Swiss Bishop Joseph Maria Bonnemain apparently has publicly accepted the creation of “same-sex civil unions.” Accordingly, he says that it is “good and right” that there be “different forms of stable relationships” that are “given rights and duties.” Again, “It is for me self-evident that other forms of partnership can be oriented toward an enduring love.”
Do these remarks of the bishop have support in Catholic teaching? They most certainly do not. Moreover, these remarks do not come from genuine charity, since, wittingly or unwittingly, they oppose the good of those in need of help. The Church opposes same-sex unions because she recognizes homosexual sodomy as a mortal sin and the homosexual tendency as a disorder.
Opponents of Catholic teaching immediately claim that the Church is a “hater.” Is the Church a hater? Most emphatically, she is not. True, each member of the Catholic Church is a sinner; and no doubt most Catholics have hated someone at some time; even unspeakable crimes have been committed by Catholics. But we are speaking about the Church’s teaching and action, not about the renegade actions of laymen who hate others or of prelates who water down, dilute, or deny the Catholic truth.
As I argue in False Mercy: Recent Heresies Distorting Catholic Truth, the Church firmly condemns all violence against human persons for whatever reason. Consistently, she condemns violence and hatred directed against those with same-sex attraction. Still, she is clear that the homosexual orientation is a disorder because the actions to which it points are sinful: “The proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” art. 10). Equally consistently, the Church condemns the various forms of sodomy, from masturbatory sodomy to homosexual sodomy.
The Church teaches that homosexual sodomy is unnatural, intrinsically evil, and gravely evil. She has always taught this, and her teaching is firmly grounded in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Genesis 19:1–11 expresses the wickedness of homosexual sodomy. Some Catholic scholars reject such a reading, reducing the sins of the men of Sodom to inhospitality. They were indeed inhospitable, but their chief crime was sodomy, as the CDF teaches clearly (see “Pastoral Care,” art. 6). St. Paul presents the sin of sodomy as the nadir of the historical devolution of human depravity (Romans 1:18–32). In 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul presents sodomy as a sin that excludes one from the Kingdom of God. In short, sodomy is a mortal sin.
So, is anyone who has committed sodomy therefore damned? No, for God’s mercy awaits all sorts of sinners: the greedy, the envious, the gluttonous, the proud, etc. But let us not presume on God’s mercy, for “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). If we fail to repent of grave sin, then we shall be damned. As Paul says, for those who “obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8).
Since sodomy is an unnatural act that is intrinsically evil and gravely so, relationships that promote this sin are harmful to those in them. Stability in a harmful way of life is not good; indeed, it is evil. Commitment to a way of life that promotes sinful action opposes repentance directly. Such commitment anticipates the state of perpetual impenitence in Hell.
Now, the Church is here to bring the dead to life, to heal the sick and wounded, and to feed the hungry so that all may attain the salvation which God wills for them. So, the Church comes to those who are weak and struggling to give them courage: “God loves you; He gives you grace to respond to His love.” The weak need encouragement. The Church speaks gently to them, recognizing that they already accept the truth but are saddened that their lives are not in conformity with it. To them, the Church brings healing aids that are wanted.
But neither does the Church neglect “hard and impenitent” hearts (Romans 2:5) who reject the truth and embrace sinful lifestyles. She reaches out to them by preaching the Truth of Christ and of His marvelous law. In so preaching, she does not encounter an ear ready to plead for grace. Rather, she encounters an ear that is challenged. Perhaps the hearer even reacts with scorn. Or worse, perhaps the hearers gather to persecute the preacher of truth: “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions…. Let us test him with insult and torture” (Wisdom 2:12, 19).
Should the Church fall utterly silent before those who oppose her message? If she despairs of the salvation of those committed to lives of sin, perhaps she should. But she does not despair! Rather, she prays for them, not presuming to judge their degree of culpability but confident that all those who commit sin are slaves of sin (John 8:34). She is confident that her message alone can bring salvation even to her bitter enemies. So, she preaches the truth and awaits. She waits for those hearers who allow God’s word to bring them to compunction. She then offers the saving remedies of salvation.
Every last member of the Church on earth has been redeemed from Hell by the blood of Jesus Christ; therefore, not one of them has any right to lord righteousness over another sinner. But does that mean we should fall silent before sinful lifestyles? Should fear of coming across as “holier than thou” destroy all our motivation to bring the saving Word of the Gospel to sinners? No. We must preach the truth, in season and out of season, leaving judgment to God.
Since impenitence is a major obstacle to conversion, lifestyles that embrace sin are major obstacles to salvation. But legal recognition of same-sex unions protects and promotes lifestyles of impenitence. Therefore, legal recognition of same-sex unions threatens the eternal well-being of the children whom God loves. Since the Church, commissioned by Jesus Christ to go to the ends of the earth, seeking out the lost and forgotten, loves all God’s children, she cannot endorse legal recognition of same-sex unions. In her actual teaching, she must and she does condemn such unions. The Church counsels politicians to undertake the following good actions to oppose the false tolerance that promotes same-sex activity and seeks to legalize sinful unions:
unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon (CDF, “Unions between Homosexual Persons,” art. 5).
Sometimes such tolerance has already been enshrined in law. In response to this, the Church teaches: “In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty” (CDF, “Unions,” art. 5).
These are the teachings of the Church: The homosexual orientation is a disorder; homosexual sodomy is gravely evil; and civil unions for same-sex couples must be opposed because they threaten the eternal welfare of those whom we love. There is, therefore, no support in Catholic teaching for the words ascribed to Bishop Bonnemain.
But what about love? Genuine love involves affection for another for whom one wills the true good. If we claim we love another but we do not will his true good, we do not really love him. Those who claim to love practicing homosexuals but who do not will and long for their repentance and conversion to a virtuous and natural way of life have failed to love truly. Those who love without truth do not aid the sinner. Indeed, they embolden sinners in self-destructive lifestyles.
As John Bosco is known to have said, the two leading causes of damnation are bad books and bad friends. Let us not be false friends of God’s children who struggle with lifestyles of impenitence. Let us not be effete and walk with them to the edge of a cliff, watching them plummet into the abyss. Let us rather accompany them according to true love. Let us not flatter the world in its service of Satan. Let us honor God and his image in man. Awake, O Image, unto the Likeness of God.
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