Pastoral Letter To Catholics With Same-sex Orientation
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A number of you have reacted strongly to my letter of 21 June, 2014 on the Church’s official position on the family. You have expressed hurt, anger and disappointment; that the Church, like the rest of society, seemed to ostracize you and showed inconsistency in her preaching of compassion, by not approving of your freedom to love.
The Church does not disapprove of a loving relationship between same-sex individuals that is chaste and faithful but a sexual relationship between same-sex individuals as it is not in accordance with the divine plan of God. Same-sex inclination in itself is not a sin but as love often seeks to express itself physically, the challenge to be chaste and faithful to the divine plan of God is ever present.
I apologize if my initial statement conveyed insensitivity as from your feedback, I have come to realize that there is much variation in thought and lifestyle within this community. I want you to know that I am not indifferent to your pain and frustration, as I see many Catholics with same-sex orientation for spiritual support, counselling and healing. I know many of you truly love Christ and His Church, and seek to be faithful to the Gospel. Furthermore, many of you strive to live loving, faithful and chaste lives. Difficult as it seems, we, as members of the Catholic Church, must accept her teachings on chastity in relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, and strive to align our will with the will of God as revealed in sacred scripture, tradition and the magisterium of the Church.
As the Bishop of the local Church which is a part of the Universal Catholic Church, my primary responsibility is to instruct the Faithful in accordance with the teachings of the Universal Church. I am not at liberty to change the truth as revealed in sacred scripture and that which is taught by the Magisterium of the Church, with regards to sexual relationships between those of the opposite sex, same gender, or any other issues e.g. divorce, contraception, abortion etc. What I wrote was not new but simply a restatement addressed to the Catholic Faithful. It presumes that those who are addressed believe in Christ and the inspired Word of God and the authority of the Church. St Paul wrote “I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (1 Tim 3:15). He also says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16). To the Thessalonians, he wrote, “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” (1 Thess 2:13).
The Catholic moral viewpoint is founded on human reason illumined by faith. The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions. Hence when science seems to contradict divine revelation as taught in the Bible, our faith must hold fast to the Word of God even if we cannot agree. For if reason is sufficient to find the truth, then there is no need for faith. Hence faith complements reason. St Paul underscores this when he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” (Rom 11:33)
There are many texts in sacred scripture which explicitly state that sexual relationships between those of the same gender are not permissible. St Paul’s letter to the Romans, among many other texts, states, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.” (Rom 1:24-28)
Many same-sex oriented individuals sincerely believe that they are entitled to engage in sexual practices with others of the same gender as they are born with such an inclination. Whether same-sex orientation is due to nature or nurture is something that science has not proven conclusively. If it were so, there would be no debate. To date, there has been no concrete discovery of a homosexual gene but only inferential studies from behavioural observation to postulate nature. In contrary, we find that upbringing, culture or education may play a part in nurturing persons with same-sex attraction. In addition, inner wounds inflicted on a person in-utero or in childhood through sexual abuse or otherwise, can also nurture this. In this respect, healing of such wounds may quell any tendencies as seen by several individuals who lost their attraction for the same sex after encountering inner healing of their childhood wounds. Though the verdict on nature or nurture is yet to be defined, it is clear according to scripture (Rom 1:24-28) that a sexual relationship between those of the same gender is not acceptable, as it contradicts the natural laws of God.
Extrapolating from this, would be the implications that same-sex union has on the family and society as a whole. When couples with same-sex attraction insist on marriage and adopting babies to form a family similar to that of the conventional family unit; the question arises if the child would receive holistic formation comparable to a child that is cared for in a stable family by a father and a mother. For a child is the fruit of the love between his/her parents. When there is a lack of holistic love due to damage of the family unit caused by a misrepresentation of one parent (through infidelity, divorce etc.) there is a tendency for the child to succumb to low self-esteem, rendering him/her vulnerable and incapable of authentic love. While the argument is that the child may still receive love from both partners who are in a stable same-sex relationship, the lack of a parental figure as portrayed by a member of the opposite sex may still render the child at risk.
