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Some with Same-Sex Attraction Choose Celibacy – A Reflection on an Article in the Washington Post

December 14, 2014

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article asking and answering this question: What Does the Catholic Church Offer for those with Same-Sex Attraction? And the answer is, “the truth.” It is the same gift we offer anyone who will give us the gift of attention and presence. The truth, as revealed by God, is what we offer and celebrate along with the Sacraments, the communal life, and prayer.

Of course the truth we offer in terms of human sexuality is out of favor among many today. But the truth, in accord with Scripture and natural law, is that human sexuality is ordered to the good of procreation, and by extension, to the good of the husband and wife so that they may be strengthened for their role as parents through the bonds of sexual intimacy and the stable love and loyalty cultivated there. This benefits not only them, but even more so their children, who need a loving and stable family in which to be best raised. It is to this that human sexuality is properly ordered and why its legitimate expression is only within the bonds of marriage. All other types of sexual expression are, in one degree or another, disordered (i.e., not properly ordered to the proper ends of sexuality). Thus sex as recreation, fornication (pre-marital sex), adultery, pornography, masturbation, and homosexual acts are disordered.

This is the truth that the Church offers to all who give us the gift of their attention. We affirm, as did St. Paul, that We do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor 4:2). We do not discriminate or exempt anyone from this teaching. It is a teaching that applies equally to all and is the clear and consistent stance of Scripture and Church teaching extending all the way back into ancient Jewish times. Even if not all have lived it perfectly, it is what is taught and what is true from the Revelation of God and backed up by Natural Law.

There was an article in the Washington Post on Sunday that, thankfully, sets forth another side of the debate over those with “same-sex attraction.”

This other side is important to hear because it is commonly held by many today that the ONLY way to affirm, love, or accept those with this orientation is approve of and even celebrate homosexual acts. Anything less is called “intolerance,” “bigotry,” “homophobia,” and even “hatred.” But of course those of us who read the Scriptures and their plain teaching on the matter of homosexual acts cannot do what is “required” by many in our culture today.

And we must insist that this does NOT mean that we fail to love or accept those with same-sex attraction. An attraction to do things the Scriptures forbid is common to all of us. We are forbidden to lie, steal, fornicate, wrathfully vent our anger, drink too much, etc. But many experience an attraction to do sinful things like this.

We usually call such attractions to forbidden or excessive things “temptation.” But temptation does not make a person sinful—only yielding to it does. Some are strongly tempted to anger, some to drink in excess, others to illicit sexual union. The Church does not say, “stay away” to those who have these temptations. On the contrary, it is all the more reason to come, to be strengthened in the truth that these are sinful things, but also to experience mercy and help through the Sacraments, preaching, fellowship, and prayer to avoid giving in to these sinful drives. It is no less the case for those with same-sex attraction. They are tempted to do what is sinful. This alone does not make them bad nor does it make them unique. Only acting on sinful desires is sinful.

A person with same-sex attraction is called to live celibately, like any unmarried heterosexual person. And though celibacy has its challenges (as does marriage) it can also be a very fulfilling way to live. Of this I am a witness. I am heterosexual, but I live celibately, not just because I am a priest, but because I am unmarried. And my life is very rich and fulfilling. I am not lonely, frustrated, or miserable. I suppose sex can be a source a happiness. But I have done enough counseling to know that sex can also be a source of stress, struggle, and yes, unhappiness. It is wrong to simplistically link sexual intercourse with happiness or to declare it a sine qua non for fulfillment.

With this background in mind, I was pleased to see an article in the Washington Post that discusses the lives of those with same-sex attraction who choose to live celibately and in conformity with the teachings of the Church in this matter. Over the years, I have known many Catholics who do this, and do it successfully. It is a form of heroic virtue in an age that powerfully tempts them to think otherwise and to depart from biblical teaching on this matter.  I would like to present excerpts from the article in bold italics along with some remarks of my own in plain red text. The full article can be read here: Gay Christians choosing celibacy emerge from the shadows.

When Eve Tushnet converted to Catholicism in 1998, she thought she might be the world’s first celibate Catholic lesbian.

But, thankfully, she is not. There are many others in the Church who have same-sex attraction and yet live lives faithful to Church teaching.

Having grown up in a liberal, upper Northwest Washington home before moving on to Yale University, the then-19-year-old knew no other gay Catholics who embraced the church’s ban on sex outside heterosexual marriage. Her decision to abstain made her an outlier. “Everyone I knew totally rejected it,” she said of the church’s teaching on gay sexuality.

Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.

Thanks be to God for her witness. In the Catholic sphere, we also have http://couragerc.org, an outreach and support group for Catholics with same-sex attraction, and those who love them. 

Celibacy “allows you to give yourself more freely to God,” said Tushnet (rhymes with RUSH-net), a 36-year-old writer and resident of Petworth in the District. The focus of celibacy, she says, should be not on the absence of sex but on deepening friendships and other relationships, a lesson valuable even for people in heterosexual marriages. Amen.

However, they are also met with criticism from many quarters, including from other gays and lesbians who say celibacy is both untenable and a denial of equality. “We’ve been told for so long that there’s something wrong with us,” said Arthur Fitzmaurice, resource director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.

But, respectfully, there is something wrong with you, just as there are things wrong with each of us. Not all of our desires are good or properly ordered. Some desires we have are disordered. Being attracted to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex is disordered. It is not ordered to the proper ends of sexuality, namely procreation and the good of the father and mother so as to be good parents. Physically, homosexual acts cannot attain the proper goals of sexual intimacy. The body parts do not fit together and are not designed for such purposes. Since these attractions are not ordered to the proper purpose of sexual intimacy, they are “dis-ordered.” Intentionally contraceptive sex is also disordered, as are pornography and masturbation. As such, they are all wrong.

Mr. Fitzmaurice also says that celibacy is “untenable.” It is not. I live it every day. So do the people interviewed in the article. What he probably means is that it is unpopular and/or difficult. So are many virtues. Many people find sin popular. Many also find exhibiting self-control to be less popular or less pleasant. But that does not make it impossible or wrong. 

As for his notion of “equality,” it is a modern problem that many use the word “equal” to mean “the same.” A man and a woman are equal in dignity before God, but they are not the same. A married person and a single person are equal in dignity before God, but they are not the same and do not have the same roles or obligations; neither do they have the same rights or prerogatives. Married people can do things that the unmarried should not. A courtroom judge and I have the same equality of dignity before God, but we have different roles, and there are things he or she can do that I cannot. Equality is not sameness.

Acceptance in exchange for celibacy “is not sufficient,” he said. “There’s a perception that [LGBT] people who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives.”

And here is the central problem with the whole LGBT(QIIA) movement. They insist on having their whole public identity revolve around a behavior that history, culture (until recently),  and the Scriptures have consistently thought wrong and sinful. And, claiming this as their almost sole identity, they then insist that anything short of a complete declaration of the goodness of their behavior is insufficient and amounts to a lack of personal acceptance. Those in the LGBT movement do not alone get to decide what constitutes “sufficient” acceptance. They can decide what they think, but “sufficiency” speaks to a matter of justice. And one side alone in a dispute does not get to simply declare what is just by diktat. There are legitimate and just objections at work from the standpoint of many in this dispute.

It is clear that many in the LGBT community take rejection of their behavior very personally even if many of us do not mean it that way. Perhaps they take it personally because many with same-sex attraction have decided to weave their entire identity and dignity around whom they are sexually attracted to. But as for me, I choose to see more of people than that. So I can truthfully say, “I accept you; you are a fellow human being. But I do not accept or approve of every behavior you exhibit or every behavior you insist that I approve of. I cannot and I will not do that. It is not personal; it is only experienced by you as being personal because you have chosen to make it so.”

The reaction among church leaders themselves has been mixed, with some praising the celibacy movement as a valid way to be both gay and Christian. But others have returned to the central question of how far Christianity can go in embracing homosexuality—even if people abstain from sex … [some leaders in Evangelical denominations are]  not comfortable with the way in which some celibate gay Christians proudly label themselves as gay or queer. “Even if someone is struggling with same-sex attraction, I’d be concerned about reducing them to the word ‘gay,’ ” Mohler said.

Fair enough, as stated above. Reducing our whole identity to a matter of sexual attraction is an awful reductionism. Neither is being “gay” a gift from God, (though like any cross he permits, he can draw graces from it). However, we ought not shun all discussion and identification. For example, it is sometimes important for alcoholics to speak openly of their struggle and to identify with a group and a cultural category that can help both the afflicted and the wider community to find healthy ways of overcoming difficulties. “Over-identification” ought not be replaced by total silence either. Silence and shame are often related. But silence and shame are not usually healthy either.

Josh Gonnerman, 29, a theology PhD student at Catholic University, writes…“There is this shift from the more negative to the more positive,” he said. “In the past, the Catholic approach was: ‘Oh, sucks for you’ [that you’re gay]. The emphasis was on the difficulty. Celibacy is being reimagined.” Yes, in other words, celibacy is a good thing; the celibate life is a rich life.

The rest of the article by Michelle Boorstein is here:  Gay Christians choosing celibacy emerge from the shadows.

So, it is good to finally see some publicity for those with same-sex attraction who live celibately. They are not few in number or percentage, as any Catholic pastor will tell you. There are many who do so. They are not usually among the loudest protestors; they usually live quietly as members of our congregation. Like any Catholics, they struggle with sin (sexual and otherwise), but they are in agreement with Church and biblical teaching and know how to find a confessional when sin of any kind overtakes them. It’s good to see another side to this story published in the Post.

Please be careful and gentle with your comments. The article is not perfect, people are not perfect. But it is worth affirming that some are striving to live the Church teaching. So, say what you mean and mean what you say—but don’t say it mean.

Comments (63)

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  1. Convert Journal – Elsewhere: homosexual chastity | December 16, 2014
  1. Orin Ryssman says:

    Well put…thank you…I rejoice when I see the confessional light turned on and a line up to go in…and I know that sooner or later I will be returning to that place as a sinner myself.

    • Patrick says:

      Monsignor,
      thank you for your wonderful articles including this one. As a heterosexual married man, I find myself empathizing greatly with those suffering SSA. I too face a present and future life of involuntary sexual continence as a result of my wife of 28 years decision to leave our marriage, our home and our 6 children. Convinced as I am of the validity of our marriage, a life without sexual intimacy is the only moral option I have. I admire the struggle of the SSA persons who strive to obey the Church’s teaching, and I struggle similarly although fir a different reason. I will pray for them and as your prayers for me, and my wife and children: may all of conform our lives to God’s Will, in areas of sexuality and otherwise

  2. Peter Stuart says:

    Thank you, Father, for having the courage to publish this witness, including the reference to Courage. Even inside the Church it seems like chastity isn’t seen as “progressive” and up to date. It would be wonderful if the Washington Archdiocese were fully supportive of Courage, which may have saved my life and soul. But thank God I can find it elsewhere and that in the meantime there are priests like you who will tell the Truth.

  3. a catholic psychologist says:

    The Courage apostolate has been the main apostolate to homosexuals for 35 years. To Fr Harvey’s eternal credit, he saw into the heart of the problem of same sex attraction and the challenge of perseverance in living an authentic Christian life. Celibacy is difficult, but it is always rewarding. It is all the more difficult for anyone who had once lived a promiscuous lifestyle, but there is always hope, and hope is rewarded where there is perseverance.

    Too bad the WaPo didn’t mention Courage, hopefully it was just an oversight.

  4. Chris says:

    The claim that same-sex attracted persons who (heroically) do not yield to temptation to sodomy are living the same celibacy that priests/religious/unmarried people live is fraught with error. The gift of apostolic celibacy is a special grace. Part of discerning a vocation to the priesthood/consecrated life is determining whether one has received this grace/can accept it. In the hierarchy of vocations, the gift of apostolic celibacy is higher, because it is a more excellent way to give oneself to God.

