I have been thinking of writing a blog on this topic for some time, but was kind of reluctant to do so. It also seems that Christians in general tend to shy away from it, “Don’t touch that one with a barge pole. It will result in you being called all kinds of names. You will be regarded as old fashioned, out of touch, out of step, non-inclusive, bigoted, homophobic, unloving, etc, etc.”
I simply want to have a look at Scripture and the Catechism and see what it says.
A while back Pope Benedict XVI got into all sorts of trouble for saying that homosexual practice was “intrinsically disordered”. In making this statement he was quoting the Catechism. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says;
CCC2357 – Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards 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 (Gen 19:1-29, Rom 1:24-27, 1 Cor 6:10, 1 Tim 1:10), tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, CDF, Persona Humana 8.) 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.
It is important to remember that the above comes from a much bigger section on the Sixth Commandment, You shall not commit adultery, CCC 2331 to CCC 2400 and covers much more than just homosexuality.
The above also does not seem to have any room for movement on the matter. It also raises the questions; What does disordered mean? What does ordered mean? What is natural law?
Let’s have a look at the definition of marriage in the Catechism.
CCC 1601 – The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.
This is followed by CCC 1602 on Marriage in God’s Plan and CCC 1603 – 1605 on Marriage in the Order of Creation.
CCC 1605 – Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” (Gen 2:18) The woman, “flesh of his flesh,” i.e., his counterpart, his equal, his nearest in all things, is given him by God as a “helpmate”; she thus represents God from whom comes our help. (Gen 2:18-25) “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) The Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been “in the beginning”: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mt 19:6)
So in terms of “order” then, this relationship, marriage between a man and a woman, is ordered by God and part of their created nature. CCC 1606 – 1608 considers the impact of sin introducing “disorder” into this relationship. Therefore “disorder” is not an exclusive characteristic of homosexuality.
So far then, the wording of the Catechism is such that there does not seen to be any leeway on the issue of homosexual acts being “disordered”. I say acts because the Catholic Church distinguishes between the act and the inclination which it probably regards as it regards any temptation, as something we can overcome with the Grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit.
I came across a comment that suggested changing the expression “disordered” in the Cathechism in relation to homosexuality to “differently ordered”. But this would raise the question ordered by whom and for what.
A consideration of Scripture
Next I want to look at Scripture and see if there is any case for becoming more liberal on this issue. After all we no longer follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament and we can see this change in the New Testament. Is there a Scriptural case for making a similar move on sexual laws?
Genesis 1:26-27 – Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground. So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of god he created them: male and female he created them.
Genesis 2:18-24 – Then the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” So the Lord god formed from the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would call them, and the man chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock , all the birds of the sky, and all the wild animals. But still there was no helper just right for him. So the Lord caused the man to fall into a deep sleep. While the man slept, the Lord took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the opening. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib, and he brought her to the man.
“At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman’, because she was taken from man.”
This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.
Matthew 19:1-6 – Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ ” And he said, ” ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
The quotes from Genesis show the foundational nature of marriage as between a man and a woman. The ‘us‘ I put in italics is because this conversation happens within the trinity and therefore Jesus was present. When the Pharisees put the question about divorce to Jesus, he reaffirms what marriage is, and the created order. It is often said that Jesus did not say anything about homosexuality, but in saying what marriage is Jesus has also said what it isn’t. Things do not always have to be stated in the negative. So there are no grounds here for redefining marriage.
Essentially, at this point the opening question has been answered.
This puts us very much at odds with the society we live in and the law of the land. The Church has always said that it is not that the Church is out of step with the world, but that the world is out of step with the Church.
What then to do with this teaching? The wording of CCC2357 (above) is quite harsh and could lead to condemnation. Condemnation can lead to despair and despair can lead to illness and even suicide. We should aim for compassion rather than condemnation and yet preserve constancy of teaching. There is an expression which was often used, in a wider context, about our relations with others, such as those who live contrary to the teachings of the Church, and that is to “Love them to life”.
“For God loved the world in this way. He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17
The wording of CCC2358 is far more compassionate. It says;- The number of men and women with homosexual tendencies is not negligible. 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 fulfil 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.
What solution does the Church provide? This is given in CCC2359 and in the words of Deep Thought, the computer in ‘Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’, “You’re not going to like it”.
This is what it says:- CCC2359 – 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.
This may be a big ask in these hedonistic times.
Footnote – I can understand why people, including clergy, shy away from this topic. It can too easily feed into a homophobic agenda. Having some gay friends I find it somewhat difficult to see them as either ‘depraved’ or ‘disordered‘, but I cannot deny that that is what the Catechism says. Even a softening of the language would not involve a softening of the teaching. I can remember a priest being asked if homosexuals were welcome in his church. He said that of course they were and they should expect to be challenged by what they hear in the same way that anyone else in the congregation is. Church should challenge us and that applies to clergy too.
The section in the Catechism, CCC2331 to 2400 covers a wide range of sexual sin. CCC2396 and CCC2400 give a summary of these. This is important because homosexuality cannot be treated as if it is the only sin.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13)
Indeed we cannot come to the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament until we have said;
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.
Then Jesus presents us with a challenge;
“Sin no more!” (John 8:11)
Next blog – The Case of Sodom – Did God really destroy the city because of their homosexuality?