The Church's pastoral response
Many myths surround the issue of homosexuality. Some of them arise
from ignorance, some from misguided compassion, and some from the
misinformation and propaganda of the radical homosexual community.
Last week we addressed one of the greatest myths — namely, that the
Catholic Church condemns people with homosexual attractions. This is
a calumny against the Church. The truth is that the Catholic Church
emphasizes the intrinsic dignity of each and every person, and
refuses to restrict a person’s identity to the sum total of his
Another myth: Homosexuality is genetic. This is found in the claim,
“I was born this way.” Now, some may sincerely feel that way. But a
feeling, no matter how profound, does not prove an innate condition.
Others, unfortunately, will use this mistaken belief for political
gain. They propagate this myth to gain approval for the homosexual
lifestyle by claiming that, since it is genetic, it must be
“natural” and therefore acceptable. Their argument fails on several
First, no scientific research has established that homosexuality is
genetic. Contrary to popular belief, there is no “gay gene” — nor a
hormonal or chromosomal explanation. Science tells us only that
certain biological factors (e.g. temperament) can predispose someone
to homosexual attractions. But that is a far cry from saying that
people are “born that way.” The origin of homosexual inclinations is
too complex to reduce to one cause, but certain patterns do emerge
among those with same-sex attractions: sexual trauma, emotional
wounds, poor father or mother relationships, poor body image, etc.
Second, it does not follow that if homosexual attractions were
genetic then homosexual behavior would be morally acceptable. The
existence of something in nature does not exempt us from moral
responsibility. Someone who has inherited a genetic disease (e.g.
hemophilia) cannot claim that, since he was born that way, he can
therefore do whatever he wants. Rather, his inherited condition
obliges a certain way of life that can be inconvenient. If
alcoholism were genetic (as some suggest it is), we would not
conclude that those “born that way” could drink whatever they want.
Disorders exist in nature and they place crosses on us as we strive
to live authentic human lives.
Another myth: sexual orientations. Although our culture speaks about
various “orientations,” there is really only one: heterosexual. This
is simply another way of expressing the truth that human sexuality
is ordered and designed for a purpose. It is oriented toward
heterosexual union for procreation and marital bonding. Anything
apart from that is a dis-orientation — meaning it is not oriented to
the proper purposes of sexuality.
Further, once we lose sight of the one orientation of human
sexuality, we simply create confusion. We do not end up with two
orientations but sexual chaos. And so now we have a seemingly
endless proliferation of “orientations”: gay, straight, bisexual,
pansexual, polysexual, transgendered, transsexual, queer,
questioning, etc. Again, the rejection of the truth about sexuality
has not created freedom but dissolution and disorder.
Another myth: People cannot change. This myth is the necessary
consequence of the mistaken belief that people are “born that way.”
In many cases the homosexual inclinations are so powerful and
deep-seated that an individual may not be able to understand that
they do not define him as a person. He may not be able to understand
himself in any other way. Nevertheless, research and experience
indicate that, with effort and dedication, a person can achieve a
greater or lesser degree of freedom from the attractions and at
times even the development of heterosexual attractions. The National
Association for Reparative Therapy (NARTH), a group of
psychologists, teachers, and counselors provides journals,
whitepapers and other educational materials for those seeking to
move away from homosexual attractions. For more information, visit
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
Nonsense. This old phrase may have had the original purpose of
keeping children from being too sensitive to name-calling. But
fundamentally it is false. We all know that words can be
extraordinarily hurtful. Or, rather, used in a hurtful manner. Words
have meaning and therefore power. No one likes to be called a
hypocrite, for example, precisely because it hurts — or angers — to
be thought of that way.
We should keep this truth in mind when considering the language used
regarding the issue of homosexuality. Our use of certain words and
terms can indeed cause pain. Now, this does not mean that we fail to
speak the truth out of fear of offending. Some people will take
offense simply in the truth. This means, rather, that in speaking
the truth we avoid terms that hurt people unnecessarily.
For example, in high school the words “gay” and “fag” are cast about
carelessly and, worse, as insults. Whether the speaker intends to or
not, he can do great harm to a person who struggles with same-sex
attractions. Name-calling and simple carelessness can solidify in
the hearer’s mind the mistaken thought that his same-sex attractions
define him. They can increase his sense of isolation, of being
trapped, and of shame. Simple human courtesy should keep us from
name-calling — all the more so should Christian charity.
As regards language we should keep another phrase in mind: All
social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering. Msgr. William
Smith, moral theologian at Dunwoodie Seminary for years, coined this
phrase. And he was dead on. We see this truth already in the
abortion debate. The promoters of abortion on demand coined the
phrase pro-choice to cloak the slaughter of the unborn under the
very palatable concept of choice. So also the promoters of
euthanasia talk about end of life choices and compassion in dying.
A similar phenomenon is at play as regards the issue of
homosexuality. We must recognize that particular words that in some
quarters are innocent and perhaps years ago were benign now carry a
certain political and/or cultural meaning. Gay and lesbian, for
example, are politically charged terms indicating not simply
attractions but a particular philosophy and way of life.
Orientation, as we saw last week, is also charged with political
meaning because it conveys that sexuality has no clear purpose and
can be used any way we desire.
Some years ago Vatican documents used the term homosexual person.
The Church has since backed away from that term — once again because
it implies that the person is defined by the attraction. The word
person cannot be modified by homosexual for the simple reason that a
human person cannot be redefined by sexual attractions.
In discussing homosexuality we must therefore strive for precision
in terms. This may be at the cost of linguistic convenience. Popular
culture and ease of speech make the less accurate words more
attractive. Nevertheless, it is better to speak of same-sex
attractions, homosexual inclinations or tendencies. Most of all, we
should avoid words and phrases that identify the person with the
inclination. It is not enough for us to speak the truth, we must do
so in a manner worthy of the truth — in a manner that accurately
conveys the truth and respects the hearts of others.
Read Part One.