Speech of Bishop Rhoades on same-sex marriage and relationships
I have been asked to speak tonight about so-called same-sex marriage as well as Charity in our response to same-sex relationships. In a way, this approach fits well with my own episcopal motto: “Veritatem in caritate,” “truth in charity.” This is what the Lord expects of the Church and all of us: that we adhere to the truth of the Gospel with charity. Fidelity to the truth is essential. So is the virtue of charity. One without the other is a failure. To dismiss the truth revealed by God is not to love God. To lack charity towards others makes it a lie to say we love God. So in the controversial topic we reflect on this evening, it is important that we not water down the truth about human sexuality or marriage, nor that we proclaim this truth without love for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Proclaiming the truth is part of our duty in charity. Professing the truth without charity is actually not totally professing the truth since charity is a commandment that itself is part of the truth of our faith. Saint Edith Stein wrote: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth. Blessed John Paul II added: One without the other becomes a destructive lie.
Think about these words of our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI from his encyclical Charity in truth: Truth needs to be sought, found, and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practiced in the light of truth…. Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. (Caritas in veritate # 2-3).
With this introduction, I think it is best to begin this talk with the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act. What was most profoundly disturbing to me was that the Supreme Court found the exclusion of same-sex couples legally married under state law from federal benefits (in DOMA Section 3) impermissible largely because it read DOMA as manifesting “animus” against gay people and targeting them for special disfavor. This argumentation suggests that those who defend the immemorial understanding of marriage as the union of people of different sexes, ordered toward procreation, are anti-homosexual bigots. The Supreme Court says that Americans who affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman are imposing “a disadvantage” and a “stigma” on others, motivated by an improper animus. Our principal intent is to “demean.” We seek “to injure” and are motivated by a “bare… desire to harm.” Even the “humiliation” of “tens of thousands of children” fails to move us.
Notice that this language of the Supreme Court majority is not language designed to clarify a difficult legal concept. It is not meant to persuade others regarding a complex public issue. It won’t further thoughtful discussion of fast-moving changes to an essential social institution. It’s an attempt to shut down discussion by impugning the motives of those who disagree.
This argumentation of the Supreme Court and others suggests that people and institutions like the Catholic Church are prejudiced against people with same-sex attraction. The charge of bigotry hurts. When Cardinal Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, and the other bishops of Argentina were accused like us of bigotry and discrimination, they responded that “the recognition of a real difference is not discrimination.” They wrote: “Nature does not discriminate when it makes us a man or a woman. Our Civil Code does not discriminate when it demands the requirement of being a man and a woman to contract marriage; it only recognizes a natural reality.”
Despite the efforts of the future Pope and the Church in Argentina, the marriage redefinition bill passed in the Senate there, making Argentina the first country in Latin America to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex.
In Argentina, Pope Francis had to engage with a hostile culture in confronting this issue and others, just as we are doing here in the United States. Pope Francis never made derogatory comments about people with same-sex attraction. Neither do we. To do so would be to reject Catholic teaching that affirms the dignity of all human persons and explicitly affirms that homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (CCC 2358). The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said: “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”
To proclaim the truth in charity, let us look at the truth of Church teaching about sexuality and homosexuality. What is the place of sexuality within God’s plan for humanity? In its document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops presented the following summary of Catholic teaching on this topic:
“In the beginning, God created human beings in his own image, meaning that the complementary sexuality of man and woman is a gift from God and ought to be respected as such. Human sexuality is thus a good, part of that created gift which God saw as being ‘very good,’ when he created the human person in his image and likeness, and ‘male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27). The complementarity of man and woman as male and female is inherent within God’s creative design. Precisely because man and woman are different, yet complementary, they can come together in a union that is open to the possibility of new life. Jesus taught that ‘from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ (Mark 10:6-8). The purpose of sexual desire is to draw man and woman together in the bond of marriage, a bond that is directed toward two inseparable ends: the expression of marital love and the procreation and education of children. ‘The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage; the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life.’ This is the order of nature, an order whose source is ultimately the wisdom of God….”.
“By its very nature, then, the sexual act finds its proper fulfillment in the marital bond between a man and a woman. Any sexual act that takes place outside the bond of marriage does not fulfill the proper ends of human sexuality. Such an act is not directed toward the expression of marital love with an openness to new life. It is disordered in that it is not in accord with this twofold end and is thus morally wrong. ‘Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes’ (CCC 2351)…..
“There are a variety of acts, such as adultery, fornication, masturbation, and contraception, that violate the proper ends of human sexuality. Homosexual acts also violate the true purpose of sexuality. They are sexual acts that cannot be open to life. Nor do they reflect the complementarity of man and woman that is an integral part of God’s design for human sexuality. Consequently, the Catholic Church has consistently taught that homosexual acts ‘are contrary to the natural law… Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
This teaching of the Church is part of the natural law, pertaining to the intrinsic order of creation, but also part of what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture. Saint Paul taught that “homosexual acts are not in keeping with our being created in God’s image and so degrade and undermine our authentic dignity as human beings. He listed homosexual practices among those things that are incompatible with the Christian life.”
“While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination. While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not. To the extent that a homosexual tendency or inclination is not subject to one’s free will, one is not morally culpable for that tendency. Although one would be morally culpable if one were voluntarily to entertain homosexual temptations or to choose to act on them, simply having the tendency is not a sin. Consequently, the Church does not teach that the experience of homosexual attraction it is in itself sinful.”
“The homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, that is, it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person. … It is crucially important to understand that saying a person has a particular inclination that is disordered is not to say that the person as a whole is disordered. Nor does it mean that one has been rejected by God or the Church. Sometimes the Church is misinterpreted or misrepresented as teaching that persons with homosexual inclinations are objectively disordered. No, the person is not disordered or morally defective. The disorder is in that particular inclination, which is not ordered toward the fulfillment of the natural ends of human sexuality. Because of this, acting in accord with such an inclination simply cannot contribute to the true good of the human person. Nevertheless, while the particular inclination to homosexual acts is disordered, the person retains his or her intrinsic human dignity and value.”
Those who promote the redefinition of marriage to include same sex unions obviously do not accept the Church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage. They do not accept that “sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman” which finds its embodiment in marriage. Yet, this has been the understanding of different cultures, religions, and societies through the centuries, evidence that marriage is part of the natural order of creation. As Catholics, we believe that “the vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution. Its author is God Himself (CCC 1603).
In the Pastoral Letter Marriage – Love and Life in the Divine Plan, the U.S. Bishops teach the following: “Marriage is a unique union, a relationship different from all others. It is the permanent bond between one man and one woman whose two-in-one-flesh communion of persons is an indispensable good at the heart of every family and every society. Same-sex unions are incapable of realizing this specific communion of persons. Therefore, attempting to redefine marriage to include such relationships empties the term of its meaning, for it excludes the essential complementarity between man and woman, treating sexual difference as if it were irrelevant to what marriage is.
Male-female complementarity is intrinsic to marriage. It is naturally ordered toward authentic union and the generation of new life. Children are meant to be the gift of the permanent and exclusive union of a husband and a wife. A child is meant to have a mother and a father. The true nature of marriage, lived in openness to life, is a witness to the precious gift of the child and to the unique roles of a mother and father. Same-sex unions are incapable of such a witness. Consequently, making them equivalent to marriage disregards the very nature of marriage….
By attempting to redefine marriage to include or be made analogous with homosexual partnerships, society is stating that the permanent union of husband and wife, the unique pattern of spousal and familial love, and the generation of new life are now only of relative importance rather than being fundamental to marriage and also to society.”
I recommend an excellent book entitled What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. In this book, the authors, using arguments from reason and social science, not religious faith, show that marriage, by its very nature, is conjugal, that is, it has a bodily as well as an emotional spiritual bond. The revisionist view that seeks to redefine marriage to include couples of the same sex identifies marriage as simply a bond between two persons who wish to share their lives together, as essentially an emotional union. They want this sharing of life and love to be recognized as marriage with all its attendant legal benefits. True marriage, however, is more than a consensual relationship between two adults who wish to share their lives together. The book explains how “marriage is, of its essence, a comprehensive union: a union of will (by consent) and body (by sexual union); inherently ordered to procreation and thus the broad sharing of family life; and calling for permanent and exclusive commitment.” It is “a human good with an objective structure.” Marriage is more than emotional union and cohabitation. It is inherently connected to bodily union and family life. Male-female complementarity is intrinsic to marriage. It is naturally ordered toward authentic union and the generation of new life. These are essential attributes of marriage, not incidental or relative. It should come as no surprise in a culture of increasing relativism that marriage is being relativized.
The Argentinian bishops, under the leadership of Cardinal Bergoglio, issued a statement teaching that “the union of people of the same sex lacks the biological and anthropological elements that are proper to marriage and family.” During the national debate in Argentina, Cardinal Bergoglio defended marriage, the natural family and the right of children to have a father and a mother. He wrote: “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.” In a very interesting book of conversations between Cardinal Bergoglio and Rabbi Abraham Skorka entitled On Heaven and Earth, they discussed same-sex marriage. Cardinal Bergoglio said that he considered it an “anti-value and an anthropological regression.” He said that this is an issue that transcends religion. He sees same sex marriage as “a weakening of the institution that is thousands of years old and that was forged according to nature and anthropology.”
Today, advocacy for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage is often equated with non-discrimination, fairness, equality and civil rights. But I would counter by saying, along with my brother bishops, that “to promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman is itself a matter of justice. In fact, it is a grave injustice for the state to ignore the unique and proper place of husbands and wives, the place of mothers and fathers, and especially the rights of children to a mother and father.” (USCCB, Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan).
Regarding equality, we maintain that basic human rights must be afforded to all people. This can and should be done without sacrificing the bedrock of society that is marriage and the family. We don’t believe that anyone should be denied basic rights nor should anyone be subjected to harassment or unjust discrimination because of their sexual inclinations.
Some advocates of same-sex marriage like to point out that there are many problems with heterosexual marriages today: high divorce rates, children being raised by single parents, abuse in families, etc. They are right – there are many forces in society that have weakened marriage. But these are not reasons to redefine marriage and further weaken it. The problems of divorce, etc. point to the need to strengthen and promote marriage.
There is also the argument that same-sex couples can be good parents. Well, we are not judging anyone’s parenting skills in defending marriage between a man and a woman. We respect the hard work done by anyone who parents a child, including single parents. But we hold, and social science shows, that children do best when parented by a mother and a father. Defending the truth about marriage is a duty of charity, especially toward children.
Given the Church’s strong teaching in this area, where does all this leave persons with same-sex attractions? They may feel rejected, alienated, excluded by the Church.
First of all, unlike most of society, the Catholic Church refuses to define people in terms of their sexual inclination. We see people primarily according to their identity as beloved children of God, created in his image and likeness. Our fundamental orientation is toward God, and is not reducible to sexual inclinations, however powerful they may seem. We must also see our brothers and sisters with same-sex attractions as true brothers and sisters. If they are Catholic, we should see them and they should see themselves as beloved members of the Body of Christ, the Church. It is a terrible sin, a sin against charity, for us to look down upon or reject persons with same-sex attraction. As the Catechism teaches, “homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” In my opinion, it is just as sinful to lack charity towards homosexual persons as it is to condone the sin of homosexual activity, maybe even more so.
Contrary to claims by the US Supreme Court, our opposition to the redefinition of marriage is not meant to demean, injure, or desire harm towards same-sex couples. In fact, our support of authentic marriage is not at all aimed at denying equality or justice to same-sex couples. But there is not a right to something that, by its very nature, is constituted uniquely, naturally, and essentially as a conjugal union. Contrary to the Supreme Court’s ruling, our teaching actually serves the true good of persons with same-sex attraction, their authentic happiness in this life and the next, their spiritual good.
Mother Teresa was once asked in an interview for her views on homosexuality. She announced that she did not like the word “homosexual.” She stopped the interview and told the reporters that if they had any more questions about homosexuals, they would refer to them from now on as “friends of Jesus.” This is how we should see our brothers and sisters who carry the cross of same-sex attraction.
Here’s what the Catechism says: Person with homosexual tendencies “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. 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” (CCC 2358-2359).
We must not forget that “love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (Familiaris Consortio 11). This includes persons with same-sex attraction. Their fundamental and innate vocation is love. But love should not be expressed through homosexual acts, acts which are contrary to the natural law, chastity, and the purpose of human sexuality. Love is much more than sex. Friendship is a great good and can bring great joy and peace to one’s life. It is our friendship with Christ and with others that makes life happy and fulfilling. Groups like Courage help our brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction to grow in chastity, to progress in self-mastery, to cultivate good friendships, and to grow in an intimate relationship with Jesus. But this should not be just the mission of Courage. It is part of the mission of the Church and should be part of our lives and the lives of our parishes and other institutions: welcoming and encouraging our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction.
How do Catholics with same-sex attraction respond to all this? To be honest, some simply reject the Church and its teaching. Many have left the Church, feeling alienated; some have become public critics of the Church and its teaching. Some are filled with anger towards the Church. I recently received a hurtful e-mail from someone who accused me of bigotry and hatred because of our teaching. I felt there was hatred in the heart of the one who wrote to me, and I have prayed for him.
Then there are many Catholics with same-sex attraction who believe in the Church’s teaching and actively practice the faith. Sometimes they fall in their efforts to live a chaste life. So do many people with heterosexual inclinations. So with faith, they repent and receive the Lord’s forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. They resolve to live a chaste life, with the help of God’s grace. For some, their same-sex attraction and temptations can be a very heavy cross.
For young people, this can be a very difficult trial. The knowledge of their same-sex attractions can lead to self-loathing, self-hatred, even harm to self. If rejected by family or peers, they can experience loneliness, isolation, deep hurt, and depression. They deserve our love and strong support. Some pursue a gay lifestyle and the values of a gay subculture that may result in further alienation, exploitation by adults, illness, or a certain way of life that may bring some pleasure, but not true and lasting happiness. It does not serve their true spiritual good.
Finally, as we continue to defend the truth about marriage, we must also continue to reach out with love, respect, compassion, and sensitivity to persons with a homosexual inclination. We are all called to live chaste and holy lives and to help one another to grow in holiness. The bonds of love uniting all of us as one Body in Christ are stronger and more important than anyone’s sexual inclinations. We journey together on this earth as fellow disciples and pilgrims, all sinners striving to be holy. Let’s help each other on the journey!