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Why we need “objectively disordered”

Catholics across the globe, from those in the pew to some of our own bishops, appear to have bought into the ideology of sexual orientation, a morally bankrupt rewriting of sexual reality that utterly relativizes the truth about God’s plan for us.

Three years ago, in October 2014, the secular media had a field day with the “midterm report” released by the episcopal spokesman for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Recall that this unofficial “draft” report actually blindsided many bishops in the synod when it was presented to the world by the synod’s General Rapporteur, Cardinal Peter Erdő of Hungary.

But the world media ate it up. It was called a “seismic shift” regarding the Church’s treatment of homosexuality because it actually asked the rhetorical question: “Are our communities capable of providing [homosexual persons a welcoming home], accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Thankfully, the troubling language of “valuing” the objectively disordered homosexual inclination was utterly absent in the final documents of that synod of bishops. But it remains an object lesson regarding why we can never afford to jettison the truth represented by the term “objectively disordered” as applied to the same-sex attraction.

The problem is relatively simple: Catholics across the globe, from those in the pew to some of our own bishops, appear to have bought into the ideology of sexual orientation, a morally bankrupt rewriting of sexual reality that utterly relativizes the truth about God’s plan for us.

The solution is also rather simple. Despite fresh efforts to try to convince people that “objectively disordered” is an alienating term that must be done away with, instead we have to hold fast to the truth represented by that, proclaiming it loudly and clearly.

It’s true that such a term can require some careful explanation. But this fact does not give us excuse to set it aside. Indeed, the fact that many people vigorously oppose the term and want it to vanish should give us pause to consider its impact. As I see it, it’s not that the term is overly “confusing” and so people get it wrong; it’s that many people get it right but reject its implications.

Here is what I mean: when people who are fully vested in the ideology of orientation encounter something stating the experience of same-sex attraction is “disordered,” they conclude the person is somehow being called disordered, precisely because they themselves make the category error of equating the attraction with identity.

Such people actually get it. They know “objectively disordered” means the attraction is somehow wrong. Yet, because they perceive “gay” as an identity, the descriptive “objectively disordered” is called cruel and hurtful toward the person.

In this light, the Church could change its terminology to anything else, and the result would be the same. It’s the meaning that is being rejected—not just the words “objectively” and “disordered.” As it stands, the words themselves are absolutely fitting and superbly functional. They hold an indispensable truth about the homosexual inclination: such an inclination can never, ever, be properly ordered toward a good end. Rather, the inclination, while not sinful itself, can never be willed or freely acted upon in any way without resulting in sin.

Before unpacking the full meaning of the term, one well-intended but incomplete assessment of it must be corrected. Often, some well-meaning Catholics believe the term “objective” before “disorder” merely refers to the moral “object” of some human act of the will being considered as a consequence of the experience of same-sex attraction. In this view, it’s often stated that all sexual sins with intrinsically evil moral objects—both same-sex and other-sex—are “objectively disordered,” so why does the Church single out homosexuality with this term?

But this conceals the full meaning of the term “objective” in this context, which includes a key distinction between the natural sexual inclination and the homosexual inclination—a distinction that the term “objectively disordered” is precisely intended to preserve. Rather than merely referring to the intrinsic disorder of the “moral object” of a future homosexual act, the term “objective” refers instead to the reality of the experience of the inclination itself apart from any and all considerations of either the intrinsic disorder of a deliberate future choice or the subjective guilt of the person making such a choice.

Put another way, even before considering whether or not someone actually is guilty of sin as a result of experiencing the homosexual inclination, there is nothing about the homosexual inclination itself that can be properly ordered toward the good of human flourishing. It always opposes the other-sex sexual inclination that God gives, via human nature, to every person.

Thus, recognizing the homosexual inclination’s objective disorder—prior to any moral choice—helps us make the crucial distinction between such inclinations and other acted-on sexual desires that themselves are not objectively disordered but can lead to intrinsically disordered acts.

For example, a single man sees a beautiful woman and experiences a surge of sexual attraction toward her. That is a completely natural inclination—part of his God-given human nature. There is nothing objectively disordered about it. But let’s say the same man finds out the woman is married. If he willfully and freely engages his sexual attractions toward her, and they commit adultery together, it is the act of adultery that is objectively disordered—not the God-given sexual inclination itself. The intrinsic evil of the adulterous act is the “location” of the objective disorder. This is also why some intrinsically evil acts—like fornication, rape, masturbation, adultery, and homosexual acts—are also called “intrinsically disordered.”