    Up until now, we have never advised our youth to embrace a celibate vocation during their unmarried years. This conflates the words “celibate” and “abstinent”. That is not helpful, especially when those called by God to marriage have to “give up” their celibacy. That is linguistically (and psychologically) confusing.

    The central problem with the subjects of the Washington Post article is that they believe their same-sex attraction (a term they do not use) is a gift from God that makes them particularly suited to forming particularly powerful friendships. But this demeans those who believe their SSA is a trial to be overcome. True, one’s cross can be an opportunity for holiness and some crosses can impart unique strengths/abilities otherwise unavailable to normal persons, but that doesn’t make it not a cross. The “gift” language is very confusing. How is a persistent temptation to sodomy a special “gift”? No doubt this is a difficult subject for SSA persons to grapple with. But I’m not sure displaying their linguistic grappling in public is a helpful strategy to a) provide these people with the real love and support they need and b) providing clear explanations on Catholic teaching re: virtues and vices.

    P.S. I do appreciate this article’s use of the term “same-sex attracted” as opposed to “homosexual.” As the author suggests, being SSA means one suffers from a particular temptation; there is no sin in that. We do not self-identify with our temptations. Men tempted to have sexual intercourse with women to whom they are not married are not “adulterals.” Persons tempted to say bad things about others behind their backs are not “detractuals.” It’s ontological nonsense.

    • Your concerns seem to center mainly around semantics. Celibacy does not need to mean only the equivalent of consecrated celibacy. The term can be used more loosely and often is. One who is single certainly does have the grace to live celibately, or as you might prefer abstemiously (a word that is becoming arcane). So while it is not the “gift” of consecrated celibacy it is a gift in the sense of grace. I don’t think things are as linguistically confusing as you posit. People are usually able to negotiate the strict and wide sense of words.

      While some can overcome SSA, many have deep-seated attraction and it is not likely they will overcome it. While I share your concert with the “gift” language, (And in presenting the article I do not affirm every aspect) but here too a strict and wide notion can be operative. When I look back on the crosses I have endured in my life I can see how they have also been graces, yes, gifts. For example they have had a good role in calming pride and helping humility, or perhaps I learned of strengths I did not know I had. So here too I think you are being rather too strict in your notions. No one is being demeaned, except in your world. I have personally worked in the capacity of spiritual direction with some who sought to overcome SSA and there has been some success. But for those who do not reasonably see this possibility living celibately is a good choice, it is the only choice faithful to the biblical teaching.

      There will always be debates about semantics since language is artful and fluid. Words are analogies, and change over time. Thus we should avoid the extreme of nominalism but also the other extreme of being too bookish, mechanistic or literalistic on the other.

      • Candida Bohnne Eittreim says:

        I agree with Msgr. Pope concerning his reply to your commentary. Suffering is a gift. The manner of the suffering is different for us all, but it all still is suffering. A gift that can bring us enormous growth in faith and trust in God. It can build character and enable a deep compassion for all who suffer. Celibacy is a gift. Difficult at times for anyone who embraces it, given the world we live in. All kinds of people can be called to the continent celibate life by the Holy Spirit, I had no sense, reading the article, of imputing celibacy as a form of “punishment” for those who suffer with SSA. Celibacy was never meant to be perceived that way. It is a calling of any soul to come closer in relationship with God. I live the celibate life after 35 years of marriage and it has changed my relationship with God profoundly. It is a joy. I only bring this up, because i sense a hidden undercurrent of this being a punishment, a disciplinary measure for SSA’s alone. Not so much here, but in general. That is a lie. There is no difference between a soul who lived a promiscuous life, becoming fully continent and celibate and an SSA soul making that same decision. It is simply a spiritually life affirming way for anyone to live if they choose to do so.

      • Chris says:

        Msgr, thank you for the thoughtful reply. I agree very much that we should avoid making things “black and white” when pastoral realities require more flexibility, exercised with prudence and charity. I do believe that words matter very much here, for the purpose of framing the discussion properly. As we’ve seen with the redefinition of marriage, uniting concepts with definitions is important, even if it is bookish and mechanistic at times. In terms of “celibacy”, the question, in my mind, is whether an unmarried man abstaining from fornication and an unmarried man abstaining from sodomy are both living what we can reasonably call “celibacy.” (Both sodomy and fornication are still terms in current Catholic usage, even if they aren’t exactly artful). Even in the more capacious definition of celibacy you’ve articulated, I don’t think the two situations are the same. A man who engages in sex outside of marriage is doing something which by its nature is blessed, but is evil in his case because of circumstances. A man who engages in homosexual conduct is doing something which by its nature is evil, period. They are different in kind.

        I’ll caveat that by no means am I presenting this articulation as the most prudent pastoral route to take with SSA persons. I think the apostolate Courage (which you highlighted and endorsed) does a wonderful job of incorporating these important distinctions into an effective and charitable pastoral strategy.

        • Tom says:

          Celibscy isn’t just a “giving up,” though, Chris.

          It’s not just defined negatively relative to a good desire sacrificed. That’s a very late idea.

          Traditionally, celibacy was seen as a positive lifestyle, a positive eschatological sign. The internal psychology of it is not really important.

          I always find it so ironic that the same people who are always sure to remind us that heterosexual marriage is still theoretically an option for gay people…are also the ones who turn around and try to devalue their celibacy by saying they aren’t really giving anything up.

          • Chris says:

            Tom I don’t follow how I’m devaluing celibacy. Celibacy for the sake of the kingdom is indeed a special grace from God, given to some but not to all. This is not a recent phenomenon.

            I’ll close with what I hope is a neutral point: one alternative here could be to emphasize more strongly the virtue of chastity. Everyone can live the virtue of chastity in his or her state in life, to include SSA men and women. Promoting chastity (an already capacious term) strikes me as a more prudent strategy than trying to expand “celibacy” to include not only those with the “gift” of celibacy (as traditionally understood), but also those who resist committing certain vices, which they may be drawn to through natural or unnatural passions. The proper distinctions between vices (fornication/sodomy) is maintained, and, more importantly, a virtue (chastity) is promoted.

          • Tom says:

            If people intend to remain unmarried their whole life, they are celibate or describing a vocation of celibacy.

