This is a transcript of my presentation with my mother, Beverley Belgau, at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, in conjunction with Pope Francis’s first pastoral visit to the United States. The World Meeting of Families is a global Catholic event, like World Youth Day. The first World Meeting of Families was called together by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994 to celebrate the International Year of the Family. It has grown into the largest gathering of families in the world, and this year’s meeting in Philadelphia beat all previous attendance records.
This was also the first time in the history of the World Meeting that an openly gay—and celibate—Catholic was invited to speak about his experiences in the Church and in his family.
Because of a room scheduling snafu, we started late (the room was filled to overflowing and hundreds of people were reportedly turned away). To make up, we cut some material on the fly. This reflects the original transcript, not the presentation as delivered. Because this talk highlights a lot of points we have made at Spiritual Friendship over the years, I’ve included links to other posts, if you want to learn more.
After the formal presentation, we answered audience questions for over two hours; even then, we only left because the Convention Center staff said we had to leave; there were still dozens of people in the room listening, and people in line waiting to ask questions. This speaks to just how important it is for the Church to take more time to talk about how families and parishes can respond to their lesbian and gay members with Christ-like love.
Given the length of the presentation, I have added numbered paragraphs to help locate material within the text.
“Always Consider the Person”: Homosexuality in the Family
1. Thank you all for coming. We’re excited to be here.
We’re grateful to the organizers of World Meeting of Families—particularly Archbishop Chaput—for the invitation. It sends a message to the whole Church that we need to talk about how Catholic families and parishes can minister with Christ-like love to the gay and lesbian people in their midst.
In addition to the organizers, many people have helped us make this presentation happen. If we tried to thank everyone who helped us in one way or another to prepare for this event, we wouldn’t have time to give the presentation. Let me just say, you know who you are, and we’re profoundly grateful for everything you’ve done.
2. We know that there are many people here from all over the world, and that many of you come from cultural situations very different from those in the United States. We have tried to focus less on the big cultural and political debates in our country, and more on our immediate, personal experiences. We hope this will make our words more universally relevant, even if our experiences emerge out of a culture rather different from your own.
3. I’m glad all of you are here. But I want to explicitly welcome everyone in the audience who is skeptical about, or disagrees with the Church on this issue. I know some of you have had very painful experiences with your family or with the Church in the past. I’ve been hurt myself, as I’ll talk about a bit in a moment. It can be hard—sometimes impossible, humanly speaking—to let go of that bitterness.
No matter how much you disagree with me—whether you think I’m too “conservative” or too “liberal”—I’m glad you’re here, and I hope that, even if we can’t reach an agreement today, this session can still be a step toward healing and reconciliation. And I believe that the hope for reconciliation reaches to the highest levels of the Church—and not just to Pope Francis, but to God.
4. A moment ago, I said we’re excited to be here. That’s not completely true. Over the last few months, I’ve alternated between being excited about the World Meeting of Families and terrified about it. My mother has felt the same. The excitement came when I thought about the opportunity to talk about God’s love for people who often feel left out of the Church. The terror usually came after I’d read something about myself on the Internet—especially the bottom half of the Internet, where you find the comment boxes. I’m sure you folks read the Internet, too, so I’ll just leave that to your imagination.
5. In the last few weeks, though, one of the beautiful things has been getting random messages of encouragement from old friends I haven’t heard from in years, and strangers I’d never heard of before, many from all over the world. It’s a reminder of the love that truly is at the center of the Church, even when it gets obscured by our tendency to fight with each other.
6. It’s also a reminder that this is truly an important topic for the Church at this time in history. It’s one of the biggest points of conflict both between the Church and the surrounding culture, and within the Church herself. So many people have been hurt, and so many people are afraid of what the future holds. This can create a very tense, hostile public debate, as all of us have seen over the last few years.
7. But the public debate often obscures much more personal struggles.
Last month, I saw a post online by a 17-year-old Catholic who had recently realized he was gay. “The Church has a lot to say about what I’m not supposed to do,” he wrote. But after searching and searching he couldn’t find any Church document that told him what a gay person is supposed to do with their life. “I kind of feel abandoned by the Church,” he concluded.
“I feel abandoned by the Church.” All around him, in movies, at school—even in Theology of the Body videos—he hears about how wonderful marriage, romance, sex can be. Then Church tells him he can’t have this wonderful thing with anyone he’s attracted to. And all he hears is no. No sex. No marriage. No romance. And it seems like that means no love. Lifelong loneliness.
8. The week after the Supreme Court decision was announced, I spoke at a Catholic youth conference. At the beginning of my talk, I asked the audience: “How many of you heard about the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision last week?” And, of course, almost every hand in the audience of several hundred went up.
Then I asked: “How many of you know that the Catholic Church is opposed to gay marriage?” Again, virtually everyone raised their hand.
Then I asked, “How many have heard something positive you could tell a lesbian, gay, or bisexual friend about how the Church’s teaching on chastity can help them to live a good life?” This time, about half a dozen, maybe a dozen hands went up.
That, my friends, is a huge problem.
9. Whether we’re talking about a packed auditorium at a youth conference, or about a desperate kid who is looking for answers and feels abandoned by the Church, our no has come through loud and clear; but our yes is getting lost amidst the noise, when it’s even there to begin with.
10. My mom and I are both completely committed to the Catholic Church’s teaching on human sexuality—and on everything else, as well. But we don’t think the problem is that people don’t know what the Church says about sexual ethics; the problem is that we haven’t done enough to help people to live the teaching. All too often, we’ve bound on heavy burdens without lifting a finger to help.
Audience: Families and pastors.
11. In God’s plan, the family is the primary source of formation and education for children, and the parish is an important center of education and pastoral care.
Gay and lesbian Catholics—or Catholics who struggle with same-sex attraction, if you’re more comfortable with that language—shouldn’t have to be afraid to talk honestly about our lives with our families. We should also be able to be part of the life of our parishes, contributing our gifts to the Church and receiving pastoral care.
In a 2006 document on Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, the USCCB stressed the importance of friendship within both the family and the parish as a source of pastoral support.
12. The Church is the place where God’s love and grace enable sinners to help each other become saints. I have my struggles, just like everyone else in the room. But God doesn’t save any of us as isolated spiritual heroes. Each of us has been given gifts to encourage and support each other. And each of us has struggles that we can only overcome with God’s grace, and with the help and support of Christian community.
Pope Francis: “We Must Always Consider the Person
13. In a 2013 interview, Pope Francis said, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.”
14. Some of the news coverage leading up to the World Meeting has described me as the “official face” of celibate gay Catholicism. But the last thing I want out of this is for everyone to be looking at me.
Every parish has kids in the pews who don’t think they can talk about their sexuality. Every parish has families who are afraid to talk to their friends about their gay or lesbian child or brother or sister or aunt or nephew or cousin. I hope that when you return to your families and your parishes, you will be more open to listening to and accompanying your friends, your family members, your fellow parishioners with whatever struggles they face. And that you will speak up to counter the silence and stigma that makes it so difficult for many people to talk about this issue.
15. In truth I have only two qualifications for this presentation. First I am a Catholic Christian woman trying to live my life according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Second I am Ron’s mother.
I agreed to do this presentation without much understanding of what the World Meeting of Families was. When I began to understand I went to church one morning and began praying. “I am nothing and nobody. I have no training to qualify me to do this presentation. And why O Lord my God are you asking me to do this?” And over time I realized that the answer to that prayer, and therefore what I am going to try to say to you today, is that God loves and forgives sinners.
In the midst of all the controversy over this issue, we must remember that God loves and forgives sinners.
16. To set this stage I want you to know that I believe in the Universal Call to Holiness. I believe that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second commandment is to love my neighbor. I understand the difference between love for the sinner and tolerance for the sin. I agree with the teachings of the Catholic Church about homosexual activity and about gay marriage. I believe that sin—not just homosexual sin but all sin—is abhorrent to God. I believe that Jesus loves sinners enough to come and die for us to make of us an offering to God.
17. I want to share with you one of the worst days of my life. Ron, aged about 21, came to me and told me that he was same sex attracted. He said that he had searched the scriptures trying to convince himself that homosexual activity was consonant with God’s will. Instead he realized that it was not. Therefore his only option was celibacy. He had pledged himself to be celibate. You may think that the fact that he is celibate makes my life easier, and certainly in some ways it does, but nevertheless his is a difficult life, for him and, vicariously, for me. To be same sex attracted in an environment with lingering homophobia and publicly celibate in a sexually free society is no easy road to walk.
To have your child tell you that he is same sex attracted is shocking and deeply saddening, but that was not what made it such a bad day. What brought me to tears and hysterics was that he was going to tell his dad. His dad, believing that homosexuality was a choice, and fearing that Ron would make that choice, had been bombarding him with what I will call “negative statements about homosexuality”.
I believed that he would disown Ron.
I knew that I would not disown Ron.
And so I was afraid that our marriage and our family would be destroyed.
Ron then came back into the room and told Frank about his same sex attraction. Frank hugged him, told him he loved him, and said this didn’t make any difference to him.
18. Ron has since said that what he took away from this was that you should never predict how family members will respond to this news. And this indeed is true. I would go further.
Do not think you know how people will react—certainly.
Do not think that you know why they are reacting as they are.
Do not think that everyone will respond in the same way.
Do not think that an individual’s first response will necessarily be their ongoing response.
19. Frank had been trying to prevent what he thought was a bad choice. He has since said that what he did was wrong. He said I needed to tell the World Meeting that what he did was wrong. Young men and women growing up and struggling with turbulent teen age hormones and same sex attraction do not need negative comment. They need love and understanding and acceptance, counsel and support.
20. Although I was grateful for Ron’s decision to abide by the teachings of scripture and to be celibate, I was heartbroken for all that I saw he would lose by living a celibate life. I was terrified at the disruption I thought it would bring to our family. But I underestimated the family.
Dealing with same sex attraction—your own or somebody else’s—is a trial. And sometimes same sex attraction seems like the worst trial. And sometimes it seems like the one trial that you can’t share. Many trials, job loss, failure, illness, we can share with our neighbors, with our closest friends, with our church community, with our families. We can ask them to pray and they will. But this sometimes feels like the one trial that you can’t share. This is not a simple issue. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about same sex attraction. A lot of stereotypes are attached to same sex attracted people.
The last thing you need to hear when your heart is breaking for your child is negative uninformed comment.
21. After all, what is the purpose of a trial? To teach us, to help us to grow in love for God and love for neighbor. In all things God works for good for those who love him—for those who are called according to His purpose. Some 30 years ago God showed me that what is important in my prayers for my children is to ask that they develop a love for Him, that they seek His calling for their lives. My temptation of course is to ask that their circumstances be changed to what I think they should be. That they themselves should be changed to what I think they should be. This is disastrous, since they belong to God and are only lent to me to nurture for a period.
And I am grateful that the prayer was answered. Ron does indeed love God and is I believe called according to the purpose God has for him.
22. This realization was one of the preparations that God provided for me before ever Ron shared his same sex attraction. There were others. For several years in the early 90’s I was the Secretary to the AIDS coordinator in the County Health Department. Because of this I knew a lot more about homosexuality, same sex attraction and the AIDS epidemic than the average person.
23. Shortly after Ron shared his same sex attraction, I attended a retreat. There was much conversation in those days about same sex attraction and several things were said that pierced me like swords. Later the pastor’s wife asked me how I had enjoyed the retreat. I said I would have enjoyed it a lot more without the negative references to same sex attraction. She replied, “Oh, I didn’t notice any references to that”.
And this is a point. We, until the issue arises in our own families, have developed such a “them and us” philosophy about homosexuality that we are not aware that the person sitting next to us may be struggling with same sex attraction. We may have a friend or relative struggling with same sex attraction. Someone near to you may be struggling, and struggling in silence, with the issue of same sex attraction generally, or homosexual activity in particular. And many of us, unaware of the prevalence of the problem, are equally unaware of the negative, ridiculing remarks made casually by ourselves or by others. We are desensitized to the feelings of those struggling with the problem.
24. In my preparation for this presentation I decided that I should read the Catechesis for the World Meeting of Families. Finally, in chapters 7 and 8 of 10, I got to the sections on same sex attraction. I had read the previous chapters with a growing sense of frustration and a crying in my heart that “this isn’t helping me. This is a beautiful Catechesis, but it isn’t helping me.” But it was helping me by letting me feel how the same sex attracted person often feels in the church. Ignored—marginalized—rejected.
25. Actually, if the teaching of the Catechesis on same-sex attraction were really fleshed out practically in the life of families and parishes, it could be beautiful. But with other aspects of family life, a lot of the teaching in the Catechesis is already being lived out to some extent or another. When I read those words, they correspond to some degree with good things I experience in my family and in the life of my parish. But even when the Catechesis spoke beautiful words about loving those with same-sex attraction, the words didn’t correspond to what I see in Catholic parish life.
26. There is in the catechesis a great deal about discerning your vocation, and for all Catholics there are four choices—the priesthood, religious life, covenant marriage, or lay celibacy. I don’t say that all Catholics choose one of those 4 vocations, but those are the options the church offers us, and those are the options from which we are encouraged to discern our vocation. For the same sex attracted individual there is no discernment to it. Celibate and more or less lonely is the only option the church seems to offer to folks who admit to same sex attraction. Ron will speak more to this issue.
