Is “All Are Welcome” Enough?

In an article a couple of weeks ago entitled “This I Believe: Created in God’s Image,” a Jesuit brother of mine, Damian Torres-Botello, affirmed the dignity of all LGBTQ men and women.  He also expressed his solidarity with them as a gay man, a man who fully accepts that he is gay and has been created in the image and likeness of God.   He accepts that he is more than his skin color, his sexual orientation, or any of these other deeply important characteristics, and that the most important facet of his being is that he is a human being made in the image and likeness of God.

I am on record saying that I think it is a good thing for priests to be able, in appropriate circumstances, to “come out” to their parishioners and other people they serve.  It can be a deeply consoling thing for a person who experiences same-sex attraction to hear that a priest has experienced the same thing, and yet, as Damian says, refuses to restrict himself to that facet of his experience.

The concern that I have with Damian’s article – and I write this entirely in the spirit of fraternal dialogue (believe me, we discuss this topic a lot!) – is that articles such as this and “Fine By Me” in The Jesuit Post can come off as sounding as if they accept a commonly understood LGBTQ lifestyle, a lifestyle that includes homogenital expression. For example, in “Fine By Me,” the author speaks approvingly of songs such as Macklemore’s “Same Love,” a song whose message runs contrary to Church teaching on married love. Another article about the coming out of NBA basketball player Jason Collins also speaks approvingly of “Same Love.”  Macklemore’s message, to be clear, is that “underneath it’s all the same love.”   But if this were true, then the Church should accept the right to gay marriage.

So while the sentiments are warm and positive, are they fair to a gay person?  Is it fair to express agreement on a widely read Catholic website that it’s all the “same love?” There is a heavy emphasis in many TJP articles that address questions of sexual orientation on acceptance, tolerance and the fact that many gay people do not feel welcome in the Catholic Church.  And this is true: many gay Catholics feel judged by fellow parishioners and do not feel comfortable worshiping side by side with other Catholics.  That should not happen.  That is clear.

But when the emphasis falls entirely on acceptance, on “same love,” and on the judgmentalism of the Church, the impression (in my reading) that can remain to a reader is that a gay lifestyle that includes homogenital expression is an acceptable lifestyle.  I’m not saying that Damian or anyone else at TJP thinks this.  I’m saying that the impression can be that this is the case.

For someone like Damian, affirming the dignity that he has as a gay man and as someone who has taken a vow of chastity can be a very affirming thing.  But what about gay men and women who have not taken a vow of chastity?  When they read such articles, will they conclude that they too are invited to live a life of chastity?  Or will they conclude, rather, that if they are not in religious life, the Church should welcome them along with their lifestyle of homogenital expression, a lifestyle that the Church cannot condone?

I think that an article such as Damian’s has to do much more than emphasize: “The Church needs to accept everyone, including all LGBTQ people, without judgment.”  While this is true of the person, it is only half of the truth.  The other half is that LGBTQ people who are members of the Church have to accept the Church’s teaching in regard to their own personal lifestyle and vocation.  As Eve Tushnet – herself a lesbian – explains so well in her recent book “Gay and Catholic,” LGBTQ people are not “called” to abstinence.  Callings are not to a negative but to a positive.   She explains:

In my view everyone has a vocation, and probably more than one.  A vocation is the path or way of life in which God is calling us to pour out our love for him and for other particular human beings.  Vocation is always a positive act of love, not a refraining-from-action.  So celibacy, in and of itself, isn’t a vocation in this sense, although it can be a discipline that frees one up for one’s vocations.

While LGTBQ Catholics must live a life of sexual abstinence, they are also called to live a rich vocation within the Catholic Church.   One crucial component of their dignity lies precisely in this calling to live out a vocation that incorporates these important elements of their identity into a vocation that serves the Church.  Without an explanation of this vocation, a gay person could read these articles and get the impression that the Church must welcome both them and their lifestyle of homogenital expression. That it at least a concern that I have. What the Church welcomes, rather, is the person, that person’s dignity, and that person’s vocation, a vocation that incorporates many facets of what it means to identify as LGBTQ, but which does not include homogenital expression.  This is a challenge to many, but a challenge about which we must always be level lest we foster confusion.

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  • dismasdolben

    I have a few questions for you, Nathan, that I think your article leaves unanswered:

    Is a kiss or an embrace “sexual expression”?
    Do you believe that a healthy human life can be lived without physical expressions of love?
    (Are you not aware that, at some points in their lives, people can actually wither and die without the physical affirmation of affection?)
    You are aware, right, of the distinctions between “chastity” and “celibacy,” and you do know, right, that “chastity” is a STATE OF MIND that ALL are called to, including those in the connubial state?–that it simply means that one refrains, always, from using another’s body as a mere object of pleasure?
    If you are aware of this meaning of chastity, do you actually believe that ALL physical expressions of “same-sex-attraction” are necessarily acts of self-gratification, and that they NEVER may be self-sacrificial or self-offering in the sense that many expressions of married, heterosexual love are? (If you DO think that, mustn’t it imply that you are paying NO attention to most accounts of their lives that LBGT folks are currently giving?)
    Are you so staunch a subscriber to the “Theology of the Body” and its fairly outdated and overly-romanticized notion of “complementarity” that you think that “complementary” means ONLY the basic plumbing of the human body, without any consideration of what science is telling us about the wiring of the human brain as concerning gender?
    Penultimately, you do know, don’t you, that there are plenty of “same-sex attracted” Catholics who know full well why the Catholic sacrament of marriage is fundamentally different in spiritual character from that of the Protestants or the mainstream American culture, and consequently realize that “marriage” as a Catholic sacrament, may never be extended to them–but, at the same time, hope that the Church would treat their monogamous civil unions with at least so much dignity and respect as to PRESUME that they are attempting to live a chaste, but healthily partnered existence?
    And, finally, you DO appreciate, right, that the Church has NEVER made an honest and open attempt to affirm PUBLICLY, in front of the “good people in the pews,” that some of the attempts to live in chaste obedience to the Church’s prescriptions for the “same-sex attracted” constitute example of heroic sanctity (Gerard Manley Hopkins, Father Judge, perhaps John Henry Newman, etc.) that are worthy of AT LEAST as much celebration as the efforts of “straight” people to be good parents and worthy spouses?

    • dismasdolben

      And one last question, Nathan: can you not recognize that what is being asked for here is, by Catholic standards, a mere civil union–that, in other words, by denying the sacramental and permanent quality of traditional Christian marriage, the majority Protestant and secularist societies of the Anglophonic world long ago abandoned the type of marriage that Christ enjoined upon His people, in the Scriptural prohibitions of divorce? Why can’t Catholics accept that this “gay marriage” thing has absolutely NOTHING to do with the kind of marriage that Christ instituted at Cana, and is no threat to it–but that it was always inevitable when the sacramental quality of marriage was nullified by Protestant culture?

    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

      I clarified even further what I had already clarified in the original post, that what I mean in this post by “sexual expression” is “homogenital expression.” But before that edit, I had explained that by “sexual expression” I meant genital expression.

      This post is not about gay marriage.

    • Dante Aligheri

      I am sort of thinking off the cuff here so I apologize in advance as I try to parse through this or if this seems to get off topic.

      First off, I agree with the basic points made by Nathan that overemphasis on acceptance, a tricky word nowadays, should not cause scandal or confusion – i.e., approval of all actions of an individual.

      More to the point, the problem is our historical development cannot be turned back (nor should it be, arguably). I think you would agree with me, Dismas, that most of us exist on a spectrum of psycho-physical attraction and that changes throughout our lives. To that extent, orientation as currently understood is a construct designed to fit preconceived, historically conditioned notions about what proper relationships should be. Quite simply, I think societally we are hung about orientation – defining who is where and what characteristics fall where – and, unfortunately, this is the cultural baggage not of the past fifty years but of the past five hundred where human aesthetics and the expectations of a marriage and household have undergone drastic shifts since the Renaissance – in no small part due to the Reformation.

      It seems to me that physical attraction and expression of physical friendship have been particularized to the opposite sex so, in today’s society, it would be nigh impossible for a man to express healthy friendship with another without being labeled. Orthodox Jewish men dancing with other men, to invoke the stereotype – and this is healthy friendship, largely due to different expectations of a marriage, but our society (in no small part due to Protestantism and the Sexual Revolution) has exalted male-female marriage to such a level of exclusivity, especially given our modern suburbia where everyone is holed away except for the nuclear family, that this expression is not possible. Physicality has been tied so closely to marriage anymore. It used to be where Catholic Erasmus could move within the homosocial world and disdain marriage as an impediment to the spiritual and intellectual life. We don’t have that kind of homosocial system, the kind in which monasticism also thrived, largely due to (a good thing) the improvement of women’s place in society.

      I also whole-heartedly agree with what you say about chastity – that, again due to post-Reformation reaction to asceticism, it has become a holding cell for the unmarried rather than a virtue for all. Celibacy has lost its place. We almost need, and this is utopian thinking, for sure, a kind of inner monastic revolution where homosocial love and virtue can be practiced by all with a neo-ascetic focus on divine love, that we are citizens of the World to Come and not this World, of which we are pilgrims. Surely materialism and selfishness are tied up with this. In theory, I do not see why, in the long tradition of anchorites and hermits, such arrangements could not be made except for the fact that our current society could not be adjusted to it without scandal. Quite simply, I don’t think it could work without an entirely reimagined social structure to support it. It would also require discipline, but, as you point out, in theory all marriages are supposed to be just as disciplined spiritually.

      So, as others said here, there must be other ways of speaking about being “in love” and living out that love which can include the totality of the human person without necessarily being material or marital. In ascetic Christianity, after all, spiritual love was indeed more Christ-like than erotic love. Of course, even more radically, St. Melania and the Cappadocians thought that eschatological existence, being like angels who do not give in marriage, meant an almost sexless form of divine love; regardless of the orthodoxy of that idea, it has an extraordinarily long pedigree. Even if we could revive the consensus morality of ancient paganism (which, alas, was also separated from marital ethics of common society) – the Pythagoreans, Platonists, Cynics, and Stoics – that might be an option.

