With same-sex "marriages" recently winning legal recognition in several states (and losing it in California), homosexual inclinations and behavior continue to occupy considerable public attention. What exactly does the Church teach about homosexuality and related social and legal issues? Here are answers to a few frequently asked questions.

What aspect of homosexuality is sinful?

Homosexual inclinations are not sinful in themselves, but they are, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "objectively disordered" (No. 2358).

Even if the person who is inclined to same-sex attractions considers them "natural" and does not subjectively experience them as disordered, they are disordered nonetheless, objectively considered.

Any inclination to contravene the moral law is "objectively disordered." Some people within the Church have tried to argue that homosexual tendencies are neutral, or good. This teaching has led certain Catholics to adopt a "gay" identity, or to celebrate "gay pride" while living, or claiming to live, in chastity.

This response is foolish: A person should not love, cherish or nurture within himself the desire to commit sin.

"Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder," according to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in its "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," 1986 (see No. 3).

Generally, like many temptations, same-sex attractions are not chosen, and provided that they are not granted the assent of the will, they are a trial for which a person cannot be held accountable. But when homosexual inclinations lead to homosexual behavior, the behavior is sinful.

Why is homosexual behavior sinful?

Homosexual behavior has been constantly and consistently condemned by the Church, and "the Church's teaching today is in organic continuity with the scriptural perspective and with her own constant Tradition" (Letter, No. 8).

Both the Bible and the Church are univocal in rejecting same-sex relations. Some of the most commonly cited biblical references that express God's condemnation of the practice are found in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

While there are arguments that try to explain away this condemnation, they have the obvious character of a foregone conclusion: The person who is interpreting Scripture so as to excise the condemnation of homosexual acts begins with the presumption that same-sex sexuality is all right, then tries to explain away the passages that contradict this assumption.

This is a foolish way to read anything, because it ignores the obvious intent of the author.

For most practical purposes, however, it is utterly useless to argue about Scripture with people who support same-sex relations, because Scripture is not the issue. People who are convinced by erroneous biblical interpretations are convinced because they can't see the reasons why God would oppose consensual homosexual sex.

Catholic opposition to same-sex relations is rooted in an understanding of sex as an integral act of the human person. The body is not merely a machine controlled by the mind, or a vessel that the soul inhabits for this lifetime. We believe that our bodies are an essential part of ourselves, and that they are given over to God in baptism.

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" (1 Cor 6:19).

This belief in the dignity and integrity of the body naturally informs the Catholic understanding of sexuality. The sexual act must always witness to the vocation of the human person, whom "God created . . . in his image" (Gn 1:27).

"Human beings ... are nothing less than the work of God himself; and in the complementarity of the sexes, they are called to reflect the inner unity of the Creator. They do this in a striking way in their cooperation with him in the transmission of life by a mutual donation of the self to the other" (Letter, No. 6).

This likeness to God is communal, for God is not a unity but a Trinity. In the sexual act, the intimate life of the Trinity is imaged in the "one body" (Gn 2:24), the union of spouses, out of which a third person -- the child conceived -- proceeds. This is the meaning of the unitive aspect of sex; it is wholly inseparable from the procreative aspect.

Both the unitive and procreative meanings of sex are an expression of the same underlying reality, such that wherever one is suppressed, the other also suffers violence. All sexual acts which are, by their nature, sterile undermine the truth and meaning of the body and of sexuality.

The union of spouses in the sexual act is ordered toward the good of the human person, and it reflects the intention of God in the creation of man as "male and female" (Gn 1:27). Any sexual act that overturns this order for the sake of personal fulfillment or physical gratification is sinful because it undermines the dignity of the body and erodes the image of God in oneself and one's partner.

All the sexual acts that are possible to homosexual couples are intrinsically sinful because they are, by nature, closed to the procreative meaning of sex.

Why are homosexual acts "intrinsically evil"?

The morality of some acts must be judged contextually. Using morphine, for example, is immoral if done recreationally, but licit for the treatment of severe pain.

The Church wishes to make it clear that homosexual acts do not fall into this category. Although "circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual in a given instance [of homosexual behavior]," homosexual acts are, by their nature, opposed to the moral good (see Letter, No. 11).

What is the cause of homosexuality?

In short, the fall of our first parents.

Same-sex attractions are an expression of concupiscence. Like any temptation, they may arise from any of a number of causes. Their genesis may be biological, psychological, spiritual, ideological, aesthetic or any combination of these things. There is no single cause of homosexual attraction that can be applied to all, or even most, people with homosexual inclinations.

