Friday, October 3, 1997
OBSERVATIONS ON THE PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOPS' COMMITTEE ON MARRIAGE AND FAMILY: "ALWAYS OUR CHILDREN"
The following piece was written by Fr. John Harvey, OSFS and released on October 3, 1997. It was difficult to find the article on the internet, so I've placed it here on my blog for the time being.
The pastoral message "Always Our Children" manifests compassionate understanding of persons with homosexual tendencies, and their parents and siblings. It is theologically sound on the morality of homosexual acts, and its broad message is that parents should love their children who struggle with homosexual tendencies, while not accepting homosexual behaviour. We are also pleased to see that the document recognizes the complex nature of homosexuality and that the document makes the important distinction between just and unjust discrimination. In a spirit of love, we have gathered some suggestions from leaders, members, and supporters of Courage throughout the country, and we pass these suggestions on to the Bishops, with the hope that the pastoral letter can be strengthened.
The use of the terms "gay" and "lesbian" give the public the impression that the homosexual condition is fixed and permanent. There is much scientific and empirical evidence to the contrary. Men and women who sincerely desire to develop their heterosexual potential should not be in ignorance of the opportunities for help to move toward their God-given masculinity or femininity. We do not say that every individual who makes such an effort will be able to complete the journey, but he should at least be given the knowledge that many people have been able to do so. In this effort, the primary goal will always remain the practice of interior chastity, which is nothing else but Gospel purity of heart. It is really not a good idea for any one to identify oneself as "gay" or "lesbian", because it gives the impression that one's homosexual orientation is his most important characteristic. The 1986 Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says that "the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation."
Sexuality is a gift of God expressed in the unitive and procreative good of marriage. The document very correctly points out that homogenital behaviour is objectively immoral, because it does not occur within the marriage relationship of a man and woman, and because it is not open to the possible creation of human life. The document also distinguishes between homogenital behaviour and homosexual orientation; however, while the document does point out that the homosexual orientation is not in itself immoral, it neglects to mention that the homosexual orientation is objectively disordered (CDF Letter to the Roman Catholic Bishops of the World, sect. 3). Instead, it says that "sexuality is a gift from God" and then goes on to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2333: "Everyone... should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity." The idea conveyed is that homosexuality is also a gift from God, and should be accepted as one's fixed and permanent identity; however, the actual quote from the Catechism, "Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity" is part of a paragraph describing the complementarity of man and woman in married life and in society. It is incorrect to use this quote as a justification that one should accept their homosexuality as a fixed state. Neither can homosexual attraction be considered as a gift of God, except in the sense that suffering can be a gift. In the context of homosexuality, it is more accurate to speak of "sexual attraction" rather than "sexual identity". It is important to distinguish between the proper other-sex attraction and a misdirected same-sex attraction. The conviction that a misdirected attraction is a stable or "fundamental dimension of one's personality has no support from Catholic teaching.
The 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (PCHP) warned that, in some cases, "an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral or even good." We suggest that a pastoral on this subject stress that the homosexual inclination cannot be considered as equal to heterosexuality. The capacity for human love, which is expressed in its highest form in the sacrament of marriage is a fundamental component of human nature and of God's plan for mankind. It is a vocation that is ordered to the full giving of one's self in the sacramental bond, and in the gift of parenthood. It is thus an inherent good. Homosexuality is nothing of the sort.
As the CDF has stated, it is "objectively disordered" because it urges a person, not toward the inherent good of marriage and procreation, but toward sinful conduct. The document in several places fails to make this clear, and may cause uninformed persons to conclude that homosexuality is a normal variant of sexual development, something which is contrary to the explicit statements in the catechism and in the Vatican pastoral letters of 1976, 1986, and 1992. It would be helpful if the Bishops' pastoral would explain the Church's position on "Gay Rights Legislation" (Sacred Congregation of the Faith, 1992 statement on non-discrimination). Many clergy, parents and young people are confused by the current propaganda in favour of same-sex marriage.
The document quotes the phrase "homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct" from the 1975 Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics. This phrase is an inaccurate translation of the Latin quasi innatus which should be translated "as if innate." The first Italian edition of the Catholic Catechism which used the word "innate" in describing the homosexual orientation was revised. Cardinal Ratzinger explained the reason for the change: "One objection was that we made people think homosexual tendency was innate, that it was already present at the moment of birth or conception of the person. Many competent experts said that this has not been proven."
