Development of Pastoral Letter on affirming the place of Catholics identifying as same sex attracted in the Australian Catholic Church (Originally submitted to the Bishops Conference in 2010)
A Submission of Newtown Parish Team to the Australian Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life
1. Why the need for a Pastoral Letter?
Bishops, priests, Catholic school principals, teachers and counsellors, university chaplains, Catholic health care service staff and pastoral care and other staff in a wide range of Catholic agencies have all encountered or know of same sex attracted Catholics who have been marginalized, discriminated, rejected and excluded in our Church and the hurt, harm and pain that this causes. Equally, we all know of the hurt, harm and pain that has been suffered by their parents, their brothers and sisters and their friends. It is a tragedy that this has lead to an estrangement of Catholics from their Church and, sadly for so many a lasting separation from the sacraments and participation in the life and ministry of the Church.
We feel strongly that the time has come for our Australian Church to reflect on this discrimination and to now actively reaffirm the dignity and place of same sex attracted Catholics, their families and their friends in our Church. The time has come for our Church in Australia to examine the many ways, both intended and unintended, in which we do not make welcome and seek to put barriers between same sex attracted Catholics, their faith and their participation in the life of our Church.
In developing a Pastoral Letter for our Australian church, the Bishops are complementing the work undertaken in other parts of our worldwide Church. A Pastoral Letter in 2011 will build on the landmark statements by the Bishops of the United States in 1997 with the release of Always Our Children (http://www.usccb.org/laity/always.shtml) and the Bishops of England and Wales in 2006 with their release of Everybody’s Welcome (http://www.everybodyswelcome.org.uk/lesbiangay.html).
We are confident that Catholics across Australia will resonate with what the Bishops in England and Wales heard. Our experience in Newtown, and the experience of our parishes and Catholic communities in Australia confirms that authenticity of the following words:
“As a group that has suffered more than its share of oppression and contempt, the homosexual community has a particular claim on the concern of the church.” CBCEW Catholic Social Welfare Commission, 1979
During Listening 2004 we heard that:
“The continual message from the church is that homosexuality is so, so dreadful. Our gay son just hasn’t stood a chance.”
“My brother is gay; the church has been very intolerant of him.”
At one diocesan family listening day participants listened to the hurt experienced by a family as a result of prevailing attitudes towards homosexuality.
“Mr D discovered some years ago that his son was gay. He tried to talk to a fellow parishioner about his concern, but quickly realised from the extremely hostile, disparaging remarks made that this was not a good idea. The parish priest reacted in a similarly prejudiced way. Mr D’s wife chose to ignore the situation. Mr D feels angry, frustrated and totally rejected by the church. He now knows to follow his wife’s lead and keep quiet. There seems nowhere to turn. In his mind there is little hope for the future.”
And we also heard that:
“If we are to reach out to all, we must dare to hold out our hands. …We must respond to people who are gay or lesbian. They should not feel marginalized.”
We are confident that Catholic communities will welcome a Pastoral Letter from the Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life. Importantly, we are also confident that same sex attracted Catholics, their families and friends will welcome a Pastoral Letter and the invitation it extends to them to reconnect with their faith and their Church.
2. A Pastoral Letter is consistent with our calling as people of faith
In inviting the Bishops Commission to develop a Pastoral Letter, we submit that, as with the statements of the Bishops of England, Wales and the United States, a Pastoral Letter is entirely consistent with our calling as people of faith .
It is consistent with the Bishops’ Commission for Pastoral Life of Australia mandate to promote “the life and mission of the Catholic Church in Australia in the following areas …. groups that may be or are perceived to be marginalised in Church life.( 2.11)”
As people of faith, we believe that a Pastoral Letter is consistent with gospel values and the ministry of the Church. While not experts in the study of theology we simply note the following points to support our belief:
• God's love and grace is indiscriminately extended to all people. This is affirmed in both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures (e.g, Lamentations 3:22,23 and Romans 3:15). Furthermore, the Church teaches that "grace responds to the deepest yearnings of human freedom" (Catechism, 2022). No one who desires to share in God's love can be excluded from it.
• Jesus’ practice of inclusion (eg the leper, the woman with the haemorrhage, the woman at the well and Matthew the tax collector) and summarised as “Everyone who comes to me I will never turn away” (John 6/37).
