Sexuality Morality

1. Why does the Catholic Center promote an outreach to Gay and Lesbian Catholics? I do not believe that homosexuals should be discriminated against, but I thought that the Catholic Church's position was that homosexuality was wrong. Doesn't this kind of ministry imply that it is OK for people to engage in homosexual acts?

2. Is homosexuality a sin?

3. Is pre-marital sex a sin?

4. What is the definition of virginity? What is the church's definition? Do certain sexual experiences and touching another person outside of actual intercourse constitute a loss of virginity?

5. Regarding the complex issue of masturbation, what is the Church's pastoral approach to the individual's formation of a chaste life?

6. If two people on a date have agreed to have sex, and then one changes his or her mind, does that really constitute date rape?

7. What is the Catholic Church's position on in vitro fertilization?

8. What does the Catholic Church recommend doing with the surplus embryos if it discourages stem cell research?

9. In a reply about homosexuality you write "Currently, the Church acknowledges that individuals are born gay or straight--neither is a choice." I respectfully dispute your assertion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, expresses sympathy for homosexuals and does, as you write, affirm that it is not a "choice" (as some fundamentalists would have it), but nowhere does it say that any individuals are "born" with a homosexual orientation.

10. If a person is unchaste before marriage and, therefore, commits the sin of fornication, would his/her sin become a sin of adultery when he or she gets married, even though he/she made a perfect act of contrition for the unchaste behavior prior to the marriage?

11. My friend and I got into a talk about oral sex and the morality aspect and the rights and wrongs. Is it considered sinful to engage in these acts prior to marriage and/or in marriage? Does the Church view this as sinful?

12. In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed a multitude of Gay/Lesbian couples to marry at City Hall. The legality of their marriage is still in question. Should it become legal in the United States for Gay/Lesbian couples to marry (legally licensed marriage) and the couples that were practicing the Faith had the complete catechesis, would that be all the Roman Catholic Church would require to allow said couples to marry in the Roman Catholic Church?

13. I have always been taught that masturbation is a mortal sin. Yet I have read recent studies that indicate that men who masturbate have a 50% less chance of contracting prostate cancer. Do you think that maybe God would consider masturbation a venial sin instead of mortal?

14. I am wondering about the origins of the ban on polygamy in Western Culture, and the evolution of the concept of monogamous marriage as the only legitimate kind of marriage. Is the ban on polygamy secular or religious? In the Bible the men are polygamous or celibate. so where do Catholics (and other monogamous Christians) get their monogamy?

15. I have a question about masturbation. More and more doctors are recommending this practice. Recent health issues and medications have reduced my husbandly duties, and I have been undergoing prostrate review. It has been determined that the practice would help lessen problems. Also, my situation is possibly a cancerous condition. To be frank, please excuse me, I can only achieve a semi-erection when aroused, but can bring it to completion. I have avoided this practice for two reasons, first my inability to achieve and remain in a firm enough state to be a man to my wife. It's been several years of guilt and torture for both of us.

We found a solution with mutual oral sex, but at a a recent Catholic bible study course were told that it was a sin and forbidden. We have followed through on that warning, but are miserable and unhappy. I can't a straight answer from a priest, and doctors continue to confuse me by saying it is natural and that I should enjoy it, that it is healthier than repressing. I wouldn't overdo the practice, I just need the release. As it can go three to six weeks, I hate running to confession each time. It feels hypocritical and I wish to be a good Catholic. One priest said to me that what we have here is a chance for me to be a saint, and suggested that I was hiding or keeping something from him and that there must be more. I was so embarrassed to think he felt I was concealing facts. So, I didn't bother asking him anything else for me or for my wife. I hope you can help me.

16. I know that masturbation is a sin, and my question is: is that sin always a mortal sin, or in some cases could it be a venial sin?

17. Throughout the United States, the movement to allow Gay/Lesbian couples to marry is gaining momentum. If in fact it becomes legal in all or even most of the states, and the Catholic couples among them were practicing their Roman Catholic Faith, would that be all that the Church would require to allow said couples to marry in the Church?

18. Does the Roman Catholic Church recognize abstinence from sexual intercourse within marriage as an acceptable form of birth control? the "rhythm" method of birth control is not 100% effective. If a married couple is economically only able to have one child and still give that child a good home, proper nutrition, education, physical and mental health care, quality time, and spiritual/moral guidance and support to be able to give back to the community it seems that abstinence is the responsible method of choice. Of course, people who get married in order to justify having sex may not agree.