In addressing how a parent should deal with an adolescent who is confused about his sexual identity, the document says "If your son or daughter is an adolescent, it is possible that he or she may be experimenting with some homosexual behaviours as part of the process of coming to terms with sexual identity. Isolated acts do not make someone homosexual. Adolescence is often accompanied by anxiety or confusion about sexual identity. Sometimes the best approach may be a `wait and see' attitude, while you try to maintain a trusting relationship and provide various kinds of support, information and encouragement." This "wait and see" attitude is very dangerous. If someone is attracted to drugs or to alcohol, we do not accept that attraction as a given, or indicate that it is beyond their power to reject. The truth is that we are dealing with an objective disorder within the person. The parent should do everything possible to help the youth to move away from this particular attraction, and from the surroundings which encourage him to act out. If pastors are going to advise parents concerning homosexuality, they should remind parents that their first obligation is to protect the child from immoral and dangerous behaviour.
Given the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV disease, among male homosexuals, advising parents to adopt a "wait and see attitude" to same-sex experimentation among adolescents is an invitation to tragedy. If the male child has been involved in homosexual behaviour, he ought to be immediately tested, because in several large cities, a significant number of youth who were involved in homosexual activity became HIV positive. New studies show that 9% of homosexually active males aged 20 to 22 are already HIV positive. The earlier a boy becomes involved in same-sex behavior, the more likely he will become HIV positive or infected with other possibly fatal sexually transmitted diseases such as hepatitis and human papilloma virus. Adolescents who become involved in the homosexual lifestyle are also at risk for drug and alcohol abuse and sexual addiction; moreover, the document seems to imply that "experimenting with some homosexual behaviors as part of the process of coming to terms with sexual identity" is part of a normal developmental process. On the contrary adolescents should be discouraged from experimenting with illicit sexual behavior, which is both immoral and futile. When seeking professional help, the parents should choose a knowledgeable counselor who respects the moral teaching of the Church.
The document well describes the emotions of parents upon discovering that their child is struggling with homosexual desires; however, the fear which these parents have for the spiritual welfare of their grown children is not mentioned in the document, and that is the first anxiety which many such parents express in counselling sessions with priests. Under the pastoral recommendation to parents, it should be clearly stated in point number two, that, while demonstrating love for the child, the parent must firmly stand opposed to any homosexual activity, not simply because the parents find it "objectionable", but because the behaviour is damaging to the child's soul.
The document's definition of chastity is inadequate in stating that "chastity means integrating one's thoughts, feelings, and actions in the area of human sexuality, in a way that values and respects one's own dignity and that of others." One can easily imagine an argument that one can "integrate" the "thoughts, feelings, and actions" that stem from one's "innate" homosexual orientation "in a way that values and respects one's own dignity." In deed the document seems to leave the field open for such an argument. This is clearly inferior to the definition offered by the Catechism at 2337: "Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman." Why avoid such clarity in favour of such ambiguity?
In the document's speaking of "the power and freedom of sexuality" as "gifts of God", it would be helpful to show the relationship between freedom and truth, as our present Holy Father does in Veritatis Splendor, and contrast it with the "slavery to sin" which is experienced by those who are trapped in the cycle of compulsive behaviour so prevalent among those who are involved in illicit sexual activity. It will be an opportunity to show how the power of grace can overcome any human weakness. "The trials that you have to bear are no more than people normally have. You can trust God not to let you be tried beyond your strength, and with any trial he will give you a way out of it, and the strength to bear it" (1 Corinthians, 10:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
We should like to conclude our observations on the Bishops pastoral, by requesting them to consider the work of Courage and Encourage, not mentioned in the document. Courage is a spiritual support group for men and women with homosexual tendencies who desire to live by the teaching of the Catholic Church. Under the inspiration of the late Cardinal Cooke in 1980, this group has developed a practical spiritual program for living the chaste life in union with Jesus Christ. It stresses its Catholic identity by encouraging members to frequently receive the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, and to develop a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. It is now in 28 dioceses in the United States, 6 in Canada, and is also found in the Philippines, in England, and in Ireland. The Courage program has also been approved by the Pontifical Council for the Family as a ministry to persons experiencing homosexual attractions: "This Pontifical Council for the Family supports the organization called Courage which was founded by Father John Harvey, OSFS, for helping homosexual persons to live in accordance with the laws of God and the teaching of His Church." (Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, speaking on behalf of the Holy See, July 7, 1994)
Encourage, an outgrowth of Courage, exists in Canada and the United States. It is specifically designed in a Catholic context to provide spiritual support and guidance to parents of persons who experience homosexual attraction. The parents, who are very often opposed by their own grown children, need spiritual and psychological help themselves, and in this respect, they are similar to members of Alanon. Very often a son or daughter who has decided to "come out" as a homosexual may demand, as a condition for continuing the relationship, that his or her parents acknowledge that homosexuality is morally acceptable. In such situations, these parents often undergo a form of martyrdom in adhering to their faith principles; nevertheless, they continue to love their children. While recognizing the hard work of the authors of the document "Always Our Children" and the sense of compassion they conveyed, we believe that the document needs substantive revision. It is hoped that these observations from the leaders, members, and friends of Courage will be given due consideration by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Rev. John F. Harvey, OSFS
Director of Courage