A Holiday Meal, Same-Sex Attraction and Catholicism

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In this lovely but challenging holiday season of get-togethers, parties, and family meals, most of us will be of necessity faced with possibly uncomfortable questions and thought-provoking table scraps. Five to ten minutes is not long enough to answer questions regarding why we believe as we do on any number of topics connected to the Church’s position on same-sex attraction, particularly with friends or relatives who do not or cannot imagine why we returned to Rome or stay there to embrace chastity. The questions may vary but the underlying spirit behind them is the same—why be part of a religious affiliation that does not allow us, as one well-meaning relative once asked me, “to be who we are?”

Same-Sex Attraction and Catholicism

In my case, as a same-sex attracted individual, it is often assumed that I would naturally support what is commonly called “gay marriage,” particularly now that it is legal in all 50 states and many other nations around the globe. My main contention is that same-sex “marriage” is not valid or moral in the eyes of God or the best move for society, however. Let me explain.

A decade ago, several years before the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex “marriage” in all 50 states, I shared snippets of my views at a family Thanksgiving gathering, and it prompted, to say the least, a rather lively discussion with some of my family members. However, as is often the case at such gatherings, we have but one quick moment (in this case 5 minutes tops) to attempt an answer to questions that take a lot more than a soundbite to explain. Otherwise, that turkey would have indeed gotten cold as our discussion heated up!

Later, I wrote a letter to some of them as an attempt to more fully explain my reasoning considering Catholic Christian teaching, which states that homosexual activity is intrinsically immoral in itself, as well as my own experiences, having been an activist in the homosexual arena for 15 years before returning to the Church in 2005. Excerpts of that note, modified only for clarity, are shared here in hopes to clarify why I do not support marriage for all—and why I see chastity as the safest road to living as a single Catholic Christian man.

Dear Loved Ones-

“I realize that my own evolution of faith over the years is understandably puzzling and troublesome to both family and friends at times and I am going to do my very best to put my thoughts and beliefs into clear words here. I do not ask anyone to agree with me totally, but I hope it to be understood that I am not blindly following my faith out of some misguided or confused zeal or naiveté. Hopefully, I am beyond that and you believe better about me than that. I think you do.

Chastity

I did not choose chastity because I am having trouble finding dates, have gone blind, need meds, or no longer have homosexual inclinations. When I returned to the Catholic Church, it was not because I felt pressured or forced to do so. It came as a result of searching for truth in the best manner I knew how, and in the process of that search, I came to believe that the Church was truly the best place for me. And I went there with joy. Do I miss romantic companionship at times? I would not be human if I didn’t. Am I better off spiritually and emotionally than during all the 15 years I was in the same-sex world? I personally think so. I honestly have a sense of purpose and peace that was decidedly missing during my years of ‘freedom.’ The Church has not denied me anything really even though the Church’s position seems harsh at first.

The Church teaches that homosexual actions:

are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. . . .

They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them, it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.

These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. 

By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (CCC 2357-2359)

One belief espoused both by Catholic and Orthodox Churches is not generally taught by Protestants is the authority of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (the oral interpretation of how that truth is meant to be lived, not always in written form, but based on the earliest possible interpretations of Scripture and other teachings handed down from the Apostles). Protestants generally believe in ‘Sola Scriptura’ or the Bible alone as the guide for faith and morals, and that each individual is free to interpret it as they see fit. Catholics believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but also that the teachings of the Magisterium (meaning the Pope and the bishops in union with him when making official pronouncements as such) are also part of what is known as the Deposit of Faith. That includes Sacred Tradition as well as the Bible and how they are to be interpreted in each day and age. And some of the specifics may differ from generation to generation, but much of it does not. That bears an explanation.

Tradition

What gets a bit confusing with the above terminology is that there are a Sacred Tradition and just plain anthropological tradition based on culture and human advances in science, and other variable factors. Meaning—teachings that are current customs of the Church, such as eating meat on Friday, celibacy for the priesthood, whether the Mass is offered in Latin or English, and various disciplinary practices such as that, are changeable with the times—and should indeed be. Those are simply traditions, and every religious group has some. For instance each Friday we still are asked to either not eat meat or to do either some type of penance or extra good work, in honor of the Lord’s death on the cross and for the salvation of others. The particulars changed but not the principles behind them.

On the other hand, the Sacraments (such as baptism, marriage, the Eucharist, and the like) fall into the category of Sacred Tradition. Teachings also in that category would include the idea of the Trinity, a doctrine that is not actually in the Bible itself word for word, but which is implied there consistently. Also, within it are beliefs which numerous Church Councils determined to be part of the earlier mentioned Deposit of Faith, such as the various Creeds and Church dogmas, in addition to decisions based on later Church Councils such as Trent, Vatican I and II.

