Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality (Book Review)

James Maher

Book coverFr. Louis J. Cameli, Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press. ISBN –13:978-1-59471-293-7.

This book is a clear and compassionate study of the dilemma facing Catholics of same sex attraction. It is very orthodox in accepting Church teaching but searches for a deeper understanding of gay sexuality. Fr. Cameli is aware that today’s youth is put off the Church which is perceived as hostile and condemnatory so he seeks a more sensitive and pastoral approach.

Catholic doctrine teaches that God’s design or purpose for human sexuality is for unitive love between a man and a woman normally leading to procreation. However, today’s world prizes personal autonomy as the source and value and direction in life. The Catholic Faith teaches that God has created us to be connecting, belonging and generative human beings. Fr. Cameli shows how gay Catholics can practise these roles without breaking the moral law of ‘no sex outside of marriage’.

Cameli explores sexuality in Christian tradition using theological anthropology. He reaffirms the human basis of connecting, claiming, belonging and generating life. Revelation tells us that created good is marked by sin but finally redeemed in Christ. But sexuality is anchored in our bodies as well as being of the spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit. The danger is that the ego tries to substitute eroticism for the unitive spirit. The Holy Spirit connects persons and brings them to unity.

If homosexual persons are to avoid asexuality but also refrain from genital sexual activity can they live out their sexuality through intimate friendship, a community of life and affection and creative engagement? There is need to affirm Church teaching while forming discipleship in Christ in a pastoral way.

Homosexually inclined persons can practise true friendship which is a dynamic way of connecting. Friendship is about breaking out of solitude to communion. (Eroticism would complicate matters).  Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx wrote on friendship in the twelfth century. He condemns lust but commends communion of life. This involves intimacy, vulnerability and full mutuality.

Belonging (claiming and being claimed) involves the right to live together and achieve legal rights and social acceptance. However, Cameli says same-sex marriage is out – only associations as commended by Courage Apostolate are valid. He commends Acts 2:44-47 as a model for all claiming and belonging.

The deliberate and intentional generation of life belongs to a man and a woman generating children and bringing them up – a kind of self-transcendence. A union dependent on sexuality – even in marriage – leads to self-enclosure and self-assertion. How can homosexual persons generate life (a spiritual participation in God’s creative plan with a sense of mission and a direction into the future for a new generation)? Homosexual persons can contribute notably to art, literature and music and also the caring professions. The Church has always offered other outlets for this generativity outside marriage. Sexuality needs to be integrated in human development – connecting, belonging and giving life.

The Church urges respect for gays. Some bishops say: ‘Don’t ask; don’t tell’. Openness can result in support but also in prejudiced hostility. One’s time of life and the era in which one lives produce varied reactions. Christianity demands our focus on being a disciple of Jesus – not a predominant gay identity.

To be at home in the Church, we need to speak the prophetic truth and yet exercise loving care. Is the Devil using this issue to damage the Church? In the seventeenth century grace and freedom was the issue; today sex and gender predominate. We need more understanding of gender and sex. Desire is not the key answer. Faith and love develop towards truth. We need a warmth like that of Jesus in his handling of his disciples.

Overall, Cameli takes the current Church teaching as his base line. He dismisses the whole concept of desire in a sentence whereas James Alison bases a lot of his gay-friendly theology on the concept of desire. I imagine many gay people will find Cameli’s book helpful in its sympathetic analysis of the condition of gay Catholics but sceptical of his practical conclusions in their existential lives. There is little mention of the mystery of love.

It is significant that when the Church of England recently allowed its bishops to be in gay partnerships but demanded celibacy, there was a general criticism – even ridicule – of this policy. Yet the Catholic Church’s official teaching and Cameli’s exposition of it proposes a similar policy of mandatory celibacy even for the laity. If the Church’s teaching is based on Natural Law, what is the place for homosexual people who are born this way? Should hermaphrodites be obliged to act as if they were fully male or female? Should persons who discover their homosexual nature after years of married life pretend that nothing has changed?

This text was originally published in the Quest Bulletin, no. 66 (Spring 2013)