My daughters, who are 22 and 24 years old, have begun teaching a group of 11th graders who are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Their first class was last night, and something very interesting came up. It turns out that the majority of the young people being taught by my girls thought that the Catholic Church "hates" gay people. One of the kids actually thought that the Church categorically condemns gay people to hell. Now, I presume that most of these teens have attended church and religious education classes at least fairly regularly throughout their lives, otherwise they would not be enrolled in the Confirmation class. Something, therefore, has gone awry in their instruction, if this is what they believe the Church's attitude toward gay people to be. And I am wondering if many Catholics -- and people in general -- have this same erroneous belief.
I don't want to brag about my kids, but they do have a proper understanding of Church teaching when it comes to morality; and they recognized that some corrective action needed to take place immediately in this situation. So, they located a Catechism and read this aloud to the young people:
"The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.... They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives...."
Not really hateful, is it? Not really condemning. Now, what the Catholic Church does advocate -- for EVERYBODY -- is the idea of chastity. Chastity is, basically, reserving the sexual faculty for its highest purpose -- the bonding together of husband and wife in marriage and the bringing forth of children to be loved and raised in a stable family situation. Is this easy for ANYBODY? Absolutely not. And the Church recognizes that it is ESPECIALLY difficult for gay people, as they are attracted to persons of the same sex and do not (generally speaking) wish to enter into marriage with somebody of the opposite sex. So, the Catechism also states the following (emphasis mine):
"By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they (homosexual persons) can and should GRADUALLY and resolutely approach Christian perfection."
Apparently, then, the Church does not expect gay people to suddenly and effortlessly stop being gay -- with all that entails. (Note the word "gradually" in the above statement.)
You may disagree with this teaching. I understand that. I do have a lot of sympathy for the position that many people hold, which is that gay people are that way by nature, and should not be criticized -- let alone condemned -- for entering into relationships, and even marriages, with people of the same sex. But, if we are going to have any kind of discussion in our society regarding these issues, we need to start from the correct premises, one of which is that the Catholic Church does not hate or condemn gay people.
I also am willing to admit, after hearing what those teens in my daughters' class thought, that perhaps the Church has often fallen down miserably in helping people to have a compassionate and loving attitude toward homosexual persons. With all the heated debates that are raging concerning gay rights -- especially the issue of gay marriage -- the Church has gone to bat very heavily to defend the idea of traditional marriage. And it has pointed out the danger (frightening many people) that Catholics may be forced to "approve of" gay marriage, under threat of civil lawsuits for not performing religious marriage ceremonies for homosexual persons and/or providing services for their wedding receptions. I do not know how real these supposed "threats" to our religious and civil liberties are. I am tempted to think they are being exaggerated to "encourage" Catholics to vote the "right" way. But, I am realizing that in its current defense of traditional marriage, the Church has perhaps forgotten to - first and foremost -- instruct its members in the proper attitude toward the homosexual person. An attitude which should be one of "respect, compassion, and sensitivity." For even if we "win the battle" for traditional marriage, we will have lost the "war" if the Church fails in this regard. And by the "war", I mean that we as Christians are obligated to show all people -- including gay people -- the love which Christ has for them. So, if we just make people with same-sex attraction abide by our moral ideas, but we do not show them the love of God through our love for them, I don't think we will be making Jesus very happy. I think we will have dropped the ball in our calling as Christians.
Maybe the Catholic Church has put the cart before the horse here, at least somewhat. And maybe it's time to reverse this. We need to show people -- ALL people -- true charity before attempting to instruct them in anything. And by "true charity", I mean loving them unconditionally. Even if they do not wish to adopt our positions -- religiously, morally, or politically.