November 30, 2006
Today there are certain aspects of our contemporary society that make it difficult for some people to accept the Church's teaching on matters of sexuality. In our social environment, there are serious challenges to hearing the Church’s teaching. From the first moment of evangelization, Christians faced the challenge of materialistic hedonism. The Church still faces this challenge as she recalls us to a destiny beyond this world.
Furthermore, there is a truth about the human person and about the relationship of man and woman, a truth based on the natural law. But not everyone accepts the inherent design of creation from the hands of the Creator. This leads to failure to appreciate “the real meaning of the gift of persons in marriage, responsible love at the service of fatherhood and motherhood, and the true grandeur of procreation and education” (Pontifical Council for the Family,
Guidelines for Education within the Family, 6,
December 8, 1995).
Whatever the difficulties, however, the Church continues to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ in its fullness to all people. Those who carry out the Church's mission among persons with same-sex attraction may have a difficult task in today's world. Nonetheless, this task is necessary and good. It is part of the Lord’s commission given to the Church.
The bishops of the United States in their November meeting issued a document called “
Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.” The guidelines are intended primarily for bishops. They are a resource meant to promote sound, effective ministry to persons with a same-sex attraction. The guidelines are designed to help the bishops in evaluating existing or proposed Church ministries in light of the Church’s teaching on human dignity, human sexuality and the call to holiness.
The guidelines are not directly addressed to the wider Catholic population. However, the guidelines do provide a solid catechesis on human sexuality. They can help Catholics appreciate the Church’s teaching on an issue that now has entered the public debate in terms of marriage and equal rights. The document has two parts. The first part discusses the basic principles underlying the Church's ministry in this area—the theological and moral principles. The second part discusses various pastoral contexts.
The document deliberately uses the words “inclination” and “tendency.” The experience, depth and duration of the inclination to homosexual acts are varied. For some, the inclination may be temporary; for others, a life-long reality. The term “inclination” includes both. The document avoids such words as “orientation” or “identity” for the simple reason that the person is a greater reality than his or her own sexual inclination.
The tone of the document is positive, pastoral, and welcoming. Its starting point is the intrinsic human dignity of every person. God has created every human person out of love. He has made each in His own image and likeness. And He wishes to grant him or her eternal life in the communion of the Trinity. Every person, therefore, possesses an innate human dignity that the Church and all her members cherish and respect.
Many people do not understand what the Church teaches about homosexuality. Some object to the language in which she frames her teaching. And then there are others who even misrepresent her teaching.
The discussion of homosexuality belongs within the greater context of God's plan for sexuality. The complementary sexuality of man and woman is part of God's creative design. This is a gift that allows man and woman to come together in a union of love that has the potential for bringing forth new life. By its very nature, the sexual act finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond (cf. Gn 1:27; Gn 2:24; Mk 10:6-8; Mt 19:4-6; Eph 5:31).
Any sexual act that takes place outside the bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality. Such an act is not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life. It is, therefore, morally wrong. Because homosexual acts cannot fulfill the natural end of human sexuality, they are never morally acceptable. Ultimately, such acts do not lead to true human happiness (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics December 29, 1975, no. 8).
An inclination toward sexual acts that do not accord with the natural purpose of sexuality is not properly ordered. There is disorder. This is why the Church teaches that the inclination toward homosexual acts is disordered.
Some find the language of “disorder” offensive. It is not meant to be. The document uses this concept of disorder for two reasons. First, it is a philosophical language based on the natural law. Thus it opens a way to understanding based on reason. Second, this is the language found in the
Catechism of the Catholic Church and other documents of the magisterium.
Some fail to understand the nuance of the Church’s teaching. Others simply misrepresent her teaching in order to further their own agenda or even to discredit the Church’s authority to teach. The Church does not say “that
persons with homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered, as if everything about them were disordered or rendered morally defective by this inclination. The Church unambiguously teaches that having an inclination that is disordered
does not say that the person is disordered. Rather, the disorder is in that particular
inclination, which is not ordered toward the fulfillment of the natural ends of human sexuality” (“
Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care”).
Other inclinations within the human person can be said to be disordered, such as those that lead to envy, malice, or greed. The inclination or attraction is not a sin. Sin is in the will. Sin is in the act. We are all damaged by the effects of original sin. This causes desires to become disordered in various ways. An inclination or attraction not directed toward its proper end does not diminish one's dignity as a human person. Nor does this inclination cut an individual off from a vibrant, personal relationship to Christ or lessen one’s Catholic identity. Rather it is a particular challenge to grow in discipleship and love of the Lord according to the concrete circumstances of one’s life.
(This is the first of a two-part series)