Same Sex Attraction in Catholic Women who Desire to Live Chastely

Abstract

A growing number of Catholic women with same sex attraction (SSA) are interested to know the Catholic Church teaching on this issue. Thus far there are no specific Magisterial documents solely dedicated to women with same sex attraction (or “lesbianism”), and this article can serve as an initial response. The first part provides some essential background elements to help understand female same sex attraction. The second part of the article offers some practical suggestions for pastoral support of women with same sex attraction. The experiences of Ms. T. and Ms. J., Catholic women with same sex attraction who are striving to live chastely, are also shared. It is hoped that the content can help priests and deacons deal with pastoral issues surrounding this reality, especially in accompanying women with SSA who freely choose chastity and strive to live fully their Christian calling.

Same Sex Attraction in Catholic Women who Desire to Live Chastely

The first part of this essay will provide some background elements to help understand female same sex attraction (SSA). The second part will offer some suggestions for pastoral support of women with SSA. In some parts of the essay, we will hear the views and opinions of Ms. T, a Catholic woman with SSA who is striving to live chastely.*

It is not so easy to find much written about female same sex attraction (SSA), especially from a Catholic perspective. In most Catholic articles on homosexuality, the focus is on male homosexuality; female same-sex attraction is rarely addressed. A helpful resource is the Catechism of the Catholic Church which outlines some general principles of Church teaching regarding persons with SSA.1

For many in our world today, female SSA (or “lesbianism”) is simply not an issue. This can be seen in the wanton promotion and encouragement to try out and experiment with same sex relations through media such as music, television and video streaming services. A catchy song by a female artist goes, “I kissed a girl and I liked it, the taste of her cherry ChapStick. I kissed a girl just to try it, I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it. It felt so wrong, it felt so right, don’t mean I’m in love tonight (I Kissed a Girl, Kate Perry, 2008). Another song, titled “Girls like girls” by a female vocalist (Hayley Kiyoko, 2015) announces “I’m real and I don’t feel like boys . . . Girls like girls like boys do, nothing new.” With so much endorsement of same sex relations, it is not surprising that more and more young women might feel they are indeed lesbian, even if they are just experimenting, or exploring their sexuality. How can a Catholic woman with SSA navigate these choppy seas if she desires to live chastely?

The call to chastity

The US Catholic bishops, in their guidelines for pastoral care to persons with a homosexual inclination, comment, “In our society, chastity is a particular virtue that requires special effort. All people, whether married or single, are called to chaste living. Chaste living overcomes disordered human desires such as lust and results in the expression of one’s sexual desires in harmony with God’s will.”2 The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.”3 At times, this can be a tough battle and the Saints remind us of this. “Among all combats,” says St. Augustine, “the combat for chastity is the most violent, because it is a daily combat, and because victory is very rare.”4 St. Alphonsus Liguori, our patron of moral theology in the Catholic church, does not underestimate the challenge to live chastely: “Great, then, is the excellence of chastity; but terrible indeed is the war that the flesh wages against men in order to rob them of that precious virtue. The flesh is the most powerful weapon that the devil employs in order to make us his slaves.”5 It appears even harder to live chastely in our modern world, particularly because of all the media exposure which seems to promote and even celebrate immorality. Later we will return to some ways of living and being that can promote chaste living. For now, we turn to the question of what might be the cause of female SSA.

Causes

Often there is much interest in the cause of same sex attraction, with the desire to name or identify particular reasons for why a person has these feelings and attractions. However, it is important to remember that each person is a unique mystery. The Catechism of the Catholic Church underlines that “its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.”6 The Courage Apostolate teaching is that the cause of same sex attraction is “complex and difficult to explain with simple theories.”7 On its website, even the American Psychological Association (APA) notes that:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.8

The APA underlines that sexual orientation is not determined by any particular factor like genes, so it is better to avoid phrases such as “born that way.”9 They may be in fashion but nonetheless they are far too simplistic, and not supported by current scientific findings.

In many complex human traits, like intelligence for example, genetics has a role in that our genes can predispose but they do not cause. For intelligence, you are not just “born intelligent” — you still need to learn how to speak, and also to study hard etc. For same sex attraction, there may be genetic influences, but to date they have not been found to be causal. Like most complex aspects of our being, sexuality is likely to be multi-factorial, involving both nature and nurture.

