The National Catholic Review

In an article about maturity they contributed to Robert Nugent’s book A Challenge to Love (1983), the psychologists James and Evelyn Whitehead use the metaphor of journey or passage to explain the loss and gain or peril and possibility that accompany significant moments in life. At the death of a parent, for example, we lose our beginning and our security; but if we travel well through this passage, we gain a deeper appreciation of our father/mother and move on to a new level of independence.

Employing this metaphor, the Whiteheads suggest that there are three passages for a person who is coming to grips with his or her homosexual orientation:

Interior passage: when one realizes and accepts the self-knowledge of one’s homosexual orientation. This passage takes place within an individual and is fundamental to the next two passages.

Passage of intimacy: when one shares one’s homosexual orientation with a trusted other or others: e.g., one’s parents. At this stage, one is hoping to be known and loved by the trusted other for who one is.

Public passage: when one takes the further step to be publicly known as a homosexual. This passage is normally called coming out, and the homosexual usually takes on the designation of gay or lesbian.

This is a helpful metaphor but calls for certain moral and pastoral comments.

Progression from one stage to another is not simply automatic, but necessitates a careful process of integration and self-assessment. It also necessitates guidance from others who have progressed through the stages and have reached a healthy understanding of their own sexual orientation. Just as heterosexual adolescents learn from their parents and other role models how to integrate their sexuality, homosexual adolescents need to move through this same learning process, a very difficult move in today’s climate.

The temptation to jump to the public passage is likely an attempt to hasten the process of the interior and intimacy passages. Since heterosexuals grow up in an environment that continually endorses and validates their sexuality, the first two passages take shape from an early age and the completion of the public passage (i.e., dating, marriage and sexual relationship) normally follows the pattern of the threefold passages. For homosexuals, however, this affirming environment does not usually exist at home, school or work; and homosexuals then almost inevitably face various forms of ignorance and prejudice from others.

While the process of movement from one level to the next should not be interpreted as endorsing homosexual activity, it is, one hopes, an attempt to see one’s sexual orientation as one component of who one is, rather than a secret that keeps one feeling isolated, lonely and ashamed.

For homosexuals, progression into the third level should be an exercise in prudence, guided by respected friends and confidants. This public step also requires the completion of the first two levels and a clear understanding of one’s personal motives for going public. Attempting to complete the first two levels by jumping into the third level is perilous and psychologically damaging. Only the most weighty reason justifies a move into the public passage. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous is one such example. Within the program certain meetings have specific designations. A gay/lesbian A.A. meeting is an example that meets all of the requirements for a healthy public passage. In this public passage one feels a part of a group, can work toward ending feelings of isolation, loneliness and shame and can help newcomers to these meetings to work through the first two passages.

The Teacher

In light of this understanding of passages for homosexuals, I would like to offer advice to homosexual teachers in a Catholic school. While school policy might be informed by these suggestions, my primary concern here is for the homosexual teacher.

The Catholic Church strongly affirms the dignity of every homosexual person. The 1976 statement of the U.S. bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus, exemplifies this teaching well: Some persons find themselves through no fault of their own to have a homosexual orientation. Homosexuals, like every one else, should not suffer from prejudice against their basic human rights. They have a right to respect, friendship and justice (No. 4).

A Catholic school and its teachers bear the ecclesiological responsibility of upholding the church’s teachings on the dignity of every homosexual and the wrongness of homosexual activity. Even if this obligation might create for a homosexual teacher a certain tension between personal belief and church teaching, it is the church’s teaching, and not personal beliefs, that must be imparted in a Catholic school.

While in theory it might be appropriate for a homosexual teacher to go public if he/she (1) has successfully transitioned the interior passage and the passage of intimacy, (2) publicly accepts the teaching of the church and (3) desires to give witness to the fact that a homosexual can happily and successfully live the teaching of the church, one wonders how frequently all of these factors coexist.

