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Sexual Orientation and the Catholic Church | Dr. Charles E. Rice | March 2, 2010

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Editor's Note: The following column by Dr. Rice was written for publication in the Notre Dame Observer, which Dr. Rice has written a bi-weekly column for since 1992. He was informed by the Observer that this column would not be published because of concerns about its language and whether or not it would lead to a "productive discussion". Ignatius Insight believes that frank articulation of Church doctrine is the perfect basis for productive discussion, and so is happy to publish the column.

UPDATE: The full correspondence between Dr. Rice and Matt Gamber, editor-in-chief of the Notre Dame Observer, can be read on the Defend Us In Battle blog.



A big issue at Notre Dame a few weeks ago was "sexual orientation" and the status of the Notre Dame Gay/ Lesbian/ Bisexual/ Transgender (GLBT) community. Enough time has passed to make it useful to review some of the governing principles as found in the teaching of the Catholic Church. That teaching includes four pertinent elements:

1.Homosexual acts are always objectively wrong. The starting point is the Catechism: "Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction to persons 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" (No. 2357).

Homosexual acts are doubly wrong. They are not only contrary to nature. They are wrong also because they are extra-marital. The Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, issued in 1986 with the approval of John Paul II, said, "It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally. To choose 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" (No 7).

2.Since homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," the inclination toward those acts is disordered. An inclination to commit any morally disordered act, whether theft, fornication or whatever, is a disordered inclination. "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies," says the Catechism, "is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial" (No. 2358). That inclination, however, is not in itself a sin.

3. "[M]en and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies," says the Catechism, "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (No. 2358). In a culture which tends to marginalize and disrespect those with physical or psychological disorders, it will be useful to recall the admonition of the 1986 Letter that "The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation.... Today the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she... insists that every person has a fundamental identity: the creature of God and, by grace, his child and heir to eternal life" (No. 16).

The prohibition of "unjust" discrimination, however, does not rule out the making of reasonable and just distinctions with respect to military service, the wording of university nondiscrimination policies and other matters including admission to seminaries. As the Congregation for Catholic Education said in its 2005 Instruction on the subject, "the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture'" (No. 2).








4."[M]en and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies.... 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" (Catechism, nos. 2358, 2359).

The positive, hopeful teaching of the Church on marriage, the family and the transmission of life is founded on the dignity of the person as a creature made in the image and likeness of God. The "gay rights" movement is, instead, a predictable consequence of the now-dominant contraceptive ethic. Until the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930, no Christian denomination had ever said that contraception could ever be objectively right. The Catholic Church continues to affirm the traditional Christian position that contraception is intrinsically an objective evil.

Contraception, said Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968, is wrong because it deliberately separates the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual act. If, sex has no intrinsic relation to procreation and if, through contraception, it is entirely up to man (of both sexes) whether sex will have any such relation, how can one deny legitimacy to sexual acts between two men or between two women? The contraceptive society cannot deny that legitimacy without denying itself. Further, if individual choice prevails without regard to limits of nature, how can the choice be limited to two persons? Polygamy (one man, multiple women), polyandry (one woman, multiple men), polyamory (sexual relations between or among multiple persons of one or both sexes) and other possible arrangements, involving the animal kingdom as well, would derive legitimacy from the same contraceptive premise that justifies one-on-one homosexual relations.

It would be a mistake to view the homosexual issue as simply a question of individual rights. The militant "gay rights" movement seeks a cultural and legal redefinition of marriage and the family, contrary to the reality rooted in reason as well as faith. Marriage, a union of man and woman, is the creation not of the state but of God himself as seen in Genesis. Sacramento coadjutor Bishop Jaime Soto, on Sept. 26, 2008, said: "Married love is a beautiful, heroic expression of faithful, life-giving, life-creating love. It should not be accommodated and manipulated for those who would believe that they can and have a right to mimic its unique expression." Space limits preclude discussion here of the "same-sex marriage" issue, which we defer to a later column.



Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Book Excerpts:

Authentic Freedom and the Homosexual Person | Dr. Mark Lowery
Contraception and Homosexuality: The Sterile Link of Separation | Dr. Raymond Dennehy
Privacy, the Courts, and the Culture of Death | An Interview with Dr. Janet E. Smith
Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church | Donald P. Asci
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
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
Kinsey: Dedicated Scientist or Sexual Deviant? | Benjamin Wiker



Dr. Charles E. Rice (E-mail: Charles.E.Rice.1@nd.edu) is Professor Emeritus of Notre Dame Law School. His areas of specialization are constitutional law and jurisprudence. He currently teaches "Law and Morality" at Notre Dame. His books include 50 Questions on the Natural Law; Freedom of Association; The Supreme Court and Public Prayer, The Vanishing Right to Live; Authority and Rebellion; Beyond Abortion: The Theory and Practice of the Secular State; No Exception: A Pro-Life Imperative; and The Winning Side: Questions on Living the Culture of Life. His latest books are Where Did I Come? Where Am I Going? How Do I Get There?, (2nd ed.) co-authored with Dr. Theresa Farnan, and What Happened to Notre Dame?, both published by St. Augustine's Press in 2009.



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