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The Courage to Give True Pastoral Care to Those with Same-Sex Attractions

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There is obviously a need to make sure everyone feels welcome in the Catholic Church.

Father Roger J.

During the recent Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization, there was a great deal of attention given in the media to statements with regard to the Church's outreach toward those with same-sex attractions.

In the much-flawed, and ultimately much-corrected, interim report, the authors asked, "Are we capable of welcoming [those with same-sex attractions], guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities? ... Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"

There is obviously a need to make sure everyone feels welcome in the Catholic Church. It's key to note that those with same-sex attractions are often quite sensitive to not feeling welcomed, since many have experienced a lifetime of rejection and often feel judged or condemned by Catholics and the Catholic the Church rather than loved. They sometimes sense that Catholics see them more wearing a scarlet letter indicating their sexual orientation than adorned with the indelible mark of their baptism.

The draft report's question of whether we could "accept" and "value" their sexual orientation without compromising doctrine on the family and marriage, however, was one of the most embarrassing examples of theological sloppiness in Synod history.

It's one thing to accept and value someone with an orientation; it's quite something else to accept and value an orientation that divine revelation and Church teaching have always emphatically taught draws someone to sinful behavior.

And while it is certainly possible to accept even those who are engaging in sinful same-sex activity without compromising doctrine on family and matrimony, the real question is whether it is possible for them to feel accepted without the Church's compromising Scriptural and Church teaching on the sinfulness of same-sex actions.

In the final version of the Synod Report, the paragraph on the pastoral care of those with same-sex attractions -- which ended up not being approved by the Synod -- was wholly rewritten, blandly documenting that "some families have members who have a homosexual tendency," that there's "absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family," and stating that "men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity" and "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

There was, however, still no mention of genuine pastoral care for those with same-sex attractions, especially those who are engaging in a gay lifestyle.

Those with same-sex attractions deserve the full proclamation of the Catholic faith, the truth entrusted by Christ to the Church to make us free and lead us to salvation. That truth involves proclaiming that Jesus loves them, embraces them, died for them, and wants to accompany them on the path to holiness. But it also involves announcing that if someone is involved in a lifestyle incompatible with the Gospel -- like the gay lifestyle -- then that same loving Jesus is calling them to conversion.

It's not enough merely to "welcome" people. The Church aspires to embrace everyone with the warmth of a brother and sister, but also has the duty to call everyone, with the humility of a fellow prodigal, fully to welcome Jesus and his saving teaching.

Christian love is not a shallow, sentimental hospitality. Particularly for those ensconced in a gay lifestyle -- which is a way of life built on rejecting several basic truths of anthropology, sexual morality, marriage, Scriptural inspiration, and magisterial authority -- the Church's charity must always be bound to the compassionate, clear and compelling presentation of the fullness of the truth of human sexuality that alone can set them free.

The stakes of the Church's failure to carry out this service to the truth are eschatologically huge, not only for those presently involved in a gay lifestyle, but also for the conscience formation of all in the Church and society.

The model for the Church's pastoral care is found in the apostolate called Courage, founded in 1980 by New York Cardinal Terrence Cooke and Father John Harvey, which is dedicated to helping those with same sex attractions live chastely -- through prayer and dedication, genuine Christian friendship and fellowship, mutual support and good example.

It's clear that next year's Synod could profit much from inviting Fr. Paul Check, the executive director of Courage, to share the insights of Courage's many years of experience helping those with same-sex attractions live according to the Gospel.

I am happy to say I have been associated with Courage (www.couragerc.org) since the beginning of my priesthood and have seen the joy of those who respond to the Church's authentic pastoral care to help them live as faithful Catholics rather than according to the fallen principles of the sexual revolution.

Not only do we need more Courage chapters in every diocese, but the whole Church needs to have the courage and charity to become a world-wide Courage chapter to accompany those with same-sex attractions (and everyone else) on the moral path that leads to life.

Anything short of this is not worthy of the Church founded by Christ to lead us to holiness.

Anything short of this full and clear proclamation of the Gospel of chastity is not true pastoral care.

- Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.

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