If I’m confused about my sexuality, should I keep ignoring it and pursue ‘normal’ heterosexual relationships?

No.  Chastity calls us to undertake the often difficult task of integrating sexuality into our relationships with others and with God (CCC #2337).  At the end of one’s life God is going to ask us how much we loved one another.  The teachings of the church guide us, but at the end of the day, we will have to look God in the eye and say, “This is what I did with the time you gave me on earth.”  Always err on the side of love.

But remember, love is not simply whatever “I” want.  Stephen L. Carter, a Yale Law school professor and novelist, wrote: “Love is an activity, not a feeling – didn’t one of the great theologians say that?  …  True love is not the hapless desire to possess the cherished object of one’s fervent affection.   True love is the disciplined generosity we require of ourselves for the sake of another when we would rather be selfish…” (Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor of Ocean Park, 2002, p. 215).

If someone is confused about their sexual orientation, they should be encouraged to talk with others who have walked the same path.  Only a very small percentage of the population is exclusively homosexual.  In 1994, University of Chicago researchers found that 1.4% of women and 2.8% of men identified themselves as homosexuals (Michael, Gagnon, Laumann and Kolata, 1994, p.176).  In 2006, another University of Chicago study reported that 1-2% of women and 2-3% of men were “currently engaged in same gender sex.”     A 2008 Hunter College study reported that 2.9% of the U.S. adult population is homosexual.  Some estimates range from 5% – 10% of the population as having had a homosexual experience or phase.

The truth is that sexual orientation is complicated for some people, and those people should be compassionately helped to figure out who and what they are, and how they can live their lives in ways that make them, and those with whom they are in relation, happy and healthy and holy and free.  Trying to be heterosexual when one is not causes great heartache and pain (think NJ Gov. Jim McGreevy).

The church’s teaching on homosexual acts and homosexuality challenges homosexual people to live as celibates.  Many find that too extreme a call.  Overall, the church’s teaching is clear: homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.  Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (CCC #2357-2358).  Most importantly, any homosexual person should take his or her feelings to God in prayer and listen long and lovingly to what God desires of them in this life, as should any heterosexual.

The church itself would do well to ponder the more positive and welcoming tone articulated in the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 1997 pastoral letter “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers”, and contrast this teaching with more recent, less than supportive, statements on homosexuality heard from some church spokespersons.

Fr. Rick Malloy, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, fisherman and author.  He is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, and serves as a Chaplain at the college.  His book, A Faith That Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century, (Orbis Books 2007) examines the relationships between the practices of faith and the cultural currents and changes so rapidly occurring in our ever more technologized and globalized world.