A Scottish bishop has asked his priests to include the church’s regulation of celibacy for lesbian and gay people in any ministry that is directed toward them. The bishop’s guideline comes after a parish in his diocese publicized an extravagant welcome to gay and lesbian people on its Facebook page.
The Catholic Herald reports:
“The Bishop of Motherwell [Scotland] has asked his priests to encourage those experiencing same-sex attraction to ‘lead a chaste life.’ “
“Bishop Joseph Toal issued his statement after a diocesan priest published a Facebook post that was subsequently widely shared. The priest, Fr Paul Morton of St Bride’s Church in Cambuslang, wrote: ‘We must do everything we can to redress the harm that has been done in the past by the negative stance we seem to have taken up [about gay people].’ “
“Bishop Toal said he had been asked about the subject by a number of priests. ‘One such approach commended to me is to make available the Courage ministry/programme,’ he said.”
” ‘This encourages those who live with same-sex attraction to live a chaste life – which is also expected of all heterosexual Catholics who are not married – supported by the sacramental and prayer life of the Church.’ “
This kind of pastoral approach is not only demeaning to gay and lesbian people, it is also ineffective and goes against a principle which the Vatican itself promoted in its 1986 “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” That document states, in part:
“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”
In promoting pastoral ministry whose main focus is chastity, Toal not only looks at gay and lesbian people as primarily homosexual, but also assumes that the main struggle that they have is with sexual activity. This is a demeaning assumption.
Gay and lesbian people show up to church for myriad reasons. They come with an equal amount of challenges, struggles, strengths, and joys as their heterosexual counterparts. They come as children of God seeking to deepen their relationship with God. Pastoral ministry with them must begin with their particular issues and not assume that sexuality is a focus for them.
Most–or I daresay, all–gay and lesbian people who come to a Catholic parish already know the magisterium’s prohibition about sexual activity. It’s not a secret.
This phenomenon is mirrored by their heterosexual counterparts who know that contraception, masturbation, and pre-marital sex are equally forbidden by the magisterium. Yet, no one is proposing that pastoral ministry to heterosexual people start with and focus on the church’s sexual teaching. That simply is not good pastoral ministry, especially in the age of Pope Francis who has been urging accompaniment, encounter, and dialogue as the more effective modes of pastoral care.
The Courage ministry which Toal seems to recommend is a flawed pastoral approach in that it understands a homosexual orientation as a flaw which can be controlled by a 12-step addiction model. In the U.S., a number of bishops have explicitly rejected such a model.
Bishop Toal needs to look at the flourishing movement of LGBT-friendly parishes who use a more holistic model of ministry that emphasizes welcome, acceptance of gifts and blessedness, and encourages integration of sexuality and spirituality. He could start by looking at New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly parishes by clicking here.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 6, 2017