A great newspaper op-ed by a priest on same-sex attraction

My dear old friend Fr. Jim Livingston, a priest of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has this to say about same-sex attraction.

We are jumping in media res, but this is from the STrib:

Some people can make the gay go away


I am glad for Ron Bates that he was able to overcome the guilt and shame that burdened him for years and find that God loves him. (“I tried for years to pray away the gay. It didn’t work,” Sept. 1).

But while I respect Bates’ personal experience, I respectfully disagree with his conclusions about same-sex attraction and traditional marriage.

I am the lead chaplain for the local Courage/Faith in Action group. [OOH-RAH!] Courage/FIA is a confidential support group for people who have same-sex attraction and who want to practice the virtue of chastity as understood by the Catholic Church.

As a confessor and confidant to many men and women who have homosexual attractions, I can say that people are not limited to the choices Bates offers.

The plain truth is that people with same-sex attractions experience them differently.

For some, those desires are deeply rooted and long-lasting, while others experience them as symptoms of something else: loneliness, lack of confidence or frustrated childhood bonding with same-sex parents or peers, just to begin the list.

In other words, some people really do find developmental and environmental roots to their same-sex attractions. And yes, some find release from them through therapy or through the mysterious grace of a spiritual awakening.

Bates was not able to pray away his same-sex attraction, but some people actually do. And others, while unable to avoid homosexual temptations, still live lives of chastity and virtue by the grace of God and with the help of good friends[A vast discussion which must be had one day is how homosexual “relations” are a distortion of true “friendship”, properly understood.]

Marriage to a woman did not work for Bates, but for this you don’t redefine marriage. And especially for this you don’t tattoo a “GLBT” label onto teenagers who may be simply confused about their life choices. It took Bates 54 years to find his life direction after an imprudent start. [Fr. Livingston and I studied philosophy together, by the way.]

By the same logic, many young people could be trapped for years with a mistaken gay or lesbian identity, goaded on by our disintegrating, sexually untethered culture. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

Like it or not, [nolens volens… willy nilly…] heterosexual behavior is rooted in human nature and the universal moral law. Both the body and the Bible witness to this truth in their own ways. [Natural Law and Revelation.]

Traditional marriage is rooted in this ancient if inconvenient truth, and it can’t be scolded or legislated away by one misguided generation. History is not and never will be on the side of gay marriage. [I reject the term, “gay”, but Fr. L is right.]

But what about the nerve root question that Bates addresses? What do you do when the “gay” just will not go away and your religious standards and traditions just seem to accuse, to point out what you can never do or be? Are the choices limited to either living in shame or just pitching the moral code out the window? [There is also the choice of suffering for a good reason.]

Many of us can relate in our own way. You were unfaithful and your spouse will not allow you to forget; you have a prison record that shows up every time you try to get a job; you have a weakness for alcohol or spending or food and your life is unmanageable.

Add your own weakness to the list. Regardless of how it got there, you want to move beyond it, but you can’t. Who among us is righteous and qualified to cast the first stone?

St. Paul confided in a letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12:7-10) that he had a “thorn in his flesh” that wouldn’t go away. What God said to him was not “you’re going to hell” or “you are disordered.”

He said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” In the midst of his weakness, Paul found both steady direction and contentment in his friendship with Christ.  [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

My point is this: Whoever you are and whatever insurmountable problem you have, don’t jettison your moral compass. Find friends who will support you in truth and virtue[ut supra]

Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Does anyone here condemn you? Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11). Minnesota citizens, you can support traditional marriage and be a friend to persons with same-sex attractions. It’s not an “either/or” issue.

* * *

The Rev. James Livingston is a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He is the lead chaplain for the local Faith in Action support group, a prochastity ministry for men and women with same-sex attraction.

WDTPRS kudos to my old friend Fr. Livingston… zadok.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Fr. Z KUDOS, Mail from priests, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Supertradmum says:

    This is excellent. When I discovered seven of my close seminarian friends were homosexual when I studied Theology, I found out they had fallen into the lifestyle for many different reasons. Some had been sexually abuse as children by men and were confused. Some had weak fathers and weak families, and at least one was, simply, choosing the bi-sexual lifestyle for power and personal satisfaction-for evil. Some of these men broke away from the lifestyle, and some did not. Sadly, some may be dead by now. When I was in my twenties, I was somewhat involved in “gay outreach” in Minneapolis, a haven for homosexuals and cross-dressers. Our group was successful in some cases of “praying away the gay”. But, this was not always possible. What was and is possible is the carrying of the cross and abstinence. What is not possible is having one foot in the gay lifestyle and trying to be Catholic, truly Catholic. We must pray and love, and we must support Courage, if it is in our areas. The above article is superb. God bless all priests who help those who caught up in the gay lifestyle, which leads to death, both spiritually and physically.

