The following is the substance of a question I received on-line, and my response:
Q. I’m aware that the Catholic Church teaches homosexuality is wrong, but I don’t understand why. After all, homosexuality has existed since the dawn of time. Isn’t it just a physical condition? And if homosexuals shouldn’t marry simply because God hasn’t enabled two persons of the same gender to conceive a child, then aren’t infertile male/female couples in the same situation? Shouldn’t their marriages be considered contrary to God’s will as well?
A. I would strongly agree with you that the Church’s teachings on homosexuality are poorly explained and defended. But that could also be said about many of her teachings today. We live in an era of theological and moral confusion…but that’s another topic. Let me say this, though: there is one outstanding cause of confusion on the topic of homosexuality, and that is the ubiquitous program to lambaste the Church over her moral teachings. Charges of “homophobia” and “hate speech” and even threats of litigation every time a Catholic tries to speak on this topic hardly make for a wholesome environment in which to explain Catholic thought. Speaking about the moral issue of homosexuality, even simply quoting biblical passages on the topic, can result in various countries in legal action taken against the speaker. To the glee of the gay rights movement, the Church’s teachings on homosexuality are gradually becoming illegal. We are losing the freedom to think and speak according to our consciences. So, it’s no wonder there’s confusion on this subject. There’s a widespread campaign to create it.
Let me state these two primary principles of Catholic sexual morality. First, all sexual activity belongs within the context of marriage, between one man and one woman, one husband and one wife. This means not merely that two men and two women may not ever have sexual relations. To dwell exclusively on homosexual situations and hardships, as constantly happens today, is to be prejudiced. According to Church teaching, every person who is “single” must abstain from sexual relations. This includes the unmarried, the divorced, and the widowed; it includes as well priests and professed religious who have promised or vowed celibacy for the kingdom of God. Even married persons must abstain from sexual relations with persons other than their spouses. In other words, the Church in no way requires one moral standard for homosexuals but another moral standard for non-homosexuals. Chastity, which refers to sexual purity in accord with one’s state in life, is for everyone.
Second, the homosexual inclination itself, though disordered, does not immediately put one in a sinful state. In other words, one cannot be called “guilty” simply because of one’s sinful desires – whatever they may be. In fact, we all have disordered desires of some type. But guilt requires that one either act on sinful desires or at least enjoy the thought of them, since one can sin in the heart without the participation of the body. Therefore, a man or woman who resisted homosexual desires could be a very holy person. This is true for all sinful desires, since the resistance of temptation in general is a meritorious act; that is, it is an act made possible by divine grace that pleases God and merits reward from Him.
The scandal of the so-called gay rights movement is that all such resistance is discouraged. It is not merely concerned with guarding the legitimate civil rights of homosexuals (in accord, by the way, with Church teaching). Rather, the gay rights movement is determined to encourage homosexuals to engage in sinful homosexual behavior. This is where the gay rights movement and the Catholic Church are simply irreconcilable.
Now to your two comments or questions.
1) Why is homosexuality wrong, since it seems to be a physical condition present since the dawn of time?
Indeed, homosexuality has nearly always existed, and it has been especially acceptable among pagan peoples. In other words, for some reason Jews and Christians have historically condemned and resisted it, while others have freely indulged in it. That one can find many exceptions to this among Jews and Christians is obvious, but this is because individuals fall from grace, contrary to their own sincere or insincere religious profession. Hence, the priestly sex scandals within the Church. My point is, something other than coincidence has bound traditional Jews and Christians to a similar belief and practice regarding homosexuality.
At the very heart of the Jewish and Christian religions is the notion of divine revelation. God, being supremely intelligent, created intelligent creatures – human beings. Thus, God and human beings were meant to communicate with each other, and the two have indeed done so. One familiar type of communication is called prayer; another type is called divine revelation in which God communicates His will for humanity to humanity. The written record of this latter communication is called the Bible – including both the Old and New Testaments.
Now, within both the Old and New Testaments, homosexual acts are described as being profoundly contrary to God’s will. Why? I would answer in the same way regarding all sins: because they are harmful to human well-being – physically, psychologically, morally, and spiritually. God does not cruelly or arbitrarily create laws. He does not randomly invent moral precepts, merely as a means of making our lives miserable and difficult. Rather, He does so because some behaviors are truly good, and others are truly bad, and bad behaviors have bad consequences – both here and hereafter.
Man is a moral creature by nature; he was designed by God to live a morally upright life, and such is his vocation and dignity. But when he fails to do so, when he surrenders himself to sin, the consequences are deep and profound because he has contradicted his God-given nature. Then he is a fish trying to fly or a bird trying to swim. It cannot go well in either case because fish were not meant to fly and birds were not meant to swim. Nor can it go well for the person who lives in sin because the human being was not meant to sin. That which is natural, normal, and healthy for the human being is defined by the One who created the human being, who gave the human being its nature and dignity.
