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Statement on "Always Our Children"
1. Real problems ignored
2. Deficient teaching on the meaning of sexuality
3. Disordered nature of homosexuality is not acknowledged
4. Concerning "Orientation"
5. Sin and Sinners Blurred Distinction
6. "Children" Ambiguous
7. Disordered Love and Wholesome Love
8. The Anguish of Families
10. Concerning Friends, Language and Honesty
October 10, 1997
To the Bishops:
On October 1, the US Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family issued "Always Our Children -- A Pastoral Message to the Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers". This 20-page message, approved by the Administrative Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and said to be the result of two years of consultations, emphasized compassion and acceptance of homosexuals, but neglected many aspects of the very serious nature of this sexual disorder, and the grave, even life-threatening, jeopardy in which homosexuality places individuals, families, and the whole of society.
Especially within a society saturated with sexual messages, the matter of homosexuality and other sexual aberrations is one of great concern to virtually all Catholic families, and a most important topic for bishops to address. Catholic families need the forthright guidance of their bishops and priests. The bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family in particular should be a reliable source for such guidance, and for accurate and persuasive presentation of Catholic moral teaching. The Committee's message fails to do this.
Even given the narrow focus of its message (parents of homosexuals constitute only a tiny fragment of the population), the Committee missed many opportunities to address honestly and openly the moral issues surrounding homosexuality. Exactly eleven years earlier, on October 1, 1986, the Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This Vatican document made clear statements on homosexuality, but it is not cited in "Always Our Children". Why? The Committee seems to have deliberately set out to muddy the waters the Vatican had made clear in 1986.
Many Catholic and Christian families and pastors as well as homosexual individuals will be confused by the pastoral's omissions, as well as by the defective way that some topics are treated. Some examples and observations follow:
1. Real problems ignored: The Committee on Marriage and Family ignores entirely the problems that parents of adolescents face in trying to counter the overwhelming cultural pressure to regard sexuality as a commodity to be manipulated or used.
The Committee offers no help or guidance to parents whose adolescent child may have been sexually abused and/or seduced by a homosexual adult, or who has become confused and fearful about his sexual identity by the constant barrage of sexual messages in our "culture of death", which glamorizes aberrant sexual behaviors of all kinds.
The Committee never alludes to the problem of homosexual clergy. In the present atmosphere, when shocking scandals involving Catholic priests and homosexual pederasty have been much in the news, this is a dereliction. Parents, with reason, may distrust their priests and be fearful for their sons. This is relevant, too, to the "vocations crisis". Catholic parents who are aware of scandals involving homosexuality within seminaries and religious communities will not encourage vocations.
Especially in a pastoral message on the subject of homosexuality directed to parents these omissions are stunning.
2. Deficient teaching on the meaning of sexuality: "Always Our Children" does not adequately present the authentic Catholic teaching on the meaning of human sexuality rooted in God's creation of Man in the "original unity" of man and woman; the nuptial meaning of the body in the "one flesh" covenant instituted by the Creator precisely for the family, for our children. The Committee does not mention several key Church documents on families and sexuality.
The Church's teaching is clearly explained in Familiaris Consortio, in Pope John Paul II's Wednesday audience lectures, The Original Unity of Man and Woman, as well as in the Catechism. It is especially crucial in a culture where there is such confusion about sexuality that all parents be given this clear teaching to help them establish their family as a "community of life and love", and transmit the "truth and meaning of human sexuality" to all their children.
Priests and even bishops (not simply "pastoral ministers") may also need to be reminded that they are also directly responsible for the religious instruction and moral formation of people in their pastoral care.
The Committee quotes the Catechism, "Everyone ... should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity" [CCC #2333] to suggest that homosexuality is an "identity" one should "accept". This is a serious misuse of the Catechism. The passage is in the section "Male and Female He Created Them", and the very next sentence says, "Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs and mutual support between the sexes are lived out."
This section of the Catechism presents the authentic meaning and use of sexuality, for example, "... the union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating the Creator's fecundity". [CCC 2335].
3. Disordered nature of homosexuality is not acknowledged: The Committee does not acknowledge that homosexuality is a disorder, and most of the pastoral message's flaws and inconsistencies stem from this. The Committee omits the recent amendment of the Catechism, promulgated by the pope on September 8, which emphasized that not only homosexual acts, but even the inclination to homosexuality is objectively disordered [objective inordinata]: "This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial" [CCC 2358, "Homosexuality and Chastity", emphasis added]. The original version the amendment replaces read: "They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial". This amendment is extremely significant, and its omission is serious.
The message continues the quote, which says that homosexuals "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" [CCC 2358], but omits the passage a few lines later, which states clearly that "Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. [CCC 2360]. This is a glaring omission.
Why did the Committee choose to misrepresent the Catechism's teaching? Why did it ignore the 1986 Vatican Letter to Bishops? The impression the Committee conveys is that the Church promotes "rights" for homosexuals (including employment in Church leadership positions, for example), while the immoral aspects of homosexuality are conveniently overlooked.
4. Concerning "Orientation": The Committee states as fact that "homosexual orientation" is "a given, not something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose" (emphasis added).
First, the scientific community, unlike the Committee, has not accepted the theory that homosexuality is a genetic "given" or innate trait, like the color of eyes or hair or skin. But even if homosexuality were a fundamental and unchangeable genetic disorder this does not diminish its harmful effects.
Psychogenic compulsions, including sexual compulsions (pederasty, rape, sadism and spouse abuse come to mind) may not be entirely "freely chosen", either. But this does not alter the objectively sinful character of the compulsion. Would the Committee have avoided discussing the destructive aspects of alcoholism, drug addiction or compulsive gambling?
