Wednesday, June 20, 2007

AND I DON'T MEAN I'M HAPPY

Father, I am dying of terminal cancer.” “I am getting a divorce.” “My husband beats me.” “I am having spiritual doubts.” “We are thinking of pulling the life-support equipment off of my Father.” “My wife just died.” These are the things that a person might make an appointment to speak to their priest about. By and large none of these situations intimidate me. That is, though they are highly emotional moments, I know my role and, for the most part, what is expected of me. At some topics I am better than others, but basically there is general understanding of exactly what it is I am supposed to do both from the person approaching me and from the perspective of the Church. So even if someone were to come to me with information about a pedophile (thanks to recent scandals) it is very clear what I should do and say. In fact, this last example may be the easiest of them all now.

But there is a topic about which I feel lost, one that I avoid more than any of the above. That is not to say that I do not know the teachings of our faith on the matter, but that it is such a hot potato subject both within and outside the Church and that so little sane conversation can be had on it, that it makes guiding people down the best path difficult.

So I avoid the topic. When I told a priest friend about this, he advised staying out of the conversation altogether lest I be tagged as “one of those kind of priests.” I even put off blogging about it for months just so as not to find myself in a quagmire of controversy though I felt a nagging to do so.

Then a friend came to see me about another person facing this issue. She had me read an article by the Catholic Medical Association entitled “Homosexuality and Hope” (which I ask you to please read before commenting on this post), which states, “The failure of the Catholic community to provide for the needs of this population is a serious omission which must not be allowed to continue.”

In particular, to priests, it says, “It is of paramount importance that priests, when faced with parishioners troubled by same-sex attraction, have access to solid information and genuinely beneficial resources. The priest, however, must do more than simply refer to other agencies (See Courage and Encourage in the Appendix). He is in a unique position to provide specific spiritual assistance to those experiencing same-sex attraction. He must, of course, be very sensitive to the intense feelings of insecurity, guilt, shame, anger, frustration, sadness, and even fear in these individuals. This does not preclude him from speaking very clearly about the teachings of the Church (See CCC, n. 2357-2359), the need for forgiveness and healing in Confession, the need to avoid occasions of sin, and the need for a strong prayer life.

“The priest needs to be aware of the depth of healing needed by these seriously conflicted persons. He needs to be a source of hope for the despairing, forgiveness for the erring, strength for the weak, encouragement for the faint of heart, sometimes a loving father figure for the wounded. In brief, he must be Jesus for these beloved children of God who find themselves in most difficult situations. He must be pastorally sensitive but he must also be pastorally firm, imitating, as always, the compassionate Jesus who healed and forgave seventy times seven times but always reminded, "Go and do not commit this sin again".”

This is not an official document of the Catholic Church, but the most clear and practical piece of work I have had in my hands on this topic period. It calls us all to be open in placing our faithful attention to this dilemma facing Catholics who find themselves in this situation. In part, they state, “There was a time in the not too distant past when pregnancy outside of marriage and abortion were taboo topics and attitudes toward the women involved were judgmental and harsh. The legalization of abortion forced the Church to confront this issue and provide an active ministry to women facing an "unwanted" pregnancy and to women experiencing post-abortion trauma. In a few short years the approach of dioceses, individual parishes, and the Catholic faithful has been transformed and today true Christian charity is the norm rather than the exception. In the same way the attitudes toward same-sex attraction can be transformed, provided each Catholic institution does its part."

So here with this post is my tentative foray into this confusing arena. (Which in the end is really only a recommendation to read another article!) Never short on opinions and hot air, I uncharacteristically find myself short on words other than hoping that I’ve not unintentionally offended anyone. But this is a matter of our faith and something with which we need to deal and deal with good information (which is why I recommend this article). For, as the CMA says, “Those who wish to be free from same-sex attractions frequently turn first to the Church. CMA wants to be sure that they find the help and hope they are seeking.”


