|Church Teaching on Sexual Morality|
To: All Involved in Catholic Education
Our purpose in writing this letter is to help you to be clear about the authentic teaching of the Church on sexual morality and in particular in the area of homosexuality. (1)
During World Youth Day, the Holy Father said to the young people:
"I have heard your festive voices, your cries, your songs and I have felt the deep longing that beats within your hearts: You want to be happy!
Dear young people, many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides: Many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, with success, with power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses."
As the Pope said: "People are made for happiness."(2)
What then leads to happiness in this difficult and delicate area?
Catholic schools in Ontario have always been recognized as institutional expressions of the Church responsible for the education and formation of the Catholic children entrusted to them by their parents.3 The Church has a responsibility to teach what it believes to be for the good of each person and for all members of the Catholic Faith.
Parents and local Catholic communities of faith depend on Catholic school boards, trustees, principals, teachers, counselors and chaplains to transmit faithfully the Church's moral teachings to their Catholic students, always with charity, gentleness, tact and understanding.
In the case of inappropriate moral conduct the duty of Catholic schools is to guide students into morally acceptable paths.
Permitting behaviour implies that the person in authority and the institution condone it. It is not sound or acceptable practice for Catholic schools to teach that certain behaviour is contrary to Catholic teaching, but then to take no action when it is exhibited openly in a school context. Inaction or indifference causes scandal(4) and could persuade students that the teaching of the Church is not to be taken seriously. Teachers and administrators teach by their actions. Taking action removes an occasion of sin, in the Catholic understanding, both for the ones acting inappropriately and for others and, therefore, is an expression of pastoral care for each individual person and for all members of the group.
Teaching Sexual Morality in Catholic Schools
For Catholics, the Christian vocation(5) is lived within the sacrament of marriage or the sacrament of holy orders or consecrated life or the single life. The virtue of chastity is at the root of sexual morality. This virtue calls all persons, married and unmarried, to respect God's intention for human sexuality and so to honour God in our quest for human fulfillment and happiness.
Chastity(6)is a positive orientation to life. It is to be taught as a discipline of the heart, the eye, of language and all the senses, which frees us to embrace important human goods. Teaching chastity begins from a spiritual intuition that helps us to grasp the obligation inherent in the fact that our body belongs to God. On this point it is St. Paul who reminds us that: "The body is meant...for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Cor. 6:13).
In Christian marriage, a man and a woman live out what Pope John Paul II has called "the nuptial meaning of the body". As the Holy Father puts it, "The communion of persons means existing in a mutual 'for', in a relationship of mutual gift." Man and woman, in their complementarity, are a manifestation of the creation of humanity "in the image and likeness of God."(7) Marriage is, in the solid tradition of the Church, the only proper context for sexual relationships and is the way of chastity for married people. It is here alone that the two-fold meaning of sexual intercourse, the unitive and procreative, finds its proper order.(8)
Sexual activity is truly meaningful only when it embodies and expresses marital love, love that is both fully committed and open to life, and it cannot do that outside of marriage for anyone, heterosexual or homosexual. This means that sexual activity which is outside marriage cannot be condoned, and is taught by the Church to be immoral. This includes masturbation, fornication and adultery, and sexual activity with a person of the same sex.
Students in our Catholic schools are still growing up, and marriage is not an imminent prospect. They are called to develop true friendships, marked by genuine love and affection, with members of both sexes. This involves learning to communicate about important things, developing their own gifts and learning to cherish the gifts of others, and engaging in a wide variety of wholesome activities together. This time should also be devoted to discerning the future unfolding of personal vocation.
Sexual activity between unmarried people can undermine such friendships and block vocational discernment. One reason is that sexual activity inevitably tends to become the focus of the relationship, and other activities, despite their great worth, tend to be valued less.
Sexual desire is not in itself sinful. It can, depending on the choices a person makes, be an occasion of growth in virtue or an occasion of sin.
Students need to be taught that their present choices determine their character. If they co-operate with God in making choices, they will be capable of receiving the fulfillment that God wants for them, not only here but hereafter.(9)
The Church's Teaching on Homosexuality
In Catholic education, students should be brought to an understanding of a loving God who gives to them (as to all of us) a dignity beyond our imagining.