Here is where Sacred Tradition ties into my search regarding homosexual issues. There has never been a time in 2000 years of Church history, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, when homosexual relationships were ever condoned. There have always been individuals who believed otherwise, but the Church has never endorsed or approved those relationships. And, as an aside, since Christianity is a direct outgrowth of Judaism, that particular ‘tradition’ actually goes much further back (several thousand years in fact) to the very earliest Old Testament times, No provision for same-gender sexual relationships during either the Old or New Testament times has ever been accepted by either ancient Israel or the Church.

Obviously, the view that homosexual behavior is immoral is in opposition to the culture we live in, and counter to what I believed for many years even after my own very sincere study of Sacred Scripture in a vacuum. But it is what I now believe to be true. Sacred Scripture — the Bible — is God’s Word.  It is Divine Revelation.  It is God who is saying that sex between two males or two females is a sin.

BUT Unjust Discrimination Is Not Needed

Actually, it is not a matter of discrimination—or at least does not need to be. I personally think that enforceable laws could be set in place in ways that allow for those who do not follow Catholic or other more conservative Judeo-Christian beliefs to still own property jointly, visit loved ones in the hospital, have tax credits, and the like. However, redefining marriage was never the answer.

I know it is a tricky balance, but the old adage of ‘loving the sinner while hating the sin’ is the safest approach. Tricky though since those from a more secular perspective sometimes use it as a reason to force a fairly radical ‘gay agenda’ on the rest of society.

Having been part of both groups (fairly conservative Christianity and an active homosexual), I have certainly had my share of internal conflicts working this through.

Genuine Pastoral Care Needed—Desperately

So, what about people with SSA, whether active or chaste and the Church? There needs to be far more dialogue to be sure. There must be a genuinely welcoming atmosphere for all. However, I do not think it must be done by referring to something as marriage that has never been considered as such by the Church, or by offering Holy Communion with no conditions to those in unchaste relationships. Loving all people, welcoming them to Mass, yet teaching historic Catholicism, via pulpit, is the only intellectually honest approach I know to have. And I realize not everyone will not be satisfied with that answer, but I do not see another better one on the horizon.

The thing I really pray and hope for most is a balanced and compassionate style which reaches out to those who identify as gay but does not undermine marriage as some outdated institution that needs to be redefined and that further allows for both groups to continue to reach out to one another. Then perhaps we can at least begin to fulfill Jesus’ own prayer that ‘we all may be one.’”

I then sent the signed letter, and it began a discussion that has lasted for several years with more than a few. At very least, we are talking about it in depth, and not just sounding off on whichever perspective we carry. It is my prayer that, whether on this topic or others, we will each jump in and use those upcoming family gatherings as diving boards followed by a deeper swim with those we love and care for. One day they may just agree.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.” Colossians 4: 6, RSV 2nd Catholic Edition

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14 thoughts on “A Holiday Meal, Same-Sex Attraction and Catholicism”

  1. Richard: How do you reconcile the Dei Verbum 21 quote, which is magisterial teaching, with the other statements? One of them says that Sacred Scripture and Tradition together are the Word of God. I’ve concluded that Tradition can only be called Word of God if it is regulated by Sacred Scripture; otherwise, developed doctrine can develop anyway it wants.

  2. All sexual attractions can be abused. That is why we have words like adultery and fornication, in addition to homosexuality.
    Nothing is equal with Scripture. This is why Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.” Tradition is supposed to be regulated by Sacred Scripture. If it’s regulated, how can it be equal?

    1. Since I have already addressed the point about Dei Verbum and its implications, and that read in context it clearly says several times that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition both are equal, in conjunction with the living Magisterium, I won’t go into it again. Peter.

      I also never suggested that other sexual attractions can be abused. Not once. God bless you and please understand that I am sharing what is the Church understanding of the issue of SSA specifically in this article. God bless.

  3. Richard: I grew up prior to Vatican II. It was clear to me back then that any temptation was not a sin to be confessed unless we consented to it. This was the instruction that we were given in Catholic grammar school. From this I concluded that a same-sex temptation, of itself, was not sinful. You would obviously not act on any sexual temptation. I never heard that there was any controversy about this. We were not told whether this instruction came from the Bible or Tradition. We didn’t even think of asking.
    I notice that Protestants have differences of opinion about this. Some even expect a person to change their attraction in order to be a Christian in good standing. I never heard this in the Catholic Church. Obviously, the Bible doesn’t condone homosexual acts; but it is not clear on temptation. If a person has reason to be confident in their relationship with Christ in spite of a same-sex attraction, this is what matters. I believe that this level of confidence is possible (1John 3:24).
    I self-interpret both Scripture and Tradition, but I give more weight to Scripture if I see a conflict. Our job is to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1Thessalonians 5:21). Scripture, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is a good way for us to monitor what the Church teaches us. Vatican II has made it more comfortable for me to be in the Church because of the teaching on the place of personal conscience. It appears to be in line with what Saint Paul says in 2Corinthians 1:24: “Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.”

