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My Catholic Kid is Gay! Now What??

In a previous article, I detailed my ongoing struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA) as I live out my vocation as a Catholic wife and mother. From that perspective, I’d like to share what I think is an authentically loving response to what strikes fear into the hearts of most faithful Catholic parents: your son or daughter coming out as a gay man or lesbian.

As someone who knows this struggle intimately, I’ve thought a great deal about how I would respond to such an admission by my child. Obviously, I’d have a slight advantage over most Catholic mothers because I have my own SSA journey to share. But even beyond that, if my son came to me and confessed to SSA, I would:

  1. Listen to him compassionately and let him unburden his heart without seeing me react in horror, disgust, or disappointment.
  2. Reassure him I love him unconditionally. That he has no reason to be ashamed. That we are all sinners in need of God’s grace. That no cross is more disgusting or better than another.
  3. Ask if he’s considered he might be called to the single life or religious life, which brings with it a deeper union with God than is usually possible in marriage and family. Offer resources about the theology of the body if he hasn’t studied it and it open to it.
  4. Ask if he’d like to seek therapy with a Catholic counselor trained in dealing with SSA. Yes, these people exist and they know how to handle this cross in souls sensitively and with great compassion. As a Catholic, I believe that SSA is a disorder and just as with any disorder, I’d recommend individual counseling.*
  5. If he wants counseling, I’d offer to pay for it. And assure him I have no expectation he will emerge from the experience “cured” of his SSA. That I expect it will be a lifelong cross for him. That I will love him even if he emerges as an on-fire, flaming homosexual drag queen, even if I’m praying for that NOT to happen!
  6. If he chooses not to seek counseling, tell him the option is always there. And assure him, again and again, that I’ll love him no matter what.
  7. Then, I’d drop the subject–unless he asked me to talk about it.
  8. Love him.
  9. Pray for him.
  10. Sacrifice for him.

Our first priest once said, “When people tell you they’re tempted to sin, you pull them close. Once they sin, you pull them closer.” Unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine the self-loathing and shame that comes with SSA. So it’s critically important that we as Catholic parents do everything we can to assure our children who have this cross that while we can’t support them having a romantic or sexual relationship with someone of the same sex, we will always, always love them deeply as a person. Jesus loved us “even as we were sinners.” Even when we’re rotten to the core, He still adores us and pursues us. I’d want my son to know I still love his sense of humor, admire his cooking skills, and appreciate his kind soul—regardless of what else he does in his life. This message–that he is more than “gay”–is something he won’t be hearing in the gay subculture.

The single greatest thing we must do if our child struggles with SSA is keep the relationship loving and open. If we worked hard while raising our child to ensure he understands the Church’s teaching about sexuality, then more preaching will only drive a wedge between you and you’ll lose the Catholic influence you could have on his life. When our children have chosen the wrong path, we need to fight their sin with prayer and sacrifice, NOT words. A person who constantly hears he’s disordered will feel deep shame and avoid you, no matter how many times you follow it up with, “But I love you anyway!”

For as long as my son remained chaste, I’d encourage him to remain an active member of our faith. The only reason I’ve been able to maintain a loving, fruitful marriage despite SSA is because of God’s grace. There is no greater weapon in the battle for chastity—for gay or straight people—than the Eucharist and Confession.

But what if my son decided to live openly as a gay man and had a partner? How should we treat our children’s gay and lesbian partners? The answer, for me, is simple: I’d treat the partner with love and respect, too. If we were still raising his younger siblings, I’d privately ask the couple to avoid public displays of affection when around them, because it can be confusing for children. As long as they agreed to that, I’d have my son and his partner as part of all of our family gatherings. His partner would be welcome in our home, because he, too, has that inherent dignity that makes him precious to God. Like my son, he deserves to be loved and respected, too. He deserves to see what Catholicism really is, too.

For those of you who find that idea offensive, let me ask: if your daughter had a child out of wedlock and lived with the child’s father without being married, would you tell your daughter that her child’s father isn’t welcome in your home or at family events? Not likely. You’d love them both, pray for them, and hope your witness speaks to their hearts and leads them to Christ. I’m very disturbed that parents wouldn’t dream of shunning one part of a straight couple that’s living in sin think shunning their child’s gay partner is acceptable.

