homosexual brothers and sisters...
at times you may feel discouraged, hurt, or angry, do not walk away from your
families, from the Christian community, from all those who love you. In you
God's love is revealed. You are always our children."
"Always Our Children"
- Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children
and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers
by the US Conference of Catholic
"God does not love someone any less simply because he or
she is homosexual", the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on
Marriage and Family says in a statement titled "Always Our Children: A
Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for
Publication of the text was approved Sept. 10,
1997 by the NCCB Administrative Committee, and the text was released October 1.
Love "is the continuing story of every family's life. Love can be nurtured,
rejected and sometimes lost", the message says, addressing parents of homosexual teen-agers
and adults. It adds: "To follow Christ's way of love is the challenge before
every family today. "Parents are advised that they can "help a homosexual
person in two general ways. First, encourage him or her to cooperate with
God's grace in order to live a chaste life. Second, concentrate on the person,
not on the homosexual orientation itself."
A set of recommendations for parents and another for
church ministers are found in concluding sections of the message, along with a
concluding word addressed by the committee "to our homosexual brothers and
sisters," who though they may at times 'feel discouraged, hurt or angry, "are
asked not to walk away 'from your parishes, from the Christian community... from all those who love you."
which 'is not a treatise on homosexuality" and "not a systematic presentation
of the church's moral teaching," addresses parents' feelings; professional
counseling for parents or children; the meaning of the term "homosexual
orientation"; the origin of this orientation; parent support
groups; morality and sexual activity, and other matters, including ministry to
persons with HIV/AIDS." The message recommends, among other points, that
church ministers be available to parents and families, welcome homosexual
persons into the faith community' and not presume that all homosexual persons
are sexually active. Parents are urged to "recommend that your son or daughter
find a spiritual director/mentor, "to seek help for themselves as they "strive
for understanding, acceptance and inner peace," and, among other points, to
"reach out ... to other parents who may be struggling with a son 5 or
The message follows. It is copyright © 1997 by the US. Catholic
The purpose of this pastoral message is to reach out to
parents who are trying to cope with the discovery of homosexuality in a child
who is an adolescent or an adult. It urges families to draw upon the
reservoirs of faith, hope and love as they face uncharted futures. It asks
them to recognize that the church offers enormous spiritual resources to
strengthen and support them at this moment in their family's life and in the
days to come.
This message draws upon the Catechism of the Catholic
Church, the teaching of Pope John Paul II, statements of the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith and of our own episcopal conference. The message is
not a treatise on homosexuality. It is not a systematic presentation of the
church's moral teaching. It does not break any new ground theologically.
Rather, relying on the church's teaching as well as on our own pastoral
experience, we intend to speak words of faith, hope and love to parents who
need the church's loving presence at a time which may be one of the most
challenging in their lives.
We also want to be helpful to priests and pastoral
ministers, who often are the first ones parents or their children approach
with their struggles and anxieties.
In recent years we have tried to reach out to families in
difficult circumstances. Our initiatives took the form of short statements
like this one which were addressed to people who thought they were beyond the
church's circle of care. "Always Our Children" follows in the same tradition
as these other pastoral statements.
This message is not intended for advocacy purposes or to
serve a particular agenda. It is not to be understood as an endorsement of
what some call a "homosexual lifestyle."
"Always Our Children" is an outstretched hand of the
bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family to parents and other family members,
offering them a fresh look at the grace present in family life and the
unfailing mercy of Christ our Lord.
"An even more generous, intelligent and prudent pastoral
commitment modeled on the Good Shepherd is called for in cases of families
which, often independent of their own wishes and through pressures of various
other kinds, find themselves. faced by situations which are objectively
difficult."- Pope John Paul II. "On the Family," 77.
A Critical Moment, A Time of Grace
As you begin to read this message you may feel your life
is in turmoil. You and your family might be faced with one of the difficult
situations of which our Holy Father speaks:
-You think your adolescent child is experiencing a
same-sex attraction and/or you observe attitudes and behaviors that you find
conflicting or upsetting or with which you disagree.
-Your son or daughter has made it known that he or she
has a homosexual orientation.
-You experience a tension between loving your child as
God's precious creation and not wanting to endorse any behavior you know the
church teaches is wrong.
You need not face this painful time alone, without human
assistance or God's grace. The
church can be an instrument of both help and healing.
