Forced gay celibacy…why?

As I’ve mentioned before, the Church’s treatment of LGBTQ people played a big role in my gradual fall away from the Church (of which I am still formally a member). After I became Catholic, I got to know a few people who identify as “celibate gays” – they fully acknowledge their sexual orientation but live “fully in accordance with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality” (that is, homosexual orientation is totally fine, but any and all gay sex acts are necessarily abominable to God).  Coming from Evangelicalism, it was quite refreshing to see sexual orientation acknowledged as being real and that it was okay to identify as gay – very different from what I observed in Evagelicalism (case in point: some discomfort over Wheaton College hiring a celibate gay woman because she identifies as “gay”).

LGBTQ celibates have become a visible and vocal group within conservative Christianity in the last few years – the Washington Post even recently ran an article about these people. This gay celibacy movement is diverse – from chaste coupling to monasticism to singleness. But, as I’ve observed this growing movement, I’ve been growing largely uncomfortable with it. In response to the Washington Post article, Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington (D.C.) wrote a long-winded reflection on it:

A person with same-sex attraction is called to live celibately, like any unmarried heterosexual person. And though celibacy has its challenges (as does marriage) it can also be a very fulfilling way to live. Of this I am a witness. I am heterosexual, but I live celibately, not just because I am a priest, but because I am unmarried. And my life is very rich and fulfilling. I am not lonely, frustrated, or miserable. I suppose sex can be a source a happiness. But I have done enough counseling to know that sex can also be a source of stress, struggle, and yes, unhappiness. It is wrong to simplistically link sexual intercourse with happiness or to declare it a sine qua non for fulfillment.

[…] [in response to Arthur Fitzmaurice’s comment, “We’ve been told for so long that there’s something wrong with us,”] But, respectfully, there is something wrong with you, just as there are things wrong with each of us. Not all of our desires are good or properly ordered. Some desires we have are disordered. Being attracted to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex is disordered. It is not ordered to the proper ends of sexuality, namely procreation and the good of the father and mother so as to be good parents. Physically, homosexual acts cannot attain the proper goals of sexual intimacy. The body parts do not fit together and are not designed for such purposes. Since these attractions are not ordered to the proper purpose of sexual intimacy, they are “dis-ordered.” Intentionally contraceptive sex is also disordered, as are pornography and masturbation. As such, they are all wrong.

*FACEPALM* This is what I’ve noticed over the last couple of years – as promotion of gay celibacy has emerged as a “third way” (between full acceptance of homosexuality and attempts to change orientation), the Church has doubled-down on opposition to any non-heterosexual sexual expression. And, here’s the thing about celibacy – it’s a state of life that excludes marriage and sexual relations. So, Msgr. Pope was wrong that single heterosexuals are required by the Church to be celibate – they’re required to be sexually continent while they’re not married (it’s temporary). That’s very different – straight people, according to the Church, can have sexual relations (within marriage), while a gay person can’t ever have sexual relations with someone of the same sex. Sorry, Msgr. Pope, it’s not the same thing. Also, being a celibate priest is not the same thing – celibacy for him was a choice. For conservative Christian gays, the choice is made for them. Once again, those two forms of celibacy are not the same thing. Forced gay celibacy ≠ temporary continence ≠ celibacy as a vocational choice. They’re three very different things.

Here’s the thing – I don’t have a problem with anyone choosing celibacy, or temporary continence, or expressing intimacy in non-sexual ways. I have some close friends who are celibate gays, who I respect and whose lives are admirable. But, I do have a problem with presenting one life choice as the only option for someone. We are unique individuals with unique needs, including sexual and intimacy needs. Some people have higher sex drives and/or need for romantic intimacy. And, these people are told to deny themselves because they are “intrinsically disordered” – they’re dirty, unnatural, incapable of human intimacy. According to the Church, people in a terrible marriage are necessarily doing things better than people in a committed, loving, same-sex relationship. No grey area. Gays with high sex drives or a higher need for intimacy are SOL if they choose to stay in the Church. Instead of forming a coherent sexual ethic that applies to gays and straights alike, the Church says “just don’t do it” to gays.

By excluding any and all possibility for gay sexual relations, the Church ceases to be catholic (meaning universal). If the Catholic Church was truly catholic, there’d be more room all types of people. Instead, they’re looking for cookie-cutter Christians who don’t rock the boat.


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