Matt C. Abbott
'Homosexuality and the Catholic Church'
By Matt C. Abbott
December 4, 2009

The following are substantial excerpts from the book Homosexuality and the Catholic Church, authored by Father John Harvey. The book's Foreword, written by Archbishop Raymond Burke, is quite good, as is the second lengthy excerpt on the spiritual cancer of pornography — something that plagues many heterosexual men (and women, to a lesser degree) as well as those who suffer from same-sex attraction. Thanks to Matthew Pinto and Mike Flickinger of Ascension Press for allowing me to reprint this material.


Some time ago, at the conclusion of a reception following the conferral of the sacrament of Confirmation, a mother approached me and asked whether she could speak with me. She began by saying that, while she did not want to offend me, she disagreed with a column I had written in the archdiocesan newspaper. The column was written at the time that the citizens of Missouri were preparing to vote on a referendum to amend the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman — that is, to ban what has become popularly known as "same-sex marriage" or "gay marriage."

This well-spoken mother told me that she was offended because my article implied that her daughter was evil. She went on to explain that her daughter, who is in her early twenties, had graduated from a private Catholic high school with highest honors and with many awards. She has been active in a same-sex relationship for some time. With great emotion, the mother declared her love for her daughter, which, according to her way of thinking, requires acceptance and support of her daughter's same-sex relationship, including welcoming her daughter and her same-sex partner into the family home.

I explained to the mother that I have never thought nor written that persons suffering from same-sex attraction are evil. I went on to summarize what I had written in the column to which she referred, namely, that same-sex attraction itself is disordered — that is, contrary to God's plan for us as male and female; that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil; and that persons with same-sex attraction are our brothers and sisters, whom we are to respect and love. The mother continued to insist that she loves her daughter and, therefore, will support her in her same-sex relationship.

The conversation in question reminded me of several pastoral situations in which I have found a parent struggling painfully with the homosexual activity of a child. The emotion of the situation can understandably cloud one's judgment. Whereas in the past, such emotion may have led parents to reject a child suffering with the homosexual condition or to pretend that the condition did not exist, today there is a tendency for parents to believe that tolerance requires them to accept the homosexual activity of their child and even permit it in the family home.

Given the strong public rhetoric favoring the acceptance of same-sex attraction and homosexual activity as an alternative form of human sexuality, the very presentation of the Catholic Church's perennial teaching on the matter is considered, at best, failing in pastoral sensitivity; at worst, hateful toward persons who struggle with same-sex attraction. The theological truth is seen to be somehow antithetical to the pastoral or loving response required. For that reason, Catholic faithful, including the clergy, can become hesitant to present and clearly uphold the Church's teaching on homosexual inclinations and activity. At the same time, the persistent public message about homosexuality — in the absence of a consistent presentation of the Church's teaching — can easily lead the Catholic faithful into confused and even erroneous thinking on the matter.

As at no other time, our society and culture needs to hear the voice of the Church, teaching the divine natural moral law, which safeguards the common good and, therefore, the good of each individual. There can be no pastorally sensitive or loving approach which is not fully informed by and consistent with the teaching of the Church. What is needed is the conviction that the truth communicated with love is the fullest expression of our love and compassion toward every brother and sister.

For that reason, I thank God for Father John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S., and his many decades of dedicated priestly service on behalf of persons who suffer with same-sex attraction. Father Harvey's pastoral care of the faithful who, in some way, are dealing with the homosexual condition is founded on a profound and ongoing study of the condition itself and of the Church's teaching in the matter. Father Harvey's highly qualified study and compassionate pastoral care have led him to establish two support groups for persons desiring to live the truth of the Church's teaching regarding homosexuality and homosexual acts. The genius of the support groups is the recognition that homosexuality is not the identity of the person who struggles with same-sex attraction. The identity of the person is, rather, that of a child of God called to the virtue of chastity, to the way of chaste love of neighbor. Recognizing the true identity of the person, the support groups help everyone to grow in the freedom which comes from being true to who we are.

