Collect


Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent

Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Raw Tact, Part III: What the Thunder Said

This was an extremely hard post to write, though its premise is a simple one. I sat in front of my laptop for about five minutes without typing a letter, trying to work up the courage to start. (Despite the fact that this top section is substantially shorter than the part after the asterisks, the top part is the main note. The bottom part is essentially a clarifying appendix.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the following in its paragraphs about homosexuality (2357-2359):

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant attraction to members of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. 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 a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

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.

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.

Some of my readers may have gone through that and thought it a pretty balanced, unexceptionable statement of traditional Christian beliefs on the subject. Others may have been unable to finish the first paragraph due to disagreement, anger, pain, or shame.

I do not propose, here, to argue with either side. I believe the teaching of the Church, and that firmly, but the purpose of this post is not to discuss that. Below is an analysis of the text, which I hope clarifies parts of it -- much Catholic terminology has the misfortune of seeming to coincide with normal English but not actually doing so. But the chief purpose of the quotation is that this is one of the things that forms the backdrop to the whole experience of being gay and Catholic. Try to sympathize; that is, to put this doctrine in a personal rather than an abstract context. Try, heterosexual reader, to imagine believing all of this, not about somebody else, but about yourself. If your imagination fails you, try this as an aid:

Heterosexuality refers to relations between men and women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the opposite sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents heterosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "heterosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

Now: how do you feel? How will you live?

*     *     *

What follows is basically an appendix, purely for purposes of clarification. In explaining what the Catholic Church is stating here (to the best of my ability), I am not setting forth an apologetic for that belief; that is a task worth doing, but it is not what I am at the moment aiming to do. For that reason, on this post specifically, I will make no reply to comments arguing against -- or for -- the Church's teaching; they are germane to the subject, obviously, but they will sidetrack my purpose, and I'm having a difficult time focusing that purpose as it is. I won't suppress such comments either, except on the same grounds that I would suppress any comment, i.e. abusiveness, total irrelevance, or gobs of crazy.

1. Note the Church's definition of the term homosexuality: she defines it specifically as involving sexual relations, not simply as a general disposition. Sexual orientation is a modern term for a comparatively modern concept (dating, roughly, to the nineteenth century); not that it wasn't known before then that some men had a general and lifelong preference for other men, or women for women, but that it wasn't thought of as making you a different kind of thing. For this reason, when the Church (using the term) talks about homosexuality, she doesn't have persons in mind -- only actions. This may not be a useful or a clear way of speaking; or then again it may. In any case it is what she in fact means.

2. The phrase grave depravity probably makes it sound like the Catholic Church regards gay sex as a uniquely evil thing. This isn't the case. Depravity, though it is more rhetorical and therefore sounds more severe, is simply one of the synonyms for "sin" used by the Church. It therefore doesn't in itself say where on the scale of seriousness something lies, between torturing someone to death and enjoying caustic thoughts about them.

The term grave doesn't change this. Being derived from the Latin, it is used in Catholic terminology as a synonym for "serious" and an antonym for unimportant; as taking a nickel that a coworker has left lying on his desk is probably unimportant, but taking five dollars would be serious (not as serious as stealing his paycheck, but serious nonetheless -- it's his money, for one thing, and he might need it for another). For comparison, masturbation, which is an extremely common sin that the Church spends little time fulminating against, is equally termed by the Catechism "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action."

3. Intrinsically disordered, like objectively disordered a few lines further down, has probably caused more anguish than the rest of the Church's language put together. To clarify: intrinsically is being opposed to accidentally; so, on Catholic premises, a man lusting for a woman who is not his wife is accidentally misdirected, because there's nothing perverse about wanting a woman, but that desire is supposed to be fulfilled between husband and wife only. In principle, the woman our theoretical man is lusting after might have been his wife, and that circumstance would be relevant. Conversely, there aren't any circumstances (according to the Church's teaching) in which the desire of a man for a man could be morally fulfilled, and so the misdirection lies in the desire as such.