27. The same sex attracted person wants sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex. This is legal in our society. For the same sex attracted person who is also a Christian, who believes that the acting out, living out of their same sex attraction is forbidden, however, the problem is much more complex.
They too want to be loved.
They too want to love.
They too want closeness.
They too want commitment given and received. And this is forbidden.
They want (some of them) to be able to share their struggles with other Christians without having to see those other Christians draw away in horror or revulsion.
28. My mom has already told you enough about my coming out experience for you to understand how difficult my adolescence was. I’ve been writing and speaking about my sexuality for almost twenty years now, but have not talked about my experience with my dad in depth before, because I love him, and I did not think it would honor him or help our relationship to dredge this up in public.
As my mom and I prepared for the World Meeting of Families, however, my dad told us that we had to tell this story. There were other parents out there making the same mistake of thinking that harsh words about gay people would “scare their children straight.” They needed to hear about this before they made the same mistakes he made. And helping save other kids from suffering what I had suffered was important enough to him that he wanted us to tell the story, even if it cast him in a negative light.
But I hope the overall moral of his story is positive. Before my dad’s reaction to my sexuality entered the picture, we had had a very close relationship. We had numerous similar interests, and did a lot together. I have a lot of really happy childhood memories of my dad. And he has been tremendously supportive of me in the years since I came out and we began to reconcile.
I don’t think my 17-year-old self could ever have imagined my dad being as passionate as he is about protecting kids from homophobia. But it’s a reminder everyone can grow and transform.
29. Turning back the clock to my adolescence, it never really hit home to me just how big a burden I was carrying until I was telling the story to a friend in college. He looked at me incredulously and said, “I can’t imagine what it would be like having to plan for being cut off by my family.” For him, despite the usual teenage conflicts with his parents, the possibility of being completely cut off had never even entered his mind.
Despite my struggles, I was reasonably lucky. I got a job as an intern at Microsoft when I was 19, and by 21, I thought I was financially secure enough to take the risk of coming out to my parents. My mom has already told you a bit about that story.
30. You might think that my dad’s reaction was good news, and in some sense it was. But in another sense, it would have seemed much easier if he’d kicked me out. Then I could have just moved on, tried to put the pain behind me, and hoped that eventually the scabs on my psyche would stop hurting. His plea for forgiveness for the way he had hurt me opened up a new problem.
“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We repeat Christ’s words over and over again: but do we really understand what they demand? A lot of times when we forgive someone, what we really are doing is saying, “it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
I couldn’t say that to my dad. This was a very big deal.
Or else, when we forgive, we are really bargaining, thinking, “what does this person have to do for me to make up the damage they’ve done?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing everything we can to make up the damage we’ve done. But in this case, nothing I could imagine my dad doing for me in the future would ever undo the damage done in my vulnerable teen years.
31. So I faced a basic question: did I believe the Gospel or not? Did I believe that Christ had died not only for my sins, but for my dad’s? And if I believed that, could I go on clinging to my dad’s sins against me if he had sincerely asked for forgiveness?
More than anything else, this talk is about that question: do we believe that what the Church teaches is true? Do we believe that we should forgive even those who repeatedly sin against us? Do we believe that the story of the Prodigal Son or the woman taken in adultery have been given to us by the God who created the entire Universe, to reveal to us how He loves us?
32. A lot of times, we don’t want to really face up to the radical implications of believing or not believing what God has revealed to us. We want to live more or less like everybody else, except maybe with a few more rules to follow, and getting to Church Sunday morning.
With my dad, that wouldn’t have been good enough. The only way I was able to forgive my dad was to examine what he had done to me in light of Christ on the cross. And by bringing what he had done to the cross, we began to rebuild a relationship that had been torn apart over almost a decade.
33. I don’t want to make light of the difficulty involved in restoring relationships after a conflict like this. As I say, it was only through many hours of prayer focused on Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, spread over an extended period of time, that I was able to forgive. And in very real ways, the process of forgiveness is still ongoing.
But through this experience, I came to see not only that Christ understood my suffering, but that in the mystery of God’s providence, this had helped me, just a little bit, to understand His suffering.
Thus, from the most painful experience in my own life, I came away with a closer friendship with Christ, the friendship that comes from having gone through a terrible ordeal together and having gotten to know each other more deeply in the process.
