Ask a Franciscan

The Bible and Homosexuality

Q. I am very confused about homosexuality. I know it’s a sin, but I don’t understand why society condemns this so much as compared to other sins. Not one of the four biblical passages about this comes from Jesus’ lips. He did, however, give us two great commandments: love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30–31a, with similar passage in Mt 22:37–40).

A. The Catholic Church’s teaching about homosexuality is not as simple as you have indicated. Having a homosexual orientation and engaging in homosexual actions are not the same thing. A person’s sexual orientation may well be involuntary (and thus not a sin in itself), or it might be chosen. A person’s actions based on that orientation, however, are certainly chosen.

After the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms that homosexual actions are contrary to the natural law and are closed to the gift of life (2357), it goes on to teach: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them 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 to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (2358).

The Catechism’s final section reads: “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” (2359).

In their 1997 pastoral message “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Church Ministers,” the US bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life wrote: “Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.”

The bishops later wrote: “God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation. Thus, our total personhood is more encompassing than sexual orientation.

Human beings see the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart (cf. 1 Sm 16:7). God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it.”

Gay marriage is another issue worth addressing. The Church understands Jesus’ teaching about a man and woman leaving their families in order to enter into marriage (Mt 19:5) as normative. Even if civil laws equate heterosexual and homosexual marriages (and they currently do in a minority of US states), that does not change the Catholic Church’s teaching on this issue.

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