By Jonathan Stodola, Saint Louis University
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual couples should not be sacramentally married. However, the tension between many homosexual couples and the Church is not necessarily their lack of marital recognition but rather comes from the lack of vocational options once marriage has been ruled out. Starting from the Triune God as Love and human experience being oriented towards ultimately resting in that Love, Catholic teachings on marriage and vocation seemingly make it difficult, if not impossible, for homosexual persons to live rightly ordered lives void of sexual acts as prescribed by the Catholic Church. This is troubling because limited opportunities for homosexuals within Catholicism could drive them away from the Church, resulting in a diminished community of believers.
Marriage is the union of two people in a relationship for their entire lives. This union is recognized by society and is typically ordered towards having children. However, a Catholic marriage has a few important distinctions that make it more significant than a non-sacramental civil marriage.
The first distinction is marriage must be between a man and a woman. As defined in the Catechism, a Catholic marriage must be centered on a conjugal love that is unitive, full of fidelity, and open to fertility or children. It is this procreative necessity of a Catholic marriage that requires marriage to be between a man and a woman. Civil marriages do not require the couple to be open to having children.
The second distinction is the presence of Christ and the graces that come from a marital union that shares in God’s divinity. A marriage covenant within the Church becomes a sacrament through Christ. God strengthens the couple with His grace and makes the marital bond one that cannot be dissolved. This goes back to the fidelity aspect of marriage. God is faithful across time and thus the couple experiences the same depth of commitment. Ultimately, authentic married love and divine love go hand in hand, for it is through a sacramental marriage that Christ is invited into the relationship, bringing His infinite love into the marriage. The lack of divine presence in a civil marriage leaves the couple without specific God-given graces that allow a Catholic couple to overcome many of life’s trials.
It is the distinction of a Christ-filled, unitive, procreative, and loyal covenant that sets a sacramental Catholic marriage apart from other unions. Following this definition, homosexual marriage is not allowed because two gay people cannot procreate.
Those in favor of homosexual marriage within the Church often ask a few great questions that challenge the ban on homosexual marriage, the first being, “What about adoption?” If a gay couple is open to adoption, are they not open to kids like the Church wants? They will often go on to ask “What about an infertile straight couple?” They cannot have children but can still be married within Catholic teachings. Lastly those in favor of gay marriage will point to Pope Francis’s recent remarks on homosexuals where the Pope says, “What we have to create is a civil union law.”
Starting with adoption and infertility, there are three key aspects to point out. First, both a father and a mother are needed for a child to ideally develop. While a same-sex couple can raise a child, children without either a mother or a father often lack skills a child with both a father and a mother possess. Proponents of gay adoption will often claim that many scientific studies concluding the necessity of mothers and fathers only compare heterosexual marriages to single parents. However, a thousand mothers will never equal one father and vice versa. There is something different that a father brings to parenting that a child needs, as does a mother. Lacking one, even if replaced by a homosexual partner, is not the same as having both. It is true that in some cases (abuse, neglect, or the simple lack thereof any parents), a gay couple is the right choice for a child, but this is still not ideal and the Catholic Church, always aiming for the ideal, approves of solely raising children within a heterosexual marriage.
Procreation aside, marriage must still be unitive, and true unity comes by fully giving oneself to their spouse through sexual intercourse. The fullness of human sexuality is realized through the ability to unite man and woman in one flesh and create new life. It is the gift of a child through procreative sexuality that truly unites the married couple, and gay people biologically cannot experience the procreative or unitive benefits of this sexuality. The Church teaches homosexual acts are viewed as sinful and can be approved under no circumstances. There is no way around true unity, for even if a homosexual couple chose a Josephite marriage to avoid sin, their unity would not be equitable to that of a heterosexual couple. Since this particular unity is one of the important distinctions required for a marriage, homosexuals cannot be married.
