What's Church Belief on Homosexuality, and Why?

Robert Stackpole Answers Your Divine Mercy Questions

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By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (May 12, 2012)
As the author of this weekly column, I often receive questions from people wrestling with painful, personal problems. Most of these are private matters, of course, so I do not answer them in the public column, and many of them are beyond my gifts in pastoral care to deal with anyway — so all I can do is refer the inquirer to one of our Marian priests, or to counseling resources in their own area. I am, after all, primarily a theologian and not a pastoral counselor or spiritual director.

For example, I have had a number of people write to me about their own personal struggles with same-sex attraction, or about their state of bewilderment regarding how to respond to family members and friends who have "come out of the closet" and proclaimed their homosexual identity.

For example, one person wrote me and asked what we as Catholic Christians should do if one of our friends announces that he or she is "proud to be gay." Another person who wrote me was in anguish about how to overcome her own same-sex passions, and a third simply asked why the Church teaches that the homosexual lifestyle is wrong. After all, he said, they cannot help being attracted to people of the same sex: Perhaps God just made them that way. The important thing is whether or not we love one another, not whether we express that love with a man or a woman. Besides, he said, the gay couple that he knows is as kind-heartened and friendly as any other couple—so what's the big deal? Another person simply asked what the message of Divine Mercy has to do with homosexuality anyway!

This issue is a complex one, so it will take me more than one column to address it. Please bear with me. In fact, there is a lot of fuzzy thinking on all sides of the matter, so we need to clear away the fog in order to see it more clearly, with the mind of the Church and from the heart of the Church.

First of all, the Catholic Church makes a distinction between homosexual "acts" and the homosexual "condition." In most cases, people are not responsible for their given psychological and biological condition. In the short run at least, they "can't help being that way"; they are only morally responsible for their voluntary acts. Thus, when the Church says that homosexuality is a "sin," she means that homosexual acts are sinful. She does not mean that it is a sin to find oneself attracted to people of the same sex.

Nevertheless, the "condition" is still not a good thing. The Catholic Tradition definitely looks upon it as a "disordered" state (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357). Yet this, too, can easily be misunderstood. By viewing the condition and inclination as a disorder, the Church does not mean it is a "psychosis," or that the person who has this condition is "crazy." It does not mean that the individual with same-sex attraction cannot form real friendships, or cannot have genuine affection for their relatives, or cannot be an honest, hard-working and effective employee, or is automatically at a high risk of being a pedophile. Thus, it is not surprising that the man wrote to me and confessed that the gay couple in his neighborhood are generally friendly and kind. What is needed for friendliness and kindness is not immediately at stake when someone adopts a gay lifestyle. That is not the area of their life where the problem initially lies.

The Catholic Faith is that homosexuality is a disorder because it stems from brokenness, a wounding of the human condition. In that sense it is "unnatural." In other words, it is not what our Creator intended human nature to be in its whole and healthy state. As a result, someone who lives out a gay lifestyle will inevitably find that it does not lead to true fulfillment and peace of heart. There may be a temporary release of tension when the person "comes out" and admits that they are gay, and it is better to be honest with oneself than to live in fear and self-deception. But again, in time that person will realize that giving in to that inclination and living out the homosexual lifestyle only leads to spiritual emptiness. One form of self-deception has simply replaced another: Now the person is deceiving themselves that God made them gay and that they can find peace of heart, deep happiness, and even sanctity, by being "who they are." But that is not who they are. The fact is, we are all people "in recovery" in one way or another, sinners-not-yet-fully-cured. Whenever we fail to see what our Lord really made us to be and would have us become, we are stifling His healing, sanctifying work within us. There can be no deep joy and no peace of heart and no perfect love down that pathway.

How can I be so sure about this?

Generally, there are two ways we know this: by divine revelation and by rational reflection. We will look at the first way in this column, and the second way next week.

"Divine revelation" means God's special acts in human history by which He reveals His nature, His saving work, and His purposes for us. The three principle stages of that revelation are the life of God's chosen people Israel, the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the witness of the apostles whom He chose, and to whom He gave authority to teach in his name (e.g. Mt 10:40; 16:19, 18:18; Lk 10:16; Jn 16:13, 17:17).

Why does God provide moral guidance for us through Jesus our Savior, through His apostles, through the divinely inspired Scriptures they used and wrote, and through the Sacred Tradition of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Because we cannot figure out everything we need to know all by ourselves. Almost all of us have neither the time nor the capability to do so, even if it were possible. But Jesus promised: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" (Jn 8:32). Free from the shallow and confusing treatment of moral values in the media and popular culture. Free from slavery to our own disordered desires and moral self-deceptions. Free from everything that blocks us from finding true fulfillment and peace of heart.