• The Church, as Christ's bride and body, has a responsibility to display and model his embracing love to everyone, regardless of their situation in life (Matthew 9:12,13).
• “As a group that has suffered more than its share of oppression and contempt, the homosexual community has a particular claim on the concern of the church.” (Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales, Catholic Social Welfare Commission, 1979)
• “Friendship is a gift from God. Friendship is a way of loving. Friendship is necessary for every person. To equate friendship and full sexual involvement with another is to distort the very concept of friendship. Sexual loving presupposes friendship but friendship does not require full sexual involvement. It is a mistake to say or think or presume that if two persons of the same or different sexes enjoy a deep and lasting friendship then they must be sexually involved. (Cardinal Basil Hume, A Note on the Teaching of the Catholic Church Concerning Homosexuality No 8: http://www.everybodyswelcome.org.uk/lesbiangay.html).
• “God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation. Thus, our total personhood is more encompassing than sexual orientation. Human beings see the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God's love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it.” (Always our Children, United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference <http://www.usccb.org/laity/always.shtml>).
• Respect for the God-given dignity of all persons means the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The teachings of the Church make it clear 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. It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination. Homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358). They, as is true of every human being, need to be nourished at many different levels simultaneously. This includes friendship, which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences. Friendship can and does thrive outside of genital sexual involvement. (Always our Children, United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference <http://www.usccb.org/laity/always.shtml>).
• "Homosexuals . . . should have an active role in the Christian community" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life, 1976, p. 19). Same-sex attracted Catholics have a right to be welcomed into the community, to hear the word of God, to engage in ministries according to their gifts, to celebrate the Sacraments and to receive pastoral care. (cf Always our Children, United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference <http://www.usccb.org/laity/always.shtml>).
3. Suggested areas of content of the Pastoral Letter
While by no means intended to be an exhaustive list, we respectfully suggest that the Pastoral Letter might cover the following issues, strategies, skills and opportunities to affirm the place of same sex attracted Catholics in our Church and to guide and enhance the pastoral care of same sex attracted Catholics, their families and friends.
· A clear statement of affirmation that same sex attracted Catholics are welcomed and invited to live their faith as part of the Church community
· Liturgies, homilies, ministries of the Church and pastoral plans support the Pastoral Letter and demonstrate awareness and appreciation of the gifts that same sex attracted Catholics bring to their faith community
· Guidelines for catechesis and evangelisation strategies that underline and embrace the suggestions in point 2 of this submission while being compassionate and sensitive to the pain of exclusiuon experienced by many same sex attracted people
· Recognition of the diversity of backgrounds, cultures and relationships in our Church community and avoidance of stereotyping, judgement and marginalisation
· Eradication of homophobic language, actions and attitudes
· Access to safe and supportive pastoral care for same sex attracted Catholics, their families and friends
· Inclusion of same sex attracted Catholics in liturgies and ministries
· Welcoming access to the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Initiation for same sex attracted Catholics and children and their partners
· Recognition of important events in the lives of same sex attracted Catholics, including death and/or serious illness of a partner
· Specialised training and ongoing support for priests, chaplains, parish staff, counselors, youth workers, teachers and other key staff in Catholic agencies and ministries to ensure that they are able to provide safe, supportive and skilled pastoral care to same sex attracted Catholics, their families and friends
· Building an effective network of “gay friendly” parishes across Australia to enhance the opportunities for same sex attracted Catholics, their families and friends to join in regular Eucharistic celebration of the Mass, participate in parish life and reconnect with their faith
· Maintaining a website resource and listings of agencies, community groups, support groups, counselors and other experts to whom same sex attracted Catholics, their families and friends might be referred when they ask for assistance
· Establishing new and/or supporting and promoting existing support groups for same sex attracted Catholics, their families and friends
· Development of a resource kit for parishes and ministries and for families with a son or daughter who is same sex attracted or coming out
· Reinforcement of the place of same sex attracted Catholics, their families and friends in our Church through appropriate Prayers of the Faithful, celebrations such as Mothers Day, Fathers Day and Social Justice Sunday and marking of events such as World AIDS Day