Vol 38 No 4
GodLover or Judge?
A REFLECTION ON LOSS: IN THE CONTEXT OF MATTHEW'S PASSION NARRATIVE
Cormac Nagle OFM
PUBLIC POLICY AND MORALITY
SOME POPULAR MYTHS ABOUT GAYS AND LESBIANS
Frank Fletcher MSC
INTRODUCING HEART SPIRITUALITY
Brendan Byrne SJ
CAN THE SCRIPTURAL WORLD STILL BE OUR WORLD? EARLY MILLENNIAL REFLECTIONS
OF AN AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL SCHOLAR
ON THE RISE AGAIN NEO-FUNDAMENTALISM IN AUSTRALIAN CATHOLICISM (PART THREE)
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
popular myths about gays and lesbians
ATTITUDES TO HUMAN relationships, including sexual relationships, have
undergone a radical change among many in todays society. The old
ideals regarding sex and marriage are increasingly regarded as unrealistic,
indeed harmful to health and well-being. Many believe today that homosexuality
is merely a simple variation of human sexuality to be put on exactly the
same footing and judged in the same way as heterosexuality. On the other
hand, the views of others in our community have hardened against alternative
sexual practices and lifestyles. Homosexuals are derided, sneered at and
condemned as perverts. Prejudices against them are deeply rooted and continue
to cause deep hurt. Perhaps it would be of benefit to have a closer look
at some of these prejudices.
The Bible Clearly Condemns Homosexuality as a Perversion
The Christian tradition has manifested a certain ambivalence about homosexuality,
at times understanding it to be a psychosexual structure rooted in the
personality, more often seeing it as a voluntary perversion. There is
no doubt that this latter attitude has its source in the Bible, which
appears in certain texts to condemn homosexuality very strongly.
Arguments drawn from biblical texts need, however, to be treated with
particular caution (Moore 1998, 227-229). It is well recognised today
that the teachings of the Bible must be understood in their historical
and cultural context. The various books reflect different ages, attitudes
and stages of development and cannot be expected a priori to give a consistent
view on moral issues, including sexual ones.
The specific texts regarding homosexuality are to be found in Genesis
19:1-29 (the story of Sodom), Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Deuteronomy 23:18ff
and Romans 1:212-27. However, modern scholarship considers that these
texts are not in fact very helpful in clarifying the situation of homosexuals
today. Genesis 19 condemns acts of homosexual violence, whereas homosexuals
for the most part act towards one another with a great deal of respect
and tenderness. Leviticus 18 and 20 condemn homosexual acts because they
reflect the association of such practices with idolatry as found in male
temple prostitution (see Deuteronomy 23:18ff; I Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46).
Romans I also describes same-sex passion as a punishment for idolatry.
The exact meaning in Greek of other New Testament texts in 1 Corinthians
6:9 and 1Timothy 1:10 is unclear and may refer to male prostitution and
The Bible seems to assume that homosexual acts are wrong, but it is difficult
to cite specific scriptural texts to prove that such actions between committed
homosexuals must necessarily be condemned (Keenan 2003, 137-139). One
might wonder indeed whether the concept of the homosexual personality
as we know it today comes within the biblical perspective. The biblical
writers were in fact concerned with heterosexual persons engaging in homosexual
People Choose to Become Gay or Lesbian
This statement fails to take account of the complexity of the genesis
of homosexuality, a complexity aggravated by the difficulty of finding
agreement among authors as to its nature and causes. The literature on
the issue displays a bewildering confusion of terms, definitions and ethical
evaluations (Lewis 1986, 4-7).
Although currently there is no consensus among experts as to the precise
causes of homosexuality, few seem to consider the causes to be purely
physiological or hormonal, although the influence of physiological factors
cannot of course be dismissed. In many cases socio-psychological causes
such as environment, familial relationships, education and other developmental
influences have a significant part to play. However, there is little agreement
as to when or to what extent these factors may prove decisive. Seduction
by an adult is often regarded more in the light of an aggravation or affirmation
of an already existing condition due to other causes, but again opinions
What seems clear is that in the vast majority of cases the individual
does not choose to become a homosexual. Rather, the person comes to the
realisation that he or she is marked by a homosexual orientation, and
often definitively. The choice such persons have is related, not to the
presence or eradication of the condition, but to deciding what controls,
if any, they choose to impose upon the tendencies they experience.
Gay and Lesbian Persons are Readily Identifiable
To respond adequately to this common myth it is necessary to have a clear
understanding of what exactly it means to be homosexual. It is important
to distinguish between sexual orientation and sexual activity. Sexual
orientation can be heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual, depending on
whether the person is erotically attracted by persons of the opposite,
the same or both sexes. Homosexual orientation refers to adults who have
an exclusive or very predominant psychosexual attraction towards adults
of the same sex or who wish to express sexually deep feelings exclusively
or predominantly with those of the same sex. Such persons are similar
in every other way to other people apart from the typical structuring
of their sexuality. It is imperative not to reduce the person, whether
homosexual or heterosexual, to his or her sexual dimension. This would
be a serious anthropological, theological and pastoral error. The term
homosexual is not a substantive and its use for want of a better way of
expressing ourselves ought not to give this impression.