The first support group is called Courage. It is for those who suffer from same-sex attraction and want to receive support and to give support in practicing the virtue of chastity. The second is called Encourage. It is for parents and siblings of persons suffering from same-sex attraction who want to receive support and give support in authentic love of sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters who are affected by the homosexual condition. From my pastoral experience, I know how profoundly helpful both support groups have been for their members. It is my hope that, one day, there will be chapters of Courage and Encourage readily available to all who seek to know the truth about homosexuality and to live that truth with love. In my conversation with the mother after the Confirmation ceremony, I urged her to have contact with the local chapter of Encourage. I hope that she did.

Father Harvey's long and distinguished experience in the pastoral care of persons affected by the homosexual condition has already borne fruit in two books. The Homosexual Person, published in 1987, and The Truth about Homosexuality, published in 1996, have been of inestimable assistance to all who want to understand homosexuality and respond in a Christ-like manner to brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Father Harvey has also edited, with Professor Gerard V. Bradley of the University of Notre Dame, a third book, Same Sex Attraction: A Parent's Guide, published in 2003. As the title indicates, it is especially directed to parents whose children struggle with the homosexual condition.

It is an honor for me to present to you Father Harvey's latest work, Homosexuality & the Catholic Church. This question-and-answer book will help you gain a deeper appreciation of the Church's teachings on homosexuality and the ever more pressing question of same-sex "marriage," as well as the importance of support groups such as Courage and Encourage in helping those with same-sex attraction live chaste lives. In these pages, Father Harvey helps us all to think more clearly and to act more rightly and lovingly in responding to our brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction, especially those who wrongly desire to enter a kind of "marriage," which, in fact, is no marriage at all and a contradiction of the nature of marriage.

I thank Father Harvey for yet one more important contribution to the authentic pastoral care of persons affected by homosexuality. I pray that God will continue to bless abundantly Father Harvey and all the members of Courage and Encourage.

I conclude with the story of a more recent pastoral encounter. Not long ago, I celebrated the ordination of permanent deacons for the service of the archdiocese. At the conclusion of the Mass of Ordination, I remained in the narthex of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis to greet the faithful. As I was returning to the sacristy, a young man came across the aisle to greet me. He was beaming with joy. He shook my hand and said these simple words: "Thank you for Courage." He then briefly told me how participation in Courage has transformed his life. The joy and peace radiating from his face were a testimonial to the truth of his words. I have had similar experiences on other occasions.

Through the work of Courage and Encourage, may many more men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction know the joy and peace of a chaste life in Christ. May this latest fruit of Father John Harvey's study and pastoral work help us all to uphold, in word and in deed, chaste love and the integrity of the married life.

— Most Reverend Raymond L. Burke
Archbishop of St. Louis
July 22, 2007
Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

16. Has anyone ever written about his or her personal struggles with pornography?

The following anonymous "psycho-autobiography" will help the reader discern the extent of this evil, not only on the psyche, but also on the soul and body of the individual. I find it necessary to present nearly the entire document. It is a penetrating philosophical analysis by one addicted to pornography.

The Pornographic Self


    Why is pornography so powerfully addictive? It can't be because it shows me images of sexual activity... I don't find images of sexual activity in insects, fish, reptiles, or even animals particularly addictive. It is the representation of human sexual activity that is compelling. The first reason for that overwhelming response is the obvious one. I identify. The image representation of sex initiates sexual response in me. I have programmed myself to react to sexual triggers. My own experience of sex has been visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory...The experience of sex, that total body pleasure sensation, is behaviorally associated with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches. Any one of these can become the trigger which recalls the entire sex pattern burned into my brain.

    There has to be a reason why gynecologists do not have sexual responses when examining patients. They have programmed themselves to examine these organs independently of bodily sexual response...But not me, or the hundreds like me. My programming deliberately associated images of sexual organs with my own sexual desire. Now that programming functions automatically, an habitual neural linkage. I am powerless over it. I respond to pornography because I am pornographic.

    The power of pornography is really in me, not in the medium...The disturbance that I feel when I encounter sexual representations, the power that I struggle to either deny or enjoy is on the inside. I have created it by conditioning myself to react to triggers. No matter how subtle, a trigger starts a nuclear sex reaction in me which projects sexual fulfillment into my psychic space. I want to participate, to have a sexual experience with the fantasy.... Any representation of available sexual targets is addictive because it nurtures and enhances my conditioning. It increases the mental inventory of my sexual imaging. The addictive appeal is resident in me, not in the image.

    By focusing the question of power in pornography on what I bring to the image, I discover that there is another reason why pornography is addictive. Our English word pornography comes from a Greek background roughly meaning "selling representations of sex." Written, visual, auditory, or tactile, the concept of the pornographic entails packaging sexual activity in such a way that it can be offered for consumption. Behind the etymology of the word is a second insight into the power of pornography. It requires deliberate representing or packaging of sexual activity so that a separation occurs between me and the actual human interrelationship of the sexual experience. For pornography to be successfully tantalizing, it must make me into a voyeur. Pornography with intimacy is a contradiction in terms. I believe that this is true because the pornographic is not about human interrelationship; it is about the myth of the control of intimacy.

    The pornographic representation of sex is a fractured misrepresentation of the only human bodily function which requires interrelationship for completion. The divine character of our humanness can be expressed in the voluntary act of vulnerable self union through sexual encounter with another equally vulnerable human being because this interrelationship brings us close to true selflessness. The demonic distortion of that experience is the fracturing of sex into its mechanical operation and physical organs.

    Pornography removes selflessness and human vulnerability from sex. It removes the mystical and mortal by replacing integration with single-self participation. Pornography isolates me from humanness. Real sexual union involves purposeful integration. This is why we distinguish love from sex, even though the two concepts may be fused within the same condition. Love expresses integration of selves previously separate. It is the purposeful surrender of self-boundaries in order to include and to yield. It establishes a new joint-self which is essentially an entity separate from either of the two conjoined individuals.

    But I cannot find stimulation in pornography unless I disconnect myself from surrender and integration. Pornography requires dis-integration. Pornography isolates me from the purposeful integration of sex by reinforcing my psychic and spiritual barriers to vulnerability and mortality. Pornography offers me the lie of self-protection. If I have sex with an imaginary person, I cannot be rejected, hurt, abused, debased, shamed, unless I want to be. I am in complete control of the mechanics of my response, and being in control of myself, I come to believe that I can be in complete control of the other. This is why pornography is preoccupied with the fantasy of the possible, denying the reality of the actual. No matter what the medium, pornography demands separation from interrelationship, denying our true communal nature and vulnerability....This prevents confrontation with my real ordinariness, my real inadequacies and my true dependency and finitude. In the process, pornography removes me from any hope of integrity.

    All of this separation is also a result of self-programming. Pornography became a tool which I could use to block out the world of hurt and explore the fantasy of pleasure all by myself. Pornography is not communal. Even when we use it in communal environments (going to the "adult" theatre, watching a video with someone), its power is always a stimulation of my individual, isolated fantasy. I may act out that fantasy with someone else, but I am not acting in mutual vulnerability. I am simply substituting a live body for an imaginary one. I doubt that pornography would have any appeal at all if it were not essentially about isolation. It was taught to me in isolation. It was explained in isolation.

    And my response to it is practiced in isolation. It is powerfully addictive because it focuses my entire psychosomatic spiritual world of that moment on me! It does, practically and spiritually, what I did every time I used a pornographic image — it closes all my doors to the outside world.

    This isolation is unbelievably dehumanizing. It is a medium of self-deluded power in a reality of inevitable powerlessness. Sheer humanity reminds us of our mortality. Simply being alive confronts us with our self-delusions of control. Any reasonable introspection causes us to face our inevitable return to the dust from which we came. Our very humanity is the real reason we fear being alive, for the fact of being alive places us in the context of death. And it is death that seems to hold the final card.

    Pornography is about the denial of our finitude. It reduces the most intimate human act — an act which cannot be human without vulnerability — to voyeurism, fostering the delusion that life is within my control. In pornography, orgasm proves invulnerability. It convinces me that because I feel the same behavioral results as I would in vulnerable human interrelationship, I can be confirmed as human without the necessary requirement of mutual dependence.

