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Let us talk about Church Doctrine and Pastoral Care of LGBT Catholics, but first, a couple of things. Number one: if at any point you feel uncomfortable with this topic, know that it is okay to feel that way. You are in a journey, learning about Church Doctrine, please be patient with yourself. Secondly, if at some point you find yourself asking things such as: “what about the homosexual lifestyle?” or “what about pedophiles?”, I recommend that you visit the section titled “myths and realities” because it is important to first identify the preconceived ideas that drive our understanding of Church Doctrine and it’s important to determine whether those preconceived ideas are myth or reality. So, feel free to visit the section on “myths and realities”.
And now, let’s get started, shall we?
Our Catholic Faith and Doctrine comes from 3 main sources: Tradition, Scripture (the Bible), and the Magisterium (which includes the Pope, the Bishops, etc).
So what I’m about to present to you is a synthesis of Church teachings on this subject which have been divided in 3 main categories, and I will attempt to explain each as clearly as possible:
- Dignity of the Human Person: All created in God’s image possess an innate human dignity that must be acknowledged and respected.
- Harassment, discrimination, hatred, and violence against homosexual persons must not be tolerated.
- All are called to chastity.
NUMBER 1: DIGNITY OF THE HUMAN PERSON
This is a cornerstone of Catholic Social Doctrine. “All human beings are created in God’s image and likeness regardless of race, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, employment or economic status, health, intelligence, achievement, or any other differentiating characteristic” (Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church). Any differentiating characteristic makes absolutely no difference in terms of our own inherent dignity, because we are all made in God’s image and likeness, we have an inherent dignity that most be respected, AND this includes sexual orientation. It doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, you are made in God’s image and likeness and you have this inherent dignity that must be respected.
The teaching of the Dignity of the Human Person revolves around one operative word, the word PERSON. The very first thing that we need to know when talking about LGBT people is that they are PEOPLE. We are talking about persons. We are not talking about some kind of political agenda, we are not talking about some kind of demon, we are not talking about some kind of apocalyptic future; we are talking about people, our brothers and sisters. And that is the first thing that we need to know and that we need to practice in ministry.
JUST THINK ABOUT THIS FOR A SECOND. What does it meant to see LGBT persons, as persons? To help you discern the answer to this question, let’s look at Jesus.
Jesus was 100% God, 100% Human. As a human being who walked on this earth, he was immersed in the cultural context of his time. What made so many people follow Jesus was the fact that he saw them, first and foremost, as people. We have plenty of examples of this in the Gospels.
In his encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus talks to a woman who is getting water out of a water well. Let’s remember that in Jesus’ time, women were not really considered people. Legally speaking, women were more like property, property that was passed down from father to husband. Men were not allowed to speak to a woman who was not their wife or daughter. Yet, Jesus sees this PERSON in front of him and tells her: “give me water”. She was absolutely surprised and astonished by the very fact that this man was speaking to her. This woman, was not only a woman: she was a Samaritan! And Jesus was Jewish so that in itself was a conflict. But Jesus didn’t see her as her “gender” nor as her “ethnicity” or heritage, he saw the PERSON in front of him. He refused to treat her as any less than a full person. This experience was transformative in her life. This is what made her want to drink the “living water” that Jesus offered. This is what made her become a disciple, a witness to Jesus’ mission to other Samaritans.
When we do this, when we see LGBT people as PEOPLE first and foremost, this can be a very transformative experience for ALL OF US, so this is THE VERY FIRST THING that we need to do.
NUMBER 2: HARASSMENT, DISCRIMINATION, HATRED, AND VIOLENCE AGAINST HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS MUST NOT BE TOLERATED
The second piece of Church Doctrine is that Harassment, discrimination, hatred, and violence against homosexual persons must not be tolerated. This is very clear Church Doctrine.
We all know what happened in Orlando on June 12, 2016; a shooter went into a gay night club and started shooting people, killing 49 and wounding 53. This was an attack on the LGBT community, unlike other attacks, this one was targeting a specific community, a specific group of people.
My LGBT Catholic friends called me after this happened to tell me that they were deeply saddened because they realized they still are a vulnerable community. But things got worse as the week went by when I got calls from many of them asking: “why is it that in my parish, it wasn’t even mentioned in the homily?”, “why is it that prayers for the dead and wounded were not even included in the universal prayer that same Sunday or the next Sunday?”, “why is it that in many parishes, nobody even acknowledged what happened?”. At my parish we did have a special prayer that day, but I know it didn’t happen everywhere.