  2. A fine bit of advice to anyone who struggles with any passion: The Will of God will never lead you to a place where the Grace of God cannot sustain you. Amen.

  3. justamouse says:

    I say this with all respect, doesn’t 2357 in the catechism call homosexual acts intrinsically disordered? Or, he is saying the person is not, the act is? I’m new to all of this and having this discussion elsewhere, I wouldn’t want to say the wrong thing.

  4. Ezra says:

    Great piece, stupid headline.

  5. Robert of Rome says:

    In answer to “justamouse,” the Catechism teaches that homosexual inclinations are intrinsically disordered. But this statement is not a comment about the person who experiences these inclinations. Nevertheless, one commonly hears it said that the Catholic Church condemns homosexual persons as being “disordered.” The Church does no such thing (cf. The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2358).

    Fr. Z Gold Star Award

  6. snoozie says:

    As I understand it, the desire is disordered; the acts are intrinsically evil. Correct?

  7. rfox2 says:

    For some, those desires are deeply rooted and long-lasting, while others experience them as symptoms of something else: loneliness, lack of confidence or frustrated childhood bonding with same-sex parents or peers, just to begin the list.

    Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 9, v. 27-29: ‘But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

  8. Christine says:

    Bravo Fr. Livingston! May God bless us with more priests like him!

  9. SonofMonica says:

    snoozie: The person who experiences the desire and commits the act is neither disordered nor evil. That’s the point being made. We all think, feel and do bad things.

  10. DavidJ says:

    What a great letter. May God bless all of us with the courage and wisdom to witness effectively!

  11. Peggy R says:

    Excellent piece.

    And I agree w/your note Fr., that homosexual relationships and feelings are often a result of a distorted idea of what true friendship means. We can love and care deeply about lots of people in our lives. Sexual intimacy is not the necessary culmination of those feelings, except for one kind of relationship–that between a husband and wife. I can see where confused teens might think themselves gay b/c they really like their best friend and they are being told it’s okay to act on those feelings, with no bounds.

  12. thesheepcat says:

    Excellent, Fr Livingston!
    Ezra, I don’t disagree, but the headline may well have been written by someone at the newspaper who didn’t consult the author.

  13. Andy Milam says:

    Father Livingston is a wonderful example of Catholic charity. His attitude has not changed in the near 20 years that I’ve known him and I can honestly say, in full solidarity with Fr. Z on this one….


  14. snoozie says:

    sonofmonica; please re-read my post…I never called the people evil. But if you check your Catechism, the ‘acts’ are. The desire is objectively disordered against the order established by God, the complimentarity of man and woman. The teaching of the Church is very compassionate and beautiful on this issue, but it is also very clear and unyielding as it must be. I understand that SSA is a tremendously difficult cross to carry, and the desire itself is not sin (the indulgence in that desire is), but the desire is a disordered one…I don’t know how that can be argued against.

  15. PostCatholic says:

    The nature-or-nurture argument is far too simplistic. Most psychologists will tell you that sexual attraction to others has many points of input. Some are conscious. Some are reinforced through social and behavioral conditioning. Some follow a pattern and some are transient whims. Some may indeed be physiologic. To believe that heterosexual and homosexual are binary states with no spectrum between is to ignore the complexity of how humans relate.

  16. Virgil says:

    Reference the excellent combox discussion from a couple days ago about parishes and masses for gay Catholics. Some very very good thoughts from some very good people. Gay chaste Catholics, called to holiness and evangelizing.

    The only issue that I have is that the author of the piece, and Father Z’s red inserts, seem to imply that gay Catholics must fall into one of two groups. In my opinion, both of these groups are somewhat misguided.

    We can be dissenters, and give up the Church, or at least “work from within” to try to change Church teaching. Examples: Dignity, Rainbow Sash, New Ways, etc. (These folks never get beyond the part of the Catechism that condemns unjust discrimination.)

    We can be addicts in recovery, and give up all connections to our gay friends and families, and try to pray the gay away. Examples: Courage, various “reparative therapy” groups. (These folks never get beyond the part of the Catechism that condemns unnatural genital acts.)

    But there is a third choice, and it’s the one that Father Livingston rather clumsily is trying to get at. And it’s the choice that is most explicit in the Catechism. It’s the choice which the media (Catholic and mainstream) tend to ignore.

    Beyond the anathemae against homophobia and sodomy, and adjacent to them, the Catechism has plenty of POSITIVE WORDS FOR GAY FOLKS! Be happily gay. Rejoice in Christian friendship. Be chaste, be continent, with or without a partner. Embrace the call to holiness. Endure the suffering of prejudice. Endure the difficulty of evangelizing among other gay people. Endure the suffering of self-improvement. Be open to grace, especially in the Eucharist.

    As reflected in the other combox, this is why gay parishes and gay ministries are important to the Church. Word has to get out that there are many faithful gay Catholics . . . .

    We are not all dissenters. We want to proclaim the Truth that the Church proclaims.

    We are not all addicts who want to remain anonymous and pray away the gay. We are perfectly happy to pursue the call to holiness without being sour and secretive.

  17. snoozie says:

    ahhhh, yes…the psychological experts. Aren’t these the same ones who lionized Kinsey?…and met in Baltimore last month in an effort to destigmatize and legitamize “inter-generational” attraction, all the while alternately ignoring and mocking the One, True Expert? Forgive me, but I’ll stick with His user’s manual.

  18. tcreek says:

    Are we not missing the basic point about sexual relations from a Catholic perspective? No person has the right to sexual relations of any kind except in sacramental marriage. There are many Catholic heterosexual men who are divorced and they, to remain faithful to their faith, can never have sexual relations with women much less with men. They must, by the grace of God, remain celibate for the rest of their lives. I am one.

    When my wife initiated a divorce to marry another, it was devastating to say the least. I had two choices, marry again or take up the cross. An annulment, easy to obtain in our diocese, was out of the question for me as my wife had received an annulment that allowed us to get married in the church. That was 35 years ago and once I took up the cross, hard to explain I know, but
    “the burden is light” and can be a joy.

    If the statistics on divorce are close to being correct, around 50% of Catholic heterosexual men are commanded by the Church, under pain of serious sin, to be celibate. This teaching, among many others, you will never hear from our bishops. I have no sympathy for priests who complain about the celibate life.

  19. Brad says:

    This morning the voice of the Lord is too sweet: “My Grace is sufficient for you.”

    Imagine, a God who cares about us enough to even say that, and to impart the promised grace.

    Lord, we believe; help our unbelief!

    I often wonder about St. Paul’s thorn. His grace was sufficient for Paul.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    The problem is much larger than actual celibacy. One meets the world, friends, family, etc. with an identity. This identity may be God-made or man-made. Whatever the causes, the identity sometimes involves a proclivity towards a certain sin, such as alcoholism, cheating and lying, or violence. Sin, obviously in the eyes of God and the Church does not identify who we are, but certain weaknesses, as well as strengths, do so, and therein is our salvation. Overcoming daily temptation is not the same battle for us individuals. Celibacy is only one aspect of overcoming temptations to sin. Not being the the presence of those who would drag one down, for example, or pornography, or even music–anything can lead a person into the intention of sexual sin. That most lay people do not have the benefit of excellent spiritual directors, or like those of us here, access to sound teaching easily (because of an interest or bent or grace of ours given), leads to much confusion and isolation. As a single person in the world myself, I have to combat loneliness. Married couples do not invite single women to dinner, for example, ever. Most of my friends, therefore, are priests, nuns, or single laity, as the typical family does not open its house to the singles. This is part of the problem for those experiencing homosexual tendencies or temptations. People are labelled, even if they are holy, chaste, and following God’s Will in the world. I think this is partly what this conversation is about–love, compassion, and the willingness to be Catholics in a world of unbelief.

  21. Brad says:

    Tcreek, well said re celibacy. We are all called to chastity, which sometimes, often really, is in the form of celibacy. I admire you.