This is well summarized in a 2019 study of persons who experience SSA, where it states, “Many uncertainties remain to be explored, including how sociocultural influences on sexual preference might interact with genetic preferences. Overall, our findings . . . underscore the complexity of sexuality.”10

Persons with SSA

An important detail is that in many Church documents, and in much pastoral work, the preferred terminology for a homosexual person is a person with same sex attraction (SSA). Cardinal Ratzinger reminded us that “the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation.”11 In using the term persons with SSA, the desire is to avoid labeling the person; after all, a person is more than his or her sexuality. However, in the secular press, throughout social media, in the minds of most people, and even in the scientific literature the nomenclature “LGBT” (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) is widely used, not only as a term of reference but as a description of identity.

It is also helpful to understand and somewhat differentiate between the person, her inclinations, and her actions. The Catholic vision always gives value and precedence to the person not simply to their sexuality. In this spirit, we should consider “people who experience same-sex attractions,” rather than using what could be a generic labeling such as lesbian or gay.

In considering inclination or orientation, this takes into account the emotions, attractions, desires and passions of the person. It is important to underline that the Church does NOT consider same sex attraction as sinful in itself. This is a very common misunderstanding and leads to erroneous statements such as “Lesbianism is a sin.” What is sinful is to say this, as the statement lacks precision! The Church teaches that “the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin.”12 What may be sinful is what we do with our attractions, at the level of thoughts, words, and deeds. Looking at pornography for example is a sinful action, and will likely lead to more lustful thoughts. In lust, the other is usually treated as an object, thus demeaning his or her dignity. What would be virtuous is when a lustful thought begins as a temptation, to resist it, to “change channel” let us say, by praying a Hail Mary for example, and simply not adding more colors to the thought but trying to cut it or otherwise divert the train of thoughts.

In mentioning willful thoughts, we are already entering into the realm of actions, because to think lustfully of another, or to choose to avoid dwelling on a fantasy, is already an act. We have said that the Church does not condemn the same sex attraction or orientation, but it does teach very clearly on the wrongness of homosexual acts such that “under no circumstances can they be approved.”13 The wisdom of this teaching is not always appreciated even by many within the Church. Recently, Pope Francis himself strongly reiterated this teaching in a handwritten note to Fr. James Martin, SJ, who had asked him about it. The Pope in his letter wrote and reaffirmed that “every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin.”14 He also gave the reminder that “one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault,” again fully in line with Catholic teaching.15

How Common Is Female SSA?

Not all countries collect data on the sexual identity or orientation of the population. For this reason, there is no one statistic that fully captures a global reality, as the research is still to be done. Different answers will be obtained depending on what one asks about, as the questions could be about attraction, identity, orientation, or behavior. We do know that the number of people who identify as LGBT in surveys is increasing, especially among young people. The Gallup survey in the USA in 2021 reported that 7.1% of persons identify as LGBT. The overall figures seem to be increasing and it is not easy to know if this is from an increased incidence, or increased promotion of LGBT. Cultural celebration is most likely increasing the acceptance and popularity of LGBT as well as the success of the LGBT community to welcome new members, and the Church’s general failure to do the same.

With this figure of 7.1%, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are all put together, making it difficult to extract figures for any particular group. In other surveys, what tends to get asked are questions about if the woman is lesbian or bisexual.16  What does seem clear is that there are more men who identify as gay than women who identify as lesbian. Bearing in mind the above, approximate estimates of SSA would be 2–3% of males and 1–2% of females.

Having a “crush”

With so much pressure to “come out” nowadays, a young girl may get confused if she experiences a crush on another girl, or older woman. Such crushes are usually very much part of growing up, as often the young girl will admire a trait or characteristic in another woman, or will react strongly if she receives interest, attention or some affection from her. Fr. John Harvey, the founder of Courage, gives some sound pastoral advice for such situations. The adolescent girl often confuses a “crush” she has on an older girl or a female teacher as a form of homosexuality. She should be shown that she is simply going through a stage of strong admiration and needs to take care not to make an idol out of another person. Meanwhile, she must continue to seek friends within her peer group and learn to form good human relationships with both sexes.”17

Characteristics of female SSA

In other situations, a woman may find that her feelings seem more than a passing crush. Each woman’s experience will be different so we must take care not to over-generalize. Here it may be helpful to outline some typical characteristics of the relationships in female SSA.

  1. Emotional, not sexual, intimacy

Typically, the relationship will be a very intense emotional one and a woman with SSA is often more strongly emotionally attracted before being sexually attracted to another woman. However, with a general hyper-sexualization of society, the sexual dimension of the relationships is tending to become more common. This may also be fanned by the pandemic of internet pornography, which frequently portrays same sex pornography.

It’s true that for most women, same-sex attraction begins as a strong emotional desire/yearning, and then becomes sexualized in one’s thoughts/fantasies — this isn’t always due to a hyper-sexualization of society (although that can certainly be an influencing factor); sometimes one just starts to become aware of eros, without any outside influence, in the context of a particular same-sex friendship. While one can always learn to manage such thoughts and feelings by cultivating and developing a peaceful interior chastity in union with Christ, it can still be particularly troubling (for a young Catholic especially) when she first realizes that she is tempted at all by sexual thoughts about another female instead of a male. In other words, there’s an added layer of worry — it’s not just “Lord, help me to rise above lustful thoughts” — you start to say, “Lord, why am I tempted to think sexual thoughts about someone of the same sex?” (Ms. T)

  1. Intense but fragile bonds

While the bonds may be strong, they are often built on a bed of fear and anxiety coming from the fear of being abandoned. Often jealousy is an issue as well as over-possessiveness.

  1. Socially exclusive 

Gradually, the circle of family and friends can be cut off as the relationship becomes more and more exclusive.

  1. Anti-male sentiments may be present

Sometimes there may be an aversion to males or to heterosexual relationships. The origin of these sentiments may be varied. Sometimes a woman has grown up with a very poor model of marriage and has perhaps said to herself, consciously or unconsciously, “I don’t ever want to be in that kind of relationship.” Perhaps her father was cruel or unkind to her mother and/or to her.

Previous childhood sexual abuse (CSA) may be a factor leading to the development of anti-male sentiments. The abuse may have been emotional, physical or sexual. Various studies suggest that CSA is not only more common among lesbians than among heterosexual women, but also more severe.18

It is hard to see how a genuine complementarity can be found in the same sex relationship, seeing as the bedrock of complementarity is the sexual difference. In the same sex relationship, there is no sexual difference, as both are females.

A same-sex sexual relationship will never have true complementarity, this is true; however, you’ll often see that within a particular same-sex sexual relationship, particularly among women, that one person will take on a more masculine role, while the other will take a more traditionally feminine role. I think this is because we’re actually hard-wired for complementarity in a sexual relationship, and even same-sex sexual relationships try to simulate this to some degree, although always unsuccessfully. This is why you’ll often see a pairing of a woman who presents as more “butch” or masculine with a woman who seems more naturally feminine but only feels safe in expressing that natural femininity when she’s with someone who’s not a real male. My own observation and experience is that many people who experience persistent same-sex attractions are also struggling to a certain degree with confidence in their God-given sexual identity as male or female, and sometimes feel inadequate about how they embody or express the corresponding qualities of masculinity and femininity. (Ms. T)

5. Emotional dependency

Janelle Hallman, in her masterful work The Heart of Female Same-sex Attraction, gives some insightful characteristics of the emotional dependency.19 Hallman notes that in a same sex relationship between two women, the relationship’s rapid or extremely intense formation is often based on idealization.

  • The relationship is about connection, not sex, and demands constant connection. It fosters enmeshment and loss of self. The woman loses herself in trying to find herself in the other. Closeness is achieved at the price of individuality. One woman stated, “I wonder how much of myself I have traded in order to feel fully loved.”
  • It requires exclusivity such that they come to share all recreational and social activities together. They can never be apart. Separation produces intense feelings of jealousy because of intense possessiveness. They have to remain in constant contact such as by phone. The circle of friends and family is diminished unless they are mutually shared.
  • Often the relationship is dramatic with many ups and downs and lived at fast pace. They are not boring. When it is fast-moving, dramatic and attention-getting, the woman can ignore her deeper needs because she is too absorbed in the external drama of the relationship.
  • The relationship sometimes drags on and is resistant to break up and when it finally ends, it is tragic for the involved parties. The relationship becomes part of an endless cycle. Few of these women have the inner resources to face what is happening and so may move on to the next relationship. Instead of taking time to grieve and heal, she plunges into another ultimately doomed and dependent relationship.

