Since coming back to the Church after having a same-sex relationship, I have often been asked to speak to young people about the Church’s teaching on chastity and homosexuality.
These are challenging conversations, since it seems that most young Catholics today tend to believe that the Church’s teaching that calls men like me to live lives guided by chastity is outdated and needlessly cruel.
Many of these children are otherwise strong in core issues of the faith. Parents and teachers at these events often seem mystified why a young person would be willing to save sex for marriage, avoid pornography and decry the evil of abortion, yet at the same time support same-sex “marriage” and homosexual relationships. For many, this seems an odd juxtaposition.
Studies seem to confirm this disconnect: A Gallup Poll from 2010 showed that only 24% of all young people aged 18-29 believed that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, compared to 36% of the same cohort in 1991. Where homosexuality is concerned, a 2014 Pew Research Center study showed that among Catholics aged 18-29, 85% believed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, and 75% approved of same-sex “marriage.”
For many in the Church today, there is a dissonance with a growing affirmation of the value of lives in the womb, yet a growing acceptance of same-sex relationships.
In my recent book, Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace, I discuss the challenge of sharing the Church’s teaching on homosexuality with young people. I quote Pope St. John Paul II, who said in Christifidelis Laici:
The sensitivity of young people profoundly affects their perceiving of the values of justice, nonviolence and peace. Their hearts are disposed to fellowship, friendship and solidarity. They are greatly moved by causes that relate to the quality of life. … But they are troubled by anxiety, deceptions, anguishes and fears of the world as well as by the temptations that come with their state.
Here I believe we can begin to understand the apparent disconnect between young people who have embraced both the Culture of Life, and support same-sex marriage.
Young people’s desire for the happiness of others inclines them to support what they perceive happiness to be. They are naturally concerned with quality of life for themselves and others. I have found in my many talks to young Catholics that most seem to think that the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality is mean and unloving. Likewise, the reason many young Catholics are pro-life is primarily because abortion is perceived as mean and cruel to the baby in the womb. Their inability to see the correlation between the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and abortion is because they are not fully formed in their understanding of the human person and God’s design for human sexuality.
At the root of both their views on abortion and same-sex relationships is a love that is guided more by sentimentality than an understanding of authentic love that is guided by the fullness of truth.
The problem here, I believe, derives from a failure in catechesis.
In the fight for the right to life, emotional appeals have proven invaluable, yet appeals to emotion are insufficient guides to moral truth. Many attribute the increase in young people’s pro-life sentiments to advances in ultrasound technology that clearly reveal to the eyes of young people that the child in the womb is, in actuality, a child.
Here, they see reality clearly, and many young Catholics embrace the pro-life movement because they rightly see abortion as snuffing out the life of an innocent baby. The same sentiments, however, guide many of them in their consideration of the Church’s teaching on same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption.
Many pro-life teenagers at my talks have questioned the Church’s teaching on same-sex adoption for the same reason they hold pro-life views: they believe it is cruel and mean to children when the Church is opposed to adopting children to same-sex couples.
Why would the Church deny children loving parents, and keep them in foster homes, when two men or two women desire to love them and provide a home for them? And why would the Church deny two people from sharing their lives together?
They cannot imagine that the Church’s invitation to chastity for men and women with same-sex attraction is an invitation to a better quality of life than same-sex relationships.
Man is a curious creature: he can only imagine ever being happy in the way he’s ever imagined he could be happy. For most young people, happiness looks like some form of marriage, or family, and they have a hard time understanding the stories of men and women like me who found the promises of the “gay rights” movement to be empty mirages.
Many are caught in the great deception of our age — sex is primarily about pleasure. Likewise, when I was a young man, I couldn’t understand why God would say no to my pursuit of sexual pleasure. I didn’t see that no amount of goodwill on the part of those engaging in homosexual acts, contraception or masturbation can change the fact that these actions are opposed to the true ends and meaning of human sexuality — in man, sexual organs are by design ordered toward procreation.
When we ignore this end and seek sexual pleasures for their own sake, we live in opposition to our true nature, and thus we are lead away from our true freedom, fulfillment and happiness.
Unfortunately, this cultural separation of sex from procreation is widespread among Catholics as see in the overwhelming support for contraception. In a 2015 survey, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 72% of white Catholics and 68% of Hispanic Catholics favor contraception.
This is the great challenge ahead for us in the Church. We need to help people to see things, as they really are. Just as the younger generation today can see clearly that children in the womb are really and truly children, they need to be convinced that the Church’s understanding of human sexuality reflects the true nature of things.
The first step in that path must be challenging the contraceptive mindset, and helping them to see that disconnecting sex from procreation leads away from true happiness. This catechesis of course must be done with everyone in the Church too — any efforts to help promote that good news of the Church’s teaching for men and women with same-sex attraction will be meaningless, until members of the faithful recognize the fullness of the wisdom of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality whether single, married or same sex attracted.