As the week went by, my LGBT Catholic friends and I grew depressed when the online responses of our fellow church members to the shooting ranged from “well, they got what they deserved”, to “it was their choice to die”, or “they put the noose around their own neck”, or “they had to face the consequences of their sin”. These responses make no sense at all.
The victims of the Orlando shooting were people who were killed for NO reason. The people who died did not choose to die, nor did they deserve to die.
Catholic doctrine is very, very clear on this matter. We must not tolerate violence. The people who died in Orlando did not choose to die, nor did they deserve to die.
In their 2006 pastoral letter titled “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care” the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) said, and I quote: “we recognize that these persons have been , and often continue to be objects of scorn, hatred, and even violence in some sectors of our society. Sometimes this hatred is manifested clearly; other times, it is masked and gives rise to more disguised forms of hatred.” Many of the negative responses to the Orlando shooting from fellow Catholics are a disguised form of hatred. WE MAY NOT BE AWARE that we are being hateful, BUT WE NEED TO BECOME AWARE, we need to become aware. Or perhaps, giving the benefit of the doubt, it is just a complete lack of knowledge about Church Doctrine on this matter. Regardless, it needs to stop.
The USCCB also made the following call in the 1991 letter titled “Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning”, and I quote: “We call on all Christians and citizens of good will to confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons. We understand that having a homosexual orientation brings with it enough anxiety, pain and issues related to self-acceptance without society bringing additional prejudicial treatment.” THIS IS A CALL FOR YOU AND ME.
So, let’s listen to this call of the Catholic Bishops, 1991. We need confront our own fears, our own ignorance, our own prejudice.
NUMBER 3: ALL (GAY AND STRAIGHT) ARE CALLED TO CHASTITY
Finally, the third piece of Church Doctrine about LGBT Catholics is that ALL are called to chastity. Notice how this teaching is about chastity, not celibacy. We often hear people say “gays have to be celibate”, and even though the end result is the same, saying that the teaching is “celibacy” is wrong because that means that this teaching only applies to people who are in consecrated life (people who have taken vows of celibacy)and to gay people; and that is not the case. The teaching is chastity, so… what is chastity?
The Catechism defines chastity as “the INTEGRATION of sexuality within the person”. Chastity is “the INTEGRATION of sexuality within the person”. Chastity is not about “not having sex”, chastity basically is about making sure that any sexual act that happens in our lives is integrated with our whole being: our emotions, our thoughts, our plans for the future. And Church Doctrine is that this integration can only happen fully under sacramental marriage. So, for instance, a man and a woman who are sacramentally married; if they love each other, they are having sex but they’re integrating this sexual act with the love for each other, with their thoughts, with their plans for the future, they’re married under the church, and they’re faithful to each other; THEN they are being chaste even though they are having sex. So chastity is not about not having sex, chastity is about this integration. Likewise, if we have a man and a woman who are sacramentally married but they are cheating on each other, or one of them is cheating so that there is no integration of the emotions, the mind, the plans for the future with the sexual act; even though they are sacramentally married, they ARE NOT being chaste. So, again, Chastity is about this integration.
And again, Catholic Church says this integration can fully only happen within the context of Sacramental Marriage.
Because Sacramental marriage is only between a man and a woman; this is the reason why people often think “oh well then, in that case, if gay people want to remain chaste, they can’t have sex”. Right?
So, as I mentioned at the beginning, the end result is the same as if we said “celibacy”, but what is NOT the same is the fact that it applies to ALL OF US, gay and straight.
SO WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?…
As I mentioned in the introductory page, I have been part of a young adult group (18-35) for more than 10 years, and for some reason, people at my group are very successful at finding a girlfriend or a boyfriend in this youth group, we’ve had a lot of couples come of the group and get married under the Church.
The reason why I’m telling you this is because in our youth group we teach about chastity and we teach about a lot of other things. But when a girl and a guy from the group decide to start a relationship… we don’t automatically assume that they’re having sex. We give them the benefit of the doubt. We say: “you know what, we’ve already let them know what church teaching is and we are going to give them the benefit of the doubt, that they are being chaste”. Simple as that.
However, with gay people, we are not like that.
As soon as we know somebody is gay, we don’t even know if they even have a partner, we are already assuming they’re “sinning”, we already assume they’re having sex. And that’s where there is that disparity because the teaching that applies to both scenarios (Chastity) is EXACTLY the same.
Now, even if we were to find out that the girl/guy couple were indeed having sex… you know, we would still love them, we would still accept them, we would never tell them “you’re gonna go to hell”, “you’re gonna burn in the fire of hell“. HOWEVER,WITH GAY PEOPLE, WE DO THAT. Not at my youth group, but in general, we Catholics do that once we find out somebody has a partner. This is wrong because the teaching that applies to one and the other is exactly the same. Yet, we are more merciful, we extend a certain PASTORAL SENSITIVITY to heterosexual couples… this is where there is a disparity.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT ABOUT PASTORAL SENSITIVITY…
I just want to say a couple of things about chastity and pastoral sensitivity to same sex couples. Please keep in mind, the following section is purely personal commentary about pastoral sensitivity towards LGB Catholics who are in a committed same-sex relationship. Its purpose is to help us understand and minister to those who may attend inclusive ministries.
We know that Church Doctrine is “sacramental marriage is between a man and a woman”, and that is settled doctrine as of this moment that I’m writing to you. This doctrine is based on the belief that people who are in a same sex relationship are going against how they were created by God. Basically, the belief is: “they’re doing this because of other reasons, but they’re choosing to be with someone whom they are not naturally inclined to have this emotional, mental, spiritual, romantic connection with”. So, what’s at the center of this discussion is whether you choose to be LGB or whether you are born that way.
Church, the same as government… they are institutions that exist to preserve the stability of society, that’s one of the main roles of these two institutions. It is for that reason that, both church and government don’t change overnight, and if they do change, it is because there is a more substantive reason than mere demand for change.
For instance, at some point in history, church teaching was that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth, and then Galileo came and said “you know what, the earth actually revolves around the sun and you just have to observe the stars and see this, and the earth actually moves, and the earth is not flat”. At this point, the Church wasn’t willing to say “this is true”, until more substantive scientific research came about and that’s when this doctrine changed.
Am I saying doctrine is going to change? I’m not saying that, but what I AM SAYING is that… when you talk to LGBT people and when you listen to their stories, they often tell you “you know, this is how I was born, this is how I was made”. You may not agree with them, but THE POINT IS this: to people who are in a committed, life-long, same sex relationship… they are not going against God, they are not “sinning”. In fact they are doing the opposite, they are HONORING THAT CHASTITY, they are HONORING THAT INTEGRATION of their sexuality with every other aspect of themselves (their emotions, their plans for the future) when they are in a committed lifelong relationship with a person of the same sex, simply because they are wired to have this romantic connection with people of the same sex.
They may not know why they are wired that way, or what’s God’s purpose for this, but they do not choose to go against Church Doctrine, to them this is not a choice and…TRUST ME! IF YOU WERE LGBT THERE IS NO WAY YOU WOULD CHOOSE TO BE LGBT! You would not choose to go through all that discrimination and that emotional turmoil of having to struggle with people’s judgment, because that is the real struggle of LGBT people, the judgment, the misunderstanding and discrimination, the being discredited.
SCRIPTURE: WHAT ABOUT THE BIBLE?
After having talked about chastity, it is likely that the next question in you head is: what about the Bible? what does the Bible say about this topic?
Let’s talk about the Bible for a second…
WHAT IS THE BIBLE? The Bible is a collection of books, it is a library of books written by men, inspired by the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Bible is.
Now, WE HAVE TO REMEMBER WE ARE CATHOLICS, Catholics are not fundamentalists. Fundamentalist religions tend to read the bible in a literal way, which means “exactly what I’m reading, that’s it, that’s all I need to know, I just memorize what I’m reading and I’m good to go”. WE, AS CATHOLICS, ARE CALLED TO DO AN EDUCATED READING OF THE BIBLE, which means that you have to take Archdiocesan religious formation classes about the Bible. It means that if you have the chance to take a class at the College level about the Bible, YOU DO IT, because it is gonna help you understand what you’re reading.
So when we Catholics read the Bible, we have to know: “who wrote this particular book that I am reading?”, “who is the author?”; “who is the author’s intended audience?”; “what type of book am I reading (what literary genre)?, is it a historical book, is it some kind of theological story?”; “what is the historical and cultural context of this book?”
When we know all of these things, then we are able to better understand what we are reading.
Sodom and Gomorrah
Let’s talk briefly about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah because it is a story that we often hear is about “God destroying a city of homosexuals because of homosexuality”. What is this story really about?
In very brief analysis, we have the story about God who is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their inhabitants’ wickedness. He sends two angels. These 2 angels come into the city and Lot greets them and invites them to stay at his house. They tell him: “oh, don’t worry, we can sleep here on the street”, and Lot says: “no, no, no please stay at my house”. So they go into the house and at this point, ALL of the men who inhabit the city come to Lot’s house, they knock on the door and they tell Lot to bring the two men outside because: “we wanna ‘know’ them”.
When we see this word in the bible “know”, for instance if it says “I want to ‘know’ your daughter”, it really means: “I want to have sex with your daughter”. It doesn’t mean “hello, nice to meet you, how are you?”. It means “I wanna have sex with this person”.
If we think about this, this isn’t a story about a couple who love each other and are about to have consensual sex. This is a story about a group of men: “ALL OF THE MEN IN THE CITY”. The scientific estimate is that there is only between a 6-10% of homosexual population; therefore, if we are talking about 100% of the men in the city, this means that most of these men were HETEROSEXUAL, not homosexual. This is a story about a group of men, “ALL OF THE MEN IN THE CITY” who come to Lot’s door and tell him: “we want to RAPE these two men”.
This story is about something as WICKED and as HORRIBLE as GANG RAPE.
At this point, Lot tells them “I can give you my daughters”, because in Lot’s time, women were seen as less than people; therefore, raping women was seen as something less of tragedy (even though it’s equally terrible!). Then the men said: “No! we want the two men inside your house”.
This story is about showing these 2 foreigners, these 2 vulnerable people, who is the boss here. Just like in prisons we see gang rape happen left and right, not because all of the people participating in the rape are homosexual, but because it is a way of letting the new person know: “WE ARE THE BOSS HERE”, “YOU ARE NOBODY”, “YOU ARE POWERLESS”, “YOU HAVE NO POWER HERE”, “YOU ARE POWERLESS IN OUR TERRITORY”.
That’s what this story is about. It is about GANG RAPE, it is about LACK OF HOSPITALITY to the foreigner, the wickedness in these people’s hearts.
NOW… I don’t want you to believe what I’m saying just because I’m saying it, I want you to continue taking Archdiocesan classes, College level classes, like I did, so you can learn from people who have taken the time to get their Master’s Degrees, their PhDs, on this topic. But I hope this is a helpful introduction.
Whenever it comes to the bible it is important that you take classes, instead of using the text literally and just further any type of unjust discrimination.
WHAT ABOUT SPECIFIC TERMS IN THE CATECHISM?
Many times we are invited to give talks at prayer groups, etc. about this topic, and the very first thing that we do is refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If we go to the section that talks about homosexuality we’ll see that it says it is “intrinsically disordered”, correct? Then we go give our presentation and we say “homosexuality is intrinsically disordered”, without knowing what it really means.
When we talk about the Catechism we have to realize that is not written for the average lay person. The Catechism is written by and for people who have formation in philosophy, for priests, bishops, etc. Most of the terms that we find in the Catechism are philosophical terms and are not what we think they are.
When lay people hear the term “intrinsically disordered” the very fist thing that comes to mind is some kind of “mental disorder”. But this is not a book about psychiatry, this is a book that has a lot of philosophical terms and THIS IS ONE OF THEM.
In very basic terms, when the term “intrinsically disordered” is used in the Catechism it means: “this sexual act (whatever the act may be) is not in the order which is approved by the Church”. For instance the proper order would be something along the lines of: “First, you have a girlfriend or boyfriend, you have no sex; then you get engaged, you have no sex; then you get married under the church and, THEN AND ONLY THEN, you can have sex/sexual activity. In that scenario, the sexual activity has a higher purpose. THIS IS THE ORDER THAT THE CATECHISM IS REFERRING TO.
So any sexual act that is not in this order, we could say is “intrinsically disordered”.
What else does the catechism say is intrinsically disordered? The Cathechism says, for instance, that MASTURBATION is intrinsically disordered.
I think that most people reading this would fall into that category of “intrinsically disordered” if we were to use the Catechism this way, WHICH IS NOT HOW WE ARE SUPPOSED TO USE IT.
