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Authentic Freedom and the Homosexual Person | Dr. Mark Lowery | Part 2 | Part 1

Couples who struggle with infertility are poignantly aware of how intrinsic the procreative dimension is for their own commitment. They are profoundly honest in listening to and responding to the language of the body, and hence are courageous witnesses of that language. Listen to them: they tell us that profound permanent unity, valuable in itself, is connected to children. Some factor from the outside, beyond their control, prevents them from having children. But their permanent unity is a procreative kind of unity, their conjugal acts are procreative kinds of acts. (In this sense, their progeny is procreativity itself.) They could turn to the new birth technologies, but here too they listen to and affirm the language of the body. The conjugal act, profoundly unitive, is a procreative kind of act, and the gift of the child is to be profoundly linked to the spouses' incarnate gift of self in that conjugal, not merely copulatory, act. Infertile couples can shock us out of our complacency, our tendency to think of the child as a right. They know supremely what we tend to see dimly, that the child is a gift. That's how God works through human nature, and that nature itself is a gift of the Creator--hence, we say that bodily nature speaks a transcendent language to us. The infertile couple sees this giftedness all the more poignantly through the lens of their pain, and hence more boldly than others they proclaim the truth of participatory theonomy. The homosexual person likewise can profoundly proclaim participatory theonomy: marital friendship is itself a great gift, not a right. The fallen condition--which is the root of all disorders--is said to be somewhat of a felix culpa, a happy fault; the distortions that result from it make us more aware than ever of the giftedness of nature. Our fallenness alerts us to and orients us toward participatory theonomy, the voice of God speaking through nature, a voice deeply respective of our personal dignity.

Data from Divine Revelation

Thus far we have focused on the natural transcendent meanings that inhere in the body, particularly in the generative faculties. Revelation--Scripture and Tradition as interpreted by the Magisterium--takes us a step further by placing the male/female relationship in a liturgical context. A properly ordered heterosexual relationship is a liturgical event because it is a mirror image--a sacrament--of the covenant between God and mankind, between Christ and the Church. Many biblical texts point to this imaging (Hosea; Isaiah 62:4-5; Jeremiah 7:34, 31:31; Psalm 88:26; Mt 9:15; John 3; Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 21:2) The unity of the spouses images God's permanent and exclusive unity with his people, and the procreativity of the spouses images God's generosity, particularly the outpouring of his own Trinitarian life into our being (grace). In short, the body speaks the language of the covenant. Since the covenant between God and man culminates in the redemptive work of Christ, sacramentally re-presented in the Eucharist, there is a close reciprocity between marriage and the Eucharist. The Eucharist is marital (God marries his people) and marriage is Eucharistic (a sacrament of the covenant). The language of the body is not only natural, it is also sacramental.

It is due to this profoundly personal sacramental meaning of the body that we find a consistent teaching about homosexuality in the Bible (Gen 3; Gen 19:1-11; Lev 18:22 and 20:13; 1 Cor 6:9; Rm 1:18-32; 1 Tim 1:10) and throughout the Catholic tradition, wherein this teaching is infallibly taught by the ordinary universal episcopal magisterium. But again, homosexual acts are not wrong because of this consistent pattern of teaching; rather, this pattern is consistent precisely because homosexual acts are not friendly to our nature. Our very being partakes in God's loving plan, and his law, rather than being capricious and heteronomous, reflects that plan. The Judeo-Christian tradition must be articulated through the lens of participatory theonomy.

It is in this context that the arguments of John Boswell and others are best met. They argue that there is no ethical condemnation of homosexual acts in the Bible. Rather, the condemnations must be seen in the light of ritual impurity--homosexuality is condemned because of its use in cultic worship practices, as found in Canaanite religions and then imitated in ancient Israel. The best way to meet Boswell's argument is to grant for a moment that the Old Testament prohibitions refer to idolatrous worship practices, that homosexual acts are wrong because they are used liturgically in false worship of false gods and goddesses. That's just the point--homosexual acts are, in a sense, in and of themselves "liturgical" acts, inextricably reflective of idolatry. These acts are wrong precisely because they are "inverted sacraments." Just as the ethical conduct in an ordered marriage images the covenant, so too the unethical conduct of homosexuality is a false image for the covenant, or images a skewed understanding of man's relation to God. The reason why sexual practices are used culticly (sacramentally) is precisely because that ordered or disordered ethical activity itself is an image of the true or false relationship between man and God. In response to Boswell, then, we can say that the Old Testament does not condemn ritual usage of homosexuality, leaving other uses to the side. Sexuality speaks a "liturgical" language, and thus to condemn the ritual usage of homosexual acts is to condemn homosexual acts in themselves. Most importantly, the condemnation is not a heteronomous end in itself; it points us, along the route of participatory theonomy, to the full sacramental/liturgical outgrowth of respecting the natural language of the body.

The Societal/Legal Dimension

The homosexual rights movement asks, "Why can't you just let us do what we--consenting adults--want to do? How does that harm you?" Any criticism of homosexuality is presented as tantamount to unjust discrimination. You are suddenly committing a crime as heinous as racism or sexism. The answer to this objection must be made from within the framework of participatory theonomy.