Likewise, objectively is frequently taken to mean "as any sane person can see," perhaps influenced by frequent Christian talk about objective truth. That isn't what the Church is driving at here at all. It has, rather, to do with what the Church says is misdirected about the desire: its object. Wanting to have sex, just as such, isn't wrong (it is, indeed, too amorphous to be wrong, or right). It is the specific object (someone of the same sex, either in general or in particular) that the Church considers problematic.

Lastly, disordered. This single word has probably been the worst element in the Church's PR on the subject of homosexuality; I don't know whether it can be avoided, for philosophical reasons, but those philosophical reason bear explaining. The Church speaks of desires as being ordered to an end; the language derives, I think, from Aristotle. A synonymous phrase would be that desires are directed to a goal. That is why, in the preceding paragraphs, I spoke of direction and misdirection, rather than of order and disorder. In theological language, the word disordered does not have the psychiatric associations it does in the English vernacular.

None of this is an argument. And none of it makes the Catechism palatable -- certainly not to me. However, it does explain the difference between the Church saying (or meaning to say), "You want something you ought not to want," and the world hearing (or thinking it hears), "You're a sick lunatic."

4. Natural law deserves a much more thorough treatment than I am about to give it here. Since homosexual behavior does occur in nature, and since the phrase "law(s) of nature" occurs more or less exclusively in scientific contexts today, most people read this as simply an instance of blatant disregard for what, you know, actually happens, on the Church's part. But natural law theory, which is what she is citing, is quite different. It is another philosophical phrase that the Church has derived ultimately from Aristotle. To begin with, theology has in mind humanity specifically, not material existence in general; in addition, the kind of law that the phrase natural law here signifies is along the lines of a law to pay taxes, not the law of gravity. Defiance of the law of gravity isn't something that happens -- the most someone can do is attempt to defy the law of gravity; but people can and do violate the laws of taxes. Natural law, in the Catholic sense, is a law that commands but does not control.

A laughably short summary of the Catholic doctrine is that the sexual act is meant to be open to life, and that acts which either deliberately obstruct that possibility (contraception) or aren't capable of being open to it (homosexuality, masturbation, and some others) are therefore morally out of court, as separating the act of sex from its meaning. It doesn't follow from this that people who engage in these sorts of sexual acts always do so from the same motives, but good intentions, while crucially important, are not by themselves adequate from this perspective.

5. The genuine affective and sexual complementarity is a topic I am not entirely fitted to address; my understanding of gender is fairly imperfect. I will therefore confine myself to saying that the Church regards gender as being something that is objectively true about a person, with an inherent significance, regardless of variations of personality and self-presentation (St. Joan of Arc is a good example of a very unconventional gender-presentation). The complementarity under discussion here is not simply getting along, nor even being well-suited to one another as companions, but something woven into gender and sex themselves; I suspect that it has a spiritual and mystical character, not least from Ephesians 5, but I've come to the edge of my comprehension of the subject here.

6. The second and third paragraphs, read thus in isolation, could leave the impression that the Church expects chastity of LGBT people more sternly than of straight people; or that it requires us to be celibate; or both. Of the former, this impression can be corrected by reading those parts of the Catechism addressed to heterosexual intercourse. No one is exempted from Christian perfection.

As for LGBT people being called to chastity, that isn't necessarily incompatible with marriage. It is quite true that the Catholic Church will only recognize a marriage between a man and a woman (and there are further modifiers which need not detain us just now), but, if they freely choose to do so, a gay person is just as welcome to enter such a marriage as anybody else. They may not be much consoled by this, and I can't blame them (us, really); I am concerned only to indicate that the thing being required is the same for everyone -- not that some of the people of whom it's being required haven't got a pretty raw deal. Also, to distinguish properly between chastity and celibacy. Celibacy is only one form of chastity, for chastity means simply the integration of chastity into the whole human person, in part achieved by and resulting in the practice of sexual virtue. The thing is, for a married person, having sex can be sexual virtue. A wife could have sex more often (and probably with more pleasure) than a prostitute and be, not just alongside but in that very fact, highly chaste.

