Homosexuality and Hope -- Part 2
How Clergy, Families, Teachers and Others Can Help
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WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 20, 2003 (Zenit.org).- The Catholic Medical Association has updated its statement on homosexuality, the second part of which appears here in adapted form. The full text, including bibliography and endnotes, is available at www.cathmed.org/index.html. An adapted Part 1 appeared Friday.
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Homosexuality and Hope
Part II -- Recommendations
1) Ministry to individuals experiencing same-sex attractions
It is very important for every Catholic experiencing same sex attractions to know that there is hope, and that there is help. Unfortunately, this help is not always readily available in all areas. Support groups, therapists and spiritual counselors who unequivocally support the Church's teaching are essential components of the help that is needed.
Since the notions of sexuality in our country are so varied, patients seeking help must be cautious that the group or counselor supports Catholic moral imperatives. One of the better-known Catholic support agencies is an organization known as Courage and its affiliated organization Encourage.
While any attempt to teach the sinfulness of illicit homosexual behavior may be greeted with accusations of "homophobia," the reality is that Christ calls all to chastity in keeping with their particular state of life. The desire of the Church to help all live chastely is not a blanket condemnation of any who find chastity difficult, but rather the compassionate response of a Church seeking to imitate Christ, the Good Shepherd.
It is essential that every Catholic experiencing same-sex attractions have easy access to support groups, therapists and spiritual counselors who unequivocally support the Church's teaching and are prepared to offer the highest quality help. In many areas the only support groups available are run by evangelical Christians or by people who reject the Church's teaching.
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. It is particularly tragic that Courage, which under the leadership of Father John Harvey has developed an excellent and authentically Catholic network of support groups, is not yet available in every diocese and major city.
Anecdotal reports of individuals or organizations under Catholic auspices or directly associated with the Catholic Church, counseling persons with same-sex attractions to practice fidelity in same-sex relationships rather than chastity according to their state in life are quite distressing. It is most important that Church-related counselors or support groups be very clear about the nature and genesis of same-sex attraction. This condition is not genetically or biologically determined. This condition is not unchangeable.
It is deceitful to counsel individuals experiencing same-sex attractions that it is acceptable to engage in sexual acts provided these occur within the context of a faithful relationship. The teachings of the Catholic Church on sexual morality are explicitly clear and do not allow exceptions. Catholics have a right to know the truth and those working with or for Catholic institutions have an obligation to clearly enunciate that truth.
Some clerics, perhaps because they erroneously believe that same-sex attraction is genetically determined and unchangeable, have encouraged individuals experiencing same-sex attractions to identify with the gay community, by publicly proclaiming themselves gay or lesbian, but live chastity in their personal lives.
There are several reasons why this is a misguided course of action:
-- It is based on the mistaken idea that same-sex attraction is an unchangeable aspect of the individual and discourages persons from seeking help;
-- The "gay" community promotes an ethic of sexual behavior which is totally antithetical to the Catholic teaching on sexuality and has made no secret of its desire to eliminate "erotophobia" and "heterosexism." (There is simply no way the position articulated by spokespersons for the "gay" movement and the teachings of the Catholic church can be reconciled);
-- It puts easily tempted persons into places which must be considered the near occasion of sin;
-- It creates a false hope that the Church will eventually change its teaching on sexual morality. Catholics must, of course, reach out to individuals experiencing same-sex attraction, to those actively involved in homosexual acts, and particularly to those suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, with love, hope, and the authentic, uncompromised message of freedom from sin through Jesus Christ.
2) The role of the priest
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. 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, no. 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. A number of therapists believe that religious faith plays a crucial part in the recovery from same-sex attraction and sexual addictions.
When an individual confesses same-sex attractions, fantasies or homosexual acts, the priest should be aware that these are often manifestations of childhood and adolescent traumas, sexual child abuse, or unmet childhood needs for the love and affirmation from the same-sex parent. Unless these underlying problems are addressed, the individual may find the temptations returning and fall into despair.
