Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Fatal Blow for DOMA

President Barack Obama has ordered the Department of Justice to stop defending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, the Attorney General Eric Holder gave the rationale of the White House and the Department of Justice for this decision.

Moreover, the legislative record underlying DOMA’s passage contains discussion and debate that undermines any defense under heightened scrutiny. The record contains numerous expressions reflecting moral disapproval of gays and lesbians and their intimate and family relationships – precisely the kind of stereotype-based thinking and animus the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against. See Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 448 (“mere negative attitudes, or fear” are not permissible bases for discriminatory treatment); see also Romer, 517 U.S. at 635 (rejecting rationale that law was supported by “the liberties of landlords or employers who have personal or religious objections to homosexuality”); Palmore v. Sidotti, 466 U.S. 429, 433 (1984) (“Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect.”).


Note the language employed by the U.S. Attorney General in his letter explaining “why” the Department of Justice will no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA and considers it to be unconstitutional. He specifically states, “the kind of sterotype-based thinking and animus the Equal Protection Clause is designed to guard against.” This expresses almost verbatim Judge Walker’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of Prop 8 in California. In that decision Judge Walker also stated that the proponents were motivated by an animus against same-sex couples.

What is beginning to take shape here is an increasingly clear legal opinion based on the findings of science. The American Psychological Association bluntly states

Is sexual orientation a choice?

No, human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight. For most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.


This represents reasoned thinking and that is one of two critical components in the advancement of our rights. Julian Bond, the former President of the NAACP stated, “this is the Civil Rights movement of this generation.” The other critical component in our struggle for justice is that our cause be reasonable. For political parties and politicians that means voter approval, and in 2010, according to the Gallup Poll Organization, for the first time fifty percent of Americans accepted Same-Sex relationships.

The hesitation on the part of the judiciary in declaring laws such as DADT and DOMA unconstitutional is historically based. The landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1973 was far ahead of popular opinion at that time. The Court experienced a backlash that still manifested today by the social conservative political movement and accusation of “activist judges.”

What this means is that although the Executive branch will continue to enforce DOMA, it will not defend it in court. Eventually, the law will be ruled unconstitutional and Same-sex married couples will enjoy the federal protections and benefits (e.g. income tax, immigration, etc) currently enjoyed by opposite-sex couples.

Today we have won a battle in an ongoing war to claim full Civil Rights for LGBTQ people, and ENDA is next. It is important to remember that even after the signing of the Equal Rights Act in 1964 and the establishment of full legal equality racism did not end. The NAACP is still fighting for the day of full social equality. So it is premature and unwise to claim this is the “Victory.” We are refreshed and encouraged, but the struggle continues.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Incredible popular demonstrations and political changes are occurring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, and Iran. There is something about the protests that transcend culture, religion, and the various other adjectives that we employ in daily thought and conversation. Like the young student who stood squarely in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square, these current protests are a testament to the human spirit. The use of the word “spirit” can be somewhat uncomfortable for non-democratic rulers, including religious autocrats.

Wounded or rejected by organized religions many often say, “I am spiritual, but not religious.” They have left the religion of their infancy due to rejection by religious leaders. People are thrown out or alienated from their faith for many reasons. Common reasons range from impossible marriages, institutionalized misogyny, and institutionalized bigotry/persecution of persons due to their sexual orientation or gender issues. In the case of Roman Catholicism, the pedophilia Cover-Up Scandal of the Pope and bishops is tragically another wound unjustly inflicted in the name of God.

Amazingly despite of, or perhaps precisely because of these attacks, rejections and wounds, people remain spiritual. In the silence of wounded hearts, in life’s great moments, we connect with our self, others and something that is paradoxically both transcendent and immanent. This happens for us on a personal level with the death of a loved one, illness, unemployment, or when our own imminent death confronts us. While such moments are painful and difficult, they force us to reflect and reevaluate life and its meaning. Joyful moments, such as falling in love, the birth/adoption of a child, etc can also accomplish similar reflection and reevaluation of life’s purpose and meaning.

The international events we are witnessing today accomplish this same existential reflection and sense of meaning on a collective level. These events are not just political, economic or sociological in nature. These events are tangible eruptions of the human spirit that unites us all. This is why people of radically different cultures can “feel” for and internally “connect” with people they have never met and with whom they have apparently very little in common.