The phenomenon of extreme emotional closeness that develops has been termed “fusion” or “merger.” It is as if you have two women who inside are little girls searching for their mothers. When they meet each other, they become one but in doing so lose their own identity. This type of emotional dependency and exclusivity could have detrimental effects on the relationships with others and/or family and community dynamics.

Outstanding issues

We have stated that it is hard, and most likely not that helpful, to try to identify causes.20 However, it may be that a woman with SSA will have some co-existent issues that she has to deal with. This will not be the cause in every case, but possible aspects that may need attention include painful unresolved issues with mother and / or father, wounds arising from previous abuse, difficulties to embrace femininity, and issues surrounding self and body image.21

An issue may be to even accept our own femininity. This can be so strong. Some women don’t even like the word “femininity” because they feel that they do not fit in with women because they are not “female typical or a girly girl.” (Ms. J)

It’s true that there is no absolute or across-the-board answer for why a particular person experiences same-sex attraction, as each human being is unique and experiences life in a unique way. This doesn’t mean that a person won’t benefit from looking into possible causes as to why he or she may be experiencing same-sex attractions; you may not get all the answers and indeed, much of it may remain a mystery, but you may also learn a few things about yourself or come to understand yourself a little better if you do start to look into these things, at least to some degree. Still, the most important thing to focus on is how you are going to live your life, whatever your attractions or temptations may be. The call is always to grow deeper in Christ and to develop a life of interior chastity in union with Him. This is the call for every human being on the planet, whatever one’s background, whatever one’s weaknesses or temptations. (Ms. T)

Pastoral Support

A correct formation of conscience

To build a house, and a virtuous life, the foundation has to be firm. At times it is difficult to find the correct information for a proper formation of conscience. Oftentimes many Catholics of good will end up confused on reading so-called “Catholic teaching” on SSA. Cardinal Ratzinger, when he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, alluded to this, stating that “departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral.”22 The Canadian Bishops, on the topic of young people and SSA, noted that “avoidance of difficult questions or watering down the Church’s teaching is always a disservice. Such attitudes could lead young people into grave moral danger.”23 The US Bishops also caution that “there are features specific to contemporary Western culture that inhibit the reception of Church teaching on sexual issues in general and on homosexuality in particular.”24

A correct formation of conscience is needed. Seeing as “you are what you eat” a person with SSA should take care in the sources of information they are using. Even officially recognized scientific bodies can be guilty of bias and prejudice, and present data according to their own “creed” and belief systems.25 In this regard, the words of Pope Francis are quite sobering: “We are living in an information-driven society which bombards us indiscriminately with data — all treated as being of equal importance — and which leads to remarkable superficiality in the area of moral discernment. In response, we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.”26

To reach the depths of conscience, “it is important to cultivate the interiority that thrives on periods of silence, on prayerful, attentive contemplation of the Word, on the sustenance gained from the sacraments and from Church teaching.”27 Much care is needed in selecting what material and information is used to form the conscience. And we should not be surprised to find so much contrary information as was noted by St. John Henry Newman in his writing on conscience, when he remarked, “The sense of right and wrong, which is the first element in religion, is so delicate, so fitful, so easily puzzled, obscured, perverted, so subtle in its argumentative methods, so impressible by education, so biased by pride and passion, so unsteady in its flight” that we need the help of the Church and her teachings.28

Prayer

Prayer is one of the five goals of Courage. Without prayer, one cannot have the strength or the grace to live chastely. It is in and through prayer that we feel loved, embraced and accepted in our limits and weaknesses. We also receive the grace to continue walking the Christian journey in the following of Jesus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church underlines this: “Prayer is a vital necessity. Proof from the contrary is no less convincing: if we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of sin.”29 Without prayer, we cannot live chastely. Saint Alphonsus Liguori acknowledged the great power of prayer to fight the temptations of the flesh:

And it is especially to be remarked, that we cannot resist the impure temptations of the flesh, without recommending ourselves to God when we are tempted. This foe is so terrible that, when he fights with us, he, as it were, takes away all light; he makes us forget all our meditations, all our good resolutions; he also makes us also disregard the truths of faith, and even almost lose the fear of the divine punishments. For he conspires with our natural inclinations, which drive us with the greatest violence to the indulgence of sensual pleasures. Who in such a moment does not have recourse to God is lost. The only defence against this temptation is prayer.30

Prayer of course is needed not only to fight temptations but to fall in love, and stay in love with Jesus. “Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”31

