This article is part three of a five part series on Same Sex Attraction: A Catholic Perspective, and should be read in that context. You can read the other articles in this series by clicking on the following links: Same Sex Attraction: A Catholic Perspective; Categories of Homosexuality; Homosexuality is Destructive to the Individual and Society.
Deep within each and every one of us, a personal struggle exists; a struggle eloquently described by St Paul in his Letter to the Romans (7:14-23)
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. … For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.
There are few of us who have not had and therefore cannot identify with this experience. We know we were created to live like angels but, left to ourselves, we behave worse than beasts. God’s grace, however, is always available for those who call upon Him as Augustine of Hippo discovered. Struggling constantly against the diktats of an immoral life, he became not only a most worthy bishop of Hippo but also the greatest of the Four Doctors of the Western Church.
It has already been established that no one is culpable for a psychological condition towards which one did not contribute, yet it must be clearly stated that a psychological condition gives no one the right to engage in sinful actions. The short tempered person needs to avoid anger and violence, no less than the alcoholic drink, the kleptomaniac theft, those “in love” fornication and adultery and the homosexually oriented homosexual actions. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1Cor.6:9-10. We are not responsible for our unprovoked impulses to sin, but we are responsible for our sins. The former are only evil inclinations, but the latter are willing acceptance of evil acts. The corollary follows that those who did not contribute to their condition are not sinners but victims of sin.
If we can grasp the situation of a man who does not intend to get drunk but does, or the boy and girl who intend only to kiss and end up doing what they never intended, we will understand that, in moments of passion, homosexual persons too act impulsively. Objectively, there is sin but subjectively the guilt is lessened because of lack of full consent of the will. Even apart from moments of passion, many, if not most, homosexuals are driven to compulsive neurotic homosexual acts which they would be only too happy to stop if they were free to do so. A compulsion is an impulse to engage in an act which one cannot simply will to go away. The impulse is neither desired nor accepted. Although the act may temporarily bring relief of what seems unbearable tension, it makes the compulsive person fearful, anxious and depressed because he feels out of control.
Whilst recognising the possibility of the compulsive nature of homosexuality, the Church wisely warns against exaggeration: “What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable. What is essential is that the fundamental liberty which characterises the human person and gives him his dignity be recognised as belonging to the homosexual person as well. As in every conversion from evil, the abandonment of homosexual activity will require a profound collaboration of the individual with God’s liberating grace.”
For homosexuals, the common human struggle is particularly acute because what is claimed is the right to sexually engage another person of the same gender. However, the fact that the more sex he gets the less fulfilling it becomes suggests that the homosexual is searching for something that lies outside the realm of physical sex per se. Indeed, the psychoanalysts, Drs. Karen Horney and Clara Thompson hold that homosexuality is fundamentally a symptom of “character problem,” that is, it is a consequence of unresolved problems of dependency, aggression, and early familial disturbances, all covertly expressed through same-sex relationships. Other professionals see homosexuality as a search for and a struggle to achieve a more adequate masculine identity.
Contrary to popular opinion most homosexuals are not gender confused. They do not want to be women, nor lesbians men. They know they are men and they are content being men, but at the inner core of their being they feel weak, inadequate and incomplete as a man. Hence their fruitless search to find in another man the “missing” part of themselves. Even though, physiologically speaking, the homosexual is quite capable of engaging in normal heterosexual intercourse, emotionally and mentally he feels he cannot compete with other men in the sexual sphere and in the world at large. This is revealed in the homosexual drive for anonymous sex that has nothing to do with genuine sexual attraction between compatible people, but rather, manifesting unresolved power issues, the relationships tend to be structured in terms of dominance and submission.
The homosexual struggle is also with and against the society, which is now being coerced into accepting as natural an act that cannot benefit it with new members. No nation has ever claimed the homosexual orientation for itself. The Spartans blamed the Dorians, the Athenians the Spartans. Both claimed it originated in Crete. The Persians ascribed it to the Medes and the Romans referred to it as the Greek vice. The West blamed the East, the Crusaders the Muslims, the Anglo-Saxons the Normans, the Dutch the French, the French the English and, dare I say, blacks the whites? Traditionally, homosexual acts have been viewed as one of the many deviant acts any man is theoretically capable of performing. When viewed historically, homosexual practices in a given society have generally coincided with periods of political, social, familial and economic upheaval and instability, conditions normally associated with wars or natural disasters.
Like everyone else, homosexual persons are called to holiness. Through a heroic struggle to please God homosexual persons can, despite their psychosexual orientation, become saints and even great saints. If those struggling with a homosexual orientation were to embrace St Augustine’s great insight that God permits evil because He is powerful enough to bring great good from it, then the light of Him who takes “no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather in the sinner’s conversion, that he may and live” (Ezek.33:11) would illumine their lives and fill them with hope of a final and lasting victory as He brings good, and indeed salvation, out of what is a greatly distressing psychosexual evil. Our Christian duty demands not only that we offer support, understanding, encouragement and help to our struggling brothers and sisters but that we also speak the truth in charity (Eph.4:15).