The following is a three-part series, "The Blessing of a Chaste Life,"
Thomas J. Olmsted and published in
Catholic Sun, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix,
in May/June 2004. The series is reprinted here by the kind permission
of Bishop Olmsted and The Catholic Sun.
The call to holiness of homosexual persons | May 6, 2004 | 1 of 3
When the Church at Vatican II lifted high the universal call to holiness,
it rightly received an enthusiastic response. For it is indeed good news
for people of every time and place. How good to know that it is possible
for us all to have a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and
even to become like Him.
God creates each person in love. He redeems each with a love even unto
death on the Cross. He calls each of us to share in this amazing love
by taking up our cross each day and following in His footsteps. There
is only one road to holiness, one way to a profound communion with Christ
(Mark 8:34-35): "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life
will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel
will save it."
It seems especially urgent to remind every follower of Christ today, and
in particular homosexual persons, that He is calling them to a close personal
communion with Himself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)
speaks of this call to holiness of homosexual persons in the following
way (#2359): "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."
The journey to holiness always requires a firm belief in the word "can."
We can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We can be holy. It
is not an impossible dream for anyone. Growth in holiness requires the
help of God and it requires effort on our part, but we can do it. It begins
with the grace of conversion, turning away from sin and turning towards
the Lord. It requires obedience to Gods will, for as Jesus tells
us (John 14:15), "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
In order to progress along the road to holiness, the Holy Spirit helps
us to forge virtues, i.e. habits for good. Homosexual persons particularly
need to focus their efforts on developing the virtue of chastity. Chastity
is defined in the Catechism (#2337) as "the successful integration
of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his
bodily and spiritual being." Every human person is called to integrate
their sexuality according to their state in life. Chastity will always
involve abstinence for those who are not married. Other virtues are also
needed but chastity stands front and center for persons with a homosexual
inclination. This is because homosexual acts are always wrong, always
the opposite of holiness. However, persons who have homosexual inclinations
but do not act on them are not guilty of sin. In fact, with Gods
grace and good intentions, they can grow in virtue and make great progress
along the path to perfection, the goal to which the Lord Jesus has called
A key distinction, then, is needed when considering homosexuality, namely
between the homosexual tendency on the one hand and homosexual acts on
the other. Those who engage in homosexual acts commit serious sin, as
both the Old Testament and New Testament teach (Cf. Genesis 19:1-29, Romans
1:18-32, I Timothy 1:10) and as Christian Tradition has consistently affirmed
(Cf. Catechism, #2357).
Those with homosexual inclinations are sometimes tempted to believe that
chastity is beyond them. They may incorrectly feel that just to have a
homosexual tendency makes them guilty of sin and excludes them from growing
in holiness. At times, they may also encounter these kinds of confused
and false attitudes in others and unjustly suffer because of them. In
the face of all these difficulties, the love of Christ remains constant
and His call to conversion and holiness never fails. No less than other
persons, Christ calls them to take up their cross each day and follow
The Cross of Christ, in our own day just as 2000 years ago, seems like
foolishness to some and nonsense to others but as St. Paul writes (I Cor
1:24), Christ crucified is "the power of God and the wisdom of God."
Those who take up the cross each day out of love for Jesus find themselves
flooded with the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), "love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
And St. Paul adds (Gal 5:24-25), "those who belong to Christ Jesus
have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires."
All who follow Christ can and are called to live the virtue of chastity.
What a blessing when, with Gods grace, we do so. What a blessing
when we freely and gladly embrace the Lords call to holiness.
The pastoral care of homosexual persons | May
20, 2004 | 2 of 3
A few weeks ago, I sent a letter to some priests of the Diocese of Phoenix,
asking them to withdraw their support from a public statement entitled
"No Longer Silent Phoenix Declaration." The letter was intended
to be personal and confidential because I had hoped to engage these brother
priests in a person-to-person conversation about the pastoral care of
homosexual persons, without the distraction of publicity. To my disappointment,
news of the letter was leaked to the press. While not making my fraternal
dialogue with these priests impossible, the leak has made it more difficult.
Nonetheless, I have been able to engage the majority in substantial conversations
about this important pastoral matter. And I am grateful that most, in
accordance with my request, have withdrawn their support from the declaration.
I continue to hope and pray that the others will do the same.
Since portions of my letter have become public, I have decided, for the
sake of accuracy and fairness to all, to publish it in its entirety in
this same issue of The Catholic Sun. I would like also, in this part of
my series on the "Blessing of a Chaste Life," to write about
the pastoral care of homosexual persons: what not to do and what to do.
What not to do
Do not see those with homosexual inclinations as problems but as
persons, persons whom Jesus redeemed by His Cross, persons called to holiness,
persons with an inviolable dignity and an eternal destiny bestowed on
them by God, persons like you and me, persons who have a welcome place
in our Church.
Do not condone homosexual activity or fail to teach clearly that
it, along with all sexual activity outside of marriage, is seriously wrong.
We should not presume that others know that homosexual behavior is wrong.
Our silence about it could reinforce that mistaken notion.
Do not support any group such as No Longer Silent or Dignity that
fails to uphold clearly the teachings of the Bible and the Church on homosexual
acts and homosexual persons. We cannot help one another along the path
of conversion and union with Christ if we deny the truth.
What to do
Lend encouragement to groups like Courage that offer support to
homosexual persons in their vocation to holiness, and who do this in full
conformity with the teachings of the Church.
Be well informed about the teachings of our Catholic Christian
faith on this topic. Read what the Catechism of the Catholic Church
says about this topic (#2357-2359). Read the Letter of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on
the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. Read good books on this topic
such as those by Fr. John Harvey: e.g.