In my ministry, I have come across many children who are wounded due to the sins of their parents (especially infidelity). Those who come from same-sex parentage share how they face an identity crisis as to their sexuality and orientation and their confusion as to how they should relate to people of different sexes. Some also shared the tendency to be unfaithful and to have multiple sexual partners. Hence, considering the future of humanity and the effects on society, not only do the institution of marriage and the family need to be fortified, in the same context, same-sex union cannot be promoted. Same-sex union which evolves into the adoption and formation of children in an environment where a partner of the other gender is not represented, is contrary to the natural laws of God, and would ultimately be destructive to society and detrimental to the world and future generations. This is what I was referring to in my initial statement when I used the terms ‘detriment’ and ‘destructive’. They do not refer to the individual but the consequences of such a union on society and future.
Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life requires that His disciples live in truth and in love. Love and truth must go together. One cannot speak of love and compassion without speaking the truth at the same time. As the truth is often difficult to accept, it is understandable that the world (and not just Catholics) would react with hostility. Against the trends in the world, the Church needs to affirm the truth as revealed in scripture. This applies also to other difficult moral teachings of the Church e.g. pre-marital sexual union, divorce, contraception, artificial insemination, abortion, euthanasia, surrogate motherhood, stem-cell research involving embryos etc. The disciples themselves struggled with the truth. – “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, this is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? The words I have spoken to you — they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:60-65). Jesus said to Peter, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:67-69). Can anyone then say that “I am right” and the Word of God is in error?
As Catholics, we are keenly aware, like the disciples, of the difficulty in accepting Jesus’ demanding message of self-emptying, non-retaliation and forgiveness. Though we cannot dilute the Word of God to suit us but we find hope in a God that is all merciful. He knows our struggles and our limitations and we find consolation in the words of Jesus, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mk 10:24-27).
Thus, we do not rely on our own strength in conquering our will and desires but on God, who gives us His Holy Spirit and grace to live out the life of the Gospel. As Jesus affirms, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’’ (John 15:5). Hence for all of us who struggle and succumb to sin, we need not despair but turn to God for mercy and forgiveness. “He does not treat us according to our sin nor repay us according to our faults. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so strong is his love for those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west so far does he remove our sins. As a father has compassion on his sons, the Lord has pity on those who fear him; for he knows of what we are made, he remembers that we are dust.” (Ps 103:10-14).
The Church does not condemn sinners but only points out the sin as expressed in the Word of God. Judgement is reserved for God alone, as only He knows the heart and struggles of the person. So though perfection may seem impossible, yet we must strive for it, growing in humility by accepting our imperfections and weaknesses and seeking forgiveness when we fail.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that while I feel with those of you who have shared your loneliness, pain, rejection and guilt with me; the Word of God however is clear in its instruction on sexual practices between individuals of the same gender, as it is with those who are divorced. All baptized are called to chastity. We therefore cannot infringe God’s laws, whether within or outside marriage. In calling those with same-sex attraction to chastity, The Catechism of the Catholic Church states “By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2359).
I know many of you love Christ and His Church and sincerely seek to integrate your faith with your life by undertaking to be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel and the Church. I am deeply edified by your courage and perseverance in spite of the challenges you face. Many of you are generous, caring and contribute to the common good of humanity by your good works. Some of you are amongst the most loving and lovable people I have come across. So indeed the Church has many good Catholics from all walks of life.
As it is such a difficult journey to remain chaste today, all Catholics need the help of God and the support of the Christian community. Hence, in addition to the other existing church groups, I have tasked the Catholic Medical Guild and the Family Life Commission to set up a pastoral group (currently being formed) for those with same-sex orientation to journey together in faith, in support of one another, so as to live out God’s call to chastity. “Therefore, I urge you,brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.Do not conformto the pattern of this world,but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasingand perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2).
St Paul reminds us of our identity and calling. “You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another.” (Col 3:12f) As we strive to be faithful to the Gospel and God’s call to chastity, let us make this journey together, encouraging and affirming one other. “Let the Word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and whatever you say or do, let it be in the name of the Lord Jesus, in thanksgiving to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:12-17) Indeed, with God’s grace, we will all be able to live the Gospel faithfully and authentically, regardless of our sexual orientation. Be assured that my love, prayers and solidarity are with you. May His grace and love be with you.
Archbishop William Goh