    Something I read recently is that under the accidents of bread, our Lord is physically on earth in many tabernacles, on many altars, in many monstrances, all over the globe at all times. We recall this easily. But have we considered that he is there, for us, in a sense-less, sensory-less, state? Without any input from his five humanly senses he is not only chaste (not merely chaste re sexual/tactile senses, but chaste re the pleasures and overindulgences of food, smells, beautiful sights, etc) but celibate even now, on earth, to say nothing of 33 years so long ago.

    This may have been a Doctor’s writings, or maybe Fr. Arminjon.

  22. beardmandan says:

    Please keep Fr. Livingston and the Very Rev. Peter Laird (who was also recently published in the STrib on the topic of federally mandated birth control) of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis/St. Paul in your prayers. The vitriol and attacks against these priests are already pouring in. I also pray that our clergy and lay people alike continue to speak the truth boldly in the public square. As one of the “gayest” cities in the country we are in for a real battle.

    [I wrote about Fr. Laird’s excellent piece HERE.]

  23. skull kid says:

    rfox2 – prayer and fasting.

  24. anna 6 says:

    Pitch perfect!
    Thanks Fr. Z for sharing this.

  25. Joe Magarac says:

    This might be the best article I’ve ever read on the Church and same-sex attraction.

  26. justamouse says:

    Thank you, Robert of Rome. And look, you got a gold star! Brilliant! :-)

  27. Joanne says:

    Of course it’s possible for individuals, heterosexual or homosexual, to live chastely. I guess what I just will never believe is that there is any such thing as a “former” homosexual, ie, an adult man or woman who “used to be” attracted to people of the same sex and now claim to have switched their sexual attraction. (The issue of teens who go through a brief phase of having a crush on a person of the same sex and then outgrow that is not the same thing, imo.) I wonder how those who believe that this transformation is possible would feel if their own daughter were dating/thinking about marrying a “former” homosexual. Thrilled? Overjoyed? I’m guessing not, to be honest.

    Therapy is great for helping people talk through things that they feel are hindering their ability to enjoy life, be productive, etc, and in some cases devise strategies for working around those issues. However, therapy can’t fundamentally change who a person is. Some people who have been through “reparative” therapy might say it worked – obviously they have a lot invested in wanting it to work. There’s no way to know what is really happening inside that person though, so there’s no way to measure whether or not it works.

    I would imagine the cross of same sex attraction would be extremely heavy, no matter how one chooses to deal with it. Being a homosexual Catholic must be difficult – having to accept that you will NEVER be married (if you choose to live honestly) and share with someone sexually. One can believe all that, as I do, and not feel that the Catholic Church should change its teachings on same sex marriage.

  28. jacobi says:

    At issue here is the concept of celibacy. Now before some get too uptight, may I point out that celibacy is not a rare and outlandish situation but quite common. For example all heterosexual clergy are called to lifelong celibacy, and many others are called to shorter term celibacy such as widow(er)s, the military, the sick, prisoners, and so on.
    It’s actually quite common and the rules are clear. Sex is reserved within heterosexual marriage, and outside of that is, objectively speaking, sinful, probably gravely so. Therefore such conduct would for example bar the person from receiving Communion without Confession and a firm purpose of amendment, as would any other grave sin.
    To ignore this rule is to choose a life of sin, but that is not to be recommended, given that none of us know when our hour will come.
    Why so many people who are homosexually inclined, and there is no fault in that as such , feel that different rules should apply to them is puzzling and illogical.

    Clearly life is not easy for them, but then neither is it for the other categories mentioned above. We all have our cross to bear and the secret is to offer it up. Remember Bunyan’s story about those who were desperate to swap their problems!

  29. PostCatholic says:

    I appreciate the religious instinct to rely on your scriptures, Snoozie. But surely Catholic universities still have Departments of Psychology? (The type of argumentum ad hominem you made is called “poisoning the well.”)

  30. Shoshana says:

    Joanne says… “What I just will never believe is that there is any such thing as a ‘former’ homosexual, ie, an adult man or woman who ‘used to be’ attracted to people of the same sex and now claim to have switched their sexual attraction…Being a homosexual Catholic must be difficult – having to accept that you will NEVER be married (if you choose to live honestly) and share with someone sexually.”