The desire for freedom is part of what defines a human being. Freedom is necessary for full human development. Philosophically all people have this inner freedom. Even individuals living under the most extreme and cruel tyrants possess (and are sometimes tormented by) freedom of thought. The philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, “I think, therefore I am.”

Freedom is also essential for authentic spirituality; however, it remains merely a starting point for authentic spirituality. “What do I do with my freedom?” Egypt and other newly liberated people must now answer this question. This question implies many things. It means that I am ultimately personally responsible for who I chose to become. My decisions, my words, my deeds shape who I become; once we arrive at conscious thought and we can make personal choices, we become responsible for who we are and who we become.

Consider the passage in the Bible depicting the liberation of the Jewish slaves from captivity in ancient Egypt. Exodus 12: 35-36 speaks of the Israelites using their newly acquired freedom to demand material wealth. The Israelites wandered for forty years in the desert. Forty years represented a lifetime in the scriptures. In other words, this life is a journey from slavery to true liberation. After they had left Egypt and found themselves in the desert, they expressed very different sentiments about freedom “Would that we had died…as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you [Moses] had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” [Exodus 16:3]

This reveals something very human regarding the reality of freedom. The sudden joy of attaining liberation from slavery (i.e. freedom) is quickly forgotten once the cost of freedom, personal responsibility, is revealed. The appreciation for freedom is replaced with a longing for the security of slavery. Winston Churchill quipped, “Those who would trade freedom for security, deserve neither.”

Many paradoxically fear freedom, precisely because it assigns them (me/us) personal responsibility for their actions. This is the seductive appeal of many ideologies and religious fundamentalism. In exchange for unquestioning obedience and conformity, they promise their adherents salvation. Additionally, the adherent is no longer personally responsible, since he/she had submitted himself or herself to the collective reality, the state or church.

In fact the adherent relishes this absorption into the state/church since it confers on them identity. A false, prefabricated identity, but an identity that requires no personal development. Specifically, it does not require them to face their own fears and demons. This also poisons adherents with a spiritual pride, a delusion that they are superior to those outside their belief system.

This is part of a spiritual seduction by some religious leaders and institutions. They are happy to assume such responsibility and in fact claim that God has bestowed it upon them, in exchange for power, influence and wealth. This also explains the growing divide between progressives and literalists within Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.

The idea that individuals are exempt from personal responsibility for their deeds due to external factors was rejected at the Nuremburg Trials. “I was just following orders” did not work, as a viable defense at those trials and it will not serve as an excuse for people today. However, the chilling reality of such totalitarian regimes does posit a legitimate question. How does authentic spirituality deal with fear? The Roman Senator Cicero stated, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The Book of Numbers contains a fascinating treatment of this spiritual dilemma.

Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food! In punishment the Lord sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died. … Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.” [Numbers 21:5-8]

Read carefully again that ancient text. It reveals something about the human condition. We will all be stricken with fear on life’s journey. It is only when we confront (look upon) what we most fear, that we are healed.

If we opt for the security of slavery, we may find it once more; however, our spirit will rebel against it once more. Freedom means walking through the desert, it means dropping into the sand those things we immaturely thought would be the cause of our happiness. It means facing our personal fears and in doing so, being healed and becoming whole.

In the case of individuals, this process takes a lifetime. In the case of nations, regions and humanity it can take several lifetimes. On both levels, the human spirit seeks freedom to develop and flower into personal and collective integrity.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Morality of Sex, gay & straight.

This morning I had a conversation with my former professor of Moral Theology at Saint John's Seminary. He shared with me this video that I, in turn, am now sharing with you. I hope that you find it helpful.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When the Church married Same-Sex couples.

The following is a reprint of an article by Jim Duffy that appeared in 1998 in The Irish Times. The Yale history professor quoted in the article is Dr. John Boswell. For an extensive list of books by this noted historian on Same-Sex marriages in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, please follow this hyperlink to Fordham University.

When Marriage Between Gays Was a Rite

An article in the Irish Times that discusses same gender unions in the early church.

by Jim Duffy
Published in 1998

As the churches struggle with the issue of homosexuality, a long tradition of gay marriage indicates that the Christian attitude towards same sex unions may not always have been as "straight" as is now suggested, writes Jim Duffy.

A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine's monastery on Mt. Sinai. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman pronubus (best man) overseeing what in a standard Roman icon would be the wedding of a husband and wife. In the icon, Christ is the pronubus. Only one thing is unusual. The "husband and wife" are in fact two men.