This is why we bishops as pastors and teachers, write to you.
In this pastoral message we draw upon the gift of faith
as well as the sound teaching and pastoral practice of the church in order to
offer loving support, reliable guidance and recommendations for ministries
suited to your needs
and those of your child. Our message speaks of accepting
yourself your beliefs and values your questions and all you may be struggling
with at the moment; of accepting and loving your child as a gift of God; and
of accepting the full truth of God's revelation about the dignity -of the
human person and the meaning of human sexuality. Within the Catholic moral
vision there is no contradiction among these levels of acceptance, for truth
and love are not opposed. They are inseparably joined and rooted in one
person, Jesus Christ, who reveals God to be -ultimate truth and saving love.
"You may fear for your child's physical safety and
general welfare in the face of prejudice.... You may be afraid that others
in your community might exclude or treat your child or your family with
contempt. The fear of your child contracting HIV/AIDS or another sexually
transmitted disease is serious and ever present. If your child is
distraught, you may be concerned about attempted suicide."
We address our message also to the wider church
community and especially to priests and other pastoral ministers, asking
that our words be translated into attitudes and actions which follow the way
of love as Christ has taught. It is through the community of his faithful
that Jesus offers you hope, help and healing so that your whole family might
continue to grow into the intimate community of life and love which God
Because some of you might be swept up in a tide of
emotions, we focus first on feelings. Although the gift of human sexuality can
be a great mystery at times, the church's teaching on homosexuality is clear.
However, because the terms of that teaching have now become very personal in
regard to your son or daughter, you may feel confused and conflicted.
Possibly you are experiencing many different emotions,
all in varying degrees such as:
Relief: Perhaps you had sensed for some time that your
son or daughter was different in some way. Now he or she has come to you and
has entrusted something very significant. It may be that other siblings
learned of this before you did and were reluctant to tell you. Regardless, though, a burden has been lifted. Acknowledge the
possibility that your child has told you this not to hurt you or create
distance, but out of love and trust and with a desire for honesty, intimacy
and closer communication.
Anger: You may be feeling deceived or manipulated by your
son or daughter. You could be angry with your spouse, blaming him or her for
"making the child this way" - especially if there has been a difficult
parent-child relationship. You might be angry with yourself for not
recognizing indications of homosexuality. You could be feeling disappointment
along with anger, if family members and sometimes even siblings are rejecting
their homosexual brother or sister. It is just as possible to feel angry if
family members or friends seem overly accepting and encouraging of
homosexuality. Also - and not to be discounted - is a possible anger with God
that all this is happening.
Mourning: You may now feel that your child is not exactly
the same individual you once thought you knew. You envision that your son or
daughter may never give you grandchildren. These lost expectations as well as
the fact that homosexual persons often encounter discrimination and open
hostility can cause you great sadness.
Fear: You may fear for your child's physical safety and
general welfare in the face of prejudice against homosexual people. In
particular, you may be afraid that others in your community might exclude or
treat your child or your family with contempt. The fear of your child
contracting HIV/AIDS or another sexually transmitted disease is serious and
ever present. If your child is distraught, you may be concerned about
Guilt, shame and loneliness: "If only we had ... or had
not" are words with which parents can torture themselves at this time. Regrets
and disappointments rise up like ghosts from the past. A sense of failure can
lead you into a valley of shame which, in turn, can isolate you from your
children, your family and other communities of support.
Parental protectiveness and pride: Homosexual persons
often experience discrimination and acts of violence in our society. As a
parent, you naturally want to shield your children from harm, regardless of
their age. You may still insist: "You are always my child; nothing can ever
change that. You are also a child of God, gifted and called for a purpose in
There are two important things to keep in mind as you try
to sort out your feelings. First, listen to them. They can contain clues
leading to a fuller discovery of God's will for you. Second, because some
feelings can be confusing or conflicting, it is not necessary to act upon all
of them. Acknowledging them may be sufficient, but it may also be necessary to
talk about your feelings. Do not expect that all tensions can or will be
resolved. The Christian life is a joumey marked by perseverance and prayer. It
is a path leading from where we are to where we know God is calling us.
Accepting Your Child
How can you best express your love -itself a reflection
of God's unconditional love for your child'? At least two things are necessary.
