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Homosexuality

HOMOSEXUALITY

Homosexuality is a sustained condition or adaptation in which erotic fantasy, attraction and arousal is predominately directed toward one's own sex. The term "sustained" is used because confusion about one's sexual orientation is not unusual during adolescence. Although the Catholic Church recognizes that homosexual attraction is not chosen, and therefore the orientation in itself is not a sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358), it has been the constant tradition in Church teaching, based on Scripture and natural law, that homosexual activity is morally wrong. This article expounds the basis for this judgment in terms of the Church's teaching on marriage, and its proper, virtuous expression of sexuality.

Scripture. Traditionally, six texts in Scripture have been accepted in Christian Churches as condemnations of homosexual behavior. Genesis (19.129) contains the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed by God for wickedness which included homosexual demands on Lot's guests. Leviticus forbids practices such as adultery and bestiality, and includes the prohibition: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; such a thing is an abomination" (18.2023), a condemnation repeated in Lv 20.13. In the New Testament, St. Paul's Letter to the Romans cites indulgence in same-sex lust and the perverse actions of men with men, women with women, as deserving penalty (1.26ff). In the First Letter to the Corinthians Paul includes homosexual activity as one of the sins that bars inheritance of God's kingdom (6.9-11). The First Letter to Timothy also lists homosexual activity as an offense of the wicked and godless (1.8,11). Finally, the author of the Letter of Jude refers to Sodom and Gomorrah and surrounding towns which indulged in unnatural vice, with the admonition that their punishment is meant to dissuade us (1.6-8).

Beginning with Anglican author D. Sherwin Baily's 1955 book Homosexuality and Western Christian Tradition, a number of scholars and pro-gay apologists have reinterpreted the standard scriptural texts, thereby encouraging a revisionist theology which accepts homosexual activity as morally acceptable for homosexual persons. This interpretation stands against the constant teaching of the Church, dating from the Fathers of the early Christian centuries, affirmed by the major theological Doctors of the Middle Ages, and reaffirmed in current Catholic magisterial pronouncements.

These revisionist views take various forms, generally proposing that the scriptural texts were written in the setting of a different culture, and in times when the notion of differing sexual orientations was not known. Some maintain that the sin of the Sodomites was inhospitality rather than homosexual activity, or, while admitting that the Genesis story concerns homosexual activity, see its condemnation aimed at the violence of threatened homosexual rape. Others maintain that the text in Romans refers to homosexual actions by heterosexual persons, and that the strictures were against homosexual prostitution in a setting of orgiastic idolatry.

A simple reply to these views would be to note that nowhere in Scripture is homosexual genital behavior mentioned in a positive manner. More striking, in both Testaments one finds the over-arching affirmation of heterosexual marriage as a symbol of God's covenant relationship with his people and of the union of Christ with his spouse, the Church. The 1986 letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, notes that God fashions mankind male and female, in his own image and likeness. Human beings therefore are nothing less than the work of God Himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with Him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of self to the other (6).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, does not see ambiguity in the Scripture references to homosexual behavior. Citing four of the classic texts, it states: "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered' contrary to the natural law (and) under no circumstances can they be approved" (2357).

The first chapter of Genesis contains the nucleus of the theology of marriage. "God created man in his image male and female he created them, and blessed them saying 'be fertile and multiply"' (1.27). "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one" (2.24).

Morality. Catholic moral theology sees marriage in terms of two inseparable purposes. One purpose is procreation, to which homosexual acts are obviously closed. "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying; 'Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it"' (Gn 1.27f). The other purpose is the complementary union of the sexes. "This is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two become one body" (Gn 2.24). The conjugal union is a symbol of the covenant relationship of God with his people, of Christ and the Church (Hos 2.21f; Is 54.10f.; Eph 5).

Sexuality in marriage is designed to be life-giving and love-giving, that is, open to children and establishing a permanent union of fidelity. The Second vatican council brought into sharper focus the covenantal relationship of conjugal love, bringing it to equal emphasis with the begetting of children. This unitive relationship is of no less account than procreation (Gaudium et spes 50).

Magisterial Church teaching states that homosexual genital relations are objectively immoral because they "lack an essential and indispensable finality," namely, the procreative function of sexuality, the openness to new life (Declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics [Dec. 29, 1975] #8). Homosexual activity annuls the goals and meaning of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual genital acts are not a truly physical or psychological union but an imitation of heterosexual intercourse. In marriage the psychological differences of the sexes sets the partners on an ongoing spousal journey toward a deeper, mutual understanding, thereby completing each other, with each partner called to transcend self through mutual self-donation. Homosexual acts join persons who are sexually and psychologically of the same gender, a sameness lacking the rich marital symbol of God's union with His people, Christ's union with His spouse, the Church.

Etiology. At the beginning of the third millennium the majority professional view is that homosexuality is inborn, immutable, and a normal variant of human sexuality. This is the stated position of the American Psychiatric Association, followed by the American Psychological Association, and other associations of various therapists such as social workers and marriage and family counselors, as well as the gay-lesbian activist organizations. These groups also emphasize that the origins of homosexual orientation are largely unknown.

However, acceptance of the inborn and immutable character of homosexual orientation has not gone unchallenged. Some members of the psychotherapeutic professions object that their professional organizations have taken a politically correct position rather than one based on scientific data, noting that the 1973 American Psychiatric Association's decision to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3d ed.) was done in haste, bypassing ordinary decision-making channels, and under pressure from gay groups. The Catholic Medical Association, marshaling an impressive compendium of research, takes issue with the current prevalent professional position. The association does not accept that homosexuality is inborn, sees it as preventable, and treatable for those who are motivated (Homosexuality and Hope, 2000).

There is much yet to be learned about the origins and causes of homosexuality, and more is unknown than known. (It depends on one's perspective whether the glass is partly empty or partly full.) There is a considerable body of research literature regarding possible correlates of homosexual development. Since the 1973 decision of the APA the research findings and clinical insights regarding homosexuality of the prior 75 years have been largely ignored. in many scientific circles. Subsequent research is better known by the general public through limited exposure in the media rather than through critical assessment of the studies themselves. There is sufficient research on homosexuality for some therapists to have formulated theories of its development, and to have devised therapy aimed at conversion from homosexuality to heterosexuality for those who desire to attempt to make this change.

The development of sexuality, both physical and psychological, is an extremely complex process. Empirical research and accumulated clinical experience does allow the construction of a tentative outline of development, while acknowledging that more is still unknown about it than has been firmly established, and that subsequent research may modify or radically change present theories.

Physical sexual history begins at conception and continues in a definite sequential pattern until birth. There are three principal stages in uterine sexual development, namely, genetic sex, gonadal sex, and sexual differentiation in the brain. At conception, a person receives a sex chromosome, X or Y, from each parent. XX produces a female, XY a male. Though there are anomalies such as XXY, or XYY, these are rare. From conception on, a person is male or female in every body cell. However, genetic sex alone does not constitute or guarantee proper physical sexual development. In the seventh week of human foetal development rudimentary sexual tissues begin to differentiate into female or male genital organs. In males the Y chromosome produces a protein which coats the tissues otherwise programmed to become female sexual organs, and effects the formation of male sexual organs. This development establishes gonadal sex. In the second trimester testosterone, produced by the newly formed testes, masculinizes clusters of cells in the "old brain," the brain structures humans share with lower vertebrates. In the female, estrogen and progesterone from the ovaries feminize corresponding brain tissues. These parts of the brain influence traits such as aggressiveness and preference for rough and tumble play, typical of males, and tendencies to nurture and cyclic sexual arousal in females.

Genetic sex, gonadal sex, and "brain sex" are the components of physical sexuality, the development of which continues after birth, particularly in adolescence when hormone function brings increased sexual drive and promotes development of secondary sex characteristics, such as male musculature and female breasts. Some experiments with animals as well as anomalous development in humans suggest that occurrences in fetal development may make an individual more vulnerable to later environmental influences on psychosexuality after birth.

Mental sex, distinct from physical sex, is a postnatal development. Psychosexuality or sexualized consciousness is sexuality as it manifests itself in the mind. It is a pervasive and fundamental personality feature which includes three interwoven components. The first component is the basic conviction of being male or female. The second component, subtly different, is the sense of being masculine or feminine. The third component is an individual's erotic preference for male or female partners, or both. These components, variously labeled in the literature, are core gender identity, gender role identity, and psychosexual orientation.

Core gender identity is the recognition "I am male" or "I am female." It begins to crystallize in the second year of life as the infant undergoes psychological birth, which includes moving away from his or her symbiotic relationship with the mother, and acquiring a dawning sense of being a separate individual who is a boy, or a girl.

Gender role identity is the subtly different recognition, "I am masculine" or "I am feminine." The individual gradually attains the conviction that he or she matches or falls short of the gender role expectations of a particular family and social environment. Gender role identity may vary on a fairly wide spectrum without infringing on core gender identity or orientation. Conversely, depending on a family and/or peer environment, gender role identity may become infected with a sense of inadequacy which can have a damaging effect on proper psychosexual orientation.

The third eventual psychosexual component is orientation: preferential erotic attraction to members of the opposite sex, same sex, or both sexes in varied degree. This is the defining element of heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality.

This simplified division of interwoven physical and psychological elements in human sexuality provides some appreciation of its complexity and indicates that it cannot be viewed as a unitary dimension of personality. Sigmund Freud noted that the physical and mental characteristics of sexuality, including orientation, may vary independently of one another "up to a certain point and are met within different individuals in manifold permutations" (Freud, 1962). It is hardly possible that these components of sexuality culminating in orientation are the result of a single gene. In addition, Columbia University researchers Byne and Parsons, reviewing the biological evidence and theories of the origins of homosexuality, concluded that it is extremely unlikely that the gamut and plasticity of human sexual behavior can be reduced to factors as simple as prenatal hormone programming. The general opinion among scientists who consolidate the various studies is that genetic, hormonal, and constitutional factors may predispose to sexual orientation, but it is postnatal environmental and psycho-social history which are its predetermining factors (Bancroft 1994; Byne & Parsons 1993; Money 1993).

Current Research. The current font of research does not include any that establishes or even claims a purely genetic base for homosexual orientation. A well-publicized study of monozygotic (identical) male twins found that 52 percent of the twin brothers of declared homosexual men were also homosexually oriented. (Bailey & Pillard, 1991) This finding does point to some common, as yet unidentified inherited factors which have an etiological role. The study does not support the direct inheritance of homosexuality itself since roughly half the identical co-twins, who share the same genetic program, were not homosexual. Other studies of identical twins, one of whom is homosexual, produced similar results, all with a lower percentage of homosexual co-twins than the study cited above. A study of identical lesbian twins reared apart from childhood, showed no concordance for homosexual behavior. This suggests that homosexuality is more dependent on acquired and learned factors than on genetic influences among lesbians (Elke et al., 1986). Sexual orientation may be less hardwired among women than among men.

As for immutability, the fact of change of orientation is cogent proof against it. Some pro-gay apologists claim that the persons who testified that they had changed were not really homosexual in the first place, a seeming case of killing the messenger. Prior to the 1973 APA decision to normalize homosexuality, the most generally reported therapeutic success rate for homosexual individuals who desired to change to heterosexuality was about 33 percent. Some homosexual clients who had sought reorientation motivated by religious convictions, disillusionment with the gay lifestyle and/or a desire for marriage, did in fact move to predominant heterosexual orientation (Hadden 1958; Bieber 1962; Willis 1967; Hatterer 1970; Socarides 1978).

A 1998 survey by the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality reported that a third of 882 homosexual persons made the transition to exclusive or predominant heterosexual orientation through therapy and counseling. The study confirmed that homosexuality is subject to modification through therapy (Nicolosi et al. 2000). At the 2001 APA convention in New Orleans, Robert L. Spitzer, M.D., presented a two-year clinical interview: "200 Subjects Who Claim to Have Changed Their Sexual Orientation from Homosexual to Heterosexual." The 143 men and 57 women who claimed reorientation which had lasted at least five years were recruited through Narth, ex-gay ministries, and individual therapists. Though complete change was uncommon, Spitzer concluded, "Some highly motivated individuals through a variety of change efforts can make substantial changes in multiple indicators of sexual orientation and achieve good heterosexual function."

This study is significant for two reasons: its results and its principal researcher. Spitzer was at the forefront of the movement to delete homosexuality from the official psychiatric diagnostic manual in 1973. The current results are a reversal of his own previously held opinion on the immutability of homosexual orientation. The Narth Bulletin (Aug. 2001) quotes Spitzer: "Like most psychiatrists I thought that homosexual behavior could be resistedbut no one could really change their sexual orientation. I now believe that's untruesome people can and do change." Spitzer cautions that this study does not justify any coercion to change, but that individuals should have the right to explore their heterosexual potential.

Although the possibility of change through psychotherapy by some homosexual persons is definitely established, it is reckless to overplay it and arouse false hopes. The consistent figures on successful reorientation hover around 30 percent. Informed and experienced therapists are few. Commitment through the process is not easy. Over 40 percent drop out of the therapy which is longterm, minimally two years, and often requires considerable expense. Several Protestant groups, under the umbrella heading Exodus, stress religious motivation in working out of homosexuality to heterosexual orientation. Exodus, which relies on strong faith in the transforming power of Jesus Christ, sponsors more than 100 ministries in the United States, most of which are non professional counseling centers. The Mormon agency Evergreen also sponsors this work. Jonah is the Jewish counterpart.

As might be expected, conversion therapists do not accept homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexuality. Judgment on the outcomes of sexual development and of sexual behavior are regarded as evaluative judgments. Values, in this view, are outside the purview of science as science. Science tells us what is, ethics and religious morals state what ought to be. Conversion or reparative therapists do not hold that homosexuality is a mental illness but do consider it a developmental anomaly. Erik Erikson's socio-psychological theory of development outlines how excessive mistrust, self doubt, crippling guilt, inferiority feelings and the like are precipitates of dysfunctional family and other relationships. In parallel fashion some theorists see influences from difficult interpersonal situations as impinging on a vulnerable youngster, occasioning detachment from identification with the same-sex parent, and blocking the emergence of heterosexual orientation which they view as the proper development of the human person.

Ministry to Homosexual Persons. The Catholic Bishops of the United States have produced three documents regarding ministry to homosexual persons: To Live in Christ Jesus (1978); Human Sexuality (1991); and Always Our Children (rev. 1998), a pastoral message to the parents of homosexual children, with suggestions for pastoral ministers. All three documents emphasize that the homosexual condition itself is not sinful; it is discovered, not chosen by the individual. All three documents state categorically that homosexual persons are called to chastity as are unmarried heterosexual persons. They point out that prejudice, demeaning behavior, or derogatory humor aimed at persons with same-sex attractions is definitely not Christian and is indeed totally unjustified, a sin against charity. The documents call for the inclusion of homosexual persons in parish and other Church communities. The 1976 document states: "Some persons find themselves through no fault of their own to have a homosexual orientation. Homosexual persons like everyone else should not suffer from prejudice against basic human rights. They have a right to respect, friendship and justice. They should have an active role in the Christian Community . The Christian community should provide them a special degree of pastoral understanding and care." Always Our Children continues: "We understand that having a homosexual orientation brings with it enough anxiety, pain, and issues related to self acceptance without society adding additional prejudicial treatment."

The pastoral minister, therefore, must be charitable, compassionate and sensitive. It is hard to realize adequately the anguish that an adolescent experiences, sometimes with thoughts of suicide, upon first realizing he or she is different from the greater society of which each desperately wants to be a participant. As homosexual individuals grow older they hear, all too often, the mocking of peers and contemptuous, disparaging epithets. Thus it should be no surprise that persons with same-sex attractions are easily vulnerable to self-hatred, depression, and ultimately considerable anger against the society, mentality, and institutions which they see as demeaning and rejecting. The pastoral minister must be able to understand and cope with the negativism that they themselves will sometimes meet, to respond to it charitably and prudently, rather than react in ways that will only aggravate smoldering resentments. On the other hand, pastoral ministers must take care that compassion does not draw them into condoning or indirectly enabling sinful behaviors by a silence presumed to be consent. This approach can lead to the homosexual person's devastating physical and spiritual harm. Besides a firm conviction of Church teaching, the pastoral minister needs some appreciation of the psychology of persons with same-sex attractions. He or she needs an ability prudently to deal with opposition, both from the persons they seek to serve, and those who consider themselves supportive to the homosexual community by rejecting Church teachings.

