“Why does the Catholic Church hate gay people?” Perhaps you have been asked that question. As a Catholic priest, I certainly have. How do we answer?
Since I think that the Catholic Church doesn’t hate anybody, a better question is, “Why does the Catholic Church seem (to some) to hate gay people?”
First, a basic fact. The Catholic Church is a home for sinners, i.e., all of us. Nobody is outside of her care and concern. Anyone who singles out people with same-sex attractions for scorn or unjust discrimination has by that same measure departed from the Catholic faith.
The Church rejects hatred in all its forms. Every human being, we believe, is a sign and fruit of God’s love, someone worth the infinitely precious Blood of Christ. Every human being, without exception, is called to holiness, to sainthood, to Heaven. It is literally impossible for the Church to hate anyone.
In saying the Catholic Church “hates,” most people mean the Church cannot approve of homosexual behavior. This is understandably upsetting, to some. But it simply does not follow that Catholics therefore hate. After all, we all have beliefs about human behavior that will cause us to disapprove of some actions. That’s hardly hate.
From the Catholic point of view, when we do not consent to the normalization of homosexuality, it is not hateful but actually loving. Whether or not someone agrees with that viewpoint, it is a teaching that is based in love. In fact, in the face of fierce pushback from the wider culture, it can even be heroically loving.
Then why the bitter disagreement? Why does the Church’s teaching seem, to so many, cruel and intolerant? Why does the Church care what people do with their own bodies?
It stems from two different ways of looking at the world. It’s not primarily a matter of apologetics, but of metaphysics. The sooner that we start to talk seriously about how we view the world, the sooner we can begin a real conversation about our differences.
To grasp someone else’s perspective is not the same thing as embracing it. But it can lower the decibel level of these sorts of conversations. When we acknowledge, however grudgingly, that someone can approach a sensitive and personal issue from an entirely different angle and do so in good faith, we have inched closer to a more human dialogue.
Perhaps the most revealing distinction between these two world-views is in their contrasting view of human happiness:
- In the classical world-view, happiness is found in fulfilling our nature through a life of virtue. For the Christian, this means loving God and loving our neighbor. The opposite of happiness, the greatest evil, is found in thwarting our nature – that is, by sin.
- In the secular world-view, happiness is more immediate, usually identified with sensible and intellectual pleasure. Its opposite, the greatest evil, is therefore suffering.
Happiness is where the two world-views diverge most clearly, at least in matters of sex. Sexual behavior obviously generates a lot of pleasure. If pleasure is the gauge of happiness, then there will be few, if any, moral qualms about engaging in it.
If, on the other hand, happiness is about fulfilling our nature, then sexual acts are charged with more moral weight. Emotions may be strong and it may simply “feel right” to engage in sexual behavior outside of marriage – but from the Catholic point of view, it does not truly fulfill us, does not lead to our growth in virtue or holiness or happiness.
Such is the case with homosexual acts. Perhaps more than any other, this different outlook on the world explains the wide gap that separates Catholics from secular thinkers in matters of sexual morality.
In our highly secular age, it would be much easier simply to conform to the widespread acceptance, even celebration, of the homosexual life. That we cannot do so is not a sign of hatred or bigotry. Our moral stance should in fact be recognized as originating in genuine (even if perceived as misguided) love. It is a question of judging Catholics by their own standards, not by secular standards.
Penn Jillette, a noted magician, actor, and writer, once made a similar point. Though he is an atheist, he said that he doesn’t respect Christians who do not try to convert others to their faith:
I don’t respect that at all. . . .If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward. . . .how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
Jillette, though an atheist, is able to see things from another point of view, and his conclusion is as sane as it is surprising. He is able to see that Christians who seek to convert others are not being judgmental and intolerant, but in fact far more loving than their more timid coreligionists.
That ability to see the world through the eyes of another is much needed today.
The classical world-view is not only true, by the way, but also a far more compelling and beautiful way to see the world. It ennobles the human person and fosters a deep respect for the human body and human sexuality. It promotes the profound dignity of every human being, from conception until natural death. It fosters a family environment that best advances the happiness and growth of children.
It also offers a way out for persons with same-sex attraction who feel trapped into defining themselves by their attractions, according to the relentless logic of our hypersexualized culture. It provides a coherent explanation for the profound sense of alienation, depression, and dislocation experienced by so many young (and not so young) people today, living in the devastating wake of the sexual revolution. It is a joyful affirmation of reality and of happiness that is grounded deeply in our common human nature.
Catholic teaching on homosexual behavior is reasonable, coherent, and proposed in good faith. It, in fact, comes from a place of deep love and compassion. The Church teaches that every human being possesses an incomparable and innate dignity. We are called to become sons and daughters of God and indeed saints. The Church’s teaching on homosexual behavior, by her own standards, is aimed at nothing less than promoting that dignity. And that is about as far from hatred as you can get.
*Image: The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, 1504 [Brera Pinacoteca, Milan, Italy]