19. As of late there have been several gay couples adopting. The other day, while at church, someone mentioned that Ricky Martin was adopting. I said that was nice and that I was happy for him. Well, that set off a firestorm about my tolerance for gay people and marriage and adoption. I’m still amazed about how many people react in that manner. So, does the Church teach that gay people getting married is a sin? Is it a sin for gay people to adopt children?

20. I am a little confused about sin. Specifically, if I do not commit a sin myself, but I think it is ok for someone else to act on his or her beliefs, is that a sin for me? Take, for example, the pro-choice issue. I am not pro-abortion, but I do agree with a woman’s right to choose. Is that a sin for me?

Q 1: Why does the Catholic Center promote an outreach to Gay and Lesbian Catholics? I do not believe that homosexuals should be discriminated against, but I thought that the Catholic Church's position was that homosexuality was wrong. Doesn't this kind of ministry imply that it is OK for people to engage in homosexual acts?

A 1: First, let me assure you that the outreach of our community is in harmony with what Cardinal Mahony has tried to accomplish in the diocese at large. The Los Angeles Archdiocese has possibly the largest and most effective ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics in the United States. The Cardinal has insisted that this ministry be faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church. In that regard, we continue the ministry and mission of Jesus who reached out to everyone, even those who were technically outside the law. Not that that is an accurate reflection of the situation for gay and lesbian Catholics. It simply is a way to state again the limitless compassion and mercy of Jesus to all peoples, especially those who encountered difficult circumstances in life.

It is also good to recall that the official teaching of the Catholic Church does not condemn homosexual persons. While not condoning homosexual acts, the church specifically decries any discrimination against them. The ministry of the church to gays and lesbians is an attempt to assure them that they are equally members of the Body of Christ along with those who are straight, and that both have a place in the active life of the church.

If homosexual persons are sexually active, it should be addressed primarily from the same perspective as heterosexual persons who are sexually active outside of marriage. There are, of course, differences that cannot be ignored. But the fundamental teaching of the Church is that people are not to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage.

To that extent, and to the extent that outreach to gay and lesbian Catholics is faithful to Church teaching, such ministry fits very nicely into the life, mission and ministry of the Church.

Q 2: Is homosexuality a sin?

A 2: Let us first of all take a look at sin. Sin is always subjective. That is to say, we can objectively identify things as being wrong and even sinful, but whether an individual has actually sinned is a determination between God and the individual conscience. Even from the most traditional approach to morality, there can always be mitigating circumstances that diminish an individual's culpability for sin, even if the act itself is wrong or judged to be sinful.

As for homosexuality, the position of the Catholic Church, while clear, is also continuing to develop. Currently, the Church acknowledges that individuals are born gay or straight--neither is a choice. At the same time, partly because the Church believes sexual activity should be limited to monogamous married couples, homosexual activity itself is judged to be sinful. There also is the fact that official documents from the Vatican term homosexuality “objectively disordered”. Such language is complicated, based on questionable philosophical premises and, quite frankly, not very helpful. The work of some scriptural scholars and moral theologians leads to an ongoing discussion of the objective right or wrong of homosexual activity. In the meantime, sin remains subjective.

Q 3: Is pre-marital sex a sin?

A 3: The answer follows much the same pattern as the above question on homosexuality. Whether an individual pre-marital sexual act is a sin, is subjective. The objective determination about pre-marital sex is rooted in the same belief that sexual activity should be limited to monogamous married couples. Once again, the work of scriptural scholars and moral theologians continues to keep the issue of pre-marital sex in dialogue. In a future question I will try to address some of the scriptural limitations. In the meantime, one should remember that authentic Christian faith does not take Biblical passages out of context. That kind of fundamentalism only complicates and pollutes the theological inquiry.

Q 4: What is the definition of virginity? What is the church's definition? Do certain sexual experiences and touching another person outside of actual intercourse constitute a loss of virginity?

A 4: Technically, a virgin is a woman or man who has never had sexual intercourse. That is, of course, the definition of physical virginity. There are a number of other physically intimate experiences that one can engage in while still remaining a virgin. But that leads to a second consideration.

