CATHOLIC TEACHING ON HOMOSEXUALITY
Prof. Michael Ogunu
‘Homosexuality’ is derived from a Greek word which means sexual attraction or sexual behaviour among persons of the same sex. The term ‘homosexual’ is used for both male and female. But most commonly female homosexuals are known as Lesbians. Sometimes the term Gay may be used to designate those who have accepted homosexual identity; who involve in homosexual activities and claim that they are comfortable in that life.
Homosexual behaviour refers to acts intended to arouse or stimulate a sexual response from a person of the same sex. Homosexual desires, however, are not in themselves sinful. People are subject to a wide variety of sinful desires over which they have little direct control, but these do not become sinful until a person acts upon them, by either acting out the desire or encouraging the desire and deliberately engaging in fantasies about acting it out. People tempted by homosexual desires, like people tempted by improper heterosexual desires, are not sinning until they act upon those desires in some manner.
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts are always violations of divine and natural law. Homosexuality is strongly condemned in the Old and New Testaments and by the Catholic Church. The rejection of homosexual behaviour that is found in the Old Testament is well known. In Genesis 19, two angels in disguise visit the city of Sodom and are offered hospitality and shelter by Lot. During the night, the men of Sodom demand that Lot hand over his guests for homosexual intercourse. Lot refuses, and the angels blind the men of Sodom. Lot and his household escape, and the town is destroyed by fire “because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord” (Gen. 19:13).
Throughout history, Jewish and Christian scholars have recognized that one of the chief sins involved in God's destruction of Sodom was its people's homosexual behaviour. But today, certain homosexual activists promote the idea that the sin of Sodom was merely a lack of hospitality. Derrick Bailey, an Anglican scriptural scholar held to this view. To anyone reading the passage, however, this interpretation of inhospitality does not make sense. It is to make nonsense of the rest of the story. As Dr. Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse observes, “If the men of Sodom had no sexual intentions toward Lot's visitors, why would Lot have replied, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do no such wicked thing. Listen, I have two daughters who are virgins. I am ready to send them out to you, to treat as it pleases you. But as to the men do nothing to them, for they have come under the shadow of my roof’ Genesis 19:7-9”. (Homosexuality: A Symbolic Confusion, 180). Rejecting the “inhospitality alone” interpretation, Robert Gagnon shows that homosexual conduct by the residents was widespread in the culture and that “three elements (attempted penetration of males, attempted rape, inhospitality)… combine to make this a particularly egregious example of human depravity that justifies God's act of total destruction”. We also have “the horror of the double offense of such behaviour towards angels”, as Lot's guests are revealed to be (The Jerusalem Bible).
An English Jesuit priest, John Mahoney, notes that the effort to weaken the force of the Sodom narrative is unsuccessful. “There can be little reasonable doubt that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah expresses a judgment, however dramatic, of divine displeasure upon the homosexual behaviour of its inhabitants, and in so doing only serves to echo the explicit condemnation of such behaviour in the Holiness Code of Leviticus” (The Month, May 1977, p. 167).
Although inhospitality is a sin, it is clearly the homosexual behaviour of the Sodomites that is singled out for special criticism in the account of their city's destruction. We must look to Scripture's own interpretation of the sin of Sodom.
Jude 7 records that Sodom and Gomorrah “acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust”. Ezekiel says that Sodom committed “abominable things” (Ezek. 16:50), which could refer to homosexual and heterosexual acts of sin. Lot even offered his two virgin daughters in place of his guests but the men of Sodom rejected the offer, preferring homosexual sex over heterosexual sex (Gen. 19:8-9).
But the Sodom incident is not the only time the abomination of homosexuality is condemned in the Old Testament. An explicit condemnation is found in the book of Leviticus: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. . . If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them” (Lev. 18:22; 20:13).
To discount this, some homosexual activists have argued that moral imperatives from the Old Testament can be dismissed since there were certain ceremonial requirements at the time—such as not eating pork, or circumcising male babies—that are no longer binding.
While the Old Testament's ceremonial requirements are no longer binding, its moral requirements are. God may issue different ceremonies for use in different times and cultures, but his moral requirements are eternal and are binding on all cultures.
Confirming this fact is the New Testament's forceful rejection of homosexual behaviour as well. In Romans 1, Paul attributes the homosexual desires of some to a refusal to acknowledge and worship God. He says, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. . . . Though they know God's decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them” (Rom. 1:26-28, 32).
Elsewhere Paul again warns that homosexual behaviour is one of the sins that will deprive one of heaven: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10, NIV).
All of Scripture teaches the unacceptability of homosexual behaviour. But the rejection of this behaviour is not an arbitrary prohibition. It, like other moral imperatives, is rooted in natural law — the design that God has built into human nature.
People have a basic, ethical intuition that certain behaviours are wrong because they are unnatural. We perceive intuitively that the natural sex partner of a human is another human, not an animal.
The same reasoning applies to the case of homosexual behaviour. The natural sex partner for a man is a woman, and the natural sex partner for a woman is a man. Thus, people have the corresponding intuition concerning homosexuality that they do about bestiality—that it is wrong because it is unnatural.
The Catholic Church has maintained a rather consistent stand over the years despite strong criticisms from all sides especially social scientists. Basing her authority on Sacred Scripture and the Christian tradition, the Catholic Church presents homosexual acts as seriously immoral. The Catholic Church maintains that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’. Such acts are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life and do not proceed from genuine affective and sexual complementarities (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357). A more elaborate definition of the Church's teaching came in 1975 with the publication of the document, Persona Humana by the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith. The document confirmed that homosexual activity was against the church's teaching and morality. But it made a distinction between people who were gay because of false education, lack of normal sexual development, or other curable non-biological causes and people who were innately or “pathologically” homosexual. This document criticized those who argued that innate homosexuality justified same-sex sexual activity within loving relationships, and stated that the Bible condemns homosexual activity as depraved, “intrinsically disordered”, which is never to be approved, and more or less consequent upon rejecting God (Persona Humana, 1975). The Catholic Church, therefore, teaches strongly that those persons, who experience the homosexual tendency merely as a condition of being sexual, so far as this is the result of a difficult developmental history which was not chosen by them, must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard must be avoided (CCC 2358).
In July 2013, Pope Francis while responding to an interview by a journalist reaffirmed the Catholic Church's teaching that, while homosexual acts are sinful, homosexual orientation is not and people with that orientation should not be marginalized but integrated into the society. Furthermore, the Catholic Church teaches that people in homosexual condition are called to chastity and 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. The Church as a good shepherd reaches out to homosexual persons encouraging them to practice self mastery which would enable greater freedom and reduce self indulgence. They are to seek always the support of disinterested friendship, and through prayer and sacramental grace, the Church believes that the homosexual person can gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (CCC 2358-2359).
Copyright © Professor Michael Ogunu 2015
Version: 28th April 2015