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.”
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.