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Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, S.T.D.
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. I am grateful for the opportunity to be with you this evening, and to speak on the subject of homosexuality and the Church. Obviously, in the time allotted, I will be able to give only a very cursory outline of the doctrine of the Catholic Church in regard to the morality of homosexuality, both in regard to homosexual inclinations and homosexual acts. The official doctrine of the Catholic Church in regard to this issue is set out with a brevity, and yet clarity, which may assist those who are interested in this matter in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The relevant paragraphs read:
Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms throughout the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
The number of men and women who have deep seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition. For most of them it is 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 in 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 and by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
In an earlier document, issued in 1986, the Holy See has also spoken officially about the Catholic position in regard to homosexual acts. This document concerned with the pastoral care of homosexual persons was the successor of a previous and even more important document issued in 1975, which was entitled "A Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics". In the earlier 1975 document, which has validity for Catholic moral theology, the document stressed the duty of trying to understand the homosexual condition, and noted that culpability for homosexual acts should be judged with prudence. At the same time, there should be a distinction drawn between a homosexual condition or tendency, and individual homosexual acts. These acts, of course, are deprived of their essential and indispensable finality, and are intrinsically disordered and in no way can be approved. Catholics, and many Christians with them, believe that the discussion of homosexuality should be based on a theology of creation, particularly that which is found in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, where God, is seen in His infinite wisdom and love, bringing into existence all of reality as a reflection of His own goodness. He fashions the human race, male and female, in His likeness, and therefore, human beings are nothing less than the work of God Himself, and this includes the complementarity of the sexes which are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in the most striking way in the transmission of life by the mutual self-giving to each other in the institution of Marriage. We find further, in this book of Genesis, that the truth about human beings as God's image, has been obscured and smeared by original sin, with an appropriate loss of awareness of the covenential character of the union of person with God. As Pope John Paul II mentions, the human body thus retains its "spousal significance," but now this is clouded by sin. Further, in the book of Genesis, chapter 19, the deterioration due to sin is brought to a certain type of climax in the story of the men of Sodom. Although there may be other components to the sin of the Sodomites, it is quite clear that their sin is the homosexual relations, not simply the abuse of hospitality. This is further corroborated by the legislation set down in the book of Leviticus, chapter 18, verse 20, which describes the conditions necessary for belonging to the Chosen People, and excludes from God's family, those who behave in a homosexual way.
In the New Testament, this perspective is developed by St. Paul in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 6, where he proposes that those who behave in a homosexual fashion will not enter the kingdom of God. He also, in the first chapter of the letter to the Romans, uses homosexual behavior as an example of the blindness which has overtaken all of the human race. And, finally, in the first letter to Timothy, in verse 10, St. Paul explicitly names as sinners, those who engage in homosexual acts.
In these present weeks, a series of monographs have been published by the Vatican's semi-official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, under the general title, "Christian Anthropology and Homosexuality." Up to this point ,14 of these monographic studies, by various authorities, in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, family life, and moral theology, have been set forth. They are a treasure trove for those who seek to understand and deal with problems involving this phenomenon of homosexuality.
The moral tradition of the Catholic Church on this issue is based on the light of Divine Revelation, and also on the light of natural reason. Under the glow of these two lights, the Church has always stressed univocally that the use of the sexual function has its true meaning and moral rectitude, only in legitimate marriage. Through the symbolism of the sexual difference which marks their bodily nature, man and woman are called to achieve two closely connected values: first, the gift of self and the acceptance of the other in an indissoluble union of one flesh, and second, an openness to the transmission of life. Only in the context of legitimate marriage are these values proper to sexuality adequately respected and achieved.
As Livio Melina, a professor of moral theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, says very well, "In the homosexual act, true reciprocity, which makes the gift of self and the acceptance of the other possible, cannot take place. By lacking complementarity, each one of the partners remains locked in himself and experiences contact with the otherís body, merely as an opportunity for selfish enjoyment. At the same time, homosexual activity also involves the illusion of a false intimacy that is obsessively sought and constantly lacking. The other is not really other. He is like the self; in reality, he is only the mirror of the self which confirms it in its own solitude exactly when the encounter is sought. This pathological narcissism has been identified in the homosexual personality by the studies of many psychologists. Hence, great instability and promiscuity prevail in the most widespread model of homosexual life, which is why the view advanced by some, of encouraging stable and institutionalized unions, seems completely unrealistic."
