The Catch-22 of Christian witness by those who are same-sex attracted
We ought not to kid ourselves about the difficulties same-sex attracted people face in bearing witness to the positive ways they have found to deal with their temptations, including the help they have received from their Lord and Savior and His Church. This issue is coming to the fore as Catholic men and women who are same-sex attracted strive to find ways to assure the world that embracing the “gay lifestyle” is neither a good option nor the only option. We may praise God for their witness, but we would be foolish to underestimate the depth of their trial or the perils they face if they choose a life of open fidelity to God’s will.
First, some background: For those interested in what I believe is the best thing I have written on homosexuality, I recommend my 2010 essay, Homosexuality: A Special Call to the Love of God and Man. This was well-received by a number of Catholics who suffer same-sex attraction, for which I was very grateful. I also recommend that readers acquaint themselves with the extraordinarily lucid and helpful collection of essays on same-sex attraction published in 2015 by Ignatius Press, Living the Truth in Love. I remain certain that I gave my review the most appropriate possible title: Same-sex attraction: Read this before you risk your credibility. The reality is that there are far too many blowhards on this sensitive subject. It is best to study up.
Now the Catch-22: Of course, this Catch-22 is that same-sex attracted Catholics cannot speak frankly about their temptation without triggering the disgust of some and the desire of others. Overcoming same-sex temptations and sins is more difficult to talk about publicly than repentance for even the most serious of non-sexual sins, including murder. These sexual issues inescapably attack our very identity.
Concerns about the wisdom of speaking openly were raised by Eve Tushnet’s book, Gay and Catholic, which I reviewed in 2014. Some people agreed with Eve’s suggestion that those who have learned to deal in a Catholic way with same-sex attraction should make themselves known so that they can work with those who are struggling throughout the Church. But others were appalled by this suggestion, seeing it as creating a mare’s nest of relationships which can only be fraught with both confusion and temptation.
The same issue will be raised by the new book by Daniel C. Mattson, Why I Don’t Call Myself GAY, which is subtitled “How I reclaimed my sexual reality and found peace”. This arrived in the mail only yesterday from Ignatius Press, so I have not yet read it. But the flyleaf explains that the author was not able to find the integrity and peace he sought until he realized that, “above all else, what is true about him is that he is a beloved son of God, loved into existence by God, created for happiness in this life and the next.” The book boasts a foreword by one of our favorite cardinals, Robert Sarah, and has ringing endorsements from such experts in natural law, moral theology, and priestly ministry as J. Budziszewski, Janet Smith, and Fr. Paul Scalia.
Responding to the Challenge
Yet the difficulties remain for any same-sex attracted person who chooses to engage frankly in any form of ministry to those whom he or she may very well be able to help. Who, after all, could possibly be more in need of real, living, trusted, and accessible role models than those who suffer from same-sex attraction in the twenty-first century? And who is likely to be more adversely targeted by society at large than anyone who witnesses to the reality that life fulfillment comes through our relationship with Christ and the Church, and not through our sexual relationships?
I believe we must be both cautious and sympathetic as new ways of approaching these problems begin to emerge—ways which (unlike New Ways Ministry and parishes which make a point of welcoming the vigorous participation of openly active homosexuals) are not merely transparent attempts to portray homosexual activity as a way of life beloved by God. Indeed, the Catholic Church has depressingly ample experience with those in ministry who set themselves up as moral guides and pastoral leaders when, in fact, they have not mastered their own sexual attractions, so that they end by taking advantage of their position to abuse others or lead them astray.
Books and articles—written at a distance by those we will never meet—are relatively safe. But it will be a necessary prudence to ensure through adequate spiritual direction, interaction, screening and discreet monitoring that a person who offers to assist others in this sort of parish or diocesan ministry has really—and long-since—overcome the problems with which he or she purports to deal. Such persons will also need to be able to weed out those who either are not ready for help or are actually sexual predators.
Because of the great sensitivities and difficulties involved in such a ministry, there is considerable wisdom in handling this particular problem through a separate Church-wide apostolate, under ecclesiastical authority, which is unmistakably committed to authentic Catholic spirituality, discretion, and personal safety. The best (and perhaps the only) current example is Courage, which has been operating for decades and has chapters in two-thirds of the dioceses of the United States, as well as a significant presence in a dozen countries around the world. The Courage apostolate focuses on God’s love and the role of chastity in seeking personal wholeness and happiness. It also sponsors Encourage, a network of mutual support for those who have found that they must address the issue of same-sex attraction among their friends or within their own families.
If this is something you need to know more about, or if you feel called to participate in an apostolate of this kind, I can highly recommend that you watch Courage’s current promotional video, hosted by Executive Director Fr. Philip Bochanski. This is unquestionably the best place to start.
With Courage, you will discover a whole new world in which Catholics understand the problem we are discussing here, know how to address it positively as Catholics, and have a proven record of helping those who are same-sex attracted. Indeed, Courage enables them to understand, as Daniel Mattson finally did, that the most important truth about their personal identities is that they are beloved sons or daughters of God. They are loved into existence by God. They are created for happiness in this life and the next.
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Posted by: jacquelinehynes4610 -
Jun. 10, 2017 2:13 PM ET USA
I had Dan Mattson come to my home state of NH this past March during Lent. He graciously agreed to give up a portion of his vacation week and spoke at four separate venues: three parishes and one small Catholic school (only high school and talk modified and appropriate for that age). I was present at all three parish talks where Dan was well received and people stayed late to ask questions. Love him! The joy and peace he exuded was "infectious".
Posted by: johnleocassidy3475 -
Jun. 10, 2017 8:53 AM ET USA
Following 30 years of licentious living on the gay scene in London, I underwent a powerful conversion thanks to the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. Since then, I've been proactively engaged in my local parish as a full-time 'disciple' of the Lord. My sexual identity is not an issue as my life is 'now hidden with Christ in God'. Chaste living seems to supernaturally generate its own fruit. I thank God for the opportunity he has given to witness to other people with same-sex attraction in love
Posted by: brenda22890 -
Jun. 10, 2017 7:17 AM ET USA
Jeff - as one who, in my work in residential housing, often encounters people living the "gay" lifestyle, I struggle with how to interact with them. They are often the nicest people to deal with, and cordial interaction is always a pleasure. I have difficulty with knowing how to welcome them as persons, but not be seen as supporting their lifestyle choices. I can't be the only one who deals with this...
Posted by: rjbennett1294 -
Jun. 10, 2017 5:50 AM ET USA
The approach outlined in this article sounds like a good and sensible one, probably the only responsible one. However, unfortunately, the recent appointment of James Martin, S.J., to the Vatican's Secretariat for Communication indicates what Rome thinks of this approach. From what he has said and written, Martin is the kind of priest who would apparently feel quite at home in "parishes which make a point of welcoming the vigorous participation of openly active homosexuals...."