Friday, May 11, 2007

Voices of Parental Authority and Wisdom

Recently I reflected upon the appointment of Bishop John Nienstedt as Coadjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.

Noting that the new coadjutor archbishop has expressed interest in listening and learning, I shared the hope that he might take the time to get to know local Catholic parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons.

These parents have much wisdom and compassion to share, as was demonstrated recently at New Ways Ministry’s Sixth National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality. Held in Minneapolis, the symposium provided a unique opportunity for several parents of LGBT persons to engage in dialogue with two Catholic bishops.

Following is a report on this meeting by Casey Lopata and Florence Balog of the Rochester, NY-based organization, Fortunate Families. This report was originally published in the April 2007 issue of the Fortunate Families newsletter. It is reprinted with permission both at The Wild Reed and in the forthcoming Spring 2007 edition of CPCSM’s journal, The Rainbow Spirit.

The accompanying “Wisdom Mandala” artwork is by Barbara Clare Goodwin.


In a Church “Always in Need of Reform,”
Parents Offer Authority and Wisdom

By Casey Lopata and Florence Balog

Modeling the dialogue of which our Church is in need,
Catholic parents of LGBT persons recently shared their
“persuasive” stories with two bishops who “came to learn.”

On the Saturday evening of New Ways Ministry’s March 16-18 symposium, over thirty parents of LGBT children met with retired Archbishop Francis Hurley (Anchorage), and retired Bishop Joseph Sullivan (Brooklyn).

The bishops came to learn. They listened to heartfelt, passionate, and powerful stories from about 15 parents, a grandmother, and a gay Catholic man.

Here is some of what they heard:

– Disappointment, pain, and anger at the Church’s teaching, resulting in estrangement from the Church, both for the LGBT daughter/son and for their families.

A mother described her son’s wonderful experience of being Catholic with support from his pastor. When the pastor left, the new one stressed Vatican teaching on homosexuality. After trying for a while, her son couldn’t take it anymore and left the Church.

– Disparity between parents’ experience of their LGBT children and the bishops’ theoretical view.

Learning his son was gay, a father called the chancery. The receptionist struggled to find someone he could talk with and finally offered the person in the chancery who dealt with people living with AIDS as the only one who might help. The father said his son is gay and that he doesn’t have AIDS. Annually, for ten years, he called and received the same response. Eventually, he was directed to Encourage. Yet for him to have stayed with this support group for parents that upholds and stresses the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, would have been a “pastoral train wreck.”

– Church teaching adds to the pain caused by society’s view of homosexuality, and to parents’ worry and pain about the safety of their children.

One father noted that the Bishops’ use of “inclination” in the latest document (Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care) is an indication that the bishops believe, contrary to scientific consensus, that same-sex attraction is not an orientation and can be changed.

A gay Catholic remarked: “I tried everything to get rid of my same-sex feelings. Finally I realized, this is who I am, as made by God. I had to ‘come out’ because I was becoming too good of a liar.”

– The pain and estrangement experienced by LGBT persons and their families is caused by bishops who teach about an “objectively disordered inclination” and “intrinsically evil acts,” and by Church teaching, uninformed by reality, that says it is impossible for an LBGT person to lead a fulfilled life of committed love with a person of the same gender.

One mother asked: “How is the Church loving gay people by driving them away?”

A father observed that, “An LGBT Catholic has three choices: 1) follow Church teaching and abstain from sexual activity (not the calling for most); 2) quit the Church (which many do); or 3) ignore the teaching like most Catholic parents ignore teaching on artificial contraception.”

– The pain caused by judging LGBT persons as unfit to parent children because, Church teaching says, LGBT parents put children in an environment that would do “violence” to them.

One mother showed pictures of her three granddaughters – two have two mommies, the other has a mommy and a daddy. She asked the bishops if they could identify which were the two being brought up in an environment of violence.

– Celibacy is a gift. Imposing celibacy on someone because of his or her sexual orientation is cruel and inhuman.

One father said that, “For an LGBT person to follow Church teaching and to forgo sexual activity when one does not have the gift of celibacy is unnatural.”

– While there is pain and struggle in being a Catholic LGBT person, so too is there joy and happiness.

One mother said, and many others nodded in agreement, that most LGBT persons she knows, including her son, are happy and at peace about being and living who they are. In addition, most parents feel fortunate to have an LGBT daughter or son.


After one-and-a-half hours of hearing the parents’ stories, the bishops graciously responded.

They said the stories are persuasive, and encouraged parents to continue to share them. As part of the sensus fidelium (the “sense of the faithful”), their stories need to be heard as the Church is always in need of reform.

One mother asked the bishops to take “our hearts with you and share our stories with other bishops.” Both bishops said they would as they could. One admitted he came not understanding. Although he had learnt a lot, he “didn’t have a clue on what to do next.” After the session, several parents offered suggestions.

This session was a model of the dialogue the bishops call for in their recent document. We pray other bishops will follow the example of Bishops Hurley and Sullivan.

Image 1: Mom’s Spirit
Image 2: Root of Wisdom
Image 3: Jewel of Wisdom
Image 4: Faith’s Wisdom
All images by Barbara Clare Goodwin.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
The Bishops’ “Guidelines”: A Parent’s Response
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
Making Sure All Families Matter
Grandma Knows Best
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide
The Many Forms of Courage
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection

Recommended Off-site Links:
Catholic Rainbow Parents
Fortunate Families
Holy Families Committee of the Catholic Action Network for Social Justice

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

I agree with all of this! What a wonderful post. It is important that this sort of thing continues to be shared. And I just read the most awful conservative sermon by a Fr. Paul. I don't even want to link it in. It was Neanderthal, scratch that, the Neanderthal's are now thought to be advanced and caring.

OK my one point:

A father observed that, “An LGBT Catholic has three choices: 1) follow Church teaching and abstain from sexual activity (not the calling for most); 2) quit the Church (which many do); or 3) ignore the teaching like most Catholic parents ignore teaching on artificial contraception.”

Now don't you think it would be a real contribution to have

4)Follow the alternative article 6 promulgated by [???] that seeks to reconcile traditional catholic morality with LGBT sexuality as a call to strive towards monogamous union.

I think #4 would be very important and isn't really 'there' yet.

To me, dissent within catholicism has to strive towards the light behind a flawed teaching. To me that light is a stoic striving towards channeling the passions into something noble. A new definition of that noble end is needed for LGBT persons. It ought to be written for, and by LGBT religious and it shouldn't be the same old nihilistic, relativistic mush. It should be a call to something greater, something to strive for, something that 9/10 won't reach right away but should try. Something that reflects the wisdom of the old and mature offered to the young. Something that reflects the wisdom of ages.

To me article 6 has a lot of that. It's as if Marcus Aurelius wrote part of it. But then it leaves out, suspiciously, a strong prohibition against pedophilia. The whole thing ought to be gender neutral. And then the bits about LGBT persons ought to be deleted.

Then you reform the part where both unitive and procreative good is necessary, and replace it with the notion that no harm should be committed in the areas of procreation or unity. Now you've just helped infertiles, the elderly, and the contraceptives who have their heart in the right place.

In short, half the world will adopt alternative article 6. Um, or try to, as well try and fail and try again.