5. Sin and Sinners Blurred Distinction: The Committee blurs the distinction between acceptance of a person and acceptance of that person's immoral behavior. It says that "the Church teaches that homogenital behavior is objectively immoral, while making the important distinction between this behavior and a homosexual orientation, which is not immoral in itself". The Committee fails to explain that "homosexual orientation", sexual attraction to persons of the same sex, is a disorder which does not always require acting-out to be sinful any more than would an obsessive "inclination" to any other sinful act. It also omits giving useful advice on how to avoid succumbing to the "inclination". Parents of "homosexually inclined" adolescents (and homosexual adults) need precisely this kind of advice.
6. "Children" Ambiguous: The Committee consistently blurs the distinction, also, between adolescent children and adult homosexuals, and uses the term "children" for both. Obviously there is a very important difference. What is the point of obscuring this ?
7. Disordered Love and Wholesome Love: There is strong emphasis on love in this pastoral, especially on the requirements of parental love. Stressing the love all Christians should have for all other persons in Christ is surely most needed (and most relevant) precisely in those situations where genuine injury has been inflicted or suffered where there is something to repent and something to forgive. Disordered homosexual "love" distorts and damages all other loves, and in itself creates a great impediment to any wholesome love. This must be faced honestly, for real compassion cannot be expressed, and genuine love cannot flourish in the absence of truth.
8. The Anguish of Families: The Committee's message does not allude to the very great harm done by active homosexuals to their own families and to others. In the Committee's view, the anguish of Catholic parents and families is caused primarily by their own ignorance, fear, anger, guilt, and by their lack of "acceptance" of a family member's homosexuality, and not by the objectively harmful sexual inclinations or behavior of an adolescent or adult child whom the parents love and want to help. This is unfair to parents.
9. Counseling: The Committee cautions parents of homosexuals that their child should be "free to choose or refuse therapy directed toward changing a homosexual orientation", and comments that such therapy may not succeed. This is hardly a message of hope to parents, and it ignores much positive work done in the field of counseling homosexuals.
Again, it is unclear whether the "children" are adolescents or adults. Parents of an adolescent child who suddenly announces he is a homosexual would be guilty of serious dereliction if they did not intervene in every way possible to help their disturbed youngster. Why this negativity toward therapy which may be helpful, if not in "curing" the disorder, at least in providing insight and spiritual aid?
Elsewhere, on the other hand, the Committee urges parents to seek out agencies, counselors, support groups or "a special diocesan ministry to gay and lesbian persons" for advice and affirmation in accepting their son or daughter's homosexuality.
The Committee's bias is evident here.
10. Concerning Friends, Language and Honesty: The Committee tells parents to accept the "child's" friends. Parents have a right and duty to be concerned about the influence of all their children's friends and associates, and should be especially vigilant if the "friends" are engaging in immoral behavior. Even parents of adult homosexuals should not be obliged to accept "friends" who are practicing homosexuals. (The pastoral's preface states that the "message is not intended for advocacy purposes, or to serve a particular agenda ... [and] ... is not to be understood as an endorsement of ... a 'homosexual lifestyle'". Does this caveat have any meaning?)
Parents are told to accept the homosexual "child's" wish to be publicly identified as "gay" or "lesbian". Pastors are told to "use the words 'homosexual', 'gay', 'lesbian' in honest and accurate ways, especially from the pulpit", in order to "give people 'permission' to talk about homosexual issues among themselves and let them know you're also willing to talk with them."
Why does the Committee advocate using the vocabulary of the "gay community"? This is advocacy propaganda.
Does the Committee honestly believe that parents want their priest to give their children "permission" to talk to him about "gays" and "lesbians"? Especially in the context of recent sexual scandals involving clergy and boys, it is hard to understand why the Committee thinks this is good advice.
The Committee, of course, never "honestly and accurately" describes what it is that homosexuals do to each other that makes a homosexual inclination "objectively disordered", and homosexual activity a gravely sinful abuse of a fundamental aspect of one's person. The intrinsically destructive, anti-life reality of homosexual behavior has been ignored in this "pastoral message". This is a disastrous omission, especially in a message to parents.
The foregoing observations do not intend to be a thorough critique of "Always Our Children", but merely call attention to some of the most obvious errors and omissions in this pastoral message, particularly those that relate to families.
Other problems not mentioned above are numerous and serious. The Committee's document is so profoundly flawed from nearly every standpoint -- theological, anthropological, doctrinal, psychological, physiological, catechetical, methodological and even stylistic -- it is unamenable. It should be withdrawn and publicly repudiated by the bishops.
If this "pastoral message" continues to be accorded the full authority of the American bishops' conference, it will inevitably be used by homosexual advocacy groups of all kinds, both within the Church and outside it, to advance their agenda, despite the disclaimer in the preface. This can only cause even further confusion and suffering. And those most gravely at risk will be, as always, our children.
Selected quotations from Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (October 1, 1986, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).
§ 14. "...The congregation wishes to ask the bishops, to be especially cautions of any programs which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful."
§ 4. "An essential dimension of authentic pastoral care is the identification of causes of confusion regarding the Church's teaching."
§ 9 [Speaking on homosexual advocacy] "... the pressure groups' concept that homosexuality is at least completely harmless, if not an entirely good thing. Even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved. The Church can never be so callous. It is true that her clear position cannot be revised by pressure from civil legislation or the trend of the moment. But she is really concerned about the many who are not represented by the pro-homosexual movement and about those who may have been tempted to believe its deceitful propaganda. She is also aware that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to, or as acceptable as, the sexual expression of conjugal love, has a direct impact on society's understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy."
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