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How does the Church's teaching on marriage relate to people who experience same-sex attraction?

Note: Much attention has been given to a media question and answer session with Pope Francis on the papal flight home from World Youth Day in Brazil. See coverage and context from Catholic News Service here and here. It would be an opportune time to re-visit what the Church teaches about persons who experience same-sex attraction. The following is from the Common Good page on this website and addresses the common question: “How does the Church’s teaching on marriage as the union of one man and one woman relate to people who experience same-sex attraction?” Below the answer are helpful links to further sources of Church teaching, as well as pastoral guidelines and ministries for persons with same-sex attraction.

Jesus was very confident in speaking the truth. He was not confined by the traditions of His time. He did and spoke what He knew was the truth. He Himself is the Truth. Jesus did not discriminate, yet he clearly taught that marriage is only between one man and one woman. He also clearly disagreed with sexual behavior outside of marriage. As Jesus did, the Church teaches that marriage between one man and one woman is the only proper context for sexual relations.

The Church’s teaching on marriage recognizes that every human person is made in the image of God and has inviolable dignity. Every human person is a gift, deserving respect and love. It is important to acknowledge that persons with homosexual inclinations have suffered and can suffer a great deal. Historically, they have been treated as second class citizens in many instances. Often, the early years of persons who experience same-sex attraction can be very painful, and can include long periods of loneliness, confusion about their own feelings, the pain of self-hatred, and most sadly, even thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, some have gone so far as to act on these thoughts.

The Church cares for and accepts persons who experience homosexual inclinations. She refuses to label anyone. Many with a homosexual inclination attend Mass regularly, are active in parish life, and seek to receive the sacraments. The Church invites and welcomes everyone to pray and worship, and is eager to listen to everyone’s story. The Church has long worked in ministry to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, and she continues her pastoral outreach and invites all people to follow the way of Jesus. The Church does not want the teaching and beauty of marriage, which is a sacrament at the service of union (communion and mission), to be an occasion for deeper division.

Sexuality is a good part of our human nature. The Church, the Body of Christ, encourages all of us to seek forgiveness for human weakness and poor judgment in areas of human sexuality, which often results in human tragedy of the highest proportions.

The Church knows well that sexual sins are not the only sins in the world. Greed, anger, violence, and envy cause untold pain to millions. Yet the Church also understands that sexual lifestyles that disregard marriage as the union of one man and one woman are particularly destructive to lives, to marriage, and to families.

In our culture today, it’s common to hear the words “choice,” “rights,” “tolerance,” and “equality,” particularly among young people, and often in connection with issues such as marriage or sexual expression. But what do these words really mean? Growing up as they do in a world filled with brokenness and rejection, young people are hungry for something more, for something substantial, for the truth. One of the greatest assets of youth is their hunger and enthusiasm. All too often today this hunger is ill fed. The Church invites all of us to proclaim the truth in love as we also live in the light of truth.

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4 responses to “How does the Church's teaching on marriage relate to people who experience same-sex attraction?”

  1. Joseph Elliott says:

    The Church is the best hope for increasing the number of normal, healthy families. I believe that the Church should communicate to all of its members that they should support the proposed Marriage Amendment sponsed by representative Tim Huelskamp.

  2. Paul Cook-Giles says:

    >She refuses to label anyone.

    Really?? “Intrinsically disordered” (used in “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics” of December 29, 1975, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) isn’t a label?!?

    And –once again– you fail to distinguish the covenant of Holy Matrimony from the civil contract of marriage. The Roman Catholic church is –as she always has been– empowered to decide what ceremonies she performs, what sacraments she shares, and what doctrine she follows. But she is *not* free to impose, by force of the civil government, those policies and doctrines on those not of her flock.

    Insisting that gay Americans should be denied the protections and benefits of civil marriage (benefits and protections paid for with their tax dollars) because Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that gay people cannot contract marriage is like requiring all restaurants to serve fish –and fish only– on Fridays because the RC church prohibits eating meat on Fridays.

    • Marriage Unique for a Reason says:

      Dear Paul,

      Thank you for your comment. It is crucial to understand that when the Church uses the term “intrinsically disordered,” this *always* refers to *acts* or *inclinations* and never, ever to persons. Never. (Catechism, no. 2357: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered'” [quoting from the source you reference, the 1975 CDF document “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics”, no. VIII); the 1986 CDF document “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” clarifies, “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” [no. 3])

      The distinction between act, inclination, and person is so, so important.

      Every single person – no exceptions – is created in the image and likeness of God and is called to relationship with Him. No person can ever be “disordered,” if that is taken to mean that somehow they lack full humanity or are not a beloved child of God. All of us are in need of His grace to live holy, fully human lives.

      What the word “disordered” means, when applied to actions, is that there are certain actions which are not “ordered” toward our true good and flourishing. Another word for these would be “sins.” Every single person struggles with the temptation to choose disordered acts, for example to lie instead of to tell the truth (speech is “ordered” toward the truth; it finds its flourishing in truth-telling). Certain acts are “intrinsically” (that is, “by their very nature”) disordered because there is no situation in which they would be ordered toward the good. (Other acts depend on the actor’s intention and circumstance, such as the act of killing, which could be morally sound in particular instances of self-defense).

      Inclinations are those tugs or movements we have toward a particular action. These too can be objectively ordered or disordered. Insofar as they are not chosen or willed, they are not sins. Everyone feels certain involuntary desires toward many things. When it comes to culpability, a person can only be held responsible for those actions which were consciously chosen. But – and this is very important – the Church believes that men and women have free will and are not slaves to their desires or inclinations. Simply because one has a desire, for example a sexual desire toward someone of the same sex, does not mean that they are destined to act on that desire. This is where virtue – by the grace of God! – comes into play.

      All that is to say, you may still disagree with the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. But I hope you can see why that phrase is not a label for a person, but for certain objectively defined acts. The phrase “She [the Church] refuses to label anyone” refers to the fact that the Church does not identify people completely with whatever inclinations they may have. She sees each person as a child of God, perhaps struggling with a particular temptation, but a person with great dignity nonetheless. We are all more than our inclinations and even more than our actions – the Pope spoke beautifully about forgiveness, how God forgives and forgets our sins.

      In regards to your other comments, please read the FAQs on the Common Good page for why marriage matters to all society, and why the Church is not “imposing” a religious belief but rather proclaiming a truth known by right reason and for the good of all people: that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, rooted in the human person as male and female and a firm foundation for society.

  3. Paul Cook-Giles says:

    Thank you for your kind -and thorough- clarification. 🙂

    You continue to ignore the fact that the covenant of matrimony and the civil contract of marriage are two different things… and that while they are frequently congruent, it is entirely possible to have either without the other. In the United States, the RC Church has *no*jurisdiction* over civil marriages.

    I’ve read the FAQs, and they all circle around one central, and unsupported notion: that the RC Church is the authoritative interpreter of ‘natural law’ which is that marriage can be only the union of one man and one woman.

    I have no quibble with that notion, so long as it is not imposed on people who do not share it. The RC Church is free to believe, teach, and enforce the position that divorce is impossible except in cases of adultery– but attempting (or endorsing attempts) to modify civil law to conform to that position is forcing religious doctrine on those who do not share it. Stomping one’s figurative foot and insisting that ‘right reason’ proves that civil marriage is only the union of one man and one woman does not change that fact. What’s more, it ignores the fact that in 13 American states and 16 sovereign nations recognize the unions of men and women, men and men, and women and women as civil marriages.

    Thank you for this discussion; I hope that we can continue. 🙂

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