Is the icon suggesting that a homosexual "marriage" is one sanctified by Christ? The very idea seems initially shocking. The full answer comes from other sources about the two men featured, St. Serge and St. Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who became Christian martyrs.

While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly close. Severus of Antioch in the sixth century explained that "we should not separate in speech [Serge and Bacchus] who were joined in life". More bluntly, in the definitive 10th century Greek account of their lives, St. Serge is openly described as the "sweet companion and lover" of St. Bacchus.

In other words, it confirms what the earlier icon implies, that they were a homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was openly accepted by early Christian writers. Furthermore, in an image that to some modern Christian eyes might border on blasphemy, the icon has Christ himself as their pronubus, their best man overseeing their "marriage".

The very idea of a Christian homosexual marriage seems incredible. Yet after a twelve year search of Catholic and Orthodox church archives Yale history professor John Boswell has discovered that a type of Christian homosexual "marriage" did exist as late as the 18th century.

Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has evolved as a concept and as a ritual.

Professor Boswell discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient church liturgical documents (and clearly separate from other types of non-marital blessings of adopted children or land) were ceremonies called, among other titles, the "Office of Same Sex Union" (10th and 11th century Greek) or the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

These ceremonies had all the contemporary symbols of a marriage: a community gathered in a church, a blessing of the couple before the altar, their right hands joined as at heterosexual marriages, the participation of a priest, the taking of the Eucharist, a wedding banquet afterwards. All of which are shown in contemporary drawings of the same sex union of Byzantine Emperor Basil I (867-886) and his companion John. Such homosexual unions also took place in Ireland in the late 12th / early 13th century, as the chronicler Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis) has recorded.

Unions in Pre-Modern Europe lists in detail some same sex union ceremonies found in ancient church liturgical documents. One Greek 13th century "Order for Solemnisation of Same Sex Union", having invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, called on God to "vouchsafe unto these Thy servants [N and N] grace to love another and to abide unhated and not cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God and all Thy saints". The ceremony concludes: "And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded".

Another 14th century Serbian Slavonic "Office of the Same Sex Union", uniting two men or two women, had the couple having their right hands laid on the Gospel while having a cross placed in their left hands. Having kissed the Gospel, the couple were then required to kiss each other, after which the priest, having raised up the Eucharist, would give them both communion.

Boswell found records of same sex unions in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, Istanbul, and in Sinai, covering a period from the 8th to 18th centuries. Nor is he the first to make such a discovery. The Dominican Jacques Goar (1601-1653) includes such ceremonies in a printed collection of Greek prayer books.

While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, it was only from about the 14th century that antihomosexual feelings swept western Europe. Yet same sex unions continued to take place.

At St. John Lateran in Rome (traditionally the Pope's parish church) in 1578 a many as 13 couples were "married" at Mass with the apparent cooperation of the local clergy, "taking communion together, using the same nuptial Scripture, after which they slept and ate together", according to a contemporary report.

Another woman to woman union is recorded in Dalmatia in the 18th century. Many questionable historical claims about the church have been made by some recent writers in this newspaper.

Boswell's academic study however is so well researched and sourced as to pose fundamental questions for both modern church leaders and heterosexual Christians about their attitudes towards homosexuality.

For the Church to ignore the evidence in its own archives would be a cowardly cop-out. The evidence shows convincingly that what the modern church claims has been its constant unchanging attitude towards homosexuality is in fact nothing of the sort.

It proves that for much of the last two millennia, in parish churches and cathedrals throughout Christendom from Ireland to Istanbul and in the heart of Rome itself, homosexual relationships were accepted as valid expressions of a God-given ability to love and commit to another person, a love that could be celebrated, honoured and blessed both in the name of, and through the Eucharist in the presence of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We are human beings, not an issue or a cause!

People often speak of Same-sex marriage, DADT, ENDA, Anti-bullying laws, and gender identity as though they are speaking of political, theological and social issues. The danger of discussing these matters that way is to forget that fundamentally what we are speaking about are human dignity and human lives.

Real people came to the confessional or to my office when I was a priest. They would open their hearts, share their fears and hopes, talk about their trials. As an Air Force Chaplain, I was surprised to discover that Protestants would often ask for an appointment with priest. It was one of the only places they could go on base, and speak freely, without fear that what they said would be reported to their Commanding Officer, and negatively affect their careers.