      But, again, it would require a major ressourcement of the post-Tridentine Church. As writing this post has distracted me, thankfully though, from some remaining work, I will leave the post as it is so I apologize again if the thoughts seem uneven or not constructed well.

      • dismasdolben

        No, your thoughts are constructed very well, indeed, and I think that the priests who pontificate about human sexuality and the need to obey the “rules,” such as Nathan, had BETTER start paying attention to the fact that most of those “rules” are not even “traditional” at all and are heavily tempered by historical trends that were, in fact, deviations from what was once practised as “Christian lifestyles.” I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again here: I predict that, in two or three hundred years, the categories we use to describe basic human affections and desires will be considered barbaric monstrosities. The task of the Church, in order to avoid being on the side of the devils, rather than the angels, is to practise the love and forgiveness of Christ for what she should honestly admit she does not yet understand. But what you have written, Dante, is more “Christian” and more compassionate than Nathan’s apparent backtracking on this subject.

        • Dante Aligheri

          I’m confused. I don’t think Nathan was being legalistic here nor do I think he was without compassion. He states we need to have a serious cultural conversation about what “in love” actually means in other comments.

          What he was concerned about was, deep historical and cultural malformations aside, here and now, in the culture even as we currently have it, the Church, while being compassionate and a proactive culture maker (rather than a culture reactor – which I think is the great temptation here), should not mislead people into thinking that same-sex sexual activity (“homogenital expression,” as he parses it) is okay insofar as the Church is concerned.

          He agrees we need to construct or recover an alternative narrative of self-giving and chaste love which includes the totality of being for everybody – given that orientation itself is a construct, and we are all at heart human beings gathered in Christ’s Body for the World to Come, together with the angels and all creation – but one that is not reducible to sexual activity, for all. After all, in that World which intersects with this one, we are all, first and foremost, priests and vessels of God – “sexuality” notwithstanding, as St. Melania would say, I think.

          If the disagreement with Nathan stems from a justifiable fear that speaking of law exonerates a similar transformation of heterosexual culture towards chastity, then I’m having trouble seeing that. I do intend to speak on his behalf, but I don’t think he’s speaking of two standards. Rather, I think the post is trying to clarify the transformative aspect, that welcoming does not imply – for anyone – merely an acceptance of where one is currently at in life. But that does involve the renunciation of anything incompatible with Christ by all, a healthy detachment from material objects and distorting, possessive relationships, even within a marriage, yes, and a trust in Providence. And it would be possible, I think, for everyone to have sacrificial love for everyone – including physical expression as we are material beings, after all. Think of a father and son or brother for brother. And this goes for all, something everyone needs to learn – i.e., how to cultivate friendship again in a suburban, mass-texting society. So, if that runs the risk of being interpreted as something it’s not – like seeing a Frenchman or Frenchwoman greeting a friend with a kiss or even Judas’ kiss of Jesus as a teacher and friend, or St. John resting on Jesus’ side at the Last Supper, or David’s covenantal obligations to Jonathan, or, yes, Beowulf and his retainer, then that is the World talking and seeing, and we have died to and overcome the World. It’s those critical bonds of social ties, the love of friends, that needs to be recovered. But, if for the friend, that behavior is a temptation, then by all means ascesis must follow. That is within the individual conscience formed within the culture.

          But the liberty of the Christian conscience is not a license to sin, and it’s that line we walk today. It’s C.S. Lewis dictum that modesty exists only from the perspective of the sinner – not the Victorian culture coders.

          The cultural conversation and ressourcement, however, is critical in the long run, I think, if Christianity is to survive. I’m tempted to quote Rahner’s “in the days ahead, [the Christian] will be a mystic – or nothing at all” here.

  • Bob


    At the outset, let me say that I am not Roman Catholic. I am a member of the Episcopal Church. So, my comments are based upon our church’s experience of over 40 years of dealing with the issues around human sexuality. We have also wrestled with the question of women in the priesthood too.

    Are you saying that all sexual expressions between LGBTQ are unacceptable within the Roman Catholic Church?

    Has there been any time spent on exploring what loving physical expressions might be for both heterosexuals and homosexuals?

    Does the Roman Catholic Church find any heterosexual physical expressions of love unacceptable? If so, are such expressions openly discussed and proscribed by the Church? I know that divorce and remarriage has a history and scriptural warrant for special notice and canonical restrictions and exceptions, but are there other sexual acts between heterosexuals that are condemned or disallowed by the church with consequences?

    What makes a physical, sexual expression of love acceptable to the church? I understand the need to hold all Christians to a view of life that expresses the love of God that is not violent or abusive. Love between two people within a Christian sacramental life seems to lead to mutuality of expressed physical love. I guess I am wondering if the Roman Catholic Church is looking at the whole range of human sexuality or simply focusing on LGBTQ folks because they are more easily seen as outside the heterosexual camp and therefore subject to a different standard.


    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

      Again, as I said above, I’ve edited “sexual expression” to say “homogenital expression.” But even before that edit, I had explained that I was using “sexual expression” in this post as shorthand for “genital expression.”

  • Alexandra

    Telling gay people that they must never live in love with another person is not welcoming them.

    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

      I know many gay people who would disagree with you. And they, like Tushnet, would describe other ways of living “in love.”

      • Ron Chandonia

        Your last comment cuts to the heart of the issue. Sadly, it is harder than ever to convince people that there are ways of living ‘in love’ different from the ones most celebrated in pop culture. Thanks for your very thoughtful contribution to a discussion that is certainly not confined to the Jesuit community.

  • Chris

    I think that underneath, love IS all the same, regardless of how it may or may not be expressed genitally.

    I don’t really worry much how things sound to other people who don’t listen to what was actually said and I not worry about the private details of other peoples sex lives.

    “GBTQ people who are members of the Church have to accept the Church’s teaching in regard to their own personal lifestyle and vocation.”

    I’m not sure why we are so instent on gay Catholics following magisterial teaching when married heterosexual Catholics do not eg contraception, or other acts in marriage which are not open to conception such as oral or anal sex.

    The problem here is that the magisterium’s teaching on this is now rejected by most Catholics in the West including by many excelent Catholic theologians, it is not soundly based in scripture, it cannot be traced to anything Christ taught, it was undermined by Vatican II’s teaching on the unitive good of sex as distinct from procreation, the natural law is nowadays widely questioned (including by Popes), and it is not infallibly taught. We don’t know for certain whether or not it is actually true.

    I think we need to tread very carefully least we seriously mess up the lives of our gay brother and sister Catholics; because on judgment day we are going to have to give account to almighty God as to why we did that.

    I think that at the present moment we need to be as loving and kind as we can, and humble enough to admit we aren’t 100% certain on this.

    FWIW, I see no reason why the Church cannot accept state same sex marriage (which is theologically a civil union), I see no reason to doubt that the marriages of my gay friends are sacramental in the theological sense (a efficacious physical sign of Christ’s grace), and I see no reason why homogenital acts in commited same sex relationships cannot be genuine acts of love.

    Eve Tushnet seems to have increasing doubts about this teaching too.

    Perhaps we should be more like doubting St Thomas: show me the wounds.

    God Bless

    • Agellius

      Chris writes, “I think we need to tread very carefully least we seriously mess up the lives of our gay brother and sister Catholics; because on judgment day we are going to have to give account to almighty God as to why we did that.”

      It’s interesting how many people perceive a need to tread very carefully less we offend gay Catholics, but perceive no need to tread carefully lest we misconstrue Christian morality or the Church’s constant tradition over millennia, or to warn people of the dangers of mortal sin. Which is objectively more perilous?

    • Chris


      I am not talking of merely offending gay Catholics (which is in itself a sin) but of seriously messing up their lives by destroying their ability to live in a healthy and stable relationship, to enjoy the natural relationship of deep, intimate, and personal love which every human being is created for.

      To destroy so many peoples lives in this way is a grave sin and one day those who indulge in it will be called to account by almighty God, who is currently in the process of sorting out humanity’s deeply sinful attitudes and actions against gay people.

      You are wrong to claim the Church’s teaching is constant as it cannot be traced back to Christ. The essentially link in claiming constancy is missing.

      FWIW, a gay couple enjoying homogenital acts cannot be in mortal sin unless they firmly believe that such acts are gravely sinful.

      God Bless

  • Mark VA

    In my opinion, this is a well reasoned, and a pastoral article – congratulations, Nathan!

  • Andrew

    I agree with the points you have made here to the extent that affirming the dignity of homosexuals while simultaneously cautioning about homogenital expression CAN be an effective way of showing the whole picture of the Church’s stance on homosexuality. What you are proposing sounds similar to the intent of, say, The Third Way from Blackstone Films, which is a good example of how one can put a positive spin on the Church’s position while not shying away from the more controversial aspects of it. Where I think you and I differ is in your insistence that the act of welcoming gays MUST NECESSARILY include the caution against genital expression.

    If a parish were to start a program to try to welcome more single people into the parish, I don’t imagine that anyone would insist on including a caution against “singulo-genital expression” in the advertising materials, for fear that single people will misinterpret the message to mean that the Church will suddenly accept their lifestyles of pre-marital sex. Why not? Because being single is not seen as being a problematic state. Pre-martial sex amongst single people is not seen as a sin arising from “singleness”; it is a sin arising from concupiscence.

    It seems to me that we would do a lot better if we were to treat gays more like a variant of single people, and to encourage chastity independently of orientation. Granted, homosexuals are burdened to the extent that the Sacrament of Matrimony — the only avenue by which one can gain access to legitimate sexual relations in the eyes of the Church — is not just a matter of meeting the right person for them. But this seems to me to be an incidental feature, and not a reason to consider their orientation to be problematic per se. Treating gays and singles under the same umbrella means that we would afford gays the same privacy and the same “assumption of innocence” that we currently afford to singles whose sexual activity is unknown. And if they are engaging in genital acts, that those acts be considered as a problem of concupiscence and not one of homosexuality.

    In my mind, insisting that we caution against homogenital expression each and every time we try to welcome gays limits the depth of our welcome, because it implies that we think there is something inherently wrong with their orientation such that it requires such cautioning. Of course, the Church needs to proclaim its message on the limits of genital expression, but that discussion should happen in the context of teaching about chastity, and should be applied to people across the board, irrespective of their orientation. Until we are able to do this, I believe we will not be as welcoming as we can be.

    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

      Thanks Andrew. I definitely don’t think that we need to caution “each and every time!” My main concern here is that, on a website like TJP, there is never a caution, and only acceptance. And in my mind, there is more than acceptable welcome. There is also the “same love” implication, which I think is dangerous and unfair to those who might expect from the Church something the Church can’t offer. So while I don’t think that a prohibition against homogenital expression is the first thing to advertise, it needs to come out at some point. I think I agree with you on all points.

      • Andrew

        Thank you for your response, Nathan. It would seem that if you agree with me, though, then the very use of the term “homogenital expression” starts to become problematic. It implies that there is something special about genital expressions by homosexuals that deserves special attention. I think I was in the process of exploring this idea last night when I coined the phrase “singulo-genital expression”, which describes something that is also proscribed by the Church and yet doesn’t make any kind of sense as a category.

        It would seem that if you agree with me, then your complaint against The Jesuit Post is not really that they write too much about acceptance, it is that they don’t write enough about chastity *in general*. (Because if chastity is properly understood, then the difficulties with the “same love” idea would appear to go away.)

        Do I misunderstand?

        • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

          Yes and no I think. I don’t think “singulo-genital expression falls into the same category as “homogenital expression.” If they did, then homogenital expression would have to find a welcome place within the marital context. Singulo-genital expression is not a separate act from what takes place in the marital context. What changes — importantly — is the context. But no context can change the nature of homogenital expression.

          So yes, I would like to see more about chastity in general. But I also understand that they don’t want to focus on sexual issues, since the (often accurate) perception is that the Church focused too much on the bedroom for centuries. But to the degree that they do write on issues surrounding homosexuality, I think it would be appropriate to offer, not only a message of acceptance, but also recommendations for how a gay person in the Church, someone who cannot express themselves homogenitally, can live “in love” and with a positive vocation.

        • Andrew

          Thank you for explaining. I realize as a result of this discussion that what I am trying to get at is a theology in which the nature of the genital act is not so compartmentalized. I am interested in exploring the possibilities of a theological formulation in which the homogenital and heterogenital acts are “essentially” the same act, except only in so far as one happens to be conducive to a procreative context (marriage) and one does not. The actual context itself would thus be the significant distinguishing factor between licit and illicit genital acts, instead of considerations of the nature of the act (which if I read you correctly can only be compartmentalized based on the availability of context anyway).

          I am not any kind of philosopher or theologian, so I have no idea whether the formulation I suggest is possible or compatible. But if it were possible, it seems like it would provide a foundation for welcoming gays as TJP does, because the accompanying cautions would be about the sanctity of marriage, not about homosexuality.

      • trellis smith

        Actually truth in advertising would suggest that the first thing you tell gay people is that no hanky panky is allowed.

    • Agellius

      “It seems to me that we would do a lot better if we were to treat gays more like a variant of single people, and to encourage chastity independently of orientation.”

      Hear, hear! to encouraging chastity for all. However, in my experience, the churches that preach against homosexual sex tend also to preach against heterosexual premarital sex; and the ones that neglect preaching against premarital sex also tend to neglect preaching against homosexual sex.

      • trellis smith

        While I cannot agree with you what’s not to like with your egalitarian spirit. I suppose some sort of détente could be had as long as there was an understanding that these were ideals rather than the ground rules.

      • Kurt

        That is interesting. I can’t recall a single example in the last 15 years either known to me first hand or from reports of others where a priest addressing homosexuality discussed personal chastity rather than a political or legislative issue. That is what has led me to believe that the agenda is not personal morality but delivering votes to their preferred politicians.

    • dismasdolben

      Where I think you and I differ is in your insistence that the act of welcoming gays MUST NECESSARILY include the caution against genital expression.

      What Nathan and all the other clerical legislators don’t do, effectively enough (but what that Blackstone film BEGAN to do) is to “caution” against NOT using the God-given tools of emotional affectivity to realize the higher level of spiritual unity and love that ALL are enjoined to aspire to by the Christian Revelation in the FULL humanity of Jesus Christ. (And, yes, if that seems to you to imply that what I’m suggesting is a physical love and desire for the humanity of Jesus Christ–that is PRECISELY what I’m suggesting, and it seems to me to be precisely what Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Crashaw and Hopkins were tacitly implying, throughout their spiritual writings and religious art. “Same sex desire” for the men and women that “gay” folk desire may possibly be only susceptible of being truly sumblimated into what Teresa of Avila called “love of the humanity of Jesus.”

  • Alexandra

    I find it to be truly strange that there is all of this focus on pelvic issues. Why would anyone choose to believe that God has created a certain portion of the human race, intending for them to live forever devoid of experiencing the physical love of another human being? How can anyone say that the Catholic Church welcomes gay people, if the condition is that they remain celibate? Celibacy is supposed to be a choice, not a requirement. Yes, if some man wants to become a Jesuit (because we know that this “brotherhood” would never welcome sisters as equals), then that man is making a choice of taking the vow of celibacy. However, to state this as a condition of membership in the Catholic Church, and then to call it a welcome is simply hypocritical.

    • Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

      I don’t think that’s what we believe Alexandra. We believe, as we do about many other cases, that secondary causes active in the process of evolution over thousands of years have shaped many of the “disorders” that the human race currently experiences. God did not create those disorders. Christian theology traces them to the fall of the angels and the fall of the first human populations.

      Why do you say celibacy is supposed to be a choice? For those who embrace it as a charism, it is a choice. But for many, it must be part of the discipline of their life. That has long been held by the Church. Celibacy for diocesan priests is a discipline of the Church, not a choice. This is a regular part of Church practice.

      • trellis smith

        Perhaps the least objection to this comment is how scientifically flawed it is, I don’t believe intrinsically disordered has garnered much support outside a narrow subset of the natural law crowd. The moral component and distinction applied to homosexual people is unique in its condemnation. It is a categorical distinction without parallel as far as I can determine.

        Your and the church’s assertion of homosexuality as an evolutionary disorder has about as much supporting evidence that could equally apply to eye color or coordination dominance or for that matter the rise of the Ebola virus
        Upon every objection to homosexuality and homosexuals rising in more and more theological obfuscation one usually arrives at tautologies confirming nothing more than a deep seated but garden variety bigotry.

        In this regard only our theologies are disordered.

        • dismasdolben

          Trellis, I am quite sure that this what you refer to as a “disordered” theology is a mere blip in the “development” of Christian doctrine regarding what shall eventually be called a spiritually efficacious assortment of human desires–fuel for closer and closer love of God. Meanwhile, it hurts, yes, but those who bear such a cross are a light unto the world.

    • Chris


      I think that requiring celibacy as a discipline on those who are not called to it and who not enjoy the charisms to live it out sucessfully, is a receipe for failure, and probably explains why so many of my brother priests struggle and many leave the priesthood.

      Marriage is good and proper and willed by God. There should be no problem if a priest or religious falls in love and wants to get married. That should not be any barrier to continuing in priestly ministry.

      God knows we are short enough of priests as it is without throwing away scarce vocations by refusing men the natural and wholesome right to marriage.

      Every discpline contary to scripture (“it is not good for man to live alone”) needs a very strong grounding in the deposit of faith taught by Christ.

      God Bless

      • Nathan O’Halloran, SJ

        I think the discipline of celibacy is well rooted in Scripture, both in Matthew 19 and in 1 Corinthians 7, and also in the lifestyle of Jesus himself.

        But actually, I’m not entirely clear that a gay person is called to “celibacy.” A gay person must live a life of sexual abstinence, because to do otherwise is sinful. I don’t think that is technically “celibacy.” Just as a single unmarried straight person is not “celibate” before marriage, so a gay person is not necessarily “celibate.” They are just not doing what would be otherwise sinful. Celibacy itself is either a discipline separate from abstinence that is a piece of a larger vocational mosaic, or it is a charism offered to certain people. Hopefully gay people who are required to live a life of sexual abstinence can also find beyond the “negative” of abstinence a “positive” in the discipline of celibacy and even, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, receive the charism. That’s how I tend to look at it.

      • Chris

        I have no problem with celibacy for those called to it. But I note that Matthew 19 is very clear that this is only for those to whom it has been given and those able to accept it:

        11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

        I think those cautions also apply to gay people, many of whom will not be able to accept celibacy and for whom it is very doubtful that God is calling them to celibacy.

        I understand the term “celibacy” to simply mean unmarried. That’s the Canon Law use and it says nothing about sexual activity.

        Why do you think that “a gay person must live a life of sexual abstinence, because to do otherwise is sinful” ? Do you say this of your own accord, or simply because that is what the catechism says ?

        What I am trying to get it is : what is the reason that gay sex must always be sinful ?

        God Bless

        • Nathan O’Halloran, SJ

          No, in Canon Law, celibacy is considered a “special gift.” cf. 277. It is a special gift of the Holy Spirit in that sense to live a life of “perpetual continence.”

          I say that a gay person must live a life of sexual abstinence because to do otherwise is sinful because that is what the Church teaches. Why would I say this of my own accord? The whole premise of this article starts from what the Church teaches. Why is gay sex sinful? That’s a different debate. There are many good things written about it. This article starts with what the Church teaches and looks at positive ways of acceptance of gay people within the Church that are not at variance with its teaching.