It is in this context that the teaching of the Church on the morality of homosexual orientation and homosexual activity is presented, and within the context of moral teaching on sexuality and marriage generally.
The Church's general teaching on homosexuality is summed up in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (10) An irreversible homosexual orientation is not sinful, since it is not sought by homosexual persons. A tendency, desire or inclination are not choices and are therefore not wrong in themselves. There is a real difference between sexual desire and the decision to act on it. The Church makes a critical distinction between orientation, and conduct or behaviour. The Church clearly teaches that homosexual acts are immoral.(11). Included under homosexual acts are genital sexual activity and erotic relational behaviour with a person of the same sex.
Thus, romantic behaviour between homosexual persons is morally unacceptable, because it points toward future sexual relationships that are non-marital. Romantic behaviour is not confined to a set of defined activities. It is a description of one-to-one relational behaviour which involves sexual attraction. Romantic behaviour is quite different from the behaviour of simple friendship.
The Pastoral Care of Students Experiencing Same-Sex Attraction
Catholic schools and those teaching in Catholic schools should be careful to present the Church's teaching fully. This does not mean that questions should not be explored, but always with the intention of understanding and accepting the teaching. (12)
Students experiencing same-sex attraction should be treated with sensitivity and compassion. Homosexual students, in particular, often have a difficult period of adjustment in recognizing their sexual orientation and its consequences for their lives. Empirical studies show that they are often the victims of verbal, physical and more subtle forms of abuse. Suicide rates among homosexual students are higher than those of their heterosexual peers. Teachers, counselors and chaplains should be aware of the particular challenges facing homosexual students and should reach out to them with pastoral care.(13) They should also ensure that all members of the school community are aware that the Church teaches that abusive behaviour toward any person, for any reason, is unacceptable and that, in the case of homosexual persons, "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."(14) The school should enforce clear policies against any form of harassment.
Adolescent students are not always the best judges of their own sexual orientation. When a student discloses a same-sex attraction, it does not necessarily mean that the student is homosexual. Teachers and others entrusted with the pastoral care of students experiencing same-sex attraction should also keep in mind the different stages in a student's life and his or her ability to absorb teaching.
The often negative impact of the media on sexual morality generally should not be underestimated. The student may be poorly instructed in his or her faith, may not be particularly devout or regular in religious practice, including prayer and sacraments, and may be influenced by the sexual permissiveness of the general culture. Recall the Holy Father's words: "Many of these voices... propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses".
While the Church respects an individual who has done his or her best to come to a correct moral judgment, it is not obligated to accommodate a decision based on an individual's erroneous conscience. This includes a student who blamelessly arrives at the mistaken conclusion that homosexual acts can be morally good. There is an objective truth concerning moral issues; and error, even when blameless, does not change the nature of this truth.
Teachers and others should try to lead the homosexual student to a progressively better sexual morality without condemnation and with much patience. The steady progression of moral and spiritual conversion is the goal, even when there seem to be more failures than successes, more stalling than movement. There are no quick solutions to most human problems. Yet all of us have the freedom to act morally even in the face of great temptation: we are not the product of our desires.
For most young people, romantic attachments and behaviour are part and parcel of their blossoming sexuality and their growth toward the commitment of marriage. Romantic attachments and behaviour are fully expected of heterosexual couples. Behaviour such as holding hands, embracing, kissing, dating and dancing that are romantically intended are all acceptable within appropriate limits.
It will be especially difficult for young persons who are experiencing homosexual romantic yearnings to understand and accept this teaching of the Church since it discourages romantic behavior that would be acceptable in a heterosexual context. The role of pastoral care in this effort is critical. A person exercising pastoral care is called to understand the particular strengths and weaknesses of each unique student in order to assess his or her moral capabilities at any given time; what can and should be the next step in this person's journey toward chastity.
Pastoral care is marked by concern, warmth, love, compassion and sensitivity. It does not, however, encourage or condone, even temporarily, objectively immoral conduct out of misplaced compassion, since doing so would be to mislead the student gravely.
Teachers, Counselors and Chaplains
Dear Friends: We share responsibility for bringing the truth of the Gospel to our young people, including young homosexual students who are struggling with self identity and self worth. You are called to have a sense of your own integrity as teachers of Catholic morality. You are called to follow the example of Christ himself in the patience, care and love you show to these students.
