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Joseph Downs wrote:

Hi, guys—

As a gay man for the last few years I have pondered a question for which you could possibly provide some seasoned insight:

  • According to Catholic moral precepts regarding non-marital sex, does the Magisterium teach that a lifetime of abstinence is positively good for all LGBT Catholics?
  • To rephrase, does the Magisterium conclusively maintain that always being non-orgasmic is conducive to their physical and psychological health?

In his book Acts of Faith, Acts of Love (Continuum, 2006), Dugan McGinley writes on Page 139,

"This is an extremely important point with regard to church teaching. The intention is to promote lives of virtue for gay people, but the effect of trying to live according to the church teaching on homosexuality is usually the opposite.

For example, the church insists upon life-long celibacy for gay people, even though they may not possess the charism necessary for such a commitment. Without the charism, the requirement is no longer life-enhancing but rather death-dealing . . . [It] transforms into a bare-bones order of abstinence — a suffering to be offered up, a cross to bear. As [Andrew] Sullivan says, 'Abstinence forever; abstinence always; abstinence not for the sake of something else, but for its own sake; abstinence, not just from sex, but from love and love's hope and the touch of a lover's embrace.' "

Joseph D.

  { Does the Magisterium teach that a lifetime of abstinence is positively good for all LGBT Catholics? }

Eric replied:


I do not believe that the Magisterium has expressly asserted, as such, that a lifetime of abstinence is positively good for all LGBT Catholics? or that always being non-orgasmic is conducive to their physical and psychological health — what She has asserted is that any expression of human sexuality that is not faithful and open to human life — which necessarily excludes homosexual expressions, as well as some heterosexual expressions — is intrinsically disordered (CCC 2357). This means, chiefly, that it is spiritually destructive to our souls. This may or may not manifest itself psychologically in a visible manner, but I think we can infer that there is a negative psychological effect to these acts as well.

The Magisterium has not, to my knowledge, explicitly addressed the physical and psychological effects of abstinence, which is basically the other side of the coin. It has, however in a general way, extolled the positive effects of virtues, including chastity.

In the Catholic view, you can't really have something that is good for the soul but ultimately intrinsically bad for the body or the mind. To be sure, there may be some suffering involved in conforming the mind to what is good for the soul, because the mind is often out of whack but that's different that something being intrinsically bad for the mind.

Think of an alcoholic: One would not tell an alcoholic that the solution to the suffering they endure, in the pursuit of sobriety, is to drink more and give up on sobriety. And in the case of some drugs, addiction may be so severe that sudden withdrawal is deleterious to the body but that is not to say that withdrawal and being clean is not the ultimate goal. The fact that they physically need the hit is not proof that the hit is good for them. It is proof of how bad their addiction is.

So I guess the short answer is while the Magisterium has not specifically addressed the exact question you asked, the view you are asking about would certainly be consistent with Catholic Tradition as a whole. It would thus be an error to conclude that because we think homosexual acts are psychologically or physically beneficial that therefore they can be tolerated, or that because chastity (abstinence) causes distress and suffering and apparent lack of health, that it should be abandoned.

It's worth keeping in mind that there have always been people who did not marry for involuntary/non-vocational reasons and remained chaste without physical or psychological harm. This is not a new phenomenon. It's more difficult in our sex-saturated culture with everyone telling you that you cannot be happy unless you are gratifying your sexual desires. It's even worse with the breakdown of our culture, our families, and communities because those who, for whatever reason, do not marry and wish to remain chaste don't get the support they need.

As a middle-aged, never-married chaste man myself, I am familiar with the struggles of abstinence. No, it's not easy. That does not mean it is not good. As much as I struggle, I have experienced enough to know that I'd much rather be chaste than give in to unchastity. The more unchaste you are, the more enslaved you become to unchastity. Getting out of that slavery is difficult and entails much suffering, but once you escape you do not want to go back. To me, it is the unchastity that is psychologically damaging. I prefer to be free to do what I want to do, not to be a slave to my sexual drive. I want the freedom to say no. I understand how difficult it is for those who have experienced unchastity to say no. They think there is no alternative, that they are going to die or at least suffer harm unless they get their hit but it's a lie: a deception, straight from the pit of Hell.

By the way, the Church's teaching does not preclude people from loving one another, in a fraternal or unconditional, self-sacrificing way. Nor does it preclude human contact or affection. What it precludes is homogenital contact, and it calls erotic love between members of the same-sex objectively disordered. It would be a fallacy to conclude that because I feel love and affection toward someone that somehow that should be directed genitally. Men can (and should) love one another without expressing or desiring it sexually (and so can women, but women seem to understand this better).