Finally, miracles do happen, and one could result in an infertile couple having children. Two men or two women simply cannot have children together, it takes the biological parts of both sexes. It is a little-known fact that impotent couples, even heterosexual ones, cannot be married (See Code of Canon Law 1084). No miracle can change a human’s biological nature, though. Thus, infertile couples can be married as long as they are open to having children.
As Fr. Agustino Torres points out, the Pope’s comments about homosexuals were largely misinterpreted and mistranslated. Pope Francis was speaking in Spanish about protecting and respecting homosexuals within the family. When he says, “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.” And adds, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” Pope Francis is not calling for gay civil marriages, but rather for societal respect for homosexuals that the Catholic Church already requests.
So, if homosexuals cannot be married within the Church but ought to be respected and accepted by the Church, where is their place? Traditional Catholic teachings point to three vocations; married, religious, and single. Unfortunately, a religious vocation is not really viable either. A 2005 statement from the Vatican by Pope Benedict says, “…while profoundly respecting the persons in question, [they] cannot be admitted to the seminary or holy orders.” The document goes on to say if homosexual tendencies are clearly overcome for a period of three years, one could be ordained. A part of homosexual tendencies is simply identifying as a person with same-sex attraction. Since homosexuality is not a choice, one cannot honestly stop identifying as a homosexual and therefore under Pope Benedict’s statement, would not be allowed to have a religious vocation.
On the other hand, Pope Francis simply responded to the question about gay priests with, “Who am I to judge?” Homosexual admittance to the religious life has recently been up to the individual discretion of diocese and religious orders. There are gay clergy and religious around the world, but it is a harder vocation for them to follow when official teachings and individual bishops oppose their call.
This leaves only one clear vocation: the single life. The Church teaches that homosexuals are called to chastity. Living a chaste single life is a vocation. While in the single state love can be found through families, friendships, colleagues at work, and the global community, it is a different love than that which is found within marriage. God’s love is found in a special way through marriage, something the chaste single does not replicate. This is not to say that single people do not feel God’s love, since God’s love radiates throughout all of creation, but it is often harder to feel said love today because of secular society’s obsession with sex. With all the pressures of society, remaining chaste requires an extreme amount of devotion and all who do should be commended as such. For people with homosexual orientations, a life of chastity is the best acceptable vocation within the teachings of the Catholic Church. Homosexual religious are rare, and gay marriage defies the definition of marriage.
Of course, limited options might not seem so inviting, and without the reasoning behind the apparent lack of options it can be off-putting. With this in mind, should the Church allow gay marriage or gay religious? Can the Catholic Church do anything to be more open to and accepting of the homosexual community?
This is a delicate situation. The Church cannot change centuries of traditional doctrine, yet the Church also cannot afford to restrict and ostracize members of the homosexual community. Allowing gay marriage would require a redefinition of the Catholic understanding of sexuality and marriage. This is simply not feasible. Even a civil union between two gay people could not be called marriage as understood by the Catholic Church. Catholic marriage is, and always will be, a unitive covenant between one man and one woman ordered for the procreation and education of children, in which God’s graces overflow, allowing for fidelity, love, and support until death.
The Church could be more open to homosexual priests. Homosexual people are called to chastity, just like religious. The only requirement for a religious vocation is holiness and an extreme desire to love and serve the Lord. Provided they would uphold the teachings of the Church, such as the sanctity of marriage, homosexual people should have a place within the religious orders of the Church.
Men and women were created for each other, and while the Catholic Church cannot open this particular style of love to homosexuals in the sacrament of marriage, the Church can support homosexual persons as the children of God that they are. To ensure that the Church does not close itself off from the homosexual community, its laity must welcome people of all sexual orientations. Theologians must also improve at explaining the Church’s doctrines. Its priests must find places and communal roles for LGBT persons. In a 1982 homily, addressed to the homosexual community, Pope John Paul II says, “You are no less loved by God; your love for each other is complete and fruitful when it is open to others, to the needs of the apostolate, to the needs of the poor, to the needs of orphans, to the needs of the world.” The Church must live in a manner that redefines the homosexual vocation from one of chaste solitude to a vocation of chaste importance and acceptance so that the needs of the world are met as with those of the homosexual person.