Simply meeting the exacting definition, while perhaps a safeguard, is too legalistic. The real question seems to be whether those other experiences are morally permissible. From a traditional point of view, the question is less about virginity than it is about chastity. Being chaste can be defined as avoiding those situations or circumstances that lead to improper sexual intercourse. By their natural orientation, those other sexual experiences you mention are designed to lead to what is a beautiful human act, namely sexual intercourse.

When the complexity of personal human relations and interaction are discussed, there emerges a concept of emotional or psychic virginity. It is possible to be so consumed by one's passions that the mind has already engaged in intercourse, and various physical acts substitute, however unsatisfactorily, for physical intercourse. In that sense, the person has certainly lost an emotional or psychic virginity, even though he or she is physically a virgin. A chaste life helps one to integrate the physical, emotional and psychic aspects of relationship. It also enables one to better value the great gift of sexual intercourse when it is an appropriate expression of the relationship.

Q 5: Regarding the complex issue of masturbation, what is the Church's pastoral approach to the individual's formation of a chaste life?

A 5: You correctly identify that the issue is complex. Indeed, there are a variety of theological approaches to this question that cannot be addressed in a brief answer. Let me first respond by reaffirming the Church's teaching that all people, single and married, are called to live a chaste life. Specifically in terms of masturbation, that act may not be directly a violation of chastity. Even using a very traditional moral approach, one drawn from Thomistic and Scholastic philosophy, one needs to be very careful about judgment. Thomas dealt with this issue from the understanding of habitual behavior. We are called to develop good habits. But when a habit has been formed, good or bad, it is not easily controlled or changed. Thomas suggested that the culpability for habitual behavior is diminished precisely because it is habitual. This does not make a bad habit good, but it reduces the seriousness, and should give one pause about judgment.

Q 6: If two people on a date have agreed to have sex, and then one changes his or her mind, does that really constitute date rape?

A 6: For some time now, there has been a popular appeal to the phrase that no means no. Your question identifies a complicating factor. The decision to engage in sexual intercourse is not something that can simply be planned before going out on a date. There are a number of psychological concerns that come into play. No matter how much planning and even expectation goes into having sex, the decision is also emotional. When it comes right down to engaging in sex while on a date, either person can change his/her mind. If the other one forces the act, then, yes, I think it can be called date rape. It also is good to realize that the emotional issues at play during arousal can be difficult to control. It is unwise to play around, even unintentionally, with those emotions. Perhaps a more careful approach might avoid the possibility of date rape in the first place.

Q 7: What is the Catholic Church's position on in vitro fertilization?

A 7: The teachings of the Catholic Church identify two problems with this method of conception. First of all, the process is separated from a loving act of intercourse. Ideally, sexual intercourse is an expression of love between husband and wife. One possible outcome is the creation of new life, and that is the proper means for conception. When conception takes place in a Petri-dish, there is no physical expression of love between the husband and wife.

The second problem is that in vitro fertilization results in aborted or discarded fertilized eggs. Since the Catholic Church teaches that human life begins at conception, these lost or discarded embryos represent a destruction of human life. That being said, when children are conceived through in vitro fertilization, there is no judgment on the children. They are to be accepted, loved and treated no differently than any other children.

Q 8: What does the Catholic Church recommend doing with the surplus embryos if it discourages stem cell research?

A 8: This is an interesting question. I imagine there might two possibilities that would be in harmony with Catholic teaching. One would be to attempt to bring living embryos to term. Of course this would mean implanting them into a woman’s womb, and that would raise the specter of formal participation in an act the Church has deemed immoral. The second possibility would be to discard the embryos in much the same way other tissue is discarded following surgical procedures.

Q 9: In a reply about homosexuality you write "Currently, the Church acknowledges that individuals are born gay or straight--neither is a choice." I respectfully dispute your assertion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, expresses sympathy for homosexuals and does, as you write, affirm that it is not a "choice" (as some fundamentalists would have it), but nowhere does it say that any individuals are "born" with a homosexual orientation.

A 9: Let me first of all state that the Catholic Church is not monolithic. On almost all issues there is a spectrum of belief. Some elements of our faith are non-negotiable. Some are still being developed, and some ideas are more compelling than others. It has long been posited by theologians that there is a hierarchy of truths within the Christian faith, meaning that not all things we believe, even if they are true, are of equal import. This is particularly true in the area of sexuality, where not just the Church, but all of the human race is still discovering and learning. Nothing in our Church's teaching or history would suggest that we know everything about sexuality and the human condition.

