Listening to the Homosexual

The Catholic Church is told repeatedly, sometimes plaintively, sometimes angrily, by homosexuals as well as by supportive priests and even bishops, that it must listen to the homosexual. The earnest demand seems to hint at some great secret that will altogether change our perception of the homosexual. It also carries the faint sug­gestion that the church is not only ignorant of homosexual reality but is indeed only now discovering that homosexuali­ty exists. This suggestion, at least, is nonsense. The church was born in the Greco-Roman world where homosexuality was rife and was, moreover, socially acceptable. Unlike Jesus — who spoke to Jews who, already regarding homosexual practice as an “abomination,” didn’t need tell­ing that it was sin — St. Paul, a Roman citizen and Apostle to the Gentiles, was speaking to Romans and Corinthians who were surrounded by it. St. Paul, therefore, found it necessary to condemn, not homosexuality itself but homosex (homosexual practice) as “unnatural” — not what our God-given bodies were designed to do. I venture to doubt whether even the most confirmed homosexual ever quite escapes the underlying awareness that homo-sex is, in truth, unnatural.

All the same, we must listen to the homosexual with love and Sympathy for his pain; but we must listen with our minds unconfused. In our own day, in a single generation, homosexuality has come from being judged a closeted and almost unmentionable crime to a considerable degree of social acceptance. It is no longer a crime. This is as it should be. Since it harms no one else, it is not the business of law. But this decriminalization of homo-sex leads to a certain amount of confusion among well-meaning Catholics — a tendency to think that if it is not a crime it can’t be a sin either. Here the indulgence of a moment of clear thinking must be requested. God’s law (Christian moral law), which is concerned with salvation, has never been identical to or shaped by the secular law of nations, which is concerned with order. True, in more Christian eras the secular law has been influenced by God’s law. But today the secular law, like that of Imperial Rome, reflects worldly values. As Christians our first concern must be with divine law, which, although it does not condemn homosexual inclinations, does condemn homo-sex (homosexual practice).

We must indeed listen to the homosexual, listen with love; this is what is meant by loving the sinner (even though we hate the sin). And yet I must add that a great many Catholic homosexuals do not want to be loved as sinners. Rather, they want to be exonerated. “Listening to the homosexual” often means listening to his plea that if the church calls him a sinner for doing what he very much wants to do, then it is the church that is wrong. It would be right painful (though not impossible) for him to give up the sexual expression of his homosexual inclinations, but it is also pain­ful for him to be called a sinner. He therefore wants the church to discover that, after all, God does not mind homosex. He has one argument against St. Paul — not a “great secret” but an argument that St. Paul himself probably heard. The argument is that homo-sex cannot be called “un­natural” because it is very natural to the 5 percent or more of the population that is homosexual. But we have heard the argument; it is advanced on all sides; and it is implied by the common phrase about homosexuality being an “alternative lifestyle” — a lifestyle, that is, which is equally good in the eyes of God and man. It may indeed come to seem so in the eyes of secular man; but the church, with St. Paul in mind, may still maintain that it is not what God designed us to do.

Let us further consider the argument that if 5 percent or more of the population find homo-sex to be “natural,” it cannot be called a sin against nature or unnatural. An even larger percentage of the population apparently finds divorce very “natural” indeed, despite the words of Our Lord. A quite incredible number of mothers manage to see the killing of their unborn infant as not an “unnatural” act. And the wistful desire at one time or another to murder someone seems to come quite “naturally” into our hearts. Isn’t it fairly obvious that wanting very much to do something is not a guide to its morality? Temptation is right tempting; yet wanting, for sinful, fallen man, does not (as we’ve always known) justify an act in God’s eyes — or make it “natural” in terms of what we were created for. Although the homosexual may truly love his partner (something in itself good), I doubt if any Christian (or even theistic) homosexual truly believes in his heart of hearts that the sterile dead-end of homo-sex is “natural.” It is too obviously not what God intended.

So we must listen to the homosexual with a clear, firm mind as well as with a loving heart. But we must remind him that the requirement of listening goes both ways: he must listen to what Holy Church is really saying. He has but two alternatives if he is a Catholic: he must either defy Christ’s Church, with consequences known only to God; or he must be celibate for the sake of Our Lord. The homosexual may think there is a third alternative: to change the church’s con­demnation of homo-sex through pressure. But this hope, I think, springs from a deep confusion, endemic in our day, between discipline and doctrine. Discipline — the use of Latin, fish on Fridays — can be changed; doctrinal moral law, never.

In our sex-saturated society, where the pursuit of the ultimate orgasm is a good deal more vigorous than the search for the eternal God, celibacy — despite the countless priests and religious who have offered it to God over the centuries — is thought to be the worst of ills. Nevertheless, C. S. Lewis said (in a letter to the author): “I take it for cer­tain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homo. [sic] no worse off than any nor­mal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying.” There are many things harder to bear than celibacy. Blindness, for instance — to lose the mysterious wonder of light and color. We are told to take up our par­ticular crosses and follow Him. The homosexual might find celibacy easier to bear than many crosses others have pa­tiently borne. Including crucifixion.

Some homosexuals urge that because they are truly in love and even are “monogamous” the homosexual expres­sion of that love is blessed. They are right in believing the love to be blessed; but it is precisely the physical expression of it that they are denied. Although it is a startling thought in this age of unrestrained sex, I have sometimes wondered, thinking of faithful Joseph and Mary, ever-Virgin, whether two Christian homosexuals, in love but offering up to God the sexual expression of that love, might not live together in perfect chastity with a great love free from sin.


  • Sheldon Vanauken

    Sheldon Vanauken (1914 — 1996) is an American author, best known for his autobiographical book A Severe Mercy (1977), which recounts his and his wife's friendship with C. S. Lewis, their conversion to Christianity and dealing with tragedy. He published a sequel, Under the Mercy in 1985.

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