Homosexuality and Hope -- Part 1
A Statement of the Catholic Medical Association
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WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 18, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Medical Association has updated its statement on homosexuality, the first part of which appears here in adapted form.
The full text, including bibliography and endnotes, is available at http://www.cathmed.org/index.html. The adapted Part 2 will appear Sunday.
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Homosexuality and Hope
Statement of the Catholic Medical Association
The Catholic Medical Association is dedicated to upholding the principles of the Catholic Faith as related to the practice of medicine and to promoting Catholic medical ethics to the medical profession, including mental health professionals, the clergy, and the general public.
No issue has raised more concern in the past decade than that of homosexuality and therefore the CMA offers the following summary and review of the status of the question. This summary relies extensively on the conclusions of various studies and points out the consistency of the teachings of the Church with these studies. It is hoped that this review will also serve as an educational and reference tool for Catholic clergy, physicians, mental health professionals, educators, parents and the general public.
CMA supports the teachings of the Catholic Church as laid out in the revised version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in particular the teachings on sexuality: "All the baptized are called to chastity" (CCC, no. 2348); "Married people are called to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence" (CCC, no. 2349); "tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. ... Under no circumstance can they be approved" (CCC, no. 2333).
It is possible, with God's grace, for everyone to live a chaste life including persons experiencing same-sex attraction, as Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, so powerfully stated in his address to the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian & Gay Ministries: "To deny that the power of God's grace enables those with homosexual attractions to live chastely is to deny, effectively, that Jesus has risen from the dead."
There are certainly circumstances, such as psychological disorders and traumatic experiences, which can, at times, render this chastity more difficult and there are conditions which can seriously diminish an individual's responsibility for lapses in chastity. These circumstances and conditions, however, do not negate free will or eliminate the power of grace. While many men and women who experience same-sex attractions say that their sexual desire for those of their own sex was experienced as a "given" this in no way implies a genetic predetermination or an unchangeable condition. Some surrendered to same-sex attractions because they were told that they were born with this inclination and that it was impossible to change the pattern of one's sexual attraction. Such persons may feel it is futile and hopeless to resist same-sex desires and embrace a "gay identity." These same persons may then feel oppressed by the fact that society and religion, in particular the Catholic Church, do not accept the expression of these desires in homosexual acts.
The research referenced in this report counters the myth that same-sex attraction is genetically predetermined and unchangeable and offers hope for prevention and treatment.
1) Not born that way
A number of researchers have sought to find a biological cause for same-sexual attraction. The media have promoted the idea that a "gay gene" has already been discovered, but in spite of several attempts, none of the much publicized studies has been scientifically replicated. A number of authors have carefully reviewed these studies and found that not only do the studies not prove a genetic basis for same-sex attraction; the reports do not even contain such claims.
If same-sex attraction were genetically determined, then one would expect identical twins to be identical in their sexual attractions. There are, however, numerous reports of identical twins who are not identical in their sexual attractions. Case histories frequently reveal environmental factors which account for the development of different sexual attraction patterns in genetically identical children, supporting the theory that same-sex attraction is a product of the interplay of a variety of environmental factors.
There are, however, ongoing attempts to convince the public that same-sex attraction is genetically based. Such attempts may be politically motivated because people are more likely to respond positively to demands for changes in laws and religious teaching when they believe sexual attraction to be genetically determined and unchangeable. Others have sought to prove a genetic basis for same-sex attraction so that they could appeal to the courts for rights based on the "immutability."
Catholics believe that sexuality was designed by God as a sign of the love of Christ, the bridegroom, for his Bride, the Church, and therefore sexual activity is appropriate only in marriage. Catholic teaching holds that: "Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion" (CCC, No. 2360).
Healthy psycho-sexual development leads naturally to attraction in persons of each sex for the other sex. Trauma, erroneous education, and sin can cause a deviation from this pattern. Persons should not be identified with their emotional or developmental conflicts as though this were the essence of their identity.
In the debate between essentialism and social constructionism, the believer in natural law would hold that human beings have an essential nature -- either male or female -- and that sinful inclinations (such as the desire to engage in homosexual acts) are constructed and can, therefore, be deconstructed.
It is, therefore, probably wise to avoid wherever possible using the words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" as nouns since such usage implies a fixed state and an equivalence between the natural state of man and woman as created by God and persons experiencing same sex attractions or behaviors.
2) Same-sex attraction as a symptom
Individuals experience same-sex attractions for different reasons. While there are similarities in the patterns of development, each individual has a unique, personal history. In the histories of persons who experience same-sex attraction, one frequently finds one or more of the following:
-- alienation from the father in early childhood because the father was perceived as hostile or distant, violent or alcoholic
-- mother was overprotective (boys)
-- mother was needy and demanding (boys)
-- mother emotionally unavailable (girls)
-- parents failed to encourage same-sex identification
-- lack of rough and tumble play (boys)
-- failure to identify with same-sex peers
-- dislike of team sports (boys)
-- lack of hand/eye coordination and resultant teasing by peers (boys)
-- sexual abuse or rape
-- social phobia or extreme shyness
-- parental loss through death or divorce
-- separation from parent during critical developmental stages
In some cases, same-sex attraction or activity occurs in a patient with other psychological diagnosis, such as:
-- major depression
-- suicidal ideation
-- generalized anxiety disorder
-- substance abuse
-- conduct disorder in adolescents
-- borderline personality disorder
-- pathological narcissism
In a few cases, homosexual behavior appears later in life as a response to a trauma such as abortion, or profound loneliness.
3) Same-sex attraction is preventable
If the emotional and developmental needs of each child are properly met by both family and peers, the development of same-sex attraction is very unlikely. Children need affection, praise and acceptance by each parent, by siblings and by peers. Such social and family situations, however, are not always easily established and the needs of children are not always readily identifiable.
Some parents may be struggling with their own trials and be unable to provide the attention and support their children require. Sometimes parents work very hard but the particular personality of the child makes support and nurture more difficult. Some parents see incipient signs, seek professional assistance and advice, and are given inadequate, and in some cases, erroneous advice.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV of the American Psychiatric Association has defined Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in children as a strong, persistent cross gender identification, a discomfort with one's own sex, and a preference for cross sex roles in play or in fantasies. Some researchers have identified another less pronounced syndrome in boys -- chronic feelings of unmasculinity.
These boys, while not engaging in any cross sex play or fantasies, feel profoundly inadequate in their masculinity and have an almost phobic reaction to rough and tumble play in early childhood often accompanied by a strong dislike of team sports. Several studies have shown that children with Gender Identity Disorder and boys with chronic juvenile unmasculinity are at-risk for same-sex attraction in adolescence.
Early identification and proper professional intervention, if supported by parents, can often overcome the gender identity disorder. Unfortunately, many parents who report these concerns to their pediatricians are told not to worry about them. In some cases the symptoms and parental concerns may appear to lessen when the child enters the second or third grade, but unless adequately dealt with, the symptoms may reappear at puberty as intense, same-sex attraction. This attraction appears to be the result of a failure to identify positively with one's own sex.
It is important that those involved in child care and education become aware of the signs of gender identity disorder and chronic juvenile unmasculinity and have access the resources available to find appropriate help for these children. Once convinced that same-sex attraction is not a genetically determined disorder, one is able to hope for prevention and a therapeutic model to greatly mitigate, if not eliminate, same-sex attractions.
4) At-risk, not predestined
While a number of studies have shown that children who have been sexually abused, children exhibiting the symptoms of GID, and boys with chronic juvenile unmasculinity are at risk for same-sex attractions in adolescence and adulthood, it is important to note that a significant percentage of these children do not become homosexually active as adults.
For some, negative childhood experiences are overcome by later positive interactions. Some make a conscious decision to turn away from temptation. The presence and the power of God's grace, while not always measurable, cannot be discounted as a factor in helping an at-risk individual turn away from same-sex attraction.
The labeling of an adolescent, or worse a child, as unchangeably "homosexual" does the individual a grave disservice. Such adolescents or children can, with appropriate, positive intervention, be given proper guidance to deal with early emotional traumas.
Those promoting the idea that sexual orientation is immutable frequently quote from a published discussion between Dr. C.C. Tripp and Dr. Lawrence Hatterer in which Dr. Tripp stated: "there is not a single recorded instance of a change in homosexual orientation which has been validated by outside judges or testing. Kinsey wasn't able to find one. And neither Dr. Pomeroy nor I have been able to find such a patient. We would be happy to have one from Dr. Hatterer." (Tripp & Hatterer 1971) They fail to reference Dr. Hatterer's response:
"I have 'cured' many homosexuals, Dr. Tripp. Dr. Pomeroy or any other researcher may examine my work because it is all documented on 10 years of tape recordings. Many of these 'cured' (I prefer to use the word 'changed') patients have married, had families and live happy lives. It is a destructive myth that 'once a homosexual, always a homosexual." It has made and will make millions more committed homosexuals. What is more, not only have I but many other reputable psychiatrists (Dr. Samuel B. Hadden, Dr. Lionel Ovesey, Dr. Charles Socarides, Dr. Harold Lief, Dr. Irving Bieber, and others) have reported their successful treatments of the treatable homosexual." (Tripp & Hatterer 1971)
A number of therapists have written extensively on the positive results of therapy for same-sex attraction. Tripp chose to ignore the large body of literature on treatment and surveys of therapists. Reviews of treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions show that it is as successful as treatment for similar psychological problems: about 30% experience a freedom from symptoms and another 30% experience improvement. Reports from individual therapists have been equally positive. ...
