Some Catholic homosexuals in Singapore have the impression that they are not welcome in our church and, consequently, they have left us for some other church. Father Albert Renckens writes. Is their impression wrong, or are homosexuals not welcome indeed? Here is part one of a two-part deeply felt personal reflection by Father Renckens on the treatment of homosexuals in the church.
THIS QUESTION LOOKS to me a bit strange. What would you think of the question "Are people taller than six feet welcome in the Catholic Church?" Does the question not suggest that there may be something wrong with people taller than six feet, so that we are questioning whether or not they belong to us? So does the question about homosexuals not imply the same presumption?
Unfortunately some Catholic homosexuals in Singapore do have the impression that they are not welcome in our church and consequently they have left us for some other church. Is their impression wrong, or are homosexuals not welcome indeed? Are we right in rejecting them or are we guilty of pushing these people out of the church due to our ignorance? This is the reason for this article.
To answer the question "Is there something wrong with homosexual people?" we should ask first: "What are actually homosexual people?" Homosexuals are human beings with a different sexual orientation from the majority. Most people (about 90-95 percent) are heterosexuals; that means they are sexually interested in and attracted to humans of the opposite (hetero) gender (sex). Homosexuals (5-10 percent of people) are humans who are sexually inclined towards people of the same (homo) gender (sex). Women of this kind are sometimes called lesbians.
What is in the sexual nature of heterosexuals (or straight people) - to be attracted to, to admire, to fall in love with, to hold hands, to hold each other, to dance with, to be in each other's company, to kiss each other, to have the desire to be one body; all these with somebody of the opposite sex - is also in the nature of homosexuals (or gays, as they are sometimes called), but with people of their own sex.
Heterosexuals find this natural inclination of homosexuals hard to understand and may even see it as repugnant. But is it wrong for Christians to have a homosexual orientation?
In this first part we do not question the behaviour of homosexuals which, as with behaviour of people taller than six feet, can be good or bad; that will be the content of the second article. Now we talk about these people as they are, as a group. Is it wrong to have this orientation? Let me first clarify some aspects of being homosexual:
1. Belonging to any minority group is never easy in society, as you are easily avoided or misunderstood and will anyhow not be that popular.
2. Where homosexuals are concerned, they are easily misunderstood because other people do not expect and cannot imagine them to be homosexual. Due to a taboo in the past, most parents have never been prepared to expect that one of their children might be homosexual. On the contrary they expect their children to get married and they hope to be grandparents. As a result when they are told by their child that she or he is homosexual, they feel disappointed and have difficulty accepting it. They advise such a child to get over it, to try to change.
3. As a result many homosexuals wait a long time before "coming out". This means that they have to hide their true identity from their loved ones, which psychologically can be damaging and make them feel lonely during their younger years.
4. Homosexuals have not made themselves what they are. It is also not their choice to be different. They find themselves to be homosexual in the same way people find themselves female, or Chinese, or short, or shortsighted. So, to ask them to change is a sign of ignorance. It is like asking somebody who is Chinese to be Indian instead.
5. It is true that some heterosexuals do get involved in homosexual activities due to circumstances (living conditions, sleeping accommodation, peer pressure, fear, loneliness), and can even get used and attached to it. This way they may get confused about themselves and certainly need help to rediscover their true identity, which was not changed but only obscured by their homosexual experiences. The same can happen to homosexuals.
6. One of the consequences of being homosexual is that you are unable to enter into a valid marriage, as you cannot promise to be a loving sexual partner to somebody of the opposite sex. As a matter of fact, quite a few homosexuals do get married, but that happens out of ignorance about themselves, the desire to change, parental and social pressure, business or job interest, social status, etc.
7. Homosexuals, however, are able to enter into a permanent relationship of love and care with a partner of their own sex. In such a homosexual relationship there is a kind of similarity with marriage, as one partner is more the male type and the other the female type. As such they can divide the responsibilities: Both can be working outside, or one works outside while the other is part-time or full-time homemaker.
8. This kind of stable homosexual relationship is, of course, much better than loose contacts. It is in no way an alternative to or an undermining of the marriage relationship (as it is often stated) because it is only open to homosexuals who are anyhow unable to enter into marriage. In many countries this relationship can be legally regulated.
9. However good this homosexual relationship may be, the "couple" will suffer for not having children of their own (though in some countries the are allowed to adopt them). This loss is sometimes partly compensated by their job or involvement in social or church work. Homosexuals, being different, sometimes have special gifts that heterosexuals don't have: Because of the special mixture of male-female elements in them, they are often very dedicated and good at specific jobs (as teachers, nurses, artists, fashion designers, hairdressers, etc) and they are also often very religious (and keen to serve the church).
After all this do we still have to ask the question, "What is wrong with being a homosexual?" Is the orientation itself wrong? I refer now to the present official teaching of the Catholic Church. Among other things it says:
1. All people are asked to get beyond the superficial identities of being "heterosexual" or "homosexual" and contemplate one's fundamental identity as a creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.
2. "Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." (Refer "The Homosexual Person" by J. F. Harvey, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1987, p.16-23)
The first point stresses rightly that all discrimination is wrong: All people, without distinction or condition, are loved by God as they are.
The first line of point 2 is very important: It is not a sin and you are not less loved by God when you are homosexual.
The rest of point 2, however, I fail to understand. The term "objective disorder" is clearly based on the Thomistic philosophy of human nature from the 13th century. I hope that in future documents the homosexual orientation will be understood as a "variant" or "diversity" of our human condition.
For now there is enough to chew on. In our next article we will write about what the church expects from homosexual Christians. In the meantime it is already clear that we and they should learn to thank God for all that they are and for the variety that they bring to our human family and to the church.