This isn’t to say there aren’t non-negotiables. If my son asked me to participate in events that would legitimize his relationship with his partner, such as a gay wedding ceremony or gay pride parade, the answer would be a gentle but firm, “NO.” Whether we like it or not, our presence as such events would cause scandal. People would rightly think, “Well, if the practicing Catholics are here, it can’t be all that bad!”

This is all the ideal, of course,  and not every person will accept your attempts to love the sinner but remain a committed Catholic. It seems tolerance of gays and lesbians isn’t good enough anymore…you must celebrate homosexuality or risk being vilified. My son could choose to be one of those “all or nothing” people, who can’t accept that I’m faithful to the Church. He may hold a grudge and try to sabotage our relationship or even cut me out of his life. If he insisted on promoting his choices to me (probably in a misguided attempt to get my approval), he shouldn’t be surprised if our relationship ends up strained and distant.

If he is receptive to a relationship based on mutual respect, however, he ought to know me well enough not to be surprised when I decline to attend the gay pride parade. And a loving, open relationship means he’s more likely to want me in his life even if I’m not his cheerleader. If I can accept and love him as a person, even though I disagree with his morality, why can’t he accept me and love me as a faithful Catholic, even if he thinks I’m wrong? Respect is a two-way street.

We are called to love as Jesus loves–and that means warts and all. One of the most common criticisms of Catholics is that we don’t practice the love we preach. When it comes to having a child with SSA, let your love do the preaching for you.

 

*By counseling, I’m NOT referring to “conversion therapy,” which is largely a Protestant construct. These programs aim to “cure” SSA through prayer and mental reconditioning. Some of them also use heavy-handed, abusive practices such as electrocution, verbal threats, and humiliation to change the person’s sexual orientation. Homosexuality is a complex pathology and not something consciously chosen by the person. Programs that propose to “pray away the gay” do great harm to souls when the person exits with his SSA intact, and not as the morally upright straight person he’s told God wants him to be. The intensified self-hatred participants feel after “failing” the program too often leads to severe depression, self-destructive behavior, and even suicide.

As a Catholic and as someone who struggles with SSA, I believe wholeheartedly that it IS a disorder, however. And because of that, I would recommend therapy with a sensitive Catholic counselor trained specifically in helping those who bear this cross. I’d recommend the same to any of my children who suffered from a psychological or spiritual disorder that threatens to lead them away from their Catholic faith.

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Catholic School Upholds Church Teaching while Others Demonstrate Hypocrisy

Recently the local Catholic High School in my area made the local news after an incident involving the school’s prom.  I heard about the story from two very different corners.  From one corner, praise for the school for holding up the teachings of the Church; from the other corner, a particular group I am affiliated with had concerns about representing itself at the school after this incident.  I was one applauding the school after the reported incident and found myself defending the school to the other group.  I’d like to take this opportunity to explore the issue, the facts, and the hypocrisy involved in this.

First, what was the issue?

A female student at the school and her girlfriend, also a student, were denied entrance to the senior prom because they were coming as a same-sex couple.  Remember: this is a Catholic school.

This made the local news in our area.  Including pointing out that the students had started a petition to be sent to the school’s principal, president, and the bishop.  I don’t expect it to go any further than that.  End of story.

The Catholics in the area that I know (and I know many people across several parishes) praised and applauded the school for standing by its Catholic roots.  It is a Catholic school after all.  It has every right to handle situations as it sees fit, according to the teachings of Mother Church, the Magisterium.

But then I got an email early this week that unexpectedly referred to this incident.  I am on the email list for the local Alumnae Club of the college where I received my master’s degree.  The college is an all-female, private school in New England and mostly an undergraduate school.  As a graduate student I did not participate in many of the college traditions that the undergraduates did (the House system, afternoon teas, etc.).  So although I am on the email list and have been to one gathering of local alumnae several years ago, I don’t participate in anything beyond that.

The Club presents a book award to a graduating female student at all the area high schools each year, including the Catholic high school.  So the email I received was from the person who had volunteered to present the award at the Catholic high school.  She was concerned that the Club shouldn’t give an award there in light of the “incident” and she felt “uncomfortable” attending the awards ceremony.

Initially I was shocked.  But then I realized that I should not be shocked at all.  What did I expect?  We do live in a world that thinks the secular way is the only way and anyone that lives differently must be wrong and must be corrected or boycotted or whatever until they conform.  Then I just got irritated.

I won’t go into the specifics of what transpired over the course of the afternoon and several more emails back and forth.  But I do want to present a few of the facts.  The facts that show the hypocrisy involved in something like this. Let’s look at those.

Fact #1-Catholic school: This is a private school.  Thus is has the right to admit whomever it wants, kick out whomever it wants whenever it wants, make its own rules regarding its events, etc.

Fact #1-Private college: This is also a private school.  Thus it also has the right to admit whomever it wants, kick out whomever it wants whenever it wants, make its own rules regarding its events, etc.

Fact #2-Catholic school: This school is Catholic.  Being Catholic means it must align itself with the Church in every respect.  They teach religion classes, they teach abstinence education, they expect their students to attend Mass once a week and on Holy Days of Obligation, etc.  They are Catholic and are allowed to be because of the religious freedom we are guaranteed in this country.

Fact #2-Private college: This school is all-female.  It prides itself in offering single sex education and in developing strong, female leaders for society.  They can remain an all-female college because they are private and thus are not considered to be discriminating based on gender.

Fact #3-Catholic school: This school admits any student willing to attend, willing to pay the tuition, and able to meet the standards set forth by the school, including an entrance exam.  Students of all faiths can be admitted if they score well on an entrance exam, but they must know that it is a Catholic school and it will not bend its teachings for non-Catholic students.

Fact #3-Private college: This school only admits women.  No men are admitted as regular, full-time undergraduate students.  The only men you’ll see on campus besides professors, college employees, and visitors are men from some of the other area colleges taking classes there as part of an agreement between the colleges and the occasional male graduate student (the graduate program overall is really small).

Fact #4-Catholic school: As a Catholic institution, the school is a part of the 2000 year old tradition of the Church.  2000 years of traditions!  2000 years of unchanging teachings!  The school is not free to bend teachings at will to please students or parents or anyone else.

Fact #4-Private college: Also has a long history of traditions that students and alumnae take great pride in, traditions that go back a hundred years or so, but traditions I can respect.

Considering these few facts, I see two private schools, one that follows the moral principles and teachings set forth by a 2000 year old church and the other who prides itself on single sex education.  Is the first discriminating unfairly for not admitting a same-sex couple to an event it is sponsoring on school grounds?  Is the other discriminating unfairly for not admitting men to its prestigious school?

Is respect too much to ask?

The answer to both is … no.  The first has religious freedom on its side, the other has the fact that it is private on its side.

Think what you want about the Catholic high school and its decision, but they are within their rights as a Catholic school.  The private all-female college is also within its rights to remain an all-female school.

My question is where is the respect?  Respect for a school who stands by a set of values, which is so rare in our society these days.  Respect does not have to mean agreement.  I would think a group of women who take pride in the single sex education they were privileged to receive through the private college they attended would be able to respect a high school that also functions under a set of guiding principles that go much deeper than their alma mater.  It seems hypocritical to me that they would fight for their school if it was somehow threatened to be made co-ed and expect others to stand with them while at the same time giving no respect to a school that also lives by a high moral standard that creates a unique set of circumstances.

Am I the only one that sees the hypocricy?

But maybe mutual respect is too much to ask?  How sad if that is true.

What say you?

[As of this writing, the original club member agreed to graciously attend the award ceremony (the NEXT day) to give the award (I wanted to volunteer, but I couldn’t find a babysitter on such short notice) and the club decided to discuss the issue further with the national alumnae association to decide how to proceed in future years.  I may not have the same kind of connection to this particular alma mater of mine as the other ladies who spent their undergraduate years at this college, but I will be highly disappointed in my college if they advise the club to no longer attend the awards ceremony at this particular Catholic school.]