Those who reject the Church's teachings and encourage persons with same-sex attractions to enter into so called "stable, loving homosexual unions" fail to understand that such arrangements will not resolve these underlying problems.
While encouraging therapy and support group membership, the priest should remember that through the sacrament, he can help individual penitents deal not only with the sin, but also with causes of same-sex attraction. The following list, while not exhaustive, illustrates some of the ways in which a priest may help the individuals with these problems who come to the sacrament of reconciliation:
a) Persons, experiencing same-sex attraction or confessing sins in this area, almost always carry a burden of deep emotional pain, sadness and resentment toward those who have rejected, neglected or hurt them, including their parents, peers and sexual molesters. Helping them to forgive can be the first step in healing.
b) Individuals experiencing same-sex attractions often report a long history of early sexual experiences and sexual trauma. Homosexually active persons are more likely to have engaged in sexual activity with another person at a young age.
Many have never told any one about these experiences and carry tremendous guilt and shame. In some cases, those who were sexually abused feel guilty because they reacted to their trauma by acting out sexually. The priest can delicately inquire about early experiences, assuring these persons that their sins are forgiven, and helping them to find freedom through forgiving others.
c) Individuals involved in homosexual activity may also suffer from sexual addiction. Those who engage in homosexual activity are also more likely to have engaged in extreme forms of sexual behavior or to have exchanged sex for money.
Addictions are not easy to overcome. Frequent recourse to confession can be a first step to freedom. The priest should remind the penitents that even the most extreme sins in these areas can be forgiven, encouraging them to resist despair and to persevere, while at the same time suggesting a support group designed to deal with addiction.
d) Persons with same-sex attractions are often abuse alcohol, prescription drugs and illegal drugs. Such abuse may weaken resistance to sexual temptation. The priest may recommend membership in a support group which addresses these problems.
e) Despair and suicidal thoughts are also frequently a part of the life of an individual troubled by same-sex attraction. The priest can assure the penitent that there is every reason to hope that the situation will change and that God loves them and wants them to live a full and happy life. Again, forgiving others can be extremely helpful.
f) Persons experiencing same-sex attraction may suffer from spiritual problems such as envy or self-pity. It is important that the individual experiencing same-sex attractions not be treated as though sexual temptations were their only problem.
g) The overwhelming majority of men and women experiencing same-sex attraction and women report a poor relationship with their fathers. The priest, as a loving and accepting father figure, can through the sacrament begin the work of repairing that damage and facilitating a healing relationship with God the Father. The priest can also encourage devotion to St. Joseph.
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."
3) Catholic medical professionals
Pediatricians need to know the symptoms of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and chronic juvenile unmasculinity. With early identification and intervention, there is every reason to hope that the problem can be successfully resolved.
While the primary reason for treating children is to alleviate their present unhappiness, treatment of GID and chronic juvenile unmasculinity can prevent the development of same-sex attraction and the problems associated with homosexual activity in adolescence and adult life.
Most parents do not want their child to become involved in homosexual behavior, but parents of children at-risk are often resistant to treatment. Informing them of estimates that 75% of children exhibiting the symptoms of GID and chronic juvenile unmasculinity will without intervention experience same-sex attraction and letting them know the risks associated with homosexual activity may help to overcome their opposition to therapy. Parental cooperation is extremely important if early intervention is to succeed.
Pediatricians should familiarize themselves with the literature on treatment. George Rekers has written a number of books on the subject. Zucker and Bradley provide a comprehensive review of the literature in their book Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents (1995), as well as numerous cases histories and treatment recommendations.
Physicians encountering patients with sexually transmitted diseases acquired through homosexual activity can inform the patients that psychological therapy and support groups are available, and that approximately 30% of motivated patients can achieve a change in orientation. In terms of disease prevention, an additional 30% are able to remain celibate or eliminate high risk behavior. They should also question these patients about drug and alcohol abuse, and recommend treatment when appropriate, since a number of studies have linked infection with STDs to substance abuse.
