An open letter to LGBQT people and Catholics at large;
It is my belief that sexual orientation is predominately biologically determined. It is my belief that the church has arrived at the position that they accept people are born with sexual orientations that do not conform easily to the church’s teaching. I will at the outset apologize to the LGBQT community as I will focus here on homosexuality knowing full well this term does not capture the differentiation and complexities of the LGBTQ community.
The historical presence of homosexual beings before and after Christ and its prevalence in cultures throughout the world cannot be denied. The church has taken the position that sexual orientation is not in and of itself evil or sinful. The church does teach that to act on such orientation is to commit a sin and further defines such actions as being due to a “disordered condition.”
Most readers will not get to the end of this post. LGBTQ are often subject to discrimination and sometimes outright violence. We are entrenched in a cultural war that often muddies the essence of humanity and the incarnate word. It is important that our faith not contribute to discrimination and violence against LGBQT people and that we stand up for social justice for all oppressed peoples. Two Church leaders have raised controversy by preaching greater openness and embracing LGBQT people.
Perhaps some aspects of the writings and references below will open up a new window of opportunity for us all.
Science: Psychology, Psychiatry, Biology
Our two highest scientific entities in the United States on human behavior are the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association. Both have arrived at the conclusion after decades or research and empirical study that homosexuality is a normal form of human sexuality. The APA writes “Same-sex sexual attractions, behavior, and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality – in other words they do not indicate either mental of developmental disorders.”
The puzzle of sexual orientation from a biological position still remains unclear, however evidence points to genetic factors predetermining orientation across cultures. So, one can reasonable understand that being homosexual is actually quite natural both psychologically and biologically speaking. If you have evidence to the contrary that is scientifically proven and peer reviewed please share it with my readers. The church recognizes there is much it does not understand and cannot speak to regarding homosexuality and the variances of sexual orientation.
That does not alleviate the moral question. We have natural instincts that sometimes serve us very well – and sometimes not so well when applied in the wrong situation. Primal drives and meditating primal drives are what somewhat separates us from the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, we as individuals and as a collective society grossly fail to moderate our primal individual drives or our collective herd mentality (sometimes today referred to tribalism). The more sophisticated among us can dress up the latter in socially acceptable terms and code words, but underneath it all, have fallen into a secretive attack on “others” not like us for the preservation of our sense of self-worth or actual worth.
Rightly so, the church has moved on to sexuality and acts of sexuality. The biblical references of the Old Testament for the purposes of this writing I am throwing out altogether. As Christians we should be able to define our traditions and beliefs as originating from the New Testament. It is the most recent and last word of God provided to us from his Son, Jesus Christ.
The number of direct writings in the New Testament are very few and often they are right there with many other sins including the various forms of lust exercised by non-LGBQT people. The essence is LGBTQ and straight people performing acts of sexuality out of lust or other disordered ideas is sinful.
Ideally, we would all be chaste and living the lives of saints here on earth. Furthermore, our chaste lifestyles would not hinder procreation or result in other unwanted or disordered secondary issues (mental health, isolation, loneliness, self-harm, harm of others, etc.). This is in its purest form pursuit of Catholic beliefs and living a holy life. Shy of that by an inch or by miles and we are on the path of imperfection, and yes sometimes grave sin.
Consider that 3% of Americans wait until marriage to have sex (successfully). Three percent of the US population may seem like a small number, but that represents nearly 10,000,000 people. We need to recognize what we are facing when we recommend a chaste lifestyle – and now consider recommending a lifetime of chastity if the person happens to be homosexual.
It is overwhelming to write on this subject despite my sexual orientation being congruent with my faith. Too many fellow Catholics have outsized rage and prejudiced against LGBTQ individuals without having any understanding of LGBQT as a biological manifestation. Some have denied their own orientation as well – often at the expense of their psychological health. The church understands this and goes as far to acknowledge this reality.
The church’s answer is to encourage LGBQT persons to be chaste. It is a leap of faith that the church maintains that even though biology dictates orientation it still says attraction and action on one’s biological orientation is unnatural when it comes to LGBQT people. The premise is any sex that is not for the purposes of procreation is not natural or at least of higher order. Sexual intimacy is not factored into human partnership as an integral part of what we call love between two people.
It pains me as I have known to many good people that have been harmed by anti-LGBTQ sentiments often under the protection of so-called Christianity. Most often it is by believers who are not chaste themselves or living up to the other virtues of the church.
How anybody in our church can express out sized condemnation of LGBQT people while we are facing the largest institutional sexual abuse scandal in history. Before we leap to saying that the church problem is a Gay problem please note that a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, released in 2011, concluded that gay priests were no more likely than straight priests to abuse minors.
