The National Catholic Register has just released a news article well worth reading on the 23rd annual conference of the Courage Apostolate, the official Catholic outreach to people suffering from same-sex attraction. This is an age when television anchors can and will accuse Catholics of bigotry in their attitudes towards people with same-sex attraction so it is important to know, understand, and be able to articulately defend Catholic teaching on this important issue. Rick Santorum — as Thomas Peters so aptly points out — walks right into a rhetorical trap in the interview posted above. He deserves enormous credit for his courage but his rhetorical clumsiness fails to make his position clear and convincing.
The Catholic Church teaches that there are three morally distinct components in the same sex issue. Same-sex sexual activity is a grave sin. Same-sex attraction is a temptation that is morally neutral. And people suffering from same-sex attraction are good, made in the image and likeness of God, and loved by Christ to the point of death on the cross.
What is a sin and why is same-sex activity sinful?
A sin is a denial of the highest blessing that God intended for each of us. It is biting the apple and rejecting the joy of human fulfillment of the Garden of Eden. It is also something that mankind is unfortunately prone to due to concupiscence — Original Sin.
Same-sex actions are sinful because they use sexuality in a way that does not orient itself towards the natural unitive and procreative end of the gift of sex. Any abuse of sex — outside the contact of committed love open to new life — is a violation of the natural end of humanity. God designed man to partake in that joyful and life-giving love. Settling for anything less is selling oneself short and violating the true happiness found in fulfillment of human needs. The gift of partnering with God in the act of procreation is a sacred joy and responsibility which, once thrown aside, diminishes and belittles the gift of sex itself.
Why is a temptation morally neutral and why is same-sex attraction a temptation?
Temptations are concupiscent desires that draw someone towards sin. They are morally neutral because sin does not occur until someone consents to the temptation. Furthermore, rejecting a temptation can cause suffering. While suffering is the direct result of sin, Christ hallowed suffering by passing through it — making it co-redemptive. Suffering gives Christians the opportunity to die to themselves with Christ so that they may rise with Christ. Thus, although a temptation is morally neutral, it also creates a path to sanctification. A particular temptation might be integral to a person’s path to salvation.
Same-sex attraction creates a desire to sin. It is morally neutral like all temptations. It creates the opportunity to deny oneself, take up one’s Cross, and follow Christ. Thus, living chastity while suffering from a same-sex attraction can be a specific pathway to salvation.
What about the person themselves?
People suffering from same-sex attraction are good, loved infinitely by God, are made in his likeness and image, and worthy of human love just like everyone else.
Unfortunately, the ability to authentically make these distinctions is lost on some people and ideologies. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists there are “no gays” in Iran (where they hang gays from cranes). Sharia law simplistically insists that you must either endorse the act to love the sinner or you must kill the sinner to condemn the act. Clearly this is radically dehumanizing — to reduce someone’s entire identity to a single sin.
The Left also accepts this premise. They use the terms “gay” and “homosexual” as nouns in order to blur the distinction between the act, the inclination, and the person. They indulge in the same dehumanizing assumptions as Mr. Ahmadinejad — that these people should be reduced to a single set of sinful actions. Of course, the Left insists that in order to appropriately love the sinner you must endorse the sin — enshrining it in marriage.
Some fundamentalist Christians fail to make the distinction between the sin and the inclination — making it seem as if the person is in a perpetual state of sin unless they can purge every homosexual thought from their mind. This may not be possible for everyone since some sufferings transcend earthly remedies and place us with Christ on the Cross. In any case, a “pray the gay away” strategy may result in massive cognitive dissonance.
These dehumanizing oversimplifications of human identity must be rejected. However, Rick Santorum in this interview fell right into the trap of failing to make these critical distinctions. I know that Rick was talking about the act when he answers the question: “Do you believe homosexuality is a sin?” But he must make clear to a less discerning audience that we should love those with same-sex inclinations, acknowledge the neutrality of the inclinations themselves, and reject any “gay rights” agenda built on endorsing the act.