Regarding the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it is simply not synonymous with the Catholic faith. Because we are a living Church, continually being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Catechism was out of date as soon as it was printed. It is limited and conditioned like every other writing. In the words of Bishop John Cummins: "The Catechism is not a sword to be used against each other. It is a resource book."

You seem most concerned about my statement that "The Church acknowledges that people are born gay or straight--neither is a choice." Even given the limitations of the Catechism, one of the paragraphs you quote says the same thing I do, albeit in different language: "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition..." I would like to suggest that if homosexual orientation is not a choice, it is by definition something they are born with.

Q 10: If a person is unchaste before marriage and, therefore, commits the sin of fornication, would his/her sin become a sin of adultery when he or she gets married, even though he/she made a perfect act of contrition for the unchaste behavior prior to the marriage?

A 10: I must admit that I am not sure what point you are pursuing. Let me explain it this way. Remember that any sin confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not only forgiven--it ceases to exist. A sin not confessed may still be forgiven by God--after all, God is not limited to forgiving only in the Sacrament. However, in Catholic life, certain sins are best brought to the Sacrament for healing. Still, if someone commits one sin, such as fornication, and does not confess it before marriage, it cannot mutate into a different sin (adultery) simply because it was not formally confessed and forgiven.

Q 11: My friend and I got into a talk about oral sex and the morality aspect and the rights and wrongs. Is it considered sinful to engage in these acts prior to marriage and/or in marriage? Does the Church view this as sinful?

A 11: As with any true sexual activity outside of marriage, oral sex is considered from a traditional moral view to be wrong. From a classic perspective, even though "French kissing" is not in and of itself a sin, it was considered a near occasion of sin, because the passions cannot always be easily controlled. Anyone who has experienced passion knows how easily it can develop. Within marriage, however, oral sex is a different matter. It is perfectly acceptable for a married couple to engage in oral sex. Some moralists will suggest that climax should still happen in the traditional position, but that is not an absolute.

Q 12: In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed a multitude of Gay/Lesbian couples to marry at City Hall. The legality of their marriage is still in question. Should it become legal in the United States for Gay/Lesbian couples to marry (legally licensed marriage) and the couples that were practicing the Faith had the complete catechesis, would that be all the Roman Catholic Church would require to allow said couples to marry in the Roman Catholic Church?

 

A 12: No. The Catholic Church at this time would not recognize a same sex marriage. Currently, the teaching of the Catholic Church is that homosexuality is a disordered situation and that homosexual activity is wrong. Therefore, it is not just a matter of civil law. The Church would have to accept the reality of civil law, but would not grant validity to the union in the Church and the marriage would not be sacramental. I said that this is currently the teaching of the Church, because homosexuality, like many other issues, continues to be discussed, hopefully better understood, and open to development.

Q 13: I have always been taught that masturbation is a mortal sin. Yet I have read recent studies that indicate that men who masturbate have a 50% less chance of contracting prostate cancer. Do you think that maybe God would consider masturbation a venial sin instead of mortal?

A 13: First of all, I do not find the categories of mortal and venial helpful in discussing our relationship with God. You can check out other questions and answers for a more thorough treatment. In the meantime, I would caution against looking for an excuse to masturbate. I'm not suggesting that is what you are doing, though it might be so construed by others. The fact that the studies you refer to indicate that men who masturbate are 50% less likely to contract prostate cancer, does not suggest that such activity is a guaranteed preventative measure. I would suggest looking at the issue of masturbation from the perspective of psychology and moral theology. I think you might find that you do not need to look to medical science for a justification.

Q 14: I am wondering about the origins of the ban on polygamy in Western Culture, and the evolution of the concept of monogamous marriage as the only legitimate kind of marriage. Is the ban on polygamy secular or religious? In the Bible the men are polygamous or celibate. so where do Catholics (and other monogamous Christians) get their monogamy?

