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Roman Catholicism & Homosexuality

An Unusual Relationship

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The Roman Catholic Church has an unusual relationship with homosexuality. Traditional Catholic doctrine on homosexuality has been one of total rejection: sexuality is supposed to be a matter between males and females only. That has changed in the 20th century as behavioral research revealed that sexual orientation was not necessarily a matter of choice. Today the Catholic position has become somewhat conflicted: homosexuality is natural and even biological, but still disordered.

This has become a critical distinction for the Catholic Church because theological teaching dictates that sins only exist when personal choice also exists — thus, if one’s sexual orientation is not chosen, then it cannot also be sinful. It doesn’t matter if the orientation is caused by genetics or is caused by environmental conditions in childhood: the end result is a set of inclinations which are not freely chosen, and, hence, not sinful.

This is does not mean, however, that the Catholic Church has begun to approve of homosexuality. On the contrary, disapproval remains and continues to be quite strong — yet the focus has shifted. Homosexual behavior is still regarded as a sin because it is obviously something which a person chooses to do and can choose not to do. Homosexual orientation may not be treated as a sin anymore, but it is treated as a disorder.

The Catholic Church’s official position on homosexuality can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    2358. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is 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.
    2359. 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.

What’s particularly interesting about the Catholic position on homosexuality is how intimately connected it is with the Catholic position on birth control. Because the connection is so fundamental, any shift on the Catholic description of homosexuality as “disordered” would risk undermining the Catholic opposition to “artificial” contraception like birth control pills, condoms, and sterilization. Thus, it may be that one of the most important reasons why the Roman Catholic Church remains locked into their opposition to homosexuality may have nothing to do with homosexuality itself.

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