ASK FATHER: Talking about homosexuality without sounding cruel

Pompeo_Batoni_prodigal_son_smFrom a reader…


I’m a consevitive ctholic teen and my friends are not and when they ask about my faith I try my best to answer correctly but then we get to Gay’s and why don’t we except them, I don’t know how to answer them with them thinking that being a catholic is crule and judgmentle how would you respond?

First… spelling, dear, spelling.

There may have been times and places in the past when being a faithful Catholic was easy, when society at large supported the moral teachings of the Church. Sadly, those times have been few and far between.

For the most part, throughout history, being Catholic has meant to stand in opposition to what large swaths of society believe.

We have many examples from the lives of the saints on which to pattern our response to society.   Our response may require us to withdraw from society, like St. Antony of Egypt or St. Mary of the Desert.  Elsewise, we must confront society boldly, even though we know that there will be serious, even lethal, repercussions, like St. Thomas More, St. Charles Lwanga, and the countless martyrs of Spain, Mexico, Russia, and so forth.  St. Charles, by the way, was killed because of his opposition to a homosexual pedophile king.  HERE Sometimes, our interaction with society can take a middle ground.  We can work to reform it without trying outright to overturn it, like St. John Damascene, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Katherine Drexel.

Yes, I expect you to pull out books about the saints or do some internet searches.

Another thing which you should read is the Holy See’s Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church “On The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”.

Now to your specific question.  It can be difficult to explain the Church’s stance to those who are convinced that homosexual activity is natural, normal, or harmless. They think the Church is harsh when it says that those who have sexual attractions to member of the same sex must learn to control their urges and be chaste.  These days, people aren’t used to being told that something is bad.  They live in their urges and appetites, which they now habitually satiate without delay.  Since their arguments (responses, really – arguments rarely make an appearance) come largely from an emotional or hormonal perspective, presenting them with a rational argument will rarely be successful.

Perhaps one tack might be to say, “If I am convinced that what you are doing is harming you, and I were to do nothing to help you to stop, would I be acting out of love? Love sometimes requires us to say something we know won’t be well received.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Yes, I expect you to pull out books about the saints or do some internet searches.” Amen, and Amen. And I will say again, Amen. How many, many times have I gotten an email, “Hello. I am writing a paper about marriage. What does the Church teach about marriage? Thank you.” I think of Cato the Elder, who gave free legal advice–to any one who personally appeared at his door before dawn. Every one else paid for his assistance.

  2. Dr. Peters: How many, many times have I gotten an email…

    In my ASK FATHER contact form I have:

    • I may not have time to answer your question.
    • I won’t do your homework for you.
    • I won’t help you “name your baby” (pick a saint’s name and spell it normally).
    • I won’t translate things into Latin for you.
    • I may have to consult people who know more than I do.
    • I tend to read short, to the point, questions.
    • I tend not to read long, rambling questions.
    • I ignore strings of questions.
    • I will probably answer in an entry on the blog rather than by return email.
    • I have no insight into when the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series, but I would go to confession if they get there.
  3. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Yup. My main version goes like this:
    Thank you for your recent message. If you requested canonical information and I felt your question(s) could be answered adequately but quickly I would have done so in this email. Very often, however, the number and/or complexity of the question(s) sent to me exceed that to which I can respond. You might want to get in touch with the Canon Law Society of America, listed at the bottom of this webpage, for possible referral to a canonist able to address these issues with you: Sincerely, Dr. Edward Peters,

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    As I recall, a well known theologian has one that runs, basically: “Hi. I do not answer questions from people who do not know how to do basic google searches or who can do them, but think that I should do their searches for them anyway.”

  5. Scott W. says:

    Just to dot the “i”s, let’s put it this way: All sexual contact among humans belongs in one and only one context: between a man and a woman married to each other. So the Church is not merely singling out homosexuals. Chastity excludes a whole range of sexual activity be it homosexual or heterosexual: all pre-marital sex (fornication), masturbation, use of pornography, and so on and on is prohibited. Really, it’s rather simple and only hard if people want it to be.

  6. xylkatie says:

    You may appreciate this: “Let Me Google That For You.”—-—it’s pretty cute.

  7. Grumpy Beggar says:

    “. . . And, not indeed in these words, yet to this purpose, spake I much unto Thee: and Thou, O Lord, how long? how long, Lord, wilt Thou be angry for ever? Remember not our former iniquities, for I felt that I was held by them. I sent up these sorrowful words: How long, how long, ‘to-morrow, and tomorrow?’ Why not now? why not is there this hour an end to my uncleanness?
    So was I speaking and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, ‘Take up and read; Take up and read.’ Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find.”

    Confessions of St. Augustine, Chapter XII

  8. tufty says:

    From 380 a.d. when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire (Western Europe was converted by the 6th C.) until approximately 1517, it was typical for Roman Catholics to associate almost exclusively with other Roman Catholics. Eastern Europe was converted to Christianity by the 7th and 8th C. and remained Christian until the Communist take over. Occasional heresies sprang up in the early days, but to say that being Catholic meant to “stand in opposition” to the mainstream is incorrect. The entire continent of Europe was strictly Catholic for almost a thousand years. Most people associated almost exclusively with their brothers in the Faith. History Father, history. Second, the Church does not have one standard of behavior for heterosexuals and another for homosexuals. EVERYONE is expected to remain chaste who remains outside the bonds of Matrimony. The Church relies on the words of Christ and those contained in Holy Scripture, as well as the natural law, to proclaim what is sinful. So the Church is not randomly coming up with sins in order to single out and persecute homosexuals. What is true and moral, or false and evil, does not ever change.

  9. Alanmac says:

    Why would anyone promote an unhealthy lifestyle? Fully half of North American homosexual men are HIV positive and their manifestation of sex is sodomy. Gay Bowel Syndrome was a diagnosis in the early 1980s that fell out of favour for political, not medical reasons but it is rampant in the gay community.
    These are facts, not opinions.

  10. Imrahil says:

    I don’t know how to answer them.

    On this topic,
    1. if you can avoid it, don’t. In this time, you can’t win a flowerpot (as we say around here) by expounding the teaching on homosexuality. It’s hard enough if someone has become Catholic and needs to live by it, and (to make that more easy) understand the way, or is in the process of becoming a Catholic and must overcome this particular obstacle…

    I’m not, of course, saying that you shouldn’t do apologetics (which does not mean: apologize) when the issue happens to be pressed; but if possible, steer the talk to some other topic a.s.a.p.

    2. I guess I’m alone with this opinion, but: don’t press too hard on “the Church doesn’t mind homosexuals or homosexuality”, meaning the tendency, “just it must not be acted upon”. This is a subtlety which has its precise meaning in Catholic theology; but to the outside world, it sounds as if we were too ashamed of our doctrine.

    3. It is true that the contranaturality on homosexuality is of natural law (which is an even subtler subtlety, as it were). However, as I see little possibility to argue for this in this era in casual talk, the “easy way out” of divine positive law might seem legitimate.

    Which means: “We love God. He is ultimately good. He has done so much for us. If he says no, then we’re not going to do it, and say no He does.”

    And if the answer is: “well, but the Church says that all the homosexuals”…
    jackpot: “well, you know, we do believe Catholicism is true. But if it is true, it is, of course, true for everyone”

    and hopefully you’ve steered the talk to a much more important ground with less homosexuality involved.

    4. Argue for one piece at a time. No need to bring in “the whole of it”. I mean: There’s no need to be the first one to say that homosexuality is sinful, as long as the discourse was only about whether it is natural, or just one flavor of sexuality next to what is normal, or whether so-called gay marriage is marriage, whether gay couples should adopt children (assuming there would be families to adopt them) and the like. Here it seems still possible (to me) to argue on a natural-law way, meaning on a “come on, of course it isn’t” way.

  11. DisturbedMary says:

    It is cruel to be quiet about the medical risks, the very dangerous and damaging health consequences of the homosexual lifestyle. There is a lot of propaganda out there to brainwash you into saying that gay sex is normal. The Church is the only institution looking after our spiritual health. It takes a lot of guts to speak the truth in love.

  12. ConstantlyConverting says:

    Probably some of the best language that I’ve heard on the subject deals with the labeling of oneself in any way (gay, transgender, conservative, vegan) as being reductionist. The human person should (ideally) be in a constant state of gratitude, wonder and humility at his existence. He is far too complex to be reduced to labels for easy digestion. One is a whole person, who enslaves himself, by thinking only of his sexuality, preference for eating only non-animal products or espousing free market principles. Actually, sexuality itself (according to the Theology of the Body if I understand it at all correctly) is greatly reduced in boiling it down to “personal sexual preference” rather than an experience of relation (to oneself, others, the Church, God.)

    I also like the language of disorder. Not clinically, but Catholicly… Not in the proper order. First order, what does God want of me?

  13. arrowsmith says:

    I’m sorry, Almanac. Your facts are incorrect. Gay Bowl Syndrome has fallen out of favor not as a result of politics but because it isn’t a diagnosis. It was used to describe a potpourri of illness from herpes to cancer. As to fifty percent of homosexual men in the United States being HIV positive: that is just irresponsible. Yes homosexual men make up about fifty percent of HIV cases in the US but only about twenty percent of them are HIV positive. Furthermore, I think this is exactly the sort of comment that the questioner was concerned about. I stand with the Church and her teachings on sexuality but that doesn’t mean we need to make things up to defend them. It only discredits our doctrines in the eyes of those we hope to convert.

  14. greenlight says:

    The most satisfying explanation I’ve received is this: We say that human sexuality is “ordered towards procreation”. That doesn’t mean that that’s the only aspect to it, or that it must always be procreative, or that we must always want it to be procreative, just that reproduction is ultimately what sexual behavior is directed towards. Any sexual activity that subverts that fundamental nature is going to wind up being harmful. So pornography, masturbation, contraception, homosexual sex, etc. are all intrinsically non-reproductive. They become a kind of sexual bulimia, trying to isolate the unitive or pleasurable aspect from the potentially reproductive consequences. The Church doesn’t condemn these things because she’s mean and repressive but rather she points the way to the kind of human sexuality that will most fulfill us and bring us closer to God.

  15. Cradle Catholic says:

    What a timely question! Dr. Taylor Marshall will be doing a webinar on Homosexuality and Natural Law. I would suggest to all interested, including the young person who wrote in with this question to sign up for the webinar on Dr. Marshall’s website.

    Here is what Dr. Taylor writes:
    “Have you ever found yourself in a position where you needed to explain or defend our Catholic teaching about traditional matrimony, homosexuality, abortion, etc? We can use Scripture and Tradition, but when talking to a non-Christian we often need to reach deeper and craft the discussion around NATURAL LAW. Natural Law Theory is one of the most powerful teachings – and yet so few Catholics know what it is or how to use it.”

    The seminar will take place on Thursday Jan 28 at 8p.m. Thursday, 28 January 2016, at 08:00 pm
    Central Time (US and Canada), GMT -6

    God bless!

  16. Alanmac says:

    You have been duped by the secular media. A book written by David Kupelian, “The Marketing of Evil” explains how homosexual advertising executives swung opinion in favour of homosexuals.
    You say homosexual males make up 50% of HIV cases but only 20% are positive. To a layman that is a fatuous statement.
    Regarding Gay BOwel Syndrome, again a look at the above mentioned book or a quick Google search would reveal that homosexual activists campaigned vigorously in the 1990s against this term as “demeaning and pejorative”.
    Please review:
    Medscape-New Look at ” Gay Bowel Syndrome”…hiv-aids-101/statistics/

  17. acardnal says:

    Arrowsmith wrote, “As to fifty percent of homosexual men in the United States being HIV positive: that is just irresponsible. Yes homosexual men make up about fifty percent of HIV cases in the US but only about twenty percent of them are HIV positive.”

    That statement makes no sense. Perhaps you mean “only twenty percent of them have AIDs”?

  18. MouseTemplar says:

    A visit to Joseph Sciambra’s blog or reading his book Swallowed by Satan may be helpful. He himself has left the “gay” lifestyle and returned to the Church and now spends time witnessing to those still involved in that culture.

  19. DJAR says:

    tufty says: From 380 a.d. when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire (Western Europe was converted by the 6th C.) until approximately 1517, it was typical for Roman Catholics to associate almost exclusively with other Roman Catholics. Eastern Europe was converted to Christianity by the 7th and 8th C. and remained Christian until the Communist take over. Occasional heresies sprang up in the early days, but to say that being Catholic meant to “stand in opposition” to the mainstream is incorrect. The entire continent of Europe was strictly Catholic for almost a thousand years. Most people associated almost exclusively with their brothers in the Faith. History Father, history.

    Where do these historical allegations come from? They are most certainly not correct. Europe, both east and west, had a substantial pagan presence well into the 12th century. Magyars were pagan tribes. King Wenceslaus came from a pagan family. Scandinavia is part of the continent of Europe, and it was evangelized from the 8th to the 12th century. The Vikings were pagans before conversion, but it took centuries to convert Scandinavia. Holland is in western Europe. Saint Willibrord is known as “the apostle to the Frisians,” and he was born in the latter half of the 7th century. He, too, came from a pagan family. Norway was almost completely pagan until the 11th century. Its conversion began in 995 AD. Albania, which is part of eastern Europe, had a substantial Muslim presence centuries before 1517 AD. The Iberian peninsula is certainly part of western Europe, and it was pagan to a large degree, then Arian, not Catholic, and then conquered by Muslims in the 8th century. The Reconquista was not accomplished until the 15th century. For seven centuries, Muslims ruled nearly half of Spain and Portugal. To allege that “the entire continent of Europe was strictly Catholic for almost a thousand years” is just not historical in the least.

  20. DJAR says:

    In addition to the above, what about the substantial Jewish population of Europe all during the Middle Ages? There were over a million Jews in Europe from at least the 8th century, and their presence grew as time went on. How anyone could assert that “the entire continent of Europe was strictly Catholic for almost a thousand years” is beyond me.

  21. Muv says:

    Why not just cut religion out of the discussion altogether? Just point out to friends who think the Church’s teachings are cruel the inherent absurdity of homosexuality. One wouldn’t hesitate to conclude that an infant who rammed food into his ears when hungry had something seriously amiss with him. Let the friends draw the parallel and leave the discussion at that.

  22. arrowsmith says:

    Apologies. Upon review my sentence does lack clarity. It comes from a large study in 2009 so I will use their terminology. It states that “men who have sex with men” do make up 50% of HIV Positive people in the US, however only 20% of men who have sex with men are HIV Positive. Almanac was incorrect in stating that 50% of these men were HIV Positive. The study does not address AIDS at all as, obviously, this is variable as AIDS can go into remission and be developed years after contraction of HIV.

    I have extended a, what I believe to be correct, definition Gay Bowel Syndrome. As I stated before it was a umbrella term for any disease contracted as a result of male on male sexual contact from basic sexually transmitted infections to oportunistic cancers. This on its face is poor medicine similar to being told you have a cancer but the physician not distinguishing between melanoma and lymphoma. If, as it seems, you disagree with my definition would you care to extend your own?

  23. Mr. Graves says:

    We’re losing sight of the fact that this is a TEENAGE who asked the question. Mentioning “Gay Bowel Syndrome” is guaranteed social pariah status for anyone not over 50.

    IMO, raising public health concerns isn’t the way to go. What about lesbians who have lower HIV infection rates than gay men? Is gay OK for them? That’d be my first retort if I were on the other end of that tactic.

    Morals divorced from religion also probably won’t work because we’ve lost the language of first things that allow us to discuss and understand natural law.

    Tradition, rightly understood and explained, along maybe with some other examples that teens might understand — like how if you follow Catholic sexual morality, you won’t have your sexts posted as revenge porn or how you won’t be emotionally devastated if your “first” breaks up with you if you’ve followed the perennial teaching of the Church, etc. — may be helpful. IDK. Frankly I stink at these discussions, and I’m far removed from my teens.

    All the best to the questioner. It’s a brave thing you’re trying. You’ll probably not get it right the first or second of fifteenth time, but if you answer with gentle faith and courage, your listeners will remember you’re maybe someone to ask these things to in the future.

  24. Alanmac says:

    Thank you for giving me a choice. I chose not to discuss homosexual issues, I have already said too much. If anyone had suggested to me twenty years ago that homosexuals could do the damage they have done, I wouldn’t have believed them…but the pendulum always swings.

  25. KateD says:

    The way I have explained it to my children so that they would develop a compassionate attitude towards people struggling with same sex attraction might be a tack that would be helpful for the young reader.

    My children have a favorite baby sitter whose family is very Catholic. When she graduated high school she started living with her boy friend. We discussed this situation with our children, after she stopped by her house to pick something up with them in tow. We agreed that she had committed a mortal sin by living with her beau before marriage and was therefore out of communion with Holy Mother Church, that she could not recieve the sacraments and that her soul was in mortal danger. We determined that because of this, that as much as we loved her, she could not babysit until she corrected the error. This didn’t mean we treated her as a pariah, we loved her just as much, but recognized the sin, that she was not using sound judgement and that it did effect some of our interactions. We determined to pray for her. When we saw her out around town, there were always the same sincere hugs and smiles all around. Inevitably, she broke up with the boy, moved back in with her parents, got married, and now has children of her own.

    I explained to my children that people living an openly gay lifestyle should be treated in the same manner as their beloved babysitter. Acknowledge that what they are doing is a sin, and that it is very serious and very well could cost them eternity, but that we should still love them, be kind, and pray for them.

    If the young questioner were to use this correlation, it would lead to the conversation of co-habitation outside of marriage in general, and is much easier to arrive at a place where they can agree to disagree. The peers will know the young person feels homosexuality is a sin, an argument they would feel obligated to push to a point of rupture, but because the final argument is on co-habitation, it gives the peers an option to walk away on convivial terms, thereby leaving the door open to future discussions….Sometimes we have to take baby steps.

    We all know the act homosexualists engage in is an abomination….but even Jesus said, “…if the mighty works done in you [Caper’ na-um] had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” Matt 11:23

    P.S. My son had to confront a similar issue in Kindergarten at a Catholic School. There was a ‘c’atholic mother promoting her son’s same-sex ‘crush’ on my son. My son defended himself and his faith successfully by all accounts and with compassion…if he could do it then, have courage, you can do it as well….but this is a strong argument for attending a truly Catholic school or homeschooling. Do not underestimate the wiles of Satan. While you may gain experience in defending your faith by being out amongst ’em, some argue it is better to grow strong healthy roots by surrounding oneself with a safe environment before being subjected to the never ending onslaught of attack from the culture of the anti-Christ. Consider a strong identity Catholic College as well.

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