First, don't break off contact; don't reject your child. A shocking number of homosexual youth end up
on the streets because of rejection by their families. This and other external
pressures can place young people at greater risk of self-destructive behaviors
like substance abuse and suicide.
Your child may need you and the family now more than
ever. He or she is still the same person. This child, who has always been
God's gift to you, may now be the cause of another gift: your family becoming more honest, respectful and
supportive. Yes, your love can be tested by this reality, but it can also grow
stronger through your struggle to respond lovingly.
The second way to communicate love is to seek appropriate
help for your child and for yourself. If your son or daughter is an
adolescent, it is possible that he or she may be experimenting with some
homosexual behaviors as part of the process of coming to terms with sexual
identity. Isolated acts do not make someone homosexual. Adolescence is often
accompanied by anxiety or confusion about sexual identity. Sometimes the best
approach may be a "wait-and-see" attitude, while you try to maintain a
trusting relationship and provide various kinds of support, information and
"It may be appropriate and necessary that your child
receive professional help, including counseling and spiritual direction. It is
important, of course, that he or she receive such guidance willingly."
In many cases it may be appropriate and necessary
that your child receive professional help, including counseling and
spiritual direction. It is important, of course, that he or she receive such
guidance willingly. Look for a therapist who has an appreciation of
religious values and who understands the complex nature of sexuality. Such a
person should be experienced at helping people discern the meaning of early
sexual behaviors, sexual attractions and sexual fantasies in ways that lead
to more clarity and self-identity. In the course of this, however, it is
essential for you to remain open to the possibility that your son or
daughter is struggling to understand and accept a basic homosexual
The meaning and implications of the term homosexual
orientation are not universally agreed upon. Church teaching acknowledges a
distinction between a homosexual 'tendency" which proves to be 'transitory'
and 'homosexuals who are definitively such because of some kind of innate instinct" (Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual
In light of this possibility, therefore, it seems
appropriate to understand sexual orientation (heterosexual or homosexual) as
a fundamental dimension of one's personality and to recognize its relative
stability in a person. A homosexual orientation produces a stronger
emotional and sexual attraction toward individuals of the same sex rather
than toward those of the opposite sex. It does not totally rule out interest
in, care for and attraction toward members of the opposite sex. Having a
homosexual orientation does not necessarily mean a person will engage in
There seems to be no single cause of a homosexual
orientation. A common opinion of experts is that there are multiple factors
genetic, hormonal, psychological - that may give rise to it. Generally,
homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely
chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered
sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.
Some homosexual persons want to be known publicly as
gay or lesbian. These terms often express a person's level of self-awareness
and self-acceptance within society. Though you might find the terms
offensive because of political or social connotations, it is necessary to be
sensitive to how your son or daughter is using them. Language should not be a barrier to building
trust and honest communication.
"It is also important to recognize that neither a
homosexual orientation nor a heterosexual one leads inevitably to sexual
activity. One's total personhood is not reducible to sexual orientation or
You can help a homosexual person in two general ways.
First, encourage him or her to cooperate with God's grace in order to live
a chaste life. Second, concentrate on the person, not on the homosexual
orientation itself. This implies respecting a person's freedom to choose
or refuse therapy directed toward changing a homosexual orientation. Given
the present state of medical and psychological knowledge, there is no
guarantee that such therapy will succeed. Thus, there may be no obligation
to undertake it, though some may find it helpful.
All in all, it is essential to recall one basic truth.
God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to
define the unique persons we are. 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 I Sm. 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. St. Paul's words offer great hope:
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor
angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from
the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).
Accepting God's Plan and the Church's Ministry
For the Christian believer, an acceptance of self and of
one's homosexual child must take place within the larger context of accepting
divinely revealed truth about the dignity and destiny of human persons. It is
the church's responsibility to believe and teach this truth, presenting it as
a comprehensive moral vision and applying this vision in particular situations
through its pastoral ministries. We present the main points of that moral
Every person has an inherent dignity because he or she is
created in God's image. A deep respect for the total person leads the church
to hold and teach that sexuality is a gift of God. Being created a male or a
female person is an essential part of the divine plan, for it is their
sexuality - a mysterious blend of spirit and body - that allows human beings
to share in God's own creative love and life. "Everyone should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2333).