34. Thankfully, I was never thrown out of my home. But for several years, I volunteered at a shelter for homeless youth, and met those who had been. More recently, Spiritual Friendship published an interview with a Catholic woman who is a homeless advocate. It’s something everyone who wants to think about how families and parishes can respond to “the least of these” should read and reflect on.
35. It’s almost impossible, in a short presentation like this, to really give a sense of my whole story, so I’m going to skip a lot; if you look up the Spiritual Friendship website, however, and look for this talk, I’ve included links to some of my autobiographical essays, if you’re interested in learning more. (See: Notre Dame Magazine: My Alternative Lifestyle, What does Sexual Orientation Orient?, Celibacy and Martyrdom, Spiritual Friendship and Christian Ministry, Day of Silence)
36. But I’ll try to give just a thumbnail sketch here.
About a decade ago, the editor of Notre Dame Magazine asked me to write about why I had chosen to follow the Church’s teaching on sexuality. But he said he didn’t want me to write an argument about theology or philosophy. He wanted me to describe it narratively. If you knew me at the time, you would realize that this was a little like asking Einstein to describe his theories without numbers, using only finger paints. But, he offered to pay me, so I said I’d give it a shot.
I wove together stories with two of my friends, Jason, and Mark.
37. I met Jason in my late teens at a mixer at new student orientation at the University of Washington. I had wandered over to the food table and was trying to decide what to put on my plate when I realized that I knew the face beside me from high school debate tournaments—one of those guys you recognize by sight and might occasionally exchange a few words with, but have never really gotten to know.
“I’m terrible at this social-mixing thing,” I said, awkwardly plunging into conversation.
“I don’t like it that much either,” he replied, creating an instant sense of solidarity: two sane introverts amid the mixing, extroverted crowd.
We found the most remote corner we could find and started to chat.
“So, what do you want to be when you graduate?”
“An aeronautical engineer,” said I.
“A pilot,” said he.
38. We quickly became best friends. We studied together almost every day, explored Seattle together, went to the IMAX at Seattle Center, made a pilgrimage to the Museum of Flight, stayed up late arguing about the meaning of life and the problem of evil, hung out in coffee shops on rainy days, walked the Burke-Gilman trail when the weather was good (by Seattle standards, anyway).
By the time I met Jason, I was beginning to form the conviction that being a Christian meant I could never have sex with a man. Being friends with him strengthened that conviction in a way that is probably surprising.
39. On weekends, we’d walk down to the Blockbuster Video in University Village and spent far too much time trying to decide what movie to get. Then we’d go back up to the dorm to watch; and if we had the room to ourselves, we might hold hands or cuddle. I’d been sexually attracted to men since adolescence, but Jason and I never had sex; I didn’t even fantasize about sex with him.
What was this? At the time I thought of it as an odd kind of gay relationship, because “romance” was the only cultural category I knew for the kind of closeness I felt for him. I associated “friendship” with something much more distant.
40. As the years have gone by, though, I’ve come to realize that it was, in its depths, a deep friendship, which could have been corrupted by lust or sexual activity, but which was not. And the surprise was that obedience to my nascent Christian convictions about sexuality actually deepened the friendship—and the friendship deepened those convictions and helped me to realize that love is not the same as sex.
41. One night, we watched Out of Africa, his head resting on my chest.
“Have you ever thought about becoming a missionary?” he asked, when the movie was over. We talked about getting a plane and being missionaries in Africa, our imaginations fueled by the magnificent aerial cinematography when Denys takes Karen up in his plane and they fly above mountains and waterfalls, over grassy plains and sandy beaches of Africa.
In a way, this was a fairly immature dream, and neither of us has followed through on it; but it was also the first time in my life I saw the possibility of a vocation: a way of serving God where I could be obedient to Christian teaching on sexuality, have meaningful relationships, and serve in a place where being unmarried actually made me better suited for work that would be difficult or dangerous for men with families to care for.
42. The relationship with Jason taught me my first lessons in chaste friendship. In the article, I tried to draw parallels between this friendship and a later friendship with Mark, who is straight. With Mark, there was none of the quasi-romantic dynamic that I had with Jason. But from that I learned that much of the intimacy and support that had meant so much with Jason was due more to friendship than to romance. And the friendship with Mark has turned out to be more stable and long-lasting.
43. As I’ve become more and more involved in speaking and writing about how the Church should respond to gay and lesbian people, I’ve made numerous friends who share this struggle. I was in Courage for many years, and experienced first-hand “the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life,” and benefited greatly from friends who “encouraged one another in forming and sustaining them.”
44. Of course, there can be dangers in friendship with another gay man, and I’ve known lots of Christians who are striving for chastity but who fall in to sin through friendship. We need to guard our own hearts, and be wary of putting ourselves in danger. But from these experiences, I have also learned that friendship can be a school of virtue—even when there is a potential for sexual attraction. Growing together in Christ-centered love is the best antidote to lust I have yet experienced.
45. One of the defining moments in my intellectual development came a couple of years after I met Jason, when I read Aelred of Rievaulx’s dialogue on Spiritual Friendship. From Aelred, I learned that true friendship is concerned with virtue and shared discipleship, and that sexual desire and activity is a distraction from friendship’s true end.
That is why the blog I founded is called Spiritual Friendship. (See this roundup of some of our most important posts on friendship.)
46. At every stage of preparing for this talk, I have grieved over the important parts of my story I had to cut in the interests of time. Still, I hope this gives at least some glimpse of the answer I would offer to the young man who has searched Church documents and found no answer. I would point him to the call to friendship that has been made in Church documents on homosexuality since the 1970s. I would try to explain how the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship and, far from harming intimacy, makes it more secure.
And to the rest of us, I would reiterate the bishops’ call to make the family and the parish a place of friendship—friendship for all, of course, but friendship which fully extends to gay and lesbian persons and their families.
An Issue or a Person?
“They are a threat to the sanctity of marriage”
48. Perhaps, but not nearly as big a threat as divorce, infidelity, pornography, premarital sex. As Christians, and especially as Catholics, we spend a great deal of time and money being against, and loudly publically against, gay marriage. And I believe we should be against it. But perhaps we should spend more of our time teaching the beauty of God’s intent for marriage—being for that instead of against all the various aberrations.
And perhaps, though I am not advocating making more people feel uncomfortable in the Catholic church, we should be more consistent in our defense of marriage—not just that it is between one man and one woman, but that it should be practiced in a way consistent with God’s plan for it. That will never be popular within our culture but our duty is not to be popular in the culture.
Besides being against gay marriage, we would have to be equally against divorce, infidelity, pornography, premarital sex. And of course we should be against those things—we probably are against those things—but we do not allow ourselves to lose our love for the sinner in our opposition to the sin. With homosexual behavior our love for the sinner is often submerged by our hatred of the sin. (This is why the phrase, “Love the sinner but hate the sin” can be so alienating to many same sex attracted people.)
“They are trying to take away our religious liberty”
49. I don’t think as a group that they are. Of course there are some bigots in the gay movement as there are some bigots in our congregations. I expect there are many same sex attracted individuals who would just like to feel that they are welcome within the body of Christ, and that there is empathy there for the struggles they face. Many others would prefer just to live and to let live.
I read a statement recently regarding divorced and remarried Catholics who have not obtained an annulment of the first marriage, but still want to be a part of the church. It said that although of course they could not receive communion, they should be treated as valued members of the congregation and welcomed to participate in many church activities.
And so what of the many same sex attracted men and women who struggle to remain celibate and sometimes struggle and fall? Are we reaching out to them? Are we offering them encouragement in their struggle? Are we welcoming them to participate in church activities? I think there is a deep-seated belief that homosexual sin is “worse” than heterosexual sin. That at least heterosexual sin is “normal”. Well, sadly sin is “normal” in that we all commit sin, but sin is also abhorrent to God.
Jesus came to save sinners and to make of us an offering to God. We are commanded to love even our enemies. These men and women are not our enemies but human beings loved by God. Are we exhibiting His love to them?
“They Should Get Over It”
50. I hardly know how to respond or even to comment on that although I have heard it said often enough to be included here. These individuals have not chosen to be same sex attracted. They can’t just “get over it” any more than you and I can “get over” our heterosexual attraction. They can, as we can, control how they express it.
“What Use is Celibacy? They Need Not to Be Same-Sex Attracted”
51. Well, there is use in celibacy, even if it’s unchosen. There is a difference between being tempted and giving in to the temptation.
Is it a Choice?
52. Sexual attraction is largely unchosen; how we act on it, as my mom just said, is a matter of choice.
One thing I want highlight again: a lot of Christians falsely believe that being attracted to the same sex is a choice. My dad was one of them. A lot of the anti-gay stuff I heard growing up—both from him and from the church I grew up in—was a fruit of this. He hoped to scare me away from making the “choice” to be gay. What nearly happened was that he pushed me out of the family and away from my faith.
You may have heard of things like a “gay gene,” or you may have heard that homosexuality is caused by bad parental relationships. At this point, the scientific community has not settled on any clear explanation of sexual orientation. And the Church says, that the psychological genesis of homosexuality “remains largely unexplained” (Catechism 2357).
Can People Change?
53. The Gospel is the power to change lives.
In our culture, however, which makes everything about sexual desire, we often only count changed sexual desires as “change.” But while growing in Christ changes us, it does not necessarily make us desire the opposite sex. It means transforming our desires so that they help us to fulfill the vocation God has given us. No one who is called to marriage has desires that line up perfectly with that. Some people with predominant attractions to the same sex are nevertheless called to marriage, and the Spiritual Friendship blog has a number of personal stories about couples in that situation. Others of us are called to chastity in the single state, and that requires deep purification of desire in order to be lived well.
The Catechism teaches that the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship, and speaks both of friendship with both the same and the opposite sex. All too often, even those whose main mission is to talk about chastity talk about chastity in the context of dating or courtship, and forget the relationship that the Catechism speaks of as the context for growth in chastity.
54. Let’s talk about the word, “disorder.” It’s controversial.
Here’s what usually happens. A Catholic begins to recognize that he is struggling with same-sex attraction, so he opens up the Catechism, looks for homosexuality in the index, turns to paragraph 2357, reads the phrase, “intrinsically disordered,” and freaks out. “The Church is saying that I’m mentally ill!” he says. “Why is the Church so down on me?”
55. A few years ago, Cardinal George observed, “The Church speaks, in moral and doctrinal issues, a philosophical and theological language in a society that understands, at best, only psychological and political terms. Our language is exact, but it does not help us in welcoming men and women of homosexual orientation. It can seem lacking in respect. This is a pastoral problem and a source of anxiety for me.”
56. Part of the problem is that few Catholics know enough about what the Catechism says about human sexuality and the disorder due to sin to be able to place those words in context.
Paragraphs 1606 and 1607 talk about how disordered heterosexual desires damage marriage. Paragraphs 1750-1756 use fornication as an example of an intrinsically disordered act. Paragraph 1753 describes lying and calumny intrinsically disordered. Paragraph 2351 says that sexual pleasure that is “sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” is “morally disordered.” 2352 calls masturbation “intrinsically and gravely disordered.”
57. When the Church speaks of human sexuality, She has in mind the order God created in the beginning, and when She speaks of disordered acts or desires, She means anything which in some way contradicts that order. Everyone in this room has disordered sexual desires, and the vast majority of us have engaged in disordered sexual practices. The language of the Catechism does not single out same-sex desires as especially disordered; they are one of many ways that the fall has twisted our desires away from the created order as God established it.
58. The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales clarify, “In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered.” To love a person—as I loved my friend Jason—is not, in itself, disordered, and long as the love is ordered to the ends proper to same-sex friendship. Indeed, such a love can result—as it did for me, in great growth in chastity.
59. Words like “disorder” are precise technical terms in the Church’s vocabulary, not intended to be emotionally laden. But that is not always how they are heard. We should use great care with using these terms without careful explanation. As Cardinal George feared, such language can be misunderstood and do great damage.
The Love of God Expressed
60. Recently I rode with someone who had OnStar, so we were receiving instructions to get where we were going. However, the driver was telling us about something and consistently missed turns. And we would hear “You are off route. Do you want directions to get back on route?”
You must realize that many same sex attracted individuals do not believe they are off route. They don’t want to get back on route. They want the route to be changed. We must continue to love them, serve them pray for them.
The Church through her teachings consistently asks this question “Do you want directions to get back on route?” We are consistently forced to answer yes or no. With OnStar, for those who wanted to get back on route, the directions always started “As soon as possible make a safe and legal U-turn.”
61. We are all—everyone on the planet—on a journey toward God. Some of us know it—some of us don’t. The Church, through the Pope, the magisterium, the bishops and the priests, speaks with God’s authority to get us back on route.
There are two routes. One is straight and narrow and involves listening to God’s voice, obeying the commandments, repenting of sin (which involves making an immediate U-turn to the confessional) and growing in love for God and neighbor. This way ends in happily, serving God in heaven forever. The other route is broad and wide. It is a way of ignorance, rebellion, denial, and rejection which still leads to God but results in judgment and damnation. It is best to choose the first, more difficult, road.