Homosexual Person and
Should you be aware of persons who have homosexual inclinations,
accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ and support them by authentic
love and prayer.
Should persons you know be engaged in homosexual activity, look
for an opportunity to invite them back to the faithful practice of a life
of abstinence, assure them of the power of Gods mercy to forgive
and to bring fresh hope, and pray for their conversion. Christ calls us
all to on-going conversion of life; so our prayers for conversion encompass
ourselves as well as others.
These are only a few of the dos and donts of a full program of pastoral
care of homosexual persons. The books and documents mentioned above can
provide a more encompassing program. As I stated in my letter to my brother
priests who signed the declaration, our relationship with homosexual persons
needs to be that of Christ, one that offers full and fraternal acceptance
of each person as made in the image of God and one that is animated by
both truth and charity. When carried out with the help of the Holy Spirit,
it can help us all to grow to full maturity in Christ.
Difficulties faced by homosexual persons | June
3, 2004 | 3 of 3
Since the universal call to holiness demands of all a share in the Cross
of Christ, it is not surprising that persons with homosexual inclinations
face difficulties of various sorts as they, like all other followers of
Jesus, seek to love God with all their mind and heart, and to love their
neighbor as themselves. These difficulties include the following four.
1) Intellectual confusion about whether sexual activity outside of marriage
is always wrong. In recent years, one sector of the popular culture has
made a concerted effort to persuade public opinion that same sex relations
(indeed all kinds of sexual relations outside of marriage) are normal
and morally neutral (or even morally beneficial!). Whoever would challenge
such assertions runs a high risk of being labeled as homophobic or some
other derogatory term.
In fact, what has occurred in these cases is a rejection of an understanding
of human sexuality found in most cultures and major religions of the world
down through history, one found in both the Old and New Testaments, and
one found in Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christian Tradition. According
to the modernist view, a morality based on truth and on objective norms
is being replaced by a "morality" based on desire. Feelings,
not truth, become criteria for whether something is right or wrong.
However, a morality not built on objective norms will never stand the
test of time nor does it serve well the men and women of our present age.
Truth does not change to suit our tastes. Some things are always wrong,
no matter the times, the circumstances, or peoples intentions.
It is not homophobia that leads followers of Christ to consider homosexual
acts to be wrong, it is the word of God found in the Old and New Testaments
and in more than 2000 years of the Churchs consistent moral teaching.
A brief look at a few Scriptural texts makes this abundantly clear. For
example, there are the commands of God contained in Leviticus (18:22 and
20:13) that point out the sinfulness of homosexual acts. And in the New
Testament, St. Paul teaches the same in several places (e.g. I Cor 6:9-10,
Romans 1: 18-32, and I Tim 1:10). The Catechism of the Catholic Church
(#2357) summarizes our Christian tradition quite succinctly: "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
the genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances
can they be approved."
2) Confused notions of what constitutes marriage also make it difficult
for homosexual persons and others to make good judgments about love and
responsibility. The present push to give "homosexual unions"
equal legal status with marriage shows the prevalence of such confusion
in popular culture.
But marriage can exist only between a man and a woman because only the
union of male and female can express the sexual complementarity created
and willed by God for marriage. In the marital embrace, husband and wife
make a total gift of themselves to one another in their masculinity and
femininity. They do so as persons with equal dignity but truly different
as man and woman; as such, they are able to express sexual love as intended
by God to build their communion as persons and to serve the transmission
of new life.
For this reason, it is not unjust to deny legal status to "same-sex
unions" because such unions are essentially different from marriage.
Moreover, such a legal redefinition would harm the institution of marriage
itself. As the U.S. bishops stated recently, "When marriage is redefined
so as to make other relationships equivalent to it, the institution of
marriage is devalued and further weakened. The weakening of this basic
institution at all levels and by various forces has already exacted too
high a social cost."
3) Reductionist views of the personhood of those with homosexual inclinations
present serious obstacles for them on their road to holiness. A certain
fixation on ones sexual orientation can occur such that the rich
and complex nature of a person gets reduced to just one part of his or
her identity, only the sexual orientation. This serves neither a persons
dignity nor inner freedom. Rather, it gives exaggerated emphasis to a
single aspect of ones identity while undercutting or obfuscating
the other dimensions, some of which are far more important. For example,
more important is our identity as sons and daughters of God, created in
the divine image. More important is the privilege of being brothers and
sisters in Christ. In addition, this reductionism can hinder ones
ability to see the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit created by
God for the fruits of chastity, joy and peace.
4) False views of human freedom assert that homosexual acts are not sinful
for homosexual persons because of their sexual orientation. They assert
instead that such acts are morally neutral or even morally beneficial.
After all, the argument goes, a good God would not allow homosexual inclinations
if they were ordered towards a sinful end.
But such argumentation reflects a false understanding of human nature
and the way it has been wounded by original sin. In addition, it runs
contrary to both love and truth. St. Paul talks about this struggle with
sinful tendencies common to every human person (Romans 7:19-25), "For
I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want For
I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members
another principle at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to
the law of sin that dwells in my members. Miserable one that I am! Who
will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus
Christ our Lord."
Yes, the whole human race stands in need of a Redeemer. We all have temptations
and sinful inclinations to oppose. We all need to be strengthened by grace
in order to avoid what is wrong and to know the blessing of a chaste life.
But that is precisely what we have in Christ. He gives us the grace to
love in truth; He gives us the call and responsibility to do so. To excuse
oneself of this freedom and responsibility is to take a road that spirals
downward into ever-greater sadness and confusion. It is a road no one
needs to take.
Rather, God calls us to the opposite road, the narrow road, the way of
holiness, the way of the Cross, the way that leads to fullness of maturity