Friday, March 4, 2011

Bishops' Statements and the Erosion of the Family

Last night I had a long drive from a speaking engagement in Central California. As I drove I, thought again about the statement issued by Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop O’Brien and Bishop Malooly to the voters of Maryland. Specifically the passage in their directive to voters that states, “We believe such a change would lead to the erosion of the family, our society’s most valued and important social unit.”

Aside from the fact that these religious leaders fail to offer any argument or, evidence whatsoever to support such an accusation, the reality is that their allegation actually inflicts the very harm they claim to oppose. Let me explain how:

The American Psychological Association states, “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, psychologist do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.” What happens in a real family with a child who discovers that he/she is gay or lesbian?

If the parents ignore the research and findings of psychology and listen instead to the unsubstantiated claims of these three bishops, they will attempt to coerce their lesbian/gay child to becoming “straight.” Human beings want to love and be loved, and as a child, we especially prize and seek the love of our parents. Gay and lesbian children that are told they are morally disordered by their parents (who acting on bad pastoral advice) are apt to believe this and attempt to change, or at least repress their orientation. As the APA states, “Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings..”

Ultimately they will be unable to accomplish this “change” as the APA has stated based on their clinical research and findings. The results? We saw the consequence of such irresponsible “pastoral” advice last year with a series of teenage suicides. The Center for Disease Control stated in their “Youth at Risk” study of 1999 that one-third of gay adolescents will attempt suicide. Not reflected in that study are the vast numbers of LGBTQ youth who become alcoholics or addicted to drugs in an impossible attempt to change their sexual orientation.

Many parents are counseled by religious authorities to employ “tough-love” with their LGBTQ children. If you drive to one of America’s large cities, you will find some these young people selling themselves on the streets as prostitutes in an attempt to support themselves financially. “Friends are the new family” is an expression that finds wide usage among LGBTQ young people. They are not welcomed or loved by their families unless they change. A change that psychology informs us is impossible.

All of this done in the Name of God by religious authorities, calls to mind the words of Jesus speaking of the religious authorities of his day, “Their words are bold but their deeds are few. They bind up heavy loads, hard to carry, to lay on other men’s shoulders, while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them.” [Matthew 23: 4].

If these bishops were ignorant of the findings of psychology that sexual orientation is not chosen, if they were ignorant of the Roman Catholic Church’s statement in the 1975 Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” Then, these bishops might be acting in good faith; however, their words would still gravely contribute to the erosion of the family, that they themselves decry.

As one of our readers (Tal) commented, “The problem is a church hierarchy that has come to value conformity and obedience over conscience, and that fails to draw a distinction between a Supreme Pontiff's personal demons and prejudices and the objective reality of the Church as the People of God.”

Ever increasing numbers of lay Catholics are realizing this and correctly choosing to selectively disregard their bishops. In theology, this is called the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful). This concept means that, if Catholic laity dissent from the Catholic hierarchy, it may be that the laity are in fact following the correct and "true" Catholic line while the Catholic leaders are in error. American Catholics increasingly call this common sense.


Jackie said...

Father Geoff,
What a perfect rebuttal you give to the stubborn, unrealistic nonsense that these and other bishops put forth.
I would also ask them why "gay" families don't count. There are many, many perfectly happy, successful same gender families in this world.
Thanks for always finding the words to express just what I think are the things that need to be said.

Mareczku said...

Father Geoff: It seems to me that most Catholic parents do support their gay teens. I don't think that most think that it is a sin to be gay or that their children are disordered. I think the laity are ahead of the bishops here. Sadly though, what you say about gay kids is quite common among fundamentalist Christians. I wish that the bishops would be more supportive of our young people. Have any bishops spoken out against bullying of gay kids and suicide of gay teens?

Father Geoff said...

Dear Mareczku,

Sadly, I think the fact that you had to ask the question, provides the answer.

Mareczku said...

Father Geoff, in our diocesan newspaper, the bishop wrote an article and asked the readers to respond and tell him how to help him make a better church. I answered some of the questions that he asked and I also mentioned my concern about bullying and teen suicides and that the church needed to be more supportive of young people. I also expressed my outrage that an Archbishop would deny communion to gay students. So I hope that he reads what I have written.

Father Geoff said...

Dear Mareczku,

That is excellent. The most radical thing that we can do is to stand up and speak out. Being visible and being heard are the first steps towards bringing about change.

JustinO'Shea said...

Father Geoff ~
A few years ago there was a statement made, addressed to parents of gay children called "Always Our Children". This was drawn up by the family life group, ameneded and approved by the Vatican, published by the Bishops Conference.

In most dioceses in the US this statement was unknown and/or ignored by the bishops!. . as if it had never happened. So, culpably the ignorance continues, witness the current statements by Wuerl and Co.

Unfortunately one gets the idea --imagine that! --- that the USCCB functions as the "catholic" voice of the Republican Party! So the more they talk the less are the bishops taken seriously.

Sometimes I wonder why we gay people hang onto the establishment which seems hell-bent [and this is not a pun] to destroy us. . .They say one thing and do another.. . over and over.

Who was it who said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, all the while expecting different results". . .

Father, thanks for your position and commitment to the Church and all of God's Holy People!

Justin O'Shea
(college student)

JustinO'Shea said...

Father. . .
This is the link to Always Our Children from the Bishops, about gays in the Family of the Church.

Unofortunately the majority of bishops and priests have never read this or even know of its existence.

justin o'shea

Father Geoff said...

Dear Justin,

Thank you, yes I am aware of the USCCB document “Always our Children.” The problem with this document is that it is an off-ramp to nowhere. While it speaks of the dignity of homosexual persons, etc. it also states,

“Two conclusions follow. First, it is God's plan that sexual intercourse occur only within marriage between a man and a woman. Second, every act of intercourse must be open to the possible creation of human life. Homosexual intercourse cannot fulfill these two conditions. Therefore, the Church teaches that homogenital behavior is objectively immoral, while making the important distinction between this behavior and a homosexual orientation, which is not immoral in itself. It is also important to recognize that neither a homosexual orientation, nor a heterosexual one, leads inevitably to sexual activity.”

This document starts off well and ends badly. People with a gay/lesbian sexual orientation are told that they may never have sex or, be married. Imagine the reaction if heterosexual teenagers where given the same message! Imagine the reaction of their parents! However, since these are gay/lesbians, too bad. People with same-sex orientation are asked to live solitary and lonely lives. Why? How does this please the Creator that assigned them their sexual orientation? What does it say about God? What does it say about our relationship with God? How would attempting to implement this advice affect the average family with a gay/lesbian child?

The Honourable Husband said...

A good, nuanced and thoughtful view, Geoff.

You might be interested in the foollowing article, and the almost 600 comments on it. Published on the Australian national broadcaster's website on the eve of this year's Syney gay and lesbian mardi gras.

Joe said...

Father Geoff,

Thank you for exposing the backhanded "pastoral" pamphlet that is "Always Our Children." I received a copy from a gay-friendly priest, but after reading it, I thought to myself, "Was this supposed to make me feel better?" Instead of bringing me comfort, I felt the opposite.

Father Geoff said...

Dear Mareczku,

The fact that you have to ask the question, provides the answer. My experience of the bishops is that most of them are careerists.