Brannen, Brett. “Can a Man with Same-Sex Attraction Go to Seminary to Become a Priest?” In To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood, 239–46. Valdosta, GA: Vianney Vocations, 2010.
This is a comprehensive guide for vocational discernment for men. This book is written by Fr. Brannen who has served as a vocations director and the Vice-Rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Being the go-to book for anyone discerning a call to the priesthood, this source is accessible, clear, and provides an understanding to how one becomes a priest and who may do so.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed., Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997.
This is a summary of all the Catholic Church’s teachings and thus a great source for understanding Catholic doctrine.
Clarifying Catholicism. “Marriage: One Man One Woman.” Youtube video, 13:11. March 11, 2020. https://clarifyingcatholicism.org/2020/03/12/video-marriage-one-man-one-woman/
This is a video explanation of the Catholic marriage and why marriage in the church is strictly for the union of a man and a woman. It addresses adoption, invitro fertilization, civil unions, raising children, and how these fit with Catholic teachings.
From their website, “Clarifying Catholicism is a lay apostolate consisting of students and recent graduates who write blogs, produce videos, and record podcasts on Catholic Theology. We are dedicated to preserving the rich intellectual tradition of the Catholic Church by defending faith and reason. Our primary aim is to explain and demystify Church teaching that may be misunderstood or difficult for teens and young adults to digest.”
As a writer for Clarifying I know their process behind what gets published along with the talent and passion of the writers, therefor I know anything published will be according to Church teachings.
Human Rights Campaign. “Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Roman Catholic Church.” Accessed November 15, 2020. https://www.hrc.org/resources/stances-of-faiths-on-lgbt-issues-roman-catholic-church.
This is an article summarizing the teachings of the Catholic Church that relate to marriage. The Human Rights Campaign is for equal rights for all people and thus this article is from a source that is established and against the Church’s ban on gay marriage. They properly cited their sources.
Paul VI. Gaudium et Spes. December 7, 1965. Papal Archive. The Holy See. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html.
This is Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and from the Second Vatican Council. It focuses on Joy and Hope in today’s society and while written 55 years ago, offers good insight into the Church’s teachings on marriage.
Torres, Agustino. “The Pope was misquoted…Again!” Instagram video, 6:08. October 21, 2020. https://www.instagram.com/tv/CGn08rdjvof/?igshid=5o3dp3if7w88
This video is done by a Spanish speaking priest who is able to explain what Pope Francis meant when he mentioned civil laws for homosexuals. Fr. Torres translates and explains the Pope’s statement within the context of culture. This video was well done and informative for anyone looking to better understand the Pope’s statement and its impact on Catholicism.
USCCB. “Love and Sexuality.” Accessed November 14, 2020. https://www.usccb.org/topics/natural-family-planning/love-and-sexuality.
This is a website addressing the meaning behind sexuality from a Catholic perspective. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is a reliable source that is able to shed light on Catholic teachings, while reaching a large audience.
Wiley-Blackwell. “Do children need both a mother and a father?.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100121135904.htm (accessed November 15, 2020).
This is an article pointing out the flaws in marital and parenting studies. It provides a counterargument and some statistical data so the marital realm is no longer abstract but concrete.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 2359
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 1643
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 1640
 Gaudium et Spes 48
 Wiley-Blackwell. “Do children need both a mother and a father?”
 Clarifying Catholicism “Marriage: One Man One Woman.” 8:44
 USCCB “Love and Sexuality”
 Clarifying Catholicism “Marriage: One Man One Woman.” 2:08
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357
 Fr. Torres “The Pope was misquoted…Again!” 0.47
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358
 Fr. Brannen To Save a Thousand Souls: A Guide for Discerning a Vocation to Diocesan Priesthood 242
 Human Rights Campaign. “Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Roman Catholic Church.”
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 2359
 USCCB “Love and Sexuality”
 Clarifying Catholicism “Marriage: One Man One Woman.” 10:15