Let’s take a leap back in time:
Saint Thomas Aquinas:
Saint Thomas Aquinas was a great father of the church and he knew that teaching by authority alone was not enough. He set out to use philosophy and theology to defend the faith and apply logic and rationale thought to address the main principles of the Catholic faith in his famous Summa. If we are to proclaim a theological truth we most be able to humbly teach it and point to the biblical source for our beliefs as well as have a thorough contextual understanding of the times, the nuances of biblical writing, and application to our spiritual and scientific progression.[i] Saint Thomas Aquinas did not endorse homosexuality. However, he defined unnatural sexual acts much more broadly in the Summa, II-II, 154:
“I answer that, As stated above (A6,9) wherever there occurs a special kind of deformity whereby the venereal act is rendered unbecoming, there is a determinate species of lust. This may occur in two ways: First, through being contrary to right reason, and this is common to all lustful vices; secondly, because, in addition, it is contrary to the natural order of the venereal act as becoming to the human race: and this is called “the unnatural vice.” This may happen in several ways. First, by procuring pollution [i.e. masturbation], without any copulation, for the sake of venereal pleasure: this pertains to the sin of “uncleanness” which some call “effeminacy.” Secondly, by copulation with a thing of undue species, and this is called “bestiality.” Thirdly, by copulation with an undue sex, male with male, or female with female, as the Apostle states (Romans 1:27): and this is called the “vice of sodomy.” Fourthly, by not observing the natural manner of copulation, either as to undue means, or as to other monstrous and bestial manners of copulation.”
The idea of lust has many of us, not just LGBQT individuals, in the cross hairs of biblical teaching. If we have outsized indignation it should be aimed at the entirety of our humanness and actions in this regard. I do not have to list these here.
Much of what we hear from priest and lay Catholics lacks the depth and understanding of the history and source of where our beliefs originate from and have been expounded on in the centuries since. There is a large degree of controversy on “what constitutes right reason” as well as what the actual phrases in the bible meant when utilized in biblical context – not to mention difficulties of translation.
Pope Francis, while not changing any church doctrine, has the wisdom to recognize our response to LGBTQ issues is not healthy or Christ-like. He has urged the following:
“A pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws … as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” Francis writes in a sweeping paper outlining his stance on family matters.[ii]
“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth,” he writes.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” he said, after his first foreign trip as pontiff.
Father James Martin, SJ
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, has stepped on a conservative landmine with his work entitled Building a Bridge. He was even invited to speak at the world meeting of families. The reality is the church and its believers has homophobic beliefs. He did respond in good time to his critics.[iii] He has several other wonderful books that have aided my prayer life. I have not read this book yet – but in conservative circles he is treated by Catholics that have never read a word of his writing aa a heretic to the faith. Some of these same critics think the same of Pope Francis.
Before we leave Pope Francis and Father Martin, neither of them denied what they hold to be the truth about homosexuality and heterosexuality lust. They have upheld traditional church doctrine while stressing mercy, understanding, God’s mystery, pastoral care, and ultimately our total lack of understanding as to how and why we have LGBQT differentiation. The church still maintains very strong and negative language aimed at homosexual orientation:
“While the Catholic Church does not consider “homosexual orientation” sinful in and of itself, it does have a very negative attitude toward it. The 1986 Letter states, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”[iv]
A great deal of our beliefs in this area are cherry picked from a few biblical phrases that under different circumstances, if the early church fathers knew what we knew today, may have written down things with a bit more detail and clarity either way.
Lived experience by Matthew Vines on the Bible and Homosexuality: Loneliness
“The Bible never directly addresses, and it certainly does not condemn, loving, committed same-sex relationships. There is no biblical teaching about sexual orientation, nor is there any call to lifelong celibacy for gay people. But the Bible does explicitly reject forced loneliness as God’s will for human beings, not just in the Old Testament, when God says that “[i]t is not good for the man to be alone,” but in the New Testament as well. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul writes about marriage and celibacy. He was celibate himself, and he says that he wishes that everyone else could be celibate as well. But, he says, each person has their own gift. For Paul, celibacy is a spiritual gift, and one that he realizes that many Christians don’t have. However, because many of them lack the gift of celibacy, Paul observes that sexual immorality is rampant. And so, he prescribes marriage as a kind of remedy or protection against sexual sin for Christians who lack the gift of celibacy. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion,” he says. And today, the vast majority of Christians do not sense either the gift of celibacy or the call to it. This is true for both straight and gay Christians. And so, if the remedy against sexual sin for straight Christians is marriage, why should the remedy for gay Christians not be the same?”[v]
Catechism of the Catholic Church[vi] excerpts:
2336 Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God’s plan strictly: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”122 What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.123 The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as encompassing the whole of human sexuality.
2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman. The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift.
2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”137 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”138
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.
2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption of the young.