Chastity

As we have underlined, the advice to keep a pure heart will often be counter-cultural, as “there are many forces in our society that promote a view of sexuality in general, and of homosexuality in particular, not in accord with God’s purpose and plan for human sexuality.”32 Some excerpts from Church teaching can help clarify what the goal of chastity is. “Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either [the woman] governs [her] passions and finds peace, or [she] lets [her]self be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.”33 The Pontifical Council for the Family had written:

Chastity is the joyous affirmation of someone who knows how to live self-giving, free from any form of self-centred slavery. The chaste person is not self-centred, not involved in selfish relationships with other people. Chastity makes the personality harmonious. It matures it and fills it with inner peace.34

Living chastely helps the person experiencing SSA become more integrated. Previous wounds may heal and brokenness mend, as St. Augustine described: “Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity.”35

Chastity begins in the heart, and in the mind. Prayer with the Word of God can give us good material to be reflecting on. If our minds are “empty” they can more easily wander. We should not be overly discouraged if temptations come, like remembering a friend with affection, then a bit more affection, then . . . it is better to change channel before it becomes too colorful! A temptation is not yet a sin, so if we are prompt and agile, we can intervene before a sin occurs at the level of thoughts. Of course, what must be avoided is to poison the mind and heart by viewing pornography.

Avoid pornography

Care should be taken to avoid looking at pornography. The maxim is valid and true — what you don’t see, you will not think of. If in the area of thoughts, it is already challenging, imagine how impossible it becomes to have chaste thoughts if there is a daily consumption of poison. The prophet Jeremiah announced: “Death has come up through our windows, has entered our palaces” (Jeremiah 9:20). St Alphonsus Liguori, commenting on this passage, wrote: “For as to defend a fortification it is not enough to lock the gates if the enemy be allowed to enter by the windows; so to preserve chastity all other means shall be unprofitable unless we carefully watch over the eyes.”36 The eyes are the window to the heart. So, “take care of your heart, for in it are the sources of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

Healthy friendships

“The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship.”37 It is beautiful to have good friends, as companions on the journey, to share the joys, the ups and downs. If a person has lived quite a sexually active life, it may not be so easy to revert to, and to discover, the beauty and richness of non-erotic friendships. But it is worth all the effort! The Canadian bishops recommend therefore “that you nurture virtuous and chaste friendships, though not exclusively with others of the same sex. True friendship enhances your ability to live chastely, while living in isolation, fear or bitterness undermines a healthy and holy life.”38

This why the Courage apostolate is so important. Through our meetings, conferences, retreats, and Days of Recollection, we develop life-long friendships with others who are true Companions on the Journey; we understand one another’s struggles, and we also share the same goals, hoping for eternal and everlasting joy with Christ, through His grace and through faithfulness to His Church’s authentic teachings. (Ms. T)

Finding a mission

Everyone needs a mission. It is not just an optional add-on in the Christian life, but an essential. Essentially the mission saves us from . . . our very selves! When I begin to open my eyes to the needs of others, I begin to become free from excessive self-centeredness. The woman experiencing SSA, being a member of a Church that by its very nature is outgoing and missionary, will be helped with the involvement in mission, as “the actual performance of apostolic and charitable works is an element of proven worth.”39 It is interesting how Pope Francis talks of mission. He reminds us all that we are a mission, not that we have a mission! “This missionary mandate touches us personally: I am a mission, always; you are a mission, always; every baptized man and woman is a mission.”40 In another moment, our Pope writes, “I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world.”41 I like to make this mantra when I am feeling discouraged. Instead of repeating “I am an impossible mission” better to stay with “I am a mission on this earth”! St John Henry Newman puts it this way:

Everyone who breathes . . . has a mission, has a work. We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random . . . God sees every one of us; He creates every soul, He lodges it in the body, one by one, for a purpose. He needs, He deigns to need, every one of us. He has an end for each of us . . . As Christ has His work, we too have ours; as He rejoiced to do His work, we must rejoice in ours also.

Particular missions could include helping out in a Courage chapter, providing support and encouragement to another woman with SSA, or assisting in a charitable project of the local parish. The Holy Spirit will always show us the way when we ask for help — there is plenty of work to be done, as the harvest is big and the laborers are few.

Looking at the characteristics of women who experience SSA, we need help addressing the wounds that drive us to seek affirmation, intimacy, and union with women. Yes, we need the truth of the Church’s teaching, but also the beauty and the gentle guidance of good priests & lay people. Yes, we need a mission, we need to be of service to others so that we lift our eyes from navel-gazing. Then we need to be challenged not simply to help out at our parish but to be magnanimous women. A magnanimous woman is minded to do some great, even difficult act, strives to do what is deserving of honour, yet does not think much of the honour accorded by man, is grateful, humble, generous, confident in God’s Favor, and strong in hope. (Ms. T)

 Spiritual direction

The Church tradition has always given importance to spiritual direction (SD), or some form of spiritual mentoring on the way. The SD is not simply to help avoid disasters! It also helps to know where the Spirit is blowing so we can put up the sails and coast along. Regular SD definitely helps to flatten the hills (the obstacles on our journey like our pride) and fill in the valleys (to modulate somewhat our faults, failings and what we lack).

As Fr. John Harvey noted:

It is by regular spiritual direction, moreover, that the person with SSA can formulate and begin to live this plan of life. Very often, people with SSA have already experienced the loneliness and incompleteness of either of the two patterns of homosexual activity, namely promiscuity or a steady same-sex relationship. Dissatisfied with these experiences, they are ready to listen to the sympathetic proposal of a new approach, difficult though that new way may seem on the surface. The spiritual director’s task is to show the man or woman with SSA that it is possible to live a chaste and happy life without being isolated from society.

Part of the challenge then will be to find a good spiritual director.

While spiritual direction is very valuable this could be tricky for women with SSA. They may have an aversion to men, especially men in authority, or be afraid to get too close to a female spiritual director. So not just any spiritual director will suffice. (Ms. J)

Conclusion

A Catholic woman with SSA who wishes to follow in the footsteps of Christ in our current social climate will have to be determined. There will be many voices out to discourage her, not only from outside, but sadly also from within the Church. The words from Hebrews are encouraging: “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35); and also from St Paul: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run so as to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24–25). The Catechism of the Catholic Church also offers encouragement to persons with SSA: “By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”42 What is also very encouraging on our Christian journey, especially when we feel the heaviness of the cross, is to remember that behind us and each one of our steps, there are many lives that we can inspire with our perseverance.

I wrap up with an insight from the life of St Thérèse of Lisieux. On her deathbed, she was praying with the Song of Songs (1:4) where it says “Draw me, and we will run.” Jesus helped her understand that the more she was drawn to him, the more others that she loved would also follow. She explains this in her own words:

Jesus gave me a simple means to fulfill my mission . . . He made me understand this word from the Book of Songs: “Draw me, we rush to the scent of your perfumes.” Oh Jesus, it is not even necessary to say: “Drawing me, draw the souls whom I love.” This simple word: “Draw me” is enough. Lord, I understand it, when a soul lets itself be charmed by the inebriating smell of its perfume; this could not happen alone. All souls whom she loves were drawn along behind her: this happened freely without fatigue. It is a natural consequence of her attraction towards you.43

In walking the way of holiness, aware that it also means carrying the cross every day (see Luke 9:23), a woman who desires to live chastely in line with the call for all baptized, is also opening a salvific way for many others. This takes some effort, determination, perseverance, courage and most of all God’s grace.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary continue to encourage all of us on this path of redemption.

  1. I am most grateful to Rossana Goñi-Cuba of Courage International (Spanish) for her encouragement to write this essay. Courage International is an apostolate with ecclesiastical approval which offers support for those who experience same-sex attractions (see www.couragerc.org). I am also indebted to Ms. T and Ms. J, Catholic women with SSA and active members of Courage, who reviewed this essay. Their comments were extremely helpful and insightful so I have incorporated them into the article. They add depth and perspective from women who have experienced the challenges of SSA and the integration that comes from striving to be faithful to Catholic Church teachings in the following of Christ.
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357–2359. The Catechism has four paragraphs on SSA. Female SSA is a growing pastoral issue but as yet there are no specific documents of the Magisterium solely dedicated to it.
  3. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination,” 8.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2339.
  5. Alphonsus Liguori, “Discourse on the Necessity of Mental Prayer,” 247.
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357.
  7. Courage International, Handbook for Courage and EnCourage Chaplains, 57.
  8. American Psychological Association. “Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality.”
  9. The Tablet, an influential Catholic news weekly published in London, seems to have fallen into this mistake in a recent editorial entitled, “Homosexuality – A Church teaching with shaky foundations” where it categorically but erroneously states that homosexuality “is now understood to be an inborn and lifelong orientation.” This statement itself is rather shaky, as there is no credible scientific research in the field that supports such claims. The Tablet, 2.
  10. Andrea Ganna et al., 2019. “Large-scale GWAS,” 76–93.
  11. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 16.
  12. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 15.
  13. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357.
  14. Pope Francis, 28 January 2023. Osservatore Romano, “Lettera del Papa a padre James Martin su omosessualità e peccato.” An English translation of the Pope’s letter can be found here: https://outreach.faith/2023/01/pope-francis-clarifies-comments-on-homosexuality-one-must-consider-the-circumstances/.
  15. For example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1869) we find, “Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The promptings of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders.”
  16. Office For National Statistics. In the survey of sexual orientation, UK: 2018, “Men (2.5%) were more likely to identify as LGB than women (2.0%) in 2018.”
  17. John F. Harvey, Same Sex Attraction: Catholic Teaching and Pastoral Practice (New Haven, CT: Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, 2007), 34.
  18. See Sharon C. Wilsnack et al., “Characteristics of childhood sexual abuse,” 260–265.
  19. Janelle Hallman, The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008). The subsequent points in my section of “emotional dependency” are taken from pages 100–104.
  20. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained” (2357).
  21. For a more thorough overview, see Timothy G. Lock, “Same-Sex Attractions,” 265–270.
  22. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” 15.
  23. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Pastoral Ministry to Young People with Same-Sex Attraction,” 16.
  24. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,” 14.
  25. An example of this would be the World Medical Association’s declaration that homosexuality is a natural variation of human sexuality. See https://www.wma.net/what-we-do/human-rights/lgbt/.
  26. Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, §64.
  27. Synod of Bishops, “Young People,” 108.
  28. John Henry Newman, A letter addressed to his Grace, 60.
  29. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2744.
  30. See Joseph Oppitz, Alphonsus Liguori: The Redeeming Love of Christ – Selected Writings (New York, NY: New City Press, 70–71.
  31. Often attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, but actually believed to be a quote by Joseph Whelan, SJ. “Fall in Love.”
  32. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination,” 1.
  33. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2339. Please note I have taken the liberty to modify the phrasing to benefit the female audience.
  34. Pontifical Council for the Family, “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality,” 17.
  35. St. Augustine, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2340.
  36. Alphonsus Liguori, “Discourse on the Necessity of Mental Prayer for Priests,” 250–51.
  37. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2347.
  38. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Pastoral Ministry to Young People with Same-Sex Attraction,” 22.
  39. Fr. John Harvey, Same sex attraction: Catholic teaching and pastoral practice, 23. It is interesting is to consider what type of mission can best help these women with SSA. What type of mission activity can help address the wounds that drive them to seek affirmation, intimacy, and union with other women?
  40. Francis, “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World,” Message for World Mission Day 2019. https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/missions/documents/papa-francesco_20190609_giornata-missionaria2019.html.
  41. Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 273.
  42. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2359.
  43. Fr. Antonio Maria Sicari, “St. Teresa of the child Jesus and the Priesthood.”
Fr. James McTavish About Fr. James McTavish

Fr. James McTavish, FMVD, MD, STL, is a Verbum Dei missionary, currently assigned in Rome as a General Counselor of his community. He is originally from Scotland. He did his undergraduate studies in medicine at Cambridge University, England. He graduated as a medical doctor in 1992, pursuing a career in surgery, eventually gaining his fellowship in general surgery with the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. While specializing in pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery, he met the Verbum Dei missionaries in Sydney, Australia. He entered religious life in 1999, spending his formation years in Cebu and Mindanao, Philippines, before finishing his studies in Rome, receiving a license in moral theology from the Accademia Alfonsiana (Redemptorist Higher Institute of Moral Theology in Rome) and a MA in bioethics at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, Rome. He has published various articles in the Linacre Quarterly (of the Catholic Medical Association, USA) as well as for the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. He combines his teaching with an active apostolate, helping to form the laity in prayer and evangelization.

Comments

  1. Thank you for a thought provoking article and, if you are so inclined, you might want to endorse a book I am working on called “The Word in Your Heart: Mary, Youth, and Mental Health” where there are many facets and factors in the culture in which we live that impact young people and how reason and the word of God answers them. If you are interested, kindly write to me at aquinas.fe@hotmailcom

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