What is the Church’s teaching on homosexuality?
What exactly is the Church’s teaching on homosexuality? Why doesn’t the Church like gay people?
Church teaching comes from a wide variety of places – natural law, Scripture, Tradition, and tradition. Natural law simply means what everyone can know based on their experiences, apart from any revelation – it comes down to what is written on our bodies. Scripture is pretty self-explanatory: we use the inspired, revealed Word of God to guide our lives. Tradition (capital T) is about practices/beliefs that are essential to the faith, which are as good as revealed by God (things like what happened at the first apostolic council without Jesus in Acts 15, the Nicene Creed, and the Immaculate Conception). We believe that they have come from the Holy Spirit and cannot be changed because they’re from God. And tradition (lowercase t) refers to the non-essential parts of the faith that we’re just used to as common practices – things like which color vestments are worn during a liturgical season or having the Mass in Latin. These practices could change and they wouldn’t affect what the Church teaches.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the handbook for Catholic teaching, there are 2865 paragraphs that outline Church teaching on a wide variety of topics. And out of those 2865 paragraphs, there are only three on the issue of same-sex attraction. That’s all. There are many more on marriage, sex, chastity, and dating – but when we are looking at this particular topic, there are just three paragraphs (paragraphs 2357-2359).
We want to point this out because – although this topic falls under the much larger teaching on the sixth commandment – we want to emphasize that this is not the only issue (or even the biggest issue) when it comes to Church teaching on sexuality. Some people make out the issue of same-sex attraction to be THE issue that Catholics are obsessed with… and we aren’t. We’re obsessed with chastity, for sure, because we love virtue and want people to get to Heaven.
But the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is one small part of a much bigger picture, and if it’s a place where you question Church teaching, please don’t let it be the issue that causes you to throw up your hands and walk away from the Church.
Three Things to Know
In those three paragraphs, the Church stresses three main points. The first is that homosexual acts (sexual contact between two people of the same sex) are always immoral – actions that are wrong under all circumstances. The second is that people who have same-sex attraction must always be treated with sensitivity, compassion, dignity, and respect. Any kind of hatred or discrimination against them is completely unacceptable. The third is that people with same-sex attraction (and really, all people) are called to chastity and Christian perfection (which just means sainthood).
1. Immoral acts?
Homosexual acts are immoral (and therefore sinful) because they violate the nature of sex, and our nature as sexual beings. Sex is supposed to be a life-giving, loving act that unites a husband and wife. It is a gift from God that builds up strong marriages and healthy, holy families. Because homosexual acts are not open to life and fail to truly unify a couple – because they do not have the two essential elements of sex – they cannot be what sex was created to be.[As an aside: ANY sexual acts that fail to meet those conditions are also considered immoral because they also violate the nature of sex. That means the Church says the same thing about non-consensual (rape), premarital, extramarital, and contracepted sex as it does about sexual acts between two people of the same sex. None of those acts treat persons or sex with their rightful dignity or respect. There’s no discrimination.]
The Church thinks sex is really, really important for marriage. In fact, a couple isn’t considered married until they consummate their relationship (have sex) after they celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony. Without that consummation, there is no marriage – all they’ve really done is exchange vows. It takes both the promise of lifelong faithfulness and the expression of sexual love to make a marriage. Sex and marriage were created to go together, no matter how hard our world works to convince us that you can have one without the other.
The reason that sex and marriage belong together is pretty simple: because the natural result of sex is children, and a happy, healthy, holy marriage is the best place for children to grow up. Sex, marriage, and children are inseparable.
That was God’s plan from the beginning – and yes, not all marriages live up to that plan, but just because we have failed to reach that standard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it.
Every sexual act bonds a couple together on some level, but the fullest expression of unity is the mutual self-gift of the husband and wife to one another. Our bodies speak a language, and sex says, “I give my full self to you forever at the same time I receive the gift of you.” No other sexual act (again, premarital, extramarital, homosexual, contracepted, even marital sexual acts that don’t end in intercourse) can say that. They cannot be what sex was created to be. They miss the mark – which is one of the definitions of sin.
The language in the Catechism may seem harsh on this subject, but let’s look more closely at what these words really mean. Homosexual acts are called intrinsically evil because they are always wrong. There are no circumstances under which those acts are good, because they violate the nature of sex. And a homosexual orientation is called intrinsically disordered because it’s an inclination toward an action that cannot contribute to the good of the person.
2. Treated with Respect
…with all of that being said, it is essential to this teaching to share, loudly and clearly, the Church’s teaching that although the homosexual inclination is not good, the person is good. And although the act is sinful, the orientation is not. We’re all created good by a good and loving God – and we’re all broken and guilty of sin (Romans 3:23). The Church is not ranking us as greater or lesser sinners. We’re all sinners. Period.
And sexual orientation has nothing to do with our status as sinners, or our status as people created good by God. In fact, the Church won’t even call someone a gay/lesbian person, because a person is never defined by his or her attractions. That isn’t at the center of who they are. People who have same-sex attraction are simply people.
All people are broken and need a Redeemer. Fortunately, we all have one. Christ has come to save us all from our sins – that’s why the Gospel is called Good News.
Analogies are limited, but perhaps one might help here: look at the issue of alcoholism. Alcohol is not evil, just like sex is not evil. It isn’t wrong to use alcohol, but it is always wrong to abuse it – that abuse is intrinsically evil. An alcoholic is a person with a tendency to abuse alcohol. He has an inclination that cannot contribute to his good as a person – but that doesn’t mean he, as a person, is any less deserving of love. It doesn’t mean he is an evil person. And a recovering alcoholic is perfectly capable of living a life without alcohol, if he chooses. Just because someone has the tendency to abuse alcohol doesn’t mean that he will indulge it. But regardless of whether he chooses to indulge it or not – we treat him with kindness, respect, and sympathy. We show him love and do everything we can to help him choose the good for his life.
That is why the second paragraph on this topic in the Catechism makes it SO abundantly clear that people with homosexual inclinations or attractions must always be loved and respected, never treated unfairly or discriminated against because of their attractions. The Church doesn’t hate gay people. We love them, and true love wants what is best for the beloved. We want them to be at home in the Church, because we know that we are all children of God. Any hateful word or action towards someone who identifies him- or herself as gay or lesbian is totally unacceptable. We believe Jesus meant it when he said that the way we treat others is the way we treat him (Matthew 25:34-36).
3. Called to Chastity
Finally, the third paragraph on this topic in the CCC says that homosexual persons are called to chastity. The Church has no problem with a person who experiences same-sex attraction being open about the way he or she feels. If someone identifies himself as gay, that doesn’t mean he is any less welcome in the Church – She would never identify him that way. He’s a person in the Church, a member of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). He is just as important to the Church’s mission on this earth as anyone else and She will do everything She can to help him become a saint.
That’s true for all of us, which is why we are all called to chastity. Living the virtue of chastity brings us freedom and real love, no matter our attractions, and the Church wants that freedom and love for every person on this planet. Embracing the virtue of chastity, doing our best to avoid sexual sin, and receiving grace from the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation will help each of us reach our ultimate goal: heaven.