    1. Ironically it was when I stopped attempting to self-interpret, and opened my heart back up after 35 years to the Sacred Tradition of the Church, that I could see where I was misinterpreting, not purposefully but nevertheless doing so, Sacred Scripture. I stand with the Church that they are both equal and one helps shed light on the other.

      It was due to that clarity that I finally began to realize I could not hang on to a homosexual identity or lifestyle. That was the point of my article. And I agree with you that temptations are not sins. I do not even know of a genuinely Christian community of faith that teaches that. SSA then is not the sin and never was. But it is, according to the theology of Aquinas and other saints or doctors of the Church, a disordered way of mind. When we say it is “intrinsically disordered,” that is what is meant by it. It can only lead to sin and not to the betterment of the person. So the choice, which is sometimes painful but possible, is aiming for chastity and as the CCC tells us, to “gradually and resolutely” move towards Christian perfection. I do not shame myself for those feelings. I didn’t ask or look for them. But I am responsible, as you said, with what I do about them. Thanks again for your perspective and God bless.

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  5. Richard: Attempting to reconcile the different statements in Vatican II can be a challenge. Scripture has a place that nothing else has. The Church has limited itself to being regulated by Sacred Scripture. I believe that this clarification in V2 is a good thing even if it may be interpreted in different ways by Catholics at all levels of the Church.
    Another seldom quoted item in V2 is in Lumen Gentium 12 which says: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) [cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27] cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” (8*) [Cf. 1 Cor. 10: 17] they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth.”
    This is quite a statement coming from the magisterium. Our own personal discernment contributes the whole of Church infallibility. If we have the Holy Spirit, we all have a stake in the infallibility of the Church, both clergy and laity.

    1. Not really sure where you are going with this, Peter. My topic does mention Sacred Tradition and its place, in large part because it is what helped me to move from self-interpretation of Sacred Scripture towards allowing the Church to do so, and that is what caused me to question my previous conclusions about the my own SSA and how I fit within the Church. It would be a whole other study to go through Lumen Gentium or other Church documents to further verify the place of Sacred Tradition, but reading, at least in the context of the sections you mention, I do not see a separation between the two. Neither does the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And it is pretty clear, at least on the topic of homosexuality, that there is something far from a consensus in regard to it. The rare circumstance that every individual in the Church agrees on a doctrine or teaching does not come into play here, and can never in any case contradict what the Church has already proclaimed through Scripture and Tradition. I therefore do not believe I am in error for becoming a celibate Christian, and ironically from your other writings it would appear you agree with my conclusions–just not how I came to them. If I am incorrect please let me know.
      God bless.

    2. To further clarify, I mean that there is not a consensus among the “lay faithful” on the topic. And that is where Sacred Tradition was needed to supplement the various interpretations of Scripture on it. I am thankful for Tradition for that and many other reasons, and definitely not a “Sola Scriptura” person. Thanks again for reading.

  6. Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.” Even Tradition needs to be regulated by Sacred Scripture. I never find this quoted in any article that discusses Sola Scriptura. I don’t even find it quoted in the catechism.
    Maybe it’s because it sounds too much like Sola Scriptura.

    1. God bless you Peter. Not sure of your faith background, but in Catholicism we see the two, Sacred Scripture, and Sacred Tradition, as both part of the Deposit of Faith. The statement you quote is true but incomplete in that it does not mention this point. However it does not deny it either. That was my issue also over the years where I accepted only one of the two. The Bible is not meant to be read outside of context, I think you can agree with that. Part of that context is the 2000 year old Tradition, as well as the Magisterium’s guidance in interpreting it. I won’t belabor it as I explained it already in the article. God bless!

  7. Dear Richard,
    Thank you for this wonderful article. It can be a tricky road to have a conversation with meaning when discussing SSA and the Catholic teaching. You have done so with compassion and truth. Thank you so very much. And it is so important to remember that we are all adopted children of God. Loved and cherished by Him.
    God bless you and Happy Advent!
    Donna

    1. Thanks so much. I am far from perfect at this, believe me. But I know on so many topics, not just SSA, there is a need in our day and age for honest and at times painful dialogue. Both directions. And not vilifying the other. But speaking truth in love as Sacred Scripture challenges us to. I appreciate the comment!

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