Most people think they know what the Catholic Church teaches about homosexuality, which can be simply summed up as “don’t do it”. That much is true – just as the Church also says “don’t do it” to married heterosexual couples who want to use contraception, or to unmarried couples, or to single people who want to do it alone. Many gay and lesbian Catholics also believe that the Catholic Church claims that they are somehow “disordered” – and that is simply not true. Although the hurtful and damaging language of “disordered” is used, it is not directed at gay people themselves.
So – just what does the Church teach? Are there elements of Catholic teaching that are in fact supportive, not simply hostile to same-sex lives and loves?
The central, core fact of Catholic doctrine on homosexuality is spelled out in the Catechism, which says
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.” 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.
There is much in that short statement that many lesbian and gay Catholics find deeply offensive, and even damaging. How then, is it possible for lesbian and gay people who find this clause so objectionable, to remain in the Catholic Church?
Part of the answer lies in the short sentence highlighted in bold, “They close the sexual act to the gift of life.” This same principle also rules out heterosexual intercourse that uses contraception, and solo sex – masturbation. We know that the vast majority of Catholics disagree with these restrictions, but have no difficulty remaining in the church – as a matter of conscience, and in the knowledge that the Catechism paragraphs on sexual ethics occupy only a relatively low level in the hierarchy of Catholic teaching.