19 comments:

  1. Fascinating. Let me see if I get the logic behind point #3. Would it be correct to say that a sexual action performed with anyone other than a person's spouse is just as "objectively" disordered than a homosexual action since the problem is the object of the action in both cases?

    Also (and this might be getting too far into apologetics so feel free to ignore this), I am not sure that the clarification in terminology helps or rather hinders my own feelings of the Catholic Church's position. By your own admission, the deal seems pretty raw for the LGBT folks, and I cannot think of any other sizable minority where there sexual desires are "intrinsically disordered." Not that doctrine needs to be equitable in regard to everyone's inclinations as long as the prescribed actions are equitable, but it still stings to know that my sexual inclinations could never be fulfilled chastely while my straight brothers' and sisters' could (not to say they will be fulfilled). But at least the catechism mandates compassion for those affected by homosexual inclinations.

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    1. So far as I understand, yes, any sexual act with someone other than a spouse is equally objectively disordered, in technical theological language. It is not necessarily intrinsically disordered, because that is something else.

      As to no other sexual minority being similarly burdened, I am not so sure of that. I am not for an instant making a comparison in moral gravity among these things: but people with predispositions toward children, animals, or rape, would be under a similar difficulty. As I said, I draw absolutely no moral equivalence between these things. I consider homosexuality by far the most human of these things.

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    2. "Objectively disordered" refers to desires, not acts. Acts don't have objects, they ARE objects, in the technical theological language.

      As for equivalencies among others, masturbation is called intrinsically disordered too, and plenty of heterosexuals have kinks for non-vaginal sex acts. Those desires, while not constructed as an "orientation" in our culture, are in the same "objectively disordered" category as homosexuality.

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  2. I was hoping you would be willing or able to clarify something for me.

    When elucidating the Church's use of the word "homosexuality," you said it is used in reference to “sexual relations" or acts not "orientation" or "general disposition."

    I am curious, in this context, what "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" refers to, especially since it is one of the qualities referred to in "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies..." by Benedict which prevents a person from receiving the gift of the Priesthood. So it seems to be an important phrase but also (to me anyway) an ambiguous phrase.

    Does "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" refer to a sense of "homosexual orientation" of some sort, or does it refer to a tendency to the action. That is, does the "tendencies" refer to a likelihood of homosexual actions (perhaps a person who has been in homosexual relationships or something similar), or does it refer to the orientation or attraction.

    My, more or less, unguided understanding of "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" would be that it refers to the orientation or inclination (etc) and not necessarily having anything to do with a likelihood towards actions. The concern in the document I cited earlier is that gay priests would not able to relate with men and women properly which is why I understand "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" the way I do which seems to have more to do with orientation than action.

    My personal interpretation seems problematic. You said that LGBT people can participate in a completely valid heterosexual marriage, but if “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” refers to orientation or inclination which prevents a person from relating to others correctly, is that marriage actually possible then?

    I’m not sure if what I’ve said was at all lucid; I hope it was… I hope it didn’t misunderstand anything you were saying or anything else I referred to… if I did, feel free to correct my mistakes. My intention is not to start an argument or debate over whether or not gay men can become priests or if LGBT people can be a part of a heterosexual marriage; I truly am interested in better understanding what the Church is saying/teaching.

    thank you and please take care

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    1. Thank you for your equanimity. The question of sexual orientation in Catholic theology is a delicate one. Homosexuality, the specific noun, is the term that the Church uses in these paragraphs, and therefore the only one I defined; but the inclination, which of course is a distinct thing from acts, does also exist. Pope Benedict's modification of canon law does relate to orientation; however, if memory serves, it is not only subject in some degree to the discretion of the local ordinary, but also states specifically that those who show three years of continence may be dispensed. (Memory may not serve; it's been quite some time since I last examined that particular subject.)

      As to marriage, it would be consistent to introduce a canonical obstacle to marriage, I suppose; but no such obstacle has, to my knowledge, been introduced. I have read that entering a marriage without disclosing a gay orientation is a ground for annulment (as interfering with informed and free consent), but I haven't verified that.

