Dr. John Haas writes that homosexuality is not actually an ‘orientation’ . . .
by John Haas
Activists working for the social acceptance of homosexual activity and lifestyles know the power of words. For a while, they chose to refer to the psychological phenomenon of “same-sex sexual attraction” as “sexual preference.” After all, in a society in which unrestrained “choice” is the highest good, “sexual preference” seemed an acceptable term for those attracted to their own sex.
Lately, these activists have taken another approach to the issue that denies the element of choice. Their new claim is that that those who experience “same-sex attraction” (SSA) are “made” that way. This approach prefers the term “sexual orientation.” In a most profound way, however, it’s incorrect to refer to SSA as an “orientation.” Orientation has the original meaning of being ordered toward “the East” (Orient). Early Christians prayed toward the East because Jesus was understood to be the “Sun of Righteousness,” arising in the East. Christians adopted the practice of building churches to face East with the altar in the eastern portion of the building.
To this day, when a priest celebrates Mass facing the altar, he assumes the “eastward” position (he is praying ad orientem), regardless of the direction he may actually be facing. “Orientation” means to be properly ordered, directed toward the East, the place of our salvation, the “axis” around which all else is ordered. So when the term “orientation” is applied to sexual attraction, it refers properly only to heterosexual attraction, the only sexual attraction ordered in the right direction. A homosexual attraction is properly termed a “disorientation,” since the attraction is toward an inappropriate “object” or person.
In 1975, the Vatican issued a Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics and noted that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” Regrettably, it’s toward those very acts that a homosexual person feels drawn. Consequently, the attraction or tendency is itself disordered. “Homosexual relations are acts which lack an essential and indispensable finality,” the document said. In other words, the act itself has no proper final goal. God created the sex drive to draw husband and wife to one another so that, through their expressions of self-giving love, children could be engendered and the family established. Homosexual acts, on the other hand, are always sterile.
In 1986, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. The letter points out that some had come to think that the homosexual condition itself was “neutral or even good.” But Cardinal Ratzinger went on to say that, even though the particular inclination of a homosexual person may not be a sin, nonetheless “it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”
Holy See documents dealing with this issue usually refer to the homosexual “condition,” “disposition” or “tendency.” In 1992, Cardinal Ratzinger issued a letter indicating that it’s appropriate to exclude homosexual persons from the military, from adopting children, and from employment as teachers or athletic coaches. In that letter, he refers to “sexual orientation.” He puts the expression in quotation marks as a way of indicating that he is acknowledging the use of the terminology in the current debates, but that it’s not truly a correct use of the term.
There are many reasons why people suffer from SSA disorder. Some “discover” this tendency within them. Others grow into it through pursuits of pleasure or experimentation. Some use it to punish themselves or others. Whether the disorder has some deep, unknown roots over which one has virtually no control, or whether it’s a developed disorder resulting from bad choices, it leaves an individual disposed toward activities and a lifestyle that are dangerous — physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Fortunately there is hope for those who suffer from the disorder. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality reports that significant numbers of homosexual persons have undergone treatment and had their sexual drives properly ordered. These findings are a beacon of hope to those suffering from SSA, as well as for their family and friends who desire their happiness and good health. Finally, for those who for whatever reason cannot be cured, there is a support group known as Courage to help them live safe, moral, chaste lives. Those who continue to suffer from this disorder can find true help through an orientation toward their Savior and Redeemer, “the Orient from on High,” and the life that He offers them in Himself.
John M. Haas, Ph.D., is president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center and founding president of the International Institute for Culture. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.