HOMOSEXUALITY AND GOSPEL TRUTH:
TOWARDS EFFECTIVE PASTORAL CARE
by Fr Robert A. Gahl, Jr.
Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
1. Human Love and Sexuality
"It is not good that the man should be alone" (Gn 2:18). With these words, the Book of Genesis introduces the creation of Eve, the first woman. The inspired creation story explains the origin of the difference between man and woman by indicating that human beings, made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:26), are called to loving communion. In addition, according to the Genesis account, the complementarity between man and woman, a reflection of "the inner unity of the Creator", is directed towards this communion.1 Ever since the creation of our first parents, sexual intercourse was always meant to be a beautiful expression of human love for the sake of bearing fruit within a family and for unifying husband and wife. The Church therefore "celebrates the divine plan of the loving and life-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage".2 Consequently, in accord with natural law, the Church teaches that any use of the sexual faculty outside of conjugal intercourse is sinful and thus can only lead to frustration and remorseful separation from the divine Creator.
2. Homosexuality: Definition and Evaluation
When Adam and Eve misused their freedom by disobeying God, they committed the original sin which wounded human nature. The effects of original sin are experienced by each one of us. Sin obscures man's likeness to God, clouds our perception of the spousal meaning of the human body, and makes difficult the permanent, self-giving love between husband and wife.3 Because of original sin, human nature is wounded in the natural powers proper to it and inclined to sin.4
Homosexuality is one of the many manifestations of the disorder in human inclinations introduced by original sin. Homosexuality is the condition of those "who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex".5 Like any other disorder brought about by the wounds in human nature, the experience of homosexual inclinations is a summons to spiritual battle.6 The Church distinguishes between inclinations and the active following through on those inclinations. The Church therefore also distinguishes between persons who experience homosexual temptations and homosexual activity. Men and women who experience sexual inclinations directed predominantly towards members of the same sex are considered homosexual persons. Voluntary sexual activity, or any form of sensual contact for the sake of sexual gratification, between persons of the same sex is considered homosexual activity. While original sin is the remote cause of homosexuality, the proximate cause seems to be a combination of various phenomena not totally understood by science.
Because they contradict the plan of the Creator, homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. Anyone who freely consents to homosexual activity is personally guilty of grave sin.7 Homosexual activity nullifies the rich symbolism, meaning and purpose within the Creator's design. In its intrinsic sterility, homosexual activity thwarts the call to a life of loving self-gift expressed by the complementary conjugal union between man and woman.8 Homosexual activity lacks the essential finality indispensable for the moral goodness of sexual acts. Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual activity as a serious depravity and even "as the sad consequence of rejecting God"9 (cf. Rom 1:24-27). The Church helps homosexual persons to struggle courageously against disordered inclinations and to conform themselves to the splendour of truth found in Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 14:6). By "rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality" the Church "defends personal freedom and dignity".10 Social harmony depends, in part, on the proper living out of the mutual support and complementarity between the two sexes, which is why the Church cannot support civil legislation protecting "behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right".11
While denouncing homosexual activity, the Church also defends homosexual persons from those forms of discrimination which are unjust12 and seeks to help them find joy and peace in living the virtue of chastity. Those who suffer from homosexual inclinations are not necessarily responsible for their condition. No one ought to judge such persons as inferior. The Church's long experience proves that with the help of the grace of Jesus Christ, frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion, ascetical struggle, andin some casesmedical treatment, they can avoid sin and make progress on the path towards holiness. All must struggle to do what is right, and it is only with God's grace and great effort that men and women succeed in achieving their own inner integrity. The Church recognizes the equal dignity of all persons and offers a maternal welcome to those who experience homosexual inclinations. Likewise, the Church absolutely condemns all malice in speech or action towards homosexual people and teaches that such behaviour endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. Consequently, the Church teaches that human law should promote respect for the intrinsic dignity of each person .13
3. Guidelines for Ministry to Homosexual Persons
Through her apostolic action, the Church opens her arms to all men and women. "The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation".14 "All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body".15 With creative initiative motivated by charity, and without any fear, the Christian faithful express God's fatherly love for all by seeking them out and meeting their desire for salvation. Believing that the salvific perfection of human freedom may be found only in the truth of Jesus Christ, the Church must always courageously proclaim Christian morality, even when facing opposition or, in extreme cases, persecution and martyrdom.16
Therefore, any Catholic ministry or apostolate to homosexual persons should fulfil the following conditions.