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    2. Thanks for your reply!

      In regards to the three years, the document says:

      "Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem - for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded. Nevertheless, such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate."

      It sounds like it is expected for a person with a homosexual orientation to essentially become heterosexual rather than show continence... I could also be misunderstanding continence or the document's use of "overcome."

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    3. I think -- I may be mistaken -- that there is interpretive leeway here. Judging from the deliberate connection (on the part of the Catechism) of homosexuality to acts as such, I have been taking "homosexual tendencies" to indicate overt acts, rather than simply feelings. But you may well be right; a canon lawyer would be able to give the best opinion, doubtless, but I don't know any. It does bear saying, though, that the Catholic Church has never advocated reorientation (although some Catholics and some Catholic groups have), so I would be a little surprised if that is indeed what's being required here.

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    4. The Church's "teaching" is vague here because the people promulgating the ideas themselves didn't seem to have a very well-thought-out grasp on the various nuances of categories possible here.

      I mean, just look at the Catechism: "Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant attraction to members of the same sex." This is ridiculously muddled equivocation, mixing the concepts of acts and attractions. By the Catechism's definition, then, is it not "homosexuality" if two straight men have sex with each other? Is it homosexuality if we're talking about "exclusive or predominant attraction" but not acts??

      The language of "tendency" and "inclination" implies an ordering-towards-acts, but the concept of attraction or orientation in itself does not. It's like they got caught up in their own overly-precise logic when defining these things and can only think of homosexual people in terms of homosexual sex.

      As for Benedict, he did NOT change "canon law." There is no new canon inserted in the Code about the homosexuality of priestly candidates, no motu proprio was issued, etc. What happened was something like the Congregation for Catholic Education's seminary office issued this sort of advisory document of ambiguous standing that is absolutely equivocal in the same way as the Catechism, which can be winked at or interpreted however bishops like (and they have), and which Francis seems fine with ignoring. It's "canonical" standing is practically zero at this point. It seems like it was mainly issued as a homophobic response to throw a bone to conservatives over the pedophile scandal, to distract from the real causes of that (more negligence in episcopal oversight than any question of sexuality).

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  3. Hi Gabe -

    Thanks for this. I'll try not to give you gobs of crazy.

    I'd love your thoughts on three points pertaining to the language of the Catechism. Know that my intention is to be respectful, and please forgive me if I fall short.

    1. In common usage, the word "depraved" conveys wickedness or evil. There is a sinister connotation to it - e.g., "Arson is the work of a depraved mind". Is that the way you understand it in this context?

    2. The Catechism seems to both dignify the humanity of people who are gay and diminish it at the same time. We are to be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. We are also to be pitied because our of our "condition" - an objectively disordered inclination - presents a trial. How do you personally respond to the language. Do you find it empowering, patronizing, empathetic, condescending or something else entirely?

    3. My biggest question...This part of the Catechism is obviously a moral statement about the sinfulness of homosexuality. Presumably, the church believes this morality should guide society. The language of "...if they are Christians,to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition", then, is intriguing. It acknowledges the hardship that accompanies chastity, yet it only gives meaning to the hardship of Christians. Is the hardship imposed by this teaching on non-Christians meaningless? Do you have any insights on that particular language?

    This is about a tenth of everything I really want to ask. I appreciate the opportunity to pick your very smart brain on all of this.

    All my best to you,
    Ford

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    1. Keen questions all.

      1. I don't take "depraved" in this sense, no. My own guess, judging from what I know of philology -- it's amazing what you get interested in when you're an intensely boring person -- is that the current English significance of "depraved" has more to do with word inflation, so to speak, than with the original meaning of the word. That is one of the disadvantages of Catholic terms for certain purposes: they often retain an archaic meaning of a given word, or even one that is obsolete in any context except theology, to the point that even in English a lot of Catholic theology has to be treated like a foreign language. I take it to be simply a synonym for "wrong." This specific word is not, I think, reused in the portion of the Catechism dealing with chastity; but a variety of synonyms for "wrong" are applied to various transgressions of the Catholic ideal, and from that I draw the conclusion that several of them, "depraved" included, are not meant as technical terms, but included to avoid rhetorical monotony. (The Catechism can come across rather more severely than it needs to at times; the use of the technical term "grave" is a good example: murdering somebody is grave sin, but so is skipping Mass on Sunday, and no moral theologian would draw an equivalence between those things.)