To close, here is one last quote from their paper by Jeffrey Satinover, MD, Ph. D., who has written of his extensive experience with patients experiencing same-sex attraction: "I have been extraordinarily fortunate to have met many people who have emerged from the gay life. When I see the personal difficulties they have squarely faced, the sheer courage they have displayed not only in facing these difficulties but also in confronting a culture that uses every possible means to deny the validity of their values, goals, and experiences, I truly stand back in wonder... It is these people --former homosexuals and those who are still struggling, all across America and abroad --who stand for me as a model of everything good and possible in a world that takes the human heart, and the God of that heart, seriously. In my various explorations within the worlds of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and psychiatry, I have simply never before seen such profound healing."( Satinover 1996)

19 comments:

sparky said...

Funny, my little sister was talking about a gay friend of hers this past weekend and about how he would look up to the handsome, athletic, masculine guys in high school. He said that he didn’t want to date that guy, he wanted to BE that guy. Makes sense in light of this article.

I have a book of photographs of Mother Theresa and her nuns called “Works of Love are Works of Peace” that shows her home for AIDS patients in San Francisco. There are pictures of men who look like living corpses, yet smiling, laughing, and praying with the nuns. A friend of mine told me her gay brother said that the Catholic Church doesn’t welcome homosexuals. I showed her a picture in this book of one of the men at the moment of his death. He was lying in bed in front of the tabernacle and a statue of Our Lady of Fatima with a scapular around his neck. I told my friend, “He made it”. I could see the tears well up in her eyes (mine too). Strangely, her brother joined the Catholic Church in his adult life and fell away. Maybe no one was brave enough to tell him the Church’s true attitude.

I remember reading St. Therese’s autobiography “Story of a Soul” and how she said that when given a choice of objects she needed, she would always choose the ugliest or the least desirable. If a truth of the Church is difficult and neglected, that is the one I want to embrace because that is where the need is the greatest. I personally thought that contraception was that issue. I’ve never had a problem with talking homosexuality because no one is happy in that lifestyle. I think that these issues go hand in hand, since contraception encourages broken families and single motherhood, and lack of a father as a male role model leads to confused sexual identity.

Anonymous said...

It IS a touchy subject.. Looks like we're leaving all the commenting to you, Fr. V & Sparky!

Gypsy

Anonymous said...

I'll likely have a comment later when I've had a chance to read the article. I've seen it cited before...my guess is that there will be more comments later this evening when people have time to respond.

It IS an important topic, and one people all over don't really know how to address.
~ Adoro

tara said...

Father, reading the CMA article I am filled with sorrow for those struggling with an homosexual disorder.

One of the nurses I work with has been in a long term relationship for about thirty years to her same-sex partner. She told me once, "to be Catholic you would want me to give up my long term relationship?"

Converting to the Catholic Church in 2002--being in a long-term relationship with my husband--if it was a same-sex relationship--I would of had to give it up.

My gut feeling says, just let them stay in the relationship--so they don't have to feel the pain. But my feelings and thoughts are not what God asks from us--everything.

One of the doctors I work with is also living in a long-term same-sex relationship--he is the nicest guy you could ever meet. He goes to a Methodist Church because they accept them there. He, like the rest of us is trying to live a good life.

Second guess God? Not me, for Him I would give up everything--He knows what's good for us, even when initially it hurts.

This is a good blog post, Priests should all go straight to Heaven for having to deal with human issues such as this.

God Bless You Father!

Adoro te Devote said...

Tara ~ so true. God asks for everything. Attachments can be good and are part of being human, but we need a spirit of unattachment; that being willing to give up everything when God asks. By refusing God, we are only "honoring" ourselves, and the irony of that...oh, the complete irony...is that we dishonor our very humanity by rejecting God's love when we choose our preferences over what God has clearly revealed as His loving will for us.

I just realized I should probably go live in a confessional.

Adoro te Devote said...

OK, I read the article.

I have worked in mental health, and did so when there was still a diagnosis of "Gender Identity Disorder". We had a young teenage boy on one of the units who liked to dress as a girl. While he had this diagnosis, they actually ENCOURAGED his behavior and just told him he had to live like a girl before they would let him undergo a sex-change operation.

People sat there and "pitied" him because he was so "unaccepted" by his peers, etc.

I remember thinking that all the staff was nuts...this was one of he most popular kids on the block!

Apparently no one cared enough to address his absent father issues and other things going on which were plain as day in his chart. Apparently no one cared enough to explain to him (and all the staff and alleged professionals in charge of his care) that his behavior was dangerous and could not be endorsed or encouraged.

And kids like him are being pushed off the cliff every day into groups that claim to offer support, but really just serve as a bridge into a lifestyle that leads only to death...both physical and spiritual. And they go unknowing because our entire society has bought into the lies.

It makes me so sad, and I could tell you stories of abuse in the background of both men and women I have known and know now. And now they are being victimzed by the culture.

Other disorders are not endorsed and encouraged...they are treated. Yet we as a society are denying real treatment to people with a real disorder, and it began by denying that there was any disorder.

Fr. V said...

I grew up in the arts and of course came across many out people, some of whom I count as very close friends. I think that alone makes me nervous about the topic. There is so much rhetoric out there that even to suggest that findings that this paper suggests would be to start a major war. Like they ask, what is at the cruxt of deadening even the converstation.

Taking into account all that you all have said I think how difficult it must be to in that situation knowing that "good Christian people" hate you just for being - and I think that, if this is all true - the amount of hurt out there and the amount of healing not taking place because it is politically incorrect.

*sigh*

I truly thank you all for your comments on this matter. I need to go think and pray for a little while.

MJ said...

Thanks for this post! I read the CMA article and it was very enlightening. In my ignorance I always thought same sex attraction had somewhat to do with genetics. I didn't realize that issues from their background entered into it as well. As a teacher I will be much more sensitive and aware. There definitely is a lot of education that needs to be done with the general public before any changes in attitude can occur.
I also agree with Tara about how difficult it is for someone who has been in a long term relationship with someone of the same sex. Even though I think I'm a faithful Catholic, I would have a hard time giving up a relationship with someone I loved.
God bless you and all other priests for all you have to deal with. I pray for you everday.

Winnipeg Catholic said...

Hi Fr. V,

Your link is a little broken (the h is clipped off of 'http'). here is a corrected one for anyone looking.

I read most of it, skimmed some of the end. I would like to think it is true and a treatable condition but I am skeptical. Remember that we are not just talking about genetics but also developmental biology and the complex interplay of hormone levels and so forth in utero. Also note that we can make lab rats 'gay'. You and I have discussed before that animals are not human, so it matters little that some animals display SSA. I can agree with that to an extent. But I think that if such behavior exists in the higher order mammalian animal kingdom, then it is rational to suspect that it may well occur in human beings as well.

I have a lot of respect for Courage and Encourage, and I think there are a whole lot of LGBT people out there who are lulled into that lifestyle when they would be happier celibate, or perhaps even straight (after working out some issues).

But *ALL* gay people?

Say *ALL* of anything being in one simple state and I start getting skeptical. I would be pretty incredulous that ALL gay people are environmentally conditioned and confused and that NO gay people are biologically the way they are. I would therefore be very, very skeptical that it is my role as a lay Catholic to convince a happily monogamous gay man or woman who has been in a relationship for 30 years that they are in error. Maybe they are! I know that there is a Courage member who has testified to that!

As you alluded to I think Charity is the most important change here. And the truth will be revealed by people who actually have SSA, like those in Courage. Perhaps in 30 years or so if folks in Courage are still happier than folks in Dignity then we'll see a drecrease of the momentum that the gay lobby currently has on its side.

Fr. V said...

W.C.

Thnk you - both for letting me know how I messed up the link (I really could not figure it out) and for your comments.

You make a good point. Is it either one camp is completely right or the other camp? The truth MAY be somewhere in between. And I further agree with you that we will not know as much of the complete truth that is capable for us to know until both sides of the argument become more open - Catholics growing in willingness to engage (an interview on NPR someone once said, "When you say people with homosexual tendancies can get to heaven, they start coming to Church) and those who oppose the Church's message becoming open to what this science is reporting, then more healing can take place all around and the depths of the claims of this document can be known truthfully.

Winnipeg Catholic said...

Hi Fr. V,

I also wanted to request your thoughts on a post if you haev time. I thought I left that as a comment on a more applicable post of yours but I must not have. Anyway, here is the post; part I and part II.

Jeron said...

