Part 2: What's Church Belief on Homosexuality, and Why?
Robert Stackpole Answers Your Divine Mercy Questions
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Feb 8, 2012)
A friend who read my last column on homosexuality complained I had forgotten something very important: "You said that according to the Bible and the Catholic Church, homosexuality is an unnatural, wounded condition, not what our Creator intended for us, and therefore cannot lead to human peace and fulfillment. But what about the fact that scientists have now discovered it is genetically inherited — that people are gay because of their genes? If it's in their genes, how can it be a 'wounded,' 'unnatural' condition?"
Well, the "gay gene" is not a fact, it's a theory. Back in the 1990s a study purported to show a genetic link with homosexuality, but to the best of my knowledge to date that study has not been duplicated, and "the court is still out" in the scientific community about the possible genetic roots of same-sex attraction.
Personally, I should not at all be surprised to find there is a genetic factor involved in many or even most cases for same-sex attraction. After all, scientists have been finding genetic factors involved in all kinds of human proclivities for decades now (including tendencies to enjoy reading books and to be afraid of roller coaster rides ... I am pretty sure I have both of those genes myself!).
But two important things to bear in mind here.
First, the fact that one inherits a degree of inclination toward a certain attitude or behavior does not mean one is necessarily compelled to behave that way — or even that one's inclination in that direction is solely genetic. There may be other factors at work that affect one's attitude and behavior as much, or even more, than genes. For instance, one's upbringing and the effect of choices one has made throughout life.
Second, whether or not same-sex attraction is rooted in part in the human genetic code does not necessarily mean it is "wholesome" or "natural." There are all kinds of traits that human beings inherit from their parents that are far from "natural": tendencies toward melancholy, irascibility, alcoholism, sickle cell anemia, type 1 diabetes, and congenital blindness, for example. What makes an inherited human trait "natural" (in the sense of God-given and in accord with our Creator's loving plan for us) is whether or not it leads us toward human flourishing and fulfillment. If it doesn't, then the inherited trait may be the result of the wounding of human nature caused by the fall of Adam and Eve (that is, the inherited corruption of our nature called "original sin") rather than any natural gift from our Creator.
So, apart from divine revelation given to us in the Bible and the Sacred Tradition of the Church (see my column last week on all that), what reason do we have to believe that the same-sex condition and gay relationships are "unnatural" and cannot lead to human flourishing and fulfillment?
One of the main reasons comes from developmental psychology. In a great many cases, a major factor in the development of same-sex attraction seems to be a broken, wounded relationship with a child's same-sex parent. One of the pioneers of research in this area was Elizabeth Moberly at Cambridge University in England in the 1980s. As psychologists well know, children naturally long to bond in a special way with their same-sex parent. But in cases where the same sex parent is weak, absent, indifferent, or hostile, or where even just a single experience of perceived "rejection" by the same-sex parent has been internalized, the result can be devastating: an ongoing search by the individual to meet their unfulfilled need for intimacy with the same-sex parent by developing affective relationships with people of the same gender. Of course, the search is in vain. The wound from the past cannot be healed in that way—and the gay individual therefore goes from partner to partner. As the song goes, "looking for love in all the wrong places" — in this case, looking for the healing of lost mother-daughter or father-son love in all the wrong places. Moberly's research matches the findings by others as well (e.g., see Dr. Richard Friedman's Male Homosexuality, Yale University press, 1988).
Now, it is true that the American Psychiatric Association has removed "homosexuality" from its list of psychological disorders. A little known fact, however, is that in order to do so, they actually had to change the definition of a psychological disorder. Previously, psychological illness was described as anything that arose from a psychological wound or trauma of the past and/or resulted in the inability to function properly or live with a degree of contentment in the present. In order to accommodate homosexuality, however, the APA decided the drop the criteria of psychological wound and trauma from the list! The professional associations may prefer (perhaps for the sake of "political correctness") to turn a blind eye to the painful childhood roots of much same-sex attraction, but the Church is under obligation from our Lord not turn a blind eye to the truth. In addition to this, there is plenty of evidence to show that suffering sexual abuse as a child often results in the development of same-sex attraction. Apparently this is especially the case with female children. As Christian counselor Joe Dallas reports in his book When Homosexuality Hits Home (Harvest House, 2004), "A violated girl will often conclude that men are unsafe and destructive, closing off future potential bonding with a male partner" (p.63). How can something so often rooted in the wounding of the human spirit be" healthy," "natural" and "God-given"?