I am frequently amazed by people who reject some of the Church's biblically based moral teachings — say, on divorce or homosexuality or abortion — and yet claim at the same time to be committed to belief in a God of love and in Jesus as His Son who died for our sins and rose again. After all, on what basis can we possibly believe that God is love? Our daily experience does not prove it; often it seems to contradict it. Philosophy can demonstrate that there is a God, but cannot assure us that merciful love is His supreme attribute — only, at best, that He is generally and vaguely benevolent. It is only divine revelation, authoritatively given to us through Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and the Apostolic Tradition, that can give us really firm ground for believing that God is Love and that He assumed human flesh and made the perfect sacrifice for our sins on the Cross. In short, the sources of divine revelation that assure us that the homosexual lifestyle is wrong, and ultimately a road to spiritual self-destruction, are the very same ones we count on to assure us that God is love and that He paid the ransom-price for our sins on the Cross. To undercut the authority of divine revelation in our lives is to undercut the only solid basis for believing the central doctrine of our faith: the merciful love of God.

So the first thing to ask a Christian who does not trust the Bible and the Church on this matter is simply this: Why don't you trust Jesus? After all, He is the one who gave authority to His apostles to teach and who founded the Church and inspired the Scriptures to be written. Why don't you trust Him when He tells you what leads to peace and fulfillment and what leads to sorrow and loss in the end?

Someone may respond: "But Jesus Himself never said anything about homosexuality, right?" Actually, that is not quite true.

In Mark 7:21 Jesus talks about the evil that comes from the heart of man, and He lists some examples, including a word that is usually translated as "fornication." It was actually a blanket term that can refer to all forms of extra-marital sex and sexual immorality, and therefore probably referred to all that his Jewish listeners clearly understood to be such, including homosexual acts (see Lv 18:22. 20:13). Some people object to any reference to the beliefs of the Jews recorded in the Old Testament on the grounds that the OT Law also condemned such things as eating pork and shellfish. Surely we are not meant to follow the whole Law of Moses today!

Indeed not, but the fact that we are not required to follow it all (e.g. Jewish ritual laws, or civil laws, which God intended for that particular time in the history of the Jewish people) does not mean we can ignore it all either, or that it has no underlying moral lessons for us. There are obviously some moral laws in the Old Testament that are meant to be for all generations (e.g. the Ten Commandments). The trick is to discern the main principles of right and wrong that God was applying to that particular time and place.

OK, so let's look at some other clues from the Old Testament (and remember that for Jesus Himself, the Hebrew Scriptures were "The Word of God" that "cannot be broken": Jn 10:35; cf Mt 5:17-20; 15:6; 19:5). The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the one from which we get the term "sodomy" for homosexual acts, and it appears at first glance to be a clear condemnation of homosexual acts:

Before the guests went to bed, the men of Sodom surrounded the house. All the men of the city, both young and old were there. They called out to Lot and asked "Where are the men who came to stay with you tonight? Bring them out to us!" The men of Sodom wanted to have sex with them. (Gen 19:4-5 GNB)

Some gay advocates have argued that the real sin that the Sodomites omitted was violating the Jewish laws of hospitality, or seeking victims to rape, but not homosexuality. But the context surely implies all of these sins were on display at once. The city was so rife with all kinds of immorality that God destroyed it in the end. That homosexual acts were among these moral crimes was also the interpretation of the story given by the apostle St. Jude in the New Testament (Jude, verse 7).

Perhaps the clearest teaching on the subject of homosexual acts is found in the epistles of St. Paul. Remember that St. Paul was specially chosen by Jesus Christ Himself to be the great apostle to the Gentiles: "He is a chosen instrument of Mine, to carry My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15). In St. Paul's epistles, I Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:10 clearly warn against homosexual acts, telling us that they are spiritually self-destructive, for without repentance such actions can even keep us from "inheriting the kingdom of God." This means, of course, that you are not doing anyone any real favors by pretending that a same sex-lifestyle is OK. Merciful love for others implies "speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4:15), not closing our eyes to divinely revealed truth (more on how to relate to your gay friends and family members with merciful love in our column next week). The most famous passage in St. Paul's epistles in this regard is Romans 1:26-27:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Leaning on some ambiguities in these texts, gay advocates have claimed that these passages might be interpreted in other ways. For example: as condemnations only of male prostitution or the sexual corruption of the young (in the case of I Cor 6:9 and I Tim 1:10) or as a rejection only of the shameless orgies involved in pagan cults (in the case of Rom 1:26-27). But there are several reasons for doubting such interpretations. For example, none of the earliest Christian teachers interpreted these texts in such restrictive ways, and yet they understood and used the same Greek language in which these epistles were written. Moreover, scholars have looked at St. Paul's use of phrases such as "natural" and "unnatural" relations in Romans and found that these are the same phrases used by many other writers of his time generally to distinguish between natural (heterosexual) and unnatural (homosexual) sexual behavior.

Most importantly, it is futile to try to understand Scriptural prohibitions of various kinds of sexual behavior apart from the context of God's positive teaching about the meaning and purpose of sexuality in His plan for human life revealed in the Creation story in Genesis 1 and 2. Jesus Himself explicitly endorsed this teaching (e.g., in Mt 19: 3-9). All Jewish and Christian writers in biblical times accepted it as true and normative. In Genesis it is absolutely clear that God's plan for human sexuality is that it is meant to bond together male and female in a loving, lifelong, complementary (heterosexual), exclusive, and fruitful union (that is, open to the gift of children). There is no wholesome, natural, alternative sexual lifestyle given to us by our Creator. He would have told us so if there were. Genesis gives us the "manufacturer's operating instructions," so to speak: the Creator's own blueprint for human fulfillment and peace of heart in this important aspect of our lives.

So first of all, if someone asks me what the Divine Mercy message has to do with the Church's teachings on homosexuality, I would reply that it has to do with the very heart of that message: "Jesus, I trust in You!" I trust in the apostles You chose and to whom You promised the guidance of the Spirit of Truth. I trust in the Scriptures that they wrote and the Hebrew Scriptures that You Yourself trusted. I trust that You would not leave Your Church and all of humanity in the dark about this matter for more than 2,000 years. I trust that You show us the way to authentic love, and lasting peace.

There is a lot more that needs to be said on this issue — and will be said in Part 2. But for anyone who believes in God, and wants to be a follower of Jesus, it begins with trust.

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at questions@thedivinemercy.org.

View archived Q&A columns.

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Be a part of the discussion. Add a comment now!

Rick - Mar 24, 2013

I am a practicing Catholic and struggle with homosexual tendencies and have acted on them at times in the past and have felt so guilty afterwards. It's only after I have received the sacrament of reconciliation and confess my sin that I feel renewed. I have, in the past, tried to justify my behavior, but it only made me more confused and I often felt like "damaged goods". I have recently re-evaluated my position and truly believe that the homosexual lifestyle is indeed wrong. It took me a long time to come to see the truth and I thank God for his divine mercy and grace. The remorse I feel for my past actions regarding a close friend of mine who recently died is what still bothers me. He was a good, holy man who taught me more about God's Love and divine mercy and who prayed the divine mercy chaplet daily. I have asked God to let me know if he made it to purgatory since I do not believe he received the sacrament of penance before he died. It has caused me great pain to think that he might be damned forever because of his sin...I do know that he was celibate for the last few years and was a daily communicant and a priest. Please Father, can you help me with this matter. Thank-you for teaching the truth in love.
Sincerely, Rick

Bea - Jun 26, 2012


Janet - May 26, 2012

Mike, you are right, we cannot judge our neighbors, but we can judge our neighbors' actions and in charity and love offer them the truth of their situation. After all, eternal happiness is at stake.

Mike - May 22, 2012

Jesus told us to love our neighbor. We are all sinners and have no right to judge our neighbors. Every soul has their own relationship with God. All we have to do is continue to love our neighbors. If for some reason, it's hard to show your love towards your neighbor, then we should ask our blessed mother Mary to help us see God's love for us!

Robert Stackpole - May 19, 2012

On the contrary, Tony, I do see how gays are included in God's plan: the same way all of us are included. God's desire is not to leave any of us floundering in any of our varying forms of brokeness and disorder, but to heal and to sanctify us all. It's an offer of mercy-- and a challenge-- to all of us, whatever our sins and problems may be. But if you just blame the Church for your problems, and insist that Christ only "affirm" who you think you are now, rather than letting him lead you into all that you can become, by His healing and sanctifying grace, then of course,you will be continually carrying thatsame load of bitterness that was manifest in your previous comment. Anyway, please read part two of this series before you make up your mind.

Tony - Feb 18, 2012

You Say: "The Catholic Faith is that homosexuality is a disorder because it stems from brokenness,"

I am a gay christian. If I am broken, it is because of the church teachings on homosexuality. But I forgive you and the church because you cannot see how a person like me falls into gods plan of salvation.

Robert Stackpole - Feb 8, 2012

No, Susan, you are certainly not wrong to be his friend. Friendship is usually an expression of merciful love, which is precisely how our Savior calls us to treat all of our neighbors. As long as you are not asked to do something or participate in something that requires you to endorse a gay lifestyle (e.g., go to a gay wedding, or celebrate a gay couples' "anniversary"), then you are not violating a well-formed conscience by reaching out to that person with caring love, and welcoming their offers of friendship too--see my second column in this series on this too.

susan - Feb 7, 2012

I have a friend and neighbor that is gay.Am I in the wrong by being his friend and having him visit in my home? He knows how much I love the Lord and how I try and live my life according to the teachings of Christ.He even ask to go with me to Midnight Mass this past Christmas. He believes in God but has never read any scripture. I have never had a situation like this before and feel I must love all of God's children.