Let’s discuss an uncomfortable subject: homosexuality and homosexual acts. We are aware that the Church firmly teaches that homosexual acts, being contrary to the natural law, are intrinsically disordered, and under no circumstances can they be approved. (Catechism 2357) We also know that they are condemned in Scripture in no uncertain terms (cf Romans 1). The Catechism continues by pointing out that we must respect those of a homosexual disposition and refrain from unjust discrimination.
Leaving aside authority, we can easily see the strength of the natural law argument. It is clear that homosexual acts (men to men and women to women) involve a mismatch between physical gender and sexual orientation. And, at the biological level, sexual anatomy shows clearly how it should be used. So why are we discussing it if the moral judgment is clear?
Over the past 50 years or so, there has been a gradual change (reflected in legislation) in our culture. This has not been universal, as the Anglican Church has discovered in other territories. Apart from a general liberalisation of sexual taboos, we have come to understand that homosexual orientation need not be a choice of the individual but the outcome of genes, occurrences in the womb and aspects of upbringing. We cannot assume that this orientation is any more chosen than heterosexuals’ choice of their orientation. Indeed the advent of ‘gay marriage’ suggests that our society believes that committed relationships should be treated, mutatis mutandis, on a par with heterosexual marriage.
On his recent return to Rome from Armenia, Pope Francis restated his refusal to judge homosexuals, and that we, and other Christian denominations, should apologise: “I believe that the Church not only must say it’s sorry … to this person that is gay that it has offended,” he said. “But it must say it’s sorry to the poor, also, to mistreated women, to children forced to work….When I say the Church (I mean) Christians, The Church is healthy. We are the sinners.”
But accepting that orientation is not culpable does not excuse approval of its physical expression. Our reaction might be that the inclination may be a cross for those who have it, but it must be borne patiently by those who are afflicted. We may sympathise, but we may not approve.
However a homosexual might take a different view. He (or she) might argue that natural law should not be confined to physical structures, it should take into account psychological structures. Whatever the, perhaps unknown, cause of his orientation, it is natural to him. He might claim, as one homosexual did, that just as I may have an instinctive revulsion at the thought of a homosexual activity, so he has a similar revulsion towards intimate acts with the opposite sex. He is only behaving according to the nature God has given him.
He might go on to argue that, although homosexuals do not as such contribute to reproduction, their contribution to human culture has been huge. It would seem that evolution provides for a small percentage of the population to be homosexuals because, on balance, this contributes to the good of society.
So how do we see this? We might confine ourselves to the words of the Catechism. Or we might claim that the mismatch of homosexuality results in promiscuity, a high tendency to spread infections and, many might think, leads to unsatisfactory relationships . Or we might argue that homosexuality is simply a minority option raising no new moral issues other than those which attend heterosexual activity.