Same Sex Attraction: A Catholic Perspective

Extract from a paper delivered at the Family Life International annual Conference held in London on 28 April, 2012.  This is part one of five and should be read in that context.  You can read the other parts by clicking on the following links:  Categories of Homosexuality; Homosexual Struggle; Homosexuality is Destructive to the Individual and Society.

A.  Is homosexuality a sin?

Many things in life are not black and white and so, in answering this simple question the tradition of St Thomas will be followed: seldom affirm, never deny and always distinguished. 

The idea of sin is alien to the modern mind.  In fact, for the modern world, the only sin is to be politically incorrect, which is sometimes referred as being judgmental.

However, regardless of what we choose to believe, sin is the deliberate and free commission of a thought, word or action that we know to be wrong.  In theological language, sin, being an offence against reason, truth, and right conscience, is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain created goods.  Consequently, it wounds a person’s nature and injures human solidarity.

St Augustine defines it as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law” and the Scriptures declare it to be an offence against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” (Ps.51:4)  Every sin, like the first sin, is disobedience, a revolt against God through the desire to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil for ourselves.  Sin is thus nothing other than the love of oneself even to the point of holding God and His law in contempt. 

As a deliberate transgression of the law of God, every sin carries four essential components.  First, a law is involved.  Whilst physical laws, such as gravity, operate with necessity, moral laws, such as the obligation not to lie, can be disregarded by human beings.  Second, sin offends God, so the divine dimension is never absent from any sin: “Hear ye, therefore, O house of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also?” (Is.7:13).  Third, sin is a transgression since grace is resistible and the divine will can be disobeyed.  Fourth, the transgression is deliberate and committed with knowledge and freely.

Now Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines homosexuality as

  1. An atypical sexuality characterized by manifestation of sexual desire toward a member of one’s own sex. 
  2. Erotic activity with a member of one’s own sex.

This double definition imposes on us the obligation of distinguishing between a psychosexual condition in which one finds oneself and an erotic activity in which one freely involves oneself.

Applying the dictates of reason and the declarations of revelation, the Catholic Church offers guidance to this issue in its 1975 Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.

Specifically, the Church teaches that homosexual acts are wrong even for those who are homosexually oriented by “some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable.”  This may be compared in some way to drunkenness, which is wrong even for the alcoholic who has a pathological predisposition to abuse alcohol.

Yet, as the promoter and defender of authentic human rights, the Church recognises and proclaims the inherent dignity of every human being, and seeks always to ensure that their legitimate needs are met and their rights respected.  Hence, in her pastoral concern, she states categorically that homosexuals “must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society”.  Like the alcoholic or kleptomaniac, “their culpability will be judged with prudence”.   Then distinguishing between the condition and the acts, she warns that “no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to these acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people.”

Therefore, as a condition, homosexuality is not a sin but a “more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”  It is a heavy cross through which the believer can complete the sufferings of Christ for the salvation of the world.(Col.1:24).  As a deliberate free action, however, homosexuality is a serious sin that requires repentance and forgiveness from God. 

Though the modern world disregards the seriousness of sin, we need to remember that all unrepentant sin is punished, if not in this world then most certainly in the next, as Christ warned: “For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mk.14:21) 

All serious sin, such as immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, gluttony, drunkenness, revelry, violence excludes us from the kingdom of God. (1Cor.6:9-10).  While charity obliges us to be sympathetic and supportive of those who carry heavy crosses such as a homosexual inclination, we can never approve this sin or any sin, for to do so would not only confirm our brother or sister in error but also bring down God’s condemnation on ourselves. (Rom.1:32). Since we are all sinners, our only hope lies in acknowledging our own personal sins and appealing for mercy from Christ Jesus who “came into the world to save sinners”.  (1Tim.1:15)


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