A Complicated Issue

One of the biggest issues the Catholic Church is facing recently is how to approach the topic of gay marriage and how to minister to gay people. Many think that the Church hates gay people, but that isn’t true because the Church is, by its catholic nature, inclusive. This misconception probably comes from these passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which could be misconstrued as harsh and forbidding:

CCC 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, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” 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.

CCC 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.

CCC 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.

The people are not disordered; the act and the inclination are. A lot of people today (and I’m referring to people in general, not just gay people) have fallen victims to the culture and mistakenly believe that their sexuality is all that they are. They give it more weight than it ought to have. You are more than your reproductive organs, and you are more than your sexual urges. Many other inclinations besides sexual ones are disordered; a person may have an inclination to steal or to be lazy or compulsively lie or look at pornography. This person may have “owned” her inclinations and defend them as being an intrinsic part of who she is, but it doesn’t make them right. Every single person on this planet has inclinations to do things that are wrong or bad or sinful. No one is exempt.

Straight people are also called to chastity, whether they are married or single. Many members and clergy in the Catholic Church today focus too much on the sin of “gay” acts and not enough on the sins that befall straight couples, like using pornography, engaging in polygamous relationships (or infidelity), and using artificial contraceptives. How does someone know that a straight married couple is using birth control? How does someone know that a gay person is “engaging in homosexual acts”? If gay people are judged harshly, then why are straight people not held to that same standard? It is hypocritical. Everyone, married, single, gay, straight, and so on, is called to be chaste and pure and to treat his or her body with respect.

Straight couples, by the nature of their bodies, can reproduce. Gay couples cannot. That is simple biology. It is the way we were created as human beings. We are attempting to use science to subvert the natural order in the name of “fairness” and “equality” (e.g., re-configuring a man’s body so that he can give birth). The natural order is now seen as something cruel and unjust. Why should straight couples be able to have children while gay couples cannot? The “cruel” response is: Because that is how God made our bodies. That is how nature is. Deal with it. The “equal” and “fair” response is: God gave us brains, free will, and reason, and it is perfectly within bounds to scientifically manipulate our bodies so we can have what we want. If God didn’t want us to do that, he certainly wouldn’t have given us the wherewithal to do so, right? 

That’s where it gets complicated, and that’s where interpretation of the CCC and God’s word get skewed and where that nebulous concept of “conscience” comes into play. As Catholics, we are supposed to form our consciences by learning about God and about His word and His will for us, but how does one know when his or her conscience is well formed? How can we form an intelligent conscience when we are exposed to so much nonsense in the news and on social media and when the Catholic Church hardly discusses these important issues at the local level (e.g., in homilies)? Most people’s consciences are formed by their upbringing and their social environment, which often give false impressions of what God’s teachings are because parents and the society at large know very little about their faith (bad catechesis, which is a whole ‘nother post) and thus pass on misinformation to their children.

The bottom line (or tl;dr): The Catholic Church should give parish priests a refresher course on these contentious parts of the CCC, so they can address these issues of chastity and sexuality at the local level, during homilies and perhaps in parish or diocesan retreats or seminars. I don’t believe I have ever heard sexuality or gay marriage discussed in a homily. These topics, and other difficult moral issues, need to be talked about so that parents can teach their children and everyone can be held accountable to the same standard.

Yes, on some level, these issues are being discussed. Books like Fr. James Martin’s Building a Bridge and Fr. Michael Schmitz’s Made for Love attempt to tackle different sides of the issue. Pope Francis addressed it in Amoris laetitia,  where he exhorts people to use their conscience to discern issues of marriage and divorce. But all of this needs to be done in a place where there is a “captive” audience: the Sunday Mass. Only then will those who are lost and confused by the world find themselves a place apart from the world: the arms of the Lord.