An upcoming conference aims to help Church leaders and anyone interested in evangelization minister to those with homosexual tendencies.
Janet Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, is helping to organize the conference, “Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters With Same-Sex Attraction.” It will take place August 10-12 in Plymouth, Michigan.
ZENIT spoke with Smith about the conference and more generally, about the US Supreme Court’s recent decision on same-sex “marriage.”
ZENIT: The upcoming conference aims to address two tough questions raised by the lineamenta for the October synod on the family. In caring for persons with homosexual tendencies, and their families, in light of the way their rights are proposed in society, what do you see as the general principles to keep clear?
Smith: There is book of essays coming out of the Aug. 10-12 conference in Plymouth on “Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same Sex Attraction,” sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit and Courage International. It is published by Ignatius press, and titled Living the Truth in Love Pastoral Approaches to Same Sex Issues. These titles suggest several principles.
Certainly, we should not segregate those who experience SSA and make them feel like they are a part of a marginalized group. Since it has become “acceptable” to “come out,” most of us are aware that some of our siblings, children, friends, co-workers, parents, mentors, etc. live with SSA. They are “us,” meaning they are intimate parts of our circle of love and we want to keep them there. Loving them means keeping in contact; it means wanting to hear what is going on with them; it means speaking courteously to and about them; it means inviting them to events where they will feel welcomed and loved. It means never calling them names or speaking about SSA with contempt and disdain. For my part, I think the words “sodomy and sodomite” should be forever retired.
We should also speak the truth both to those with SSA and about SSA. We must work very hard to find non-offensive ways to share our Catholic beliefs about SSA. That is easier to do if we have been in loving relationships with those with SSA. Those who know we care about them will be more willing to hear what we say. A truth that should accompany most discussion is the truth that all of us struggle with some difficult temptations and that “heterosexuals” have no reason to take a position of superiority towards those with SSA. Certainly the sinful sexual shenanigans of heterosexuals in our age leave little room for standing in judgment upon those with SSA.
A truth that those with SSA need to grasp is God’s love for them and his desire to be in a spousal relationship with them and the truth that we often can accept ourselves better if we can forgive those who have harmed us. Gently they need to be reminded that many people carry significant crosses in life and they will experience their need to remain chaste and possibly celibate as a cross but it comes with many graces and opportunities to witness to Christ.
The truth must also be told to heterosexuals who think that loving those with SSA means not speaking the truth. Too few people know what kind of lives are lived by men who have sex with men and women who have sex with women. They don’t know much about the promiscuity and anonymous sex had by many of the men and the heartbreaking serial monogamy practiced by many of the women. They also don’t know that the lives of many have shown that those who live with SSA can find profound peace and happiness in living by the Church’s teaching, though like for all of us, the path to virtuous living can be very challenging.
ZENIT: The two books drawn from the essays to be delivered at the conference consider many of the facets of homosexuality. You note in the introduction to the first: "We are not quite at the beginning of knowing how to serve those who experience SSA, but we certainly have a great deal more to learn." Could you give an overview of this?
Smith: Over time, as mankind learns more about certain phenomena, so does the Church. For instance, at one time, prostitutes were generally viewed as wicked women who had made a reprehensible choice of a “career.” We now know that there are few such women; rather, most of them come out of tragic backgrounds involving such things as sexual abuse and drug addiction and eventually feel worthy of no other relationships. Although the Church has not changed its understanding of prostitution as a horrible sin, it has changed its views of prostitutes.
The cultural and psychological understanding of homosexuality has taken many shapes from unspeakable perversion, to a psychological disease, to a God-given orientation. The Catechism states that homosexuality is not a choice; this, of course, does not mean it is innate. The current view seems to be that a person experiences same sex attraction because of a cluster of factors, such as poor gender identity, a troubled relationship with the same sex parent, interests that don’t track well with one’s same sex peer group, etc. Unfortunately the APA and laws in many states claim that same sex attraction is not susceptible to “repair” and forbid psychologists to help those with SSA seeking help. This has undoubtedly impeded progress in learning how to help those with SSA. A handful of brave psychologists who strive to provide help to those who seek it, have discovered many techniques that are helpful, often directed to difficulties other than the SSA.
As we learn more about the causes of SSA and learn techniques for helping those who live with SSA, our pastoral approaches will change.
What also seems of great significance is that young people are growing up being indoctrinated to believe that homosexuality is on a par with heterosexuality. They have family members and friends who live with SSA and have become very accepting of them. It is, of course, a great problem that they don’t understand the Church’s teaching and thus don’t accept it but as some become familiar with the Church’s teaching and accept it, perhaps their already good relationships with people with SSA will enable them to find good ways to relate to them in the truth. They may be able to teach the rest of us.
ZENIT: Courage, an international Catholic apostolate ministering to those with same-sex attraction, is one of the primary ministries aiming to support people with homosexual tendencies, and a sponsor of the conference. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Courage ministry?
Smith: I am not intimately familiar with how Courage works on the ground. I know it mostly from its materials and principles, which I think are truly excellent. I have heard from many individuals how Courage has been instrumental in their being able to live a chaste life in pursuit of holiness. I have also heard that Courage is not for everyone. I think some people think it depends too much on what is known as “white knuckled chastity” and doesn’t fight enough against the self-disdain that many with SSA suffer. I can’t find anything in the literature that would support those claims but each local group has its own identity and I am sure the quality of leader and the level of commitment of members varies. I know there has been an entrenched hostility against Courage in some dioceses. A great deal of that has dissipated as more and more bishops recognize the wisdom of Courage’s approach. The demands made on Courage now are great and welcome and I think they are being a bit stretched at the moment, but that is a good problem to have. I know they welcome feedback on their work so I hope those who have criticisms will share them with Courage.
ZENIT: LoveWins was a hashtag in res ponse to last month’s Supreme Court ruling establishing same-sex "marriage" as a Constitutional right. Did love win?
Smith: Not a bit. The country western song “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places” comes to mind. True complementary, life-giving spousal love is simply not possible in same sex relationships. There will be even more disillusionment and heartbreak for those with SSA who attempt “marriage.” And, of course, this will mean more children will be raised by same sex couples, which will not allow them to experience the all important love of parents of both sexes. I think the hashtag should be #kidslose.
ZENIT: You teach in a seminary. Based on your work with these young men who will be leaders in the Church in the coming decade, how do you perceive the task ahead in regards to helping the Church get her message about human dignity and sexuality to the coming generation? Will we get young people to understand the Church’s teaching on homosexuality?
Smith: The task is enormously difficult. Generations of bad catechesis have robbed young people of faithful formation by their parents. The good news is that these young men are thoroughly committed to the truth of Church teaching, they have a deep knowledge of the sources of the errors of modern culture, and they have brave and generous hearts. In respect to the sinful ways of heterosexuals, there is a tremendous amount of good material to draw up; we are in the process of developing that for teaching the truth about same sex issues. The film Desire of the Everlasting Hills and The Third Way are eye-opening for most people. As well, Courage has developed a new 5-part series to teach on same sex issues.
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