Even before the AIDS epidemic a study of men who have sex with men found that 63% had contracted a sexually transmitted disease through homosexual activity. In spite of all the AIDS education, epidemiologists predict that for the foreseeable future 50% of men who have sex with men will become HIV positive. They are also at risk for syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis A, B, C, HPV, and a number of other illnesses.
Mental health professionals should familiarize themselves with the works of therapists who have successfully treated persons experiencing same-sex attraction. Because same-sex attraction does not arise from a single cause, different individuals may require different types of treatment. Combining therapy with support group membership and spiritual healing is also an option that should be considered.
4) Teachers in Catholic institutions
Teachers in Catholic institutions have a duty to defend the teachings of the Church on sexual morality, to counter false information on same-sex attraction, and to inform at-risk or homosexually involved adolescents that help is available. They should continue to resist pressure to include condom education in the curriculum to accommodate homosexually active adolescents. Numerous studies have found that such education is ineffective at preventing disease transmission in the at-risk population.
"Gay" rights activists have insisted that at-risk adolescents be turned over to support groups which will help them "come out." There is no evidence that participation in such groups prevents the long-term negative consequences associated with homosexual activity. Such groups will definitely not encourage the adolescent to refrain from sin and live chastely according to his state in life. Symptoms of GID and chronic juvenile unmasculinity in boys should be taken seriously. At-risk children do, however, need special help, particularly those who have been victims of sexual child abuse.
Educators also have a duty to prevent teasing and ridicule of children who do not conform to gender norms. Resources to educate teachers, lesson plans, and strategies for dealing with teasing need to be created and provided to teachers in Catholic schools, CCD programs, and other institutions.
5) Catholic families
When Catholic parents discover that their son or daughter is experiencing same-sex attractions or engaging in homosexual activity, they are often devastated. Afraid for the child's health, happiness, and salvation, parents are usually relieved when informed that same-sex attraction is treatable and preventable. They can find support from other parents in Encourage. They also need to be able to share their burden with loving friends and families.
Parents should be informed about the symptoms of Gender Identity Disorder and the prevention of gender identity problems, encouraged to take such symptoms seriously and to refer children with gender identity problems to qualified and morally appropriate mental health professionals.
6) The Catholic community
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.
Those experiencing same-sex attractions, those who are engaging in homosexual behavior, and their families often feel that they are excluded from the loving concern of the Catholic community. Prayer for persons experiencing same-sex attractions and their families offered as part of the intentions during Mass is one way to let them know that the community cares for them.
The members of Catholic media need to be informed about same-sex attraction, the teachings of the Church, and resources for prevention and treatment. Pamphlets and other materials, which clearly articulate the Church's teaching and provide information on resources for those with immediate needs in this area, should be developed and distributed from racks already present in many churches.
When a member of the Catholic media, a teacher in a Catholic institution, or a pastor, misstates the Church's teaching or gives the impression that same-sex attraction is genetically determined and unchangeable, the laity can offer information designed to correct these misunderstandings.
The Catholic Medical Association recognizes the responsibility that a diocesan bishop has to oversee the orthodoxy of teaching within his diocese. This certainly includes clear instruction in the nature and purpose of intimate sexual relations between persons and the sinfulness of inappropriate relations.
The CMA looks forward to working with bishops and priests in assisting in the establishment of appropriate support groups and therapeutic models for those struggling with same-sex attractions.
While we see the Courage and Encourage programs as very useful and valuable and actively promote them, we are certain that there are other modes of support and are willing to work with any psychologically, spiritually and morally appropriate program.
Jeffrey Satinover, MD and Ph.D., 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)
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.
There is every reason to hope that every person experiencing same-sex attraction who seeks help from the Church can find freedom from homosexual behavior and many will find much more, but they will come only if they see love in our words and deeds.
If Catholic medical professionals have in the past failed to meet the needs of this patient population, failed to work diligently to develop effective prevention and treatment therapies, or failed to treat patients experiencing these problems with the respect due every person, we ask forgiveness.
The Catholic Medical Association recognizes that health-care professionals have a special duty in this area and hopes that this statement will help them to carry out that duty according to the principles of the Catholic faith.