    Using pornography deludes me into believing that I am alive because I respond to a representation of the paramount communal act and yet remain invulnerable. The pornographic woman can never hurt me. She can never demand anything of me, spurn me, be ungrateful, inattentive. She can only be used, privately, possessively. The pornographic appeals because it claims to prove that my power of sex overcomes every other one of my failed human efforts to assert my self-identity. Pornography deliberately intends to drive away death through sex. It can only succeed by turning individuals into a demonic lie.

    True sexual encounter is the affirmation of individual powerlessness and insignificance precisely because it is about our need to experience love, together, in harmony and vulnerability. Pornography cannot integrate. If it did, it would not be pornographic. Its appeal and power resides in the dis-union it produces, the dis-union of witnessing a fantasy of sexual vulnerability without being vulnerable. In the end pornography is manipulative, not because its manufacture requires co-opting the sacred character of sexual intimacy in order to produce the representation of a fractured communal act, but because the representation manipulates me into participation in auto-eroticism. It manipulates me into accepting the lie that sexual activity is the equivalent of human integration. Finally, it manipulates me into believing that sexual activity is only about me — that sex in isolation can restore the imbalance of failure and fear in my soul. The truth is utterly destructive to this lie. Integration cannot occur without communal interaction and such requires self-surrender. If sexual union, in representation or participation, does not gather together the separateness of the individuals into a shared entity, then it is pornographic, no matter who is involved. This is why response to pornography is always a version of masturbation, even if it is only mental or a stimulus before intercourse with my spouse. Pornographic response is always only about me. It is sex with myself in an imagined copulation with a fantasy.

    Pornography is about sex with alien beings, beings which were once integrated whole persons, but who are now some other form of non-life, moving, breathing, copulating in a world confined to pre-programmed neural passageways. The reason why the cover of Cosmopolitan is pornographic is not because the model is lascivious. It is because the image is intended to invite anyone and everyone to desire sex with this representation. This is, perhaps, the most damning and the most damaging aspect of pornography. In the final analysis, pornography is not about reality.

    Pornography is a perversion of true intimacy just as its representation of sex is a perversion of love. Control is contradictory to the very meaning of intimacy. Intimacy can never be manipulated or controlled. Intimacy is a gift, given only in free interrelationship. Pornography propagates the lie that as I manipulate the image representation of intimacy, I control that intimacy. Every perversion achieves power precisely because it attaches itself to some fractured part of the truth. Pornography is no different. Sex creates. Sex affirms. Pornography pretends creation, affirmation and validation but removes the essential ingredient of a freely given, vulnerable commitment. Pornography pretends to do something that is an oxymoron — it pretends to control intimacy.

    In the end I must realize that pornography is addictive and powerful because it is idolatrous. It allows me to go on believing that I am the center of the universe. In fact, its proclivity to isolation not only reinforces my essential idolatry, it literally screams my independence from all community, including the community of God, from every fiber of my being. It uses the most all-encompassing neural, physical, and emotional response to shout in God's face that I do not need him...It seeks to possess (control, manipulate) the object of its desire, even if that object is not the highest possible form of the Beautiful.

    Pornography...knows nothing of self-sacrifice based on unmerited, unmotivated giving to another. It knows nothing of denial of self that must result when the wholeness of another is intended. There can be no manipulation or aggrandizement or control of gain exercised when agape is the root of the action, because agape allows for no position for self-love. Pornography is finally about one simple question: God or me?

(Excerpted from Homosexuality and the Catholic Church by Father John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S. © 2007 Ascension Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission.)

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media, and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on HLN, MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 2019 ‘Unsolved’ podcast about the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz, Alex Shuman's 'Smoke Screen: Fake Priest' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and other media outlets. He’s mentioned in the 2020 Report on the Holy See's Institutional Knowledge and Decision-Making Related to Former Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick (1930 to 2017), which can be found on the Vatican's website. He can be reached at

(Note: I welcome and appreciate thoughtful feedback. Insults will be ignored. Only in very select cases will I honor a request to have a telephone conversation about a topic in my column. Email is much preferred. God bless you and please keep me in your prayers!)


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