Just my 2 cents as a *Courage* member: it took me about 18 months of faithfully attending *Courage* meetings (after being sexually active in the gay scene for 15 years, both "underground" and out of the closet) to finally understand that my identity wasn't "gay boy" but "child of God." Once I finally understood and accepted that in my heart, God begun the healing (or at least I started noticing the healing). And by "healing" I mean being ok with the Church's teachings on homoesexuality and my responsibilities as a Christian Catholic, faithful to the Magisterium. There's a line from the movie *The Spitfire Grill* that has stuck with me for the past decade, and I'll paraphrase: "Do you think the healing of a wound can be as painful as what caused it?" My answer: Not just "yes," but "Hayle Yes!!!" But I have a deep joy now that no one can take away; an abiding sense of "rightness," or integrity, I guess; by which I mean "integral." Things are aligning as they should. I've not experienced a change towards women, romantically or sexually speaking, and that's ok. I'm not sure I ever will. For as long as I can remember I've been attracted to boys/men. I'm grateful the Church doesn't require re-orientation, or I'd be in big trouble! LOL! But that's not to say that I don't have faith God can heal my woundedness. How He does that is up to Him. I'm content to live according to the Church's teachings because I firmly believe it's Christ's Church & this is what HE wants. This was NOT an easy revelation to accept, but by God's grace (truly) I was able to come to this acceptance. There's a verse in Proverbs that helped me along: "Sometimes the way seems true to a man, but the end of it leads to death." In my experience, homosexual persons are social-justice oriented. Maybe in their heart of hearts, as they pursue truth and justice, they'll find Truth - the Person - Jesus Christ ... and be able to accept and return His love. I'm learning to slowly & it's not always easy, but I do what I can. Getting up after falling & beginning again. It's what we're all called to, no matter what our orientation. And Father V., please please please start discussing this topic with folks. People are afraid of what they don't understand. Maybe if more Catholics were aware that they probably know or are even close to someone with this struggle, they may become more compassionate and willing to pray for/work with the SSA person vs. vilify them. God Bless.

Winnipeg Catholic said...

Dear Jeron,

God bless *you* and thank you for sharing. I am so sorry for the pain that both bigotted anti-gay heterosexuals and anti-catholic gays have shown you. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of two extremes. God rewards those with heavier burdens.

Please forgive the bigots - they know not what they do. And please forgive us liberals who aren't able to take a strong truth position yet on this complicated issue. We know not what we do either. I will need to hear from a lot of men and women like you before I will be able to testify that monogamous homosexuality is wrong.

All the Best, B

sparky said...

Thank you SO much Jeron. I am in awe of you! I've been looking into taking a friend to the Courage meetings. Your endorsement is such a ray of hope for me! You're in my prayers.

Adoro te Devote said...

jeron ~ Thank you for that comment - it reveals so much that we all need to understand.

tara said...

jeron:
"Do you think the healing of a wound can be as painful as what caused it?" How profound.

Your post made me cry--I think how wonderful you struggle to give everything to God. The struggle will last your entire lifetime, but on the scope of eternity-it's less then a nanosecond of time. God loves your obedience to Him.

tara said...

winnipeg...
For you, a very good quote from adoro:
"By refusing God, we are only "honoring" ourselves, and the irony of that...oh, the complete irony...is that we dishonor our very humanity by rejecting God's love when we choose our preferences over what God has clearly revealed as His loving will for us."

Winnipeg Catholic said...

Hi Tara,

Thanks for the encouragement but I feel the need to err on the side of Charity for the most part. I have a few gay coworkers and I will continue to affirm both them and those called to celibacy unless I am truly convinced that celibacy is the only path forward for them. One sentence in Romans doesn't really do it for me and could be talking about the cult of Cybel and not about gays in general. Not to mention that there isn't a whole lot of support for heterosexual relationships in the scriptures either. We need to depend on tradition and the ervealed word, not just scriptures. And that takes time and witness, like Jeron has just provided but there are many like Jeron in committed, monogamous relationships that have impacted the world in extraordinary ways. I'll not condemn orchastize them unles I am absolutely sure, (and I'm not).

Jeron said...

Winnipeg / Tara / Adoro: a sincere *thank you* for your supportive comments. I needed them today. You're all in my prayers. :)