In the current debate about the legal definition of marriage, questions have been raised about Catholic teaching on homosexuality. There seems to be considerable confusion.
Catholics need to understand Catholic teaching, and to explain it to others, particularly if members of their families are gay. This is different from the teachings of some other churches and groups.
A basic distinction
Catholic teaching always distinguishes between people and their behaviour. God’s laws are concerned with moral behaviour. Moral goodness is needed to relate personally with God, whose goodness is limitless.
God’s laws enable us to make judgements about whether or not our behaviour or the behaviour of others is morally good (just as traffic laws enable us to judge whether we or others are driving legally). However, Jesus told us never to judge others as persons [Matthew 7:1].
Catholic teaching on homosexual people
For Catholics, like all human beings, homosexual people have been created in the image of likeness of God. Like everyone else, they have the potential to reflect the selfless love of God, along with God’s justice, compassion and forgiveness.
Homosexual people have the same God-given dignity as every other person. Their God-given rights to love and respect are unconditional.
The Catechism makes clear the obligation of every Catholic to accept every homosexual person’ with respect, compassion and sensitivity’. It tells us that ‘every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’ [Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358].
It would be very wrong for parishioners to reject homosexuals as people in any way.
Catholic teachings on homosexuality part company with those churches and groups who view homosexuals as ‘evil’, in some ways inferior, or of lesser dignity than other human beings.
The human call to chastity
Since human beings – including those of homosexual orientation – have been created to reflect the selfless love, goodness, compassion and justice of God in their daily lives and behaviour, all are called also to chastity. This is so be they young or old, single or married, heterosexual or homosexual.
Chastity includes the integration of sexual desires and instincts into the personality so that they help, rather than hinder, selfless love and the other attributes of God. The opposite of this is where sexual desires develop lives of their own, strengthening so that they dominate the will and the conscience.
To the extent that they behave unchastely, people find themselves breaking God’s laws related to sexual behaviour. Dominating sexual desires become too strong to resist. Their consciences have little positive influence.
There are chaste and unchaste homosexuals today, just as these chaste and unchaste heterosexuals. God calls on homosexuals to develop chastity in the same way that heterosexuals are called to develop chastity. God’s Commandments are not discriminatory – and any suggestion that homosexual people are ‘weaker’ than others in the area of chastity is factually untrue and discriminatory.
Chastity requires spiritual maturity
As with all other baptised Christians, the bodies of homosexual Christians are ‘parts of Christ’s body’. They are also ‘temples of the Holy spirit’ who is in them, and ‘for the Lord’ [1 Corinthians 6:12-20].
Chastity requires personal spiritual maturity. This grows as people draw on the divine power Jesus offers for their lives.
The first ways believers draw on Christ’s power are through the Eucharist and the other sacraments Jesus gave us for this purpose. The daily prayer he called for is also essential – including for prayer for strength against temptations..
In an age of declining religious practice, sexual immorality is inevitable – including homosexual immoral behaviour.
Homosexual actions break the Sixth Commandment. Here we need to remember that the Commandments started as rhythmic Hebrew ‘words’ or sayings to remind people of all God’s laws related to human behaviour. God’s laws relating to homosexual actions fall under the Sixth Commandment.
There are those who try to argue away the meaning of God’s laws and biblical teachings regarding homosexual actions. This is not the place to discuss why they are mistaken in this regard.
Catholic teaching on homosexuality can be summarised as follows:
· homosexuals have the same God-given dignity and rights as every other human being
· homosexual actions that are unchaste violate God’s laws.
Like others, the Church calls unchaste homosexuals to repent their behaviour and to accept the relationship God wants with all. Every time that they weaken they are called to accept reconciliation again with God through the Sacrament of Penance.
Beware misunderstanding theological language
Specialists in areas of study develop technical language. This includes theologians. Unfortunately, in an age of communication, media bring the technical language of specialists to people who are not familiar with this language. The result is misunderstanding and confusion.
The word ‘evil’ in its technical sense, for example, is a good example. An evil includes anything that is contrary to the plan of the Creator. Examples Jesus gives include avarice, malice, deceit, envy and slander are well as ‘fornication’ (sex between the unmarried) and adultery [Mark 7:21-22].
In this sense, theologians and Catholic teaching speak of homosexual actions as ‘intrinsically evil’. This means that, like avarice and deceit, these actions are contrary to the plan of our Creator. For Catholics at least, this does not mean that homosexual people who break God’s laws are ‘evil’.
Publicly promoting immoral actions and Holy Communion
Receiving Holy Communion is a public statement of personal union with God and the faith and moral beliefs of the worshipping community. People who publicly advocate the violation of a law of God have been excluded from receiving Holy Communion since the time of the Apostles of Jesus. St Paul, for example, warned that whoever receives the Eucharist ‘unworthily will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord’ [I Corinthians 11:27].
There have been times when individuals who have identified themselves publicly as advocates for unchaste homosexual behaviour have been denied Holy Communion. This refusal was because of their advocacy for behaviour that violated a law of God – not because they are homosexual.
May all people of homosexual orientation experience only ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’ from Catholics in the Bunbury Diocese.
And may those who engage in unchaste homosexual behaviour learn of Christ’s love for them and the spiritual power he offers to help them rise above temptations – particularly through the Eucharist, Penance and daily prayer.