Catholic Teaching On Homosexuality

PopeFrancisIn the space of four or five decades, homosexuality has changed from perversion to disorder to respectable lifestyle. In the process discrimination against homosexuals has diminished, and that is good. In addition, the Catholic Church has received considerable criticism for refusing to change its view of homosexuality. Critics attribute this refusal to ignorance, stubbornness, contempt for science, and even bigotry. Is such criticism fair? That is the question this essay will address. But let’s begin with some important facts that are often ignored or misunderstood.

Homosexuals are different from the majority of human beings in that they are sexually attracted to their own gender. This variance from the norm was long understood as “abnormal,” a designation that can mean simply “different from most” or “disordered.” The Bible supports the latter understanding, as does natural law philosophy.

A number of passages in the Bible condemn homosexuality. Leviticus 18 and 20 calls homosexual acts “detestable.” Romans 1 calls them “unnatural” and “indecent.” 1 Corinthians 6 declares that “homosexual offenders” will not “inherit the kingdom of God.” Similarly, natural law philosophy holds that because male-female copulation is the way that mammals, animal or human, reproduce, it is “of nature” or natural. In contrast, because homosexuality employs copulation in a way inconsistent with reproduction, it is “not of nature” or unnatural.

So what caused the popular view of homosexuality to change so dramatically over the relatively short span of several decades? A major cause was the work of Alfred Kinsey, in particular Sexuality in the Human Male and Sexuality in the Human Female, in which he claimed that homosexuality, adult-child contact, and even bestiality are all as normal as heterosexuality.  (He also claimed that incest can be satisfying and enriching for children.) When first published, Kinsey’s views were hailed as the definitive scientific perspective on sexuality. Hugh Hefner, a devotee of Kinsey, helped to popularize them. Only later did researchers, notably Judith Reisman, discover that Kinsey was more propagandist than scientist and that his work was seriously biased. For example, he claimed that ten percent of Americans are homosexual when the actual figure has been shown to be between one and three percent.

Adding support to Kinsey’s view of homosexuality were Carl Rogers’ claims that “doing what ‘feels right’ proves to be a competent and trustworthy guide to behavior which is truly satisfying,” and that a person’s “own deep impulses are not destructive or catastrophic.” Among Rogers’ specific directives for emotional health was to satisfy all desires, including homosexual ones.

The influence of Kinsey and Rogers on mass culture was both broad and deep and soon created an atmosphere hostile not only to moral precepts but to any judgments of people’s behavior. Psychiatry’s classification of homosexuality offered a significant target for that hostility, and the fact that it was based on scientific rather than moral assessment made no difference to its detractors.

The 1952 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) had defined homosexuality as a mental disorder. Then in 1970 and 1972, gay activists pressured the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to abandon this classification, which they did by a majority of 58%. Gay pressure also resulted in the APA’s publication of statements favorable to homosexuality. In time that pressure also led to the formation of the Caucus of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Psychiatrists within the APA. The Caucus has been successful in gaining APA support for same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption.

Gay rights activism and political correctness may have made people hesitant to make moral judgments about homosexuality, but they have not suppressed honest questions about its origin. A key question is, is homosexual orientation inborn or acquired? Either answer has implications that trouble homosexuals. Saying that sexual identity is inborn implies that homosexuality could be caused by a genetic flaw and thus classified as a disease that science should seek to cure. On the other hand, saying that homosexuality is a lifestyle implies that it is a matter of choice, which would mean that efforts to persuade people to change that choice are legitimate.

Most arguments on the issue take one side or the other—that is, they say homosexuality is inborn and not acquired or acquired and not inborn. But the two answers are not mutually exclusive. It could be that homosexuality is sometimes genetically programmed and sometimes created by circumstances. A typical example of the former would be individuals who realized from childhood that they were emotionally and sexually attracted to their own gender. An example of the latter would be the (stereotypical) case of a child with an overly dominant mother and a weak or emotionally distant father.

But another, I believe more significant example of acquired, or more exactly, conditioned homosexuality is that of individuals whose first sexual encounter is homosexual and whose subsequent thoughts and fantasies reflect that experience and govern their sexual arousal. In time the force of habit can fix the arousal pattern and persuade the person that he or she was born homosexual even when that was not the case. This scenario is not only plausible; it is also supported by the testimony of homosexual predators that children’s sexual orientation can be changed before puberty. (Their vile slogan is “get them by eight before it’s too late.”)

To summarize, over the last half-century or so, homosexuality has become widely accepted but the reason for the change was not any breakthrough in scientific knowledge or more enlightened analysis. The reason was, instead, gay activists’ pressure on the APA, coupled with Humanistic Psychology’s puerile notion that whatever behavior we choose is justified because we choose it.

The truth is, we don’t know that much more about the nature of homosexuality than we did fifty or a hundred years ago. If we keep that fact in mind and put aside political correctness, we realize that Catholic teaching on homosexuality is neither backward nor unscientific. It is a reasonable view rooted in the indisputable scientific fact that homosexual copulation cannot produce offspring and, in that sense, is unnatural. Moreover, Catholic teaching is sensitive to the complexities of the issue and the inherent dignity of the people involved.

Consider, for example, the 1975 Vatican document titled Persona Humana. This document distinguishes between homosexual tendencies that derive from (a) “false education,” “lack of normal sexual development,” “habit,” or “bad example,” and “is transitory or at least not incurable,” and (b) homosexual tendencies that derive from “innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable.” The document makes a further distinction between homosexual persons and homosexual acts, affirming that the people should be treated with kindness and “their culpability [should] be judged with prudence.” The acts, however, cannot be approved because they are “intrinsically disordered.”

The Catholic catechism shares that perspective. It calls for “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” toward homosexuals and urges that  “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Nevertheless, it holds that homosexual acts are immoral and urges homosexuals to practice chastity.

The Church’s position on homosexuality may not be popular, and it is certainly difficult for homosexuals to accept, but it is intellectually sound. Catholics should not be embarrassed by their Church’s teaching. Rather, they should be reassured by the Church’s refusal to abandon intellectual integrity for cultural fashion.

Copyright © 2012 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved