Intrinsic Evil and Disorder: How To Misunderstand the Catholic Catechism

“Homosexuality is intrinsically more disordered than heterosexual adultery.”

“Homosexuality is described in Church teaching as an intrinsic disorder that goes against the natural law. Adultery, while gravely sinful, is not.”

“An intrinsically disordered condition is more akin to schizophrenia or addictions, whereas adultery is an act of rebellion against God’s norms.”

Statements such as these scrolled across my screen, as I surveyed the answers given in comments by well-intentioned Catholics in a private Facebook group. The original post had asked about the relative lack of prominent Catholic opposition to adultery, compared to homosexuality. It is a worthy question for reflection, and it does not admit of a simple answer. The above sentiments, however, captured most of my attention. Perhaps you have seen similar statements before. Perhaps you have made statements such as these yourself. Perhaps you even believe these statements to be true – or at the very least, believe them to be accurate expressions of the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. After all, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church we do read that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered” and contrary to the natural law (CCC 2357).

If you don’t see the problem with those initial statements above, then this post is for you. If you are uncomfortable with the Catechism’s use of the term “intrinsically disordered” within the context of homosexuality, then this post is for you. And if you think the Catechism is homophobic, or otherwise implicitly claiming that homosexuality is approximate to (if not actually equivalent to) some sort of psychiatric or psychological disorder, such as schizophrenia or addictions, then this post is for you. Welcome to an abbreviated crash-course in Catholic moral theology. Continue reading

Crying Out To Heaven For Vengeance: Catholic Reflections on Scripture, Sodom, and Justice

Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know.” – Genesis 18:20-21 (RSVC)

Sodom and the City of God

Introduction: Principles and Consistency

One of the defining moments in my Catholic education was the realization that Church teaching on sexual ethics formed a sort of “seamless garment”, unified by an internal logic that accounts for every sexual prohibition – from contraception, to masturbation, to homosexuality – in a fairly intuitive manner. For when analyzing sexual activity itself from a Catholic “natural law” perspective, if the procreative dimension can be eliminated as optional and a barrier can legitimately be placed between the man and the woman, then the body of each person is related to the other as little better than any other physical body. At that point, it hardly seems to make a significant difference if the man derives sexual pleasure from a woman, or his own hand, or an inanimate object, or even the bodies of multiple other people. Provided that all persons involved freely consent, the objective difference between any two non-procreative actions becomes so thin as to render them nearly morally equivalent. Sever the link to procreation at the start, and all of the philosophical “natural law” objections to traditionally forbidden sexual activities slowly (but inevitably, and logically) collapse, with nothing but personal preference and consent to hold it back.

Thus, I came to value the Catholic approach to sexual ethics as something built on an airtight logic, according to which it would be impossible for the Church to abandon its condemnation of contraception or homosexual activity without (inevitably, and logically) surrendering everything it has always taught about the necessary procreative dimension of sexual activity.[1] As an ethic that is not the least bit arbitrary in its details, but rather is seamlessly tied together through and through, we can see that the whole thing must stand or fall together. Reject the argument that sexual activity has any fundamental or indispensable and natural link to procreation – as our culture has done at least since the sexual revolution – and the inexorable result (apart from appeals to Scripture) is a radical new path toward embracing the conclusion that everything can be permitted. The only remaining moral condition is that there must be genuine consent from all involved, such that no individual is harmed, exploited, or otherwise violated against their will. This much, at least, is still observed by our culture as an intuitive moral principle.

To the traditionally minded Catholic, however, an awkward tension quickly presents itself. On the one hand, the moral difference between homosexual and contraceptive and masturbatory actions seems to be very thin: for all such actions are considered illicit, intrinsically and gravely disordered, on account of the same fundamental rationale. And yet, homosexual actions are frequently identified as something far worse than the others: for the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is one of only four sins described in Scripture as “crying out to heaven for vengeance”. In this essay I will explore the foundation of that tension, and attempt to articulate an interpretive lens that can offer a principled resolution.

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