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Commentary on USCCB Proposed Guidelines: Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care

By Bill Welch, Editor

Having read and reviewed the complete document on the guidelines to be presented to the body of bishops for approval at their Nov 13-16, 2006, meeting, I developed the following commentary in an attempt to address major portions of the document.

Timed for discussion and requested approval by the body of bishops gathered in Baltimore, MD, Nov 13-16, 2006, one week following the November elections, one may ask how much of the proposed guidelines are politically motivated or aligned in view of the political issues and constitutional amendments regarding same-sex marriage, same-sex civil unions and adoptions by homosexual persons.

As one reads the content of the proposed guidelines, it becomes rather clear that the writers had no consultation or dialogue with faithful Catholics within the gay community. If the goal of the committee were to alienate more gay Catholics, family, loved ones, friends and supportive others, they have done admirably well.

Pastoral care comments deal more with prohibitions and negative admonitions than with proactive welcoming of Catholic homosexuals and full participation in the Church. There are few signs of affirmation or advocacy for Catholic homosexuals, and no signs of Christ-like compassion.

In the limited instances where the document touches on homosexuals as members of church organizations and faith communities, they are admonished to stay in the closet and refrain from announcing their homosexual orientation. It is another extension or application of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The document writers have yet to understand how this leads to deceit, lies and duplicity in the lives of people desirous of being whole, authentic people with personal integrity. Nor do the writers recognize or appreciate how this leads to low self-esteem; depression; sex, alcohol and drug addition and suicidal tendencies. How does one build relationships in faith communities and the general community when admonished to secrecy in being who they are? Genuine relationships are founded on mutual trust and respect derived from interaction and shared exchange.

On the matter of being welcomed and establishing friendships in local faith communities and society at large, why would non-homosexual persons want to be associated with persons the body of bishops describe as being outside the moral order by their very existence and nature. Are not the bishops complicit in the setting of discriminatory barriers, as well as violence towards gay Catholics and others within the GLBT community, when they classify persons of a homosexual inclination to be objectively disordered and support anti-gay initiatives and legislation denying fundamental human and civil rights accorded others in society? Are they not complicit when they fail to recognize valid research findings within the physical and human sciences counter to their teachings and beliefs regarding homosexual orientation and diversity of sexuality in nature and the animal kingdom?

Nowhere in the document is there any discussion on the role of human touch and physicality in expressing love and affection in heterosexual or homosexual relationships. The principal thrust is on the requirement for being open to procreation.

In sections of the document discussing marriage with scriptural references, consideration must be given to the fact that the writers were writing from their experiences and perceptions, to the period of time and to whom the messages were being addressed. Marriage in those times, and many periods to follow, were civil contracts dealing with property rights. Wives and children were chattel, property of the husband to be dealt with as he saw fit. Marriage did not involve equality of the partners nor sacramentality.

The document is full of double-speak. For example, at the outset, it declares “God has created every human person out of love and wishes to grant him or her eternal life in the communions of the Trinity. All people are created in the image and likeness of God and thus possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected.” A little later on are the words, “Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.” Alluding to the impact of Original Sin and personal sin , the document points up that homosexual acts violate the true purpose of sexuality inasmuch as they cannot be open to life, nor do they reflect the complementarity of man and woman that is an integral part of God’s design for human sexuality. … the Catholic Church has consistently taught that homosexual acts “are contrary to the natural law.” … Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

With respect to references to communications by St. Paul, we must consider to whom the messages were addressed and why. Paul admonished members of the recently formed and building Christian communities to refrain from pagan practices such as idol worship, temple prostitution and fertility rites, as well as prayers and rituals to ensure a good harvest. The purpose was to have members of the Christian communities to be different and distinguishable by setting such practices aside.

The document goes to some length in describing homosexual inclination as objectively disordered and homosexual acts as immoral acts contrary to natural law or the natural order of things. Natural law and natural order are philosophical rather than theological constructs. They are largely contributed by St. Thomas Aquinas based on his experience or perceptions of nature and the animal kingdom. He was not aware of more recent findings of homosexuality or the existence of sexual changes in the animal kingdom. Furthermore, since animals act out of built-in instinct rather than by rational choice, these are part and parcel of their nature and natural order of things. By extension, persons with a homosexual orientation do not choose to be homosexual. It is part and parcel of who they are. Might it not be possible that physical sexual expression and human touch are also expressions of love and complementarity between same-sex (same gender) persons in keeping with their nature?

The document holds that there is a strong tendency toward moral relativism in our society which inhibits the reception of Church teaching on sexual issues in general and on homosexuality in particular. However, it has also been part of church teaching on moral culpability and sinfulness as to the role of discernment of proportionality and intent by the acting person. Yet the Church is very adamant about the strictures placed on persons in sexual matters and physical expression. There is no room for proportionality or intent in sexual morality.

Under the section Pastoral Support is a guideline, “Young people, in particular, need special encouragement and guidance, since the best way of helping young people is to aid them in not getting involved in homosexual relations or in the subculture, since these experiences create further obstacles.” The difficulty here is that puts people at risk of isolation during their crucial search to find answers to whether or not they alone have certain feelings and attractions. They need to have access to wholesome, caring and accepting friendships amongst peers gathered in supportive environments such as schools, colleges, universities or community centers.

Above all, homosexual persons need access to appropriate publications including spirituality, church teachings, physical and social scientific studies and the like to assist them to discern the truth for the formation of conscience.

The composition of families today goes far beyond the heterosexual husband and wife with 2½ children. Config urations include single parent, foster parents, families by adoption, extended families, communes, hospices, and other forms. Upon the incapacity or death of one or more parents, older children, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends and court appointed persons may take over the parent ing and care of the household. In numerous cases, the acting parent(s) may be lesbian or gay, including those of a Catholic background and tradition. There are over 100,000 children awaiting adoption for numerous reasons, including biological parents not wanting or incapable of raising the biological child or children. This is one of many reasons why such gay parents should be accorded the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships and accorded similar legal rights and protections. This would strengthen, not weaken, the meaning of marriage.

The language used in the document gives rise for concern. For example, “homosexual inclination,” infers predisposed, disposed to, or propensity towards homosexual genital activity and relationships. Would the authors set up a parallel “heterosexual inclination?” If so, should not the proposed guidelines on the Church’s teaching concerning contraception, to be discussed at the same November 13-16, 2006, USCCB conference, be identified as, “Guidelines for Persons with a Heterosexual Inclination on Matters of Contraception?”

While the document authors had the opportunity to recognize that homosexual orientation is not chosen but rather discovered at some point in the person’s life and development, and be open to the possibility of legitimacy of sexual diversity and homosexual orientation as part of God’s inclusive plan of creation, they chose to perpetuate such notions as:

  • There are imperfections in the universe, in creation, and in the development of humanity.
  • Homosexual persons and orientation are not commensurate with the Church’s teaching on the end objective of male and female sexuality, namely marriage and procreation, and therefore are outside the moral and natural order of things.
  • Homosexual persons and orientation are defects in creation as results of Original Sin or personal sin.
  • Homosexual persons are deficient or defective heterosexuals.
  • Homosexual persons are morally deficient or defective at birth or become so at some point during maturation

In a letter to a bishop I said, “I strongly urge you and your fellow bishops to reconsider and revisit the guidelines in consultation with the lived experience and reality of conscience-driven gay persons.”