A Jesuit View of Homosexuals and their Place in The Church

From America: National Catholic Magazine

The journal of the Jesuit Society of America.

Simply Loving

May 26-June 2, 2014

James Martin, SJ

Everybody knows that same-sex marriage and homosexual acts are contrary to Catholic moral teaching. Yet that same teaching also says that gay and lesbian people must be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion.” As more states pass laws legalizing same-sex marriage, more gay and lesbian Catholics are entering into these unions. This leaves some Catholics feeling caught between two values: church teaching against same-sex marriage and church teaching in favor of compassion. In Seattle a few months back, for example, many high school students protested the ouster of the vice principal, who was removed for marrying another man.


Most people who oppose same-sex marriage say they do not hate gay people, only that the traditional understanding of marriage is important and perpetually valid. Other opponents of same-sex marriage invoke the oft-repeated mantra, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” If that is so, then why do so many gay people say they feel hatred from members of the church?


Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, “We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.” Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, “We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.” With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.


The language of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is difficult for many gay people to believe when the tepid expression of love is accompanied by strident condemnation. And the notion that love calls first for admonishing the loved person seems to be applied only in the case of gays and lesbians. To take another example, it would be like telling a child, “You’re a sinful child, but I love you anyway.” This can end up sounding more like, “Hate the sinner.”


Look how Jesus loved people who were hated in his day. Take the story of Zacchaeus, the diminutive man who climbs a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passes through Jericho (Lk 19:1-10). As chief tax collector, and thus head of all the tax collectors in the region, Zacchaeus would have also been seen by the Jews as the chief sinner in the area. When Jesus spies him perched in the branches, he calls out, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus then promises to repay anyone he has defrauded. “Salvation has come to this house,” says Jesus.

Notice that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus even before the man has promised to do anything. That is, Jesus loves him first, by offering to dine with him, a powerful sign of welcome in that time. Jesus does not say, “Zacchaeus, you’re a sinful person because you’re gouging people with taxes collected for the oppressive occupying power, but even though you’re a public sinner, I love you anyway.” He simply loves him—first.


The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.


What might it mean for the church to love gays and lesbians more deeply? First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ. Love means listening and respecting, but before that it means admitting that the person exists.


A dear friend of mine – an American taught by the Jesuits –  forwarded to me this article, written by a Jesuit in North America, on the subject of how he thinks the Roman Catholic Church (and, by extension, all Christians) should be looking at those in the Church who inhabit our pews and pulpits, who happen to be what the world is disposed to call ‘Gay’.

Although the writer stops short of affirming same-sex relationships – in accordance with the Church’s teaching – he does emphasize the need to be in accord with the Church’s statement affirming the fact of homosexuality as part of our human condition, and its bearers worthy of being respected as members of the Body of Christ and fellow human beings.

Though Gays in the Church may see this to be a paradox, struggling to hold together the Church’s extant moral teaching and its concomitant teaching of the need to respect the persons involved, there has obviously been a tremendous sea-change in Catholic opinion on homosexuality – as found to be a natural variant occurring in the human condition, and therefore, to be treated no differently from the call to heterosexuals to reserve their sexual activity to the marriage-bed.

However one looks at the incidence of homosexuality, and the experience of those whose lives are intrinsically bound up with it, such people are part of our human society and some of them are part of the distinctive community of the Body of Christ. And that is precisely what Fr. James Martin is enunciating here, in his eirenic article on this subject in the Jesuit magazine. What the Church will decide to do, in the future – about those who have sought its blessing of their monogamous, faithful relationships – is yet to be seen. But there is hope of a loving solution that is actually coherent with the message of God’s love for all people, exemplified by Jesus in the Gospel. .

Thank God for the Jesuits, I say!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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1 Response to A Jesuit View of Homosexuals and their Place in The Church

  1. Trent says:

    Im facing this issue, seeking to become catholic. The church itself states the bible needs to be read correctly (figuratively, literally [not literalistic, as in specifically stated law] and in its initial context) then interpreted in a present context.

    I was almost confused by managing the “sin” of my bisexuality, masturbation, being horny in my 20s – compared even in the Compendium of Catechisms of the Catholic Church to RAPE in the Adultery section… why is it that the church of the guy who said, among other things, “love thy neighbour,” “do unto others…” “turn the other cheek” and “render…unto caesar that which is caesar’s” act dispicably towards homosexuality and same sex marriage

    If same sex marriage and the LGBTIQ insults the Church, cannot the church turn the other cheek? Jesus and God, too? Im sure they can.

    Holy matrimony (ie, the Church service with rights, geared towards heterosexual unions) is fine by me, but marriage is a state article – it is not god’s domain but Caesar’s?

    As it stands, ive decided i will PROFESS my “sin” of bisexuality, masturbation and sex outside of a relationship setting (cheating and non-monogamy is adultery, guilty as charged, thats proper sin by my book) as trespasses against the Church, and forgive the Church its trespass against me.

    Simply elegant, if you ask me

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