Monday, July 28, 2008

The Moral Question

The Morality of Homosexual Activity

Although much more can be learned and said about the psychological aspects of SSA, we now know enough to say that same-sex attraction develops in youth and is usually not a matter of free choice. Just as among heterosexuals some can control their sexual desires more easily than others, so also there is variety among those who deal with SSA. Homosexual inclinations, like heterosexual inclinations, can be moderated and do not have to dominate anyone's thoughts or behavior. Moreover, the pursuit of growth toward heterosexuality, though difficult and not always successful, remains a probability.

The Church teaches that people with SSA can be freed from slavery to homosexual desires by cooperating with the grace of God. Usually, this involves some form of community or support group. In the pastoral care of the person with SSA, one must recognize a sense of powerlessness with respect to same-sex inclinations as the first step toward the exercise of chastity. This means that the person needs the help of "a power greater than self" (to use the language of Twelve Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous). Such a power may be understood as giving support to the person with SSA in two ways: (1) through the small community of trustworthy persons who can help one live chastely, and (2) through the supernatural grace of God working in one's mind and heart. More will be said on this point in the pastoral section of this booklet; for now, we want to review the reasons for the Church's teaching that all homosexual acts are objectively a serious violation of the natural moral order and the divinely revealed law.

We should note first that SSA is a tendency or condition: it is not a sin. (Only free human actions are the proper subject of moral analysis.) Holy Scripture does not concern itself with the condition of homosexuality but only with the immorality of homosexual actions. This can be seen from the fact that Holy Scripture in both the Old and the New Testaments teaches (1) that the proper place for the expression of sexual intimacy is within the context of marriage and (2) that there are at least five clear condemnations of male homosexual actions and one of female. Thus, the Church passes no moral judgment on the complexities of the homosexual condition.

Before enlarging on these two points, an excellent book regarding the analysis of homosexuality in Scripture is Robert A. J. Gagnon's The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001). It is the most thoroughly researched text of the biblical texts in question. Anyone wishing to explore this topic should read Gagnon's book.

(1) The biblical account of sexuality is concerned with the man-woman relationship. In the Genesis accounts (1:27-28; 2:23-24) one finds both the ideal and the norm of sexual behavior, and the sexual behavior is between a man and a woman who are two in one flesh. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus replies in the language of Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 when he gives his position on divorce: "Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female, thus He said: That is why a man must leave father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two become one body? They are no longer two therefore, but one body. So that what God has united, man must not divide" (Matthew 19:5-6, The Jerusalem Bible). A more detailed explanation of the role of the Creation of man and woman as part of the Divine Plan can be found in Pope John Paul II's book, The Theology of the Body (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2006).

Already the Genesis accounts had said something about the complementarity relationship of man and woman, and this truth is stressed repeatedly in both Testaments, in the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel down to the Song of Songs, and to the many exhortations of Paul concerning husbands and wives, most particularly Ephesians 5. The Second Vatican Council emphatically reaffirmed this understanding of marriage as the norm of sexual expression. Indeed, as Protestant theologian Roger Shinn observes, "the Christian tradition over the centuries has affirmed the heterosexual, monogamous, faithful marital union as normative for the divinely given meaning of the intimate sexual relationship" (Homosexuality, Christian Conviction and Enquiry," in The Same Sex, edited by Ralph Weltge, Philadelphia: Pilgrim Press, 1969, p. 26).

(Source: Same Sex Attraction: Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice by Fr. John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S.)

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