In my many years of working with people, I was struck by the unimaginable capacity that the human heart has to suffer in silence. Sometimes truths remained unspoken out of fear, but far more often people bear what objectively seems unbearable motivated out of love for another.

The woman in the following video reminds me of those people I encountered in ministerial service. She speaks with the strength found in her relationship as a Mother and the quiet dignity bestowed by the foundational compassion that guides her moral insights.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Forcing science (and people) to “fit” theological understandings.

THE embattled head of Belgium's Roman Catholic church today defended his controversial remarks on AIDS, gays and paedophile priests, insisting that his words had been twisted.

Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard has been accused of homophobia and his spokesman abruptly resigned after the church leader described gay love as a travesty of nature and AIDS as "a sort of intrinsic justice". FULL STORY

Benedict XVI and Archbishop Leonard are in fact practical proponents of sexual promiscuity. By willfully ignoring, the Church’s own statement made in 1975 that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” They refuse to accept the logical conclusions of both this statement and the findings of the science of psychology regarding sexual orientation.

The consequences of this childish obstinacy are multiple.

· “Forming” young people with same-sex orientation in the Church's 19th century understanding of human sexuality cripples them emotionally, psychologically and socially.

· This “formation” instills denial and lying in people with same-sex orientations. This begins for most at puberty, when they do not possess an adult psychological/emotional skill set to effectively deal with this attack.

· In denying the social institution of marriage to same sex couples, the hierarchy of the Church forces people into sham heterosexual marriages, and/or to seek clandestine (promiscuous) sexual liaisons. The spiritual, psychological and emotional damage caused in the Name of God are as horrifying today as when Jesus commented, “Woe to you lawyers [religious leaders] also! You lay impossible burdens on men but will not lift a finger to lighten them.” [Luke 11:46]

· In those happy cases were an individual becomes sufficiently self-actualized and enters into a Union of Life and Love [marriage] with another person, they are denied the legal protections, benefits and social support granted by Civil Marriage. This undermines both fidelity and stable homes which are the basic cell of society.

· Theological condemnations of gay people engender and encourage social bigotry against gay people. This includes bullying in schools, employment discrimination, unjustly denying certain career options (e.g. military service, education, ministry, etc) to persons with a same-sex orientation.

· Increasingly many LGBTQ persons and their loved ones are not only abandoning the Catholic Church, but many have abandoned faith in God altogether. This is due to the monstrous abuses perpetrated in God’s name by those who claim to be God’s agents in this world.

· In addition to vile attacks on LGBTQ people, Benedict XVI and many bishops are also complicit in the Cover-Up Scandal that protected pedophiles, and thereby created new instances of pedophilia.

In this light, I heartily agree with Archbishop Leonard’s assertion, “Badly handling physical nature causes it to treat us badly in turn and badly dealing with the deeper nature of human love will ultimately always lead to catastrophes on all levels."

It is time that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church practiced some humility and accepted the findings of science. Let’s hope that it takes them less time than it did for them to admit their error and apologize about Galileo.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Standing up & Proud: Vietnamese Tet Celebration

I was invited to participate at a Vietnamese Tet Celebration in Orange County on Saturday 5 October 2011. The invitation was extended by an Asian LGBTQ organization. The Celebration included a parade followed by a luncheon reception and then, a panel discussion with religious leaders. Last year, the Interfaith Council, specifically the Catholic hierarchy, opposed the participation of the LGBTQ Asian group in the Tet Celebration. That opposition encouraged bigoted slurs being yelled at the Asian LGBTQ group as they marched in the parade.

That prompted the LGBTQ Asian group to invite various religious leaders to participate in the parade and a panel discussion on religion/spirituality following the parade. The organizers had hoped to present a more sensitive and enlightened theological view of LGBTQ persons. Organizers asked me to arrive by 9 AM at the staging cite for the parade. They were informed they were to occupy spot number 75 in the parade, nearly at the very end. When I discovered this, I instantly thought of Rosa Parks and smiled.

Shane introduced me to Gina, one of the LGBTQ organizers of the day’s events. Gina is an attractive young Vietnamese-American woman. She was attired in traditional Vietnamese festive garb. “It is a pleasure to meet you Father, thank you so much for joining us today.” Shane pointed out that Gina’s mother had decided to march with us in the parade. “Perhaps your mother would like to meet Father” Shane suggested to Gina. “Oh, yes! She would be so happy to meet you Father” Gina asked. We walked over to Gina’s mother, a woman in her fifties with graying hair holding a sign that read, “Proud Asian Mother of a Lesbian Daughter.”

