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June-July 2012

A close priest/friend/colleague of the author had told some of his senior school pupils that he accepted "civil partnerships" but not homosexual "marriage," which the pupils then cited in response to the author's Natural Law teaching. This dire predicament inspired the following clarification.


- An Occasion of Sin -


We are currently inundated with messages from various quarters in the Catholic Church with a sense that there is everything wrong with homosexual marriage BUT NOT civil partnership. Many priests are convinced that to favour civil partnerships is not a sin, but to promote the partnership as marriage is. It is the pastoral and balanced position in which they can continue their ministry with homosexuals as Catholics in good standing.

However, how can any Catholic, least of all a priest, keep to this position in light of a time honoured teaching of the Church: namely, the catechetical exhortation to ‘avoid occasions of sin.’ Any Catholic who knows their catechism of old could never endorse a civil partnership, at least not without offering themselves as an accomplice to mortal sin.

Physical partnership
Let us discount the storge or filial love of two male or female ‘mates,’ although one should be careful to interpret this term in the right sense, and consider what we mean when we say ‘civil partnership.’

According to one dictionary a civil partnership is "a relationship similar to marriage for two people who are of the same sex." Clearly we are talking about a relationship which is not just described as ‘friendship’ or ‘matey.’ What is implied is that there is a physical love between the two which necessitates a legal recognition on par with marriage. Now considering that this relationship is not just a friendship love, we would have to suppose that it involves an erotic or eros type of love. We are thus talking about mutual physical attraction which may or may not be expressed in physical terms, but is clearly the one difference between two guys who have an otherwise deep friendship and their demand for legal recognition. In fact, we could say that to claim ‘civil partnership’ is in fact a statement that the same sex couple have a physical relationship, which demands legal recognition. Further, it is claiming their sharing of their bodies extends from the physical bond to a mutual interest in each others property.

Sinful partnership
Since we have established that a civil partnership is a claim to a physical exchange of a same sex couple we can certainly say that it is ‘living in sin.’ But for those who claim to have only an affectionate relationship we can say with equal certainly that it is an occasion of sin.

In this regard, let us consider a number of lessons from the Baltimore Catechism, commencing with the fact that

“We should hate and avoid sin as one hates and avoids a poison that almost caused his death. We may not grieve over the death of our soul as we do over the death of a friend, and yet our sorrow may be true; because the sorrow for sin comes more from our reason than from our feelings” (754).

Love, therefore, involves a consideration of our soul and others. However, when we counsel Catholics and others that a civil partnership is acceptable we do not foster consideration of their souls. Rather, we encourage feelings over reason; putting the body before the soul. Since “near occasions of sin … mean all the persons, places and things that may easily lead us into sin” (771), a civil partnership — which in respect of the law requires a physical relationship to ensue — certainly qualifies as such. And yet “We are bound to avoid occasions of sin because Our Lord has said: 'He who loves the danger will perish in it'; and as we are bound to avoid the loss of our souls, so we are bound to avoid the danger of their loss. The occasion is the cause of sin, and you cannot take away the evil without removing its cause” (772).

The context of homosexual sin is to be in close proximity to another homosexual for whom one feels an unnatural physical attraction and who could, therefore, easily lose their soul by rejecting the higher claim of Christ Who shed His Blood to deliver their soul unto eternal life. If a homosexual claims to have a love for another of the same sex, how could they want them to lose their soul?

Moreover, “A person who is determined to avoid the sin, but who is unwilling to give up its near occasion when it is possible to do so, is not rightly disposed for confession, and he will not be absolved if he makes known to the priest the true state of his conscience” (773). This sobering reminder for each and every reader applies especially to those who claim to be Catholic yet persist in ‘civil partnerships,’ since they are not rightly disposed for confession, and may not be absolved of their sin should they reveal their true circumstance. Presuming, of course, that the priest understands Church teaching, as follows:
There are four kinds of occasions of sin:

  1. Near occasions, through which we always fall;
  2. Remote occasions, through which we sometimes fall;
  3. Voluntary occasions or those we can avoid; and
  4. Involuntary occasions or those we cannot avoid. A person who lives in a near and voluntary occasion of sin need not expect forgiveness while he continues in that state” (774).

Thus, a civil partnership is 1) a near occasion, and 2) voluntary. The ‘couple’ cannot expect forgiveness while they continue in that state. Finally, the Baltimore Catechism spells out persons, places, and things which are occasions of sins:

  1. The persons who are occasions of sin are all those in whose company we sin, whether they be bad of themselves or bad only while in our company, in which case we also become occasions of sin for them;
  2. The places are usually liquor saloons, low theaters, indecent dances, entertainments, amusements, exhibitions, and all immoral resorts of any kind, whether we sin in them or not;
  3. The things are all bad books, indecent pictures, songs, jokes and the like, even when they are tolerated by public opinion and found in public places. (775).

Clearly, no. 1 would apply to civil partnerships, no. 2 to the place they share, and no.3 to the laughter and illusory joy they take from each other.

"Conspirators" in spiritual death
The treatment of occasions of sin in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia provides confirmation that civil partnership, at the very least, is an occasion to “incite or entice one to sin.” It is a giving in to a “…perverse human will and is intrinsic to the human composite. The occasion is something extrinsic and, given the freedom of the will, cannot, properly speaking, stand in causal relation to the act or vicious habit which we call sin. There can be no doubt that in general the same obligation which binds us to refrain from sin requires us to shun its occasion. Qui tenetur ad finem, tenetur ad media (he who is bound to reach a certain end is bound to employ the means to attain it).”

The Encyclopedia further states that “De Lugo defines proximate occasion (De poenit. disp. 14, n. 149) as one in which men of like calibre for the most part fall into mortal sin, or one in which experience points to the same result from the special weakness of a particular person.” Which is to say that a homosexual couple are in a perpetual state of enticing or falling into mortal sin whilst they persist in a civil partnership.

Thus, the serious onus is on both homosexuals to abandon a civil partnership: a relationship that is a “proximate occasion at once voluntary and continuous” of persistence in sin. Not only are the civil partnership couple bound to end their claim to civil partnership in favour of saving their souls, but a priest is also bound to deny them absolution until they have ended such an occasion of sin.

In conclusion, a priest or Catholic can endorse neither civil partnership nor homosexual "marriage." If they do, they are complicit in encouraging mortal sin. Much like the accomplice to abortion as set out in Canon Law (1398), they too become veritable "Conspirators" by facilitating a physical homosexual relationship that leads to spiritual death.



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