A 14: The simple answer to your question is that the ban on monogamy in the Western world is secular, in that the laws that govern society are secular. Clearly, in the history of Western civilization there has been strong religious influence. However, monogamy did not originate with Christianity. Polygamy was widely practiced in many cultures, yet there is little evidence of it among ancient Greeks and Romans, although they did recognize concubinage. Historically it seems that polygamy was practiced by only small part of the population, in part because there were not sufficient women for many men to have multiple wives. Also, most men were not able to support more than one wife. For the most part, polygamy was the province of the kings, and the wealthy. Some scholars note that polygamy is naturally oriented toward monogamy in that the first wife holds the position of privilege, and prestige among the other wives, extending to privileges of intercourse with the common husband.

It should also be noted that monogamy has profound concerns for civilization. For example, among polygamous peoples, the status of women is very low and they are treated merely as the man's property. There is also a sociological concern for the welfare of the children born into polygamous relationships. To all this natural development, the Christian tradition brings a theology derived substantially from the Book of Genesis and also reaffirmed in the Gospels. A man and woman leave their homes and become one. In this theology monogamy is the only expression of the unity of marriage. From this position Christianity has been able to instill in all society the ideal of monogamy and through this has demonstrated to the world the highest concepts of the equality that should exist between parties in a marital relationship. Monogamy has been good for the advancement of Western society and is seen as step forward for other societies.

Q 15: I have a question about masturbation. More and more doctors are recommending this practice. Recent health issues and medications have reduced my husbandly duties, and I have been undergoing prostrate review. It has been determined that the practice would help lessen problems. Also, my situation is possibly a cancerous condition. To be frank, please excuse me, I can only achieve a semi-erection when aroused, but can bring it to completion. I have avoided this practice for two reasons, first my inability to achieve and remain in a firm enough state to be a man to my wife. It's been several years of guilt and torture for both of us.

We found a solution with mutual oral sex, but at a a recent Catholic bible study course were told that it was a sin and forbidden. We have followed through on that warning, but are miserable and unhappy. I can't a straight answer from a priest, and doctors continue to confuse me by saying it is natural and that I should enjoy it, that it is healthier than repressing. I wouldn't overdo the practice, I just need the release. As it can go three to six weeks, I hate running to confession each time. It feels hypocritical and I wish to be a good Catholic. One priest said to me that what we have here is a chance for me to be a saint, and suggested that I was hiding or keeping something from him and that there must be more. I was so embarrassed to think he felt I was concealing facts. So, I didn't bother asking him anything else for me or for my wife. I hope you can help me.

A 15: Thank you for the email. I am sorry to hear that you are going through such a difficult time and that the priests you have spoken to have been of so little help. I would like to give you a straight answer. A the same time I want to b somewhat thorough. So...

Let me first of all address the issue or masturbation. In the past, it was considered a sin, but it is valuable to understand that centuries ago, the Church did not have the scientific information that we do. A long time ago it was thought that the sperm were actually little babies that just incubated in the womb of the woman. Therefore, masturbation was seen as similar to abortion. Of course, we know bette now. It was also thought that the only other animal that masturbated was the monkey. So those people who opposed the science of evolution had another reason to oppose masturbation. Now, however, we know that virtually every animal masturbates. Certainly the doctors are correct who told you it is natural. There are also some psychological and relational issues that would suggest that masturbation can be a healthy experience. Like anything else, it can also be problematic, but not in and of itself. Although there are certainly some theologians who sill consider masturbation wrong, I must say that I do not know of any moral theologians, at least none of significant reputation, who consider masturbation a sin. Nor do most of the parish priests that I know. Catholics, as one must always remember, are not monolithic, and I am sure that there are some who would say that it is sinful, but they are in the minority.

Second, let me say something about oral sex and marriage. At the core of marriage is the mutual love and satisfaction of the couple. Even in conservative theological circles, within the sacrament of marriage a husband and wife are free to do almost anything they want to pleasure each other--that includes oral sex and mutual masturbation. This stems from the commitment made in marriage that a husband and wife "belong" to each other. And the various ways in which they can please each other all valid expressions of their love and commitment. Perhaps your experience is another argument for why the Church should allow priests to marry, but it seems that the priests you have spoken to have little understanding and no appreciation of hat constitutes a marriage and the celebration of love that is exchanged between a husband and wife.

I think what concerns me most is the attitude of the priests you have approached in Confession. It is totally inappropriate for a priest to ridicule your and suggest that you are hiding something. That is not what Confession is for. It seems to say more about the priest than it does you!

