“I don’t understand everything I know,” a favorite uncle of mine used to say. That phrase came to mind when I saw a recent report that Bishop Antonio Carlos Cruz Santos of Brazil said in a July 30 homily that homosexuality is a “gift from God.”
Bishop Cruz surely knows the Church’s authentic teaching on homosexuality, but his equating homosexuality with “gift,” along with some of his subsequent assertions, suggest that perhaps he doesn’t fully understand that teaching. If so, he’s not the only Catholic who doesn’t. Let’s try to offer some “clarity in charity” so we can better understand what we all claim to know, and why Bishop Cruz’s assertions may not be error-free.
The issue confronting us is two-pronged. First, we need to look at the claim that the homosexual orientation is not a “choice” but rather something a person “discovers.” Second, we need to address a logical consequence of that claim: that loving, exclusive same-sex relationships should be promoted as good for those with same-sex attraction.
Bishop Cruz said: “If [homosexuality] is not a choice, if it is not a disease, in the perspective of faith it can only be a gift.” To “understand what we know” in this case, we first need to make a crucial distinction between the ideology of orientation and the experience of sexual attraction.
Claiming for oneself a specific sexual orientation is assuredly a choice. The ever-growing sexual orientation-and-identity spectrum is a human construct—an ideology that purports to say something meaningful about our experiences of sexual attraction. In contrast to the many sexualities it presents, the Church tells us clearly that there is only one sexuality—ordered toward the conjugal love of man and woman (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2360). And there are only two sexual identities: man and woman.
What is not a choice is the experience of same-sex attraction that arises, unwilled, from within the passions of the human person. Rather than constructing the attractions into a false sexual identity, we need to understand them for what they really are.
This means recognizing that, although homosexuality is not a physical illness, neither is it a sign of health, for it is not ordered to the good of human nature. The Church teaches that homosexual inclinations contradict the God-given authentic sexual inclination toward other-sex attraction and procreation (CCC 2357). That inclination is part of human nature; every person is born this way. Whatever gives rise to the homosexual inclination—theories differ—might not be a virus that causes a disease in the body, but it is a wound to the soul: distorting and disordering our appetites, emotions, and attractions. How can such a thing be a gift from God?
We see, then, that just because something isn’t a choice or a disease doesn’t necessarily make it a gift. Addictions, for example, can deprive us of our full capacity to make free choices, but they are not gifts. Being prone to angry outbursts isn’t a disease, and it’s not what we would choose for ourselves, but that doesn’t mean it’s a gift!
With this in mind, something else Bishop Cruz hinted at is worth examining. He said that, although same-sex attractions are not chosen, a person who experiences them can choose to live either promiscuously or “in a dignified, ethical way.” Saying that much is not wrong, but we must not infer that it would therefore be ethical for such a person to be in a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex as long as it was “dignified”—meaning, perhaps, that it was exclusive, loving, and non-promiscuous.
Indeed, some claim that just such a relationship would count as authentic chastity for the “gay” person, just as marital relations are chaste for the “straight” person.
Although I don’t claim that Bishop Cruz thinks this way, his statement presents an opportunity to clarify that those who do think this way are profoundly mistaken and appear not to “understand everything they know” about chastity.
Such thinking is internally consistent only from the standpoint of its erroneous foundation on the ideology of orientation and the notion that if God “gifts” certain persons with homosexual attractions, then he must want them to be able to act on them. Otherwise, they say, God is cruel—intentionally creating people with certain desires but forbidding them their object. (Similarly, they might say that the Church is cruel for forbidding same-sex marriages, thus forbidding gay people their only avenue for licit expression of their God-given attractions.)
Unfortunately, this logic is precisely backwards. Because we already know, from reason and revelation, that the acts associated with homosexuality are acts of “grave depravity” (CCC 2357) we should, even from common sense alone, be able to conclude that there is no possible way that God would give someone the “gift” of desiring such acts.
Jesus himself notes that no loving father gives us snakes and scorpions when we ask for fish or eggs (Luke 11:11-12). So, it’s simple: if the acts themselves are contrary to our spiritual and physical health, then the desire for those acts cannot possibly come from God.
There is no chaste form of gay sexual couplehood or same-sex “union.” The only authentically chaste, non-promiscuous choice for a person with same-sex attraction is the same choice available to those who don’t have same-sex attraction. Sexual relations are chaste insofar as they occur in a marriage between one man and one woman. All single persons—regardless of the attractions they experience—are, to the last man and woman, called to the exact same “dignified, ethical” standard of chastity.
So, let’s be sure we do indeed understand everything we know about God’s plan for sexuality. There is one sexuality. There are two sexual identities. Sex is for marriage. Marriage is for a man and a woman.
And, importantly, anything and everything that draws us away from these simple truths is assuredly not a gift from God.