Professor Melina goes on noting that it is obvious that the homosexual act lacks openness to the procreative meaning of human sexuality. In the sexual relationship of husband and wife, their bodily act of mutual self-giving and acceptance is ordered to a further good, which transcends both of them. The good of that new life which can be born from their union, and to which they are called to dedicate themselves, it is the logic of love itself which requires this further dimension and transcendence without which the sexual act risks turning in on itself by concentrating on the search for pleasure alone, and literally sterilizing itself. Through its openness to procreation, the intimate act of the spouses becomes part of time and history and is woven into the fabric of society. Homosexual act, on the contrary, has no roots in the past, and does not extend to any future. It is not grafted unto the community or the succession of generations. It remains locked in an unreal moment outside time and social responsibility. To speak of the spiritual fruitfulness of homosexuality is unduly to describe the positive aspect which is always involved in true friendship and of which homosexual persons are also capable, to homosexual practices which are psychologically marked by a frustrating sterility. In fact, psychologists, with broad clinical experience, state that often when an authentic personal friendship forms between male homosexuals, it frequently happens that they are then unable to continue having these homosexual relations. Because the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual activity which give a legitimacy to its practice can only be found in marriage, a loving and life-giving union of man and woman, the Catholic Church has always taught, and continues to teach, that a person engaging in homosexual behavior acts immorally. As the doctrine set out by the Congregation for the Faith puts it, "To choose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity, is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union able to transmit life. So it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous in giving of themselves, but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent. As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit, but rather defends personal freedom and dignity, realistically and authentically understood.
Allow me at this time, a brief excursion into a morality of acts. The Catholic Church teaches that morality is a morality of human acts. To be fully human an act has to be done volitionally, that is, out of free will, and without external coercion, and secondly, it must be done with due deliberation, that is, an understanding of what is happening and what is being done. The morality of an act is determined in the objective order by its conformity to law, the natural law, which God wrote on the heart of every human being, as well as divinely revealed law. Law can also require obedience when it is enacted by lawful authority in the Church and sometimes, even in the state. The supreme subjective norm of morality is conscience. Conscience being reason judging the rightness and wrongness of an individual act. For conscience, however, to be followed as it must be, it is necessary for conscience to be properly formed. An erroneous conscience deliberately followed is, of course, morally reprehensible. As Pope John Paul II puts it in his encyclical The Splendor of Truth, "Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man's true good, corresponding to the wise design of God, indicated by His commandments which are a path leading to life." The Second Vatican Council speaking of the norms of conjugal morality justified their value precisely as being directed to keeping the exercise of sexual acts within the context of true love by safe-guarding the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation. The fundamental moral requirement is simple this, to do good and to avoid evil. It is our duty as human beings, then, using reason and divine revelation, to discover what doing good is and what evil is.
At this time, however, it might be also good to make the distinction, which the Church has thorough almost 2000 years of her history, between the sin and the sinner. There must always be inflexible and flint-hard hatred of sin, while at the same time there must be compassion, understanding, and concern for the one who commits the sin, that is to say, the sinner. This theoretically is quite possible, while in practice, it frequently is quite difficult to distinguish the sin from the sinner. Since, as has been pointed out many times, we in a certain sense as human beings, become what we do. In other words, if we lie, we become liars. If we fornicate, we become fornicators. If we do homosexual acts, we become homosexuals. Nonetheless, there must never be a closed door to mercy and forgiveness. It should be pointed out, however, that in Christian theology, these are all conditioned upon repentance and recognition of sinfulness. Otherwise, it would not be possible for God, even in His infinite mercy, to pardon one who refuses to accept His pardon or even refuses to recognize a need for such pardon.
This, of course, leads to another important aspect of the moral evaluation from the ecclesiastical point of view of homosexuality, which is to say, the distinction between the homosexual condition or inclination and actual homosexual acts. Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. In Catholic terminology when they are done with free will and deliberation are mortal and lethal sins which terminate one's friendship and relationship with the Creator. They are intrinsically disordered because they lack an essential and indispensable goal.
The Catholic Church has not made any official pronouncement about the problem of homosexual orientation, that is to say, whether it can be or is acquired, or whether is it congenital and may have some basis in psychosomatic or even physical factors. If this orientation is not the result of morally negative choice, then, obviously, it cannot be called a sin. However, even in that instance, that is, even when it is present without being desired, or willed, or deliberated upon, and therefore, is not a sin, it is nonetheless, intrinsically disordered. It must be seen as a more or less strong inclination to intrinsically evil behavior from the moral viewpoint, and therefore, cannot be thought of as neutral or good. In Catholic tradition, this corresponds to what the Council of Trent calls the meaning of concupiscence, which is not sin in the true and proper sense, but is an effect of original sin, and can be called sin insofar as it comes from sin and inclines toward sin. There are many aspects of the human condition that are represented by such concupiscence things such as an excessive desire for power, selfishness, greed, and those kinds of perversions which we call kleptomania, sadism and pyromania. Such disordered inclinations are not in themselves sins, but are objectively disordered and lead to objective evil. And insofar as the acts that proceed from such inclinations are under the dominance of free will and having given due deliberation, they are sinful and culpable on the part of those who commit them.
