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

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, 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, 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.

The Sexual Revolution Reconsidered in a New York Times Article?

Columnist Ross Douthat at the New York Times has posted some interesting information and reflections on the sexual revolution. I want to present excerpts from both his column and blog. The bold black italics are his remarks, the red normal face type are my reflections.

My column todaymakes what I hope is a non-utopian argument for why social conservatives are right to welcome the recent evidence that American teens and twenty-somethings are waiting somewhat longer to have sex…. [I]t makes a huge difference not only whether people have premarital sex, but how early and how often and how casually, and that this is what social conservatives think changed for the worse starting in the 1960s…. It is a helpful distinction to indicate the trifold: whether, how early and how often. It would be preferable if there were no-premarital sex at all, for it would refelct God’s clear teaching on this. But even if we can’t fully roll back the fact that some do have pre-marital sex, at least its impact can also be minimized by chipping away at how early and how often young people engage in sexually sinful behaviors.

But I think it’s worth saying something about [another] question, because it’s crucial to the debate over how we should think about the sexual revolution and its consequences: Did the social trends of the last 50 years bring about “unprecedented gender equality”? Absolutely. Did they bring about “unprecedented personal fulfillment”? Well … for some people they did. But it’s very easy to find indicators that paint a more complicated picture. Female happiness has dropped since the 1970s, despite enormous female economic gains. Marital happiness has dipped as well, even though fewer people get married and it’s easier to leave an unhappy union. And then of course there’s the impact of higher divorce rates on children’s psychological well-being, the impact of rising single parenthood on child poverty, and so forth.All this is a way of saying that the only obvious gains women have made are economic and career related. Big whoop….It seems clearer, in other areas, that women are generally the big losers in the sexual revolution. Mr. Douthat has detailed a few of them here. I might add that women are far more likely to contract STDs, be used and cast aside, be left to largely raise children alone, and have far less social leverage over men. Men pretty much come and go as they please and for some reason women seem to tolerate it. Most of the social structures, that in the past, insisted that men do right by women have been stripped away. Pregnancy places few obligations on a man. He may have to pay some child support, but even here, many men get away with underpaying, paying late, or not paying at all.  

In many cases women have fewer options, if you ask me. Many, if not most HAVE to work. Many feel strong pressure to have sex casually in our promiscuous culture. Many feel strong pressures, economic and social to (sinfully) take strong medicine that radically alters their hormonal balance and suppresses the perfectly normal and healthy process of ovulation. Many are pressured to have abortions when “inconvenient” pregnancies occur. Women, perhaps as never before, because of our strongly visual and media driven culture, feel enormous pressure to look perfect and have bodies that are unnaturally thin and yet also curvaceous. This has always been the case to some extent but it has gone into high gear due to the widespread celebration of lust that has come from the sexual revolution. In so many ways, women have been the losers in the sexual revolution IMHO. Some will say, as a man, I cannot really have an opinion here. But perhaps some of the women who read will want to express their view.

The crucial question, to my mind, is whether all of the social changes that swept America in the 1960s and the 1970s are a package deal. [Some feminists and progressives] seem convinced that everything goes together — that the cultural shifts that have made our personal lives more unstable and (possibly) less fulfilling are inextricably bound to the shifts that made female equality a possibility, and then more or less a fact. Hence their reflexive hostility to the idea that anything could have changed for the worse in American sexual culture: To suggest that the general welfare might be enhanced if teenage sexual activity were a little more stigmatized or divorce a little harder to get, in their eyes, is to implicitly suggest that women belong in kitchens and finishing schools, rather than boardrooms and the Senate. It’s the slippery slope in reverse: Many progressives and feminists have committed themselves to an absolute defense of everything that changed during the sexual revolution, out of a fear that one concession will cost women every gain…..[T]he fact that smart feminists… feel compelled to act all blasé about the pornography industry, lest they give an inch to the forces of reaction, seems like one of the more regrettable aspects of the contemporary cultural debate. This is very well said. There is a kind of all-or-nothing thinking that seems to dominate the feminists and other progressives. It leads them to a strange sort fo silence about things that actually harm and degrade women. They make this deal with the devil for their economic gains and seem almost to fear common-sense traditional morality.

I don’t think this is the right way to look at it. The connection between feminism and sexual permissiveness strikes me as historically contingent rather than strictly necessary, and the economic and social gains that women have made since the 1960s seem robust enough to endure — or, more likely, continue apace — even amid a reconsideration of some of the social changes that accompanied them. Yes, an ethic of sexual restraint can be turned to patriarchal ends, but so can an ethic of sexual permissiveness, as anyone who’s hung out in a frat house for any length of time can attest. Exactly.

Mr Douthat then turns his attention to the relationship between traditional morality and happiness.

Two sociologists, Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, in their recent book, “Premarital Sex in America.”….look at sexual behavior among contemporary young adults, [and] find a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being, between monogamy and happiness — and between promiscuity and depression. This correlation is much stronger for women than for men. Female emotional well-being seems to be tightly bound to sexual stability — which may help explain why overall female happiness has actually drifted downward since the sexual revolution. Imagine that! Following the norms that God and Natural Law prescribe actually might make us happier! How can this be? We were all taught by the social revolutionaries of the 1960s that free love and a casting off of the restraints would be liberating, and bring for contentment without guilt, and happiness. Now after all that, some forty years later, we come to find that God’s had it right after all.  🙂

When social conservatives talk about restoring the link between sex, monogamy and marriage, they often have these kinds of realities in mind…..The ultimate goal is a sexual culture that makes it easier for young people to achieve romantic happiness — by encouraging them to wait a little longer, choose more carefully and judge their sex lives against a strong moral standard. And I would add, wait till marriage. Because the bottom line is that promiscuity is destructive of marriage. Most men figure, “Why get married?” After all they get what they want, or what they think they want, without it. Why commit? So I would just go a little further than Mr. Douthat here and encourage women to insist that men wait until the wedding night. Of course, until a significant number of women start insisting on this, it is likely men will continue to stray and shun commitment. Now, some will comment that I am putting the onus on the women here. Perhaps I am. Men should behave and, Lord knows,  I’ve surely preached this to them. But I’m also being realisitic here. Women hold the cards in this matter and need to set the limits. I’m not excusing men, I’m just saying that women have most of the power and that men will, and are able, to follow their lead here.

Liberals argue, not unreasonably, that Planned Parenthood’s approach… — in which teen sexual activity is taken for granted, and the most important judgment to be made about a sexual encounter is whether it’s clinically “safe” —…. is tailored to the gritty realities of teenage sexuality. But realism can blur into cynicism, and a jaded attitude can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, the Christian view is rooted ultimately in hope and the vision that chastity is possible. Realism can be a virtue but, as Mr Douthat rightly points out, there is a false “realism” which is actually not realism at all but is cynicism in disguise. The theological virtue of Hope is the confident expectation of God’s help. Showing young people the way and having high expectations of them is rooted in a confidence that comes from Hope .

Social conservatives look at the contemporary sexual landscape and remember that it wasn’t always thus, and they look at current trends and hope that it doesn’t have to be this way forever. In this sense, despite their instinctive gloominess, they’re actually the optimists in the debate. Amen!