In the hectic and complex life of a school, issues of sexuality and homosexual orientation arise in many diverse circumstances and guises. Handling these issues in an authentic, appropriate and compassionate fashion is a demanding task. We invite you and others in the Catholic community, including students, into a conversation about the appropriate means to achieve full and genuine Catholic formation in these matters for our students.
The Holy Father spoke of the enormous desire of the young to be happy. His message and the message that all of us engaged in Catholic education must never tire of setting before the young people entrusted to us is this:
"People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him. True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret of this victory".(15)
By walking always with Christ, even when the path is uphill, we can achieve joy.
Issued by the Education Commission
Of the Ontario Assembly of Catholic Bishops
March 31, 2003
1. The controversy leading up to and resulting from the interim decision of the Ontario Superior Court in the case of Marc Hall v. The Durham Catholic District School Board, showed that this pastoral instruction is opportune.
2. Pope John Paul II/World Youth Day, "The Beatitudes: Portrait of Jesus, Portrait of a Disciple" (2002), 32 Origins, No. 11, page 184.
3. The Ontario Assembly of Catholic Bishops, This Moment of Promise, (1989) p. 16
"Given the increasing fragility of families and the over-extension of parishes, it is becoming more obvious that the school, for some, is often the primary place where young people experience the Church as an alternative community which is shaped more by faith, hope and love than by the values of our consumer culture.
In this situation, those involved in Catholic education have an awesome privilege and responsibility. They are called not only to create an authentic faith community in the school but also to bring that community into communion with the parish and the wider Church community. ...Students deserve to discover their vocation in the universal Church and their roots in the long tradition of the Church.
While we are called to be constructive and creative in our contribution to society, we must also be critical of those aspects of our culture which are contrary to the values of our faith tradition".
4. The Catechism states:
2284. Scandal is an attitude or behaviour which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbour's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offence if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offence.
See also sections 2285, 2286, 2287
4.The Catechism states:
2461. True development concerns the whole man. It is concerned with increasing each person's ability to respond to his vocation and hence to God's call.
543. Everyone is called to enter the kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this messianic kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations. To enter it, one must first accept Jesus'
word: The word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear it with faith and are numbered among the little flock of Christ have truly received the kingdom. Then, by its own power, the seed sprouts and grows until the harvest (Luke 12: 32).
6. The Catechism states:
2345. Chastity is a moral virtue. The Christian has 'put on Christ', the model for all chastity. All Christ's faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity.
See also Sections 2346, 2347, 2348, 2349, 2350 and 2357-9.
7. **Ref. "General Audience",9 January 1980,
[http ://www. Vatic an.va/ho ly_father/j ohn_paul_ii/audiences/catechesis_genesis/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud- 19800109_en.html]and The Original Unity of Man and Woman [book ref.]
8. The unitive aspect of sexual intercourse refers to its capability to build up the love relationship between husband and wife. It embraces the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual nature of the couple. The procreative aspect refers to its movement towards begetting children, the fruit of the couple=s mutual love.
9. Gaudium et spes no. 39, The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott and Joseph Gallagher (New York: America, 1966) A...after we have obeyed the Lord, and in his Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured. This will be so when Christ hands over to the Father a kingdom eternal and universal: >a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace@.
10. Catechism of the Catholic Church
2357. 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, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. 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 complementarily. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
Also see Sections 2358, 2359, 2396.
11. The technical theological expression is that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered". This does not
mean that these acts are indicative of a mental or physical disorder, but that the acts are not consistent with the created order. That order requires that human sexual activity occur only within marriage for the reasons expressed elsewhere in this document. Cf. Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana,
12. Criticism that denigrates the teaching should be avoided.
13. Our Pastor is the Good Shepherd. Each of us needs to be attentive to our limitations. Teachers and counselors are not pastors, but they are called to provide pastoral care. On occasion, they will need the assistance of pastors and other professionals. Sometimes the most appropriate response will be to refer a student to a pastor or to professional counselors, psychologists or psychiatrists.
14. Catechism of the Catholic Church
2358. 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.
15. See footnote 2.
Doc 270303 1
Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario