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.