In recent years various scientific theories, which have gained a great deal of public airing, have claimed to account for homosexual inclination through biologically determined factors (such as brain structure). But as Pope Benedict XVI warns us:

"Whereas the exact, natural and human sciences have progressed prodigiously in the knowledge of man and his universe, there is a strong temptation to seek to isolate the identity of the human being and to enclose this identity in the knowledge that can derive from it. ... No science can say who man is, where he comes from or where he is going" (address to a conference on "The Changing Human Identity," January 2008).

Man is not subject to biological determinism. The moral character of his actions does not change simply because they derive from "the flesh."

How should faithful Catholics behave toward homosexual persons?

The Catechism tells us that people with homosexual inclinations "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (No. 2358).

When dealing with same-sex-attracted persons, including those who are "out, loud and proud" about their sexuality, a Catholic's first concern should always be for the dignity of the person. Whenever we put concerns about our culture or community first, we risk reducing the homosexual person to a piece of social and political currency.

Opposition to same-sex marriage, ordination of homosexuals, adoption of children by homosexuals, or any legislation that seeks to normalize same-sex relations must be undertaken in a spirit of love. The slightest hint of the self-righteous "leaven of the Pharisees" (Mt 16:6) has the capacity to render our efforts not merely fruitless but destructive.

Facile solutions, such as waving "Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner" banners at "gay pride" events, will not suffice.

The Catholic who shows, by his actions, that he loves, respects and values homosexual people will be able to lead them to conversion. He will also be able to argue convincingly against all the various forms of false compassion that lead to the normalization and justification of same-sex relations.

On the other hand, the Catholic who claims to love the sinner, but spends most of his actual time and effort hating the sin, will always be a source of scandal to the world.

Should Catholics oppose the legal recognition of same-sex unions?

Yes. "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, "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," 2003, No. 5).

Catholics should oppose same-sex marriages because they represent a false promise made to the homosexual person, who is told that he can have the benefits of marriage without the demands of chastity. Christian marriage is, by definition, a lifelong, life-giving covenant that can only be undertaken between two persons of the opposite sex.

A same-sex marriage is essentially a vow to continue in sin until death. This is gravely contrary to the good of the person, and to the good of society.

Can a homosexual man be ordained to the priesthood?

This depends on what you mean by "a homosexual man." The Vatican has provided guidelines for this matter in a document from the Congregation for Catholic Education entitled "Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in View of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders."

These guidelines clearly state that "the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture."

This does not mean that every candidate who has ever had a homosexual attraction must automatically be turned away. The congregation notes that if there is reason to believe that a given candidate's homosexual inclinations are "the expression of a transitory problem," ordination may be possible.

If such a candidate is accepted, those responsible for his formation (such as his vocations director and spiritual director) must ensure that he is provided with the necessary pastoral and psychological resources to overcome his inclinations.

In addition, "such tendencies must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate." In these cases, the candidate needs to be made aware that if his inclinations prove too deep-seated to be resolved, they will present an insuperable obstacle to his ordination.

Compassionate handling of such situations, combined with effective spiritual direction, can help men in this position discern and pursue their true vocation in Christ.

Is it unjust to oppose the adoption of children by same-sex couples?

This is a classic "straining at gnats" question. In any jurisdiction where same-sex unions are considered legally equal to traditional marriages, it follows logically and legally that adoption will be allowed. The drawn-out political fight that takes place along these lines is extremely divisive, and generally doomed, because the real issue is not the adoption of children, but the legitimacy of same-sex relationships.

That said, there are serious concerns that may be raised. The first is that the politicization of homosexuality makes it exceedingly unlikely that real objectivity will be exercised in screening same-sex applicants for adoption.

The second is that a child who loses his biological parents has lost something of tremendous value. Such a child is, at least spiritually, an orphan.

"Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in [same-sex] unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. ... The best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons," 2003, No. 7).

It is gravely immoral to subordinate the good of an orphaned child to the interests of potential adoptive parents or the expedients of politics. TCA


From the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," 1986 (No. 7):

The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the Sacrament of Matrimony. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally.

To choose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.

As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.


Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity [see Gn 19:1-29; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tm 1:10], tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" [Persona Humana, No. 8]. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

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 in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. 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, Nos. 2357-2359

Melinda Selmys is a convert to the Catholic faith from a lesbian lifestyle, and the mother of five children. She edits fiction for vulgatamagazine.org and is the author of "Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism" (Our Sunday Visitor, 2009).