It is reasonable to dispute the APA decision anyway. In her book One Man, One Woman, (Sophia Institute, 2007), Dale O'Leary documents the extensive amount of research that shows that those with same-sex attraction "are more likely to suffer from depression, substance-abuse problems, suicidal ideation, sexual addiction, and a number of other psychological disorders" (p. 28). Of course, gay activists say this is all the result of the social oppression and rejection that homosexuals experience in a "homophobic" society. But as O'Leary discovered (and documents):
If these problems were caused entirely by lack of public acceptance of [same-sex attraction], we would expect to find fewer problems in places where tolerance was high and "homophobia" low. But this isn't the case. Studies done in the Netherlands and New Zealand, for example, where there is generally high tolerance of sexual "diversity" found the same high rates of psychological difficulties as those done elsewhere. (p. 29)
Then there are the extra social and medical problems associated with the same-sex lifestyle.
Clearly, God intended sexual bonding to be characterized by "faithfulness": a reflection of, and mysterious participation in, His own intended relationship of spousal faithfulness between Christ as Bridegroom, and the Church as His Bride (Eph 5: 21-33). To be loved intimately and exclusively by one's spouse is therefore a deeply enriching human experience. It mysteriously participates in the spousal love at the heart of God's plan for the whole world. But sexual faithfulness is almost always conspicuous by its absence from gay relationships. In his book Our Social and Sexual Revolution (Baker Books, third edition, 1999), John Stott discusses the evidence for this:
The concept of lifelong, quasi-marital fidelity in homosexual partnerships is largely a myth, a theoretical ideal which is contradicted by the facts. The truth is that gay relationships are characterized more by promiscuity than by fidelity. A number of researches have been made. "One of the most carefully researched studies of the most stable homosexual pairs," writes Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, namely The Male Couple, "was researched and written by two authors who are themselves a homosexual couple." They found that "of the 156 couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity; of the hundred couples that had been together for more than five years, none had been able to maintain sexual fidelity." They added that "the expectation for outside sexual activity was the rule for male couples and the exception for heterosexuals." The result of these research studies led Thomas Schmidt to conclude: "Promiscuity among homosexual men is not a mere stereotype, and it is not merely the majority experience—it is virtually the only experience" ... There seems to be something inherently unstable about homosexual partnerships. (pp. 206-207)
Stott gives us the grim medical facts about the extra dangers involved in homosexual erotic activity (especially among males):
It is difficult to maintain that homosexual partnerships are just as much an expression of love as heterosexual marriages in the light of the known damage and danger involved in usual gay sexual practices. Dr. Satinover has the courage to give us "the brute facts about the adverse consequences of homosexuality," based on the most recent medical studies. He writes of infectious hepatitis which increases the risk of liver cancer, of frequently fatal rectal cancer, and a 25-30 year decrease in life expectancy. Thomas Schmidt is even more explicit, describing seven nonviral and four viral infections which are transmitted by oral and anal sex. It is true that some diseases can also be transmitted by similar activity between heterosexual people, but "these health problems are rampant in the homosexual population because they are easily spread by promiscuity and by most of the practices favored by homosexuals." And these diseases are apart from AIDS.... Thomas Schmidt justly calls this chapter [in his book] "The Price of Love." If these physical dangers attend common gay sexual activities, can authentic love engage in them? (p.207)
Perhaps now we can see that the Bible and the Church are right to call homosexual acts "disordered," and same-sex relationships "unnatural." It is not because our Catholic Tradition is inherently "homophobic," but because we cannot turn a blind-eye to the wounds that usually cause the homosexual condition, or to the psychological, social and medical minefield into which those who live out a gay lifestyle have wandered. And besides the evidence of the social and natural sciences, philosophy tells us that a form of sexual bonding that cannot participate in the natural complementarity between male and female and cannot naturally be open to the procreation of new human life, is truncated and sub-natural right from the start.
Given all of this, how should we as Catholics respond to friends and family members who "come out" and tell us that they are gay?
How about responding with merciful love? Isn't that the goal and fruit of the whole message and devotion to The Divine Mercy?
Jesus said to St. Faustina:
I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this, or try to excuse yourself from it. ... My daughter, look into My merciful Heart and reflect its compassion in your own heart and in your deeds, so that you who proclaim My mercy to the world may yourself be aflame with it. (Diary, 742 and 1688; my emphasis)
Notice the "always and everywhere" line here. If we find it especially hard to show kindness and respect to homosexual acquaintances, friends, and family members, that often says a lot more about ourselves and our own insecurities than it does about them.
