HOW PRIESTS CAN HELP HOMOSEXUALS
by Rev. Thomas G. Morrow
Published in Homiletics and Pastoral Review Dec. 1997
It seems that there are two key elements in trying to help homosexual persons: the offering of a warm welcome as a representative of Christ and his Church; and a cordial invitation for the person to live the good news as it comes to us through the Scriptures and the Church. The two are not, as some might suggest, contradictory, but complementary. Both are pastoral and both are necessary to represent Christ in a pastoral encounter.
Many priests who have heard confessions for several years are not likely to be outwardly disturbed by someone coming to confess homosexual sins. As we like to say to comfort the embarrassed, "We've heard it all." However, meeting a homosexual in the rectory can be quite different. Often the person coming is not there for confession, but is just feeling his/her way in the Church after having been away for some time. The priest has an opportunity to be a great catalyst for this person's conversion.
The first thing a priest can do is offer a friendly hand to his visitor and listen. Some times those coming just want to tell their story, while others may have some anger they wish to express as well. I have found that simply listening attentively, not defending anyone or anything at this point puts the other person at ease. Such visitors seem to find this bewilderingly pleasant.
A certain number may be coming hoping to hear that they should just find a steady partner and do their thing (alas, some have heard this from those who should know better). Others really want to know where the Church stands. And, still others know what the Church teaches and just want to get some help in living a chaste life. For all comers, the best approach appears to be just to listen, perhaps answer questions as they come up and never return anger for anger. Often the person coming has been very hurt in the past, and will respond well to a priest who refuses to mount a harsh defensive attack despite any acrimony expressed by the visitor.
A man who had left his wife and children to enter the homosexual lifestyle once came to me and was moderately angry that he had not left them sooner. He made some strong statements justifying his activity, but I just listened. After a while he asked me what the Church taught, and I dispassionately gave him a complete and careful answer. I also indicated how important it was to try to live this teaching. By the time he left, he was quite pleasant, even friendly. He promised to get back in touch, which he has several times, but we have not yet met again. Whenever he calls, however, I tell him I'm glad to hear from him and I've been praying for him.
It is important that we know before we get a visitor what the Church teaching is on homosexuality. The sources for this teaching are Sacred Scripture, the Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, published in 1975, and the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," published in 1986. Both the latter two are from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The scriptual references are several; I will look at just a few.
In Leviticus 18:22 we find, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination." In Leviticus 20:13 we read, "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives."
In Romans 1:18-32 Paul speaks of the wrath of God coming to those who should have known about God through creation but worshipped images of animals instead:
Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.
Also, in 1 Cor 6:9-11 we find the following:
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes [The Greek here is malakos, literally soft or effeminate. Here it means "catamite," i.e., a boy used in sodomy] nor active homosexuals [The Greek here is arsenokoites, combining the two words arsén, meaning male and koité, meaning bed. Thus, a more literal translation would be "men bedding men."], nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
There are a number of other passages which apply: Gen 19:1-13; 1 Tim 1:10; and Jude 7.
There are various ways that dissenters and gay activists interpret these passages. Some authors, including former Jesuit John McNeill, suggest that the biblical condemnation of homosexual acts is only concerned with cultic prostitution rites or promiscuity, not faithful love relationships. Howerver, as John Harvey points out, the scriptural texts don't justify such an assertion. Also, McNeill's argument that Paul is condemning only heterosexuals acting out of lust, not homosexuals acting out of love, doesn't hold up, since McNeill himself states (probably correctly) that Paul and those of his time did not know of the exclusive homosexual orientation. Furthermore, for Paul to single out those with heterosexual orientation to condemn for such acts is like condemning only non-alcoholics for excessive drinking.
Another, more fundamental biblical argument against homosexual acts is found in Genesis, chapters 1 and 2. The purpose of sex is seen in Genesis to be two-fold: procreation ("Be fruitful and multply", Gen. 1:28) and the union of man and woman ("...this is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife and they become one body" Gen. 2:24). The union of a man and woman is clearly the only Biblical norm for marriage. Furthermore, whenever the scriptures allegorize the relationship of God and his people as marital, God is always the groom, Israel the bride. The two are never reversed, and nowhere are the two spoken of as both male. If same-sex marital relationships were in any way acceptable, we should expect to find an allegory of God and his husband, especially in light of Israel being a patriarchal society.
Declaration on Sexual Ethics
The 1975 Declaration on sexual ethics taught:
...no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to [homosexual] acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people. For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality. In Sacred Scripture they are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God (Rom 1:24‑27). This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.
At the same time the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reminds us that "In the pastoral field, these homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society. Their culpability will be judged with prudence."
Letter to the Bishops
This document, issued in 1986, went into more detail on the subject of homosexuality. First it noted the objective nature of the homosexual condition, quite apart from behavior:
In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration [on Sexual Ethics], however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
It is rather surprising to hear Catholics sometimes speak of the homosexual condition as a "gift." This is not helpful. Homosexual persons who are living chastely generally will be the first to admit that this is no more a gift than near-sightedness or a manic depressive disorder, and far more problematic.
The letter goes on to give the passages from Scripture identified above as evidence of the immorality of homosexual activity. It explains the reasons why homosexual acts are wrong:
To chose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self‑giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living.
As to the culpability of homosexual persons in sexual activities, we are encouraged to be prudent:
...In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance; or other circumstances may increase it. What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and therefore inculpable.
It points out the dangers of the gay agenda promoters:
...increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity...
The Church's ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to the teaching of the Church. But the risk is great and there are many who seek to create confusion regarding the Church's position, and then to use that confusion to their own advantage.
As one who has worked several years in helping homosexual persons to live holy, chaste lives, I can attest that the pressure is indeed powerful, and a surprising number of people acquiesce under it.
The CDF goes on, however, to decry the harm which has been done to people with homosexual tendencies:
It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
Some of the things Christians say about homosexuals as a group are most uncharitable. This is indeed unfortunate. Nonetheless, the Church must be careful not to be lured into promoting the homosexual (or gay) political agenda:
There is an effort in some countries to manipulate the Church by gaining the often well‑intentioned support of her pastors with a view to changing civil‑statutes and laws. This is done in order to conform to these pressure groups' concept that homosexuality is at least a completely harmless, if not an entirely good, thing...
The same document describes homosexual behavior as something "to which no one has any conceivable [legal] right," and warns against legislation which would seek to protect such behavior.
In summary then, the Church is committed to the teaching of Scripture and tradition that homosexual activity is always and everywhere morally wrong, although culpability may vary in different circumstances. Furthermore, one should not be drawn into the gay agenda by those who propose laws which protect the right to homosexual acts.
Are Homosexual Tendencies Genetically Caused?
It makes no difference as to the objective morality of homosexual activity whether the homosexual tendency is genetic or acquired. However, it does make a difference as to the subjective culpability of the homosexual person committing such activity, and it makes a difference as to how we, the Church minister to those who have this tendency.
If the homosexual tendency were genetic, and simply the same desire as that of a heterosexual only for a same-sex person, then the culpability of homosexual acts would be the same as that of non-marital heterosexual activity. However, if this tendency were the result of a psychological wounding early in life, then the culpability for same-sex acts may be less (not eliminated) since the filling of a deep psychological void would appear to increase the tendency toward sexual activity.
Further, if the origin of same-sex attraction is not genetic but psychological and something which can be healed, we who minister to homosexual persons are able to offer the hope of healing to those whom we serve. Such healing could serve, if nothing else, to make living chastity easier. If a more or less complete healing is possible, then marriage would be possible.
A number of studies have been performed over the years trying to determine the source of the homosexual tendency. Some of these studies are surveyed in Fr. John Harvey's 1996 book The Truth about Homosexuality. I will not attempt to duplicate his fine work in the limited space we have for this subject. However, a brief allusion to the most important studies should be of interest.
The most recent studies on this subject, and those which have drawn the most attention, have been one by Simon LeVay, two others by Dean H. Hamer, and another by J.M. Bailey & R. Pillard. LeVay studied the anterior hypothalmus of the brain, known to participate in the regulation of male-typical sexual behavior, to see how it compared in men of heterosexual and homosexual orientation. He gathered brain tissue from 41 persons from routine autopsies done at metropolitan hospitals in New York and California. Nineteen were of homosexual (actually, one was bisexual) men who died of complications from AIDS; sixteen men were presumed heterosexual, six of whom died of AIDS; six were presumed heterosexual women, one of these died of AIDS.
LeVay, a homosexual himself, found that the mean size of one of the four interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalmus (INAH3) was more than twice the size in heterosexual men as in homosexual men (.12 vs. .051 mm.) There was a similar difference between the heterosexual men and the women (.12 vs. .056 mm.). He admits the fact that the small size of this nucleus in homosexual men could have been due to AIDS and not orientation. However he discounts this insofar as even comparing heterosexuals who died of AIDS to homosexuals who died of AIDS, the size difference "was apparent."
