by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
One of the most controversial topics touched upon at both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Synods on the Family is whether or not the Church should recognize that there is goodness in homosexuality both as regards a person's homosexual orientation and his or her homosexual acts/relationships. Let's try to discuss this topic by relying on traditional Catholic moral theology and then make some practical observations and applications.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that evil is not so much the complete and utter absence of good, but its privation. Man, who is fundamentally good and yet weakened by original sin and its effects (but not corrupted, as taught by the 16th-century Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther), never chooses evil for its own sake. Rather, man chooses evil because he is misguided in perceiving in it an apparent good. Think, for example, of the line from the popular song: "Looking for love in all the wrong places."
Further, we need to distinguish between physical and moral evil. The physical death of any living creature is evil to the extent that death is not a good willed by God for its own sake. The Bible teaches that death entered the world on account of Satan's envy. God, Who is infinitely good, can only will what is good; God is never the immediate and direct cause of evil – although He permits evil to occur with a view to bringing a greater good (however mysterious!) out of it and out of respect for our free will. In other words, God can and does write straight with crooked lines; if He didn't, we couldn't survive – let alone thrive in this world as we know and experience it.
A moral evil is one that results from a person’s choosing to do something that is objectively wrong, for example, committing to a course of action contrary to the natural law or one of the Ten Commandments. When the Church teaches, as she does in the Catechism, that homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong, she is teaching that they are contrary to the natural law and also constitute a violation of the Sixth and Ninth Commandments which – taken together – forbid extra-marital sexual intercourse as well as regarding any person as a mere sexual object with whom to satisfy carnal passions and desires – in a word, succumbing to concupiscence.
When the Church condemns homosexual acts as morally evil, she is not likewise condemning as evil the person who commits those acts (or who has a proclivity to commit such acts). The person who commits sin is a sinner, not a devil or demon. The Church doesn't hate the sinner; she hates the sin and loves the sinner enough to call each sinner to sincere repentance for the sake of his eternal salvation.
Moreover, the Church has never taught that a homosexual orientation is sinful. Although a homosexual orientation is inherently disordered (since it is directed to an objectively evil act), only homosexual acts are deemed sinful because sin requires the engagement of a person's free will while a person's homosexual orientation may not arise from a person's personal choice.
At the Synod, there were those, however, who said that the distinction between sinner and sin is no longer valid because it offends certain people. There were also Synod participants who asserted that the Church must now reserve all judgment about homosexual acts, emphasizing instead – through an innovative pastoral language and care – merely the love and affection that homosexual persons feel and express for one another. In other words, let's pretend that homosexual activity is just "different" from heterosexual intercourse within marriage, passing no moral judgment on it as unnatural or intrinsically disordered. If we follow this logic, then, it would be acceptable to call white, black and black, white. Or, more radically, we could deny the very existence of them both.
By doing away with moral differences, suspending moral judgments, suggesting that what was once considered objectively wrong can now be viewed as merely different (a so-called "new normal"), or by arguing that the Church needs to make a concerted effort to consider the goodness that is somehow hidden behind homosexual acts on account of an individual's subjective feelings toward a person of the same sex, we run the risk of reducing not just the moral question of homosexuality but all Christian morality "ad absurdum" ("to the absurd"). All morality would become entirely subjective, relativistic and therefore meaningless! Do we really want to go down that road? Would not this "new morality" be paramount to opening up a can of worms that will eat away at the moral fiber of society, our Church, and individual souls?
If the Church were to admit that homosexual acts are permissible because the people who commit them are not "that bad" deep down inside; that they are just expressing themselves sexually as they see fit, corresponding to their perceived "nature" and sexual identity, then the Church would no longer be in a credible position to identify any sexual acts as ontologically wrong.
The late Judge Robert Bork was lambasted in his U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice because he dared to stake a claim for natural law principles as the foundation of American constitutional law and jurisprudence. As a result of his courageous stance in defense of objective moral norms, which he maintained were intimately linked to the dictates of the natural law, Judge Bork was not confirmed by the Senate. As a matter of fact, the sacking of Judge Bork helped coin an expression in the United States of America, one sometimes heard nearly thirty years later. If someone says "you got borked!" this means that you were unfairly and summarily deprived of a position.
In 1996, Judge Bork wrote a seminal work entitled, "Slouching toward Gomorrah," in which he described the evident moral decay and corruption in many important sectors of American society and most of the West. The title is a take-off on some lines of Yeats’ poem, "The Second Coming": "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" Bork argued: "The rough beast of decadence … now sends us slouching towards our new home, not Bethlehem but Gomorrah.”