1) Respect for the equal dignity of homosexual persons requires recognizing that sinful actions, such as homosexual acts, are beneath human dignity. The Church's ministers therefore must ensure that no homosexual persons in their care are misled by the widespread erroneous view that homosexual activity is an inevitable consequence of the homosexual condition .17
2) To be effective, authentic and faithful, all pastoral care of homosexual persons must convey the serious sinfulness of homosexual behaviour. Without driving away anyone of good will, ministry to homosexual faithful must communicate, as soon as possible, the demanding yet attractive requirements of moral truth. Since some people may feel rejected by the Church, pastoral care of homosexual persons is most effective by helping them to recognize that the Church accepts them as persons, while also helping them to understand the Church's teaching.
3) With their effort to live according to the Gospel, homosexual persons gain peace and mastery of their disordered tendencies. They are encouraged to learn that with the love of Christ, "they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection".18 All pastoral outreach to homosexual persons should therefore privilege personal ascetical struggle, generous acceptance of God's will, recognition of being a child of God, and the joining of their sufferings and difficulties to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross.19 With compassionate understanding, the Church's ministry should encourage homosexual faithful to hope in the power of the Lord's Resurrection, with the confidence that the Holy Spirit will produce in them "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Gal 5:22). As St. Paul admonished the Galatians: "Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal 5:24). Homosexual persons, therefore, should make use of the proven means for growing in the virtue of chastity, including frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion.
4) The authenticity of the Church's public proclamation of the Gospel must be guaranteed by assuring that all involved in ministry to homosexual persons, especially clergy and religious, be personally convinced of the Church's teaching and ready to profess the Church's teaching as their own. The public accountability of ministers of the Church requires that they believe and profess the teachings of the Church. Attracting new members to the Church requires firm personal conviction and dedication. An effective apostolate to homosexual persons, even to those who may feel ostracized from the Church, requires readiness to communicate the Church's moral teaching with personal adherence. Reluctance to express the whole of Christian morality only hinders the pastoral care of homosexual persons and thereby does them a serious injustice.
5) All public ministry to homosexual persons should be done in very close unity with and under the guidance of the local Bishop in order to guarantee that the ministry will always reflect the fullness of Catholic teaching.
6) Ministry towards homosexual people should courageously speak against the claim that the condemnation of homosexual activity is a kind of unjust discrimination of homosexual persons or a violation of their rights.20 Those who accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and condone homosexual activity "are guided by a vision opposed to the truth about the human person, which is fully disclosed in the mystery of Christ".21 Even without recognizing it, their approval of homosexuality reflects "a materialistic ideology which denies the transcendent nature of the human person as well as the supernatural vocation of every individual".22
7) To avoid misunderstandings or confusion, ministry to homosexual persons must always be entirely independent from any group which favours a "gay life-style" or claims that the homosexual condition is equivalent or somehow superior to the chastity lived in marriage or celibacy. Church ministries to homosexual people should not associate with organizations that promote changes in civil legislation which would jeopardize the juridical recognition of marriage and family by giving equivalent status to homosexual unions.23
The Church is conscious of the responsibility to preserve the priceless gift of revelation and to defend it against every harmful influence. Pastoral programmes, when undertaken in conformity with the truth of revelation, contribute to the human and spiritual benefit of homosexual persons, and to the integrity of society. It must never be forgotten that "departure from the Church's teaching or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care, is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church's position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve".24
1 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter Homosexualitatis problema (1 October 1986), n. 6.
2 Homosexualitatis problema, n. 7.
3 Cf. Homosexualitatis problema, n. 6.
4 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (15 August 1997), n. 405.
5 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2357.
6 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 405.
7 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2396.
8 Cf. Homosexualitatis problema, n. 7.
9 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Personahumana (29 December 1975), n. 8.
10 Homosexualitatis problema, n. 7.
11 Homosexualitatis problema, n. 10.
12 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2358. However, "there are areas in which it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account, for example, in the placement of children for adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or athletic coaches, and in military recruitment" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Some Considerations concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons, in L'Osservatore Romano, 24 July 1992, n. 11).
13 Cf. Homosexualitatis problema, n. 10.
14 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 845.
15 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 846.
16 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor (6 August 1993), n. 91.
17 Cf. Persona humana, n. 8.
18 Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2359.
19 Homosexualitatis problema, n. 12.
20 Cf. Homosexualitatis problema, n. 9.
21 Homosexualitatis problema, n. 8.
22 Homosexualitatis problema, n. 8.
23 Cf. Homosexualitatis problema, n. 9.
24 Homosexualitatis problema, n. 15.
Weekly Edition in English
14 July 1999, page 10
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:
The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069