What Causes Same-Sex Attraction? Catholic Newspaper: “The Devil”

The oldest Catholic newspaper in the US published and quickly retracted an article that suggested that same-sex attraction is caused by Satan. The logic went like this:

Disruptive imbalances in nature that thwart encoded processes point to supernatural actors who, unlike God, do not have the good of persons at heart. […] When natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the evil one, not God.

The newspaper quickly withdrew the article, stating that there was a “theological error.”

My sense is that the Catholic Church officially takes the same position the Mormon Church does. Homosexual acts are chosen, whereas homosexual attraction is not (though it can be “fought against”). General temptation is caused by Satan, but on the question of the “origin” of homosexual attraction/temptation specifically, both Catholic and Mormon officials draw blanks. So, what they do is just keep categorizing homosexual acts with other evil things like burglary and murder. Occasionally, I guess, a lone official ventures out on his own.

What I found interesting in this article is how the word “natural” is used to describe homosexual attraction: the idea of “natural causes disturbing typical development.” There’s an acknowledgement that although homosexual attraction is perhaps atypical, this does not mean it is “unnnatural.” This is different than a few decades ago, when the stance of both the Catholic and Mormon Churches was that homosexuality generally — feelings and acts — were unnatural.

Conservative religious leaders are being pushed by their constituencies to provide answers to “why is there homosexual attraction,” given how much the issue is in everyday discourse. It’s difficult to condemn same-sex marriages if one’s mythology is shaky about why some people’s love is actually evil in disguise.

Although Mormon leaders have not answered the question for pre-life, they have for the afterlife. They’ve asserted that knowing the “cause” of same-sex attraction is not as important as not transgressing. They know same-sex attraction disappears in the afterlife because “logic” makes that clear. Of course if you begin with the premise that everyone in Heaven is heterosexual because…you… believe this to be true…then, I guess it logically follows that same-sex attraction wouldn’t exist in the afterlife.

This seems like the same “logic” that told church leaders in the 1970s that they knew same-sex attraction could be overcome if a person was strong-willed enough. It’s not so much logic as it is ungrounded heterosexist belief. Still, they are forced create an alternative discourse for their constituencies in the face of a culture that increasingly answers the “why” question with, “What difference does it make? Love is love.”

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19 Responses

  1. Chino Blanco says:

    Wow. I’m imagining a Q&A extrapolated from the author’s (Daniel Avila) position: Birth defects? Satan. Evolution? Satan. Cancer? Satan. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? Uhmm…

    “Natural” is a favorite word of Catholic deep thinkers, isn’t it? Someone familiar with natural law theory could probably make an interesting hash of Avila’s position in short order.

    Anyway, on the Mormon front, this bit from the link struck me as something that would be earth-shattering for an LDS publication:

    Archdiocesan officials said Avila’s apology would appear in the issue of The Pilot to be published this week.

    What was the name of Mitt’s book again? I remember thinking its title perfectly described the Mormon approach to nearly everything. As pernicious as the USCCB can be, I’ll applaud them for being slightly less obstinate in their know-nothingness than the Q15.

  2. Chino Blanco says:

    By the way, speaking of “The Devil”… I cracked myself up over on this recent T&S thread.

    Serious question: Isn’t Mormon “Satan” kinda pathetically chuckleworthy (in a Mini Me kinda way) when compared to the Old Nick that the Catholics and Evangelicals bring to their Christian drama? I mean, it’s not a huge leap from imagining Lucifer as Christ’s untoward li’l brother to picturing him as Dr. Evil’s diminutive clone.

  3. chanson says:

    If you think the Mormon “Satan” is pathetically chuckleworthy, check out Pastor The-Devil-Is-Your-Yoga-Instructor

  4. Chino Blanco says:

    Zoiks. Chanson wins today’s nutty link contest. 😉 Bonus points for the ancestry.com ad I saw displayed there. Too funny. (Did anybody else see it?)

  5. dpc says:


    As I understand it, in Catholic theology, the word ‘natural’ is a term of art. To say something is “unnatural” correlates more to a “contrary to *its* nature” meaning rather than an aberrant biological process. Because the Bible says that God commanded humans to “multiply and replenish the Earth” that means that an inherent and necessary part of human “nature” is to reproduce with a spouse. Anything that acts contrary to that aspect of humanity would be “unnatural.” That would include homosexual acts, birth control, adultery, etc. I wouldn’t read “natural” as having much to do with biology at all.