We can deny and oppose these facts, but in doing so we will only hurt ourselves by rebelling against God’s will and our God-given nature. If a man or woman lives in sin, he or she eventually suffers from it, because the human person was designed by God to be morally upright and holy.
Now regarding the popular claim that homosexuality is a “physical condition,” I’m not sure if you’re making a reference to the “gay gene” theory, or something else. I’ve seen and heard many references to this alleged gene, but I haven’t seen much evidence for it. How many individual studies have discovered it? Have other studies replicated the identical findings? Have they been scientifically and medically challenged? And how objective were the scientists or doctors who conducted the research? By any chance, were they externally pressured to “discover” such a gene, or might they have been even personally determined to do so? In other words, were the research and findings entirely objective and scientific, or were they influenced more by liberal politics? These are important questions, because our current militantly pro-homosexual climate is anything but favorable to objective research, just as it is anything but favorable to religious truth. The fact is, a scientist or doctor whose findings contradicted the gay gene theory would certainly be taking an extreme career risk in making their findings public, not to mention the threats of litigation.
Let’s say that there is such a gay gene and it motivates all homosexual behavior. Well, there would be nothing special about the homosexual’s circumstances. All of humanity suffers from a sort of moral disorder, and it’s called fallen nature or concupiscence. We all struggle with disordered passions and desires. So, again, there is nothing special about the homosexual situation. What homosexuals experience, in fact, we all experience, though in vastly different ways; and that is, temptation – the desire to do that which is morally wrong.
Regardless, certain actions are morally wrong, no matter how strong one’s desire may be to commit such actions. A strong desire may in some circumstances lessen the guilt of the person involved, but it cannot change the moral quality of the actions that follow. For example, if I have uncontrollable temper tantrums, if every time I have a bad day I start breaking furniture and throwing around tools and pots and pans – and all this due to a physical or psychological disorder – then, even though I have a disposition or genetic tendency towards violent outbursts, still, such outbursts remain morally wrong. If – God forbid – I have a tendency to beat my wife, then, regardless of all the genetic excuses I might have, beating my wife is still morally wrong in every single case. Objectively speaking, an act is one moral aspect, while the actor is another moral aspect. To give another example, killing an innocent person is, in all circumstances, gravely morally wrong. However, the actual guilt of the killer can be mitigated by the circumstances. In other words, if he or she was scared, upset, feeling threatened, or insane, then, although the act of killing an innocent persons always remains objectively gravely sinful, the person who commits the act may be subjectively guilty of less than a grave sin, due to circumstances. They may be guilty only of a venial sin.
Homosexual apologists claim that, since homosexuality is (allegedly) the result of a gay gene, homosexual acts cannot be called sinful. In other words, it’s God’s fault, so blame Him if you want to blame someone. Again, human acts have a moral nature of their own. Homosexual acts are always, by their very nature, objectively sinful. As for the individuals who commit such acts, their guilt can be reduced by the circumstances, but the acts themselves still remain morally disordered. So, if a gay gene was found to be the driving force behind homosexual acts, nevertheless, the moral nature of the homosexual acts themselves would remain unchanged. And if a violent gene was found to be the driving force behind murder, nevertheless, the moral nature of killing the innocent would remain the same: it would be murder.
2) Homosexuality goes against God’s plans for marriage, which is designed to produce children. Yet, many couples cannot conceive, while others adopt. Why are such barren couples allowed to marry, whereas homosexual couples should not?
This question gets at the heart of the moral nature of sexual acts, and which acts are natural and which unnatural. According to the Church, that sexual act is morally licit which is conformed to one of the primary purposes of sex; namely, the creation of new human life. Conception obviously requires the physical complimentary of a male and a female. Yet, even with the most fertile couples, the act of intercourse often does not result in a conception. So, according to Catholic reasoning, shouldn’t this mean the act is immoral? After all, the intercourse didn’t fulfill the ultimate purpose of sexual acts.
As long as the sexual act could have, under different circumstances (fertility, etc.), produced a child, the act is moral and natural. Only intercourse between a man and a woman is capable by design of producing a child. Hence, those sexual acts which could not, by their very nature and under any circumstances, conceive a child are immoral and unnatural. These would include sodomy and completed oral sex. Such acts are barren by their very nature and could not, under any circumstances, conceive a child; thus, they are immoral and unnatural. Their unnatural aspect can also be demonstrated by the harm they often cause the physical body. But that is a topic for another time.
The questions you’ve asked are important and complicated. If anything I’ve said seems unclear, please don’t hesitate to ask me about it.