Homosexual activity, on the other hand, refers to actual sexual actions
between persons of the same sex, whether these acts be performed by persons
of a homosexual or heterosexual orientation. Sexual behaviour does not
always or necessarily correspond to a persons sexual orientation.
Research indicates that there are different levels or degrees of homosexuality.
Some gays are exclusively homosexual all their lives, while others have
sufficient heterosexual tendencies to be able to relate affectively and
sexually with somebody of the opposite sex. It is also very important
to distinguish homosexuality from other forms of sexuality. The gay or
lesbian person is not a pedophile, i.e., one who is erotically attracted
to children of the same sex. The gay or lesbian person is not a transvestite,
i.e., one who enjoys wearing the clothing of the opposite sex and who
consequently may wish to undergo a sex change. Nor are homosexuals habitually
prostitutes; prostitution occurs in only a small section of the gay community.
These are myths just as much as the popular notion that all gay men are
easily identifiable as effeminate and all lesbian women as masculine types,
and hence these notions deserve to be exploded for what they are
The Catholic Churchs Treatment of Gays and Lesbians is
Harsh and Unjust
Many persons in our community today see the relational value of sexuality
as fundamental and alone important in determining sexual morality. The
procreative aspect of sexuality is discounted as of peripheral relevance.
In this perspective no difficulty is seen in regarding homosexuality as
morally normative for what gay and lesbian persons do in the same way
as heterosexuality is for straight persons, i.e., the criterion of morality
is the quality of the relationship between the persons. Homosexual actions
will therefore be morally right or wrong to the extent that they express
and foster mutual self-giving, caring and personal fulfilment on the one
hand, or on the contrary are simply instances of exploitation, manipulation
and use of another for ones own ends. This approach has become increasingly
popular in contemporary society, even among many Catholics moral theologians
(Keenan 2003, 140-146).
The official Catholic Church, virtually alone among the churches, has
continued to maintain the traditional Christian sexual morality. The lynchpin
of this moral position is that sexual genital actions should be limited
to marriage alone. And in marriage they are justified when they are both
unitive of the married man and woman and also at least open to new life,
i.e., nothing is done of set purpose to prevent conception (Paul VI, Humanae
Vitae, n.10). Pope John Paul II speaks of sex outside marriage as a lie,
since it is not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-giving
(Familiaris Consortio, n.11).
According to the logic of these principles, the magisterium of the Church,
while not maintaining that gays and lesbians are morally responsible for
their sexual orientation, judges homosexual actions to be objectively
wrong in all circumstances. The technical expression used, intrinsically
disordered, indicates the basic reason for this, namely that such
activity does not include gender complementarity and is not open to procreation
(Catechism, n.2358. See Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on
the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, The Congregation for the Doctrine
of Faith, October 1986, n.3).
Such uncompromising teaching about the objective morality of homosexual
actions may appear to some to be unduly harsh, but it needs to be seen
in the broader perspective of Vatican IIs teaching on the inherent
dignity of every human person. This is one of the key emphases called
for by the Council in the renewal of moral theology. In this light the
magisterium insists that homosexual persons must be accepted with
respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination
in their regard is to be avoided, their human dignity protected
and their human rights upheld (Catechism, n.2358). The implications of
this personalism for homosexuals are still in process of development.
It seems, however, that some points can fairly be made.
First of all, it matters much more who one is than what one does. The
person is more central and more important than her/his actions, although
there is an intimate connection between the two. The first consideration
in regard to homosexual persons ought then to be what they should become,
namely, good and virtuous persons. From this point of view the gay or
lesbian person is no different from anybody else. Like everybody else,
they are called to be generous, caring, just, courageous, repentant of
their sins, temperate in their lifestyle, prudent. As Christians, they
are challenged to live by the Gospel, to follow Christ in his commitment
to the poor and in his shouldering of the cross.
Secondly, high among the Christian virtues is friendship, without which
the person cannot grow and flourish. As Pope John Paul II put it: Man
cannot live without love
life is senseless if love is not revealed
to a person, if one does not encounter love, if one does not experience
it and make it ones own (Redemptor Hominis). Deep, strong,
even intimate, relationships between persons of the same or opposite sex,
like all human friendships, are as such morally good (prescinding from
the question as to whether or not they lead to homosexual activity). It
is also true that such relationships of their nature lead to expressions
of affection and cannot exist or certainly flourish without them. In this
the homosexual person is not different from anybody else.
Thirdly, the Church sees conscience as the human persons most
secret core and sanctuary and upholds the right of all persons to
freedom of conscience. Respect for the person demands respect for the
persons conscience, which does not lose its dignity even when, as
frequently occurs, it errs from invincible ignorance (Gaudium
et Spes, n.16). Conscience does not even then lose it because its dignity
is not first of all the dignity of conformity with laws, even those of
the Church, but that dignity proper to the human person, which is to involve
oneself earnestly in the search for the truth of ones personal situation.
