The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has released a preparatory teaching aid for the 2015 World Meeting of Families which relies on negative language about LGBT people and their relationships. The catechesis is accompanied by extensive curricula intended for Catholic schools and religious education classrooms in the coming year.
The document’s negative LGBT message was made public by Good As You, a pro-LGBT website.
The teaching aid, entitled Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, is a book-length primer on marriage and family. Two of the guiding principles give a sense of how LGBT issues are treated in the text:
“However, many temptations arise which try to coax us into forgetting that male and female are created for covenant and communion. For example, poverty, affluence, pornography, contraception, philosophical and other intellectual mistakes can all create contexts that challenge or threaten healthy family life. The Church resists these things for the sake of protecting the family. [Note: ‘Philosophical mistakes’ is where the movement for LGBT equality, including same-gender marriage recognition, is placed.]
“ Many people, especially today, face painful situations resulting from poverty, disability, illness and addictions, unemployment, and the loneliness of advanced age. But divorce and same-sex attraction impact the intimate life of the family in especially powerful ways. Christian families and networks of families should be sources of mercy, safety, friendship and support for those struggling with these issues.”
Marriage equality is dealt with in a lesson titled “Light in a Dark World,” which asks students to imagine what they would do to protect gold at Fort Knox if attacked. This image is analogized to ways in which they can defend the faith in a hostile world. It includes the following language on legalizing same-gender marriage:
“Separating sex and procreation results in the perception of marriage as simply sexual or emotional satisfaction, and this logically leads to the acceptance of same-sex unions…
“While the Catholic Church will not approve same sex ‘marriages,’ the Church does appreciate and acknowledge the importance of chaste same sex friendships.”
The lesson also identifies marriage equality as a “threat to healthy family life” by which “the state (conceding to pressure from various groups) is trying to create a new definition of marriage and family.” That section concludes with a bolded statement:
“In order to protect families, marriages, and children, it is necessary to resist this movement to give the state the power to redefine and reconstruct marriage and the family.”
A handout for students includes almost identical language, asking them to think about light in a “dark world.”
Elsewhere in the curriculum, lesbian and gay people are identified as “those who struggle with same-sex attraction.” A middle school lesson plan asks students the following question with some suggested answers provided in italics:
“What are some of the reasons that Jesus’ and the Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction is hard? (We feel like we are judging people; we know and love people who are attracted to the same sex; it seems mean to tell them they are wrong if God ‘made them that way’; they can be in loving and committed relationships too, it’s mean to deny them the ‘right’ to get married, etc.)“
Students are also asked to brainstorm “specific difficulties” like loneliness, financial difficulties, and feeling excluded that LGBT people supposedly experience. The text juxtaposes these descriptions with the idea that the Church “is already doing a good job making sure no one in the Church…feels lonely.”
Finally, throughout the several hundred pages on marriage and family, the curricula offer anti-gay resources like Courage, a national ministry which promotes chastity as the only pastoral option for lesbian and gay people, and The Third Way, a very negative film released this year to defend positions about lesbian and gay people which are actually pastorally harmful .
Few comments are necessary as the documents from the Philadelphia archdiocese speak for themselves. They are out of touch with Pope Francis’ more open approach, many of the discussions at October’s synod of bishops, and the general trend among most Catholics towards LGBT inclusion and affirmation. I offer three brief thoughts.
First, it appears Archbishop Charles Chaput and those on his staff desire that Catholics be “prophets of doom” so readily condemned by Pope John XXIII as he opened Vatican II. Pope Francis is speaking of a culture of encounter, while these documents instead reiterate a defensive withdrawal into a church under attack.
Second, the discussion of homosexuality is not pastoral in the least. Advising chaste friendships and ignoring the church’s deep complicity in creating difficulties experienced by LGBT people are forms of oppression. And why is it that only gay people are the ones who seem to struggle? These documents are clearly working against bishops who seek to recognize goodness, as well as the gifts and qualities, possessed by LGBT people.
Third, I cannot imagine any effective religious educator or youth minister actually using this document. In the United States, the general trend is that the younger a Catholic is, the more affirming they will be of LGBT people. That’s 85% of Millennials, those 18-29, and probably even higher, I imagine, for younger aged teens. A few weeks ago, I asked what young Catholics want from the church, and while the answer to that is still undetermined, it is assuredly not what these documents present.
In the year to come, LGBT advocates must strive to correct these false narratives and intentional distortions in the minds of fellow Catholics, most especially those of the bishops.
You can write to Archbishop Chaput at the following postal address:
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archdiocesan Pastoral Center
222 North 17th Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1299
Or you can send him an email at:
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry