Yesterday the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a set of “pastoral care guidelines” for those ministering to “persons with a homosexual inclination”.
The bishops, however, fail to offer an authentic pastoral approach for two fundamental reasons.
First, they fail to reflect a credible understanding of the reality of the homosexual orientation, referring to it, as they do, as a “disordered inclination”, and insisting that it “does not constitute a quality comparable to race, ethnic background, etc”.
Science and human experience, however, totally undermine the bishops’ flawed terminology and presuppositions.
Second, the bishops fail to reflect any semblance of awareness concerning the faith journeys of the vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics. This is hardly surprising given the fact the LGBT Catholics were not consulted during the lengthy writing process of the “guidelines”.
In their document, the bishops discourage announcements of one’s sexual orientation – outside, that is, of a close circle of friends and supporters within the church. Given the people I know who are championing this document, any “support” will be given, first and foremost, to the official teaching of the church (considered the final word), and not to the actual individual coming into awareness of their homosexuality.
Such awareness, like homosexuality itself, is something to be kept hidden away from public view, according to the bishops. You can be sure that participation in National Coming Out Day celebrations is not encouraged. It seems that the bishops would rather promote the psychologically destructive existence of the closet.
The guidelines also warn those in Catholic ministry not to advocate against church teachings or adopt a position of “distant neutrality” toward them. So much for the Catholic teaching of the primacy of conscience. Indeed, this important tenet of Catholicism is not even mentioned in the guidelines.
Writing in the New York Times, Sam Sinnett, president of DignityUSA, the nation’s largest Catholic LGBT organization, notes that while some language in the guidelines “sounds welcoming”, the document repeats “all the spiritually violent things [the Vatican has] been saying about gay and lesbian Catholics for decades – that we are ‘objectively disordered’ and our relationships are intrinsically evil”.
Sinnett and others are also critical of the bishops’ failure to consult with LGBT people while drawing up their “pastoral” guidelines.
As both a gay man and a lay pastoral minister within the Catholic community of the Twin Cities, I’ve come to recognize that a truly pastoral approach is one that helps LGBT people recognize and celebrate their own God-given truth, primarily by discerning God’s loving presence in their lives and relationships. Listening is crucial in such a holy process.
Yet as has been noted, the bishops’ so-called guidelines fail to even invite and encourage LGBT people to name and proclaim their own reality. Not only do the bishops not want to listen to LGBT people, they don’t even want LGBT people to listen to themselves!
Listening, however, is a life-giving act. Religious educator and author Maria Harris also reminds us that, “Genuine wisdom involves learning from the wisdoms of other forgotten or overlooked people”.
Like LGBT persons, women within the Catholic community are also often “forgotten” and “overlooked”. Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, has written eloquently of “the value of being listened to” when marginalized within an institution like the Catholic Church.
“No set of rules,” she writes, “no prescriptions from on high, ever carried me through the dark or gave me courage for the heights. It was the people who took time to listen to me who gave me something more important than the rules to live by. They gave me back a sense of myself, of my own convictions, of the law of God within my heart.”
It seems certain that the US bishops’ guidelines for ministering to “persons with a homosexual inclination” are not interested in giving people a sense of self; not interested in helping them discern and celebrate the loving and transforming presence of the sacred within themselves.
Instead, the guidelines seem to be all about repression, denial, and unquestioning obedience to an outside authority unreceptive to the presence of God within the lives of LGBT persons.
Accordingly, the bishops’ guidelines will fail to resonate with LGBT people of faith as our journeys of faith have taken us beyond the false god worshipped by cults of unquestioning obedience and promulgated in doctrines, statements and guidelines written about us by those who “have ears but do not hear”. This failure to listen undermines Jesus’ message of liberation, radical inclusiveness, and compassion.
My hope is that all Catholic ministers who seek a genuine pastoral approach for ministry with LGBT people will first listen to these same peoples’ experiences and insights before considering the Catholic bishops’ “guidelines”.
In doing so, they may well discover that it is the members of the church hierarchy who are in more need of help and “pastoral care” with regards the issue of homosexuality, than are the majority of LGBT Catholics and their loved ones.
See also the Wild Reed posts:
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Catholic Church and Gays: An Excellent Historical Overview
A Catholic's Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
“Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality is Complex and Nuanced”, says Theologian
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
This “Militant Secularist” Wants to Marry a Man
The Sexuality of Jesus
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an "Informed" Catholic Conscience
The Bible and Homosexuality