A teacher who feels the need to make public his/her homosexual orientation in a school setting is probably (a) trying to complete the first two passages by jumping into the third level, and (b) failing to recognize the inappropriateness of seeking support from students who probably do not understand the teacher’s struggles or have the tools to offer necessary support. This does not mean that young people are not capable of being caring and loving toward homosexuals, but that they should not be put into the position of having a dual relationship with their teacher: i.e., as teacher and as homosexual. I would suggest that a homosexual teacher who has a personal or psychological need to announce his/her sexual orientation to students should for this very reason not be teaching in a Catholic school at all. This assertion does not pertain, however, to the case of a mature, stable homosexual who publicly accepts and practices the church’s teachings and who does not feel the need to announce his/her homosexuality.

The Climate

We live in an ethos that identifies a gay or lesbian as one who is sexually active. Statistically there is evidence to support this, as there is evidence to support the statement that single heterosexuals are sexually active. While this presumption might be untrue, unjust and unfair in many cases, it is a perception in today’s society, so I agree with the Whiteheads: One cannot enter the public passage simply because it is the thing to do’ or because others have made it. Those committed to a celibate life in the church and those who hold positions of authority in the church should not enter the public passage because this step will almost inevitably have a negative impact on their credibility as public representatives of the church. They will become victims of their own personal revelation and cut off from others in the community who uphold the church’s teachings about homosexuality. Such individuals then lose their effectiveness as public witnesses to celibacy or as teachers in a Catholic school, and this result will only reinforce negative feelings about their own homosexuality.

When a Catholic school teacher moves into the public passage, he/she will likely meet a variety of reactionsfrom indifference to homophobia to support to angerand will be presumed to be sexually active. This stereotyping amounts to reducing the homosexual to his/her sexual orientation, which is clearly a form of injustice and prejudice and is contrary to the church’s teaching that all homosexuals be treated with respect, friendship and justice. Students have the right to be educated about the church’s teachings on homosexuality, and they must be taught that they also bear the responsibility to treat homosexuals with respect, understanding and fairness. If Catholic schools cannot teach students to treat homosexuals with the respect, friendship and justice required by the bishops, then we have a more serious problem than that of a few teachers coming out.

The Student

Students have a right to learn from their teachers. Teachers are significant role models. Students learn from teachers they admire because of the teacher’s knowledge, ability to teach, empathy, care and interest. It is these qualities in a teacher that a student admires and seeks to imitate.

Students do not need to know a teacher’s sexual orientation. The teacher who publicly reveals this information is forcing a student into a dual acceptance of him/herself as a teacher and as a homosexual person, thus pushing the student and the Catholic school into a tenuous and unfair position. Students are not in school to hear about or support a teacher’s orientation or lifestyle.

If a student is struggling with his or her own interior passage, the student should be discussing this self-perception with his/her parents and a school counselor who is equipped to carefully process these types of inner feelings. At this point in a young person’s life, he or she needs careful and student-centered advice and guidance, not more confusion in sorting through a teacher’s homosexuality.

The Right Place

Publicly announcing one’s sexual orientation in a Catholic school is misguided, pedagogically and psychologically flawed and does nothing to further the church’s authentic teachings about the dignity of every homosexual person. Homosexuals deserve respect and dignity and the freedom to share their sexual journey. However, I do not believe that this sharing should take place in a Catholic school by a teacher, administrator or staff member.

Gerald D. Coleman, S.S., is president/rector of St. Patrick’s Seminary, of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, in Menlo Park, Calif.

Comments

James Cosgrove | 1/22/2007 - 4:31pm
In his article “‘Coming Out’ as a Catholic School Teacher” (3/19), Gerald D. Coleman, S.S., makes some valid points. He indicates, for example, that it is not right for a mature adult to depend upon adolescents for emotional support and that young students should not be required to cope with matters beyond their level of maturity.

