by The Rev. Tim Finigan Lecture delivered at the Cost of Conscience/Reform Seminar Imperial Hotel, 16th September 1997 I consider it an honour to be asked to address you today as part of a teaching day on the Christian response to the Gay Agenda. In addressing the topic of traditional moral teaching concerning homosexuality, I will refer often to the Catechism of the Catholic Church although you will understand that the Catechism itself refers constantly to and is based upon such traditional teaching. We could see it as a kind of compendium of such teaching. I intend to place the traditional Christian moral teaching on homosexual behaviour and homosexual acts in the context of the traditional teaching concerning love and sex, a teaching that has sadly been neglected in our time with the result that genuine friendship is more difficult for many young people to achieve. It is more difficult because of the confusion of our secular society’s attitude to love. Many people fear the automatic assumption that every friendship will necessarily have a component that is sexually active. It is this falsehood that fuels much of the activity on the Gay Agenda. Traditional teaching on love and marriage In any consideration of matters to do with sex or sexuality, we should begin with the traditional positive moral teaching on love and marriage. This is doubly important because sometimes people have a sense that traditional moral teaching is simply negative on all these matters. It is thought of as repressive, as limiting our freedom whereas on the contrary it is genuinely liberating, allowing the development of good and wholesome friendships without the fear of suspicion that every friendship will necessarily tend to become sexually active. First of all, our traditional teaching is that the creation of man and woman is the highest of God’s creation here on earth. The man and woman were created in the image and the likeness of God. They were told to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The Church continues to teach the goodness of new life and the positive value of the fruitfulness of sexual union. It should also be made clear that traditional teaching is very clear on the equal dignity of men and women. Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is way of imitating in the flesh the Creator’s generosity and fecundity: “Therefore man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” All human generations proceed from this union. (Catechism 2335) Within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, sexuality, it is not something bad but something good and ordained for the procreation of new life and the loving union of a man and wife. The Catechism puts it like this Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between baptised persons are sanctified by the sacrament. (Catechism 2360) It then goes on to quote Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realised in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves to one another totally until death. (Familiaris Consortio 11) Thus our belief as Catholics is that sexual union is something good and blessed by God. It has two purposes, the creation of new life and the mutual union of the couple. In Humanae Vitae, dealing with the question of artificial contraception Pope Paul VI clarified this teaching by saying that each and every use of the marriage act must be open to the creation of new life. That was the reason for declaring the unlawfulness of artificial contraception whereas the use of the infertile period is still open to the creation of new life. Thus if a couple used the Billings method and the wife became pregnant, their using that course of action in accord with the Traditional understanding would be shown by their willingness to accept the new life. The safe period is in that sense still “open to new life” even though the couple would prefer that there would not be any more children for the time being. As a Roman Catholic, I would naturally see this as the ultimate case of the practical requirement of the traditional moral teaching. The wrongfulness of the use of artificial contraception was accepted by all the Churches until the decision of the Lambeth Conference in 1933, a decision which prompted the issue of the encyclical Casti Connubii of Pope Pius XI, the doctrine of which was re-iterated by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. I understand, of course that this point may be controversial but I suggest it to you as worthy of consideration in this discussion which has far-reaching implications. One more preliminary point before moving on to the specific question of homosexuality. It is important for us constantly to affirm and to clarify the point that that traditional teaching in these matters of the natural law is not like a set of rules made up by human beings and subject to change. The mission of the Church is to interpret the natural law faithfully. She has no right to do otherwise. So when Pope John Paul II reaffirms the traditional teaching concerning sexual ethics, we should not see this as his teaching so much as his handing-on of the teaching of Christ. That is the reason for the requirement to obey traditional teaching-not the authority of the Pope as a leader but on the authority of Christ as God made man who sent the apostles to teach the nations everything I have commanded you. The traditional teaching on the nature of the sexual act is fairly straightforward. It is that the act has a built-in meaning, the creation of life and the union of a man and wife. To avoid our inevitable tendency to reduce it simply to an “ideal” which we respect but do not follow, it is specified that each and every use our sexual powers should be open to new life in the context of marriage. Thus, we could summarise, sex is not “for loving” but for family in a state of loving. Original sin and its effects In attempting to live according to the traditional Christian teaching concerning love, we will often find that we are tempted to commit sin. This tendency to sin is widely mistaken as being “natural” whereas it is in fact due to a wounding of our nature. Traditional Christian teaching on original sin explains our tendency to sin without needing to be repressive or to deny the goodness of the flesh. We say that the flesh is created good by God but that it is wounded by original sin so that we have a tendency to disordered desire. The traditional name for this desire is concupiscence. It may be any kind of disordered physical appetite although it is often (mistakenly) used as if it referred exclusively to sexual desires. The thrill of driving a car at excessive speed, causing needless danger to others, is as much an example of concupiscence as the thrill of initiating an illicit affair. This wound in our nature is very clearly described by St Paul in his letter to the Romans: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. [...] For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Romans 7:15-19, 22-24) And again in his letter to the Galatians, Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. (Galatians 5:16-17) Because of this war within ourselves, it is necessary, in order to lead a good life, to take up our cross daily to follow Christ. We cannot hope to lead a truly good life simply by doing what we feel like doing at any given time. The disordered desires that are consequent upon original sin will lead us to sin. In order not to be led into sin, we need to deny ourselves. This self-denial is not, of course a hatred of the flesh or any kind of denial of its essential goodness as created by God. It is a recognition of the wound of original sin that needs to be overcome by our spiritual life and holiness. Consequences of this for teaching on homosexual acts It is obvious that there are many consequences of this traditional teaching. If sex must always be open to the creation of new life within marriage, then it is easy to see that the traditional teaching on the wrongfulness of pornography, masturbation and pre-marital sex all follow. Similarly in the case of homosexual acts, the traditional moral teaching would use exactly the same reasoning. So for example, the Catechism says of homosexual acts They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. (Catechism 2357) However, neither traditional moral teaching in general nor the Catechism in particular is content to leave the matter with a condemnation of sinful practices. If it did, there would be a number of misunderstandings possible which might cause serious hurt and possibly disaffection with the Church. Many people are very sensitive about sexual ethics and it may well be true that homosexual people are discriminated against unjustly, treated as figures of fun or marginalised as people. Therefore, the Catechism goes on to make some further points. In the case of masturbation, an equitable moral judgement (for instance in the confessional) must take into account questions of immaturity, habit and “other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.” (Catechism 2352) In the matter of homosexuality, the Catechism acknowledges the conditions of our own times. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’ s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. (Catechism 2358) This is quite a remarkable example of the way in which the traditional moral teaching can remain up to date without compromising the permanence of revealed doctrine. It is clear, then, that while homosexual acts can never be condoned and are always against the commandments, the homosexual condition of an individual person is not necessarily regarded as culpable. Furthermore, the principles on which the pastoral care of homosexual people is required are clearly stated. The second area of traditional moral teaching that is relevant is that concerning original sin. Part of the necessary Christian spiritual journey of daily self-denial in order to follow more closely in the footsteps of Christ is the requirement of chastity in every walk of life. So also in the case of a homosexual person: Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (Catechism 2359) People outside the Church may of course forget that this paragraph could be applied equally to everyone. It is not saying that homosexual people alone are called to chastity; we all are. It is not saying that only homosexuals can and should approach perfection through grace, prayer and the sacraments; this is something that is true for all of us. The Catechism simply applies to the homosexual person the full and confident traditional teaching of the Christian Church on the matter of spiritual growth. In the case of homosexual behaviour, the teaching on original sin is particularly relevant because it is often said that a person feels that it is “natural” for them to live a gay lifestyle, “natural” to commit homosexual acts. Traditional moral teaching on the contrary would say that the homosexual person, as with every other person, is subject to original sin and that what “feels natural” is not necessarily a reliable guide to what is good. The revelation of the ten commandments and the specific moral teaching of Christ and the Church are precisely given because it is easy for our judgement to be clouded on moral questions. Because of original sin, we can easily be fooled into thinking and believing that a less perfect or even an evil way of life is good because it “feels right”. Question of the homosexual condition A further question does sometimes arise over the nature of the homosexual condition itself. There are debates in the secular world over the importance of genetic and social factors. I think it is unwise to leap too quickly to supposed genetic factors because something which is as socially adaptable as the sexual drive is unlikely to be generally caused by genetic factors and if such is sometimes the case then it may be that those homosexual people in which genetic factors are important are not be typical of homosexuals generally. Incidentally, on this question, the Catechism is entirely non-committal. It simply says of homosexuality It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. (Catechism 2357) This is something which we can see in our own society. With the rise of the militant gay movement, many people “become gay” in their early twenties as part of an alternative lifestyle. We also know that in single sex institutions such as prisons, or boarding schools, homosexual behaviour may be widely practised by people who are not permanently inclined to homosexual affection. We can therefore see the danger to young people of the tactic of some gay groups to get people to “come out” about their homosexuality. A great many people have homosexual feelings at some time or another during the process of psycho-sexual maturing. To get someone in a state of this sort to declare that they are gay actually takes away their freedom. By going public, a person will find it difficult to reverse the statement they have made and return to a heterosexual lifestyle. All of this, however, may be encroaching on other areas that will be dealt with by speakers later in the day. From the point of view of traditional moral teaching, we need simply say that whatever the precise cause of a homosexual condition, it is not objectively in accord with our human nature although the existence in a particular person of a homosexual condition may come about through no moral fault of that person. Of course, it may come about through some moral fault to a greater or lesser degree if a person has failed to safeguard their moral life or if a person has knowingly given in to the temptation to take part in a certain lifestyle or mix in company that is dangerous for them morally. Such judgements concerning culpability are, of course, by no means limited to culpability for a homosexual condition. Many of our traits of character that we now find very difficult or impossible to change may have been brought about by a failure to live the full standards of Christ’s moral teaching at some time in the past. Pastoral approaches Although there are legal and cultural questions where we must, as Christians, stand up and be counted, it is clear that we should also be aware of the obligations we have to pastoral care and spiritual friendship. It is quite correct to say that many people find their homosexual condition a great trial. People sometimes do appalling things to themselves because of their feelings. We have a Christian duty to communion with those who are wounded and in need of compassion, solidarity and understanding. However, it is not generally the case that Christians who follow traditional moral teaching lack compassion. Anti-Christian propaganda often paints a very nasty picture of the character of Christians who hold such teaching. It is possible to find examples of extreme or uncaring views and distort them to appear representative of all traditional Christians. In fact, traditional Christian teaching is best placed to make sense of any person’s moral dilemmas and to find a way out through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. For the priest or Christian minister it is important to be open and accepting, to listen in a nonjudgmental way and in every way to fulfil the demand of the Church to respect, compassion and sensitivity. The Church as a whole also needs to be prepared to accept its responsibility to those who have been wounded by the onslaught of sexual permissiveness in western culture. In my view, the Church also needs to accept some of the blame for failing to teach with courage and clarity what the traditional Christian moral teaching offers as the human vision of human love and friendship. Call to chastity for all of us The call to chastity is one to which we all need to return. The period in the Church of the affluent West since the widespread controversy over Humanae Vitae has not been notable for its confidence in promoting the truly human and Christian values of Christians love and friendship. We need to be more confident. We do not believe that every love must be consummated in sex, nor do we accept that all the sexual activity that takes place, even without the component of violence, it genuinely loving. Many good friendships are spoiled by the greed for sexual expression and many chaste friendships are made suspect, even in the Church because we have lost our vision of genuine and sexually innocent love. Chastity is possible and it is possible for all of us. The whole body of Christ, not only homosexual people must comes humbly to recognise this and accept the full truth of the teaching of Christ as the living truth which makes sense of us, our sexuality and our loving.