            I don’t know why you are focusing on the negative formulation. Yes, chaste celibates are presumably avoiding sexual sins, but that’s true gay or straight. It doesn’t change the fact that living chastely a vocation to permanent singlehood IS celibacy. There is no other element beyond that resolve, that choice of lifestyle.

            Celibacy has never traditionally involved this recent idea that “if you don’t desire marriage, you aren’t giving anything up, so it’s not celibacy.” If that’s what you think, you’re obviously unfamiliar with plenty of Patristic era and medieval celibate Saints who were quite ambivalent, personally, about married life. Even if you assume they were heterosexual, it’s clear enough that many just had a constitutional aversion to marriage. Didn’t mean they weren’t “really” celibate.

          • Chris says:

            Discerning a vocation to apostolic celibacy (whether as priest/religious/or consecrated layperson) involves a free choice between a good (marriage) and a higher good (apostolic celibacy). When your choice is a) live chastity or b) commit sodomy, we’re not talking about the same thing. Apples and oranges. Living chastely is enough, no need to modify celibacy. The gay lobby has done enough to marriage, let’s leave celibacy alone.

      • aged parent says:

        Can we really still be using such terms as “same sex attraction”, as if what we are talking about is a mere sickness like the mumps rather than what it is, a mortal sin? I have found to my horror that many people who fall under the spell of this phrase (and the phrase “sexual orientation”) eventually come to the point of accepting it, of living with it, of looking at the person as simply different whose condition warrants nothing but a mild sympathy. This particular sin has brought down nations and peoples. Can we treat it so cavalierly, as the Church seems to be doing these days?

        I hear much about this SSA, but never about the only solution to it: Confession, a Sacrament. The illogic of the phrase is also rather telling; is there a bank robbery attraction? an adultery attraction? a wife-beating attraction? Not really. These are all sins, and they all have the same solution: the Sacrament of Penance.

        While I can see the warmth and understanding in your approach I cannot see that allowing our minds into the murky idea of SSA – as if these unfortunate people are born that way (another idea that emerges from this false SSA meme) – will produce anything but disaster. These people need help; they do not need to hear that they are burdened with some sort of odd medical issue. I believe Chris brings up some crucial points along these lines which do not, if I may respectfully disagree with you – have much to do with mere semantics. What the Church has lacked spectacularly in the last 70-80 years or so is CLARITY, from the top down. We are drowning in a sea of wishy-washiness that is not leading souls to Heaven. More direct, honest clarity is needed now. If a man is sinning he has to be told so by a good confessor (and/or family and friends). I’ve had to take my children aside on occasion and point out the dangers of the sins I knew they were committing. I didn’t tell them to rest easy and work to overcome their “attractions”. I simply reminded them of what their responsibilities as Catholics were.

        • attraction isn’t sin, SSA is a disordered attraction, but attraction is temptation is not ipso facto sin. It may be related to sin, but of itself it is not sin. Thus a pro addict may be tempted more due to past sin than one who has never viewed, but the attraction alone is not a sin, only the acting upon it. The catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to the issue in this manner:

          2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

          2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

          2359 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.

          • Bee bee says:

            I can see aged parent’s point. We don’t talk about other proclivities to sin as, for instance, a “stealing attraction” even if the person has kleptomania, or a “child sexual attraction” even if a person has pedophilia. We identify (or at least we did in the past) the temptation as a precursor to a sinful act. Yes, I see the temptation is not the sin. But the inclination in that direction is also a problem, a disorder as you put it, Msgr. It is not a good. It is not an okay. It is not “it’s just the way I am and can’t change it” kind of thing.

            If a person you knew worked as an accountant, and admitted to you he has a “strong attraction for stealing,” would you trust him with your money? He is not a thief in actuality, but his weakness may indicate something about his character. Though of course those attracted to others of the same sex are like any of the rest of us who have chinks in our armor, I still cannot go along with the celebration of such a chink. I sure wouldn’t pat the man who had a “strong attraction for stealing” on the back and say, good for you brother! Welcome, and inform our religion on the insights you have of the goodness of your “disordered” inclination. I don’t look at my own temptations as anything other than something to declare internal war upon. They are a initial step toward a sin. I try to rebuke them as soon as they present themselves. I pray against them as a weapon of the enemy who is attempting to drag me into hell. I sure don’t accept them in myself as a friend and part of my being.

            No one can do much about how they are tempted, but we are fools if we think as a Church we should not reject any attempt to normalize temptations.

            What would you think if a group of Catholics got together in a kleptomania club to share together the trials and tribulations of being a kleptomaniac? What would you hope they would discuss; how it is perfectly acceptable to have this temptation, and how much God loves them, or how much trouble it causes in their lives, and how to defeat it?

            What I fear is this “acceptance of the celibate SSA’ed” is just a subtle new tactic of Satan to confuse God’s people, saying the temptation is okay, as long as they don’t act on it. Sorry. I just can’t make exceptions for some sinful temptations over others. All temptations must be rejected.

          • Consider reading the catechism. Consider also reading scripture which says that Jesus was tempted in every way we are yet without sin. Temptation and sin are not the same thing

          • Tom says:

            Also, being gay is not reducible to the temptation to homosexual sex acts. It just means that IF a temptation were to occur, it would almost certainly involve the same-sex rather than the other-sex. But then (and I’d think that heterosexuals would realize this given their own experience of sexuality) not every emotion which sexual orientation “orients” is lust or the desire for genital acts specifically. As the Catechism says, sexuality involves our whole affective life, “in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.”

            Certainly one thing saying “I’m straight/gay” tells us is that when/if you’re tempted sexually (or have a legitimate movement of sexual arousal towards ones spouse within the confines of marriage) it will be to this or that sex. But lust (or legitimate carnal desire within marriage) that’s hardly the only sort of emotional experience sexuality orients.

