Time to talk about sexuality in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church’s official teaching on homosexuality distinguishes between homosexual individuals and what it calls the “homosexual condition.” The difficulty … Continued

The Catholic Church’s official teaching on homosexuality distinguishes between homosexual individuals and what it calls the “homosexual condition.”

The difficulty many people have in understanding this teaching is the gap between affirming gays and lesbians as made in the divine image and loved by God while condemning sexual activity among gays and lesbians as “intrinsically disordered.” This teaching puts gays and lesbians in no different a position from heterosexual unmarried Catholics, who are also expected to refrain from sexual intercourse. On the other hand, unmarried heterosexuals can get married and thus, in the church’s eye, then engage legitimately in intimate sexual activity. Since same-sex marriage is not considered possible by the church, gays and lesbians are called to life-long celibacy.

A series of four conferences entitled More Than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church taking place between September 16 and October 29 are not set up either to explain or challenge the official teaching position of the church. Their point is to take up issues that the official teaching does not address. Fordham University’s conference (September 16) will give various individuals including Catholic gays and lesbians as well as parents of LGBT individuals the opportunity to talk about their experiences and those of their children. Union Theological Seminary (October 1) will explore the much-debated issue of the disproportionately large number of LGBT young people who commit suicide. Yale University Divinity School (October 22) is examining the respective roles of the legal system and the Church in the legislative issues over same-sex marriage. And Fairfield University (October 29) has chosen to consider pastoral care, both the care the Church extends to gay and lesbian Catholics and the important roles of LGBT Catholics in the provision of pastoral care, including but not exclusively concerned with homosexual clergy.

While none of these issues are directly addressed in the official teaching of the church on homosexuality, they are issues that affect all Catholics, including gay and lesbian Catholics, whether or not they find the teaching of the church to be persuasive. They follow from the church’s evident awareness that what it is calling LGBT Catholics to is not easy and that they need the support of the Church to live out their lives as gay and lesbian people. So it would be fair to say that what the conferences are doing is adding many more voices to the conversation in order to explore the implications of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Many people, not just gays and lesbians, would like to see the church change its teaching on homosexuality. Recent surveys show what may to some be the surprising fact that Catholics form the American Christian denomination most favorable towards either same-sex marriage or civil unions (74 percent at the last count). In itself that doesn’t mean they are necessarily right or that the church will bend to such a statistic, but it does suggest that the gap between the current position of the teaching church and the apparent convictions of Catholics gives us something that we have to discuss.

As to whether Catholic Church teaching will ever change on this topic, it’s hard to say –though one should never say never. Teachings have changed in the past and they could do so again. What seems fairly sure is that they won’t change because the church will recognize same-sex marriage or partnership as a matter of human rights. If the teachings change they will change because of a religious or, more accurately, a theological justification. Those who believe such a change can or should occur focus on Catholic understandings of the goodness of creation, which includes the goodness of all human beings as God made them.

The biggest obstacle to change in the church is the centrality of “the natural law” in official Catholic sexual ethics, meaning by this term that sexuality is “ordered” to procreation and that while sexual pleasure is a legitimate and even God-given good it is only appropriate in relationships that reflect this “ordering,” namely, heterosexual marriage. So if the teachings on homosexuality are to change, that will probably have to be part of a larger change in the way the church understands sexuality, which would also have implications for other hot-button issues in Catholic teaching like premarital or extramarital sex, contraception, sterilization and so on. Right now, there is no sign that the church is ready to make such a momentous move. But that is no reason to delay having an honest, open conversation about sexual diversity and the Catholic Church.

Paul Lakeland

Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies

Director, Center for Catholic Studies

Fairfield University

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  • yungk

    I don’t care what the catholic church thinks about gay marriage or homosexuality as long as they don’t force others to follow their religion and verbally and emotionally abuse their homosexual children.

  • frankini_98

    This subject is so dead.

  • frankini_98

    Are you really concerned about the Church “forcing” their religion on others? Please give examples, preferably examples from within the last 400 years.


    Why would any gay person still consider themselves a Catholic – or any kind of Christian? They HATE you. It’s like being a Jewish Nazi or a black Klansman.

    For the most part, the nice secular people don’t really care who you love or sleep with. Abandon those primitive fakeries.

  • YEAL9

    “Abrahamics” believe that their god created all of us and of course that includes the g-ay members of the human race. Also, those who have studied homosexuality have determined that there is no choice involved therefore gays are gay because god made them that way.