Gina’s mother extended her hand and smiled politely as we exchanged introductions. Her dignity and silent strength moved me. Her she was marching with her lesbian daughter down the main street of little Saigon. The very same street where one year earlier people had yelled angry and vile threats at the LGBTQ marchers. She was marching down that street in the plain light of day in front of the whole community at her daughter’s side.

We started to march at 11 AM and Gina was concerned that they had started us out so late in the morning that much of the crowd would disperse. “If the Vietnamese don’t like something they ignore it” she said. The Interfaith group had not ignored us the year before. An ambulance from the Red Cross drove slowly past us and the drivers gave us a thumbs-up, “We support you!” they shouted out at our group.

As we started to march, I noticed that motorcycle police was escorting our contingent. “They want to make sure that we don’t get attacked” the Unitarian Minster marching next to me told me. A middle aged Vietnamese man ran up to me and asked, “Are you a Catholic priest?!” “Yes, I am.” The man literally began to shake with anger. “But the Church is against gays!” he said emphatically. “No, many Catholics are accepting of us.” Our conversation was abruptly ended as a young Latina police officer came and informed the man he had to step behind the parade line.

The Unitarian minster commented on the man’s rage, I responded by quoting from Shakespeare “Me thinks the woman doth protest to much!” She nodded and we both laughed. I noticed the faces of the people behind the parade lines. Many of them smiled and waved. The Episcopal priest at my side explained that many of them were LGBTQ people who were afraid to march with us, because they feared being outed to their families.

A short while later, the same Vietnamese man who had run up to me earlier returned. This time he was escorted by a cameraperson and was holding a microphone with a news outlet logo affixed to the handle. “Are you a Catholic priest?” he asked as he pointed the microphone at me. “Yes, I am Father Geoffrey Farrow of the Diocese of Fresno.” The man became visibly angry once again. “What message do you have for the Pope?” “The same message Jesus delivered two-thousand years ago, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Holy Father, love your lesbian and gay children.” My response elicited yet another question. “When will you all change and come back to the Church?” “That would be like asking Latinos, Blacks or Asians to change.” He became more upset and asked, “What do you say to parents who have a homosexual child?” I responded, “Love your children and treat them as you would your other children.” As a police officer approached, the “journalist” quickly left.

We reached the end of the parade route; Gina and the other organizers were jubilant that this year there were no hecklers and no violence. They thanked us for our participation and directed us to the community center for lunch followed by a panel discussion.

I was part of a panel with a Buddhist abbess, a Buddhist monk, an Episcopalian priest and a Unitarian minister. Each of us had prepared a statement and mine follows here:

In the early 1990’s, I read an article in a Jesuit magazine that made a very interesting point. The author stated that we were reaching a point in the United States where Fundamentalist Protestants, Traditionalist Catholics and Orthodox Jews would have more in common with each other than they would with their own progressive co-religionists.

That fault line that runs through the major western religions demarcates two very different approaches both to Sacred Texts and to religion/spirituality itself. The Fundamentalist/Traditionalist/”Orthodox” approach is essentially a literalist approach to the Sacred Text. In this mindset, the text is self contained and fully received. There is nothing more to be said; the text is seen as an “Answer Book” for all of life’s personal and collective questions. Within Catholicism, the Magisterium (the teaching Office/authority) of the Pope and bishops becomes the final word that must be accepted and to which all must conform.

The appeal of such an approach can be found in the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Grand Inquisitor referring to the common people states “We shall lift from their shoulders the unbearable weight of freedom.” Religious Fundamentalism accomplishes precisely that for its followers. You simply have to follow along and you are absolved of personal responsibility.

Ironically, if you read the Gospels you find Jesus challenging this approach to religion/spirituality. Luke 10: 25-36 in this particular passage Jesus is asked to comment on what is essential. There were six hundred and fourteen laws that an observant Jewish person was expected to keep. To break one, even the slightest law, was to break them all. There existed at the time of Jesus a rabbinical tradition of discussion and questioning. What does God expect from me? It is in this spirit that the lawyer asks this question of Jesus “Rabbi, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?”