      2. A huge topic. I will answer in two parts. The first part is that I don't primarily think of the Catechism, or Catholic theology generally, in those terms. I think of it chiefly as a repository of truth, a little like a dictionary. That is because I have already accepted the teaching office of the Catholic Church, on other grounds which would take too long to explain just here; but since I do accept that authority, accepting what the authority says logically follows. That doesn't mean I have to like either what is said or the way it's said, but liking doesn't really enter into it. For someone in my logical position, I might as well ask myself whether I found the shape of the Earth's orbit around the Sun empowering or patronizing.

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    2. All that being said, we do have our subjective responses to ideas (whether we think them true or not), and those responses should be treated with respect. My own response is, chiefly, one of pain -- I don't in fact like the Church's teaching on this, and I never have. People who do puzzle me. It presents me with a practical choice between immorality and loneliness; not that all celibates are necessarily lonely (some people are very well cut out for it), but that I have a distinctly romantic temperament. There are of course solutions to this problem, but -- well, I'm only twenty-five. My life is not yet figured out. It'd be pretty weird if it were. The Church's language as such I find to be very empathetic; I have always thought it significant that she makes a point of regarding this as a cross (something for which the Church has profound respect) and does not treat orientation as such as a sin, which many churches do. Now, a lot of Catholics have in fact treated me and those like in very patronizing or condescending ways -- both the orthodox and the dissident -- but that's going to be true in any large group of people. I'll be the first to say that the Church has handled this issue pretty badly, from a pastoral and a PR perspective, but the actual teaching I find as consoling as any traditional teaching on sexuality could be.

      3. This, I suspect is simply a result of what makes people likely to do something. I don't think that the Catholic Church regards non-Christian suffering as unimportant or unmeaningful. But the Christian, on this view, knows what suffering is for and what to do with it: the universal priesthood means uniting our suffering to the suffering of the Cross. A non-Christian either does not know or does not believe in the Cross, by definition; it would therefore be contradictory for them to deliberately offer up their sufferings in union with it. I think personally that there is meaning -- possibly this same meaning -- in all suffering, but the response and attitude of the sufferer will be different depending on the sufferer's views. I think that's all the Church means by making a distinction here.

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    3. Gabriel -

      Thank you so much for your candor. It is a gift and it is truly appreciated. I obviously have profound disagreement with the RC teaching on homosexuality (I'd be happy to have a conversation about why if you ever are interested). But that teaching is undergirded by a logical, consistently applied ethic of natural law. So I agree that it is not inherently bigoted.

      That said, the language, even after examination, still offends and hurts me. I think it is objectively offensive and hurtful. But I do truly appreciate your faith in the church and respect your discipline in following her teaching.

      I don't think you're an "intensely boring person" at all. Or, more precisely, if you're intensely boring then I must be too. I am a bit of a word geek. AND, not for nothing, the title of this post was not lost on me. My closeted, early-twenties self spend hours upon hours trudging through the Wasteland. The remaining hours were spent celebrating Leonard Bernstein's Mass ("how easily things get broken").

      Wishing you good things today.
      With appreciation from the big apple.
      Ford

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    4. Thank you for your remarks; I really appreciate them, and I feel they are as much as I could ask for. And high five about the Waste-Land! It just seemed appropriate. It's long been one of my favorite poems; my father used to have a recording of Sir Alec Guiness reading it, with which he would unwittingly terrify me when I was small.

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  4. I have a somewhat different take on "objectively" disordered, and "depraved." First, though, I have to applaud your general point that we are dealing with language whose writers were trying to be technical and precise, and were not using words colloquially.