2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
2355 Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. the one who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates the chastity to which his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.139 Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men, children, and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of scandal.). While it is always gravely sinful to engage in prostitution, the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by destitution, blackmail, or social pressure.
2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”141 They 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.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them 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.
2359 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.
It is clear by the Catechism of the Catholic church that homosexual acts are sins. However, so are countless other forms of sexual expression and lust included in the same category. The church cannot explain exactly how and why homosexuality has been present forever. While it carefully says to avoid discrimination it also maintains that they are objectively disordered without defining why it is so. The reality is our church traditions and beliefs simply did not understand biological differences and sexual orientation centuries ago (think Eunuch’s) and still today lack an empirical ability to address the science of this issue.
Without getting to thick into the weeds, I would agree that the highest form of dedication to God is living a chaste life – assuming one is able to do so without harming others or oneself in the process and dedicate oneself to his/her spiritual calling.
However, must of us are not called to be Saints or Priest. Must of us are not called to live a monastic life. Most of us, if we are so blessed, are called to love another and share our life’s calling and spiritual work with others. With the exception of procreation – some homosexual couples can and do act as virtuously, if not more so, than many heterosexual couples.
The essence of our traditions and teachings are driven from scripture. As our knowledge of science evolves as does our spiritual development as a people of God (which we pray is more linearly ascending rather than descending) we can expect through our own efforts and more importantly through revelation to understand the word of God at deeper levels as well as constantly be challenged by applying concepts of the word of God to today’s world from a culture over two thousand years ago. Here is a look at a debate between two people on opposite sides of the issue:
Scripture and Interpretation:
Scriptural debate[vii] reported in NYT
- ROMANS 1:26-27
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
Lead pastor of Discovery Church in Simi Valley, Calif.
In this passage, Paul, who was quite familiar with biblical and secular views of sexual orientation, says that having sex with someone of the same gender is a sin. Some interpret this passage as a reference to heterosexuals who exchanged their natural sexual orientation for that which was not natural to them. The word that Paul uses for “natural” is not referring to what is natural to a specific person, but rather what is natural in light of God’s intent for the sexual design of humanity. Ultimately, the passage serves as an introduction to verses 28-32, where Paul lists many other general sins that ultimately show our need for the Gospel.
Author of “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.”
Paul is explicit that the same-sex behavior in this passage is motivated by lust. His description is similar to the common ancient idea that people “exchange” opposite-sex for same-sex relations because they are driven by out-of-control desire, not because they have a different sexual orientation. And while Paul labels same-sex behavior “unnatural,” he uses the same word to criticize long hair in men in 1 Corinthians 11:14, which most Christians read as a synonym for “unconventional.” Christians should continue to affirm with Paul that we shouldn’t engage in sexual behavior out of self-seeking lustfulness. But that’s very different than same-sex marriages that are based on self-giving love, and we shouldn’t conflate the two in how we interpret this text today.
- LEVITICUS 18:22
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.
- CALEB KALTENBACH
God’s prohibition always has positive intentions. While no longer under the Law, Christians see the Law as a moral compass with principles for holy living. The Bible doesn’t have middle ground on same-sex relationships, monogamous or not. God reserves sex for marriage between a man and woman, because sex is a unique foundation of intimacy. Imagine all the evils, struggles and pain that could be avoided in relationships if we really followed God’s principles. When sex is only seen as a benefit for individuals rather than a foundation of social structures, it becomes selfish and manipulative.
- MATTHEW VINES
Christ fulfilled the Old Testament law, and the New Testament teaches that Christians should live under the new covenant rather than the old one. Consequently, this verse has never applied to Christians. For a man to lie with a man “as with a woman” violated the patriarchal gender norms of the ancient world, which is likely why Leviticus prohibited it. But the New Testament casts a vision of God’s kingdom in which the hierarchy between men and women is overcome in Christ. So not only is Leviticus’s prohibition inapplicable to Christians on its own, the rationale behind it doesn’t extend to Christians, either.
- MATTHEW 19:3-6
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
- CALEB KALTENBACH
Jesus says that marriage is between a man and a woman by quoting Genesis 1:27. He affirms that God created sexual distinction between man and woman and this distinction serves as part of the foundation for marriage (helping to make Adam and Eve suitable partners). Spiritually, this distinction ultimately points to Jesus and the cross, where Jesus (the bridegroom) would pledge his love for his church (the bride) on the cross. As Jesus’ words are binding for today, remember that there was no individual in the Bible called to be celibate that was not honored by God, including Paul, John the Baptist and Jesus himself.
- MATTHEW VINES
Jesus responds to a question about divorce by emphasizing the permanence of the marriage bond. He was asked about a man and his wife, and he responds accordingly, by referring to male and female. Same-sex marriage wasn’t on the radar screen in the biblical world, so it’s not surprising that neither Jesus nor any of the biblical writers addresses it. Therefore, Christians today have to ask whether gay relationships can fulfill the core principles of Scripture’s teachings about marriage. Based on Jesus’ teaching here and other texts like Ephesians 5, the essence of Christian marriage involves keeping covenant with one’s spouse in order to reflect God’s covenant with us through Christ. That’s something same-sex couples can and do live out today.