LeVay admits, "the existence of exceptions in the present sample (that is, presumed heterosexual men with small INAH 3 nuclei, and homosexual men with large ones) hints at the possibility that sexual orientation, although an important variable, may not be the sole determinant of INAH 3 size. His conclusion is (appropriately) modest: "The discovery that a nucleus differs in size between heterosexual and homosexual men illustrates that sexual orientation in humans is amenable to study at the biological level..." He also concedes that "the results do not allow one to decide if the size of INAH 3 in an individual is the cause or consequence of that individual's sexual orientation, or if the size of INAH 3 and sexual orientation covary under the influence of some third unidentified variable." Against these concessions he points out that changes in the apparently comparable nucleus in rats after an early stage are rare. Other scientists point out that LeVay's findings would have to be replicated by other studies to carry any weight.
Dean Hamer, a homosexual, published two studies, one in 1993 and the other in 1995 in which he and his collaborators found a correlation between homosexual orientation and the inheritance of DNA markers at the Xq28 region of the X chromosome. The fact of Hamer's 1993 study being investigated for alleged fraud by the federal Office of Research Integrity aside, scientists have called for independent confirmation of the results to give them credibility. Dr. George Rice, a neurologist at the University of West Toronto, has tried unsuccessfully to replicate Hamer's results.
Bailey and Pillard
J. Michael Bailey and Richard C. Pillard performed a study using twins (identical and fraternal), blood brothers, and adoptive brothers. Among the 56 homosexual males with identical twins, 29, or 52% of the twins also had homosexual orientation. Among the 54 fraternal twins who had same-sex orientation, 12 of the brothers had the same homosexual orientation (22%). For adoptive brothers, 6 out of 57, or 11% had homosexual orientation. His conclusion was that these results "suggest that genetic factors are important in determining individual differences in sexual orientation. However, the mere finding that the rates of homosexuality in different types of relatives are consistent with some genetic influence does not provide an estimate of the magnitude of that influence."
One critic of the Bailey and Pillard study, Stephen Goldberg, notes that the authors failed to make the distinction "between a predispositional and a determinative psychological factor." He points out as well that although the 52% of homosexuality among identical twins indicates that heredity is important, it also indicates the importance of environment in the other 48%. "Since identical twins have identical genetic makeup, this homosexuality must be the result of environmental factors... It is only when both twins are homosexual that it could be the case that homosexuality is caused by a hereditary determinative factor." Goldberg also points out that identical twins share a more similar environment than non-identical twins and "as a result, their interaction with their parents are as different physically and mentally as non-twin brothers. Thus, the 50 versus 20 percent could well be, at least in part, a function of the difference in familial environment of identical and non-identical twins"
It should be remembered that if one identical twin is bald, for example, the other is bald about 100% of the time. That is something genetically determined. A 52% correlation shows that genetic determination is not the case. The fact that the identical twins had a 52% correlation, versus 22% for non-identical twins could indicate a genetic predisposition, but not necessarily, since, as Goldberg points out, the environment of identical twins (the way they are treated by parents and others) is far more similar than that of fraternal twins. The fact that 11% of adoptive brothers showed homosexual orientation correlation is interesting since there is no genetic connection here. The only connection would be nurture. If one accepts the recent studies, most of which hover at about 3 % incidence of homosexual orientation in men—admittedly a hotly debated number—this 11% is over three times the rate which would be predicted for unrelated men. Thus, if the 3% number is correct, Bailey and Pillard point strongly to environmental causation of homosexual orientation since brothers raised in the same environment with no genetic connection are over three times as likely to share this orientation as those not raised in the same environment.
The Psychological Model
There is not space here to go into any great detail regarding the possible psychological foundation for homosexual orientation. Fr. Harvey has done that more than adequately. However a few points can be made.
Although the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality among the sociopathic personality disturbances in its 1952 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), by 1973 it was removed from the list of disorders. This, according to R. V. Bayer (and others such as Joseph Nicolosi, and Charles Socarides), "was not a conclusion based upon an approximation of the scientific truth as dictated by reason, but was instead an action demanded by the ideological temper of the times." However, a number of psychologists, an eloquent minority, hold that there are psychological origins to the homosexual condition, and that it is possible through therapy to greatly diminish or eliminate homosexual tendencies.
Homosexuality was long understood to be the reflection of a gender-identity deficit. However, no consistently successful treatment followed from this understanding. This may have been due to an emphasis of overcoming an assumed "fear of females." It seems to have been Elizabeth Moberly who set the groundwork for treatment by her concept of "defensive detachment." She identified defensive detachment as the primary block to healing, thereby pinpointing a basic resistance in treatment. She proposed that the homosexual condition was virtually always the result of a difficulty, whether actual or perceived, in relating to the parent of the same sex.
Since Moberly's seminal work, a number of psychologists have reported some success in helping homosexuals to overcome the condition. G. van den Aardweg (1986) reported that out of 101 homosexual clients, of those who continued treatment for more than several months, 65% achieved a satisfactory or radical change. Others who have had success in this area include Joseph Nicolosi, Charles Socarides, Maria Valdes, and Leanne Payne. The possibility of reparative therapy for homosexuality is not something which should be overlooked, in light of the work of these professionals.