But, if homosexuals “should not suffer from prejudice against their basic human rights,” and if they “have a right to respect, friendship and justice,” why must their orientation be kept a secret? There is a further question. What does Father Coleman propose to do if a teacher ignores his advice and does “come out”? Officially, the church has declared that the homosexual orientation is an “objective disorder,” but it does not level any sanctions against persons merely because they have the disorder. Should a person who comes out be fired? What for? The violation of a prohibition against revealing one’s sexual orientation, or the imprudence of doing so? The loss of credibility as a role model? If these reasons will not suffice for dismissal, must the institution launch an investigation to prove that the individual is sexually active?

Robert F. Miailovich | 1/22/2007 - 4:29pm
It is good that Gerald Coleman, S.S., recognizes that there are homosexuals who teach in our schools and do so ably and that homosexuals, like everyone else, “have a right to respect, friendship and justice” (3/19). The problem is that he then seems to establish a special code of conduct for gay or lesbian teachers that would not apply to heterosexual teachers. Whatever the rules are for a teacher sharing his or her sexual journey with a student, they should be the same for all teachers. The respect and justice that our bishops say is the due of gays and lesbians demands that they receive no less than equal treatment with that accorded all other persons. The standards for a teacher revealing sexual orientation or how a teacher acts as a role model for students are not topics for an article specifically on homosexual teachers alone. Father Coleman sets up a classic “straw man” so he can knock down an unreal myth.

The put-down of gay teachers as role models is especially ironic given the beautiful discussion of the new “interpersonal model” of marriage by Michael Lawler in the same issue of America. There is nothing in that model, whose action is the “procreation of love,” that cannot be satisfied by a loving same-sex couple. If that kind of love shines through in the “empathy, care and interest” that a gay or lesbian role model teacher displays in a classroom, so much the better.

(Rev.) Jim Schexnayder | 1/22/2007 - 4:26pm
In his recent article in America, Gerald Coleman, S.S., writes about the issue of Catholic school teachers “coming out” (3/19). I have the highest esteem for Father Coleman and his writings on homosexuality and pastoral practice. But I would like to raise some questions regarding this particular article.

He makes it very clear that homosexual youth are particularly challenged, since they often lack role models who can assist their efforts to integrate their sexuality. He goes on to say that for these youth an “affirming environment does not usually exist at home, school or work; and homosexuals then almost inevitably face various forms of ignorance and prejudice from others.” He speaks of sexual orientation as “one component of who one is, rather than a secret that keeps one feeling isolated, lonely and ashamed.”

For those very reasons I want to ask why gay and lesbian youth and also other students who may lack understanding regarding sexual orientation as an integral part of one’s identity as a person should categorically be deprived of authentic role models in a Christian setting? I agree that the decision to reveal one’s homosexual identity is not lightly made or done casually in a classroom. Much work remains to be done in Catholic schools to educate teachers and staff, as well as students and parents, on both the meaning of sexual orientation and the various teachings of the Catholic Church that pertain to this subject.

All that being said, are we to leave the experience of role models and “coming out” for only a secular setting, where support for the integration of sexuality and spirituality may be lacking?

In their article “Three Passages of Maturity,” James and Evelyn Whitehead spoke of “a public witness of homosexual and Christian maturing and a gift to the next generation.” It is precisely this witness and gift that is so needed in order to avert the tragic emotional and physical harassment and violence that gay and lesbian youth and those thought to be gay are experiencing daily in public and Catholic schools.

(Rev.) Ken Lohrmeyer | 1/22/2007 - 4:33pm
Perhaps my reaction to the article by Gerald Coleman, S.S., “‘Coming Out’ as a Catholic School Teacher” (3/19), is overly simplistic. Or perhaps I completely missed his point. But it seems to me that what he is saying to homosexual men and women in positions of authority in the church is basically: “Stay in the closet—don’t upset the rest of us with the reality of who you are—we have other more important things to be concerned about.”

Why quote from the 1976 statement of the U.S. bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus, that homosexual persons “have a right to respect, friendship and justice” and then insist that publicly announcing to the members of the community with whom one lives and works every day something about yourself that is fundamental to your identity as a person and as a believer is “misguided...flawed”? Is this the way we teach our children justice and non-discrimination—by encouraging one of the most important role models in their lives to be dishonest about who he/she is? Is this the way we model for our daughters and sons the charity that Jesus taught is to be without limit and without condition?

Dugan McGinley | 1/22/2007 - 4:32pm
After reading the article by Gerald Coleman, S.S., “‘Coming Out’ as a Catholic School Teacher” (3/19), I was left with an overwhelming sense of incredulity. Does Father Coleman really believe silence and secrecy on the part of gay teachers will further enhance the dignity and respect all homosexuals deserve?

This is another example of the bizarre leaps of logic required to make sense out of current church teachings about homosexuality. The church tells us gay people must be treated with “respect, friendship and justice,” but in the same breath we are told homosexual activity and relationships must be condemned. Church teaching accepts gay people with “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” even as it denigrates the lives and families gay people have built for themselves. This “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance does not make sense in the lives of gay people and is increasingly untenable for families and friends of gay people.

Contrary to Father Coleman’s theory, gay teachers who reveal their sexuality probably do not do so in order to seek support from their students or to push their way past more fundamental coming-out passages; indeed, it is difficult to imagine any gay person having the courage to come out in any public way without having first taken that step within him/herself and with trusted others. Rather, gay teachers are more likely to reveal their sexual identity to be true to themselves, to model integrity and personal responsibility and to be available for any students or colleagues who may need their support. And even though Father Coleman would prefer to have students who are struggling with their own interior coming out passages discuss this with a school counselor “equipped to carefully process these types of inner feelings,” there are very few school counselors so equipped.

Almost hidden within Father Coleman’s pedagogical and psychological rationale is the primary reason he does not want gay teachers to acknowledge their sexual identity: it puts the Catholic school in a “tenuous and unfair” position. I submit that gay Catholic teachers are the ones put in a tenuous and unfair position by hypocritical church teachings which necessitate a culture of secrecy. Sadly, I ultimately agree with Father Coleman that this kind of sharing probably should not take place in a Catholic school: but my concern is for the safety of gay students and teachers. As Father Coleman inadvertently demonstrates by his article, Catholic schools for the most part are not safe spaces for gay people, especially gay students, who will be unable to find a positive role model there. What a tragedy. To use Father Coleman’s own words: “If Catholic schools cannot teach students to treat homosexuals with the ‘respect, friendship and justice’ required by the bishops, then we have a more serious problem than that of a few teachers coming out.”

Ken Smits, O.F.M. Cap. | 1/24/2007 - 1:56pm
The article by Gerald Coleman, S.S., (3/19) is another example of twisted thinking and practice on gay and lesbian issues in the church. It is arrived at by holding firmly, on the one hand, to homosexuality as an ontologically intrinsically disordered condition and, on the other hand, the church’s teaching on the dignity of the homosexual person, having a right to respect, friendship and justice. His conclusion is that the rights and dignity of the homosexual person have to be limited. Now everyone knows there are homosexual men and women, not only among the Catholic laity, but throughout the ranks and offices and employment of the church and all its religious communities. But it has to be kept a big secret. We can stand having all these intrinsically disordered people around, but not publicly. It would compromise and embarrass the teaching of the church too much. Which is all to say that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (both in the military and the church) is an uneasy compromise, inherently unequal and unjust, which cannot endure. Thank heavens the church teaching retreated into ontology, the realm of abstraction. May it become steadily more abstract as reality moves on. The church, even kicking and screaming, is likely to have to follow society in the ever more public acknowledgement of homosexual orientation. May we be ready to acknowledge this grace.

James Crafton | 1/24/2007 - 1:56pm
All right, I’ll take the politically incorrect position.

I think the article (3/19) urging gay teachers not to “come out” in the classroom is right on target. Gerald Coleman, S.S., articulates the situation clearly, with wisdom and a strong sense of reality.

