Update Note: I made some errors in regard to “opposite sex” and “same sex”. I think they have all been corrected.
Time for truth and clarity. I love clarity. I love truth. Don’t you? But keep in mind that my brain is not working at full function. I’m still in the middle of a mixed state episode. It is a struggle to be clear, but this topic is important for the holiness of the Church. Bear with me.
On December 2, I wrote: What We Know and What We Don’t Know About Homosexual Inclination and Mental Illness. Essentially, I explained that there is a difference between formal sin and internal sin. In the document ”Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons“, this phrase refers to formal sin:
[...][T]he particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin [...]
Here is context:
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
As I noted in my article, homosexual inclination is “internal sin”.
A commenter asked:
If, however, a man thinks “I would derive pleasure from such sexual activity but it is always wrong so I do not desire actually to do it under any circumstances,” it’s unclear to me that such can be sinful. Anybody have insight on this?
If “a man thinks” that he would “derive pleasure from such sexual activity”, that means a “desire” exists within him. That desire is internal sin, whether or not he intends to commit the act. Homosexual inclination (same-sex attraction) is a desire. They are the same thing. If someone says “I am gay”, this means in and of itself that he/she experiences same-sex attraction….that is, a desire. That desire is internal sin.
Here is what the Courage apostolate has to say on the point:
There are people within the Catholic Church who might argue that those who label themselves “gay” or “lesbian” aren’t necessarily living unchastely. That’s true, but the implications of the terms in today’s society don’t commonly connote chaste living. Furthermore, they are limiting their own possibilities of growth by such self-labeling, and reducing their whole identity by defining themselves according to their sexual attractions. At Courage, we choose not to label people according to an inclination which, although psychologically understandable, is still objectively disordered.
They also say this, below:
The term “objective disorder” is a philosophical term. It is used to describe homosexual attractions because such attractions can never lead to a morally good sexual act. It is objected that if a man lusts for a woman or vice versa, this too is an objective disorder. This latter example is not an objective disorder, because, if the man or woman learns to control their heterosexual attraction, and wills to express it in the natural state of marriage, it is a good thing.
We are talking here about the sin of lust. Because it is not for someone of the opposite sex, it is “objectively disordered” or, as explained in my article, “internal sin”.
I am a person who is divorced. I divorced “with the blessing of the Church” according to the priest who counseled my husband and myself. We had four children together. Suffice it to say, as a mother of four children, I understand some things about sexual attraction. Now, I am celibate. It was during my marriage that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and the Church frowns on marriage for people with Bipolar Disorder for obvious reasons. Because I am celibate, I understand something about actual celibacy, which is distinct from abstinence. Abstinence is refraining from sexual relations. For a while after my divorce, I “abstained” from sexual activity, but I still had desires. These were not sinful because they were for someone of the opposite sex, namely my husband. Over time, as I drew closer and closer to Jesus Christ, my desires became much less specific to my husband and much less powerful in me. Eventually, I became celibate in the sense that my love for Christ grew so much that I no longer have a desire to have any kind of sexual experience whatsoever. If I turned from Christ and subjected myself to pornography or the wrong kinds of television programming, I would surely fall back. My commitment to Jesus Christ is as a commitment to a spouse. “Falling back” is a real danger for me as one with a serious mental illness: Bipolar Disorder. I experience frequent delusion wherein I behave completely out of character for me. I become someone who is not “me”. At the same time, I am on a journey to become the “real me” God created me to be. I am called to become a saint, as we all are, but it shall certainly be more difficult for me given that my free will is so frequently completely absent from me. If I am to be a saint, my crown will likely not be a very big one. Certainly, I won’t ever be officially named a saint by the Catholic Church because I have a mental illness. There is good reason for that and I have no resentments about it at all. My goal is to be a saint….not to be “named” a saint by the Church.
Unfortunately, few people understand there is no responsibility and they cannot look the other way when I am saying things that aren’t subjectively deemed to be “charitable”. As of late, these same people are the very ones who claim the presence of internal sin in someone, in the form of homosexual inclination, can mean that person is “doing fine”. Being in a state of internal sin is not “doing fine”. Neither is dealing with a mental illness “doing fine” in the sense that it is a disorder, but one which does not involve sin. While homosexual inclination is internal sin, mental illness is not internal sin. Intolerance for mental illness is lacking in mercy. Tolerance for sin is unmerciful. Tolerance for sin amounts to failure to instruct the ignorant, and instructing the ignorant is an act of mercy. This is why when someone identifies as “gay”, particularly if they say it is “doing fine”, and most especially if they couple this with being “Catholic”, we are devoid of mercy if we do not instruct him that he is not only playing with fire in himself, but also is actively leading others into formal sin. The fact that it is claimed as “Catholic”, and by my best friend no less, is enough to send someone like me into a mixed state Bipolar episode with suicidal ideation………and…..it did. I am still recovering. I am still not always in my right mind….but I am under a doctor’s care and I was anointed by my priest, and I am right with the Church as much as I can possibly be.
More on celibacy. Celibacy is a state of life in which one’s heart is completely turned to God. Among those who identify as “celibate”, there are those who are really not in a state of perfect celibacy but who are just “abstaining” as they still have sexual desire for people of the opposite sex. This is only natural, if the desire is for a person of the opposite sex, but it is not perfection. One who is perfectly celibate has no such thoughts. His/her heart is turned always to God. One who has “honeymoon love” for Jesus Christ, such as St. Gemma Galgani, is not thinking of other people in sexual terms at all.
In the case of one who has attraction (desires) to a person of the same sex, we have a case of internal sin, as I noted in my article.
Because there are no circumstances in which a homosexual act is not sinful, then if one desires to commit a homosexual act, the thought itself is as grave as commission of the act. Having said that, it is not “formal sin“. It is “internal sin“.
Merely the thought of it is just as grave as committing the act, according to the Church. Also, to claim otherwise in a teaching capacity subjects one, as I noted, to disciplinary action in the Church. Again, if the attraction is for one of the opposite sex and the person is abstaining, there is no sin. But because there are no cases in which homosexual acts are licit, any desire for them whatsoever is internal sin, even if the person has committed to not acting out the desire, and the thought itself is just as grave as committing the act.
In the case of a mentally ill person, even if the person commits a homosexual act, there is no responsibility.
But what if homosexual inclination is due to delusion? Then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s characterization of homosexual inclination leaves serious doubt as to whether it would ever be characterized that way by the Church. As it stands, this is not the way we are to characterize it. It is possible, however, that with some people there is a pre-existing mental illness which causes delusions of various kinds, including delusions about homosexual inclination. In this case, there would be no responsibility, however all have the duty to seek health and to seek Christ. The way to do that is to submit willingly to competent medical treatment and to full obedience to the Church.
Homosexual inclination is sin. Always. Unless the person is mentally ill and delusional, in which case there is no responsibility because the person’s free will is absent.
Having said that, the mentally ill are not completely without hope of developing virtue. I have learned much from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica regarding the development of virtue through the development of habit. If I commit myself to the development of certain habits, then in time, they will become virtues that will show through even when I am in a state of delusion. This is an incredibly difficult thing, however, to train yourself not to call someone an “idiot” during those times when you are quite literally insane, and to train yourself not to say very troubling things when you are both paranoid and literally insane. I mean “insane” in the sense of losing contact with reality. During these times, it is sometimes completely impossible to hang on to any but the most basic truths. The Church recognizes the absence of free will here.
I do not take credit for the good that I do, either. I say, whatever good you see in me, thank the Passionist nuns who are understanding of my struggles and are praying for me as an act of mercy for me, and whatever bad you see in me, blame the illness. If you can do this for me, I will be healthier. If you are merciless with me (abandoning the sick is merciless), particularly if you are someone I love deeply, it will only make me less healthy and even potentially drive me to contemplate suicide. The Church understands these things even if you do not.
It is because of my experience in these issues, my studies, and my submission to the teachings of the Church and to spiritual direction, that I have learned as much as I have on this topic. If people want to think of me as “silly“, so be it. It’s a blow to be rejected, even so far as to endanger my life, but it’s not nearly as painful as falling off the Rock.
I hope this helps to clarify the issue for those who are having trouble with it.