OBJECTOR: I’m straight, but I have a lot of gay friends, and they tell me that Christians look down on them as if they are not worthy of human respect. And the Catholic Church promotes this kind of hatred by its condemnation of homosexuality.
CATHOLIC: The Church is so big and so diverse that you can probably find a whole range of attitudes among its members, more than a few of which aren’t in concert with Catholic teaching. But if we limit our discussion to the Church’s official teachings about homosexuality, I think I can truthfully say that the Catholic Church does not hate gays nor condemn homosexuality.
OBJECTOR: Then how come the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity” (CCC 2357)? Calling someone depraved sure sounds like hate speech to me.
CATHOLIC: Homosexual acts are depraved, but that’s not the same as saying that homosexuals are depraved. The Church, basing itself on human reason, says that in moral questions we must distinguish between the act and the person committing the act. Homosexuals have the same intrinsic dignity as all other human beings. Christ died for them as much as for you and me, and God loves them no less.
OBJECTOR: Well, I think the “hate the sin, love the sinner” routine is empty rhetoric. Most gay people I know who are Catholic or who have attended a Catholic church feel condemned by the Church.
CATHOLIC: Yes, unfortunately, people tend to dislike other people whose behavior they consider immoral. But we still should seek the ideal of loving every human being while not viewing that person’s every act as morally acceptable. The Catechism says that homosexual people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC 2358).
OBJECTOR: Okay, if we’re going to accept a person with respect, we must also accept and respect his actions.
CATHOLIC: No, I don’t see how we could have a society that is both just and compassionate if we did that. Say a man commits murder: We all agree that murder is one of the most heinous acts imaginable. But when we try to determine whether the murder is in the first or second degree, we take several factors into consideration, such as the age of the murderer and his state of mind at the time. In other words, we have implicitly distinguished between the act and the person whose level of punishment depends on a number of other factors.
OBJECTOR: That distinction may be necessary in a court of law. But with gay behavior, we’re talking about something so essential to a person’s self-identity that you really can’t make that distinction. I say the right to engage in same-sex relations is what makes the person.
CATHOLIC: And I say defining a person by his sexual behavior is unjust. Look, a man who has developed a habit of masturbation might feel that it’s part of his identity. He cannot imagine his life without this practice. But if he seeks help, he begins to realize that his sexual identity does not depend on acts of self-stimulation.
OBJECTOR: The Church doesn’t condemn the masturbator like it condemns the gay person.
CATHOLIC: Actually, the Church’s sees homosexual and masturbatory acts as in the same category. Dealing with masturbation, The Catechism calls masturbation “an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (CCC 2352). Why don’t we ever hear about chronic masturbators feeling hated as a group by the Church like you say gays do? The Church makes the same moral judgment about masturbation that it makes about homosexual acts.
OBJECTOR: Look, there’s nothing wrong with any type of sexual pleasure as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. If we are made in the image of God, as you Catholics believe, then God must be a sadist, since he commands us to suppress an overwhelming desire that presumably he gave us in the first place.
CATHOLIC: I think if you understand the principle underlying the Catholic position, you’ll see it’s not sadistic.
OBJECTOR: I think I do understand it: No one’s supposed to have any sex outside of marriage.
CATHOLIC: That’s true, but the morality of that rule can be discovered from observation that sexual love requires certain conditions, and the absence of these conditions results in the abuse of sexuality. The Church simply reinforces the morality we discover by our natural reason.
OBJECTOR: It’s nonsense to speak of “discovering” moral rules. Moral rules are made up by society.
CATHOLIC: You believe that morality is determined by a society, or even by an individual, while I believe that morality can be discovered through the use of human reason. Furthermore, that morality is of a universal nature, because it has to do with universal human action, not just the actions of a certain culture.
OBJECTOR: You can’t just assume this position. I want to hear how you can defend the Church’s position that sex outside of marriage is wrong.
CATHOLIC: There are several paths that lead to the same conclusion. Let’s look at what makes a cohesive society. A moment’s reflection tells us that a society must have social groups in which the individuals are loyal to the group. The most basic natural social group is the family. Without it, societies disintegrate. So the moral norm that emerges from these observations is that of fidelity. Since human beings have the freedom to lie and betray, it’s in the best interest of society to encourage fidelity. Now, it should be obvious that sexual fidelity is an essential part of keeping a family together. One way we know that sex outside of marriage is wrong is by watching what happens when it is indulged in. Families break down, and this has a ripple effect on society that makes it less cohesive.
OBJECTOR: Here again is where the Catholic Church makes no sense. If it’s really interested in family cohesiveness, why does it oppose gay marriage? Gays are just as capable of being faithful as straight people are.
CATHOLIC: For now let’s accept that claim. But fidelity is only one part of the moral picture. We have to examine the nature of sex itself.
OBJECTOR: And as a heterosexual you can’t do that because you can’t truly know the nature of gay sex acts.
CATHOLIC: Yes, but we don’t need an experiential knowledge of certain acts to discuss their morality. You may have no experiential knowledge of Catholic liturgy, but I wouldn’t say that disqualifies you to speak about Christian worship. If you were to make mistakes about liturgy, I would try to correct them, but I wouldn’t try to silence you ahead of time.
OBJECTOR: Fine. How do you know that heterosexual acts are okay and homosexual acts are wrong?
CATHOLIC: From two things: human biology and what takes place in the act itself. Let’s look at human biology, trying for a moment to put aside our cultural biases about contraception. When a husband and a wife in a faithful marriage engage in sexual love, they are united more closely to one another. Reflection on human experience shows this. But human biology shows that such acts are also capable of bringing forth new human life. In other words, sex between a man and a woman is inherently unitive and procreative.
OBJECTOR: Homosexual acts are also unitive. Two men can be just as much in love through their sex as a woman and a man can.
CATHOLIC: Some people would dispute this claim, but I will not try to argue against it for now. I do think we can agree that homosexual acts can never be procreative.
OBJECTOR: Why is it necessary for a sex act to be procreative to be morally legitimate? Rape is capable of bringing offspring, but I doubt you would say that rape is morally acceptable.
CATHOLIC: Rape is also a heinous act but for a different reason. It violates the freedom of one of the persons, and acting freely is an essential part of making a sex act legitimate. But homosexual acts are sinful because they violate at least one of the two principles we glean from a natural analysis—namely, that these acts should be procreative.
OBJECTOR: There’s no reason that sex has to be procreative to be morally acceptable. Heterosexual couples who use contraception are not procreative, and yet I presume their act is not considered morally depraved.
CATHOLIC: Have you really examined your assumption that a sex act does not have to be procreative? I suggest it’s because our culture assumes the legitimacy of contraception without examination. Most people think of the sex act as separated from procreation because they start from the contraceptive mentality of our culture today. In fact, I would offer this analysis: As a culture, we have come to see homosexual acts as legitimate only because we first separated the sex act from procreation through a contraceptive mentality.
OBJECTOR: Contraception is sinful as well? I know a lot of Catholics who would disagree with that.
CATHOLIC: That’s a subject for another day. I only want you to understand that our cultural separation of sex and procreation has been the groundwork for making homosexual acts appear legitimate. In fact, both a willful act of contraception and a willful act of same-sex relations are morally wrong.
OBJECTOR: I still say that the Catholic Church condemns people who are merely enjoying the sexual powers that God presumably put in them and all because they don’t stay within the narrow confines of heterosexual marriage.
CATHOLIC: The Church’s intention is never to condemn people. It is only to help them see the path to true happiness. And because we as human beings don’t always know or choose the path to happiness, the Church invites us to receive God’s forgiveness for past failures and receive strength to follow the path again. By engaging in an analysis of the human person and human sex acts, the Church is convinced of this truth. What brings people happiness is living in faithful relationships that honor the human body and use it for the purposes for which it was made. When we leave this path, we find ourselves ultimately unhappy and unfulfilled.