. . . How can young men hope to encounter friends with whom they might cultivate healthy and chaste relationships? What role does the Church play in supporting and encouraging this?
Catholic men facing same-sex attractions often struggle with how they are supposed to handle their homoromantic feelings. Some clearly understand that the Church invites them to order their feelings and attractions through a life of chaste continence, but they also wrestle with a strong desire for same-sex friendship and bonding.
In the midst of an escalating gay culture that actively promotes and celebrates homosexual sex, even in its most promiscuous forms, how can young men hope to encounter friends with whom they might cultivate healthy and chaste relationships? What role does the Church play in supporting and encouraging this?
A group called Courage offers outstanding spiritual support for those who are struggling with same-sex attraction and desiring to live chastely according to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Founded by Father John Harvey, Courage held its first meeting in 1980 in New York City. Since then, it has expanded into an international ministry. This important apostolate deserves broad recognition and support for its vital work, yet regrettably, resistance still arises at times in some quarters of the Church when Courage seeks to promote clear Catholic teaching on chastity and homosexuality.
Cultivating a chaste heart demands a deep prayer life, strong spiritual support, and good fellowship, not to mention frequent reception of the sacraments, especially Holy Communion and Confession. Courage vigorously promotes these practices.
I once visited a large Midwest Catholic parish where there was a group of men with same-sex attraction who attended Mass together. I later learned that each of them had his own room in a common living arrangement where they divided responsibilities, prayed together, discussed their burdens and struggles, and sought to strengthen each other in their shared journey of following the Lord generously and chastely. They were a source of inspiration and an example of hope within the parish, which supported and encouraged them.
Among same-sex-attracted individuals, cultivating chaste relationships with each other can sometimes be complex. Doing so requires a supportive environment, patience, an understanding of human weakness, a strong sense of hope, and a mutually-shared determination to avoid near occasions of sin.
A few years ago, I read a memorable, no-holds-barred commentary on the gay lifestyle by Ronald G. Lee, a librarian in Houston, Texas, in which, based on his own struggles with homosexuality, he offered several helpful observations. He disputed the claim that gay men are supposed to, or are even able to, live in monogamous homosexual relationships. Instead, echoing the wisdom of the Church's teaching, he stressed the fundamental need for a chaste lifestyle.
At the same time, he acknowledged the urgent need for same-sex-attracted individuals to have healthy human friendships with others. He mentioned his best friend Mark, who, like himself, was a refugee from the gay lifestyle and a man of faith. Summing up their relationship, he said, "From Mark, I have learned that two men can love each other profoundly while remaining clothed the entire time. We are told that the Church opposes same-sex love. Not true. The Church opposes homogenital sex, which in my experience is not about love, but about obsession, addiction, and compensation for a compromised masculinity."
The Catholic Church stresses that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered but homosexual persons are not. This distinction is crucial. Moreover, a person's natural inner desire for human bonding should not be considered disordered or problematic in itself. In other words, the desire for friendship, relationship, and communion, even among same-sex-attracted individuals, is not intrinsically disordered, although desiring and pursuing same-sex sexual relations, which always contravene the root purposes of human sexuality, will be unchaste and immoral. The desire for closeness among same-sex-attracted individuals can and should be directed toward non-lustful friendships.
A second distinction is also worth mentioning. If homoerotic desires are allowed to take root, linger and be acted upon, they will be inherently problematic and sinful. If such desires, however, arise spontaneously in a person's mind, and are not actively cultivated, entertained, or acted upon, this would not be sinful, insofar as sin always involves a wrongful choice.
The late Father Benedict Groeschel alluded to these nuances surrounding our inclinations and choices when he noted, "Homosexuality is a condition; gay and lesbian is a decision."
The Catholic Church extends a beautiful call to each of us, one of authentic freedom and love. Human sexuality involves powerful drives that must be ordered within God's sacred and providential plan. The "Catechism" reminds us that same-sex-attracted individuals are called ultimately to holiness, which is the fulfillment of a life of love:
"Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (n.2359).
That summons is a source of great hope.
- Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River and serves as the Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia,