by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
One of the most thoughtful and insightful reflections about a Catholic understanding of same-sex attraction is a chapter in “Breaking Through — Catholic Women Speak for Themselves,” edited by Helen Alvare. In the chapter entitled: “Who Am I? Psychology, Faith and Same-Sex Attraction,” Michelle A. Cretella, a medical doctor, attempts to integrate her scientific understanding of the sources and nature of same-sex attraction with our Catholic moral understanding. From the beginning of the article, Dr. Cretella recommends that humility is necessary in seeking to understand both the scientific data and moral teaching.
One of the first points that Dr. Cretella makes regarding the Catholic moral analysis is that chastity, not heterosexuality, is “the virtue to which God calls every human being.” Her point is simply that experiencing opposite-sex attractions is not a virtue, nor is experiencing same-sex attractions a sin. Individuals with opposite-sex attractions and same-sex attractions can sin by violating the virtue of chastity — namely, by engaging in sexual intimacy outside of the covenant of permanent and faithful love between one man and one woman. Moreover, married couples can sin against chastity by utilizing contraception within marriage or by treating their spouse as an object of lust to satisfy their own desire for pleasure, rather than giving themselves in love to each other.
Dr. Cretella strives to be very precise scientifically in her terminology. For instance, she does not use the term sexual orientation, as this implies to many “a defined identity equivalent to the identities male and female.” She clarifies this point by stating: “Yet, unlike one’s biological sex, there is no scientific marker or medical or psychological test that distinguishes same-sex-attracted individuals from those opposite-sex-attracted.”
Dr. Cretella admits as a young doctor in the early 1990s, she believed that same-sex attraction was “innate and immutable,” which brought her to the moral conclusion that homosexual behavior was not a mortal sin. Dr. Cretella said in medical school she was led to believe it had been scientifically proven that same-sex attraction was biologically determined, leading her to formulate the following moral analysis:
1) If some people are born with same-sex attraction, then God made them that way.
2) If God made them that way, how can there be something sinful or intrinsically disordered about acting on those attractions.
3) If same-sex attraction is in a person’s nature, then he or she cannot change.
4) We are supposed to be true to our nature, so those with same-sex attraction should embrace those attractions.
5) Attempting to change a person’s same-sex attraction is attempting to alter their nature, and that would be harmful.
6) If others cannot accept a person’s gay identity, then they are rejecting that person, because gay is who that person is.
7) Therefore, those who cannot accept a person’s gay identity are uneducated, hateful, and/or bigoted.
Dr. Cretella’s moral analysis is fairly representative of the reasoning used to support the recognition by the state of same-sex unions. In addition to her understanding of the science, Dr. Cretella had several friends and colleagues whom she admired and who identified themselves as gay. As a result, Dr. Cretella states: “Ultimately, my belief that science proved people are born gay, together with these anecdotal experiences, led to my rejection of the church’s teaching on homosexuality for the first six years of my medical career.”
What triggered Dr. Cretella to reconsider her scientific and moral analysis of this issue was one of her patients informing her that another doctor had given him a brochure about a local chapter of Courage, a ministry of the Catholic Church offering support to Catholics experiencing same-sex attractions who desire to live a chaste lifestyle in accordance with Catholic teaching. Dr. Cretella was “dismayed” that one of her medical colleagues would promote an organization that attempted to persuade people to deny a part of their identity.
Dr. Cretella confronted her colleague with her concerns. She wondered how someone apparently very intelligent could be so “unscientific and cruel.” Her fellow doctor gently, but firmly, challenged Dr. Cretella’s assumptions. Her colleague told Dr. Cretella that they had both been misled in medical school and she invited Dr. Cretella to examine the research.
Her medical colleague, who was the mother of two and married 25 years, also shared her own personal history — namely, that from ages four to eighteen she had experienced same-sex attractions.
Dr. Cretella accepted the challenge of her colleague to examine the research. She discovered what her colleague had told her was absolutely correct. The studies that Dr. Cretella had been led to believe proved a homosexual orientation was innate did no such thing. What Dr. Cretella found out from reading the research and studying the psychosexual literature was that both heterosexual attraction and homosexual attraction are linked to “gender identification.” Heterosexuality and homosexuality appeared “to be learned over a period of time as a response to a variety of environmental factors and unique experiences.”
If medical doctors are confused about what science actually reveals about the origins of same-sex attractions, it is not surprising that the general public also is largely misinformed. Some may argue: What differences does it make if same-sex attraction is not genetically determined? One of the reasons this matters is because, similar to Dr. Cretella’s medical colleague who experienced same-sex attraction as a child and during her formative years, individuals can change what seems to them to be their sexual orientation.
It also reveals one of the real dangers of the state sanctioning same-sex unions as marriage and teaching in our schools homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. Many young people in their formative years experience
a certain level of confusion regarding their sexual identity and orientation. Those who experience same-sex attraction and experience normal challenges in developing friendships with the opposite sex can be drawn into a homosexual lifestyle that threatens not only their spiritual and moral health, but also their physical health.
With regard to the transmission of AIDS, it was politically incorrect to draw attention to the reality that homosexual activity placed a person at much greater risk than heterosexual activity. Not surprisingly, because it involves using parts of the human anatomy for purposes for which they were not de- signed, homosexual activity poses other health risks.
The question can be posed: Even if science has not yet discovered a genetic link to same-sex attraction, what if such a link is discovered tomorrow? Does that change the moral equation?
Not really! Although Dr. Cretella’s moral analysis a pears quite compelling, there are actually several other flaws, besides her erroneous scientific premise.
Next week, I will discuss some of these other logical flaws, as well as why the procreation and formation of children is so important in considering the definition of marriage.