    I know a former homosexual who has “switched” his attraction and has been happily married for years, with children. There is no reason to think he is not living “honestly.” In fact, I know several couples in that situation. Just because the liberal media and the “gay” community have a lot of propaganda out there to say it can’t happen, doesn’t mean they are right. We have a mighty God who can do much more difficult things than help straighten out disorder in our lives. Especially for Catholics, who have available the grace of the sacraments. This man happens to be a Protestant believer. Can you imagine fighting that vice and getting healed without the sacraments? How much more is available to us in the Church!

    On another topic, to demonstrate what God can do:
    One of the most amazing things that happened when I was ministering to people with same-sex attraction involved a young Protestant man named Kevin (he had a cool beard!). One day, after I’d known him for about a year, he said he wanted to tell me something. This is what he said: In his church, people met on Wednesday nights for small prayer groups. One night Kevin’s group leader asked to speak to him privately. They went into another room and the leader said to Kevin, “God told me your name is not Kevin. It’s Karen.” And the leader was right. Karen had had a mastectomy and was taking male hormones. Long story short, Karen realized God was telling her he made her female for a reason, and she needed to go back to her identity as Karen. To do this she had to quit her job (for obvious reasons). With no income, Karen needed a lot of help. A Christian family took her in for a year or more during her transformation (I can’t recall exactly how long it took). A Christian doctor treated all the hormone problems, etc., pro bono, and someone paid for the new drugs Karen needed. Last time I saw her, the beard was gone (though she has to use a little makeup to cover up a bit of a shadow), she was in a dress, and looked attractive and happy. She also had a new job, her own apartment, and was continuing with counseling.

  31. Joshua Gonnerman says:

    Just to quickly point out to jacobi: Not all heterosexual clergy are called to lifelong celibacy, since there are married clergy, chiefly A) Eastern rite priests, B) permanent deacons, C) married Protestant ministers who became Catholic and were ordained as ministers.

    And also to give Virgil a big thumbs up.

  32. snoozie says:

    PostCatholic, I find it a bit disingenuous to accuse me of an ad hominem attack when I said nothing derogatory ‘to the man’. Certainly universities have Departments of Psychology; they also have Depts. of Feminist Studies, and Marxist Studies, and semesters on Lady GaGa lyrics. Your assertion is a bit of a non sequitur there. I have a B.S. in Psychology, with extensive post Bacc. work in the hard sciences, and let’s just say that I don’t view it in the same class as Physics or Biology; it’s a soft science at best, open to much subjective interpretation. With each revision of the DSM(R), categories of defined mental illnesses suddenly become accepted and legitimate norms of behavior. By who’s decision? Oh yes, I forgot…’the experts’. When I was in school, Rogers’ client centered therapy was de rigueur…as a therapist-in-training I was told in no uncertain terms that I was to offer NO opinion or direction; today even Rogers himself is backing off from his once universal method. While some true good comes from good people in the world of Psychology, so much of that discipline is shaped by the zeitgeist of the current age, and to point this out isn’t ‘poisoning the well’, it’s shedding some light.

    Now, speaking of my ‘religious instinct’ to rely on ‘my’ Scriptures, might be the true ad hominem swipe. My confidence in God and the surety of His Word is not born of some primal instinct that I just wasn’t fortunate enough to be educated out of, but rather is the pearl of great price that I found after years of running away from Him; after being cold, and empty, and tired of all the world had to offer in its vacillating fashions, I turned back to see that all true roads lead to Him. Truth doesn’t change. I feel quite fine in saying that I’ll take the Bible over the DSM-IV anyday, or at the very least, I will always allow the former’s precepts and wisdom to guide my interpretation and discernment of the latter .

  33. david andrew says:

    For those who want to understand better, permit me to commend to your attention Benedict Groeschel’s book, The Courage to be Chaste.

  34. SK Bill says:

    Thank you, Lord, for Father Livingston’s op-ed and for Father Z’s re-posting it.

    As an editor of a technical publication, I work with many people. A large percentage of these authors and technical experts (more than in the general population) have same-sex attraction and many if not most of them live the lifestyle. It is a challenge for me to deal with this charitably in conversations with these writers, many of whom, apart from this matter, are friends and colleagues of many years standing. It does come up. Often they are angry or hurt because of what they (wrongly) believe I believe about them, or what they (wrongly) believe the church says about same-sex attraction. I have so often needed words …

    But this op-ed has given me some additional ways to respond when challenged. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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