Reports in mainstream media related to the recent Synod on the Family, based partially on an erroneous, misleading, unapproved draft report – have done much to confuse the Catholic faithful and non-Catholics alike. The official, approved, final report is excellent but is likely to be largely ignored by the media.
The purpose of the synod is to focus on a broad array of challenges to the family. That is a family formed by a “traditional,” faithful, permanent union between a man and a woman. Also to be considered is the pastoral needs of those in “re-marriage” situations and forms of homosexual unions. The headlines have unfortunately been only on this subset and have generally been very inaccurate.
Will there be changes in doctrine?
No. None whatsoever. Not on this or any other doctrinal issue, ever.
The Church can not change truth. No meeting of Synod Fathers, the Magisterium, bishops, cardinals (princes of the Church), or the Pope (the Vicar of Christ) can change doctrine. It is simply impossible. In other ecclesial communities (e.g. Protestantism), it is common for meetings to be held and official changes to belief enacted (typically by vote). This is not so in the Church established by Jesus, protected by the Holy Spirit and led by successors to the Apostles.
Marriage and Sex
Valid marriages (formed without impediments) persist until the death of a spouse. No earthly power can set aside a valid marriage. Jesus said “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
All people are called to chastity. Sexual union within a valid marriage, open to life, is a beautiful and proper response to God’s vocational call. All other sexual relations are non-chaste and gravely sinful. This includes promiscuity, cohabitation, “re-marriage” and any homosexual unions.
Civil authorities do NOT have the power in God’s eyes to set aside a valid marriage. Nor do they have the power to redefine marriage as anything other than the permanent covenantal union between a man and a woman.
Is divorce a sin?
Not necessarily. That may surprise a lot of folks.
The civil act of divorce, as a last resort, is sometimes necessary for the legal protection of a spouse or children. Contrary to what the state says, it can not end the marriage. The “divorced” person remains married and is not free to attempt another marriage. There are many faithful Catholics, in good standing, who are unfortunately separated from their spouse in this way.
Since those in valid marriages who civilly divorce remain married in the eyes of God, marrying another is not possible. Those who do, or more properly put – attempt another marriage, remain married to their “first” spouse and are at the objective level, persisting in an adulterous relationship.
However, it is possible (for many reasons) that a marriage — upon very careful and thorough investigation — may be found to be invalid due to impediments at the time it was entered. For example: a brother marries his sister, a person marries someone who is already married, a person is coerced into marriage, or even if a person enters into marriage without fundamentally understanding its nature. In such circumstances that marriage would not be valid and thus never actually existed. The Church provides a means for such investigations and when invalid marriages are confirmed, can issue a decree of nullity (an “annulment”).
Is attraction to others of the same sex sinful?
No. That also may surprise a lot of folks.
All people have equal human dignity. We all face temptations. We are all sinners, who sometimes yield to temptation and sin – damaging or breaking our communion with God. Thus, all sin is disordered. Through our Lord’s sacrifice, we are not condemned by our sins if (and only if) we are sorry for them and seek forgiveness.
We can not “accidentally” sin. All sin is by our consent and purposeful (mortal sin is also of a grave matter). Temptation, not acted upon but rejected, is NOT sin. People who are attracted to the opposite sex, but do not act sexually on that attraction outside of marriage, commit no sin. This is an important distinction between desire and action. Likewise, people who are attracted to the same sex, but do not act on it sexually also commit no sin. There are many faithful Catholics, in good standing, who suffer from attraction to those of the same sex.
Are homosexual unions sinful?
All non-chaste sexual acts are gravely sinful. Sexual acts between people of the opposite sex who are not validly married are gravely sinful. For example: promiscuity, cohabitation and “re-marriage.” Since it is not possible for two people of the same sex to be validly married, sexual acts between them are always gravely sinful.
What can be done about non-chaste unions?
The world wants to change the Church to accept and even celebrate non-chaste unions (so long as “nobody is hurt,” or something like that). The Church exists not to be changed by the world, but to change the world. To lead people away from the false promises of sin and to Christ, to true happiness and eternal peace.
The solution was offered by Jesus to the woman caught in adultery. Our Lord did not bless her sinful union, but offered forgiveness that she “sin no more.” Where there is no contrition, no repentance, no intention or attempt to stop sinning — the separation from God is chosen and the sin not forgiven.
invites humbly begs all sinners, including those in any form of non-chaste union to return to God. Only in Him can we find the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Is the Church homophobic?
Jesus Christ (God) and His Church (inseparable from Him) is not homophobic. That is absurd. Quite the opposite, people with same sex attraction are loved equally to everyone else. It is in genuine charity for all sinners that the Church speaks in truth. When people you love act in ways contrary to their own good, being truthful with them expresses that love. Remaining silent to avoid unpleasantness, awkwardness, name calling, legal action, physical threats, and so on means avoiding those things are more important to you than expressing real love.
The Church wants only the best for all people who are attracted to those of the same sex and for all people suffering other temptations. The universal call to holiness is to all of us, including rejecting temptation to sin – and seeking forgiveness and amending our lives when we fail. When we are judged, we will be judged in mercy for the sins we repented that we may hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:23)
Some regretfully, have treated our brothers and sisters suffering with same sex attraction poorly. In doing so, they have themselves sinned. There is no excuse for that — only the same properly ordered response to all sin (contrition, amendment, reparation). Note that the Catechism says the following:
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
Church Teaching on Homosexuality
My comments above are little more than a summary. So much more could be said! Likewise, the content below is but a sampling.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Always the gold-standard for understanding our faith, the Catechism contains the following excellent text on homosexuality.
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”142 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.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them 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 fulfill 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.
2359 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.
Included in the text are references to two footnotes, #141 and #142. #141 is 4 scripture references: Genesis 19:1-29 which is the entirety on the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This section as properly interpreted by the Church, is on people engaged in homosexual acts. Since it is long, I have not included it here (follow the link to review it). It has sometimes been incorrectly re-interpreted by those not in communion with the Church as being about “hospitality” (really!).
The other three verses are as follows (bold highlights are mine):
Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
We know that the law is good, provided that one uses it as law, with the understanding that law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted.
Footnote #142 is from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled Persona Humana — Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.
At the present time there are those who, basing themselves on observations in the psychological order, have begun to judge indulgently, and even to excuse completely, homosexual relations between certain people. This they do in opposition to the constant teaching of the Magisterium and to the moral sense of the Christian people.
A distinction is drawn, and it seems with some reason, between homosexuals whose tendency comes from a false education, from a lack of normal sexual development, from habit, from bad example, or from other similar causes, and is transitory or at least not incurable; and homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct or a pathological constitution judged to be incurable.
In regard to this second category of subjects, some people conclude that their tendency is so natural that it justifies in their case homosexual relations within a sincere communion of life and love analogous to marriage, in so far as such homosexuals feel incapable of enduring a solitary life.
In the pastoral field, these homosexuals must certainly be treated with understanding and sustained in the hope of overcoming their personal difficulties and their inability to fit into society. Their culpability will be judged with prudence. But no pastoral method can be employed which would give moral justification to these acts on the grounds that they would be consonant with the condition of such people. For according to the objective moral order, homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality. In Sacred Scripture they are condemned as a serious depravity and even presented as the sad consequence of rejecting God. This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of.
Some Additional Scriptural Quotations
(Note: all quotations in this piece – above and below – are from the New American Bible and the links are to the USCCB website.)
Likewise, Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and practiced unnatural vice, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination.
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, they have committed an abomination; the two of them shall be put to death; their bloodguilt is upon them.
Some Statements from the Early Church Fathers
This is a particularly brief sample from a large number of statements.
“You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty…” [pederasty is sexual relations between a man and a boy]
“Conversation about deeds of wickedness is appropriately termed filthy speaking, as talk about adultery and pederasty and the like.”
Clement of Alexandria (AD 193)
“All other frenzies of the lusts which exceed the laws of nature, and are impious toward both [human] bodies and the sexes, we banish, not only from the threshold but also from all shelter of the Church, for they are not sins so much as monstrosities.”
Tertullian (Modesty 4, AD 220)
“effeminate manners are disapproved.”
Novatian (AD 250)
“He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers.”
Saint Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church (AD 367)
Certain men in church “come in gazing about at the beauty of women; others curious about the blooming youth of boys. After this, do you not marvel that bolts are not launched, and all these things are not plucked up from their foundations? For worthy both of thunderbolts and hell are the things that are done; but God, who is long-suffering, and of great mercy, forbears awhile his wrath, calling you to repentance and amendment.”
Saint John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church (AD 391)
“All of these affections… were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males.”
Saint John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church (AD 391)
St. John Chrysostom also argued that homosexual acts are worse than murder and so degrading that they constitute a kind of punishment in itself – and that enjoyment of such acts actually makes them worse.
“Those shameful acts against nature, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished. If all nations were to do such things, they would be held guilty of the same crime by the law of God, which has not made men so that they should use one another in this way.”
Saint Augustine, Doctor of the Church (Confessions 3:8:15, AD 400)
Saint Thomas Aquinas (AD 1225 to 1274) considered homosexuality unnatural, since it involves a kind of partner other than the kind to which the purpose of sexuality points. He considered it second only to bestiality as an abuse of sexuality.
Some Statements from Recent Popes
“At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother, and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts. Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
Pope Francis (as Cardinal Bergoglio speaking on homosexual “marriage”)
“Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”
Pope Benedict XVI
“There is no denying the crisis that threatens it [the family] to its foundations – especially in the Western world. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.”
Pope Benedict XVI
“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.”
Pope Benedict XVI
“It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”
Pope Saint John Paul II (speaking on same-sex “marriage”)
Certainly no pope, but even the “father” of the Protestant revolution minced no words:
“The vice of the Sodomites is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversion? Without a doubt it comes from the devil. After a man has once turned aside from the fear of God, the devil puts such great pressure upon his nature that he extinguishes the fire of natural desire and stirs up another, which is contrary to nature.”
The Synod on the Family, FINAL Report
In conclusion, I return back to where I started on the Synod of the Family.
“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
Synod on the Family
(approved, final report)