Facing the issues of same-sex marriage and adoption of children by same-sex couples places the Church in the midst of a counter-cultural battle similar to the one fought in the first centuries of Christianity.
Ancient Israel, guided by God’s revelation, opposed many of the immoral customs of their neighbors: idol worship, human sacrifice, infanticide, and many sexual practices that were rife in the ancient world. For Israel, homosexual relations were considered an “abomination.”
The early Church, born as an offspring of Judaism, continued to consider homosexual acts as one of the many “degrading passions” the pagans practiced and Christians were to avoid. The first chapter of the letter of St. Paul to the Romans describes how pagan “females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another.”
Early Christians, through their witness and their blood, transformed the Greco-Roman culture with a new understanding of morality based on the Judeo-Christian principles of natural law. It was a revolutionary transformation that not only included sexual morality but a wide range of issues including abortion and infanticide.
Even with its shortcomings, a Christian culture leavened Western society for centuries. The Church proclaimed that God’s salvation is universal and the natural law He has inscribed in the hearts of every person is a sure path to happiness for all human beings, even if they do not know Christ.
Still today we are called to evangelize society and to bring Christian values to the public sphere, with the certainty that by doing so we are building a better, more just society.
The modern teaching of the Church states that sexuality is a gift from God. In order for it to be truthful to the design of the Creator, it must fulfill two aspects: the unitive and procreative. It is only in marriage that those essential aspects can be realized. For this reason, the Church says sexual acts should only be carried out inside the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman and that same-sex relationships cannot be equated in any way with marriage.
Being faithful to the plan of God for humanity, the Church neither can recognize homosexual unions as marriage nor can it consider adoptions by same-sex couples to be in the best interest of the children. Even if same-sex adoptive homes are not physically harmful environments, the lifestyle they transmit is incompatible with the teachings of Christ.
The 2003 Vatican document explains this saying, “the absence of sexual complementarity in these unions creates obstacles in the normal development of children.”
“They would be deprived of the experience of either fatherhood or motherhood. Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral,” the document continued.
Even those who feel the Church is wrong for taking a principled stand on this and other societal issues should understand that the Catholic Church cannot change its teachings to accommodate the tenets of a neo-pagan culture.
The question remains: What will Catholics do, now that its Church is barred from carrying out one of its key principles of mercy — care for the orphans? Will they just turn the other way and become an accomplice of the secular culture, one that exalts freedom over morality? Or, will they instead, witness the faith and transform civil society so that religious freedom may not succumb to the pressure of the dictatorship of relativism?
Only a strong faith formation will allow Catholics to challenge and change the path of history, as the early Christians were able to do. That challenge is again ahead of us.