Can a person be “homosexual” and Catholic? On Tuesday, October 20, our Adult Faith Formation team for its first “Tuesday Night Live” session showed the documentary film The Third Way, which explores the Catholic Church’s approach to loving persons with same sex attraction. I hosted a Q & A session afterward which you can listen to here. You can also watch the short movie here.
The Church teaches that persons with same sex attraction should be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” (paragraph 2358) and should not be discriminated against unjustly. They are called to have a freedom of heart that allows them to have peace at the core of their being. Just like everyone else they are called to chastity.
Contrary to the orthodoxy of our culture and of our day, the Church also teaches though that while same sex attraction, the desire, is not in and of itself sinful (After all, a person cannot be held accountable for something that is not within their control), it is “disordered” (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2358; for a summary of the Church’s teaching, see also paragraphs 2357 and 2359). The reason for calling it “disordered” is that the desire of same sex attraction does not lead the person to carry out acts that lead to true fulfillment and human flourishing.
It is important to note that the Church separates the inner feeling/attraction from the homosexual act. The act, commonly expressed as “acting out,” could be in thought, word or deed, and that is where the sin would lie, in that area of choice in the mind and will of the person.
Keep in mind that “homosexual” is not the best way to identify a person. That term makes it seem as if the fact that the person is attracted toward members of the same sex is the most important part of their identity and should dominate their whole life. This is typical in our culture, isn’t it, where sex and sexuality is the most important reality in life. But I shouldn’t see a “homosexual”; that means that I am only interested in characterizing that person by the way they would like to have sex or relate to others “sexually.” Rather I should see a person. I see a person who may be struggling with same sex attraction. Being same sex attracted is just one of a number of qualities and characteristics of a person, and by far not the most important one.
One of my moral theology professors in seminary taught us to look at the issue of sexual attraction on a “spectrum.” A person in fact could lie on many different points on a spectrum when it comes to whom they are attracted. A person could be exclusively same sex attracted or exclusively attracted to members of the opposite gender. A person could be strongly attracted to persons of the same gender and less attracted but still attracted to some degree to persons of the opposite gender, and vice versa. The issue of how sexual attraction comes to be present in a person - where those feelings originated and how they developed - is a complex psychological issue, with shades of gray, and persons should not just be lumped into one of two categories so that it is easier for us to judge them.
In a sound bite culture in which discourse, if it occurs at all, takes place though flashing, colorful lights and the expression of raw emotions and gut feelings, it is difficult to make all of these kinds of distinctions that the Church makes with regard to the issue of same sex attraction. But we must try because Jesus commands us to do so. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” he said (Mk 16:15). And we must preach the Gospel not ashamedly but confidently and joyfully.