In the text, Jesus answers the question with a question, “What is written in the law [Torah/Bible]?” and “How do you read it?” By answering the question with a question, Jesus is requiring the person seeking an answer to think and to become personally engaged in the process. Before any further commentary on the text, it is very important to note this process

In reading Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, we need to comprehend that we are not reading a book that was written last week. We are reading a collection of writings that include multiple sources, poetry, history, and apocalyptic literature. Additionally, these various texts have been combined into what we call “the Bible” which is in fact a library of books written over a 1,500 year time span. As a final twist consider that the authors DO NOT share your culture; therefore, you must first attempt to understand their historical and cultural context, so that you may correctly capture their meaning. You cannot read it as if you are picking up your hometown morning newspaper.

Beyond those technical considerations, Jesus’ question to the lawyer is equally applicable to you and me “How do you read it?” In other words, what is your spiritual disposition in coming to these texts? Do you ask questions to seek personal growth, a deeper understanding, a more compassionate spirituality; or in an attempt to manipulate God and others?

In the cited text, the lawyer (in order to justify himself) asks “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were considered beyond hope of everlasting life, since they had corrupted Judaism with pagan practices. Jesus deliberately selects a Samaritan as the hero in this parable about practical charity. He does so to both challenge popular preconceptions about holiness and to underscore that what God desires is not legalistic perfection; but rather, compassion [charity/love].

The Sacred Text/Religious Authority is not the final word, but rather the starting point for thought and discussion. That thought and discussion must be guided by humility as well as compassion.

John J. McNeill, a Jesuit priest, in his book: “The Church and the Homosexual,” makes the following point: “The persons referred to in Romans 1:26 are probably not homosexuals that is, those who are psychologically inclined toward their own sex—since they are portrayed as ‘abandoning their natural customs.’” The Pauline epistles do not explicitly treat the question of homosexual activity between two persons who share a homosexual orientation, and as such cannot be read as condemning such behavior. Therefore, same gender sex by two individuals with same sex orientation is not “abandoning their natural custom.”

In 1973, because of a greater understanding of human psychology, the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness. In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s watchdog for orthodoxy) produced a document entitled: “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” In this document, they made the most remarkable statement. They stated that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” While these statements are hardly glowing affirmations of gay and lesbian persons, they represent a watershed in human perception and understanding of gay and lesbian people.

These new insights have occurred because of the birth and development of the science of psychology and understanding of brain development in the 19th and 20th centuries.

An elderly Monsignor, under whom I had the privileged to serve, told me “we are not bakers, we work with souls.” Twenty-five years of ministerial service have taught me that we cannot, like Cinderella’s evil stepsister, “cut the foot to fit the shoe.” Attempting to force people to conform their lives to inhuman standards is nothing new in religion. “Jesus answered: Woe to you lawyers [religious leaders] also! You lay impossible burdens on men but will not lift a finger to lighten them.” [Luke 11: 46]

The hierarchy in ignoring the findings of science and their own statement that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct” are in Jesus’ words laying impossible burdens on people and do not lift a finger to help them. What is the hierarchy saying to people with same sex orientation? What are they demanding from them? What would it have meant to you personally to hear from the pulpit at church that you could never date? Never fall in love, never kiss or hold hands with another person? Never be able to marry? How would you view yourself? How would others hearing those same words be directed to view you? How would you view your life and your future?

What would those words mean to someone in junior high school who discovers that he/she is attracted to people of their same gender? The greatest fear that he/she would have is that they would be rejected by the people they love the most—their family. So, their solution is to try to pass as straight, deceive, and in effect—lie. Of course, this leads ultimately to self-loathing. It should come as little surprise that gay teenagers have elevated suicide rates. According to the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (1999), 33% of gay youth will attempt suicide.

When the hierarchy prohibited artificial birth control, most of the faithful in the United States, Canada and Europe scratched their heads in wonderment and proceeded to ignore them. There is an expression in theology: “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” If your son or daughter is gay/lesbian let them know that you love them unconditionally. Let them know that you are not ashamed or embarrassed by them. Guide them as you would your other children to finding true and abiding love. Let them know that marriage is a union of love and life and is possible for them too.

If you are LGBTQ stand up and speak out. The moment you stop being “invisible” you challenge the preconceived ideas and prejudices about LGBTQ people. The moment you challenge homophobic slurs and comments you help to defeat bigotry in our society.

At the conclusion of the panel discussion, Gina went to the podium and thanked all the panelists. She then raised her arm towards her mother who was seated in the audience. “I would also very much like to thank my mother for being here today.” Gina’s composure was slightly compromised as her eyes swelled with tears. Her mother looked at her daughter from across the room and smiled. It was a good day.