So think about that:

  • Do you want the freedom to say no to sex?, or
  • Would you prefer to be controlled by your sexual desires, led about by the nose to do their bidding?
  • Which do you think Christ would want for you?


Paul replied:

Dear Joseph,

To add to Eric's response, remember the double meaning of sexual intimacy: union and procreation. Sexual climax has a purpose, and it is not the gratification of individuals. Neither union nor procreation can occur with acts that pervert the sexual faculty. You call refraining from homosexual acts as death-dealing. In reality, homosexual acts themselves are death acts: they take our life-giving power as human beings and waste it. All unchaste acts, including homosexual acts, are unnatural and the desire for them is intrinsically disordered. They are acts that can never make two persons one-flesh.

Having said this, those who struggle with same-sex attraction should be supported in their effort to maintain a godly chastity. Prayer and the sacraments are indispensable. Perhaps counseling from a good priest or spiritual director can also help. With God's grace, anything is possible. Without it and without our perseverance, nothing salvific is possible. One doesn't need a special charism to do God's Will. His grace to avoid sin suffices along with our openness and cooperation with it and, as you know, with sexual intimacy, His will is either male-female marriage or celibacy.



Joseph replied:

Hi guys,

I appreciate the swiftness of your responses. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina has urged us to:

“Consider what we must do to ensure that the Holy Spirit may dwell in our souls. It can all be summed up in mortification of the flesh with its vices and concupiscences, and in guarding against a selfish spirit. . . . The mortification must be constant and steady, not intermittent, and it must last for one's whole life. Moreover, the perfect Christian must not be satisfied with a kind of mortification which merely appears to be severe. He must make sure that it hurts.”

He pretty much succinctly recaps the distinctions of Roman Catholicism features such as: valleys of tears, thorns, autos-da-fé, despoiled virgins, flagellants, sighs, mourning and weeping, martyrs bristling with arrows, crucifixions, medieval psychology, a beheaded baptist, stigmata, emaciated or incinerated saints, a mater dolorosa, persecuted disciples, victim souls, slaughtered Innocents, Inquisitions, scourges and scorned prophets.

Be it so then.

Joe Downs

Eric replied:


I think you are painting with too broad a brush and are overlooking nuances (and possibly misinterpreting things), but I have a question for you.

  • Are doctors, surgeons, dentists, physical therapists and others, bad physically and/or psychologically?
  • Yet don't these same professionals do things (or bid us to do things) that, in the short term, may be painful and even damaging and may cause great suffering?

To do heart surgery, the heart surgeon has to break the rib cage, which is objectively damaging to the body but he needs to do so to heal the heart. A doctor setting a broken leg causes excruciating pain yet it needs to be done.

A child doesn't understand that the pain of an immunization is for their own benefit and ultimate health. So it is with us.

We don't refuse to go to a surgeon because he slices open (i.e. damages) our skin to take out a diseased organ, requiring a lengthy period of suffering and convalescence. We know the damage he inflicts is temporary and all for the greater good. When the doctor tells us not to do something that is difficult not to do, we pay attention and strive to avoid it, in order to be healed of our affliction.

  • Why not so with the Church?
  • If the doctor told you, you have to have your leg amputated, would you balk and ignore the advice?

Jesus himself said,

7 Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

(Matthew 18:7–9).

Don't blame Catholicism for this.

13 [I]f you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.

(Romans 8:13)

Here we get the Catholic concept of mortification, literally, making to die, doing what is necessary to conquer and overcome the deeds of the body. And again:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; 27 but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

(1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Again, not a Catholic invention. This is St. Paul speaking. Our salvation is on the line. There is more than just this life, an infinitesimal sliver of the total immortal life we will live. We must persevere and overcome our passions so that we spend that immortal life in glory, not in condemnation. The stakes are too high to take foolish risks!

If you haven't read the whole New Testament. I urge you to do so. It will put things in the proper perspective.


Joseph replied:

Hi guys,

It is certainly true that St. Thomas believed reason should never be unseated by the passions. The head should always rule whatever other parts of the anatomy that could challenge it.

If the human body contains hormones that dispose a person to an interest in sex, then it is not wholly unwise to get castrated and finally be rid of the traitorous organs that might cause distraction and unsavory imaginings. At the very least such an intervention could be a remedy for concupiscence and help to ratchet down the amount of moral evil in the world.

According to Castii Connubii the quieting of libidinous desire is one of the secondary ends of matrimony. Gay and lesbian Catholics are forbidden to marry so they have to make do, the best they can given that circumstance.


Paul replied:

Joe —

It seems like a lot of tangents have been brought up stemming from a question about natural law.

I don't see why, or how they're related to the simple truth about homosexual acts.


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