Although it looks like we are speaking of freely chosen activity between consenting adults, that is only half the picture. Anyone who succumbs to activity contrary to the natural law does not, in a certain sense, really want to do so, and hence he does so "involuntarily," using that word in the deepest sense. Of course the person has free will, and his act will be voluntary in the sense that it stems from that will. But he is using his free will wrongly, not in accord with his nature. This wrong use is in the context of his disorder--hence, the sense of desperation. He feels he wants to act contrary to nature, but he doesn't need to; it is not in his best interest as a person; it can't make him authentically free. That is why we say to our friends, "You don't really want to do that" right at the moment they are "voluntarily" doing something contrary to their nature as persons. Participatory theonomy shatters the illusion by which we tell ourselves, "Consenting adults can do what they want, as long as its voluntary and as long as they don't hurt anyone else." It isn't authentically free, and it is profoundly harmful.

The rewards society offers to married couples must be seen in this light. As Michael Pakaluk notes: "Because the friendship of marriage results in children, and it is a burden of sorts to raise children, and because society benefits greatly if this is done well, it is usual for society to separate out the friendship of marriage from other friendships, to give it special recognition, and to award it distinctive benefits." [16] If society were to give similar benefits to homosexual persons, then it would have to give the same benefits to any sets of friends that so desired them! Instead, society tries to protect what is in everyone's real best interests.

To grant a special set of rights to homosexual persons would work against those real interests. Crimes violating the legitimate rights of homosexual persons are intolerable. "But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational eruptions increase." [17]

As the saying goes, no one has a right to do what is wrong. "What is wrong" is that which is unfriendly to our nature, that which short-circuits our full participation in the meaning-laden nature given to us as embodied human persons. The homosexual person may initially recoil at the perspective presented here, but that is because he easily confuses human nature with what "feels natural" or what "comes naturally"--in his case, the powerful desire to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same sex. He is only following the cue given by secular culture, which has bombarded him since adolescence with the view that human fulfillment is tied to whatever form of sexual "satisfaction" "comes naturally." By habitually following what "comes naturally" he has used his free will wrongly, and has become enslaved. The path out of this desperation, toward authentic freedom, comes in participating in the caring plan that God has built into his nature, and participation made possible by the shining grace of Christ who has "set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence." [18]

This article originally appeared in Catholic Dossier (March/April 2001).


[1] The strategy is analogous to that of the pro-life organization CareNet. Their research found that the excellent arguments offered by the pro-life cause for the personhood of the human fetus did not meet the existential situation of many women considering abortion, who perceived the unborn child, despite his personhood, to be a threat to their lives.

[2] This is the suggestion of Fr. John Harvey, a genuine modern-day hero when it comes to genuine care for homosexual persons. His most recent book is The Truth About Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996).

[3] In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association reversed its designation of homosexuality as a disorder, under pressure from the National Gay Task Force. See Elizabeth Moberly, "Homosexuality and Hope," First Things 71 (March 1997), 30-33, at 30.

[4] William Main, "Gay But Unhappy," Crisis (March 1990), 32-37, at 36. This is an excellent summary of van den Aardweg's insights. His most accessible book for the laymen is Homosexuality and Hope (Ann Arbor: Servant Books).

[5] World, May 20, 2000, 51-54. See the work of Jeffrey Satinover, Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), especially chapter 5 on twins.

[6] Jeffrey Satinover, "The Biology of Homosexuality: Science or Politics?" in Christopher Wolfe, ed., Homosexuality and American Public Life (Dallas: Spence, 1999), 3-61.

[7] See Fr. John Harvey, The Truth About Homosexuality, chapter 4, for an excellent overview of the many practitioners.

[8] "The Cause and Treatment of Homosexuality," Catholic World Report (July, 1997), 51-52.

[9] See the excellent chapter in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity called "Morality and Psychoanalysis."

[10] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, no. 11. Hereafter PC.

[11] This realization might play an important role in reparative therapy itself, as a central antidote to the sense of "self-pity-become-neurotically habitual" that some theorize is one of the central causes of the disorder. See Main, "Gay But Unhappy."

[12] PC, no. 11.

[13] PC, no. 11.

[14] See Veritatis Splendor, nos. 47-53, the pope's response to those theologians who claim that Catholic teaching regarding sexual morality succumbs to a brute biologism whereby moral laws are automatically spun out of mere biological laws. The heart of Catholic moral teaching does not fallaciously deduce a moral "ought" from only a biological "is."

[15] As Richard John Neuhaus notes ("Love, No Matter What," in Wolfe, Homosexuality, p. 245), most people are disgusted, in an intuitive and pre-articulate way, by "what active homosexuals do." So too are many among the 2 percent of the population that is homosexually oriented. (The 10 percent figure from the earlier Kinsey Report was fallacious.)

[16] "The Price of Same-Sex Union," Catholic World Report (July, 1997), 49. Also see Family, Marriage and "De Facto" Unions, Pontifical Council for the Family (2000).

[17] PC, no. 10.

[18] VS, no. 103.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Excerpts, & Interviews:

Homosexual Orientation Is Not a "Gift" | James Hitchcock
Can I Quote You On That? Talking to the Media About Homosexuality and the Priesthood | Mark Brumley
The Truth About Conscience | John F. Kippley
Marriage and the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Rev. Michael Hull, S.T.D.
Viagra: It's Not Just for Old Guys Anymore | Mary Beth Bonacci
Practicing Chastity in an Unchaste Age | Bishop Joseph F. Martino
Kinsey: Dedicated Scientist or Sexual Deviant? | Benjamin Wiker

Dr. Mark Lowery teaches moral theology at the University of Dallas. His articles have appeared in scholarly journals such as Communio, Faith and Reason, the Catholic Social Science Review, and the Irish Theological Quarterly, and in such popular periodicals as the New Oxford Review, The Catholic Faith, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Envoy, and Social Justice Review. He is the author of Living The Good Life: What Every Catholic Needs to Know About Moral Issues (Charis, 2003).

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!


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