A teachable moment

A scheduled Mass that was announced as a commemoration of Boston Gay Pride Month at St. Cecilia Church in Boston was postponed indefinitely. After criticism from local Catholics, the archdiocese instructed the pastor at St. Cecilia to postpone the Mass and said in a statement that the bulletin announcement of the Mass "created the unintended impression that the Church was endorsing Gay Pride activities."

The controversy surrounding these events is a teachable moment for all Catholics in the archdiocese.

First, it is important to state that no Catholic should embrace prejudice against individuals with homosexual orientation. Such prejudice is incompatible with our faith. On the contrary, the Church welcomes every individual and encourages personalized pastoral care of many different groups of people who have particular experiences or needs. In that context, groups caring for individuals with homosexual orientation are needed and promoted in the Church.

It is also vital to understand that homosexual orientation is not, in itself, sinful and people experiencing it are welcome to participate in the life of the Church. In this regard, the Catholic Church is far more welcoming than some other groups of Christians.

However, the issue at hand is not the sexual orientation of Catholics but how those attractions are lived out and acted upon. Yes, God loves us all, even in our sin, but that does not mean that everything we do is good.

We are all called to live a celibate life outside of marriage. Sexual acts outside of sacramental marriage are sinful. Adultery, fornication and homosexual acts all fall into that category and cannot be promoted, and much less endorsed or celebrated. All of us are subject to sin and all of us are called to conversion, just as all of us can fall. However, in our journey of faith it is essential to recognize right and wrong as such, even if we do not always make the right choices.

In 2006 the U.S. Conference of Bishops published a document, "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care," which affirms the need for the Church to accept those individuals with homosexual orientation and provides clear guidance to Church leaders for their pastoral care. We present here an excerpt of the document to help our readers understand the Church's position on homosexuality, which is based on love for the person, not bigotry or hate.

Respecting Human Dignity

The commission of the Church to preach the Good News to all people in every land points to the fundamental dignity possessed by each person as created by God. God has created every human person out of love and wishes to grant him or her eternal life in the communion of the Trinity. All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected.

In keeping with this conviction, the Church teaches that persons with a homosexual inclination "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity." We recognize that these persons have been, and often continue to be, objects of scorn, hatred, and even violence in some sectors of our society. Sometimes this hatred is manifested clearly; other times, it is masked and gives rise to more disguised forms of hatred. "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."

Those who would minister in the name of the Church must in no way contribute to such injustice. They should prayerfully examine their own hearts in order to discern any thoughts or feelings that might stand in need of purification. Those who minister are also called to growth in holiness. In fact, the work of spreading the Good News involves an ever-increasing love for those to whom one is ministering by calling them to the truth of Jesus Christ.

The Place of Sexuality in God's Plan

The phenomenon of homosexuality poses challenges that can only be met with the help of a clear understanding of the place of sexuality within God's plan for humanity. In the beginning, God created human beings in his own image, meaning that the complementary sexuality of man and woman is a gift from God and ought to be respected as such. "Human sexuality is thus a good, part of that created gift which God saw as being 'very good,' when he created the human person in his image and likeness, and 'male and female he created them' (Gn 1:27)." The complementarity of man and woman as male and female is inherent within God's creative design. Precisely because man and woman are different, yet complementary, they can come together in a union that is open to the possibility of new life. Jesus taught that "from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh'" (Mk 10:6-8).

The purpose of sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children. "The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life." This is the order of nature, an order whose source is ultimately the wisdom of God. To the extent that man and woman cooperate with the divine plan by acting in accord with the order of nature, they not only bring to fulfillment their own individual human natures but also accomplish the will of God.

Homosexual Acts Cannot Fulfill the Natural Ends of Human Sexuality

By its very nature, the sexual act finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond. Any sexual act that takes place outside the bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality. Such an act is not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life. It is disordered in that it is not in accord with this twofold end and is thus morally wrong. "Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes."

Because of both Original Sin and personal sin, moral disorder is all too common in our world. There are a variety of acts, such as adultery, fornication, masturbation, and contraception, that violate the proper ends of human sexuality. Homosexual acts also violate the true purpose of sexuality. They are sexual acts that cannot be open to life. Nor do they reflect the complementarity of man and woman that is an integral part of God's design for human sexuality. Consequently, the Catholic Church has consistently taught that homosexual acts "are contrary to the natural law.... Under no circumstances can they be approved."

In support of this judgment, the Church points not only to the intrinsic order of creation, but also to what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture. In the book of Genesis we learn that God created humanity as male and female and that according to God's plan a man and a woman come together and "the two of them become one body." Whenever homosexual acts are mentioned in the Old Testament, it is clear that they are disapproved of, as contrary to the will of God. In the New Testament, St. Paul teaches that homosexual acts are not in keeping with our being created in God's image and so degrade and undermine our authentic dignity as human beings. He tells how homosexual practices can arise among people who erroneously worship the creature rather than the Creator:

''Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.''

St. Paul listed homosexual practices among those things that are incompatible with the Christian life.

Homosexual Inclination Is Not Itself a Sin

While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not. To the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination is not subject to one's free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency. Although one would be morally culpable if one were voluntarily to entertain homosexual temptations or to choose to act on them, simply having the tendency is not a sin. Consequently, the Church does not teach that the experience of homosexual attraction is in itself sinful.

The homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, i.e., it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person. Of course, heterosexual persons not uncommonly have disordered sexual inclinations as well. It is not enough for a sexual inclination to be heterosexual for it to be properly ordered. For example, any tendency toward sexual pleasure that is not subordinated to the greater goods of love and marriage is disordered, in that it inclines a person towards a use of sexuality that does not accord with the divine plan for creation. There is the intrinsic disorder of what is directed toward that which is evil in all cases (contra naturam). There is also the accidental disorder of what is not properly ordered by right reason, what fails to attain the proper measure of virtue (contra rationem).

It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered. Nor does it mean that one has been rejected by God or the Church. Sometimes the Church is misinterpreted or misrepresented as teaching that persons with homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered, as if everything about them were disordered or rendered morally defective by this inclination. Rather, the disorder is in that particular inclination, which is not ordered toward the fulfillment of the natural ends of human sexuality. Because of this, acting in accord with such an inclination simply cannot contribute to the true good of the human person. Nevertheless, while the particular inclination to homosexual acts is disordered, the person retains his or her intrinsic human dignity and value.

Furthermore, it is not only sexual inclinations that can be disordered within a human person. Other inclinations can likewise be disordered, such as those that lead to envy, malice, or greed. We are all damaged by the effects of sin, which causes desires to become disordered. Simply possessing such inclinations does not constitute a sin, at least to the extent that they are beyond one's control. Acting on such inclinations, however, is always wrong.

Many in our culture have difficulty understanding Catholic moral teaching because they do not understand that morality has an objective basis. Some hold that moral norms are nothing more than guidelines for behavior that happen to be widely accepted by people of a particular culture at a particular time. Catholic tradition, however, holds that the basis of morality is found in the natural order established by the Creator, an order that is not destroyed but rather elevated by the transforming power of the grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ. Good actions are in accord with that order. By acting in this way, persons fulfill their authentic humanity, and this constitutes their ultimate happiness. Immoral actions, actions that are not in accord with the natural order of things, are incapable of contributing to true human fulfillment and happiness. In fact, immoral actions are destructive of the human person because they degrade and undermine the human dignity given us by God.

The full text of the document is available at http://www.usccb.org/doctrine/Ministry.pdf.

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