There has been a striking news story circulating the Catholic sphere the last few days concerning the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a Jesuit high school, and a teacher at said school. The Archdiocese has cut ties with this high school over its refusal to fire this teacher who, in 2017, entered into a civil marriage with someone of the same sex. Obviously, this has garnered reactions from disgust to praise: some praise the Church for standing strong in the face of an increasing relativistic and secularized culture while others stand in disgust over this act of attempted discrimination against the sexuality of the teacher.
This event in Indianapolis brings to light, yet again, an ongoing dispute between the Church and gay marriage. From a glance, the Archdiocese seems to condemning this man for being homosexual and participating in a civil union with another man. So, the question rises again: Is homosexuality a sin?
The simple answer: No, it is not a sin. However, this answer is insufficient for either side of the argument so let’s take a closer look at what it takes to be a sin.
A sin requires an act of the will, which means it requires a decision to be made. As we all know, we cannot choose who or what we are attracted to. Whether it be food, drink, games, books, friends, or lovers, we cannot choose our attractions. I would definitely choose to like my wife’s strawberry shortcake or blueberry pie, but I was born with the unquenchable desire for dark chocolate. Get your fruit out of my dessert! I would prefer to enjoy the musical monotony of country music but for some reason, me and Nashville just don’t click. The same thing goes for who we are attracted to sexually. We cannot make the decision. These types of things fall under the category of what St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Passions.
The Passions consist of love, anger, desire, sadness, fear, happiness, and the like. We choose none of these things, therefore, “in themselves passions are neither good nor evil” (CCC 1767). The Passions are a moral neutral and are a vital part of the human person. They are to be monitored and governed by the two things that make us human: intellect and will. Aquinas tells us that our governance of the passions is imperative to the perfection of the moral life, thus it is our actions that follow our passions that require a moral yard stick.
Sexual desire is a passion which (as we have established) is morally neutral. It can lead us to a life of virtue or an occasion of sin. Every passion can be used as a building blocks of virtue or sin. The Church, in accord with natural law, says that marital union between those of the same sex is impossible and any attempt at it would be immoral. The same goes for any sexual union, whether homosexual or heterosexual, outside the bond of marriage. The sexual desire itself does not have moral value because it is not an act of the will. However, the choice to enter into a marital or civil union can be assigned moral value. Exactly why this is immoral is a topic for another day. The fact will have to suffice for today.
For our purposes, sexual desire acted upon chastely in marriage can lead to virtue while sexual desire acted upon outside of marriage can lead to sin. The desire is not the sin, but the action is. My desire for food can sustain or it can be gluttonous. My anger can lead to just action or it can lead to wrath. My sadness can lead to grounds for hope or despair. The morality is based on the action, not the passion.
The Church is not concerned with the inclination, but rather, the action. Our passions should be analyzed by our intellect then acted upon with our wills. Homosexuality in itself is not a sin. It can become a sin if it turns into homosexual action. The beautiful thing is that the Church also teaches that we are not our passions. Everyone has passions that are blessings and passions that are trials; we are all called to govern these with our intellect in order to reach moral perfection. The Church teaches that all men and women were made for union with God in heaven with no exclusion. We travel on the same path to Christ carrying different burdens. By cooperating with the Holy Spirit, God will use these burdens to perfect us. St. Paul shows us this in the today’s reading through his own burden, “Three times I begged the Lord this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is mad perfect in weakness.’” (2 Cor 12:8-9). Let us all make right use of our passions, especially our sexuality, to bring us to everlasting life.
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.
– Catechism of the Catholic Church