Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, “Millions of people dislike the Church for what they think she teaches. But there aren’t 10 people who dislike the Church for what she really teaches.” Much of the recent conversation on this page of The Hoya related to the Catholic Church and homosexuality has overlooked what the Church really teaches about the matter. To promote a truly informed dialogue and the flourishing of the whole person, it is important to reflect on some oft-neglected but essential points.
The Church is concerned primarily with persons, not orientations. In their pastoral letter on homosexuality, “Always Our Children,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote, “Our total personhood is more encompassing than sexual orientation.” Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) recently echoed this important point when he wrote, “I am so much more than ‘gay’” (“Faith, Sexuality in Harmony”, A2, Oct. 12, 2012).
The Church recognizes that she must minister to people who have same-sex attractions, affirming their inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God who are created in His image and likeness. They “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358).
Human sexuality is a gift from God that must be ordered according to God’s will and plan, namely toward the inseparable ends of the union of the spouses (love) and procreation (life). This truth can be known by reason and by revelation.
It is not sinful to have same-sex attractions. Acts are sinful; inclinations, insofar as they are beyond one’s free will, are not. However, the Church teaches that such attractions, by their very nature, are not properly ordered toward the natural and divine telos, or end, of human sexuality. Some find this language difficult or even discriminatory. It is meant to express a reality, not prejudice. Furthermore, Christianity has always maintained that a wide variety of inclinations are disordered.
The theological reasoning behind the Church’s teaching asserts that God’s plan for the gift of human sexuality orders it toward the complementary union of man and woman in a loving, procreative bond that is sealed by marriage (Gen 1:27-28; Mark 10:6-8). Reason tells us that human sexuality is naturally ordered toward the procreation of children. Therefore, sexual acts between people of the same sex fall short of the natural procreative and complementary ends of human sexuality. The same holds for any sexual act outside the marital union of husband and wife that is open to life and love. This reality precludes the idea of homosexual marriage.
At this point, some would raise the objection of infertile heterosexuals. But this confuses the distinction between capacity and ability in an ontological sense.
The question that seems to be at the heart of our current conversation remains, “What are we to do?” In love, the Church offers a challenging but hopeful vision: Just like all people, those persons with same-sex attraction are “called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship and by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (CCC 2359). Virtue, friendship and community and God’s grace are the cornerstones of the Catholic vision for our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attractions.
The U.S. Catholic bishops are aware that many people with same-sex attractions feel alienated. The Church must do more to welcome such people into her sacramental, communal and moral life. She must constantly reaffirm the inherent dignity of people with same-sex attractions, communicate more effectively with them and creatively minster to them so as to empower and support them in living out the virtue of chastity. Affirmation of dignity should not be confused, however, with condoning anything that would endanger one’s eternal salvation. If she is to be herself, the Church must communicate the Truth in love.
At Georgetown, too, we have much work to do. In listening to friends who have a real personal stake in this issue, it seems to me that we must do more to support and encourage those people with same-sex attractions who desire to live according to Scripture and the tradition of Christianity. These individuals may be at risk of alienation because of their sexual orientation and because of their desire to live according to God’s plan and the tenants of their religion. In the spirit of Georgetown’s commitment to inter-religious dialogue, we might also explore how to affirm Jews and Muslims or other people of faiths who seek to live according to their faiths’ traditional teachings on this issue.
Georgetown’s Jesuit and Catholic identity challenges us to cura personalis. In the spirit of respect, let us continue the civil discourse and, in the spirit of love and truth, let us work to meet the pastoral and personal needs of all Georgetown students.
KIERAN RAVAL is a senior in the College. He is grand knight of the Georgetown Knights of Columbus.