Caring For Those Who Disagree with Us on the Meaning of Marriage

The Good Shepherd by Philippe de Champaigne

As we present the teaching of the Church on human sexuality and chastity with special reference to homosexuality, we do so fully aware that this teaching is often misunderstood.  Too often, what the Church proclaims is presented as if it were somehow anti-someone.  This is simply not true.

From the outset, one thing must be made very, very clear.  The Church has nothing but love for those who have a same-sex attraction.  Each and every human being, as a child of God, intrinsically possesses the highest dignity and worth.  The Church welcomes every person who desires a closer relationship with Jesus and a hunger to know the truth.  Indeed, she exhorts every believer to treat all people with respect, compassion, sensitivity, and love (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2358; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on the pastoral care of homosexual persons, n. 10 (1986); U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care (2006)). No one should be reduced merely to his or her sexuality or face discrimination simply because of that sexual preference.  However, there is an enormous difference between experiencing particular desires and acting on them.  It is the activity which the Church teaches to be morally wrong.

The conflict usually arises when some insist that the Church change her teaching.  What is meant is that the Church should sanction and even bless homosexual activity as normative.  This the Church can no more do than it can sanction and bless heterosexual activity outside of marriage.  Regardless of sexual preference, those who are unmarried are called to a chaste life (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2359).  However, neither can the Church give assent to so-called “same-sex marriage.”

Unions of people who choose to live together for any number of reasons are one thing and these might even be sanctioned with civil effects that provide for everyone in the union.  Marriage, however, is something different.  It is something more.

Marriage is the word used in its many translations across human history to signify the permanent, faithful and fruitful union of one man and one woman.  It is the only institution that brings a man and a woman together in a partnership for life directed toward their mutual support and the generation and education of children.  This is a human community that predates government.  Its meaning is something to be recognized and protected, not reconstructed.  Its simplicity is compelling.  Its significance, both personal and public, is immeasurable.  What promise between two people holds the same weight and consequence as that of a man and a woman who give themselves to each other for life with a view toward creating new life so that humanity might continue?

Marriage goes to the nature of the human person.  Even if specific individual men and women are unable to have children for some reason, still it is the nature of man and woman to complement one another in such a way that is fruitful and capable of children.  Two persons of the same sex, on the other hand, can never have children by the very nature of such a union.

We all recognize that the word “marriage” is now being used in many different ways.  All that civil government can do is address the legal consequences of any specific union it has chosen to call marriage.  But marriage itself will continue to be understood by most people as the coming together of a man and woman committed to living together with the possibility to generate and raise children.

We are followers of Jesus Christ, so our message must be what he proclaimed.  The teaching of the Church is one of equality.  The Church does not propose different standards of sexual morality depending upon sexual inclination.  Instead, Catholic teaching on homosexuality is the same as it is for all, which is to love God and love one another in truth (Matthew 22:36-40; Ephesians 4:15; Philippians 1:27; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 24; Caritas in Veritate, 1-2; Familiaris Consortio, 11 et seq.). Thus, it is simply false for anyone to accuse the Church of discrimination, bigotry, or hate speech when it comes to those with a same-sex attraction.  Instead, the Church welcomes and embraces them.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that, “In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. ‘Full of grace and truth,’ he came as the ‘light of the world,’ he is ‘the Truth’…To follow Jesus is to live in ‘the Spirit of truth,’ whom the Father sends in his name and who leads ‘into all the truth’” (2466).

This is the fifth in a series.