Whenever one speaks of homosexuality often being the result of difficulties in the relationship with the same-sex parent, homosexual activists often fire back, "I know plenty of men who have had bad relationships with their fathers and are not homosexuals." This, of course, is a specious argument. It is like saying that since only 30% of those who were exposed to a certain chicken-pox victim caught the chicken-pox, there is no causal relation. No one is saying that most of those who have difficult relationships with their same-sex parents have the homosexual condition. What they are saying is that most of those who have the homosexual condition have had or have difficulty in their relationship with their same-sex parent. And, the correlation, according to the psychologists proposing this connection, is much higher that the 52% correlation for identical twins which we saw in the Bailey-Pillard study.
It should be clear from what has been said that the issue of homosexuality is a complex one, one that calls for some study. It is important that those who love the Lord and his Church, and who embrace his teachings which come through his Church, should get involved in helping homosexuals to live holy, chaste lives. If they don't, those who are not so committed to those teachings will step in and do terrible harm.
Some say, “Why spend so much effort on such a small percentage of the population?” First, because they need us. And, secondly, because what we do in this area has a profound impact on the moral health of our Church. Those who commit to the teaching of the Church and who live it, overcoming great difficulties, are a witness to the whole world that God's grace is powerful, and that even in our oversexed world chastity is possible.
Having worked with Fr. Harvey for several years, I am convinced that he, and the group he founded, Courage, are the best hope for homosexuals and for the Church in helping homosexuals. Courage is the only Catholic group I know of which promotes integral holiness including the teachings of the Church on sexual morality.
But whether a priest, or anyone else, is involved directly with a Courage support group, it is important that we all be well informed, and not get our information from the secular media. It is important that priests know enough about this subject to counsel someone in the confessional, and to refer him/her to a group where he/she can get support in living the faith. The promoters of the gay agenda are well organized, and have an effective communication system. We have a lot of catching up to do.
Christ is calling us to provide real help to those with same-sex tendencies. By his grace, through the intercession of his Immaculate Mother, we can be witnesses of his truth and ambassadors of his love to those too often shunned in the past. They are our brothers and sisters. We must help.
There is another document, published in 1992, "Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-discrimination of Homosexual Persons," Revised statement issued on July 22, 1992 by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (henceforth CDF). This can be found in CRUX of the News, Vol 13, no. 30, 27 July 1992, 1 Enterprise Dr., Albany, NY 12204.
"God, by his infinite wisdom and love, brings into existence all of reality as a reflection of his goodness. He fashions mankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Human beings, therefore, are nothing less than the work of God himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other." From the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," n. 6.
This is not to say a lack of any culpability may be assumed. Except in the most extreme cases, everyone has at least some freedom, and thus culpability for their behavior. For those who are so compulsive that they have no freedom, they still have the obligation to seek help to overcome their compulsion, insofar as their behavior is objectively wrong and therefore harmful to themselves and to society as a whole.
Harvey, John, The Truth about Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful, Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1996, pp. 31-67. Also see Harvey, John F., "Updating Issues Concerning Homosexuality," in the Journal of Pastoral Counseling: An Annual, New Rochelle: Iona College, Dept. of Pastoral and Family Counseling, pp. 12-32.
Three different studies by the National Center for Health Statistics in 1990 found that under three percent of men had had same-sex encounters even once in the previous 15 years. Four studies conducted nationally in the US in 1970. 1988, 1989 and 1990 by the National Opinion Research Center (7,408 subjects) found 1.8% of men had had homosexual sex in the previous year and 3.3% said they had homosexual contact occasionally or fairly often as adults. Five to seven percent indicated they had had homosexual activity ever. A 1994 study from the University of Chicago showed 2.8% of men indicated some level of homosexual or bisexual identity, and 1.4 % of women. For this and other references, see Schmidt, Thomas E., Straight and Narrow?, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1995, pp. 103 and 196, footnote 8.
Bayer, R. V., Homosexuality and American Psychology: The Politics of Diagnosis, pp. 3, 4; quoted by Joseph Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, Jason Aronson Inc.: Northvale, NJ, 1991, p. 9.
"All support should be withdrawn from any organizations which seek to undermine the teaching of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which neglect it entirely." From "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," op. cit., Oct. 1, 1986, n. 17.
There are other non-denominational groups which promote complete chastity: Homosexuals Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous (but not the "reformed" version thereof): also there are some Protestant groups which share the Courage goals: Regeneration, Harvest, Metanoia, and Desert Stream. The latter groups help members to try to overcome the homosexual tendency as well. See Harvey, John, The Truth about Homosexuality, op. cit., p. 167.