At this point no one knows how your various medical reviews will come out and I certainly hope that you will be healthy and that the medications will benefit you. I also hope that in time you will be able to return to the satisfaction of full sexual intercourse. In the meantime, you and your wife should enjoy being together in any way that enables you to celebrate and deepen your love for each other.

One final note. Given that there is no serious reason to consider masturbation a sin in the first case, and secondly that you and your wife have a sacramental right to share your love in a variety of ways., I strongly suggest that you do not bring this issue to Confession again. There is simply no need. Confession is for being absolved from sin and reconciled to the Church. You are not doing anything sinful.

I hope this is helpful.

Q 16: I know that masturbation is a sin, and my question is: is that sin always a mortal sin, or in some cases could it be a venial sin?

A 16: Your question about masturbation raises two issues.

First, you presume that masturbation is a sin. That is not a given. The idea that masturbations is a sin was originally rooted in a pre-scientific and subsequently false concept that the sperm were actually little babies that were only incubated in a woman's womb. On top of that, it was once believed that the only other animal that masturbated was the monkey. This was of serious concern for those who wanted to reject evolution and objected to the idea that we evolved from monkeys (which itself is not a correct understanding of the evolution). Although science has proved the "little babies" premise wrong, this does not necessarily mean that the conclusion that masturbation is a sin is also wrong. However, when one considers all the evidence, which includes the fact that virtually every animal in the animal kingdom masturbates, as well as the psychological studies and modern understanding of the human person, it is difficult to conclude that masturbation is sinful. From my perspective, there is no solid theological ground upon which to make that determination. On the other hand, almost any human activity can be sinful under the right circumstances. So there are situations in which masturbation might be sinful, but it seems to me that these would always necessitate harming another individual. Otherwise, masturbation itself seems a harmless activity.

The second issue raised by your question is defining sin as either "mortal" and "venial". I realize that there are still many people who use those terms, but I do not think they are helpful. The use of these terms seems to suggest that some sinful activities are not very serious. Consequently, the continued use of the terms complicates our relationship with God and with one another, and also our attempt to live a holier lifestyle. The use of these terms also leads to some silly concepts. For example, according to the traditional teaching of mortal and venial sins, not even 1,000 venial sins is equivalent to 1 mortal sin. If a person with 1,000 venial goes to Communion, all those sins are erased. But if a person with 1 mortal sin goes to Communion, not only is that person's sin not erased, he/she receives another mortal sin on top of it!

The traditional teaching about mortal and venial sin attempts to distinguish a sin as mortal by basing the action on three criteria. Unless all three are met: 1) the act must be seriously wrong; 2) the person must know it is seriously wrong; 3) the person must willfully consent to the act. Unless the act meets all three of these criteria, it does not rise to the level of being mortal.

The problem primarily lies with criteria 2 and 3. Knowing that an action is seriously wrong includes knowing or believing that the action would fundamentally sever one's relationship to God. And willfully consenting to the act includes willingly accepting severing one's relationship with God--an act, that at least in traditional thought, has eternal ramifications. I am not certain that anyone can fully appreciate what severing a relationship with God means, at least not the eternal ramifications. And I am fairly certain no one who did comprehend the consequences of the action could then decide to continue the act. It seems that the very definition of a so-called mortal sin precludes the possibility of committing one.

If we were to continue to use the terminology of mortal and venial sin, it is obvious that most of us spend a great deal of our lives in a state of venial sin, since our interactions with others often lead to harm or hurt. At the same time, most of that harm or hurt would not be determined mortal. Thus, there is no serious motivation to alter our lifestyles, because just the act of receiving Communion wipes the slate clean, as it were. If we were to simply consider sin as sin, and make a more careful assessment of our actions toward others, we might actually find ourselves not only treating other people with the dignity and respect they deserve. We might also contribute to building a better society and world for all people. As I already said, the terms are not helpful.


Q 17: Throughout the United States, the movement to allow Gay/Lesbian couples to marry is gaining momentum. If in fact it becomes legal in all or even most of the states, and the Catholic couples among them were practicing their Roman Catholic Faith, would that be all that the Church would require to allow said couples to marry in the Church?