What is troubling about the numerous letters criticizing his position is not the writers’ disagreement with him, but their apparent presumption, widespread today, that homosexuality is a legitimate alternative to heterosexuality. I think it is not. Our physicality says it is not. Common sense says it is not. The human need for complementarity and challenge says it is not. Life’s need to continue says it is not. Christian faith says that homosexuality’s inability to produce life is an affront to God the creator of life.

On the subject of gay teachers coming out in the classroom, let’s shift the scenario to a parallel that is less emotionally volatile in order to see more clearly. Presumably we are all sinful. That is, we all have in us a strong tendency toward some “objectively disordered” activity with which we struggle throughout life. So shall one teacher stand up in the classroom and declare: “I am a bigot!” Or shall another say: “I am a coward!” Or another, “I am a pedophile!” Or “I have an uncontrollable temper!” Or “I am a philanderer!” Or “I am an habitual liar!” Or “I am selfish, vain and arrogant!” (Well, we already knew that!) Why not? These things are a part of their identity.

Silly questions, of course. Such declarations would be seen as poor taste, bad judgment and generally inappropriate and unacceptable. So why does homosexuality get such a unique preference? Because gays should receive love, respect, dignity and justice? No. In this context that is an expression of sentimentality, not charity. Homosexual persons should receive love, respect, dignity and justice because they are persons, not because they are homosexual, just as the hypothetical teachers above would not seriously expect to receive love, dignity and respect for their bigotry, cowardice, pedophilia, wrath, philandering, etc.

As creatures, we have a human need to give the honor and glory to God’s creative and redemptive work, not to our distortions of it.

James Cosgrove | 1/22/2007 - 4:31pm
In his article “‘Coming Out’ as a Catholic School Teacher” (3/19), Gerald D. Coleman, S.S., makes some valid points. He indicates, for example, that it is not right for a mature adult to depend upon adolescents for emotional support and that young students should not be required to cope with matters beyond their level of maturity.

But, if homosexuals “should not suffer from prejudice against their basic human rights,” and if they “have a right to respect, friendship and justice,” why must their orientation be kept a secret? There is a further question. What does Father Coleman propose to do if a teacher ignores his advice and does “come out”? Officially, the church has declared that the homosexual orientation is an “objective disorder,” but it does not level any sanctions against persons merely because they have the disorder. Should a person who comes out be fired? What for? The violation of a prohibition against revealing one’s sexual orientation, or the imprudence of doing so? The loss of credibility as a role model? If these reasons will not suffice for dismissal, must the institution launch an investigation to prove that the individual is sexually active?

Robert F. Miailovich | 1/22/2007 - 4:29pm
It is good that Gerald Coleman, S.S., recognizes that there are homosexuals who teach in our schools and do so ably and that homosexuals, like everyone else, “have a right to respect, friendship and justice” (3/19). The problem is that he then seems to establish a special code of conduct for gay or lesbian teachers that would not apply to heterosexual teachers. Whatever the rules are for a teacher sharing his or her sexual journey with a student, they should be the same for all teachers. The respect and justice that our bishops say is the due of gays and lesbians demands that they receive no less than equal treatment with that accorded all other persons. The standards for a teacher revealing sexual orientation or how a teacher acts as a role model for students are not topics for an article specifically on homosexual teachers alone. Father Coleman sets up a classic “straw man” so he can knock down an unreal myth.

The put-down of gay teachers as role models is especially ironic given the beautiful discussion of the new “interpersonal model” of marriage by Michael Lawler in the same issue of America. There is nothing in that model, whose action is the “procreation of love,” that cannot be satisfied by a loving same-sex couple. If that kind of love shines through in the “empathy, care and interest” that a gay or lesbian role model teacher displays in a classroom, so much the better.

(Rev.) Jim Schexnayder | 1/22/2007 - 4:26pm
In his recent article in America, Gerald Coleman, S.S., writes about the issue of Catholic school teachers “coming out” (3/19). I have the highest esteem for Father Coleman and his writings on homosexuality and pastoral practice. But I would like to raise some questions regarding this particular article.