    It seems to me that "objectively" is best understood as contrasting with "subjectively." The sinfulness of an action depends on the nature of the act and the freedom with which it is performed and the understanding of its wrongfulness in the mind of the actor. To understand "objectively" to mean "in reality, regardless of the way a particular individual regards it" is not the same as to take it as saying "as any fool can plainly see." I'd argue for the former, not for the latter. But it seems to me that you take on it makes it redundant: disordered in a disordered way.

    You wrote, in response to a comment on an earlier post, of a condition called "pica." This condition used to be called "a depraved appetite." There the term carried no moral connotation whatever. It merely meant "misdirected" possibly with some connotation of being unhealthful. So I think we should understand "depravity" as meaning substantially the same thing as "objectively disordered."

    Still, it's too bad that we have to translate the "Vaticanese" in order to try to remedy the hurt which the vocabulary causes to many readers. Thanks for making the effort — and doing it very well.

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  5. What I get from reading that part of the Catechism is that the Church thinks there’s something wrong with me (not by actions, but by being). It makes me feel judged and misunderstood, but far worse, that there actually is something wrong with me as a human being, something that God wouldn’t like or approve of. I know, as you detailed some, what the Church is really meaning or getting at. However, the language is somewhat outdated and can seriously give a wrong impression to those not more familiar with the Church’s stance.

    I think you particularly make a great point here in getting a straight audience to sympathize with homosexuals by reversing the roles. I could imagine a good deal of straight people feeling incredibly offended and frustrated by such language if applied to them. And this is important. It is important because Christians of every background really do need to know what it is like to be the people they sometimes appear to be (or actually are) either chastising, condemning, or judging.

    You posed the question, “How will you live?” I think this is something most straight Christians (and others) have never considered when telling a gay person it’s not okay for them to be gay or to have homosexual relationships. It’s indescribably hard to live in a way that doesn’t seem suited for you. By my nature, I like other men, and I feel compelled to express that like and live accordingly to it. But the Church says that I shouldn’t. So then what? Am I to try living as a straight man? Am I to find a girlfriend, get married, talk about “manly” things I don’t care or know anything about, and act as “manly” as possible? It’s not me. It doesn’t work. So, where does that leave me? Alone? Is that really how I want to spend the rest of my life? Here’s the dilemma. How does a gay person live and act when the way that seems best to them is put into question and condemned? I don’t think most Christians have ever really considered this. Most I’ve known seem to think it’s just a matter of not doing this or that, but they fail to see how much bigger a deal this really is for the person going through it.

    Anyway, good points. Thanks for writing this, Gabriel.

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  6. The word "depravity" always makes me think of Calvinism. I think it is interesting the Catechism of the Catholic Church chooses that word. At any rate, in my Christian theological experience, Catholic as well as Calvinist, depravity usually refers to human nature, what we are like innately as consequence of the Fall. Etymologically, depraved means "thoroughly crooked". I understand depravity to mean that we are born damaged, so to speak, because the original holiness, integrity and justice, with which humanity was created, was lost and is now transmitted to us only if we ask for it. It is not an essential corruption: through baptism, our sin is blotted out. I therefore take “Sacred Scripture ... presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity” to mean that the Bible uses such acts as examples in its stories to depict one aspect of human corruption and to undergird the overall need for salvation. I think what the CCC is saying here is that we cannot look to scripture to find wholesome examples of homosexuality; it is always presented in a negative light. There are examples in scripture where some good can result if sinful acts are recognized a such and if there is repentance when we fall short. But the acts themselves are proof that we need God's help.

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  7. Brandon writes, "By my nature, I like other men, and I feel compelled to express that like and live accordingly to it. But the Church says that I shouldn’t. ... So, where does that leave me? Alone?"

    I don't think your difficulty differs essentially from that faced by a lot of non-homosexual Christians who "feel compelled to express that like and live accordingly to it", but can't. There are millions of Christians who have had to struggle to remain chaste, because they're not married or are unable to have sex licitly, for whatever reason. It could be because they're not old enough to get married; or because their feelings for their one and only beloved are not requited; or because they're irreemably unattractive and therefore have little hope of ever attracting a spouse; or because they're ill in one way or another, or injured; or because they're separated from their spouse for whatever reason; or because their spouse is ill or has passed away. This is not to mention Christians who simply no longer find their spouses sexually attractive, and are strongly attracted to others, but have to control their impulses and desires just as they would if they were not married at all; or those who have taken vows of celibacy.

