OTTAWA — Canada’s Catholic bishops have published a pastoral letter on ministry to young people with same-sex attraction that warns against “watering down” Church teaching yet shows sensitivity to the challenges faced by homosexuals.
The eight-page booklet prepared by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) doctrinal commission released June 27 on its website (www.cccb.ca) comes when publicly-funded Catholic schools are under pressure from the Ontario government’s equity polity.
Earlier this year, the Ontario bishops sent out a letter encouraging Catholic schools to set up clubs to combat bullying based on sexual orientation in response.
The Canadian bishops’ statement declares, “Avoidance of difficult questions or watering down the Church’s teaching is always a disservice. Such attitudes could lead young people into grave moral danger.”
The letter recognizes the “enormous pressures” facing young people grappling with same sex attraction such as “unjust discrimination, the sense of invisibility and isolation, and ignorance of their particular situation.”
“We deplore all such attitudes and actions,” said the document.
It urges priests and pastoral workers to examine themselves honestly so as to remove any barriers that might make young people facing same-sex attraction feel unwelcome. “Ostracism or the fear of being rejected or even hated, frequently contributes to the despair that all too often is felt by these young persons.”
It urges parents to “respond lovingly and trust divine providence” if their child reveals same-sex inclinations and to continue welcoming him or her into their home.
It warns of the temptation to suicide by those who can “no longer deny or ignore their deep-seated same-sex inclinations.”
The document frames the debate in Catholic terms and avoids reducing people to an identity based on sexual orientation.
The Church does not use the terms “gay” or “lesbian” in its official teachings, the letter says.
“Although these words are common terms in current speech, and many people use them to describe themselves, they do not describe persons with the fullness and richness that the Church recognizes and respects in every man or woman.”
The bishops note the words “gay” and “lesbian” “are often cultural definitions for people and movements that have accepted homosexual acts and behaviours as morally good.”
Their letter outlines Church teaching on sexuality, traditional marriage and on the distinction between inclinations and actions.
“While homosexual acts are always objectively wrong, same-sex inclinations are not in themselves sinful or a moral failing,” it says. “To the extent that a same-sex attraction is not freely chosen, there is no personal culpability in having such an inclination.”
“Nonetheless, when oriented toward genital activity, this inclination is ‘objectively disordered’,” the letter says, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“This does not mean that the person as a whole is somehow defective or ‘badly made,’ or that he or she has in some way been rejected by God.”
“Inclinations to homosexual acts in no way diminish the full human dignity or intrinsic worth of the person,” the letter says. “For many people, same-sex attraction constitutes a trial. They therefore deserve to be approached by pastors with charity and prudence.”
They recognize the pressures all young people face from the media, moral relativism and society’s promotion of hedonism. For those who do not see marriage as an option, “choosing chastity as a positive value is even more of an ongoing challenge,” the letter says.
The letter urges educators to encourage chastity, “especially since society often misunderstands and scorns this virtue.”
The bishops describe chastity as “a way of loving” that entails “more than the avoidance of sin.” It also involves the successful integration of sexuality and a person’s bodily and spiritual being.
Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, a member of the doctrinal commission that produced the pastoral letter, said he hopes the CCCB document will clarify for school boards, teachers, parents and students where the Church stands.