Rev Fr David Garcia, OP, a moral theologian, comments on the issue.
THE Church is mother and teacher. As a mother she continues to nourish God’s children, form them and help them to grow into the Body of Christ. As a teacher, she proclaims the teachings that our Lord entrusted to her.
For this, the Church cannot remain silent when she perceives confusion or anxiety among her children, especially when some of her teachings risk being misunderstood or dangerously neglected.
And at the same time, the Church cannot afford to rush into rash and unfair judgement of the signs of the times. She needs to explore all possible ways to understand and clarify before she speaks up.
In recent times, the issue of homosexual tendencies and its many implications has become a hotly debated matter.
The teachings of the Church in this regard have been precisely stated and constantly upheld. A clear distinction must be made between homosexual acts, people who experience same-sex attraction, the condition of homosexuality itself and the so-called “Gay Movement” or “LBGT agenda”.
Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and in no way can they be approved (CDF 1975, Persona Human X, and CCC 2357). On the other hand, the homosexual person should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity and “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regards should be avoided” (CCC 2358).
The homosexual condition
But what about the condition of homosexuality itself? And even more pressing, how is the Church to minister to the homosexual person in a way that fully promotes her maternal care without compromising the fidelity to her teachings?
There is a tendency to believe that by normalising the homosexual orientation and equating it with the heterosexual orientation, their unjust discrimination will, in that way, cease.
In unison with this avenue, some sectors of health care and psychological disciplines in recent years have made explicit decisions to dissociate the term “disorder” from the homosexual condition; some even taking offence when the homosexual condition is referred to as a disorder.
In contrast, the Church considers that the homosexual inclination itself is “objectively disordered” (CCC 2358).
How are we to understand this apparent contradiction? First of all, the Church respects the autonomy and competence of human sciences which must found their conclusions on objective and verifiable data, totally free from the distortion and pressure of cultural views, political agendas and any kind of lobbies and social activisms.
The role of the Church is not to elucidate the scientific facts about the world or even human psychology, but to enlighten her flock and all persons of good will through sound moral guidance. And it is in this context that the word “disorder” has often been used.
It is a technical term that has a longstanding tradition in the Church, who believes that some moral principles may be discovered by the use of natural reason which helps persons to detect what are the objective goods to be pursued.
In order to reach these objective goods, human reason, when it is correct or right, orders an objective and realistic course of action that the person must obey in conscience. Going against this rule or “order of right reason” would be, in this sense, morally wrong or disordered.
Understanding the sexual act
If the sexual act is understood simply as an expression of affection, it is difficult to see what is wrong when two persons of the same sex sincerely express their mutual affection through sexual acts. But saying that homosexual acts are disordered throws no suspicion on the sincerity of the person’s affections and emotions.
However, these acts between persons of the same sex will clearly fail to communicate and achieve the complimentary and procreative meanings that authentic marital acts intrinsically have and that natural reason is able to discover.
In this sense, we say that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered; in other words, that these acts in themselves cannot be directed or “ordered” to the objective goals that every marital and sexual relationship should have.
It is obvious then that if the homosexual orientation is a more or less strong inclination to commit homosexual acts, it would be unrealistic and naïve to consider it a “neutral” inclination. This is why the Church clarified that the inclination itself is an objective disorder (CCC 2358).
The condition is not a sin
But let us say it again, psychological conditions that are not freely chosen cannot possibly be morally wrong or disordered. The Church has never said that homosexuality is a sin. The Church is very clear about this: “the homosexual condition is not itself a sin” (CDF 1986, #3).
But the Church is more than an indifferent teacher proposing a factual doctrine. She has the heart of a mother and as such she cannot fail to hear the cry of persons who have been often judged, discriminated and rejected with no fault of their own because of their sexual orientation.
Can we be oblivious to the fact that perhaps for the first time in history, homosexual persons are claiming the right to be among us without shame? Is their claim for proud normality a deeper call for acceptance in equality?
The good news about the moral order is that it brings true equality into society. Objective moral principles are equal to all and bind all equally.
From the richest and the powerful to the last of the least, we are all in the same boat of the pursuit of virtue, meaning and ultimate fulfilment in our lives.
Heterosexuals and homosexuals are all called to live lives of chastity and to purify their sexual desires in a way that puts them at the service of meaningful relationships in an intelligent and realistic way.
Our true identity
But the Church refuses to make of our sexual preferences an identity marker. We are much more than our sexual preferences. The Church knows what gives us our true identity: the gratuitous, undeserved and unconditional love of God.
We are first and foremost God’s beloved children and “nothing can separate us from this love” (Cf Rm 8:38-39). We are not only equal before the moral law, we are all equal in dignity for the mere fact of being created by God and redeemed in His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
Regarding the ministry to the homosexual person, we must emphasise that homosexual persons are not, by the fact that they are homosexuals, necessarily more sinful persons than anyone else. These are also the grounds for truthful respect, equality and solidarity.
This solidarity in the struggle for freedom from sin to live a life of integrity with the help of divine grace and under the guidance of objective moral principles make us all equal too.
Are not these true and firm grounds for true equality? Here is the question from this new sign of the times that homosexual persons are sending.
If our societies guarantee equal dignity and acceptance for all, regardless of their age, mental capacity, economic condition, religion or sexual orientation, would some people feel that they have to claim normality to receive equal treatment?
Where we welcome the most vulnerable human beings there is no need for false claims of normality to receive equality in dignity.
If our societies treat differently the human embryo, the comatose patient, the poor and the vulnerable, it is no wonder that equal dignity and respect appears as something that we must earn and not as something we are all gifted with.
Perhaps, the world is today barking up the wrong tree and what we all really need is a social and spiritual conversion where everyone can be reassured that he/she will find a dignified place among us.
“Gird your loins with truth” (Ep 6:14). These words in the letter to the Ephesians are today as timely as ever. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell” (Caritas in Veritate, 3).
But without love, our truth is no more than raw information that fails to infuse our lives and our societies with the true life that will never end.
Fr Garcia is a Dominican priest.
Archbishop's Pastoral Letter on the Catholic Church's Position on Sexuality