The Church and homosexuality – a response

Features Brian Quin sm3 December 2011 In ‘Lives on a different course’ Australian Greg Byrne described the bitter experiences his family had gone through since finding that one of his…


Brian Quin sm
3 December 2011

In ‘Lives on a different course’ Australian Greg Byrne described the bitter experiences his family had gone through since finding that one of his sons was gay. He believes that the Churches bear much of the blame for the bigotry his family experiences and that the Catholic Church particularly needs to reconsider its stance on homosexuality and human sexuality in general.

But beyond a claim that the Catholic Church’s attitude to homosexuality is out of step with changing social attitudes, neither Mr Byrne nor others he quotes say exactly what they think is wrong with the Church’s approach.

In its teaching on all moral issues, the Church distinguishes between the sin and the sinner.

Scripture (cf Genesis 19:1-29, Romans 1:24-27, 1Corinthians 6:10) and Church tradition have always seen homosexual acts as ‘intrinsically disordered’ and against the natural law (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357). Why? As Bishop Peter Cullinane says, ‘The natural orientation of sexual expression is towards the twin purposes of expressing love and procreating new human life (Pastoral letter 1993, p4-5). Giving life and giving love both belong to the meaning of intercourse (p7) and, as Pope Paul VI teaches, they cannot be separated (Humanae Vitae #12). Homosexual acts are wrong because they deny the natural orientation of sexual expression towards procreating new life.

However, homosexual inclination (exclusive or predominant attraction towards persons of the same sex) in a person is not in itself sinful, anymore than are inclinations to fornication, adultery or drunkenness. Sin involves a decision freely made. Inclinations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, precede decisions. That is why inclinations do not exclude one from Holy Communion (Cullinane p 16).

Many people, including not a few Catholics, fail to make this distinction. They think that because homosexual acts are wrong, anyone with a homosexual inclination is somehow less human. This has obviously and sadly been the experience of Mr Byrne’s family.

But the Church is definite.

‘People do not choose their homosexual condition. For most, it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’ (CCC2358).

‘The Church’s expressed disapproval of sin always needs to be in the context of its acceptance of the people concerned’ (‘Dignity, Life, Love’ NZ Catholic Bishops Conference, 1986, p2).

An outstanding example of condemning the sin but accepting the sinner was given by Jesus when he was confronted by the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11).

Mr Byrne’s claim that homosexuality is as intrinsic a part of a person as heterosexuality seems to imply that homosexual acts are as morally lawful as heterosexual acts. But just as heterosexual people are responsible for their wrong heterosexual acts such as fornication or adultery, homosexual people are responsible for their chosen behaviour. It cannot be assumed that homosexual people are not responsible for their behaviour just because they are not responsible for their orientation.

We are all called to live according to God’s will. It may be hard, but we can resist personal weaknesses. As Christians we unite our difficulties to Christ’s own sufferings on the Cross. By self-denial, the support of disinterested friends, by prayer and the use of the sacraments, particularly of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, we can reach Christian perfection (CCC 2358-59).

The Catholic Church is not called to change its teaching on homosexuality, but urgently must try to deepen its members’ understanding of it and so remove reasons for bigotry.