Like all gifts from God, the power and freedom of
sexuality can be channeled toward good or evil. Everyone - the homosexual and
the heterosexual person - is called to personal maturity and responsibility.
With the help of God's grace, everyone is called to practice the virtue of
chastity in relationships. Chastity means integrating one's thoughts, feelings
and actions in the area of human sexuality in a way that values and respects
one's own dignity and that of others. It is "the spiritual power which frees
love from selfishness and aggression" (Pontifical Council for the Family, "The
Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality," 16).
Christ summons all his followers - whether they are
married or living a single celibate life - to a higher standard of loving.
This includes not only fidelity, forgiveness, hope, perseverance and
sacrifice, but also chastity, which is expressed in modesty and self-control.
The chaste life is possible though not always easy, for it involves a
continual effort to turn toward God and away from sin, especially with the
strength of the sacraments of penance and Eucharist. Indeed God expects
everyone to strive for the perfection of love, but to achieve it gradually
through stages of moral growth (cf. John Paul II, "On the Family," 34). To
keep our feet on the path of conversion, God's grace is available to and
sufficient for everyone open to receiving it.
To live and love chastely is to understand that "only within marriage does sexual intercourse fully
symbolize the Creator's dual design as an act of covenant love with the
potential of co-creating new human life" (U.S. Catholic Conference, Human
Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning, p. 55).
This is a fundamental teaching of our church about sexuality, rooted in the
biblical account of man and woman created in the image of God and made for
union with one another (Gn. 2-3).
Two conclusions follow. First, it is God's plan that
sexual intercourse occur only within marriage between a man and a woman.
Second, every act of intercourse must be open to the possible creation of new
human life. Homosexual intercourse cannot fulfill these two conditions.
Therefore, the church teaches that homogenital behavior is objectively
immoral, while making the important distinction between this behavior and a
homosexual orientation, which is not immoral in itself.
It is also important to recognize that neither a
homosexual orientation nor a heterosexual one leads inevitably to sexual
activity. One's total personhood is not reducible to sexual orientation or
Respect for the God-given dignity' of all persons means
the recognition of human rights and responsibilities. The teaching of the
church makes it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons
must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any form of
injustice, oppression or violence against them (cf Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," 10).
It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination.
Homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 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 as well as one of the richest possible
human experiences. Friendship can and does thrive outside of genital sexual
The Christian community' should offer its homosexual
sisters and brothers understanding and pastoral care. More than 20 years ago
we bishops stated that "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," p. 19). What does this
mean in practice? It means that all homosexual persons have a right to be
welcomed into the community, to hear the word of God and to receive pastoral
care. Homosexual persons who are living chaste lives should have opportunities
to lead and serve the community. However, the church has the right to deny
public roles of service and leadership to persons, whether homosexual or
heterosexual, whose public behavior openly violates its teachings.
The church recognizes the importance and urgency of
ministering to persons with HIVI AIDS. Though HIV/AIDS is an epidemic
affecting the whole human race, not just homosexual persons, it has had a
devastating effect upon them and has brought great sorrow to many parents,
families and friends.
Without condoning self-destructive behavior or denying
personal responsibility, we reject the idea that HIV/AIDS is a direct
punishment from God. Furthermore:
"Persons with AIDS are not distant, unfamiliar people,
the objects of our mingled pity and aversion. We must keep them present to our
consciousness as individuals and a community, and embrace them with
unconditional love.... Compassion - love - toward persons infected with HIV is
the only authentic Gospel response" (NCCB, "Called to Compassion and
Responsibility: A Response to the HIV/AIDS Crisis").
Nothing in the Bible or in Catholic teaching can be used
to justify prejudicial or discriminatory attitudes and behaviors. We reiterate
here what we said in an earlier statement:
"We call on all Christians and citizens of good will to
confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humour and
discrimination that offend homosexual persons. We understand that having a
homosexual orientation brings with it enough anxiety, pain and issues related
to self-acceptance without society bringing additional prejudicial treatment"
(Human Sexuality': A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning,
With a view toward overcoming the isolation that you or
your son or daughter may be experiencing, we offer these recommendations to
you as well as to priests and pastoral ministers.
1. Accept and love
yourselves as parents in order to accept and love your son or daughter. Do not
blame yourselves for a homosexual orientation in your child.