A lot of times this phrase of “intrinsically disordered” is used as a BULLET that is used to kill the spirit of an LGBT person, but maybe out of ignorance we don’t realize that this term, intrinsically disordered, applies to many other scenarios that might apply to MOST of us.
We have to stop using the terms in the Catechism as bullets, and we have to educate ourselves.
Last, but not least, let’s talk about pastoral care.
Pope Francis has called on all of us to reflect on God’s mercy, and there is a good reason why he did that: he wants us to know more about mercy and to actually practice it, to be merciful like the Father. So… what is mercy?
Often, when we talk about mercy we talk about some type of compassion or forgiveness towards someone who has hurt us or done us wrong; someone whom it is within our power to punish but instead of punishing them we say:”I choose not to punish him/her, because I am merciful”. The problem with this definition is that it is incomplete. When we see mercy this way we put ourselves above everyone else: “because I AM MERCIFUL, I forgive you”, “because I AM a good person, I will be compassionate”. However; that’s not quite what mercy is about. It is not about feeling that we are better than other people.
Mercy, and i want to use the etymological definition of the word mercy in Spanish “Misericordia”, it comes from two words in Latin: “miserere” which means “misery”or “pain” and “Cor””Cordis” which means “heart”. Therefore, Mercy (Misericordia), is: FEELING THE OTHER PERSON’S PAIN IN YOUR OWN HEART. Feeling a person’s pain in your own heart.
And it is out of this pain, of feeling it in your own heart, that you are compassionate; not because you are better, but because you feel their pain.
And how can you feel the pain of someone you don’t know? How can you feel the pain of someone you disagree with? How can you feel the pain of someone whom you rather not have to deal with?
Pope Francis has talked to us about a couple of things that we all need to start learning and practicing. These are tools for the practice of mercy. He has told us we need to start becoming: 1), A Church of Encounter; and 2), A Listening Church.
- Church of Encounter: being a church of encounter means that, for instance, I, as a youth minister, am gonna encounter each person, including LGBT people, exactly where they are. Exactly where they are I’m going to serve them and love them and I am going to have this encounter with them. I’m going to become their friend, I’m going to get to know them exactly where they are. I am not going to wait until they are perfect, I am not going to wait until they are the people i think they should be, I am not going to wait until they do what i think they should do. I’m going to encounter them exactly where they are whatever part of their journey they’re in, that’s where I’m going to encounter them.
- Listening Church: what does this mean? it means that we have to start listening to people whom we don’t understand. It means that we’re going to listen (not to respond, or to react, or to make a judgment), we are going to LISTEN to LEARN from their experience. Listening to learn. Remember that we are all human beings, that we are all still learning, and that God’s grace is something that we can receive and learn about through the experience of other people, and what better than people whom we usually don’t understand or don’t agree with. If we are able to listen, to be this listening church, we’ll be able to love and to OFFER THIS PASTORAL CARE to all people, regardless of whether we identify with them or not.
These are a couple of tools that we need to study, that we need to practice, that we need to pray about, and that we can use in Pastoral care with LGBT Catholics.
One last thing. As we become a listening church and we start listening to stories, and you start becoming friends with LGBT Catholics, you are going to hear a variety of stories. Not all stories are the same. You are going to hear stories about people who have chosen to remain single, you will find stories of people who have partners, and you WILL find that they can be equally holy and it is going to be absolutely mind-blowing , and you’re not going to understand why at the beginning. But you are going to be able to see stuff that you may not be able to see right now, when you get to actually listen to stories.
You will find a great variety of stories. Not because you have heard the story of one gay person it means the stories are all the same.
You will also find the stories of bisexual people, people who are in what is called the “continuum” of sexual orientation, who can have that emotional, physical, spiritual, romantic connection with people of both sexes. You might encounter a lot of them who might say “you know what, I was able to change my sexual orientation”, because they are able to have this connection with both sexes, so, it’s important to listen to those stories as well.
Regardless of what you hear, what’s most important is to be loving to every single person that you encounter.
If you want to start practicing listening to stories, feel free to go to our story section.
*Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1700-1702, 2358, 2394-2395, 2338, 1776
*USCCB “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care”, 2006
*USCCB “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message for Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers”, 1997
*Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” 1986
*National Conference of Catholic Bishops “To Live in Christ Jesus” 1976
*USCCB “Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning” 1991
*Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine
*Archdiocesan Biblical Formation
*Personal Experience in Ministry