A 17: I appreciate this question and I wish I could answer "If only it were that simple!". Let me break down your question as follows: the first issue centers on gay and lesbian Catholics practicing their faith. As I have stated elsewhere, there is no problem in Church teaching with people being gay. However, the Church has a problem with gay and lesbian Catholics being sexually active. One part of the problem is the Church's prohibition to any sex outside of marriage. This would include pre-marital sex and extra-marital sex, even for heterosexual couples. Another part of the problem is the Church's prohibition against homosexual acts.

That having been said, the Church claims authority over the validity and sacramentality of marriage, at least as far as Catholics are concerned. So even if the civil authorities allow for same sex marriage, such a decision would not sway the Church, nor would it have any effect in Church law.

I would like to refer you to a more comprehensive presentation I wrote on same sex marriage, located on the faith discussion page.

Q 18: Does the Roman Catholic Church recognize abstinence from sexual intercourse within marriage as an acceptable form of birth control? the "rhythm" method of birth control is not 100% effective. If a married couple is economically only able to have one child and still give that child a good home, proper nutrition, education, physical and mental health care, quality time, and spiritual/moral guidance and support to be able to give back to the community it seems that abstinence is the responsible method of choice. Of course, people who get married in order to justify having sex may not agree.

A 18: Birth control remains a problematic issue in Catholic teaching. To begin with, the Church is not opposed to birth control, quite the opposite. The Church strongly encourages married to regulate the size of their families based on a number of concerns--population control and providing for the welfare of children being among them. The Church's prohibition is only against "artificial" means of birth control, such as the pill, or the use of condoms. These would properly be defined as "contraception" in that they interfere with the natural biological processes that are part of sexual intercourse.

It is also worth noting that no form of birth control is 100% effective, except for abstinence. The rhythm method is much more effective than people wish to acknowledge, but rhythm, along the ovulation or so-called "Natural Family Planning" approach, requires at least some days of abstinence. Abstinence, however, presents other issues since human beings are guided by choice, and not just instinct when choosing to engage in sexual activity.

Most Catholics have already decided on the issue of contraception and have chosen to ignore the official teaching. This is not as problematic as one might assume, since a foundational principle of canon law is that if a rule is not accepted by the people at large, it is not binding. For those who are concerned about the teaching of the Church, I have written more extensively on the subject in Artificial Contraception, located on the Faith Discussion page of this website.


Q 19: As of late there have been several gay couples adopting. The other day, while at church, someone mentioned that Ricky Martin was adopting. I said that was nice and that I was happy for him. Well, that set off a firestorm about my tolerance for gay people and marriage and adoption. I’m still amazed about how many people react in that manner. So, does the Church teach that gay people getting married is a sin? Is it a sin for gay people to adopt children?

A 19: It appears that too many people do not know the concept or definition of sin. So the answer is no. The church does not teach that gay couples getting married is a sin. However, the church teaches that marriage should be between a man and a woman, therefore in official Catholic teaching, there is no possibility of same sex marriage. Also, the Church does not teach that being gay is a sin. But, it does say that homosexual activity is sinful.

The same holds for gay adoption. The Church does not teach that it is a sin for gay couples to adopt. Yet, the Church teaches that a couple living together is contrary to moral law and, therefore, not a good model for children. The point is, that the examples you bring up are not sins, even though they are frowned upon by Church officials.

These are all subtle distinctions usually wasted on right wing Catholics, who seem to lack discerning abilities.

Q 20: I am a little confused about sin. Specifically, if I do not commit a sin myself, but think it is ok for someone else to act on his or her beliefs, is that a sin for me? Take, for example, the pro-choice issue. I am not pro-abortion, but I do agree with a woman’s right o choose. Is that a sin for me?

A 20: The abortion debate continues to rage in American society and politics. It is complicated by the use of the term pro-life. It has been provenly repeatedly that the majority of politicians--even some religious leaders--who claim to be pro-life are nothing of the kind. They are merely anti-abortion. The terms are synonymous nor co-extensive. These same people do not oppose capital punishment, war, or even poverty-inducing policies. They do not share any concern for the poor or the sick. Nor do they seek to advance the common good. It is not a sin to disagree with Church teaching.

To answer your questions specifically, Catholics are called to submit to Church teaching, but that does not mean abandoning their own intellects or reasoning. Being a faithful Catholic does not mean surrendering our own intelligence, and certainly not our conscience.