True Reparative Therapy
Vice brings disorder; virtue brings order
Earlier this month, under pressure from LGBT groups, Amazon stopped selling books by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi. Dr. Nicolosi was well known for reparative therapy that helped many people overcome the temptation to same-sex attraction. Of course, the fact that Dr. Nicolosi wanted to free people from both disordered inclinations and political control makes his therapeutic models a threat to the dogmatic assertion that same-sex attraction can never be overcome. You can explore your sexuality provided it leads to license and not liberty. So then, rather than fighting it, we should embrace our brokenness. What many people don’t realize, however, is that this is the same model that the Church proposes. While refraining from any endorsement of various clinical approaches, the Church too suggests a reparative model. This model remains, for the most part, hidden in plain sight in the Catechism, even if many people turn a blind eye towards it.
The Catechism, in its section on the vocation to chastity has this to say about homosexuality:
“Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex… ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’… Homosexual persons are called to chastity. 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.” (CCC 2357, 2359, italics added)
When reading this, Catholics often, even if unconsciously, perform a semantic sleight of hand and substitute the word celibacy for chastity. This subtle change in terms changes the entire meaning of the passage. Put in laymen’s terms, with the seemingly obligatory compassionate tone, it is read as “The inclination towards same-sex attraction is bad, but as long as you don’t act on it (e.g., remain celibate) then you have done nothing wrong.” In many ways this interpretation is the exact opposite of what is being said.
Same-sex attraction (SSA) is a disordered desire. Using somewhat outdated language, we would say that SSA is a vice. Once we label it as a vice, we see that there is a means by which to put order back into sexual desire through development of the opposing virtue: chastity. Growth in chastity actually heals the disordered inclination and orders it back to its natural object, the opposite sex. In other words, the Church, by calling upon those who battle this vice to develop the virtue chastity, is coming down definitively on the side of those who say that this disorder can be repaired.
Encouraging celibacy without chastity leaves the person trapped in their desires. If they merely do not act on their lusts, then they are doomed to a life of frustration. Striving to grow in chastity, however, they are not only free from SSA but may eventually find themselves attracted to the opposite sex. When vice brings disorder, virtue brings order. They may need psychological therapy to heal the causes and they ultimately may not be able to conquer it by human effort alone, but through grace they can reach “Christian perfection.” This perfection can never be achieved while they remain unchaste. And so, the call must not be merely to celibacy, but to chastity.
Rather than celebrating this as part of the Good News, the Church hides behind two paragraphs in the Catechism. The world tells people that have SSA that they are stuck where they are and cannot find peace. Rather than helping them get unstuck, the world normalizes and then celebrates SSA. Peace is the tranquility of order, and restoring order back to our desires always brings peace. By only presenting one half of the story and inviting those with SSA to white-knuckle celibacy, those who present the teaching as such feed the world’s “they can’t help themselves” interpretation.
By calling those with SSA to chastity, we invite them to take control of their own lives and not be led around by disordered passions. In short, we provide a path to freedom and the means to get there. Dr. Nicolosi believed this and successfully helped many people get there. He was most definitely on to something. It’s a shame so few have come to his defense.
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