- 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-10
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
- CALEB KALTENBACH
These words are found in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18 (which is what Paul would’ve used as a source when writing this letter). His phrase “men who have sex with men” is the Greek word arsenokoitai. It’s a compound: arseno means “a male,” and koitai means “bed.” The word means “male bed”—or homosexuality. Though what Paul says might be offensive, he never intended to impose these values on non-Christians. In the current debate of same-sex marriage, there’s an imposition of a meta-narrative being imposed from non-Christians to Christians. Should we violate our conscience and teachings of Scripture because of an agenda that labels us narrow-minded? That seems like an unfair expectation to me.
- MATTHEW VINES
In this text, Paul uses two Greek words—malakoi and arsenokoitai—that likely refer to some forms of male same-sex behavior, but not the modern concept of homosexuality. The predominant forms of same-sex behavior in the ancient world were sex between masters and slaves, sex between adult men and adolescent boys, and prostitution. In all those cases, men used sex to express power, dominance and lustfulness, not self-giving love and mutuality. Committed same-sex unions between social equals represent very different values than the types of same-sex behavior Paul would have had in view in 1 Corinthians 6.
At the end of the day I cannot tell you why I am straight and others have an LGBTQ orientation. I cannot tell you how I would manage if I had an LGBTQ orientation. I cannot say how our God fits this issue into divine providence or whether we have taken the written word, especially the New Testament, and appropriately applied it to our living understanding of our faith and of science.
I can say it is to safe to say to live a holy life we all should not be mastered by lust or any other worldly attractions. If God is our first love, from their we will be able to discern what is right.
I do not see gay or straight people with affections for their partners that exceed the desire to procreate as objectively disordered people. Whether they act on their affections outside the scope of procreation and if that is sin. I am past procreation age – what does that mean for marital intimacy? I leave all of this to the mystery and mercy of God.
You have the Gospels, the Catechism, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pope Francis, thoughts from a young man fighting for dignity and inclusion (Matthew Vine), a Jesuit author, and a field of psychological and scientific advancements that would give most wise people cause for pause before passing judgement. Before your go consider our greatest sins as an institution:
Our greater sin is not following the greatest commandment to love one another. In “The Joy of The Gospel, Evangelii Guadium, several weaknesses are enunciated quite well including warring among ourselves (98), saying no to spiritual worldliness (94), and so many other areas of calling (poverty, right to life, social justice). As an example, Pope Francis warns of those who “feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.” Alarm bells go off here of apparent heresy. That is not his message here. Estimates of the number killed by the Spanish Inquisition, which Sixtus IV authorised in a papal bull in 1478, have ranged from 30,000 to 300,000. Some historians are convinced that millions died. We have a responsibility to look closely at what our church says is God’s word, what our teaching mean, and how they are applied.
If anything is disordered and intrinsically evil it is the sexual abuse history and cover-up in the Catholic Church. Two men expressing love and tenderness for a life time, and yes sexual intimacy and a woman and a man doing the same without intent to procreate are living in sin by Catholic doctrine standards. The degree and ultimate judgement of such is really beyond our understanding. What is the intention of these lover’s intimacy? Is it lust and evil or human companionship and lifelong commitment?
Worldwide people with LGBQT sexual orientations is persecuted and subjected to horrendous abuses, sometimes in the name of Christianity. While we have an obligation to be faithful to our beliefs we also have an obligation to not persecute or support persecution of others that are not like us.
Now, we can still recognize evil when we see it. A priest violating his vow and preying on children or others while doing God’s work deserves our outrage. It is evil.
Perhaps the greatest flaw we have is the more we know the less we know about God’s divine plan for us. And yet, with a little bit of knowledge we are ready to condemn others in God’s name.
Give us a letter written in 51 A.D in a different language and culture, transform it over two centuries into a broader teaching, enshrine it in traditions and rituals of the Catholic Church, water down its true essence and meaning in simple lessons to the lay public, turn it loose and watch it get misapplied in ways that are anything but Christian. Armed with a few people of similar beliefs, a document on parchment paper, and an over-inflated sense of our own intelligence and authority on God’s way, we can easily fall prey to being a self-righteous and prideful people rather than a faithful and humble servant of God.
But for the grace of God, go I:
“There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford”, when seeing criminals being led to the scaffold. He didn’t enjoy that grace for long, however. He was burned at the stake in 1555, although, by all accounts he remained sanguine about his fate and is said to have suggested to a fellow victim that “We shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night”.[viii]