He makes it very clear that homosexual youth are particularly challenged, since they often lack role models who can assist their efforts to integrate their sexuality. He goes on to say that for these youth an “affirming environment does not usually exist at home, school or work; and homosexuals then almost inevitably face various forms of ignorance and prejudice from others.” He speaks of sexual orientation as “one component of who one is, rather than a secret that keeps one feeling isolated, lonely and ashamed.”

For those very reasons I want to ask why gay and lesbian youth and also other students who may lack understanding regarding sexual orientation as an integral part of one’s identity as a person should categorically be deprived of authentic role models in a Christian setting? I agree that the decision to reveal one’s homosexual identity is not lightly made or done casually in a classroom. Much work remains to be done in Catholic schools to educate teachers and staff, as well as students and parents, on both the meaning of sexual orientation and the various teachings of the Catholic Church that pertain to this subject.

All that being said, are we to leave the experience of role models and “coming out” for only a secular setting, where support for the integration of sexuality and spirituality may be lacking?

In their article “Three Passages of Maturity,” James and Evelyn Whitehead spoke of “a public witness of homosexual and Christian maturing and a gift to the next generation.” It is precisely this witness and gift that is so needed in order to avert the tragic emotional and physical harassment and violence that gay and lesbian youth and those thought to be gay are experiencing daily in public and Catholic schools.

(Rev.) Ken Lohrmeyer | 1/22/2007 - 4:33pm
Perhaps my reaction to the article by Gerald Coleman, S.S., “‘Coming Out’ as a Catholic School Teacher” (3/19), is overly simplistic. Or perhaps I completely missed his point. But it seems to me that what he is saying to homosexual men and women in positions of authority in the church is basically: “Stay in the closet—don’t upset the rest of us with the reality of who you are—we have other more important things to be concerned about.”

Why quote from the 1976 statement of the U.S. bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus, that homosexual persons “have a right to respect, friendship and justice” and then insist that publicly announcing to the members of the community with whom one lives and works every day something about yourself that is fundamental to your identity as a person and as a believer is “misguided...flawed”? Is this the way we teach our children justice and non-discrimination—by encouraging one of the most important role models in their lives to be dishonest about who he/she is? Is this the way we model for our daughters and sons the charity that Jesus taught is to be without limit and without condition?

Dugan McGinley | 1/22/2007 - 4:32pm
After reading the article by Gerald Coleman, S.S., “‘Coming Out’ as a Catholic School Teacher” (3/19), I was left with an overwhelming sense of incredulity. Does Father Coleman really believe silence and secrecy on the part of gay teachers will further enhance the dignity and respect all homosexuals deserve?

This is another example of the bizarre leaps of logic required to make sense out of current church teachings about homosexuality. The church tells us gay people must be treated with “respect, friendship and justice,” but in the same breath we are told homosexual activity and relationships must be condemned. Church teaching accepts gay people with “respect, compassion and sensitivity,” even as it denigrates the lives and families gay people have built for themselves. This “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance does not make sense in the lives of gay people and is increasingly untenable for families and friends of gay people.

Contrary to Father Coleman’s theory, gay teachers who reveal their sexuality probably do not do so in order to seek support from their students or to push their way past more fundamental coming-out passages; indeed, it is difficult to imagine any gay person having the courage to come out in any public way without having first taken that step within him/herself and with trusted others. Rather, gay teachers are more likely to reveal their sexual identity to be true to themselves, to model integrity and personal responsibility and to be available for any students or colleagues who may need their support. And even though Father Coleman would prefer to have students who are struggling with their own interior coming out passages discuss this with a school counselor “equipped to carefully process these types of inner feelings,” there are very few school counselors so equipped.