The Council also makes the point that no one is to be forced to act against
conscience. For the right and duty to seek the truth of ones situation
and to adhere to it once it is discovered would be compromised unless
persons enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological
freedom (Dignitatis Humanae, n. 2). For the same reason it is never
justified to prevent a person from acting according to conscience. However,
as with all freedoms, the right to follow ones conscience must be
exercised with personal and social responsibility.
Fourthly, what of the morality of homosexual activity? The effort to imprint
the pattern of reason on ones sexuality is an important dimension
of personal growth and development. Homosexuals, like everyone else, must
respond to the universal challenge to overcome self-centredness and control
their sexual passions. This is the task of the virtue of chastity. Despite
its unpopularity and the cynicism, even scorn, that it evokes today, the
Church continues to uphold the ideal of chastity for all according to
their state of life.
It has been noted that there are as many kinds and degrees of homosexuality
as there are homosexual persons. At one end of the scale are those gays
and lesbians who make little or no effort to control their sexual urges
and who are either quite promiscuous in their sexual behaviour or who
become involved in a succession of short-term sexual relationships without
any deep personal commitment. It would seem clear that such homosexual
activity, unless its compulsive character diminishes moral culpability,
is gravely morally wrong (as is similar heterosexual conduct between unmarried
males and females).
Quite different is the case of homosexuals who are so independent that
they do not feel the need for any intimate personal relationship apart
from their families or for whom sexual abstinence does not impose too
great a burden. If they are Christians, fidelity to the Christian tradition
would ask of them perfect chastity in their personal lives and in the
relationships they have, whether with persons of the same or the opposite
A fair percentage of gays and lesbians, however, feel that a celibate
life is quite impossible for them and yet that they experience peace and
fulfilment in a stable same sex relationship, in which there is genuine
commitment and a constant pattern of self-giving. It is inevitable and
indeed necessary that such stable partnerships be sustained by expressions
of friendship and affection. For many these displays of affection will
include genital sexual expression in some form. A truly personalist theology
demands that persons be perceived and accepted according to their situation
and stage of moral development and that their actions be understood against
the background of their pattern of life and in the light of the personal
meaning they may have for them. Persons must be allowed to grow and mature
gradually and at their own pace. God does not ask more than one can at
this moment give. The fact that here a solid and humanising relationship
is in process of development is itself a sign of progress, even if it
does not yet correspond to the full Christian ideal upheld by the Church.
The decision by such persons to remain in and seek to perfect this relationship
reflects their present stage of emotional, moral and spiritual growth
and needs to be judged in that light. It may be perhaps that maturity
may well give rise to a changed perspective and lifestyle.
In regard to their sexual activity, persons in such relationships may
be convinced in their own conscience that homosexual acts are not morally
wrong either in particular for them in their present situation or even
in general for irreversible homosexuals in stable partnerships. If they
are Catholics, they have a grave obligation to listen seriously to the
teaching of the Church and with the help of prayer to implement it as
far as they can. But, having weighed up carefully all the circumstances,
the final decision must be made by them in their own conscience before
God. A long tradition in moral theology would say that in this case, although
their judgment of conscience is objectively wrong according to official
Church teaching, their conscience judgment is subjectively right and they
are without fault. The Catholic tradition is rich enough to be relevant
in helping gays and lesbians who wish to be in the Church to find moral
ways to live as Christians and to be loving persons (Keenan 2003, 148-150).
Finally, a most important pastoral consideration is the grave responsibility
of all Christians to work towards the elimination of the injustices perpetrated
upon gays and lesbians by society. As a minority group that has suffered
and is suffering more than its share of ridicule and discrimination homosexuals
have a special claim on the concern of the Church. There are exhibitionists,
of course. There are those who are vulgar and objectionable. But many
good persons are faced with a constant struggle with the demands of their
sexual orientation. Because they are aware of being different
from other people, they often experience a sense of alienation from society
and may suffer from low self-esteem and loneliness. In the current climate
they may feel that the Church sets impossible standards and be tempted
to abandon the faith. However, faith offers them a challenge and a fruitful
resource. As the aforementioned bishops say:
God sets certain standards, but his power of sustaining is comprehensive.
Christ emphasised his concern for those whom society has rejected. The
many difficulties the homosexual encounters ensure that the strength of
God will be at hand. Christ asks that we take up our cross and follow
him and this may mean that the homosexual person is very near to true
Christianity if he/she responds to this invitation.
Brian Lewis graduated from the Alphonsian
Academy of Moral Theology and the University of St Thomas in Rome. He
has written much on moral issues, and is now in retirement.
Abbott, WM (Ed) (1967) The Documents of Vatican II, London: Geoffrey Chapman.
Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), Sydney: St. Pauls.
Keenan, James F, SJ, The Open Debate: Moral Theology and the Lives
of Gay and Lesbian Persons, Theological Studies 64 (2003) 127-150.
Lewis, Brian A, The Church and Homosexuality, Word in Life,
February (1986) 4-7.
Moore, Gareth, Sex, Sexuality and Relationships in Christian
Ethics (1998) (Ed. Bernard Hoose), London: Cassell, 223-247.