There are also numerous autobiographical reports from men and women who once believed themselves to be unchangeably bound by same-sex attractions and behaviors. Many of these men and women now describe themselves as free of same-sex attraction, fantasy and behavior. Most of these individuals found freedom through participation in religion-based support groups, although some also had recourse to therapists.
Unfortunately, a number of influential persons and professional groups ignore this evidence and there seems to be a concerted effort on the part of "homosexual apologists" to deny the effectiveness of treatment of same-sex attraction or claim that such treatment is harmful. Barnhouse expressed wonderment at these efforts: "The distortion of reality inherent in the denials by homosexual apologists that the condition is curable is so immense that one wonders what motivates it."
Robert Spitzer, M.D., the renowned Columbia University psychiatric researcher, who was directly involved in the 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders, has recently become involved with research the possibility of change.
Dr. Spitzer stated in an interview: "I am convinced that many people have made substantial changes toward becoming heterosexual. ... I think that's news. ... I came to this study skeptical. I now claim that these changes can be sustained."
6) The goals of therapy
Those who claim that change of sexual orientation is impossible usually define change as total and permanent freedom from all homosexual behavior, fantasy or attraction in a person who had previously been homosexual in behavior and attraction. Even when change is defined in this extreme manner the claim is untrue. Numerous studies report cases of total change.
Those who deny the possibility of total change admit that change of behavior is possible and that persons who have been sexually involved with both sexes appear more able to change. A careful reading of the articles opposing therapy for change reveals that the authors who see therapy for change as unethical do so because they view such therapy as oppressive to those who do not want to change and view those persons with same-sex attraction who express a desire to change as victims of societal or religious oppression.
It should be noted that almost without exception, those who regard therapy as unethical also reject abstinence from non-marital sexual activity as a minimal goal, and among the therapists who accept homosexual acts as normal many find nothing wrong with infidelity in committed relationships, anonymous sexual encounters, general promiscuity, autoeroticism, sadomasochism, and various paraphilias. Some even support a lessening of restrictions on sex between adults and minors or deny the negative psychological impact of sexual child abuse.
Some of those who consider therapy unethical also challenge established theories of child development. These tend to place blame for the undeniable problems suffered by homosexually active adolescents and adults on societal oppression. All research conclusions must be evaluated in light of the biases which the researchers bring to the project. When research is infused with an acknowledged political agenda, its value is seriously diminished.
It should be pointed out that Catholics cannot support forms of therapy which encourage the patients to replace one form of sexual sin with another. Some therapists, for example, do not consider a patient "cured" until he can comfortably engage in sexual activity with the other sex, even if the patient is not married. Others encouraged patients to masturbate using other-sex imagery.
For a Catholic with same sex attraction, the goal of therapy should be freedom to live chastely according to one's state in life. Some of those who have struggled with same-sex attractions believe that they are called to a celibate life. They should not be made to feel that they have failed to achieve freedom because they do not experience desires for the other sex. Others wish to marry and have children.
There is every reason to hope that many will be able, in time, to achieve this goal. They should not, however, be encouraged to rush into marriage since there is ample evidence that marriage is not a cure for same-sex attractions. With the power of grace, the sacraments, support from the community, and an experienced therapist, a determined individual should be able to achieve the inner freedom promised by Christ.
Experienced therapists can help individuals uncover and understand the root causes of the emotional trauma which gave rise to their same sex attractions and then work in therapy to resolve this pain. Men experiencing same-sex attractions often discover how their masculine identify was negatively effected by feelings of rejection from father or peers or from a poor body image which result in sadness, anger and insecurity. As this emotional pain is healed in therapy, the masculine identity is strengthened and same sex attractions diminish.
Women with same-sex attractions can come to see how conflicts with fathers and/or other significant males led them to mistrust male love, or how lack of maternal affection led to a deep longing for female love. Insight into causes of anger and sadness will hopefully lead to forgiveness and freedom. All this takes time. In this respect individuals suffering from same-sex attraction are no different than the many other men and women who have emotional pain and need to learn how to forgive.
Catholic therapists working with Catholic individuals should feel free to use the wealth of Catholic spirituality in this healing process. Those with father wounds can be encouraged to develop their relationship with God as a loving father. Those who were rejected or ridiculed by peers as youngsters can meditate upon the Jesus as brother, friend and protector. Those who feel unmothered can turn to Mary for comfort.
There is every reason for hope that with time those who seek freedom will find it. However, while we can encourage hope, we must recognize that, there are some who will not achieve their goals. We may find ourselves in the same position as a pediatric oncologist who spoke of how when he first began his practice there was almost no hope for children stricken with cancer and the physician's duty was to help the parents accept the inevitable and not waste their resources chasing a "cure."
Today almost 70% of the children recover, but each death leaves the medical team with a terrible feeling of failure. As the prevention and treatment of same-sex attraction improves, the individuals who still struggle will, more than ever, need compassionate and sensitive support.
[Sunday: Recommendations in ministry to people experiencing same-sex attractions.]