2. Do everything possible to continue demonstrating love
for your child. However, accepting his or her homosexual orientation does not
have to include approving all related attitudes and behavioral choices. In
fact, you may need to challenge certain aspects of a lifestyle which you find
3. Urge your son or daughter to stay joined to the
Catholic faith community. If they have left the church, urge them to return
and be reconciled to the community, especially in the sacrament of penance.
4. Recommend that your son or daughter find a spiritual
director/mentor who will offer guidance in prayer and in leading a chaste and
5. Seek help for yourself, perhaps in the form of
counseling or spiritual direction, as you strive for understanding, acceptance
and inner peace. Also, consider joinin&2 a parents' support group or
participating in a retreat designed for Catholic parents of homosexual
Other people have traveled the same road as you, but may
have journeyed even further. They can share effective ways of handling
delicate family situations such as how to tell family members and friends
about your child, how to explain homosexuality to younger children, how to
relate to your son or daughter's friends in a Christian way.
"Consider joining a parents' support group or
participating in a retreat designed for Catholic parents of homosexual
children. Other people have traveled the same road as you, but may have
journeyed even further. They can share effective ways of handling delicate
6. Reach out in love and service to other parents who may
be struggling with a son or daughter's homosexuality. Contact your parish
about organizing a parents' support group. Your diocesan family ministry
office, Catholic Charities or a special diocesan ministry to gay and lesbian
persons may be able to offer assistance.
7. As you take advantage of opportunities for education
and support, remember that you can only change yourself; you can only be
responsible for your own beliefs and actions, not those of your adult
8. Put your faith completely in God, who is more
powerful, more compassionate and more forgiving than we are or ever could be.
To church ministers:
1. Be available to parents and families who ask for your
pastoral help, spiritual guidance and prayer.
2. Welcome homosexual persons into the faith community.
Seek out those on the margins. Avoid stereotyping and condemnations. Strive
first to listen. Do not presume that all homosexual persons are sexually
3. Learn about homosexuality and church teaching so that
your preaching, teaching and counseling will be informed and effective.
4. Use the words homosexual, gay, lesbian in honest and
accurate ways, especially from the pulpit. In various and subtle ways you can
give people "permission" to talk about homosexual issues among themselves and
let them know that you're also willing to talk with them.
5. Maintain a list of agencies, community groups and
counselors or other experts to whom you can refer homosexual persons or their
parents and family members when they ask you for specialized assistance.
Recommend agencies that operate in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching.
6. Help to establish or promote existing support groups
for parents and family members.
7. Learn about HIV/AIDS so you will be more informed and
compassionate in your ministry. Include prayers in the liturgy for those
living with HIV/AIDS, their caregivers, those who have died, and their
families, companions and friends. A special Mass for healing and anointing of
the sick might be connected with World AIDS Awareness Day (Dec. 1) or with a
local AIDS awareness program.
For St. Paul, love is the greatest of spiritual gifts.
St. John considers love to be the most certain sign of God's presence. Jesus
proposes it as the basis of his two great commandments which fulfill all the
law and the prophets.
Love, too, is the continuing story of every family's
life. Love can be shared, nurtured, rejected and sometimes lost. To follow
Christ's way of love is the challenge before every family today. Your family
now has an added opportunity to share love and to accept love. Our church
communities are likewise called to an exemplary standard of love and justice.
Our homosexual sisters and brothers - indeed, all people - are summoned into
responsible ways of loving.
To our homosexual brothers and sisters we offer a
concluding word. This message has been an outstretched hand to your parents
and families, inviting them to accept God's grace present in their lives now
and to trust in the unfailing mercy of Jesus our Lord. Now we stretch out our
hands and invite you to do the same. We are called to become one body, one
spirit in Christ. We need one another if we are to "grow in every way into him
who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by
every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings
about the body's growth and builds itself up in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).
Though at times you may feel discouraged, hurt or angry,
do not walk away from your families, from the Christian community, from all
those who love you. In you, God's love is revealed. You are always our
"There is no fear in love.... Perfect love drives out
fear" (1 Jn. 4:18).
Dignité is Canada's organization of Roman Catholics who are concerned about
our church's sexual theology, particularly as it pertains to gay, lesbian,
bisexual, and transgender persons. We work in collaboration with other
Catholic organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and