Ethicist Fr. Prof. Andrzej Szostek talks about how Catholics should treat homosexual persons and how the Church should accompany them.
The Catechism on homosexuality
The Catechism of the Catholic Church includes two successive provisions which must be read in conjunction. Both are part of a chapter under the telling title “Chastity and homosexuality.” Paragraph 2357 sets out that “Under no circumstances can [homosexual acts] be approved,” as “They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.”
These are tough statements. However, they are immediately followed by those of Paragraph 2358, which is full of warmth: these persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
It is crucial to indicate here that in the case of homosexuality we need not deal with a typical sin. Sin involves a deliberate choice of what the individual him- or herself considers as morally inadmissible, while the Catechism stresses the fact that “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible,” and that “this inclination, whose psychological genesis remains largely unexplained, is for most of them a trial.”
We need to bear in mind that the very homosexual tendencies, whose causes and characteristic features continue to be heatedly debated among sexologists, psychologists and educators, are not in themselves sinful. Sin consist in a disordered succumbing to these tendencies. The same applies not only to homosexual tendencies; in many other instances human beings need to hold in check their natural inclinations (to be the masters of themselves!) and live a life of ascesis, which may come at a high price.
Therefore the Catechism adds further on that “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.”
On friendship, which is a variation of love
Possibly, those who experience such tendencies (I myself, through no fault or merit of my own, am not one of them) are capable of entering into especially profound relations of friendship with other men or with other women. Yet friendship is a form of love which is currently regrettably rarely encountered. Therefore, the homosexual persons should not really reject close relations with others, but rather should develop these relations adequately.
This is how the Catechism addresses the matter. It moreover reminds us that homosexual persons are not the only ones called to moderation and ascesis. Suffice it to observe how many men claim that monogamy is too heavy a cross for them!
On legalizing civil partnerships
The Church cannot recognize homosexual partnerships as equal to marriages. After all, they do not involve the fullness of mutual giving and there is a closure to the gift of life.
I meet claims of discrimination put forth by homosexual persons. They say that when their tendencies become commonly known, not of their own accord, they feel rejected, unwanted, a kind of persona non grata. This is a significant pastoral problem.
I can see two situations here. Perhaps a person with homosexual tendencies does not brag about them but rather experiences them as a kind of cross to bear. I see no reason why such a person should be excluded from parish activity. The Church approves persons with homosexual tendencies as Her members. The Church likewise affirms that we need to help one another in coming to terms with our inclinations and in overcoming all sorts of weaknesses.
However, if someone is openly homosexual and announces their relationship with a partner, they disqualify themselves as candidates for, say, the parish council. Their participation might suggest that the Church approves of homosexual unions.
Naturally, they may remain within the Church as Her members, treated with due respect, but at the same time they must pursue their relationship with a partner in line with the moral teaching of the Church.
On pastoral care
I would be cautious as to any concrete pastoral guidelines, as I am not involved in such chaplaincy. I suspect that if we were to create separate chaplaincies for homosexual persons, this could be a form of exclusion.
Obviously, we should meet these persons with a view to solving their issues as similar meetings are held for other communities. They need some kind of special company, but not in the form of separate groups or communities. They should fully participate in parish life.
I must admit, however, that this keeping company which Pope Francis advocates is a great challenge for pastoral care. We should keep them company just like we walk alongside others on the path of conversion which the Church suggests, in the prospect of salvation. This path is far from easy for anyone, including persons with homosexual tendencies.
On how Catholics should treat homosexual persons
As the Catechism unequivocally stipulates: Catholics should be respectful of them. It is no doubt vital to talk to them, perhaps even to suggest assistance of some sort, should they need it. First and foremost, however, we cannot withdraw our kindness and abstain from offering these persons a sign of peace. Let us recall that we are all burdened by all kinds of weaknesses and that our Church is a Church of sinners. We all confess different sins yet this does not prevent us from entering into relations with other people.
Homosexual persons must be treated like any other people. We should work together with them and be their friends, just like with any other members of our communities. No one should be seen solely through the prism of their difference or weakness. This is how xenophobia and racism are born, as such an atmosphere is conducive to exclusion. This also applies to homosexual persons.
The Church does not approve of homosexual practices but the mere knowledge that someone is a homosexual should not foreclose other fields of our mutual relations and mutual kindness.
Can a homosexual person become a saint?
Homosexual persons, like all of us, are called to sainthood. Yet we need to bear in mind that for them this call may be a true way of the cross. St. Paul also had to bear a mysterious “cross of the Lord,” which some link to epilepsy. He asked the Lord three times to be freed from it, and he heard: “Power is perfected in weakness.” This is the road towards sainthood, the road that each and everyone one of us is called to walk.
Fr. Prof. Andrzej Szostek is a Marian friar, ethicist, Rector of the Catholic University of Lublin in the period 1998–2004. The text was based on an interview by Marcin Przeciszewski conducted in Lublin for the Polish Catholic News Agency (KAI). It was published in the Polish edition of Aleteia.