values a persevering and unified contribution by both parents is necessary.
Thus, any moral expression of sexual love includes openness to children. Homosexual acts are by their nature closed to this.
Homosexual Acts Contrary to Marriage
The 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is possibly the clearest statement on this point:
The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behaviour therefore acts immorally.
To choose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator’s sexual design. 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. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.
As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.
This goes with the above statement to offer a clear reasoning why the Church cannot approve homosexual marriages or homosexual behavior.
Direct Condemnation of Homosexual Acts
Nonetheless, the Church has, on several occasions, directly pointed out that homosexual relations are immoral.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana 8 (DH 4583):
There are those who, basing themselves on observations in the psychological order, have begun to judge indulgently, and even to excuse completely, homosexual relations between certain people. This they do in opposition to the constant teaching of the Magisterium and to the moral sense of the Christian people.
Congregation for Catholic Education, Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders (DH 5100):
From the time of the Second Vatican Council until today, various Documents of the Magisterium, and especially the Catechism of the Catholic Church, have confirmed the teaching of the Church on homosexuality. The Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies.
Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture presents them as grave sins. The Tradition has constantly considered them as intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under no circumstance can they be approved.
You will note that most of these documents so far are from the last 100 years. The lack of prior documents is not indicating a lack of that teaching but that it was so obvious that it need not be stated. Most of the prior judgements put homosexual acts together with other sexual immorality. For example, Leo XI accepted Peter Damiani’s proposal to censure unchaste clerics in 1054 (DH 688):
Those who are polluted by impurity of any of the four kinds mentioned [including homosexuality] are expelled from all grades of the immaculate Church both by the appropriate censure envisaged by the sacred canons as well as by Our judgement.
Condemnation of Theologians
In recent decades, the direct condemnation of certain theologians or activists has reaffirmed the Church’s teaching in this regard.
Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent founded New Ways Ministries, which ministered to homosexuals while leaving the call to chastity out of their ministry. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith offered a notification about them, after which Father Nugent stopped ministering to homosexuals in obedience but Sister Gramick continued in disobedience:
From the beginning, in presenting the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have continually called central elements of that teaching into question. […]
They… continued to maintain and promote ambiguous positions on homosexuality and explicitly criticised documents of the Church’s Magisterium on this issue. […]
While not overlooking the presence of some positive aspects in the apostolate of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick, the Commission found serious deficiencies in their writings and pastoral activities, which were incompatible with the fullness of Christian morality. The Commission, therefore, recommended disciplinary measures, including the publication of some form of Notification, in order to counteract and repair the harmful confusion caused by the errors and ambiguities in their publications and activities.
Later on, Sister Margaret A. Farley wrote a moral theology text with multiple errors, including about homosexuality. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith took this as an opportunity to clarify perennial teaching.
Sr. Farley writes: “My own view… is that same-sex relationships and activities can be justified according to the same sexual ethic as heterosexual relationships and activities. Therefore, same-sex oriented persons as well as their activities can and should be respected whether or not they have a choice to be otherwise” (p. 295).
This opinion is not acceptable. The Catholic Church, in fact, distinguishes between persons with homosexual tendencies and homosexual acts… Concerning homosexual acts, however, the Catechism affirms: “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.”
For 2,000 years, the Church has not wavered in her teaching on the immorality of homosexual acts. There has not been a definition in the extraordinary magisterium but the ordinary universal magisterium can be infallible if taught universally with regard to time and place. The immorality of homosexual acts is an infallible teaching of the Church in the ordinary universal magisterium. Thus, the Church cannot change this teaching no matter how much certain priests might wish it changed.