Is Teaching LGBT Youth About Celibacy a Healthy Possibility?

St. Francis (Frances) Cabrini is often quoted as saying “If something is possible, it will be done.  If something is impossible, it must be done.”  That saying came to mind to me this weekend when I read the news about a Catholic college’s lecture series being criticized because it is designed to train Catholic educators on how to present doctrine concerning mandatory celibacy for lesbian and gay people to students.

The series is being held at Regis College in Toronto, a theology school associated with the University of Toronto.  The lecturer, Fr. Gilles Mongeau, SJ, a professor at the school, will be delivering six talks under the umbrella title, That They May Have Life to the Full – Accompanying LGBT Youth.  Some university personnel are complaining about the series because it is based on the Ontario bishops’ document Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation, which, not surprisingly, heavily promotes mandatory celibacy.

Mongeau, in defending the lecture series, told The Varsitythe university’s student newspaper:

“It’s just not possible in a Catholic school to propose alternative moral paths… The challenge is to present that teaching in a way that remains psychologically sound.”

That’s when I thought about Mother Cabrini.

Not possible?  Well, maybe that means it must be done.  I don’t intend to just be playing with Mother Cabrini’s words or intentions here, but to look for a broader understanding of Catholic educators’ obligations.  If their obligation is to teach church doctrine, doesn’t that include teaching them the doctrine of the primacy of conscience? If their obligation is to teach sexual morality, doesn’t that include reinforcing to heterosexual students that sexual activity outside of marriage is also not permitted?

The issue is usually never looked at in these broader perspectives.  Bans on sexual activity between people of the same gender are always absolutized in church policies.  While teachings about the same sort of absolutes regarding heterosexual people are often overlooked.  I’m not suggesting that church officials be harder on heterosexual people, but that they treat lesbian and gay people in the same manner.   Why can’t pastoral understanding and appreciation of people’s individual life stories, situations, and mature consciences be applied generally in the Church’s practice?

Fr. Mongeau went on to explain:

“a healthy psychological life is the basic condition for the possibility of make healthy and fruitful moral choices for one’s life. If anyone makes moral choices from a place of psychological or spiritual unhealth, that’s not a good thing and I would never suggest that’s a good thing.”

I agree with Fr. Mongeau here.  But where I don’t think he would agree with me is that I think celibacy is only a healthy psychological and spiritual choice when it is freely chosen, not when it is imposed by an outside authority, fear, or immaturity.

Matthew MacDonald, a University of Toronto alumnus, commented on the series along similar lines of thought.  In an email to The Varsity, he wrote:

“The aims of this course… make no student safe or encourage them to live a full life. . . .This course is harmful and damaging — as a bisexual man who grew up in a christian household, I can attest to the inner torment and anxiety these kinds of programs and teachings cause in youth and LGBTQ people of all ages.”

Fr. Mongeau also told the newspaper some of the lecture series’ goals:

“It will not be a part of this lecture series to suggest that the experience of homosexual or non-cisgender gender identity is wrong. . . .What we’re trying to prevent by having this [lecture series] is instances where religious authority or any form of power is used to oppress the young person or cause them to have a distorted psychological or psycho-spiritual development.”

Those goals are worthy ones.  But if the series is only trying to make a harsh teaching sound sweeter, or do anything to stigmatize the lives of LGBT people, those goals will not be achieved.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 23, 2016



9 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    If celibacy is a gift, which I understand Roman Catholic doctrine teaches, then the Church teaching must also be that all lesbian and gay people have the gift of celibacy. If all lesbian and gay people have the gift of celibacy, why is it so difficult for most lesbian and gay people to live a celibate life their whole lives?

    Interestingly, faith is also considered to be a gift. But I don’t think Catholic doctrine has ever taught that all humans have the gift of faith. And I haven’t heard recent popes say that those who don’t believe are sinful and condemned. Why then are lesbian and gay people expected to have the gift of celibacy? And why are all lesbian and gay people expected to live as though they have the gift of celibacy?

    The problem is the inhumane doctrine that leaders of the Church continue to teach.

  2. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    When the institutional Catholic Church has the gall to lecture any social group on the necessity of celibacy, I’m inclined to fits of laughter.

    According to Richard Sipes, at any one time half of Catholic priests (at least half) are sexually active. I don’t take moral lectures from moral hypocrites.

  3. Thom
    Thom says:

    From article: “a healthy psychological life is the basic condition for the possibility of mak[ing] healthy and fruitful moral choices for one’s life. If anyone makes moral choices from a place of psychological or spiritual unhealth, that’s not a good thing and I would never suggest that’s a good thing.”

    I think ironically the point is that the Church, itself, demanding a definitive binary gender norm, solely heterosexual-orientation paradigm, and punitive standard against non-heterosexual individuals has CAUSED the unhealthy psychological condition for an entire class of people who only ever wished to simply be treated as human and acknowledged as one of God’s magnificent creations on par with any other parishioners. How could anyone NOT BE PSYCHOLOGICALLY DAMAGED by the errors of and condemnation by the Church—taking it upon itself to define individuals as less than acceptable or perfect in God’s eyes?

    (Also, the very first sentence in this blog should start with Saint FrancEs Cabrini—unless she, too, suffered from a degree of gender spectrum “disorder.”)

    • Francis DeBernardo, Editor
      Francis DeBernardo, Editor says:

      Thanks for your comment. I think I will add the two variant spellings to the post to be safe I have seen it spelled both ways. I think the confusion comes from the fact that she was baptized “Francesca” (“Frances”), but she when she entered the convent, she took the name “Francis Xavier,” after the Jesuit missionary saint. So, in some places, her name is spelled with an “e” and in some places it is spelled with an “i.” As someone who was baptized “Francis” myself, I’m generally keen to the spelling variations of the name.

      • Thom
        Thom says:

        Thank you! I learned something new about this saint from you today. (And I assumed you would be knowledgeable about the variation being a “Francis” yourself!) Cheers and blessings.

  4. bjmonda
    bjmonda says:

    “a healthy psychological life is the basic condition for the possibility of make healthy and fruitful moral choices for one’s life.” YES PERSONAL CHOICE.! NOT IMPOSED. So I think the series is harmful and I wonder in the first pace what the problem is with anyone no matter there sexual identity or gender identity have a loving sex life? This is not immoral. Who is harmed? This is not rape or incest or forced anything, It is loving, supportive bonding.

    The Church is so bonkers about sexuality because of MANDATORY celibacy imposed on a group whose sexual orientation is largely heterosexual. The gay man in the priesthood have never minded this imposed celibacy because it was largely aimed at keeping wives and children out of church riches. Gay men were surrounded by the boy friend of their choice and choose they did. Few cared and many enjoyed! But there were those who took the rules seriously and they suffered. So many boy friends for the many and so few wives for me!! SUCH FERTILE GROUND FOR OBSESSIONS. AND THaT IS WHERE THE CHURCH HAS BEEN EVER SINCE. Obsessing about everyone’s sex life instead of getting rid of mandatory celibacy and teaching loving sexual practice for all and reserving sexual abstinece for those ready for CHOOSING it.

    Wouldn’t that be something?? FLOWER POWER and THE GOSPEL!

  5. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    The author writes, “. . . celibacy is . . . a healthy . . . choice when it is freely chosen, not when it is imposed by an outside authority, fear, or immaturity.”

    The phrase should be extended to say “. . . imposed by an outside authority, fear, immaturity, or scientific ignorance.”

    Modern health sciences — physical and mental — have proved that forced celibacy is unhealthy, just like forced avoidance of dental care to honor some doctrinal prohibition would be unhealthy.


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