Sacred Scripture tells us that God created man and woman in His own image, after His own likeness (Gen 1: 27; 2: 21_25). The Holy Trinity, being Communio Personarum, created man as male and female to form in an analogous manner a community of persons. As body-persons man and woman are to be images of the Trinity. They are God's creatures, and their mutual gift of self, most profoundly expressed through sexual union, is nothing less than an icon of God's own inner unity. Sexuality is part of man's being as the imago Dei and thus something eminently good and positive.
How can sexuality be understood as an image or icon of the Trinity? The key to answering that question is what John Paul II calls the "law of the gift." This law governs the divine Communio Personarum, and analogously its icon, the communion of man and woman in marriage. It is also lived out in the other vocations within the Church (celibate priesthood and religious life) though in different ways.
The Father's complete gift of Himself to the Son, and the Son's gift of Himself to the Father, i.e., their mutual love, is a third divine person in God—the Holy Spirit. In an analogous manner a new human person proceeds from the mutual love of husband and wife in the marital embrace. In a certain sense we can speak of the child as the personified love of husband and wife, or the icon of their mutual gift of self.
The Church's Teaching on Sexuality
The Church has always taught that sexual activity must be in keeping with the creative wisdom of God and thus with human dignity. There are two essential conditions:
1) The sexual encounter must be the pledge and expression of the mutual gift of self of man and woman in the fullest sense, i.e., in the context of the communion of love and life within marriage; 2) It must at least potentially be open to the gift of life. Only in marriage does the physical intimacy of the spouses become a sign and pledge of spiritual communion, and thus an icon of the Trinity. Any use of the sexual faculty outside the context of marriage, such as fornication, masturbation, etc., is contrary to the profound meaning of sexuality.
Even within marriage there can be uses of the sexual faculty that contradict this profound sense, e.g., rape, unnatural intercourse, contraception, etc. These and other abusive forms of the sexual faculty neither contribute to the temporal and eternal welfare of the human person, nor to the perfection of the imago.
If these established principles are applied to homosexual activity, it becomes clear that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." Unlike the marital embrace, sexual relations between persons of the same sex, even when they occur within the context of a genuine friendship, are in and of themselves incapable of being an icon of the Trinity. This, of course, by no means implies that persons of the same sex cannot or should not love one another genuinely and selflessly, and express that love. The genital expression of that friendship, however, is reserved to husband and wife in marriage.
Even if homosexual acts should subjectively be experienced as a genuine expression of personal friendship, they still fail to fulfill the above mentioned conditions from which the sexual union derives its dignity and meaning. Sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex neither corresponds to the complementarity of the sexes, nor is it (not even potentially as with couples suffering from sterility) open to the gift of life.
Homosexuality and Complementarity
The complementarity of the sexes constitutes an essential aspect and deserves attention in the attempt to evaluate the phenomenon of homosexuality. The fact that God created man male and female and not as persons of the same sex is not accidental but is of profound significance. Although equal in dignity, men and women differ from one another not only physically and anatomically. They feel differently, think dif-ferently, and love differently as well. Slogans such as "No one is born as a woman" or "A woman is a product of her upbringing," cannot change that reality. The denial of sexual difference and sexual complementarity certainly contributes to the confusion in the realm of sexuality, specifically regarding homosexuality. Homosexual activity lacks the completion achieved through the opposite sex.
Although the complementarity of the sexes concerns the entire psycho-physical makeup of the human person and all the different aspects of human life, this lack becomes especially obvious through the fact that homosexual acts are not suited to procreation. The transmission of life is certainly not the only end of sexuality. The marital embrace is also the pledge and bodily expression of the spouses' love for each other. Homosexual activity, however, is neither a pledge of spousal love nor is it open to the gift of life.
The attempt of two persons of the same sex to express their friendship genitally falls short of the spousal character of the marital embrace. Not every sexual encounter (not even between a man and woman) is suited to express in a bodily way the love of the persons for each other. That fact has nothing to do with "biologism." Unnatural intercourse between persons of different sex is neither unitive nor procreative, and neither are homosexual acts.
Does the Church Reject Homosexuals?
Again and again we hear the accusation that the Church condemns the "homosexual." This accusation is mostly polemical and based on a misunderstanding. The Church does not condemn or reject persons. She rejects certain actions that are in and of themselves disordered and contrary to the creative wisdom of God, but never the person so acting. Her motivation for doing so is neither prejudice nor prudishness, but rather the sincere concern for the temporal and eternal welfare of the individual as well as of society.
The Church strongly insists upon the obligation to treat every person, including those with homosexual tendencies, with respect in keeping with his or
"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided ...." Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358.
her human dignity. She expressly condemns any kind of unjust treatment or violence regarding homosexuals, and demands that their human dignity like that of any human person be respected and protected in word, in action, and in law.
For the proper understanding of the Church's doctrine on this matter it is crucial to know that it is primarily oncerned with free and willful actions and not with a person's sexual tendency or inclination. In the "Declaration on certain questions concerning sexual ethics" (December 29, 1975), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has explicitly distin-guished between a homosexual inclination or tendency and homosexual activity.
This very important distinction means that homo-sexual tendencies or inclinations are not sinful insofar as they do not proceed from free will. This being true, it must be said, however, that it would be wrong and erroneous to regard the homosexual inclination as indifferent or good, as is argued from time to time without and within the Church. Even if a person's homosexual inclination is not freely chosen—which appears to be the experience of most of the persons concerned—the inclination as such, though not sinful, is still objectively disordered, because it aims at behavior that is not in agreement with the wise plan of the Creator. The actuation of that disordered inclination can therefore under no circumstances be justified.
Another argument voiced from time to time is that homosexual behavior is "natural" for the person with homosexual tendencies. What is here regarded as "natural" does not flow from the person's human nature as man or woman but from a habitus or a deep-seated tendency the genesis of which is for the most part unclear. It is important to stress that it is not part of anyone's nature to act homosexually, even if that should be the subjective impression of the person concerned. The mere existence of sexual desires not in conformity with the true meaning of sexuality must not be confused with an irreversible inclination. In the course of their lives many people feel such desires more or less strongly. In most cases they can be dealt with as with any other kind of temptation.
Homosexuality and Human Dignity
Moreover, the human person must never be defined only by sexuality. "The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation." This is to say that the person has the primacy over his or her sexuality. Rather than speak about "homosexuals," "gays," or "lesbians," we should speak about persons with a homosexual inclination. Created in the image of God, every human person, including those with homosexual tendencies, has an inviolable dignity, and a vocation to holiness. All persons, regardless what tendencies they might experience, are called to live the "law of the gift," be it in marriage, celibacy, or dedicated service to others.
Rev. Stefan Reuffurth, OMV
Heiligenkreuz Theological College