ALWAYS OUR CHILDREN


A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children

and

Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers

The following is a summary of the 1997 Statement of the Bishop's Committee on Marriage & Family, a committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. For the complete text, contact the NCCB at 1-800-235-8722.

Preface:
The purpose of the document is to "reach out to parents" of homosexual children. The Bishops offer "words of faith, hope, and love" to these parents "who need the Church's loving presence" at this time. Their message to parents is drawn from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the teachings of Pope John Paul II, the statements of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and their own conference.

A Critical Moment, A Time of Grace:
As the Bishops describe various possible situations that parents might be faced with, they indicate that parents "need not face this painful time alone, without human assistance or God's grace." The Church can be an instrument of help and healing. The Bishops offer their "loving support, reliable guidance, and recommendations for ministries" that can help families in this situation. The message clearly speaks to the parents to accept themselves and their questions, to accept and love their child as a gift from God, and to accept "the full truth of God's revelation about the dignity of the human person and the meaning of human sexuality." Addressing the wider church, they ask that their "words be translated into attitudes and actions that follow the way of love, as Christ taught."

Accepting Yourself:
Recognizing how parents might experience a number of emotions, the Bishops offer insight into some feelings that parents might have. They encourage the parents to accept themselves and their feelings of:
Relief (by "acknowledging the possibility that your child has told you this not to hurt you or create distance, but out of love and truth and with a desire for honesty, intimacy, and closer communications"), Anger (at your child, yourself, at your other children or family members, even at God), Mourning (over the lost of your own expectations for your child or the sadness that comes from the possible discrimination and open hostility that homosexual people often encounter), Fear (for the child's physical safety and general welfare, for the contempt that they may encounter, of the possibility of the child contracting HIV/AIDS), Guilt, Shame, & Loneliness (from thinking about what you might have done, or shouldn't have done), and Parental Protectiveness & Pride (insisting: "You are always my child; nothing can ever change that. You are also a child of God, gifted and called for a purpose in God's design.").

Parents are encouraged to: 1. listen to their feelings, since "they can contain clues that lead to a fuller discovery of God's will"; and 2. remember that it isn't "necessary to act upon all" of these feelings. Simply acknowledging them and talking about them can be sufficient.

Accepting Your Child:
The Bishops encourage parents: "don't break off contact; don't reject your child." They point out that the child, as a gift from God, can now be the cause of another gift: "your family becoming more honest, respectful, and supportive."

They remind us that another way to communicate love is to seek appropriate help for the parents themselves and for the child. Counseling and spiritual direction, willingly pursued by the adult child, can help discern the meaning of sexual behaviors and attractions, which might lead to additional clarity and self-identity.

The Bishops then enter into a discussion of sexual orientation in general and homosexual orientation in particular. They point out that "having a homosexual orientation does not necessarily mean a person will engage in homosexual activity." They conclude: "By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose."

They instruct us to help the homosexual person by: first, encouraging "him or her to cooperate with God's grace to live a chaste life." And second, to "concentrate on the person, and not the homosexual orientation itself." The Bishops end this section by reminding us to "recall one basic truth. God loves every person as a unique individual."

Accepting God's Plan & the Church's Ministry:
This section presents and explains the main points of the Church's moral teaching.
- Every person has an inherent dignity because he or she is created in God's image.
- Like all gifts from God, the power and freedom of sexuality can be channeled toward good or evil. "Everyone is called to personal maturity and responsibility." Chastity means that we integrate our thoughts, feelings, and actions in a way that values and respects one's own dignity and that of others."
- Christ summons all his followers - whether they are married or living a single celibate life - to a higher standard of loving. After a discussion on chastity, the bishops offer two conclusions: it is God's plan that sexual intercourse occur only within marriage between a man and a woman. The Church teaches that homogenital behavior is objectively immoral.
- Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The Church teaches "that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them. Homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity."
- The Christian community should offer its homosexual sisters and brothers understanding and pastoral care. "Homosexuals .... should have an active role in the Christian community. Homosexual persons living chaste lives should have opportunities to lead and serve the community." The Bishops reject the notion that "HIV/AIDS is a direct punishment from God. Nothing in the Bible or in Catholic teaching can be used to justify prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes and behaviors."

Pastoral Recommendations:
The Bishops end their letter with a series of Pastoral Recommendations for parents and Church ministers. They encourage parents to love & accept themselves, to continue to demonstrate love for their child, to urge the child to stay connected to the Catholic faith community, to suggest a spiritual director for themselves and the child, to reach out to other parents, remember that they can only change themselves, and to put their faith in God. They encourage Church ministers to be available to families, to welcome homosexual persons into the faith community, to learn more about homosexuality and church teaching, and to give permission to others to talk about homosexual issues, to maintain a list of agencies and exports to whom families can be referred, to help families with support groups, and to learn more about HIV/AIDS.

The Bishops end their letter by telling "our homosexual brothers and sisters" that we need them and that they "are always our children."

summarized by Terry Stadler

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