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.