62. I spent 45 years of my life as a Baptist thinking I was a good person. I have spent 8 years as a Catholic discovering that I am not. When I shared this with my daughter she said “that’s what I hate about the Catholic Church. They are always telling you everything you do is wrong.” But strangely it wasn’t anyone telling me that what I was doing was wrong. It was the encouragement in the Catholic Church to seek holiness, and the ability of the Holy Spirit to show me, once I was sincerely interested in knowing, where I needed to change. It is part of the Holy Spirit’s job description to convict of sin. We need to be open to His ability to do it, for ourselves and for those we love.
God’s voice does not change to accommodate the increasing godlessness of our culture. Scripture says “Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
63. As parents of young children hopefully we did not conform our principles to accommodate our children’s desires not to clean their rooms, not to eat their vegetables, not to do their homework, and to play video games all day. Neither can we expect the Church our mother, the voice of God our Father, to change the rules to suit our convenience.
We must love others unconditionally for they too are children of God. We must forgive constantly. We must speak the truth in love. We must never encourage anyone to sin. We must never approve of sin. We must remember that every same sex attracted person belongs to God, and God loves him or her unconditionally. He is merciful and forgiving. He never encourages sin.
64. There are two stories in scripture that represent the different ways we can respond to sinners. You know the stories so well that I will not repeat them here. There is the father of the prodigal son, watching for his son and seeing him far off, and there are the Pharisees wanting to stone the woman taken in adultery. We always have these two choices in our response to the sinner. We can forgive and love or we can throw rocks, perhaps only verbal rocks, but rocks all the same.
65. My real job in life is to live kindly and compassionately with those God puts before me, especially my spouse and my family, but really everyone I meet throughout the day. The problems that come are sent by God specifically to teach me something or by the enemy to trip me up. In either case God is there to guide and direct. God speaks through the church and through scripture and both reiterate the commandments to love God and to love others – sinners whom Jesus loved and for whom He died.
“A Home for the Wounded Heart”
66. The Catechesis for the World Meeting of Families invites us to make our families and parishes into places where wounded hearts can find a home. This means, above all, being willing to listen and to love. Love is not the same as simply accepting things that are contrary to God’s will. But we can only bind on the heavy burdens of obedience to God if we are willing to help lift them. If we are unwilling to help, it pushes people away.
67. There’s a critic of mine who is quick to condemn anything which he thinks is insufficiently clear in reaffirming Church teaching condemning homosexual acts and disordered desires. However, he has never, to my knowledge, done anything to help those who struggle. When I asked him that question a few months ago, he refused to answer.
Recently, a gay man who grew up in church, but left when he was treated with derision after bringing his struggle to the people of his church, said that he’s successfully used screen shots from my critic’s posts about homosexuality to deconvert Catholic youth who come to him distraught due to family and church rejection. It would be nice if this were just slander by an enemy of the Church: but I have had to talk numerous people who have read his posts out of leaving the Catholic Church.
This is why Christ Himself pronounced woe on those who bind on heavy burdens and who will not lift a finger to help.
68. But let’s also remember Christ’s words when the Pharisees had conspired to have Him executed. As He was being nailed to the cross, He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” The greatest missionary of apostolic era was St. Paul, the converted Pharisee, who had not only persecuted the Church, but participated in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.
God loves even His worst enemies.
69. We must speak out to make the Church a home for the wounded heart; but sometimes those who are quickest to wound have the most deeply wounded hearts. It is only in the mystery of the cross, the mystery of God Himself broken by our sins and for our sins, that we can reach the depth of love necessary to love those who have wounded us, to truly heal our own wounds, and to make our homes and our parishes refuges for other wounded hearts. Even those, like my father, who have inflicted terrible wounds on others, can repent and be restored by grace. And it is Christ who helps us to move past our own wounds, and to see the person even in those who have wounded us.
Pope Francis: “We Must Always Consider the Person”
70. Pope Francis calls us to focus not on a person’s struggle or sin, but on the person themselves, to love them, and to accompany them. He calls us to meet them where they’re at, and to show them love and mercy.
Many here struggle with anger at the Church because, when we came to get help, we were seen as an issue, not a person. We were given heavy burdens, but little help, and were not accompanied with mercy. I hope that by talking about this today, we can understand more clearly the problem with the Church’s response to gay and lesbian people and their families, and feel more deeply the urgency of trying to solve it.
This isn’t just a call to provide “ecclesiastical social services”; it’s a call to enter more deeply into others’ lives, to make our families and our parishes places blessed with the friendship that flows from drawing close to the crucified and risen Christ, who has called all of us to be His friends.