Almost hidden within Father Coleman’s pedagogical and psychological rationale is the primary reason he does not want gay teachers to acknowledge their sexual identity: it puts the Catholic school in a “tenuous and unfair” position. I submit that gay Catholic teachers are the ones put in a tenuous and unfair position by hypocritical church teachings which necessitate a culture of secrecy. Sadly, I ultimately agree with Father Coleman that this kind of sharing probably should not take place in a Catholic school: but my concern is for the safety of gay students and teachers. As Father Coleman inadvertently demonstrates by his article, Catholic schools for the most part are not safe spaces for gay people, especially gay students, who will be unable to find a positive role model there. What a tragedy. To use Father Coleman’s own words: “If Catholic schools cannot teach students to treat homosexuals with the ‘respect, friendship and justice’ required by the bishops, then we have a more serious problem than that of a few teachers coming out.”

John Serop Simonian | 1/24/2007 - 1:43pm
The assertion of Gerald Coleman, S.S., that homosexual Catholic school teachers should not reveal their orientation to their students (3/19) is an example of a more and more prevalent attitude among Catholics: support homosexuals in theory, but shy away from real-life situations that involve actually addressing the obstacles that homosexuals face in a severely homophobic society.

To be sure, a teacher’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with his or her ability to teach, and it would be inappropriate for a teacher to make a habit of discussing his or her personal life with students, whether he or she is straight or gay. But high school teachers, especially those who teach Christian ethics and Christian marriage classes, often refer to their own experiences with sexuality. This is a completely legitimate practice, and it can truly enhance students’ learning, because they are more likely to pay attention to a real life anecdote than a dry rendition found in a textbook. It provides teachers the opportunity to become role models, given that they present their stories in ways that affirm church teaching.

Father Coleman has a problem with homosexual teachers making their orientation public, but he does not mention heterosexual teachers who do the same thing. Yet his own article says that “there is evidence to support the statement that single heterosexuals are sexually active.” According to this logic, any teacher who is not married is assumed to be sexually active. And premarital sex, whether one is straight or gay, is contrary to church teachings. What next? Forbid teachers to “reveal” to their students whether they are married?

Avoidance is the key to Father Coleman’s strategy: “Homosexuals deserve respect and dignity and freedom to share their sexual journey,” as long as we don’t have to be the ones doing the respecting. The church has avoided the question for far too long, and it needs to realize that any discussion of homosexuality must emphasize the fact that homosexual sexual activity is immoral not because of its nature but because it does not take place within the context of marriage. Period. Other stereotypes linked to homosexual orientation must be discussed and dismissed openly. To urge students or anyone else to respect homosexuals and simultaneously to discourage homosexuals from making known their sexual orientation is hypocritical and cowardly. The idea underlying Father Coleman’s entire article is that homosexual orientation is fine except that it brings a teacher or school disgrace—a disgrace rooted not in fact but in perception. If the church is going to declare that homosexuals deserve just as much respect as heterosexuals, then it should strive to make sexual orientation as benign and neutral a feature as skin color. To encourage homosexuals to hide their orientation is to accept the stereotypes of homophobia.

(Rev.) James D. Smith | 1/24/2007 - 1:41pm
I found the advice by Gerald Coleman, S.S., to Catholic school teachers eerily unprophetic (“‘Coming Out’ as a Catholic School Teacher,” 3/19). Father Coleman concludes that public acknowledgment of a homosexual orientation on the part of any Catholic school teacher, celibate person or church authority does “nothing to further the dignity of every homosexual person.” I would conclude the opposite. Advising perpetual secrecy does nothing to further that dignity; in fact, it encourages persistent false presumption and negative judgment. In essence, Father Coleman argues that we should be given no opportunities to practice respect, understanding and justice with the very folk who serve us within the home of the church.

Arguably, there is real risk of negative impact when a teacher or other church leader “comes out.” But there is also real risk of true liberation from misunderstanding, ignorance and fears among Catholics, young and old.

Indeed, maturity level, motive and circumstance all play crucial roles in determining the appropriateness of public acknowledgment. But should we conclude that no one is led by the Spirit to this sort of public passage? Please, give your readers an article that encourages prophetic action, not the safe hell of secrecy.