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Don’t underestimate the beauty of true friendship

The Church has a great deal to offer homosexual people, says Archbishop Vincent Nichols

By on Thursday, 22 March 2012

There are many times when I think of Cardinal Basil Hume. I have done so often in recent weeks as I have pondered the need to defend the institution of marriage without losing care for those of a same-sex orientation.

The cardinal was an inspired teacher of our faith. He had a rare ability both to hold before us the fullness of Church teaching and to convey a compassionate understanding of the ambiguities and failures of our lives. As a teacher and as a witness he could both support and challenge us at the same time. He had taken to heart the words of St Paul that the human race has nothing to boast about to God other than the grace of God at work in us (see 1 Cor 1:29-31).

Cardinal Hume had a deep concern that those of a same-sex orientation should feel welcome in the Church. That was why, in 1997, he published “A Note on the Teaching of the Church Concerning Homosexuality”. Its main points remain crucial for today and I recall them here, using for the most part the language of the original document.

First, some principles:

1) The Dignity of the Human Person: The teaching of the Church is that we are to recognise the dignity of all people and not define or label them in terms of their sexual orientation. To do so is to risk losing sight of the fundamental identity of every person as a creature of God and, by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.

2) Sexuality and Marriage: There are two fundamental principles which determine Catholic teaching on sexual matters: that the sexual expression of love is intended by God’s plan of creation to find its place exclusively within marriage between a man and a woman, and that this expression of love must be open to the possible transmission of new life. This, of course, is a great challenge. It means that many types of sexual activity, including same-sex sexual activity, are not consistent with the teaching of the Church. No individual, bishop, priest or lay person is in a position to change this teaching of the Church which we hold to be God-given.

Secondly, some further considerations:

3) Homosexual orientation: The moral teaching of the Catholic Church is primarily concerned with our actions. Neither a heterosexual nor a homosexual orientation leads inevitably to sexual activity. Yet, in the context of the Church’s sexual moral teaching, a same-sex orientation can tend towards actions which are contrary to that teaching. Sexual orientation does not dictate the whole personality and character of an individual. Furthermore, a person’s sexual orientation can be unclear, even complex. Also, it may vary over the years. Most importantly, an orientation is not a moral failing.

4) Friendship: Friendship is a gift of God. Friendship is a way of loving. Friendship is necessary for every person. To equate friendship and full sexual involvement with another is to distort the very concept of friendship. Sexual loving presupposes friendship, but friendship does not require full sexual involvement. It is a mistake to say, or think, or presume that if two people of the same (or different) sexes enjoy a deep and lasting friendship then they must be sexually involved.

5) Love: “Love” must never be thought of as being synonymous with “sex”. Love can take many forms: between husband and wife, between parents and children, between relatives as well as the chaste love of friendship. In whatever context it arises, and always respecting the appropriate manner of its expression, love between two people, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. When two people love they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next. To love another is in fact to reach out to God who shares his lovableness with the one we love. To be loved is to receive a sign, or a share, of God’s unconditional love. But that experience of love is spoiled, whether in marriage or in friendship, when we do not think and act as God wills us to think and act. Human loving is precarious, for human nature is wounded and frail. Thus marriage and friendship will never be easy to handle. We shall often fail, but the ideal remains.

6) Human rights: The Catholic Church advocates and defends the fundamental human rights of every person. But the Church cannot acknowledge among fundamental human rights a supposed “right” to acts which she teaches to be morally wrong. It is a fundamental human right of every person, irrespective of sexual orientation, to be treated by individuals and by society with dignity, respect and fairness. So the Church condemns violence of speech or action against people of a same-sex orientation. Nothing in the Church’s teaching can be said to support or sanction, even implicitly, their victimisation or isolation. This should have no place among Catholics.

7) Pastoral care: The Church’s pastoral response to people of same-sex orientation will involve a respectful attitude and a sympathetic understanding of their situation, in addition to sacramental life, prayer, counsel and individual care so that the whole Christian community can come to recognise its own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or isolating them. Those exercising pastoral care recognise that human nature is frail and subject to temptation and are concerned to understand and to help those who find it hard to live in accordance with the Church’s teaching. They should remember that the Church warns us against generalisations in attributing culpability in individual cases.

Conclusion: All are precious in the eyes of God. The love which one person can have for and receive from another is a gift of God. Nevertheless, God calls all people to keep his law and to work towards achieving a difficult ideal, even if this will only be achieved gradually. God has a love for every person which is greater than any love which one human being could have for another. In all the circumstances and situations of life, God calls each person, whatever his or her sexual orientation, to fulfil that part of his created design which only that person can fulfil.

My last word: I am grateful that Cardinal Hume left us this gift. As he makes clear, this message only truly makes sense when we are trying to live our lives in a relationship with Jesus, Our Lord. Only when he stands at the centre of our lives can we understand both the loving support and loving challenge he offers us. Only when we stand before him can we accept ourselves as we are, with all our faults and failings, yet invited to a fullness of life and love which at present we can only glimpse. But we know that the Lord walks with us and will never forsake us.

  • Antob_67

    ‘outside the place of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there’ (Rabindranath Tagore)
    It would be good to meet you in that field sometime.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    There’s no need to “struggle” with same sex attraction, any more than there’s a need to “struggle” with other sex attraction.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Teaching gays that their sexual orientation is disordered is not only an error but a form of psychological and spiritual abuse. Let’s have no more of it.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Teaching gays that their sexual orientation is intrinsically
    disordered, and that they must never form gay sexual relationships, is not only
    an error but a form of psychological and spiritual abuse. I won’t go as far as
    to say that those who do this are as bad as paedophiles, but there’s not a lot
    in it. Let’s have no more of it.

  • EndTimes101

     If a man finds he is sexually attracted to his neighbours wife he should “struggle” against that too. In fact, as uncool and as unfashionable as the word has become, we humans need to ‘repress’ our attractions and desires constantly. This is the way of the cross and the ONLY path a true Christian can take. Self mastery for the love of God.


    I think you may well be right about many in the hierarchy (and in less exalted positions) being effectively apostates who have a secret agenda i.e. to destroy the Catholic Church, undermine it, sell it out, so weaken the faith, the understanding and practice of the faith, that measures can be taken, agreements with secular powers entered into, that effectively lead to the dissolution of the faith. Quite what the motivation for this strategy is is not clear – personal animus? or the bad faith of many  who bought into the hippie christianity of the 60s and 70s and have no wish to see that trend rendered obsolete by the march of history? Certainly the most sinister aspect of the matter is that we are dealing with perfectly intelligent men who cannot not know what they are doing, the implications of what they are doing and the inevitably negative and profoundly destructive effect of their actions on the Catholic Church in England.  

  • JabbaPapa

    First “disordered” does not actually mean “wrongful” — it means contrary to order. Now, the nature of order is defined differently by various different people — but the Catholic teaching is that an ordered sexuality is heterosexual and has procreation as a primary purpose.

    Second, the Catechism and the rest of Catholic doctrine does not teach that those with homosexual inclinations “must never form gay sexual relationships”, even though there may be some Catholics who express such an opinion. It teaches that the ideal attitude towards the inclination is one of abstinence, but it also specifically absolves any who may be spiritually or psychologically or personally unable to practice such abstinence.

    Third, it is not a “psychological and spiritual abuse” to set forth principles for an ideal of behaviour, even when that ideal may be difficult or even sometimes impossible to attain.

    Finally, nowhere does the Catholic Church teach that homosexuals are to be persecuted or reviled, or treated in any way as inferiors or enemies.

    It would be wise to avoid treating the contents of an abstract philosophical analysis of the issues involving homosexuality as they relate to the Catholic sexual ideals and moral teachings as if they were specifically condemnatory of the individual situations of real people in their own personal circumstances.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    The “principles for an ideal of behaviour”, as you put it, are erroneous and are psychologically and spiritually abusive. I stand by what I have already written. Indeed, I might add much thereto.

  • JabbaPapa

    I can only assume that you would propose a different set of principles for an ideal of behaviour ?

    Unless you are a complete anarchist, that is ?

    The actual *purpose* of morality is to provide such principles, and such ideals.

    It is very clearly not abusive to propose ideals towards moral teachings.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    If a heterosexual man finds himself sexually attracted to his neighbour’s wife, he is attracted to someone who is morally ineligible for his sexual attention. It is THAT that he needs to struggle against, not his heterosexual orientation. A homosexual orientation does not need to be struggled against any more than a heterosexual one.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    The proposed ideals in this instance are erroneous. There is no good reason to regard a homosexual orientation as disordered, and the demand that a person with such an orientation practise perpetual sexual abstinence is a quite improper one.

  • JabbaPapa

    It is perfectly erroneous to claim that there is any such “demand” that a person with such an orientation must practice perpetual sexual abstinence. No such expectation exists, and simply repeating your allegations multiple times that such a “demand” is made upon homosexuals does not magically transform falsehood into truth.

    There is in fact an ideal that sexual abstinence is seen as a virtue, except for purposes related with procreation. This ideal is unrelated to the specific nature of whichever individual sexual desires.
    Your understanding of the contents of these teachings appears to be flawed, so that you are therefore deriving mistaken analyses from your reading of them.
    You are of course free not to adopt the ideal of sexual abstinence that the Catholic Church teaches in your personal life, and nobody is pretending that this is some sort of easy ideal to follow.
    But it is still quite false to suggest that it might concern homosexuals more than heterosexuals, as more than one poster has demonstrated in these comments.

    The very existence of these ongoing arguments, acrimony, name-calling, insults, and so on, in this very thread, is sufficient to demonstrate that an inherent disorder of ordinary social harmony is provided by conflicts that are innately linked with the existence of homosexuality and the various conflicting reactions towards this fact, by virtue of each individual’s imperfections and personal limitations. Or have you somehow *not* compared me with “paedophiles” ?

    If we were to live in a world where nobody had any hatred for homosexuals, where they were free of any risk of being hated, bullied, beaten, imprisoned, tortured, murdered, executed, and so forth simply on the basis of the existence of their sexuality ; then it would be inaccurate to describe the potential for personal actions caused by homosexuality of being intrinsically ordered towards wrongs.

    This is not however the world that we live in.

    The Church teaches against all of the above sins and crimes, of course.

    The Pope has basically written that he thinks that homosexuality is destructive of Catholic ideals — the irony is that by having written that these ideals are “erroneous and … psychologically and spiritually abusive”, you have actually provided some evidence fairly strongly supporting this argument.

    But I do really, really wish that you would stop trying to read these teachings as if they were of immediate personal effect upon each individual personal situation, whereas in fact they constitute a theological proposal for an analysis of the problem of homosexuality and towards trying to find better pastoral means to help Catholic homosexuals to reconcile themselves with the ideals of our Religion.

    Your problem is that you insist on focusing on a theoretical and completely debatable proposal in the ongoing theological and philosophical discussions concerning these questions as if they somehow constituted the nature of the ideals, as if negative actions and attitudes towards homosexuals were being taught as if they were “christian ideals” — nothing is further from the truth.

    The actual ideals concern procreation and the renewal of the human race, sexual abstinence as a personal virtue, and sacramental blessing of relationships formed for the purpose of giving birth to children and caring for and educating them during the period of childhood and into adulthood and providing these children with Catholic initiation and Religion and Christian Faith.

  • Lazarus

    ‘Where do you go to discern your deepest fears?’
    (I’ll take this seriously rather than the implicit ad hominem it is.) Reflection, including prayer, and confronting myself with the finest that the human mind has to offer in the way of art, philosophy and theology. One also grows to know oneself better as the vicissitudes of life force to consciousness hidden parts of one’s self. But by far the most effective element in this portfolio of responses is that of trying to live according to the discipline of the Church in prayer, theological reading and  examination of conscience etc.

    You are certainly not called to justify yourself to me. But you are to God. Perhaps my deepest fear is that I will fail to a fully human life in accordance with God’s will. It should be yours as well.

  • Nat-ons

    Like some here, and elsewhere in the church .. even in positions of teaching authority .. you confuse the principle of justice with the convenience of compromise. There can be no compromise on truth, although the history of the church does witness to episodes of such comprise .. to our shame. However, even if I am not a regular supporter of His Grace, Bishop Nicholls, or his way of leading the flock, on this issue he is nearer to the actual orthodox teaching of the church, its pastoral practice (as witness by the Saints, try the Mirror of Charity of St Anselm) and the better understanding of the issue given by pschyology sic; human friendship, as a form of love – ‘storge’, ‘philia’ and ‘agape’ et al rather than mere ‘eros’ – is no sin.

    And that - depth of firendship - is the truth neglected all too regularly, simply to seem hyper-orthodox on human sexuality.  It is the unity of love, not a simple sharing of common interests alone; Fr Hugh Benson and Blessed John Newman are good examples, sadly abused by the Gay Agenda politicos .. because the tradition-blind Catholic, it seems, cannot accept the nature of love (unless expressed acceptibly as man and woman in marriage). This does not excuse or confuse sexual expression with emotional drive, they need not be connnected in marriage, promiscuity or idolatrous lust – it accepts the differing ends, even where they may legitimately combine; accepting that saints of God can indeed be saints and God’s beloved and heroic witnesses to the Faith while experiencing a-typical, disordered, unnatural emotions is not an oxymoron, denying that sinners of all sort are called be saints is a confusion .. and perpetuating this confusion is prejudice not fidelity to the Faith .. it is itself wrongdoing i.e. ‘sin’ (as is conflating the divine end for sexual intercourse with a cultural perspective on the freedom of expression).


  • Antob_67

    This is not the ‘purpose’ of morality. Morality is the discovery of what makes us most fully human – the fullest possibile flourishing of our human nature – unfortunately what is being proposed by many here is the diminishment of humanity – the need for rigid, controlled principles in invariably borne out of fear and the angry clutching to them betrays inherent panic that they just must be right…the Pharisees provide excellent role models or this kind of thinking…

  • JabbaPapa

    I never said that such ideals and principles needed to be rigid ones :-)

    FWIW, I agree with you.

  • Antob_67

    Please afford others the privilege of doing the same. The fact that my examination of conscience, theological reading and prayer leads me to disagree with you on the issue of homosexuality and I suspect many others, is grounds for a very tentative approach to further enquiry rather than a judgmental grasping to perceived certainty. Your final sentence is of interest.

  • Mary R Lauer

    “The idea or implication that one’s sexual orientation is set in stone and should not be challenged.” The truth is, Christ teaches us that we are NOT defined as persons by our sexuality or orientation; rather, our relationship to Him and willingness to obey God’s plan for us. What is God’s plan? All men and women are called, regardless of orientation, to a life of chastity except for the married state. In Matthew 19, Jesus reminded them, they were male and female from the beginning. Jesus chose to be born into a Holy Family. All our human nature is oriented toward reproduction of the species, which God ordained to be male and female. That is His plan for us. Any act of intercourse outside the bounds of holy matrimony is adultery–the 6th commandment tells us that. Jesus taught the commandments; he did not rescind them. The notion of gender and identity is confused in our age due to the promotion of lies by the evil spirit. What was once accepted as intrinsic truth is now cast aside for secular ideology. This is why society has disintegrated along with the family.

  • Lazarus

    Before we disappear into columns of single letters, I’d simply ask you to consider (if you are a Catholic or indeed any sort of Christian) what is the nature of the teaching authority given to the Church?   The Catholic understanding is that the Church teaches fundamentals with certainty: that is a very different claim from my own psychological certainty on any issue.

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Certainly we should refrain from sexual behaviour (or any other kind of behaviour) which is morally wrong. I would not include in that category homosexual behaviour as such, although, as with heterosexual behaviour, the circumstances may make it wrong. I see no virtue whatever in sexual abstinence for its own sake. As the Dutch Protestant theologian Harry Kuitert put it, “Sex isn’t something you must oppose as much as possible, or engage in as little as possible.”

  • Guglielmo Marinaro

    Certainly we should refrain from sexual behaviour (or any other kind of behaviour) which is morally wrong. I would not include in that category homosexual behaviour as such, although, as with heterosexual behaviour, the circumstances may make it wrong. I see no virtue whatever in sexual abstinence for its own sake. As the Dutch Protestant theologian Harry Kuitert put it, “Sex isn’t something you must oppose as much as possible, or engage in as little as possible.”

  • chucklebunny

    Thank you for expressing in such an articulate manner that which I felt for many years. I too have laid aside this unnecessary and indeed cruel burden.There are an awful lot of unkind sarcastic and downright angry people who post here (one wonders why) so its refreshing to read a post that cuts through all the fog. 

  • Bob Hayes

    Is it also the case that Kuitert rejects the Holy Trinity?

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