          • Bee bee says:

            I have read the catechism. I have read the Scripture. I do understand the difference between temptation and sin. When I go to confession I do not confess my temptations. Only my actual sins of commission and omission. I myself, however, am not comfortable even with my temptations. I believe they are to be rejected vehemently, as Our Lord did when tempted by Satan in the desert. I recognize them for what they are, weaknesses inside myself that are not okay, that are being exploited to cause me to sin. And yes, at times in confession I report even these troubles to the priest, and find relief exposing Satan’s tactics out loud.

            I do not think people with same sex attraction are any worse than anyone else. I do not think, however, they are exempt from the same expectations as all of us to recognize our “disordered” selves as problematic, and needing a Savior, and saying so.

            But that is not what I am hearing in what they are saying. I am hearing them say they are attracted to others of the same sex, and that is okay, it is normal, as long as they remain chaste. And I don’t agree. It is not the same as someone who has a heterosexual attraction but has chosen chastity or celibacy.

            I suppose over time and with other discussions, clarity over words and how they are being used will emerge. Until that time I will pray for those afflicted with such a problem, because it must be very difficult. May God aid them in their suffering.

          • Tom says:

            But Bee Bee, they’re not all “suffering,” and neither do all find it “difficult” apart from stigma they receive externally.

            Indeed, you’re commiting what one might call Christianity’s (indeed, organized religion’s) greatest temptation: not just offering a solution to a problem, but desiring to convince people they have a problem in the first place in order that you might offer a solution.

            These gay men and women in question are celibate and chaste. So what’s the problem? From what I can tell from your phrasing, it’s that there’s not enough negativity surrounding the whole thing.

  5. profling says:

    Despite its claims, the Church’s biggest problem in this area is its moralizing and finger-wagging. If the clergy had a more evangelical spirit, it would be more interested in healing people than scolding them. But that’s your training, Father.

    • Tom says:

      Correct.

      I will never understand this “speaking Truth” line of rhetoric. I’d like to see the encyclical “The Intrinsic Value of Browbeating People with the Truth Regardless of Practical Effect.”

      As if people just need to hear that I disapprove of something, or don’t believe it is conducive to human fulfillment, enough times and then they’ll see the light. Or as if our biggest concern is making sure people know we disapprove, as if tactful silence implies consent (even though surely they already know what conservstive Catholics believe on the matter), or as if they care at all what you or I think one way or the other.

      You’ve gotta give people a reason to care what you think and to truly value your opinion before sharing it with them is going to have any sort of value.

      • Jeanne D'Arc says:

        If Truth is Jesus, how do I “speak Truth?” Truth isn’t my opinion. I agree with not browbeating, but I am befuddled as to how you give another, particularly someone in a state of mortal sin, a reason to care about Truth.

        • Tom says:

          Then you will be befuddled for a long time, and it’s your own conscience you should examine. If you can’t even begin to imagine how conversion can work apart from attempts at fear- and guilt-mongering or shaming, through being winsome and getting someone genuinely invested in a community PRIOR to any litmus tests or shibboleths…then you must be far from the humanity of real interactions and spiritual power.

          • Jeanne D'Arc says:

            Ouch. When Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” that is shaming? Fear- and guilt-mongering? I leave my situation to prayer, as I can see constructive methods to speak the Truth in love are not here.

  6. Chris Rawlings says:

    Bravo. Reading your blog is like being handed a fresh glass of water after having your head stuck in a fetid swamp of raccoon feces. THIS is precisely how you deal with same-sex attraction in a pastoral, truthful way. Yes, God loves you no matter how many gay liaisons you’ve had. No, it won’t bring you happiness because YES, you’re living your sexuality contrary to how God created it, so please stop.

  7. teo says:

    wondering: do you counsel two people who are SSA about living together? Is chastity have anything to do with living together and doing things like two married people would do in public? I’m curious on how a priest would counsel them. IOW Is living together permissible?

  8. Patric says:

    What about those of us gay Christians who feel deeply “called” to relationship? I use the word called loosely because I know you and others do not believe I or any other gay person would be called to a romantic relationship. But it seems to be very intrinsic to my being that I want to share my life with another person as well as give and receive love as a typical heterosexual person.

    I’m realistic when I see the Church not changing her teaching in this matter (at least not in the near future!) But it is real concerns such as these that the Church’s bishops and shepherds need to be aware of when they figure out how to better accept and include their homosexual children in the Church. How will they make a good place for them? And listen to them?

    • shibberoo says:

      the church already ‘accepts and includes’ them just as much as she includes liars, thieves, murderers, blasphemers, the selfish, the ungrateful and all others who seek repentance and purity according to God’s will.

    • shibberoo says:

      in addition, your deep feelings are not the measure of truth. this is the core blasphemy of the age: our feelings as our moral compass. your feelings are nothing more than the expression of your subjective opinion. your feelings are no better guide than Hitler’s was to him.

      • Patric says:

        Thank you for your sensitivity :/

        That’s okay. Usually those who aren’t gay or “have same-sex attraction” don’t understand what it feels like. But you are still called to put your feet in my shoes. May God give our entire Church the grace to be more empathetic.

  9. Joseph says:

    Correct me if I am incorrect; but doesn’t celibacy, taken theologically, refer essentially to the state of not being married? My understanding is that abstention from unlawful sexual congress of any kind is chastity. There is, of course the assumption that celibates are chaste. However, married couples are also called to that same virtue of chastity. It seems that the unmarried state by vow, the unmarried state, and the married state are all morally positive. They differ qualitatively by the amount of time one has to put God first by serving one’s fellow humans in the name of Christ. However, quantitatively it is possible (and even likely) that one in the married or single state can be more virtuous than one in the single state by vow because of the sacrifice involved in living out the demands of one’s particular vocation.

  10. Paulette Myers says:

    It is one thing to choose celibacy as a life choice and another to choose a religious vocation to support it or to possibly handle it, but what about the “calling” to be a religious? Just because you are Ssa and want to live celebate that you do it under the auspices of a priest or nun without the vocation.

  11. I have to say, the The content of some of the comments (not all) is somewhat disappointing. Here we have some people with same-sex attraction, against almost all odds, choosing to live celibately. And so many of the comments are focusing on terminology. Call it what you will, they are leaving chastely, they are living abstemiously. There seems also to be a lot of confusion about the nature of temptation. Jesus himself shows that Temptation is not the same as Sin. In fact, it can also call forth the heroic virtue. Many of the comments here are very discouraging. Somehow I mindful of the time when Jesus was in the synagogue, and he’ll the man with the withered handand despite having witnessed a miracle, the synagogue leaders were quibbling over the fact that he did it on the Sabbath. Can we not have more rejoicing and less debating over terminology, remembering the terms can be used in wide and strict senses? Can I get a witness?

    • Tom says:

      Sadly, this happens in any such discussion online. It doesn’t matter that these people are living chastely. If they identify as “gay” or see the orientation (not the acts or lust, but merely the fact/experience of the orientation) as anything other than an utterly negative affliction to be overcome and surrounded by shame and stigma…it’s not good enough for the Reactionary crowd. As one of the chaste gays once said, “they can’t fault is for our behavior (as if that’s their business anyway), and their main problem then becomes, seemingly, that we don’t hate ourselves enough, that we aren’t properly lamenting our own situation or apologizing for our existence.” And this seems true; the “terminology wars” around the gay question seem to boil down to “how much of a cloud of connotational negativity must you attach to the whole conceptual field surrounding homosexuality?” For many, apparently, the answer is “scorched earth.”

    • Chris says:

      Msgr, I feel that’s a little bit unfair. It is commendable that Tushnet, Gonnerman, et al embrace the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Their public stance in the face of their cultural peers requires much fortitude which is, again, commendable. However, the Spiritual Friendship bloggers are framing this issue along terms that, to many, are problematic. There’s nothing pharisaic about questioning whether their linguistic equivocations are warranted and harmless.

      • Well, let me ask you a question on redirect. what do you think of the fact that some with SSA are striving to live faithfully with Catholic and biblical teaching? Do you think that’s a good thing? Personally I DO think it is a good thing, which is why the argumentative and fussy tone about words is troubling. People seem to want to bring all their other concerns about “gay” radicals here. And there are “gay” radicals who push that word and their won agenda. But this article is about folk who are trying to make a way that respects the faith. And frankly, my pastoral heart wants to affirm what is good and cringes as so many wrinkled noses here and those who think very little of the effects they might have on those were DOING what is right even if the terminology is not all used in the strict canonical sense. (celibacy doesn’t ONLY have to mean vowed, perpetual celibacy of religious). It is a very unpastoral stance being taken by many who need to go and learn the meaning of the scripture “the smoldering wick the Lord will not quench…” And mind you, I am no shrinking violet when it comes to this issue. I am well on record as affirming that homosexual acts are sinful and forbidden by God, and that Same sex “marriage” does not exist. But why not affirm what is good? And what the Post article is articulating and these men a women are doing is a good thing. Hello?!? Can I get a witness?!? Please….!?

        • Chris says:

          I think it’s a great thing that they are striving to live faithful Catholic lives. And I said as much in my previous comment. I do think of the effects, how locking youth under the “gay amber” and offering them incoherent linguistic pretzels can be harmful to their souls. Affirm what is good. Point out what is problematic. I think we’re in agreement there. I also think we agree on all the relevant moral distinctions. Where we disagree, it seems, is to what degree we may manipulate the moral lexicon to fit pastoral needs. I think expanding the term “celibate” to include those who resist homosexual vice is a bridge too far. Before we accept the terms of the “gay celibate Catholic” movement, prudence demands we proceed cautiously and consider what assumptions we’re implicitly accepting. We do this out of love, for the Truth and for SSA persons.

        • Robertlifelongcatholic says:

          Amen.

      • liz says:

        I agree with Msgr– it’s far more important that we praise and encourage those who are laden with such a cross and are carrying it heroically; this nitpicking over terminology is fruitless.

        My own brother has SSA, and I’ve seen firsthand how the ‘gay community’ not only doesn’t support the choice of celibacy, but will openly denounce any fellow SSA individual who chooses to remain chaste, particularly if he/she cites moral reasons. A chaste homosexual is regarded as a traitor to their cause, because he or she disproves the notion that an active sex life is indispensable to human fulfillment. The gay community wouldn’t want the wider public to believe that such a decision is noble, because then THEIR choices and conduct would compare unfavorably.

        On a slightly different note, there IS a bit of homophobia even among orthodox Catholics. Many people think that those who believe that homosexual acts are morally wrong are homophobic– which is unjust, because in many cases, no ‘phobia’ is involved. No one deserves to be accused unjustly of bigotry or fear-mongering just because they hold steadfastly to their moral convictions, and because they proclaim the truth which the Church teaches. That said, there are many who ARE legitimately fearful of those with SSA. They feel awkward and uncomfortable, avoiding social contact with these people, afraid to let their children be around them– almost as if these people have something contagious. I have seen this happen quite a few times.

        Both these scenarios really sadden me. In the former, those with SSA will be shunned for being chaste and courageous; in the latter, they will be shunned simply for suffering with a proclivity which they never asked for or wanted. The end result is that people– made in the image and likeness of the Lord, just as all of us are– walk a lonely road, with a burden all the more ponderous for want of support and true Christian friendship. Sounds pretty miserable to me– and it’s no wonder that many of them feel they would be much happier if they just embrace the homosexual lifestyle! At least THEN, they might reason, they will find acceptance in SOME quarter.
        I think we should all pray and consider how we might “bear one another’s burdens,” as Saint Paul exhorts us– to come up with ideas to show more support and extend the hand of friendship to those with SSA who WANT to be chaste, so we don’t compound their hardships by isolating them.

      • Tom says:

        The main reason the “framing” seems to disturb you, Chris, is because it’s positive and redemptive in tone rather than cloaked in hysterical whispers, shame, negativity, mourning, and stigma.

        But that’s, like, the thinking of a five-year-old; “I’ve been taught Gay Is Bad!!” Sorry, there’s just more nuance to it than that. The Church condemns homosexual sex acts as intrinsically disordered and gravely sinful, and the specific lust for those acts as objectively disordered even when not a voluntary act.

        I’m not convinced the Church has ever addressed “gay identity” or “how to label.” Im not even really convinced sexual orientation in the modern paradigm has been addressed, given that the magisterial sources all seem to mainly address the lust for sex acts specifically, when orientation has come to be seen as something broader and not necessarily directly referencing sex acts at all.

        • shibberoo says:

          I agree with Msgr Pope, the temptation is not the same as the sin.

          However, to identify oneself as ‘gay’ is to lose the battle and to affirm the secular LGBT position. Our temptations are not our identities!
          If they were, then if our temptations were to disappear then so would we!!! I am not my lust.

          we are human before any of our temptations.

          • Tom says:

            But obviously it doesn’t mean that if folks like in this article exist. You’re the one who is engaged in identity-politics, not them.

          • Reuben says:

            They choose to be celibate not necessarily because they insist on holding on to the gay identity or SSA, but because they do not experience any attraction towards to the opposite sex.

          • Tiffany says:

            I’d read their writings a bit more. That’s not at all what they say.

  12. Richard Connell says:

    “Whether it was becoming that Christ should be tempted?” (http://newadvent.org/summa/4041.htm#article1)
    ………….

    ‘I answer that, Christ wished to be tempted; first that He might strengthen us against temptations. Hence Gregory says in a homily (xvi in Evang.): “It was not unworthy of our Redeemer to wish to be tempted, who came also to be slain; in order that by His temptations He might conquer our temptations, just as by His death He overcame our death.”

    ‘Secondly, that we might be warned, so that none, however holy, may think himself safe or free from temptation. Wherefore also He wished to be tempted after His baptism, because, as Hilary says (Super Matth., cap. iii.): “The temptations of the devil assail those principally who are sanctified, for he desires, above all, to overcome the holy. Hence also it is written (Sirach 2): Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation.”

    ‘Thirdly, in order to give us an example: to teach us, to wit, how to overcome the temptations of the devil. Hence Augustine says (De Trin. iv) that Christ “allowed Himself to be tempted” by the devil, “that He might be our Mediator in overcoming temptations, not only by helping us, but also by giving us an example.”

    ‘Fourthly, in order to fill us with confidence in His mercy. Hence it is written (Hebrews 4:15): “We have not a high-priest, who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tempted in all things like as we are, without sin.”‘–St. Thomas Aquinas
    ………………..
    At times, I’ve thought that people who cut and paste lengthy quotes be required to type the quotes out word by word and here I go cutting and pasting a lengthy quote.

  13. PD says:

    “the truth”. Isn’t that the ultimate question?

  14. Patrick says:

    Monsignor, thank you for your wonderful articles including this one. As a heterosexual married man, I find myself empathizing greatly with those suffering SSA. I too face a life of involuntary sexual continence as a result of my wife of 28 years decision to leave our marriage, our home and our 6 children. Convinced as I am of the validity of our marriage, a life without sexual intimacy is the only moral option I have. I admire the struggle of the SSA persons who strive to obey the Church’s teaching. They have become my roll models, as so much of the emphasis even among orthodox faithful Catholics is to advice people in my situation to seek an annulment. While I am sure there are many cases of marriages which should be annulled, there are also many cases where a completely valid marriage has been broken, and in such cases, it is the duty of the spouse left behind to continue to live their vocation, despite the failure of their spouse to live up to their end.

  15. Kay Krause says:

    The fact remains, marriage is for a man and a woman, just because some don’t like the defination because it doesn’t fit their agenda should not be grounds to change the defination. What the heck, being called ,”the cat lady” might have a negative connotation so let’s just call a cat a dog. Why not, it has 4 legs and fur and a tail. See how silly that sounds? It is as silly sounding as same sex marriage. There is no such thing. Even without bringing God into it, it is wrong. But just as murder is wrong, people still do it. Not all, I imagine there are a few of us who know someone they would like to get rid of, but we contain ourselves. Somehow when it comes to sex, people think they either can’t or shouldn’t. I have been single my whole life. Not really that hard, oh, yes, I am celebate. Same sex attraction is a temptation for some, but is always unnatural. It never leads to true happiness.

    • Tom says:

      People clearly don’t read or think. The word “gay” appears and it’s like there is a cascade of non-sequiturs as people draw as wide a “fence around the law” (like the Pharisees) as they can. It suggests a deep personal internalization of stigma, as everyone arrives on the scene and starts “protesting too much.”

      No one here was talking about gay marriage or approving sex acts or lust. But boy, the topic brings out an irrational aversion and contempt and paranoia one suspects has little to do with thought-out morality and more to do with sheer stigma.

  16. Bob says:

    Thank you.

  17. Maria J. says:

    Do hear the good news about persons who are choosing to do what is right , that we can rejoice with them ;

    do also hear the yearning for a more graceful name , that is not like a curse , which is what those who bring up the issue seem to focus upon , with good intent and with rightful concerns about the fear of the contagion , since effective means of prevention and cure are still eluding us !

    How about a name such as – CUP , for Child of Untainted Purity , to denote the true and original identity
    ( which, thus would encompass all of us too ) but esp. in situations such as what we are dealing with here , in need of deliverance by frequent and constant invoking of the The Mother of Untainted Purity .

    St.Paul brings up the mention of homosexuality , right after mention of women having ‘ unnatural relationships ‘ , which make one wonder if such , including the related fear /hatred of life which underlies the above, are all the portals of the bondage , along with possibly host of other factors – even indirectly being a part of immorality through media !

    Pope Francis might be calling attention to such familial and social factors and connections with attendant responsibilty , to inlcude all , in his icompassion for the afflicted , since the grief and gulit of sin might in itself be leaving many in despair and Church being invited to give hope and strenght , by the oneness in the act of repentance for all in one’s life !

    http://www.spiritdaily.net/Limanova3.htm – on bl.Mother’s invitation to say the full rosary by the Mother of Untainted Purity , that through her intercession , moments and lives become occasions for mercy and grace , of being transformed in the Father’s love ,that one gets to behold both the living and deceased ,even from long past connections , in the goodness and glory of that love …CUPs , that are getting cleansed and filled !