    • Tausign

      Why would anyone choose to believe that God has created a certain portion of the human race, intending for them to live forever devoid of experiencing the physical love of another human being?

      Alexandra, I understand your intent but I want to caution that your remark contains a presupposition that really deserves some closer scrutiny. No one should ever assume that ‘certain sexual expressions’ are in an of themselves, requirements for a full human existence. It is truly unreasonable to assume that someone who avoids sexual contact is living a life that is ‘devoid’ in any sense. Depending upon the circumstances and context of one’s life, the absence of sexual relations may be an outright requirement as well as a profound benefit.

      In fact, the secular variation of your premise, (namely that men and women need sex for fulfillment) is very often used to justify sexual relations as a system of rewards and punishments. A system where the young and female receive the greatest lot of punishment and the strong and male get most of the rewards. I think I could fill this commbox to the floor with examples.

  • Abe Rosenzweig

    I’m going to name my new new wave band Homogenital Expression

  • dismasdolben

    Nathan writes this: “But no context can change the nature of homogenital expression.” and Dante Aligheri writes this: I’m tempted to quote Rahner’s “in the days ahead, [the Christian] will be a mystic – or nothing at all’ here.”

    To Nathan, one is tempted to reply, “But what IS ‘the nature’ of ‘homogenital expression’?” Apart from the tradition of the Church (formed from Scriptural passages that, seemingly, weren’t even genuinely ABOUT what moderns call “same-sex-attraction”) is that “nature” that you’re speaking of actually KNOWN yet, scientifically? (Back to this in a moment, because the “science” of this IS important, and the Catholic Church, at least, has always claimed to be a religion that accepts the conclusions of science and uses them to “develop” doctrine.)

    And one is strongly tempted to query, of Dante: “Are you aware that the actual language of mysticism, in almost all religious traditions, is highly erotic? In fact, “mysticism” (the actual SCIENCE of religion) whether it’s of the advanced kind of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Jalilud’din Rumi, seems to have NO other language except the erotic–and, in some cases, such as the languages of Richard Crashaw and Gerard Manley Hopkins, the homoerotic.If the “context” of “homogenital expression” cannot change the “nature” of that “expression,” shouldn’t certain of the lucubrations of John of the Cross, which definitely employ the language suggestive of “same sex” affectivity, be banned?

    It’s important to try to understand why this issue is so bedeviling the lay Catholic majority at the present moment. After all, there are only approximately less than one half of one percent of the population who are truly exclusively “same-sex attracted”; the pope and many other ecclesiastics are assuredly correct that issues of social and economic justice affect far more people in the Catholic world than does what is called “homosexuality.” Why, then, is this subject so roiling the concerns of so many Catholics (and, especially, from my experience as a teacher of youth, young Catholics)? I think it’s because the sensus fidelium of the Church has come to reject the notion that erotic feelings and circumstances, in general, are necessarily any kind of barrier to spiritual experiences or to prayer and that, by extension, this includes “same-sex” affectivity. Moderns have been, for a long time, legitimately questioning that Gnostic influence in the Christian Church that disdains physical desire as being necessarily characterized by greed and selfishness. The modern sensibility seems to hold that if there is a spiritual discipline for the “opposite-sex attracted” that INCLUDES compassion for bodily desire, there MUST BE a “discipline” for the “same-sex attracted” that ALSO includes affirmation of the dignity and legitimacy of the needs of the “same-sex attracted” body, as well, and that IT IS THE CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY to at least try to discover and define what that “discipline” is.

    What this means for the modern Church, then, is that this matter of the “sinfulness” of what Nathan awkwardly calls “homogenital expression” is open to question from a scientific perspective–as “open to question” as the Copernican Theory or the Theory of Evolution were, in the past, and that, as in the past, the sensus fidelium is turning against the Church’s proscription of the expressions of “same sex love,” in the same way that it turned against the Church’s proscriptions of Galileo and Darwin in earlier periods. It’s not the numbers of people affected that are the cause of the controversy, but, rather, what is perceived to be the unreasonableness of the positions that the MINORITY of Catholics (clerics and so-called “Traditionalists”) are digging their heels in about, in order to preserve something that, increasingly, seems unreasonable and uncharitable.

    What I have suggested, then, is not a rebellion against the “Tradition” of the Church on this matter, but, rather, a deferral, until later times, of any clear-cut position regarding the “sinfulness” of the styles of affectivity of the “same sex attracted” UNTIL there’s a better understanding of gender formation and the etiology of what is called “homosexuality.” Let the “good people in the pews” gradually sort it out, through a historical process, and let the theologians worry more about the “sinfulness” of the majority and STOP disingenuously professing to be worried about the “souls” of the “same sex attracted” and remember that there is mercy enough for all who can come to love Christ (who never said a word about “homosexuality”) in the context of THEIR lived experiences.

    (And please also note that what I’m suggesting is that the clerics learn from the “Body of Christ” on this issue, in the same fashion that the “liberation theologians” have for a long time argued–and now, it appears, successfully, to the mind of the present pope–that they should learn from the “people” about social and economic justice. Just as clerics must learn from the poor how the Beatitudes impact their lives, the clerics clearly need to start learning from the so-called “homosexuals” how “homosexuality” conditions their response to the Beatitudes.)

    • dismasdolben

      I think I want to add one more thing to what I’ve written above: I am determinedly and fiercely in favour of “chastity” for EVERYBODY, and I think it should colour ALL of our interpersonal relationships because of the threat of “concupiscence” entering into even connubial life.. But, unlike many here writing in what I consider to be a somewhat despairing tone about physical desire, the real reason that I personally feel that “chastity” is imperative is because I consider bodily desire to be a GOOD THING, in that it provides the fuel for a closer, and more intense relationship with God. Often, in the lives of those mystics that Dante is speaking about, what was most “dangerous” was also what was most efficacious in their pursuit of the unitive life.

      And an occasional fall into “concupiscence” should not deter anybody from a life of contemplative prayer. What the clerical class is doing, so many times, regarding this issue, is to warn the “same-sex attracted” away from precisely what might bring them closer to God, as a process of overcoming the sinfulness that ALL sexual relationships are susceptible of succumbing to.

      However, just because of that susceptibility, are heterosexual people warned away from romantic engagements with the sternness and ferocity with which some clerics (not Nathan) treat so-called “homosexual relationships”? Not by a long shot, and the determination with which the clerical class seems to proscribe this particular sin leads many Catholics, myself included, to anticipate that this issue represents, for them, a power-struggle within the Church, to hold on to dogmatism, clericalism and Scriptural Fundamentalism in a way that once, before the Protestant and Counter-Reformations, would have been considered distinctly un-Catholic.

      • dismasdolben

        And still ANOTHER way of putting this: let, according to the thinking of this writer let it be the “mystic” saints (and especially those of an apparently “deviant” sexual disposition–used non-pejoratively) who tell the “same-sex attracted” about what stages of the “unitive life” they are capable of, and of what kind of “elastic” receptivity to God’s love they could rise to, rather than ecclesiastical legislators.

    • Dante Aligheri

      I’ve had to think about this for awhile, and everything you said I certainly agree with. Yes, I know that mysticism is erotic. But I think what’s especially interesting is that even though their language is highly erotic – and hence a transposition of bodily and material language to the divine – they themselves were both erotic and ascetic people. What I mean is they were erotic but also most – not all – but most were coming from a monastic tradition which required absolute celibacy.

      So, there is an interesting sense in which they managed to live truly erotically but also in chastity – indeed, not chastity as in the virtue but also physical celibacy. That says something – that their erotic life was utilized differently, and I don’t think it’s right to say it was merely channeled to God. No, I think in a very real sense it wasn’t just given towards God but given towards others, too. And, yet, it was not physically sexual – although it was arguably sexual in that sense it is gendered, spousal language.

      We talk, in both Christianity and paganism, of Wisdom and Virtue/Arete as Female, espoused to the seeking soul. But then we speak of God as male as espoused to a female soul, a female Church – even among men. But then there is the Holy Spirit which can be, and has been even in the oldest liturgies known, as specifically female in Judaism and Christianity. There’s an old Jewish story that on Yom Kippur, after the Temple had been cleansed, the High Priest would take aside the curtain of the Holy of Holies only for the people to see the Cherubim intertwined erotically and say – “see how your King loves you.” But all of this precisely transferred the language to a higher level which specifically excluded, not all physical affection, to be sure, but attachment to this world, including physical intercourse.

      And yet, for all the color of the Song of Songs, the Holy of Holies of Scripture, as the rabbis said, they and the medievals following them also knew its liminal power – that it was highly erotic and thus needed to be properly interpreted as not “merely” human but divine love.

      So, I guess my question for you is how you see the proper applicability of mystic erotic language when the mystics themselves were often celibate and indeed lived out that divine eroticism precisely in the context of physical celibacy? To what extent can that or should that be a model for own life?

      [10 seconds later]

      Ah, I reread just to double-check. You do address this. If I’m understanding you correctly, this appears to be what you are saying:

      Namely, that any type of intense, interpersonal relationship which includes an element of mutual encouragement in the Christian life towards eros with the divine involves an element of danger, as you say. But that concupiscence can be present anywhere, including “traditional” marriages. Therefore, a priori, there is no reason – and in fact it could be harmful – to police the boundaries of those relationships and create alienations through improper assumptions about their interior lives which, if done properly, could be instrumental in the Christian life. So it involves a degree of, if I may say, Ignatian trust and Christian charity, a presumption towards right-doing and on behalf of charity – but this applies in any situation, just one does not inspect the private lives of Christian families as one comes before the Eucharist.

      • Dante Aligheri

        I should probably clarify – man, mysticism is so hard to talk about without tripping over your own feet – that when I said “physically sexual” I meant exclusively the procreative act. Certainly mysticism can and does involve physicality and sexuality, oftentimes together in a single motion – per, the “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.”

      • Tausign

        Very well said Dante.