Now let’s consider the homosexual inclination that is experienced prior to any potential homosexual act. A man who experiences a surge of sexual attraction toward another man is experiencing, always and everywhere—objectively—a disordered attraction. The attraction isn’t a moral act because it hasn’t yet been willed—and thus it’s not a sin. Even so, nothing can be done to properly “order” that attraction toward a good end. Such attractions must be abandoned, not willed. Whereas, with a man’s attraction toward a particular woman, that attraction is itself properly ordered, but circumstances can make it such that it ought not be acted upon anyway .

It is also important to stress that, despite some assertions to the contrary, the Church didn’t just make up this term for the sake of its teaching on homosexuality. It’s part of traditional Catholic moral teaching. For example, it appears in a 1989 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding contraception, not homosexuality:

Contraception is one of these acts in itself and of itself it is always a moral disorder since objectively and intrinsically (independently of subjective intentions, motives, and circumstances) it contradicts “the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife” (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, n. 32)….The same Christian moral tradition just referred to, has also always maintained the distinction – not the separation and still less an opposition – between objective disorder and subjective guilt. (“The Moral Norm of Humanae Vitae and Pastoral Duty)

Further, the 1995 document from the Pontifical Council for the Family titled “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality” tells us explicitly that we need ensure that our young people experiencing same-sex attraction get the full truth, stating that “Young people need to be helped to distinguish between the concepts of what is normal and abnormal, between subjective guilt and objective disorder” (Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality, no. 104).

One might try to argue that condemning homosexual acts should be sufficient, so why must a big deal be made about the inclination itself being disordered? The unfortunate truth is that, without the fullness of the Church’s teaching, very confusing situations can—and do—arise.

Some Catholics and others with same-sex attraction have actually sought to carve out room in the homosexual inclination for same-sex relationships that are built upon the inclination but never involve blatant same-sex sexual behaviors. This leads them to claim they are being “chaste” or “celibate” while simultaneously having same-sex “boyfriends,” going out on dates, even cuddling, spooning, and kissing just like a man and woman might do before marriage. It may be surprising to some readers, but justifications for same-sex “eros,” dating, and coupled “romance” are made routinely in some corners of the Church by those claiming a gay identity while seeking to avoid full-fledged sexual acting out.

Properly understanding the term “objectively disordered” is the only real solution to a confusing and vexing problem in the Church—the widespread embrace of orientation ideology. Also, lest we forget, there is one more hugely important reason we should not—we cannot—set aside this term and its real meaning.

A mere 20 years ago, Pope St. Paul II approved the “editio typica” of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This version featured important clarifications that had not appeared in the first release of the Catechism in 1992.

Guess what was added to the Catechism’s few paragraphs directly treating the subject of homosexuality? That’s right—Paragraph 2358 was updated with the crucial addition: “This inclination, which is objectively disordered…”

A saint of the Church made sure the term entered our universal catechism. He clearly thought it was important.

And I certainly agree.

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About Jim Russell 10 Articles
Jim Russell lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and writes on a variety of topics related to the Catholic faith, including natural law, liturgy, theology of the body and sexuality. He can be reached by email at


  1. We went from a sin that cries to Haven for vengeance to objectively disordered to now differently ordered. We should try reaffirming the traditional description of sodomy for once.

    • When one acknowledges that the words we chose shut down communications, we are bound in conscience to keep the dialogue open- that is, if we truly care. While there is scientific evidence that homosexuality is both genetically and psychologically complicated – in each case history experience- it is common sense to choose one’s words very carefully. To look someone- eye to eye- in the face and say there’s something intrinsically wrong with you, defeats the purpose of dialogue. Personally, “objectively disordered” should be avoided at all costs.
      When an exchange of rationale for both sides has occurred, mutual respect is established and a homosexual should feel the concern of his\her counselor. People are then open to seeing the breath of the issue. Perhaps they will discern whether their sexuality is rooted in nature vs nurture.
      That said, if one wants to influence current trends in weakening the Catechism’s Doctrine, keep the dialogue open by using respectful language that questions the current trend of recruiting youth into the homosexual and transgender communities. It is one thing to recognize the complexity of innate sexual attraction, it is quite another to accept the person while disowning the educational communities’ arrogance in assuming they hold the key to complex answers on human sexuality. Institutions of learning are bound to educate students to conduct research, however they have crossed the line when the advocate that children explore their sexual choices – before thes tendencies real themselves within each child.
      Deacon Jim, here is an area worth exploring. Instead of using language that is a non- issue in our current climate, explore productive research. How many sexual presences are natural? How many case stories are the result of the growing trend of acceptance and active recruiting into the LBGHTQ circle? Is it acceptable that school curriculum teaches areas where they are far from experts? Anna

  2. I have a close friend who is suffering from AIDS and other STDs, which came when he lived the “gay lifestyle.”

    He sums up the matter decisively, in this way: “It is insanity for adults to teach children that it is normal to inseminate our intestines.”

  3. If we go back to the Genesis Adam & Eve account, there is the clear implication that Eve was created by God first and foremost as a companion for Adam in part because none of the animals were sufficiently human like Adam. Procreation was not the primary or even the secondary goal, but human companionship/friendship was the goal of God’s creating Eve. The common humanity of the man and the woman was the overarching reality at play, not their male or female sexuality or sexual identity or orientation. They were to become “one flesh” through their common humanity not primarily through their sexual identity or by using their physical sexual organs. If anything, the exercise of their natural sexual desires as part of their duty to procreate might even be seen as an aspect of the punishment for eating the forbidden fruit. It seems to me it would be difficult to make a case for a union of two persons based on common humanity rather than sexual orientation to be “intrinsically disordered” when the implications of the Genesis creation account are considered.

    • Sorry, Jim Adams, but you are attempting a modernist, revisionist-inspired eisegesis instead of exegesis. Eisegesis is valid only when it is in continuity with the Tradition of the sacred text entrusted to the inspired community. While your basic interpretation was not without merit, you then tried to slip it out from the umbrella of Faith, the sensus fidei. Moreover, the moral equivalence you assume between different sexual orientation is derived from an ideologically-driven social construct, one contrary to the fact that the Biblical worldview assumes a single normative sexuality. Also, in view of any appropriate CATHOLIC Theology of the body, it is an error to treat procreation or the exercise of our first parents’ natural desires to do so as a punishment; that there would be _pain_ to child-bearing subsequent to the disobedience of the Fall is what the text implies but even that requires further nuancing. In service to the gay agenda, would you have us return to Gnostic or Cathar dualism? Choose Christ!

  4. Thanks Deacon Russell for addressing an important issue. You may be correct that a disordered inclination is not sinful unless acted upon, unless in my perspective an inclination is willed [Aquinas defines inclination as a rationally inclined, willed natural appetite or desire] as different from an initial natural desire. The inclination itself can in some, not all instances be due to a free act of the will and therefore itself sinful, defined by Aquinas as “a willed privation of direction to a due end” (ST 1a 49, 1).
    The matter I wish further explication on is the premise, mitigation of sin due to habit. “To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2352).” The issue is the understanding of 2352 Pope Francis gives in AL regarding a D&R, that culpability is reduced in cases to a minimum or completely and D&R are consequently subject to sanctifying grace suggesting communion as a viable option. In the case of a sin like masturbation the Catechism addresses habitual sin as a difficult disorder that nonetheless must be rectified, whereas the Pontiff perceives the condition as justification for allowing the sacraments without precondition. Furthermore, If habit can mollify culpability for someone afflicted with self abuse how does that same premise relate to a serial adulterer, a serial fornicator, a serial murderer? It seems that the doctrine of mitigation of sin due to habit is largely based on hypothesis.

    • Dear Father Morello,
      Thank you for posting, you put into words what I wanted to write. I believe St. Thomas also said that natural inclinations willed always to what is good and right. We cannot say this of the homosexual drive and other sinful inclinations. Actually it is my understanding that homosexuality is a chosen ( for N reasons ) life style, not really an inclination. But of course I am no expert on this, just my thoughts.

  5. QUOTE: It was called a “seismic shift” regarding the Church’s treatment of homosexuality . . .

    The sex seismologists (clerical & other) of the prior synod made a good college try to move the language of the Church “forward”. Am not sure they were that “utterly” defeated (or, at least, stalled).

    Sex seismologists are clever fellows. At the Synod on the Family it was enough they were able to set their Queer Theory dish on the table; they did not expect it to be licked clean. The synod fathers got a good whiff of its teasingly tempting aroma – and, the outsiders (the dish chefs & their clerical scullery maids) knew its smells where inhaled, and the knew that the

    For now, that was enough. (Let the opposition think as they wish) It’s called the Overton Window, a discourse operation which moves the conversation irreversibly forward. The next time around (e.g. the Synod on the Youth) the conversation window will have been moved closer to their goal.

    Now, the Catholic Queer Theorists – especially the clerical ones – may, at the Youth Synod, overplay their hand. Their confidence under this papacy is alarming. The Church faithful may be onto their game and, at the heroic moment, refuse to walk (let alone peer) through their dialogue window. Shutting, pulling the curtains on the Overton for good. Smash it to pieces, really!

    Time is short. That shutting, pulling, and smashing, must be done at the upcoming Youth Synod with such noise and force an earthquake cracks open under the (clerical) sex seismologists and swallows them up for good. A fissure so deep, the sucking sound so loud, the world will refuse to invite a (token) progressive prelate to their halal chicken, rainbow festooned, banquets again.

    Maybe they can’t because there’s none to found.

    Yet, gut-wise, I doubt it. The Synod on the Youth will open eyeballing a LGBTQ+ Overton Window framed and ready to be installed in the House of God. That window will be squeaky Windex clean; so crystal clear it will “welcome” the pass through of any light – even the Luciferian spectrum.

    I fear that. I anticipate it. I’ll even prophesy it! Why? Because that window’s (clerical) curtain pullers – its polishers & framers – have puppet strung the current papacy. Yes, regardless of this or that pulled quote by Pope Francis.

    Its almost as if Francis has become irrelevant in the great game of moving the Overton Window within the Church. He has fulfilled his role of entrenching dedicated Overton framers and pushers in the institutions of the Church – to the degree that those institutions have, themselves, been reframed as Overton Windows. Even the role of papal letters, instructions, and exhortations has been *re-purposed*.

    In spite of its ordinariness – and its public agenda – the Synod on the Youth will be revolutionary. Certainly so in how its outcome will be played out, but, as an event itself. The Overton Window has been so positioned that it will be the door from which the *the voice of the youth” will enter. In order to hear their voice – so says the framers and pushers – the Church (at least, the synod fathers) must “Overtonized” its language.

    Based on the hermeneutics of free-ranging pressure we can expect a radical change in the (public/pastoral) language of the Church. (Doctrinal change is beside the point; let the traditionalist graze – occupy their cuds – on that back 40 acre pasture). Its going to be bye, bye, to the nastiness of calling homosexuality disordered. The hermeneutics of Queer Theory, now Overtonized in the institutions of the Church – aggressively so under the covering of Francis’ papacy, is both the sign and the assurance the sex seismologists have won (will win, are in the process of winning).

    The surety of this prediction? It’s quite apparent to me. Fr, James Martin’s discourse bridge has yet to be dismantled, its debris tossed in the ravine.

    The Long March through the institutions is nearing its terminus. Done, under the generalship of Travistock, Frankfurt, UN & EU NGOs, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, RAND,DARPA contractors, BIS. All that’s left is for George Soros to lease an apartment in Vatican City!

    Maybe the healthy thing would be for the Catholic Queer Theorists to succeed at the Youth Synod. (The much vaunted “voice of the youth”, we are told, is begging for it.) That way the sand lines will be clearly drawn, starkly bold. We will then see who stand where. An urgent accounting. For eyeball to eyeball across that line the next (the inevitable, true) battle-line will come into focus: will the (Overtonized) pastoral changes imposed upon the Church be dogmitized; will the sex seismologists succeed in Cracking the Mind of Christ.

    Once victorious Fr. Martin can burn his own bridge down; there will be no need to dialogue and discourse. In my fallible mind I picture their victory. The signs and signaling are too many, raised too battlefield high.

    What’s a commoner Catholic to do? At this point I’m not expecting a Savior Papacy; maybe its time to wait upon a Constantine!

    Meanwhile, I’ll settle down in my Benedict Option. Have already done so. Withdrawn this, withdrawn that; stepped away from here and there. Still attend upon the One Thing Needful – no withdraw,there – but simply come and go.

    Will I be taking up permanent residency as a Benedictine? Don’t expect that; pilgrims here, you know. But, for now it will do. I look about and see the table set before me (and my grandson). I also see that Fr. James Martin (of course, S.J.) is setting the table, and most likely has cooked the meal. so what’s the point of sitting down.

    Fr Martin, with all his “disordered” discourse, can have the Youth Synod. I’ll take my grandson.

  6. I think the phase is unnecessarily ambiguous in English, because in English “objectively” is typically a synonym for “really and truly”, and “disordered” typically means “messed up”. Now it may be true that same-sex attraction is “really and truly messed up”, but that is not what the phrase is intended to mean. The phrase is intended to mean it is “ordered to the wrong object”, and I think it would be better to say it that way. Perhaps the ambiguity does not exist in the original language.

    • Yours is a distinction without a difference. Obviously, if something is ordered to the wrong object, it is objectively disordered.

      • 1. You should be aware that a word-for-word translation will not always most accurately render an idea from the original language. I explained why this is the case with “objective”. You chose to ignore that.
        2. This is even more the case when professional jargon is used. In everyday usage, “singular” might mean “unique” or even “exceptional”, but mathematicians will use it differently. It might well be a good idea for Church documents to use precise philosophical jargon, but that should not be used when talking to the public, especially when there is ambiguity about the everyday meaning.
        3. On a completely different topic, why do you feel it necessary to advertise your degree in the comment section? If people can’t tell your education from your comments alone, you really shouldn’t be bragging about it.

        • Relax, “Howard.” When I reply in a com box I generally use my Disqus account, which does not indicate “Dr.” Until recently, Catholic World Report also used Disqus, but does not any more, apparently. As soon as I type my email address in the Reply boxes indicating who I am, the autofill function on my MAC enters my professional name. Like you, I do not care about credentials, and didn’t even notice this until you pointed it out. (See, I just “fixed” it!)

  7. I had someone tell me that it is disordered to desire something that one knows they already have. A ‘something cant be true and false at the same time’ thing. They meant this regarding our male/female makeup. Is this reasonable?

  8. Here is a quote from one of the greatest saints ever regarding homosexuality. St. Catherine relays words of Our Lord, about the vice against nature, which contaminated part of the clergy in her time. Referrng to sacred ministers, He said: “They not only fail from resisting this frailty [ of fallen human nature]…but do even worse as they commit the cursed sin against nature. Like the blind and stupid having dimmed the light of the understanding, they do not recoginze the disease and misery in which they find themselves. For this not only causes Me nausea, but displeases even the demons themselves, whom these miserable creatures have chosen as their lords. For Me, this sin against nature is so abominable that , for it alone, five cities were submersed, by virtue of the jugdment of My Divine Justice, which could no longer bear them…It is disagreable to the demon, not because evil displeases them and they find pleasure in good, but because their nature is angelic and thus is repulsed upon seeing such an enormous sin being commited. It is true that it is the demons who hits the sinner with the poisoned arrow of lust, but when a man carries out such a sinful act, the demons leave.

    St.Catherine of Siena, El diabolo, in Orbas de Santa Catarina de Siena

  9. In defense of Deacon Russell there is an essential distinction between a natural attraction of a man toward a woman, even a strong attraction that is ordained in the nature of masculinity by God–as compared to and distinct to Lust. Lust is indiscriminate desire that gives willful consent to sexual relations with a female whether or not she is married, single, underage. What the Deacon said in that regard is correct.

  10. In all of the above comments, did anyone bring up the idea of the Bishops, who are the Apostolic succession of the original Apostles, and as such have been given by the Holy Spirit the power to set those people wholly free from same sex attraction who are willing to be set free, for the Bishops to do just that?? To Set free from homosexual attraction and inclination, those who desire to live the heterosexuality in which we are all created. The same sex desire and inclination are counterfeit to God’s creation of sexuality. Whatever the reason is, that a person has received this belief about their self, they have accepted a lie concerning their sexuality. Whether young or old when first awareness occurs, it is an untruth about themselves that they accepted. Except for those who choose to sin purposely this way, most are trying to fill the paternal and maternal lack in their lives by this means. Come Holy Spirit and move the Bishops to do this work, we pray dear Father, in Jesus’ Holy Name. God bless, C-Marie

  11. “God’s knowledge is infinite” according to Church dogma. Our knowledge is not. Catholics assume that God’s will is revealed to us because someone else, who is equally fallible and ignorant, lays out “what God meant”.
    Science shows us that same sex attraction and inter-sexed individuals exist in Nature, just as the sun lies at the center of our solar system. For over a millennium we decreed, “God placed the Earth at the center of the universe.” He didn’t. We depend on our acquired scientific knowledge to reveal what exists in the ‘Natural World’.
    Why does The Church have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the moral present? Our LGBT youth commit suicide at 5 times the rate of their heterosexual peers, while misguided adults, like Jim Russell and bishops, teach them, and these children’s persecutors, that they are “morally and objectively disordered”, when those children are as God has made them.
    The death of those children lies heavy on The Church’s head.

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