Compassion for, and pastoral concern for and care for those people who have these kinds of orientations should not be ever confused with the approval of any acts that may derive from these inclinations. At the same time, Christian charity, which is not an option, but an obligation for those who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, requires that there be constantly exercised compassion, mercy, concern and care for all people, even those who are inclined toward evil actions, and this is particularly the case if these inclinations have not been caused by their own incorrect use of free will.
A word should also be spoken about the word discrimination. There are two kinds of discrimination, unjust discrimination and just discrimination. Unfortunately, the discussion about this issue in our present American society, leads to a great deal of complications and ambiguity, which sometimes result in apparent contradictions in Catholic approaches to anti-discriminatory legislation in various state legislatures and various municipalities. Certainly, there is such a thing as unjust discrimination. And to deprive someone unjustly of work or housing or other arrangements simply on the basis of past actions, or on the basis of announced inclination, would and could be unjust. At the same time there are certain measures of just discrimination which are not only morally neutral, but are sometimes morally necessary. For instance, it would be a case of just discrimination to prevent a pyromaniac from having a job as a custodian in a gasoline storage facility. It would certainly be just discrimination to disallow employment as a bank teller to a person given to be a kleptomaniac. There are certain kinds of activities which I believe one can say, should not be engaged in by homosexuals, particularly if the homosexuality has certain other paraphernalia associated with it, such as pedophilia. It would be morally reprehensible to hire a pedophile to take care of a children's day care center. Because of the simplistic use of particular political slogans in our time, this kind of just discrimination is frequently lumped together under a general title of discrimination, and declared unacceptable in modern American culture which exalts tolerance at any cost as the supreme virtue.
It should be pointed out that Christians have not only a right, but a duty to avoid placing people in occasions of sin. Rent discrimination, for example, to homosexual couples is, in my view, a very just and rightful form of discrimination which Christians not only can, but should, exercise, refusing for instance to rent apartments or rooms to persons who are obviously in an intrinsically disordered arrangement in regard to their sexual lives.
It is also a right and perhaps, a duty of Christians to see that the civil laws of the country in which they live, recognize that the promotion and defense of families, founded on monogamous heterosexual marriage is an essential part of the common good, and the state should not be allowed, with their acquiescence, to relinquish its primary reason for existence and to deprive itself from the healthy social fabric which it can alone make possible in harmonious society and the continuation of human civilization. In my view, as well, a Christian, and certainly a Catholic, has a right and a duty to oppose the aspect of the Gay culture which does not simply mean a tragically homosexually oriented person, but rather, signifies a collection of persons who publicly adopt a homosexual lifestyle and are committed to having such a lifestyle accepted by society as fully legitimate in civil law. As far as Professor Melina states quite correctly, "Justifiable opposition to offenses and discrimination which violate a person's rights cannot be confused with this demand. In fact a systematic plan for the public justification and glorification of homosexuality is taking place, starting with the attempt to make it fully accepted in the minds of society. It aims through increasing pressure at a change in legislation so that homosexual unions may enjoy the same rights as marriage including that of adoption."
Jesus promised, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32) We are also told in Sacred Scripture we are to "speak the truth in love" in Ephesians 4:15. So God, Who is at once truth and love, calls us to minister in the Church to all people including those people with homosexual inclinations or homosexual acts in their past. It does not serve the cause of either truth or love, however, if they do not compenetrate one another. Truth is not truth unless it is accompanied by love, just as love is not genuine love unless it is accompanied by truth.
Obviously, there is much more that could be said about this issue, particularly in refutation of various and serious misinterpretations of Sacred Scripture, such as the relationship of David and Jonathan, or even more blasphemously, those who would misunderstand or misinterpret the relationship of Jesus Christ and the "disciple whom He loved", which from the Greek text tells us very clearly is a disinterested, pure, and dispassionate love and has absolutely nothing to do with any homosexual relationship or inclination. The Fathers of the Church have always considered with undeviating consistency homosexuality as an intolerable sin for Christians, and although it was a cultural fact in ancient times, just as it is in our own, the general norms of Christian ethics, from the first days of the Catholic Church's existence to the present have been unvarying in their understanding that human sexual activity is permissible only in the context of Christian marriage.
May I conclude this very sketchy presentation of the Church and homosexuality with a paraphrase from the poet John Donne who said quite eloquently that human beings are never really free unless they are chained by God's commandments, just as they are never really pure until they are ravished by God's love. Thank you.