by Chris Bodenner

As a helpful reader pointed out, the chart I posted earlier curiously characterized the Catholic view of "homosexual orientation" as "Neutral or No Clear Position." To a religious layman that label seems absurd. But what exactly is the official, boiled-down position of the Church?  I don't have the Pope's phone number, so I went to the next best authority, Catholic.com:

[W]e must reject sin, including homosexual behaviorthat is, acts intended to arouse or stimulate a sexual response regarding a person of the same sex. The Catholic Church teaches that such acts are always violations of divine and natural law.

Homosexual desires, however, are not in themselves sinful. People are subject to a wide variety of sinful desires over which they have little direct control, but these do not become sinful until a person acts upon them, either by acting out the desire or by encouraging the desire and deliberately engaging in fantasies about acting it out. People tempted by homosexual desires, like people tempted by improper heterosexual desires, are not sinning until they act upon those desires in some manner.

Along those lines, the chart's creator, ReligiousTolerance.org, opted for the label "homosexual orientation" over "gay sex," while it referred to "teen sex" and "premarital sex" elsewhere. So it appears their methodology took into account the Catholic parsing of desire and behavior.  I personally think such parsing is bullshit (e.g. how exactly is "deliberately engaging in fantasies" an action?).  But in the mind of a strict Catholic, a homosexually-oriented person who's never engaged in gay sex is still neutral to sin.

As far as the other chart's characterization the reader took issue with - masturbation - Catholic.com says:

[T]he Church’s sees homosexual and masturbatory acts as in the same category. Dealing with masturbation, The Catechism calls masturbation "an intrinsically and gravely disordered action" (CCC 2352). [...] The Church makes the same moral judgment about masturbation that it makes about homosexual acts.

So why ReligiousTolerance.org categorized masturbation as "Condemned In Most Cases" rather than "Neutral..." is beyond me. But I'll make sure to call them for an answer and clear it with Patrick before posting any of their charts in the future.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.