  18. Charles G says:

    Thanks for this and promoting the call to chastity, although add my vote to those who think that embracing the ideological term “gay” is not advisable, given that it implies defining oneself primarily in terms of one’s sexual inclinations.

    • Note that the term “gay” was not used by me. And while I too think it a jaded term that implies agreement with an agenda that affirms the behavior, many used the term as a short-hand. Circumlocutions and phrases to avoid using a term can get clumsy. Further we are in a transition, even in the Church away from the use of the term “gay” So lets give fellow Catholics a chance to adapt

    • Tom says:

      Why does the use of one adjective imply it is “primary”? Presumably people identify with a whole list of adjectives. There’s nothing about “gay” implying it must be at the top of that list.

      And I must disagree with Msgr’s predictions a bit. The Church doesn’t seem to be moving away from the term “gay” but more towards. No Pope would dare say it before, always using circumlocution or clinical language; now Francis freely uses it. Faithful people would never identify by that label before; now the crowd described in this article exists. The use is becoming more common, not less, and the “SSA” trip is a reactionary resistance to no purpose. The word just doesn’t have the ideological baggage it did 30 or 40 years ago anymore.

      • Well, time will tell, the pope is not the whole church, my sense here in America is that many bishops and other clergy are intentionally stepping back from the use of the term “gay” The reason for this is that it is not descriptive, but even more so because the term factors into what has become indicative of a mindset of cultural Revolution and heavy political pressure. In most people’s minds, the term does not simply indicate someone with same-sex attraction, but is indicative of a movement that celebrates homosexual acts and seeks to normalize what is disordered. In the church, we seek terminology the properly distinguishes between orientation and action. The word “gay” no longer sufficiently does this.

        • Tiffany says:

          Not sure I agree, Father.

          We’ve yet to see how the Francis-effect will spread to US bishops in this regard.

          In my perception of popular culture and usage, the term “gay” is becoming less political and more purely descriptive, not more. It’s consevatives who have decided to pick a label-war and insist “gay” means more than it does.

          If the bishops talk about “people afflicted by SSA,” everyone else is going to think “oh, they’re talking about gay people.” No distinction exists in popular usage, “gay” means “anyone attracted exclusively to the same sex”

  19. Candida Bohnne Eittreim says:

    I applaud the Washington Post for even bringing this up. It took courage. I also thank the men and women who, despite highly pressurized and negative peer pressure from others within the homosexual community, stood up for their right to choose the better way. Most of all, i want to thank my Church, the Catholic Church, for their humane, yet Scripturally sound handling of homosexuality. Frankly, until recently, I believed the Church had and continues to do a wonderful job in helping those who seek help in becoming re-integrated into our family again. I say, until recently, because even before the Synod, language was becoming less clear and certainly more muddled. A thing that was not present before to any great degree. Thank you for sharing this with us Msgr. Pope.

  20. Austin Ruse says:

    It is unfortunate that Tushnet, Gonnerman, both featured In the article, hold Courage in such low regard.

    They also hold insist on tge gay identity, believe it is a gift from God that gives them unique spiritual gifts and that Church doctrine must change to recognize it. They are 95% there but the remaining 5% of what they believe is deeply troubling. Take psychological counseling for unwanted SSA. THey mock it. Tushnet mocks it in her book.

    Many problems with their approach.

    • Not sure I see any reference to courage in the article. The reparative approach is discussed by me in earlier comments, I support it but realize it is not possible for everyone neither is it required by the Church. Are you sure “mock” is not an overly strong word? In the article I recall one interviewee said she tried it but it made matters worse for her so she just lives celibately. But I didn’t see mocking. As for the Book, I have not read them and still use Courage for my go-to site.

      • Jim Russell says:

        Austin is quite correct that there are numerous theological and anthropological issues of concern in the approach to SSA taken by those he mentions. From accepting the existence of “sexualities” (rather than *sexuality*) and accepting gender ideology to attempting to “rehabilitat[e] the Church’s concept of eros” such that it affirms same-sex eros as something other than a disordered inclination, to condoning attendance at same-sex “weddings”, to the promotion of “vowed friendships” for those with SSA…lots of unresolved problems remain.

        It’s *great* that they understand that they are called to *continence*–in this they are our allies in proclaiming that truth to a culture that needs that message. But much more work remains before one could say that the fullness of truth is being proclaimed by these voices in this arena. Personally, they’re my Catholic brothers and sisters, of course, and I will their good. But it would be a disservice to my other fellow Catholics if these concerns were not mentioned.

        • I saw none of this in the article. Perhaps you are going wider, into the “Gay” world to find this info, but I am not affirming any of that and have written extensively against it. This article is focused on what the Post column excerpts that I have say. Bottom line, if there are corrections needed they will best be made in relationship with them. As a pastor I am often in conversations with Catholic parishioners on any number of issues where in they need correction, or instruction. I am usually able to accomplish this with a modicum of good will. But the hostile and argumentative nature of many (not all) of the remarks here really stabs pastoral work in the heart. Frankly give me ten minutes with you, or any reader of this blog, including me, and I’ll find material heresy on any number of issues; lets start with the trinity and incarnation and spend time then discussing on how the apocatastasis does harm to the perichoresis. And most of it is just simple ignorance. But the gotcha nature of this combox discussion has been very disheartening and frankly I should have shut down the comments. Crushing a smoldering wick is not the real goal of orthodoxy, drawing souls into deeper conformity to God and his truth are and that sometimes requires stages.

          Also, there are prudential decisions to make in some of the matters you say are clearly wrong. Specifically, I would never go to a same-sex wedding and advise anyone to do so, but to be fair there is no absolute policy of the Church forbidding attendance at invalid weddings for any reason. Many families have these situations come up on the heterosexual side. And while I advise parents and siblings not to attend such weddings, this is still in the realm of a prudential judgment wherein there is no absolute policy from the Church forbidding attendance. There are sometimes (rarely I think) situations where the harm done by staying away eclipses the harm done by going. I therefore advise parents, but do not accuse them of wrongdoing if, in their prudential decision they go.