    In other words, you make it sound as if every heterosexual Christian has "happily ever after" open to him or her simply by virtue of being what the Church considers "normal", whereas it's unfairly closed to those who aren't. But in reality, "happily ever after" in the relational/sexual sense is closed to a lot of people for a lot of reasons, of which being homosexual is just one of many.

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    1. That is perfectly true, and it's incumbent on us to recollect that periodically, both as an act of compassion and to help maintain perspective. But it's also true that, for cultural reasons, LGBT people have often found ourselves the whipping-boys of traditional Christians in this country over the last several decades, and the fact that we have so few options is far harder to bear when it seems like many of our brothers and sisters despise or reject us. I've been extremely lucky, blessed, in my family and my churches, both Protestant and Catholic, in being exposed to extremely little homophobia at all, and virtually none except from strangers. A lot of us don't have those privileges.

      There is also the fact that, if one is heterosexual, one has a lot of subconscious advantages merely from being part of the vast majority. That's not to say the struggle for chastity is easy for straight people -- I know only too well from the lives of my heterosexual loved ones that it isn't! -- but that one has the support and, perhaps even more importantly, the comprehension of the great mass of people in dealing with it. I mean, a young man bemoaning that the young lady whom he loves is marrying someone else may have to worry about being accused of whining or looking like a bit of a fool, but no one is likely to tell him he's sick and disgusting for being in love with the said young lady, or that divine judgment is going to fall on his country because of how he feels; he probably won't have to explain his feelings to others, or decide when and how much to do so, or wonder how his parents will take it when they find out he's interested in girls. And so on. It's that difficult-to-bridge gap in empathy that I want to bridge, in posts like this one among others.

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  8. I won't argue with you that being homosexual has it's unique challenges. But my point was to address in particular the challenges posed by the Christian restriction of licit sex to the heterosexual married state, which is what I took Brandon to be addressing, especially in the third paragraph of his comment. Lacking "the comprehension of the great mass of people" may be a challenge, but it's not one that is posed by Christian morality per se, but rather by the fact that homosexuals are a small minority.

    And again, a lot of people have problems that are not terribly common in our society and therefore lack "the comprehension of the great mass of people in dealing with it". The great mass of people are not seriously devout Christians strugging mightily to remain chaste before marriage. On the contrary, the great mass of people think it's weird to remain a virgin until married. The great mass of people are not in a situation where their spouse has a long-term illness or permanent injury rendering them incapable of normal sexual activity, or separated or divorced or abandoned by their spouse, and as a result being bound in conscience to abstain from sex entirely. (Homosexuals, while being a small minority, at least have the advantage of the sympathy of the vast bulk of the mass media, the educational establishment and, more recently, the corporate world; whereas Christians (homosexual or otherwise) who take their faith seriously must struggle to maintain that faith despite the daily onslaught of hostile messages from those sources.)

    Thus, I don't agree that homosexuals have a uniquely, or especially difficult, challenge posed to them by the requirements of Christian sexual morality per se, compared with millions of other people. Of course a healthy, reasonably attractive and economically well-off heterosexual man might have an easier time than others entering into the married state, in which he may enjoy a number of years of licit and available sexual activity with a healthy and reasonably attractive spouse (although on the other hand, if they are following Catholic sexual morality she will likely be pregnant and/or recovering from childbirth and caring for newborn infants a good part of the time). But homosexuals are far from being the only ones who don't happen to fall into that category. In fact I suspect that heterosexuals falling outside the category of people who have morally licit sex available to them on a regular basis, make up a larger percentage of the total population than all homosexuals combined.

    In short, the various conditions which make licit sex within Christian marriage a difficult or impossible thing for people to attain are unfortunate, but it's a misfortune that's far from being unique to homosexuals.

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