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Lecture explores Church teachings

Anna Boarini | Wednesday, November 14, 2012

As a part of the “Theology on Fire” series, Saint Mary’s welcomed Phillip M. Sutton, an associate member of the Catholic Medical Association, to speak at the lecture “The Church and Same-Sex Attraction” on Tuesday night in the Student Center lounge. Sutton is a 1973 graduate of the University of Notre Dame.

Judy Fean, director of Campus Ministry, reminded the audience before the lecture about the topic of discussion.

“The presentation is solely about the Catholic Church’s magisterial teaching about the subject of homosexuality,” she said. “The origins of homosexuality, the issue of therapies and the political issues about same-sex marriage is not part of this presentation tonight.”

Sutton said he became interested in the Church’s view on homosexuality through his interest in fatherhood.

“I began writing about fatherhood, and fatherlessness. Sometimes the issue of not having a dad, or sometimes it is the issue of having too much of one kind of dad,” he said. “I became aware of a lot of writings in this area of what we would call same-sex attraction.”

Sutton said the Church teaches that love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.

“We need to start here, because if same-sex attraction is about anything, it is about finding ways to love ones’ self and others,” he said. “And every human being, not just Catholics, not just Christians, not just religious people, people of good will, we seek the truth, but every person is called to love.”

The main challenge of the Church today is in all areas of morality, Sutton said.

“The challenge is to show that the call to chastity for instance is in fact a call to be blessed,” he said. “We are blessed if we do this. … We are called to something, not just to do something.”

In the discussion surrounding the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, Sutton laid out the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s offenses against the Sixth Commandment.

“Homosexuality is mentioned after a number of other offenses against chastity,” he said. “Masturbation, fornication, pornography, and prostitution and rape … and then after that it mentions offenses against fertility.”

Sutton said in context, the Church should be an “equal-opportunity annoyer”.

“When it comes to chastity … the Church has something to challenge everybody with not just persons of same-sex attraction,” he said. “I believe the Church has done to little in challenging all of us.”

Sutton said the Catholic Church makes a distinction between a homosexuality tendency or feeling and an actual homosexual act.

“To feel or desire something is one thing, but to actually act that way is another thing,” he said.

Quoting the 1975 Declaration [an official statement from the Magesterium of the Catholic Church] Sutton said homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.

“They are contrary to natural law, they close the sexual act of the gift of life. … Under no circumstances could they be approved,” he said. “These acts are intrinsically disordered.”

Sutton said other acts that are intrinsically disordered include suicide.

“In other words, under no circumstances would this act be acceptable,” he said.

After Sutton finished with his presentation, there was a question-and-answer for the audience to engage with the speaker.

Senior Francesca Gifford asked about natural law.

“You mentioned natural law as being a part of the Church’s delineation of why homosexuality is essentially wrong. Could you explain where in the natural law it says homosexuality is intrinsically ordered?” Gifford asked.

Sutton said he could not answer the question simply, but would try.

“A natural-law person would ask what is the purpose of human sexuality, what is its goals,” he said. “A desire is something that would be contrary, to want to do something that would be always considered the wrong thing to do is a wrong desire because it would never be right to do it.”

Freshman Hannah Brinkman asked how many times the Bible mentioned homosexuality is wrong, compared to how many times living without fear or the unconditional love of God is mentioned.

“Why do you think this is such an important thing to address as compared to the goodness that the Bible teaches?” she asked.

Sutton said his answer did not just mention same-sex attraction, but all people who are living chastely.

“Going back to talking about the Church being an ‘equal-opportunity annoyer’, it should be because I want the best for not only my children, but my spiritual children as well,” he said. “By experience, all unchaste behavior, of any sort, is harmful ultimately to those participating in it.”

Finally, senior London Lamar asked about if the Church would modernize its views, specifically about women’s rights or homosexuality.

“Given we are moving towards a more pro-choice society, with women more independent and able to make more choices for themselves, a lot of [the offenses of the Sixth Commandment] seemed like a very old-school way of thinking,” she said. “Has the Church made any moves to kind of be more accepting of this turn in the generations? Not just women, but people, period?”

Sutton said what the Church is doing is trying to understand how to better communicate their tradition to an audience for who technology has made things possible.

“In other words, the Church has always taught, for instance, birth control, would be wrong,” he said. “In the last 50 years, now technology makes it possible things that were really unthinkable before.”

Sutton said what he thought she was asking was if because these technologies are available, the Church would come around.

“My answer is no, the Church will not,” he said. “My first thought is a quote from ‘Jurassic Park’. ‘The problem here is you were so concerned about what you could do, that you didn’t stop to think about what you should do.'”