Dignity Canada Dignité

DCD notified the CCCB about "Two Perspectives" document - the letter can be seen here

Pastoral Ministry to Young People: Two Perspectives
prepared by Frank Testin, President, Dignity Canada Dignité  © 2012 Dignity Canada Dignité
Canadian Catholic Bishops issue letter on ministry to young people with same-sex attraction

Independent Catholic News
June 27, 2011
The Commission for Doctrine of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) released today a letter on pastoral ministry to young people with same-sex attraction.

“As Bishops, we wish to address the pastoral needs of adolescents and young adults who question their sexual identity or experience feelings of same-sex attraction. We are concerned for the spiritual good of all persons, and want to help them live out their call ‘to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity’. Convinced that ‛only what is true can ultimately be pastoral,’ we offer this guidance, by way of general principles and pastoral guidelines, to all Catholics, pastors, parents and educators, as well as to young adults themselves,” the Commission states in its introduction to the pastoral letter.

While stressing the fact that the Church in her teaching never condemns persons with same-sex attraction, the Bishops note that “while homosexual acts are always objectively wrong, same-sex inclinations are not in themselves sinful or a moral failing”. (…) “For many people, same-sex attraction constitutes a trial. They therefore deserve to be approached by pastors with charity and prudence.”

In its letter, the Commission offers various pastoral guidelines, in addition to expressing its “profound gratitude to all those who wisely and lovingly guide young people with a same-sex attraction: priests and pastoral associates, parents and educators”.

The letter can be downloaded here.

In June 2011, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) published the document entitled 'Pastoral Ministry to Young People with Same-sex Attraction.’ It is addressed to parish priests and pastoral workers, educators, parents, young persons and the Catholic community at large. It can be viewed here on the Dignity Canada Dignité (DCD) website and also on the CCCB website. 

Here we present DCD's views on how to minister to young persons, as well as adults of any age.  It has two parts.  In the first, we present those ideas in the CCCB document with which we agree and believe are worthy of repetition.  In the second, we present our own views on how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons can express their sexuality in an ethically responsible fashion.

CCCB Document

We are encouraged that the CCCB document clearly states that "every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and is a unique and irreplaceable gift of God.  Every person possesses an intrinsic dignity which must always be respected." In addition, that ",,,persons with a homosexual orientation shall be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and that every sign of unjust discrimination shall be avoided."  We agree that "those exercising a ministry in the Church or working in the pastoral care of young persons shall be especially careful not to perpetuate injustice, hatred or malice in speech or action against [ LGBT ] persons."  It is evident to us that "sexuality ... is not solely biological, but concerns the innermost being of each person." Finally, we concur that "the entire Christian community has a call to guide its young [ LGBT ] members in their journey toward human maturity."

DCD's Alternate Perspective on Sexual Ethics

In the late 1980's Dignity USA, with input from DCD and others, established a task force on sexual ethics to develop a document which would be a pastoral reflection for lesbian and gay Catholics on how to express our sexuality in a manner consistent with Christ’s teachings.  The task force conducted a consultation and discernment process that spanned some five years.  This included inviting persons associated with Dignity chapters to complete a questionnaire and conducting in-depth interviews with members and experts.  Over 800 completed questionnaires were returned and analyzed.  The draft document was also circulated for comments before being finalized.  Further information on the methodology can be found at:  http://dignitycanada.org/dcdethic.html

The document prepared by the Dignity task force was intended to be a communication from the people of God to the people of God.  As such, the document was seen as filling a pastoral role, and was intended to be a source of "conscience formation and spiritual growth." The entire document entitled “Sexual Ethics: Experience, Growth, and Challenge”  can be found on the DCD website.  We bring the following points taken verbatim from the pastoral reflection to the attention of those who provide pastoral ministry to LGBT young persons, as well as adults of any age:

  1. We are not alone in regarding official teachings on issues of sexuality as not in touch with human experience.  At the core of official teaching on sexuality is the prohibition of any genital expression of sexuality outside marriage and of any genital sexual expression within marriage not open to procreation.  This ethic increasingly is regarded as irrelevant and unacceptable by heterosexuals, both those who are married in the Church and those, like the divorced, the widowed, the handicapped, and the single, who are sexually disenfranchised.  Scholars have shown the inadequacy of an ethic that regards sexual intimacy essentially as an agreement to procreate.  Vatican Council II implicitly acknowledged this inadequacy when, in speaking of the purpose of marriage, it refused to subordinate mutual love and companionship to procreation and the education of children (Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 50).
  2. We see sexuality as an intrinsic, integral, and essential aspect of our human personhood, not a separate one.  We reclaim our sexuality and its genital expression as intrinsically good.
  3. We have a responsibility as members of the Christian community to seek common understanding and communion in that which makes us Christian.  We therefore reaffirm the primacy of the individual conscience and accept the responsibility for its continuing formation in community.
  4. Since humans were not made to be alone (see Genesis 2:18), as we seek and express intimacy and love we show God's image in action.  We strive to make that image clearer by together acting justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
  5. Like our heterosexual sisters and brothers, we have had to transcend centuries of teachings that not only separated spirituality and sexuality but also considered sexual expression, if not less than human, then at least a concession to human weakness.  We have learned that the living Christian tradition has more to offer than prohibition and condemnation, that through the values and ideals of our faith communities we can create a positive and human sexual ethic.  We want our faith to enter more directly into our sexual decisions and activity, so that there will be a closer integration of sexuality and spirituality.
  6. We see our sexuality and its expression as the holy gift of God.  The overwhelming majority of us are able to say that we are both sexually active and comfortable in our relationship with Christ.  Being sexually active enables us to be more at ease with ourselves, more fulfilled in our relationships, more productive in our work and service.  The Spirit is evident in a warmer and more peaceful prayer-life.
  7. We acknowledge as well that sexual abstinence freely and positively chosen is good.  Many of us, for various reasons, have attempted a lifestyle of sexual abstinence.  Some have chosen sexual abstinence as a lifelong way of being sexual in the world, either as part of a formal religious commitment or as a way to pursue nonsexual interests more freely.  Others have chosen to be sexually abstinent temporarily in order to pursue certain goals or to reassess or re-establish priorities.
  8. However, when sexual abstinence has been imposed by an outside force life circumstances, institutional mandate, social pressures — the effect on our lives has generally been unhealthy, destructive, and alienating.  The energy expended in maintaining an abstinent lifestyle left us too drained personally to enter into relationships with others or to grow spiritually.  Abstinence attempted out of fear — fear of intimacy, fear of disease, fear of divine retribution — diminished our humanness, made us preoccupied with sex, left us hungering for the intimate love of another human being.
  9. What resources have we been using to make decisions that will be responsible and Christian?  Our primary resource, because of our isolation, has been our individual experience and reflection.  Health concerns influence our sexual decisions because of possible consequences to ourselves and others.  Reading and prayer, traditional resources for making decisions, are next in importance.  Most of us regard other traditional resources - scripture study, advice from confessor or spiritual mentor, formal religious education - as less helpful.  Most of us have not found official teaching on sexuality at all helpful in making decisions.
  10. Our particular concern has been the integration of sexuality and spirituality.  We share with all Christians the life-long struggle to unify all aspects of our lives, including our genital expression, under the reality of the Christian Gospel and the values to which that Gospel urges us — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).  The development and growth of these values is a life-long endeavour; there is no point at which we stop and say that we have all the answers or that we have done all that we can.

Additional Thoughts

While the CCCB document asserts that the origins of homosexuality are largely unexplained, studies have in fact concluded that sexual orientation is inborn and relationships with the opposite sex do not significantly impact it.

It is the experience of many heterosexual couples that living together, whether in marriage or not, provides the opportunity to learn how to love another.  In the midst of human frailties and idiosyncrasies, one learns respect, patience, tenderness, courage, assertiveness, good humour and other such qualities.  These qualities are also learned in taking on the roles of parents in raising a family.  By insisting that all LGBT persons not form intimate relationships with a soul mate – not fulfilling the longing for partnership and love with another person of the same gender - we wonder what opportunities to become more fully human are being denied LGBT persons.

Our experience has taught us that whom you love is not as important as how you love. 

John J. McNeill, in his book “Taking a Chance on God” (1988), wrote the following:

Only a sadistic God would create millions of humans as gay with no choice in the matter and no hope of changing and then deny them the right to express their gayness in a loving relationship for the rest of their lives under the threat of eternal damnation.  (p. 38)

For further information, please see other parts of the DCD website.  In addition, two theologians who have attended many Dignity conventions and provided valuable advice are:

John J. McNeill, PhD, whose writings include:

  • Sex as God Intended, Lethe Press, 2008.
  • Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians and Everybody Else, Beacon Press, 1995.
  • Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends, Beacon Press, 1988.

Daniel A. Helminiak, PhD, whose writings include:

  • The Transcended Christian: Spiritual Lessons for the Twenty-first Century, Alyson Books, 2007.
  • Sex and the Sacred:  Gay Identity and Spiritual Growth, The Haworth Press, 2006.
  • What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, Alamo Square Press, millennium edition, 2000.

Dignity Canada 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 transgendered persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.