    @chino, chanson – That article about the evils of yoga reminds me of the Modern Humorist (may it rest in peace) picture that said “When you pirate MP3s, you’re downloading communism” with a demonic-looking Lenin standing beside a computer user.

  6. SLK says:

    That use of the word “natural” puts me in mind of how “natural child” used to be the polite way of saying “bastard” and I’m also reminded of the LDS term “natural man” describing someone who’s “gone contrary to the nature of God.” Interesting, isn’t it, how queerness is both natural and unnatural?

  7. chanson says:

    Interesting, isnt it, how queerness is both natural and unnatural?

    This reminds me of a (tangential) fond memory:

    When I was a teenager (and newly unbeliever), I mentioned to my brother this clever insight that I’d noticed: that the LDS church condemns homosexuality as “unnatural” while condemning straight (pre-marital) sex with “the natural man is an enemy to God.” Well, which is it? Which one — natural or unnatural — is bad?

    At the time I didn’t know my brother was gay — really I didn’t know that I knew any gay people. But I had already recognized that the feminist movement and the gamy rights movement have some natural common interests, in terms of breaking free of rigid gender roles.

  8. SLK says:

    Yep, I came to understand those natural common interests from the other side of the gay/feminist alliance.

  9. The devil is responsible for:

    – pedophile priests raping thousands of children (in the Unites States alone)
    – bishops moving more pedophiles to places where they raped more children
    – bishops covering it up
    – bishops lying about it
    – all Catholics shunning the victims

    The devil is also responsible for making people think that God hates gays more than God hates child rapists and liars in His church.

  10. Alan says:


    Because God commanded humans to multiply and replenish the Earth that means that an inherent and necessary part of human nature is to reproduce with a spouse.

    Actually, for Catholics, it’s different than it is for Mormons. If you remember, Catholic clergy are celibate because they believe Jesus is God in human form, and Jesus/God didn’t/doesn’t engage in sex. Humans engage in sex because they have to in order to reproduce. This creates a sexual distinction between the clergy and the laity; it is celibacy that is considered God-like, whereas reproducing in marriage pleases Him. Pleasure is considered a “good” side effect of sex if there’s reproductive intent, and pleasure is a “bad”/selfish side effect if there’s no reproductive intent. Hence, Catholics are against the use of condoms and birth control.

    So I wouldn’t say that for Catholics, “human nature is to reproduce with a spouse,” because clearly Catholic clergy are human beings too. There’s a more dual pronged approach, I think, between celibacy and reproduction, where if you are having sex, you ought to be reproducing (in a marriage), and if not, you ought to be serving the Church. In fact, Catholic clergy refer to the Church as “Her” or “She,” as if the Church itself were married to God.

    For Mormons, the clergy is married, because Jesus is thought to have been married to Mary Magdalene (and reproduced with her), and God (who is literally Jesus’s Father) is married to Heavenly Mother (and perhaps other Women too). So, both the laity and clergy get married. Pleasure is considered a “good” side effect of sex if it happens in marriage, and pleasure is a “bad”/selfish side effect if it’s not in marriage. Reproduction, as a commandment of God, occurs in marriage, but Mormons (at least since the late 1980s) are not against the use of condoms or birth control; they consider reproductive choices to be a personal matter for each couple (though given that pesky commandment, at least one child is thought to need to be produced).

    When it comes to what is “natural” for these two religious groups, yes, I wouldn’t attribute anything to “biology.” For Catholics, all sex is part of “natural man,” which means it’s distanced from God, but He commands that its purpose is for multiplication. For Mormons, historically, a specific kind of sex (hetero vaginal sex) is considered “God-like,” and everything else is “natural man” — although I think Mormons are in a transition period in which all sex in marriage is being considered “God-like” — just not publicized. It’s creating a strange culture where Mormons are both sexually shy and conservative, but also have hopes to be sexually frisky once married. Catholic clergy would utterly condemn Mormon sexual ethics if they knew what was going on in Mormon bedrooms.

    This actually gives me hope that Mormons will be more likely to come around to acknowledging homosexuality’s place in creation (to word it religiously) than Catholics at the institutional level, because the Mormon Church’s leadership is connected on sexual matters to its laity more than the Catholic leadership is to theirs given that all Catholic clergy are celibate. Of course, if you look at outside the institutional level, in America, the average Catholic is more pro-gay than the average Mormon (almost half of American Catholics support same-sex marriage, and if you toss in civil unions, it jumps to almost three-quarters).

  11. Alan says:

    Patrick @ 9

    The devil is also responsible for making people think that God hates gays more than God hates child rapists and liars in His church.

    Yes, apparently God hates gays just as much as He hates child rapists and liars.

    Sorry, dark humor.

  12. Alan says:

    chanson @ 3:

    I found the first comment under the yoga-is-Satanic thread to be insightful:

    [T]he main issue fundies have with yoga isn’t the ‘worship’ aspect. It’s being able to clear your mind and be at piece with the world without going to church. What’s the use in instilling guilt, fear, and general anxiety, if people can just ‘yoga it away’ (instead of absolving their feelings by donations in the offering plate)?

    Christian yogis argue against the fundies this way:

    Yoga (or Buddhist) meditation is not the same thing as Christian or Jewish prayer, but they can be a necessary preparation for prayer even a prerequisite. Without the quiet, stillness and relaxation that yoga provides, many people find it almost impossible to pray. But Christian yogis, blessed with such islands of silence and stillness, inevitably find themselves spontaneously giving thanks and lifting their minds and hearts to God.

    Ugh, I don’t know which troubles me more. Attributing yoga to Satan, or bastardizing Buddhist meditation with theistic arrogance.

  13. c.biden says:

    Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church is a discipline of the Western rite; a man need not be celibate in the Eastern Rite. The primary reason for priestly celibacy is for complete dedication to ministry without care for wife or family and to stamp out simony, and to prohibit Church properties, benefices, or orders from being inherited.

  14. Chino Blanco says:

    Wow, I guess I should probably take down that T&S link. Leaving a silly throwaway comment like Somebodys got a frightfully fervid imagination is apparently now grounds for bannination over there. I expect that kind of thing on Alison Moore Smith threads where the policy seems to be “leave me alone while I attack you” but sadly it seems to have spread site-wide.

    Seriously, I cant be the only one who finds her talk about folks who hate God and want to destroy all that is good to be risible and insulting in the context of that post.

  15. Chino Blanco says:

    Hey, by the way, Avila has resigned: Catholic Official Who Linked Gays to Devil Resigns

    Here’s a photo of Avila’s boss posing with a gaggle of Mormon dudes, several of whom were instrumental in pushing Prop 8 (e.g., Robert Packer signed one of the letters that leaked out during the campaign re the Mormon one million yard signs strategy).

  16. Alan says:

    @15: Yeah, I noticed. My guess is that Avila thought that if gay Catholics thought of their same-sex attractions as coming from Satan, then that might help them better prioritize.

    The reason he was wrong from his superior’s point-of-view is not that he linked gayness to Satan, per se — given that the Catholic Church would say that a person who gives into homosexual temptation is giving into Satan. Rather, he formalized same-sex attraction as an a priori condition (he minoritized gay people), which is something religious conservatives want to avoid, since their theology doesn’t work if everyone doesn’t have equal capability to obey God.

    It kinda reminds me of when Pope Benedict said last year that condoms are acceptable in one instance: gay prostitution. Condom use in that instance, he said, would be for disease prevention, and represented a step in the direction of moralization. The idea with gay people is that you keep moralizing and moralizing them (with “love” and “compassion”) and then, maybe someday, they’ll be fixed — or at least, you help them keep their attractions in check for life. But with Avila’s logic, the gay person can never be fully moralized because of Satan’s stranglehold.

    I seriously don’t know which perspective is worse or more offensive.

  17. Chino Blanco says:

    Well, while you’re pondering that, Alan, here’s a headline from The Depaulia for your amusement:

    Trojan ranks DePaul most sexually unhealthy university

    There’s even a BYU mention thrown in for, ahem, added pleasure:

    Brigham Young University (BYU), a Mormon institution in Utah, ranked higher than DePaul on the report card. BYU has a health center, but prohibits students from wearing any kind of backpack or shoulder bag that hugs across their body.

    BYU FTW over the country’s largest Catholic U. Heh.

  18. Ted says:

    Comment from a movie “We did the research and found that we could condition people to accept drinking urine and make them believe that it was enjoyable”.

    The people who think that they are running the world and who think that they have the truth, are in fact puppets themselves. They on the other hand know that they can dish out any lie and people will buy it. This also helps in the agenda of family destabilization, population reduction and the destruction of soul. Thus they are happy to feed the masses ‘homosexuality’.

  19. muucavwon says:

    What movie is that from Ted? It’s pretty funny.

    Which people running the world are you talking about? And why do they want to destabilize families and destroy people’s souls?

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