Same-sex attractions: Part II - The Church’s pastoral responseFATHER PAUL SCALIA
Many myths surround the issue of homosexuality. Some of them arise from ignorance, some from misguided compassion, and some from the misinformation and propaganda of the radical homosexual community.
Another myth: Homosexuality is genetic. This is found in the claim, "I was born this way." Now, some may sincerely feel that way. But a feeling, no matter how profound, does not prove an innate condition. Others, unfortunately, will use this mistaken belief for political gain. They propagate this myth to gain approval for the homosexual lifestyle by claiming that, since it is genetic, it must be "natural" and therefore acceptable. Their argument fails on several counts.
First, no scientific research has established that homosexuality is genetic. Contrary to popular belief, there is no "gay gene" – nor a hormonal or chromosomal explanation. Science tells us only that certain biological factors (e.g. temperament) can predispose someone to homosexual attractions. But that is a far cry from saying that people are "born that way." The origin of homosexual inclinations is too complex to reduce to one cause, but certain patterns do emerge among those with same-sex attractions: sexual trauma, emotional wounds, poor father or mother relationships, poor body image, etc.
Second, it does not follow that if homosexual attractions were genetic then homosexual behavior would be morally acceptable. The existence of something in nature does not exempt us from moral responsibility. Someone who has inherited a genetic disease (e.g. hemophilia) cannot claim that, since he was born that way, he can therefore do whatever he wants. Rather, his inherited condition obliges a certain way of life that can be inconvenient. If alcoholism were genetic (as some suggest it is), we would not conclude that those "born that way" could drink whatever they want. Disorders exist in nature and they place crosses on us as we strive to live authentic human lives.
Another myth: sexual orientations. Although our culture speaks about various "orientations," there is really only one: heterosexual. This is simply another way of expressing the truth that human sexuality is ordered and designed for a purpose. It is oriented toward heterosexual union for procreation and marital bonding. Anything apart from that is a dis-orientation – meaning it is not oriented to the proper purposes of sexuality.
Further, once we lose sight of the one orientation of human sexuality, we simply create confusion. We do not end up with two orientations but sexual chaos. And so now we have a seemingly endless proliferation of "orientations": gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, transgendered, transsexual, queer, questioning, etc. Again, the rejection of the truth about sexuality has not created freedom but dissolution and disorder.
Another myth: People cannot change. This myth is the necessary consequence of the mistaken belief that people are "born that way." In many cases the homosexual inclinations are so powerful and deep-seated that an individual may not be able to understand that they do not define him as a person. He may not be able to understand himself in any other way. Nevertheless, research and experience indicate that, with effort and dedication, a person can achieve a greater or lesser degree of freedom from the attractions and at times even the development of heterosexual attractions. The National Association for Reparative Therapy (NARTH), a group of psychologists, teachers, and counselors provides journals, whitepapers and other educational materials for those seeking to move away from homosexual attractions. For more information, visit narth.com.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Nonsense. This old phrase may have had the original purpose of keeping children from being too sensitive to name-calling. But fundamentally it is false. We all know that words can be extraordinarily hurtful. Or, rather, used in a hurtful manner. Words have meaning and therefore power. No one likes to be called a hypocrite, for example, precisely because it hurts – or angers – to be thought of that way.
For example, in high school the words "gay" and "fag" are cast about carelessly and, worse, as insults. Whether the speaker intends to or not, he can do great harm to a person who struggles with same-sex attractions. Name-calling and simple carelessness can solidify in the hearer's mind the mistaken thought that his same-sex attractions define him. They can increase his sense of isolation, of being trapped, and of shame. Simple human courtesy should keep us from name-calling – all the more so should Christian charity.
As regards language we should keep another phrase in mind: All social engineering is preceded by verbal engineering. Msgr. William Smith, moral theologian at Dunwoodie Seminary for years, coined this phrase. And he was dead on. We see this truth already in the abortion debate. The promoters of abortion on demand coined the phrase pro-choice to cloak the slaughter of the unborn under the very palatable concept of choice. So also the promoters of euthanasia talk about end of life choices and compassion in dying.
A similar phenomenon is at play as regards the issue of homosexuality. We must recognize that particular words that in some quarters are innocent and perhaps years ago were benign now carry a certain political and/or cultural meaning. Gay and lesbian, for example, are politically charged terms indicating not simply attractions but a particular philosophy and way of life. Orientation, as we saw last week, is also charged with political meaning because it conveys that sexuality has no clear purpose and can be used any way we desire.
Some years ago Vatican documents used the term homosexual person. The Church has since backed away from that term – once again because it implies that the person is defined by the attraction. The word person cannot be modified by homosexual for the simple reason that a human person cannot be redefined by sexual attractions.
In discussing homosexuality we must therefore strive for precision in terms. This may be at the cost of linguistic convenience. Popular culture and ease of speech make the less accurate words more attractive. Nevertheless, it is better to speak of same-sex attractions, homosexual inclinations or tendencies. Most of all, we should avoid words and phrases that identify the person with the inclination. It is not enough for us to speak the truth, we must do so in a manner worthy of the truth – in a manner that accurately conveys the truth and respects the hearts of others.
Father Paul Scalia "Same-sex attractions: Part II - The Church's pastoral response." Arlington Catholic Herald (October 13, 2010).
Reprinted with permission of the author, Father Paul Scalia.
Fr. Paul Scalia is Pastor at Saint John the Beloved Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia. He received a Master of Arts degree from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in Rome in 1996 and was ordained a Priest for the Diocese of Arlington the same year. Fr. Scalia has published articles in various periodicals including This Rock, First Things, Religion and Liberty, Adoremus Bulletin, and Human Life Review, and is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Fenwick Review.
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