    To wit:

    o The Royal College of Psy-chiatrists stated in 2007:
    “ Despite almost a century of psy-choanalytic and psy-chological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heteros-exual or hom-ose-xual orientation. It would appear that s-exual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of ge-netic factors and the early ut-erine environment. Se-xual orientation is therefore not a choice.[60] ”

    “Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab state in the abstract of their 2010 study, “The fe-tal brain develops during the intraut-erine period in the male direction through a direct action of tes-tosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hor-mone surge. In this way, our gender identi-ty (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and s-exual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender ident–ity or s-exual orientation.”[8

    Of course, those gays who belong to Abrahamic religions abide by the rules of no adu-ltery or for-nication allowed.

    And because of basic biology differences, monogamous ventures should always be called same-sex unions not same-sex marriages.

    e.g. • From below, on top, backwards, forwards, from this side of the Moon and from the other side too, gay sexual activity is still mutual masturbation caused by one or more complex sexual defects. Some defects are visually obvious in for example the complex maleness of DeGeneres, Billy Jean King and Rosie O’Don

  • ralph_malph

    I’m sorry that my post violated the discussion policy. Would the moderator who deleted it be so kind as to send me an email letting me know how I violated it, so that I can be more careful not to in the future. It was not my intent to violate the policy.

  • usapdx

    The only purpose of sex is for reproduction only by the married couple which are each others spouse in their human life other wise sex from thought, vision, touch or act is taught is serious SIN in the RC schools back in the days of hell, fire and damnation. One great saint of the church requied the female to only be on her back for intercourse. I wonder what Pope Peter would say today account he was a married man. I bet he would not think much of RCC celibacy rule , a unnatural rule of life for humans.

  • feetxxxl1

    there is still no common awareness about our 600 years of homphobic anglo-saxo­n culture, beginning with king henry the 8th, head of church and state(1500­ , who made homosexual acts a hanging offense. it stayed on the books for 300 years. settlers who came to this country continue to make it illegal with different punishment­s and to teach in their churches that it was a sin, withholdin­g membership from anyone who was openly gay.

    it was the revolution­s of the last 50 years,civi­l rights, sexual, religious, and about individual expression and opinion that enabled the awareness, that homosexual­s were actually absolutely equal to heterosexu­als.

    to believers: the standard of the new covenant is christ’s love

    being gay does not come against his love. his love as expressed thru the scriptures says over and over that being gay is of god.

    opting to an interpretation of law with no evidence that being gay comes against his love attempts to put believers and christ under the law.

  • ThomasBaum

    You wrote, “For the most part, the nice secular people don’t really care who you love or sleep with.”

    Have you spoken with all of those “nice secular people” to know this to be a fact or is it something that you picked out of thin air?

  • amelia45

    Can’t put the genie back in the bottle. I don’t know if the Catholic Church can ever change – about homosexuals, contraceptives and sterilization. Maybe we can get to some point that we can have “civil unions” (straight or gay couples) in the public sphere and “marriage” in the religious sphere and just end the public confusion over how to distinguish between the worlds of Caesar and God.

    I won’t hold my breath for a change in the Catholic Church. But it will be interesting to see the response.

  • wehutson

    The author says the Catholic church has changed teaching in the past. Not on matters of Faith or Morals. Only on matters of discipline.. Fasting, married priests. Very different from this topic.

  • PhilyJimi

    How can there be an eternal changeless god and yet the church can change like the wind to accommodate changing popular opinions? If god’s word was true then it should be true now.

    All religions are a joke. If you don’t like your god just change religions and you’ll find a god that thinks just like you do. Isn’t god amazing!

    This is from the same churches that teach the First commandant – “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”

    I didn’t see an clause that included “unless you don’t like that version of me then you can change to another church that has as different version of me your god the lord”. But that is exactly what other churches market to the public. The term christian has no meaning.

  • PhilyJimi

    Missionaries telling communities in AIDS stricken Africa not to use condoms. How many people have died from this policy? One death is too many.

    The catholic religion (along with the rest) don’t teach a loving god. They teach or impregnate a virus into very very young minds of a vengeful jealous god that is more then happy to put you into the fires of hell if you step out of line because he loves you and died for you. Walk in line or pay the penalty. The choice is yours.

    Why is that different then a psycho boyfriend who holds a gun to his girlfriend and demands that she says “I love you” or he will pull the trigger and spray her gray matter on the wall. How is this a choice?

  • frankini_98

    >Missionaries telling communities in AIDS stricken Africa not to use condoms.

    Perhaps you do not know the meaning of the word “force”. I suggest you look it up.

    As for the justice of the fires of hell, it seems very obvious to me that that is just. Sin is ugly, and yet God forgives over and over and over again. God pursues us, until we accept His will over ours. There is no reason to go to hell unless one flees God. Condemned souls, therefore, are there because they wouldn’t have it any other way.