In 1980 Cardinal Terrence Cook of New York City asked Fr. John Harvey O.S.F.S. to begin a ministry to Catholic homosexual persons. Fr. Harvey's efforts led to Courage, a movement which has grown to over a hundred chapters in the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, and other countries. The goals of Courage are to provide persons with same-sex attractions with a program of deeper spiritual life in order to deal with sexual issues and temptations, to deal with the unique difficulties of homosexual orientation, and to develop fellowship among them for facing their problems with mutual support amid chaste friendship. While some clergy and pastoral ministers may put emphasis on the sixth commandment, Courage moves to intimacy with Jesus Christ as the most cogent force in fostering interior chastity. It does not promote reorientation, leaving the choice of that goal to the individual. Instead it focuses on the member's spiritual life. Pope John Paul II has called Courage "the work of God."

Another outreach to homosexual persons is the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministries. Several dioceses have adopted its mission statement which calls for fostering ministry with lesbian and gay Catholics, their families and friends. The NACDGLM also encourages the participation of lesbian and gay Catholics within the Church. It stresses that it is not enough that they should not suffer prejudice against basic human rights but also should have an active role in the Christian community, a goal set by the bishops pastoral documents cited above.

In 1999, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago praised the outreach to homosexual persons as an important and necessary ministry. Addressing the annual meeting of NACDGLM he stressed that such ministry must make clear the purpose "to help those who identify themselves in their own hearts and also publically, as homosexuals, to live chastely with the respect and encouragement of the Church." Acknowledging that some may not share this purpose, he stressed the Paschal Mystery: "To deny that the power of God's grace enables homosexuals to live chastely is to deny, effectively, that Jesus has risen from the dead."

Bibliography: j. m. bailey and r. pillard, "A Genetic Study of Male Sexual Orientation," Archives of General Psychiatry 48 (1991) 108996. j. bancroft, "Homosexual Orientation: The Search for a Biological Basis," British Journal of Psychiatry 164 (1994) 437440. a. butler, "Trends in Same-Gender Sexual Partners, 19881998," Journal of Sexual Research 37 (2000) 333343. w. byne and b. parsons, "Human Sexual Orientation: The Biological Theories Reappraised," Archives of General Psychiatry 50 (1993) 228239. e. elke, et al., "Homosexuality in Monozygotic Twins Reared Apart," British Journal of Psychiatry 148 (1986) 421425. s. freud, Collected Papers, v. 2, tr. j. riviere (New York 1962). f. george, "Address to the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministries," Chicago (Oct. 9, 1998). s. hadden, "Treatment of Homosexuality by Individual and Group Psychotherapy," American Journal of Psychiatry 142 (1958) 810815. j. harvey, The Truth about Homosexuality (San Francisco 1995). l. j. hatterer, Changing Homosexuality in the Male (New York 1970). Catholic Medical Association, Homosexuality and Hope (Pewaukee, Wis.2000). a. kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Philadelphia 1948); Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Philadelphia 1953). j. money, "Sin, Sickness, or Status? Homosexual Gender Identity and Psychoneuroendocrinology," in Psychological Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Male Experiences, ed. l. d. garnets and d. c. kimmel (New York 1993) 130167. j. g. muir, "Homosexuals and the 10 Percent Fallacy," Wall Street Journal (March 31, 1993). j. nicolosi, et al., "Retrospective Self-reports of Changes in Homosexual Orientation: A Consumer Survey of Conversion Therapy Clients," Psychological Reports 86 (2000) 10711088. g. remfedi, et al., "Demography of Sexual Orientation in Adolescents," Pediatrics 89 (1992) 714720. c. w. socarides, Homosexuality (New York 1978). r. l. spitzer, "200 Subjects Who Claim to Have Changed Their Orientation from Homosexual to Heterosexual," presentation at the American Psychiatric Association annual convention, New Orleans (May 9, 2001). s. willis, Understanding and Counseling the Homosexual Male (Boston 1967).

[j. keefe]

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