It might also say something about our pride. After all, why do we suppose that their problems, and their besetting sins, are necessarily worse in our Savior's eyes than those of many heterosexual people? Is our merciful Lord necessarily more "put off" by the sin of homosexual acts than He is by greed, or racism, or adultery? The fact is that homosexual couples are, in most respects, just like the rest of us: "sinners not yet fully cured." As the book of Isaiah puts it: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way, and the Lord has laid on Him [that is, on Christ] the iniquity of us all" (Is 53:6 KJV). You see, every homosexual person that you meet is a sinner whom Jesus loved so much that He gave His life for them on the cross — just as He did for you and me. And whatever we do "even to the least" of His brothers and sisters — especially those who are probably carrying deep wounds from the past, and certainly wandering in a moral, psychological, social and medical minefield in the present — He accounts as done to Himself (Mt 25:40).
Now, I know that there are a host of practical questions people have about how to practice merciful love in real-life situations that can arise, especially regarding gay friends and family members. For example, what do I do if my teenage son or daughter tells me he/she is gay and wants to join a gay-support group? What do I do if my grownup son or daughter or my gay brother or sister asks if they can bring their gay lover home to meet the family and join in holiday celebrations? What do I do if my neighbors who are a gay couple insist I treat them just like any other married couple? The book by Joe Dallas mentioned above, When Homosexuality Hits Home, is by far the best detailed discussion of these pastoral issues that I have ever read, and I heartily recommend it for those seeking guidance. His underlying approach to all of these situations is surely the right one:
I know that when a loved one comes out as gay, the right response is not to condone homosexuality, nor is it to despise the homosexual person. But I've seen both these extremes — the whitewashing of the sin, or the cruel mistreatment of the sinner — practiced by too many people for too many years. (p.14)
One final word. Some of my readers may be thinking that the most merciful and loving response to those with strong same-sex attraction — especially if they are our own family members — is to encourage them to get "treatment" so that they can be healed. Perhaps a combination of faith-based psychotherapy and healing prayer will "cure" them, so that they can then be attracted to members of the opposite sex, according to God's creation-plan, and even get married and have a family someday.
Now, I have absolutely no doubt that in some cases, people with this affliction can indeed be miraculously healed, just as those who come to Jesus with other ailments sometimes receive dramatic, supernatural healing by His loving power. Healing prayer and good Christian counseling can indeed be channels of His healing love, and always help. But let us remember that just as with physical ailments, so with other human afflictions: miraculous and total healing is rare and exceptional rather than the rule. In his book Moral Choices, Protestant ethicist Scott Rae discusses the charge that such "cures" almost never happen:
It is common for Gay activists to hold that cures rarely, if ever, happen. But they are using the term "cure" in a way that is not used in treating other kinds of struggles and addictions. There is a crucial distinction between being cured of the behavior and being cured of the impulse. To be cured in the more common, psychological usage is to be content apart from the specific behavior in question. For example, the alcoholic who is cured has not necessarily lost the craving for alcohol. Rather, he has learned to be content apart from drinking. The same is true for the homosexual. He or she may not be cured of attractions for the same sex, but is content apart from acting out the sexual attraction. On this view, it is possible for someone who has developed a homosexual orientation to follow Christ and abstain from homosexual behavior in the same way that an alcoholic can follow Christ and stop drinking.
In this regard, we can be encouraged by Scripture, for St. Paul tells us that some of his readers "were" (past tense) practicing homosexuals before being converted to Christ and receiving His sanctifying grace (I Cor 6:11).
In fact, some of you may know many Catholic dioceses have branches of a group called "Courage," which consists of men and women with same-sex attraction who are committed to living chastely according to the truth taught by Jesus and His Church about human sexuality (see especially Catechism entries 2357-2359). They pray for each other and support each other in this endeavor, relying on divine grace flowing to them through the sacraments of the Church to help them. They also welcome whatever degree of healing of their condition that our Lord has for them along the way. And they do all this because they trust our Lord's mystical Body on earth, the Catholic Church, when she tells them about the path of authentic love that leads to true peace of heart. Once again, it all comes down to trust in the end: "Jezu Ufam Tobie"! In this way, too, the homosexual person is no different than the rest of us: The only way to salvation — theirs and ours — is the way of trust in the merciful love of God.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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