What the Church Does (and Doesn’t) Teach About Persons with SSA

A recent news story provides some good lessons for Catholics (and all Christians) as we prepare to talk about marriage and the Supreme Court, a debate which often leads to the hot-button issue of homosexuality.

The President of Exodus International, Alan Chambers, recently penned an apology to the GLBT community. The key paragraph in Chambers’ apology reads as follows:

 “Please know that I am deeply sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine.”

Photo credit: LifeTeen.com

Photo credit: LifeTeen.com

If this apology is sincere, I think it’s a step in the right direction and a sign that Evangelicals like Chambers who promote so-called “conversion therapy” are starting to understand what we Catholics believe: that the proper way to reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ with same-sex attraction is to encourage them to lead lives of chaste celibacy (just like all unmarried persons are called to do) — and not to say they must “change” their orientation or else risk their eternal soul.

Paragraphs 2358 and 2359 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church offer a good summary of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality:

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.

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.

This passage from the Catechism clearly states that the Church loves and welcomes homosexual persons as brothers and sisters in the Lord. While the Church teaches that same-sex attraction is disordered, that does not mean that persons who experience same-sex attraction are disordered, and all of us experience disordered desires that make us more prone to some sins than others. For example, some people have attractions to intemperate consumption of alcohol. The attraction to intemperate consumption is disordered, but the person who experiences the attraction is not.

This passage also makes clear that homosexual persons are called to lead lives of chaste celibacy. It’s a beautiful vocation, but it’s one that requires a lot of support from friends and family.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains what we as Catholics can do to help our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ in their 2006 document “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination”:

One way in which the Church can aid persons with a homosexual inclination is by nurturing the bonds of friendship among people. In their analysis of human nature, the ancient philosophers recognized that friendship is absolutely essential for the good life, for true happiness. Friendships of various kinds are necessary for a full human life, and they are likewise necessary for those attempting to live chastely in the world. There can be little hope of living a healthy, chaste life without nurturing human bonds. Living in isolation can ultimately exacerbate one’s disordered tendencies and undermine the practice of chastity.

When I was in college, a very wise old priest once explained to me that every man needs brothers and every woman needs sisters in order to pursue holiness. Our bishops say here that this is especially true of those of us, homosexual and heterosexual, who are called to the vocation of chaste celibacy.

Homosexual persons and all persons called to vocations of chaste celibacy need our love, our friendship, and our support in order to successfully lead holy lives.

As Catholics, let’s all make a commitment to do a better job of extending our hands in love in friendship to these people who are just as special in the eyes of God as you or I are.



  • TM

    Not that it matters, but I’m curious how many of those commenting here might actually be homosexual. You’re certainly entitled to your opinion (you don’t have to be a woman to have an opinion on abortion), as I am to mine. I am homosexual, and I’ve known I was “different” since my earliest memory (as the youngest of six boys, it wasn’t hard for me to discern). I don’t buy the nurture theory – I believe, based on my own experience, that God creates us as we are, for His own good reasons. If you are diligent in prayer and faith, I think those reasons will be made manifest in your life. I have had priests tell me a wide variety of things – from “I have nothing to say to homosexuals” which I was told when I was a teen (not the Church’s finest moment), to “don’t worry about it, live your life, you’re fine,” to multiple dissertations on reparative therapy (which I don’t want and don’t think God intends for me, quite frankly). I’ve posted to this blog before, and will say again, that I do think more honesty and frank discussion in the Church concerning the lives, vocations and holy example of gay men and women would be a wonderful thing. (Yes, I sometimes refer to myself as gay, not because I’m a radical homo, but because it’s the easiest term to use) . I’ve tried to promote that in my own life and parish, with some interesting results. I live a chaste, celibate life, although I do have a partner. I hope that we are helping each other on the road to sanctity, through prayer and works. I admit that I do puzzle over why God would give some people the option of chastity in marriage, while allowing others only the option of chaste celibacy. But as a wise priest once told me, “when we ask why, God stops listening.” So I am obedient to the Church’s teaching on same sex attraction, or at least I do my best as a fallen man, but I think the Church has a lot of opportunity to do better in how that teaching is presented and modeled in the parish community.

    • Juliana

      Thank you. I’ll be praying for you.

  • Ray Marshall

    Patrick; They can call themselves whatever they want, but I don’t think that they can change the meanings of words and expect me to accept that.

    “Gay” was a perfectly wonderful word and “personal name” that has been “wreckovated” by them.

    “Gay” and “Pride” are two words that they use to describe their self-destructive lifestyle in a positive manner.

    • Patrick


      “Self-destructive lifestyle??” Don’t be silly. The gay couple in my neighborhood care for each other, 2 children, and an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s disease. Sounds pretty constructive to me.

      • Slats

        Patrick, what about the spiritual element? The Church teaches that genital activities between two people of the same gender are always grave matter, which means that if they are done with sufficient knowledge and sufficient consent of the will (freedom), they cut one off from God. To be Catholic in the sense of communion of mind and heart with Christ, one must believe that. Michael’s whole point is the dialogue between the Church and people of same-gender attractions. Not holding what the Church does about right and wrong separates one from being part of the “Church” end of that dialogue. Anyway, being voluntarily cut off from God – pretty bad. And that’s apart from all of the more secular retorts that could be given to your comment.

        Ergo, yes, self-destructive. Although that’s probably not a term one should throw around in a dialogue with people struggling with same-gender attractions.

  • CLS

    I don’t think Michael has said one way or the other whether he thinks the therapy works. Michael, rather, is criticizing evangelicals who have tended to believe that people with same sex attraction are inherently evil and must be “changed.” Whether the therapy “works” or not doesn’t seem to be the point of the article.

  • Patrick


    With respect, the first step in showing the respect the church asks of us is respectful nomenclature.

    Calling them “persons with SSA” is insulting to them. The vast, vast, vast majority of gay people refer to themselves as “gay people.” In fact, the only gay people who call themselves “people with SSA” are the few who are trying to change their sexual orientation.

    It’s kind of like calling women “people with vaginas.” Or calling black people “people with extra skin pigmentation.”

    • Rachel

      Actually, I think using this kind of phrasing is best when discussing things in a sort of “scientific” removed manner. It’s more like saying “A person who is alcoholic” or “A person with cancer”. It’s about what defines you. If we’re just “straight people” and “gay people” (and so on), we’re defining ourselves by our sexual orientation, when really we are far far more than just our sexuality.

      Personally, I don’t want to be known as “Straight Rachel” in a group of friends. I’d want to be known as “Rachel, who happens to be straight, if that really matters”.

      • GREG SMITH

        Dear Rachael ~ I believe that discussing our fellow children of God in a ” “scientific” removed manner.” is part of the problem. Pax tecum, Greg

      • Patrick

        No. It’s offensive.

    • Slats

      Patrick, I didn’t want to wade into the discussion on this article, because the overall point is good, but some of the specifics mentioned are problematic. Michael has raised a very tough discussion, and I still don’t won’t to comment overall.

      However, the experience of faithful Catholics and other same-gender marriage opponents over the decades is that the word “gay” is not an outright general identifier of any given person (usually male) with same-gender attractions. Rather, it is a cultural and political label chosen by the subset of those with those attractions who are dynamically asserting that there is nothing fundamentally abnormal about the attractions, certainly nothing wrong with acting those attractions out, and advocating a number of cultural and political activities associated with those two presumptions. That means that if Catholics refer to or call people with same-gender attractions “gay,” by the analogies you used, it essentially would connote, “people whose genital activities and cultural/political promotions thereof are perfectly fine,” which is the exact opposite of what Catholics believe.

      In other words, a firm and quite absolute “no” to your suggestion. Personally, I would die a martyr’s first, and would hope that others seeking to be faithful Catholics would do the same.

      • GREG SMITH

        Dear Slats ~ Actually, I know lots of men and women who are totally non-political, if the subject comes up, use the term gay to describe themselves. I was once at a party where I mentioned to the hostess “I think I’m the only straight guy here.” Saying “I’m the only male with opposite sex attraction here” would have been awkward and weird. ~ Pax tecum, Greg


    Dear Michael,

    I fully agree with your interpetation and analysis of our Church’s teachings in this well written article.

    Since the issue truly exploded in 2004 after the San Francisco marriage inititive, I’ve been concerned, not about the teachings but of the resulting unintended consiquences as well as the “streth” some of our American bishops have made in public policy advocacy.

    Over time, many Catholic comnservatives slouched into treating our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as “the other” or much worse. See the websie “California Catholic Daily.” for one such example

    Sadly, some of our bishops have aquiesed to this fearmongering and hysterian an all out effort to win the public policy fight,. The worst examples are several incidents where baptised Catholic children have been denied thier right to attend Catholic schools because they had gay parents.



      Contd. Sorry I prematurely hit “Post.”…. As you know, the USCCB put out an insert asking us the pray for, among other things, SCOTUS to uphold Section 3 of DOMA. We have, in our Archdiocese, a couple, with two children where one of the women is subject to deportation because her partner can’t sponsor her (Google Shirley Tan” if you’re interested) . I hope my pastor and archbishop understand that I can’t pray for an outcome that would tear apart a Catholic family nor petition Jesus or His Mother to guide the court to allow the IRS to keep Mrs. Windsor’s $360,000.

      Pax tecum, Greg

  • Captain America

    Michael, I’m missing any conclusive proof that therapy doesn’t work at all.

    Can you provide some?

    Does any exist? Or is this yet-another political putsch from the SSA soldiers?


      Dear Captain~ Check out the founder of Repairative therapy Dr. George Riekers. His 1970ish dissertation at my alma mater, UCLA was about a human experiment on a 5 year old boy who was acting girlish. It consisted of his parents denying him ANY warmth or affection if he played with girl toys and his father beating him if he did. The “cure” worked and he became a “normal” boy. At age 32 he killed himself.

      Reikers later went on a European vacation without his wife and hired a “travel assistant” from Rentboy.com to handle the luggage.

      With a founder like that, one need not be an SSA soldier to question the whole program as dangerous quackery. ~ Pax tecum, Greg
      PS: I have a bad back. Planning our last vacation, I asked my wife if we could hire a “Rentgirl” to “handle the luggage.” For some reason, she said “no.”

    • Russell

      How about some conclusive proof that it DOES work.
      Or is just another demand from the “foot stomping, I want it my way” crowd?



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