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James Martin, S.J.October 04, 2010

It's impossible not to be moved by the terrible stories of the five youths who recently took their own lives because they were being harassed as gays and lesbians.  In New York the story of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who was filmed having a romantic encounter with another man, which was them live-streamed by his "friends," seemed particularly harrowing.  A despairing Clementi, age 18, ended his life by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge.  Any suicide is an unspeakable tragedy, just as any murder of any kind is a tragedy, but there is something especially sad about a young person believing that their life will never be, or can never be, better.  The Christian heart is, as Jesus's heart was, "moved with pity." 

This rash of deaths has prompted a response, especially on college campuses, and the "It Gets Better" project, which has adult gays and lesbians reminding youth that as one matures "it gets better."  Essentially, it is an argument against despair and suicide.  Sadly, many of the people interviewed speak of overcoming the hatred that they felt in Christian churches, schools and other organizations.

We Catholics, at least as I see it, can do a better job in reaching out to young gays and lesbians.  On the positive side, the USCCB's document "Always Our Children" is a fine start, especially for parents who have homosexual children.  And many large dioceses and archdioceses, like the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, have excellent outreach programs for gay and lesbian Catholics.  And of course on the local level many gays and lesbians feel not only welcomed by their pastors and pastoral staffs, but have become key members of their parishes communities, serving in a variety of roles.  Without them our church would be immeasurably poorer. 

But often the Catholic message to gay and lebian Catholics starts off with the "Thou shall nots" instead of the "Thou Shalls."  We invariably start off with "Thou Shall Not Have Sex" instead of "Thou Are a Beloved Creation of God,"  or "Thou Art a Full Member of the Community," or "Thou Have Much to Bring to the Church."  To what other group is the "Thou Shall Not" our opening line?  For example, have you ever been to a gathering of Catholic married couples where the opening line was "Thou Shall Not Commit Adultery"?  Or a gathering of Catholic business leaders where the opening line was, "Thou Shall Not Steal"?  We are all "loved sinners," as Jesuits like to say, but people--especially young people, especially people on the margins, and especially young people on the margins--should be reminded of the "loved" part before the "sinner" part.  

Simply speaking about outreach to gays and lesbians brings forth such swift and terrible condemnations in some Catholic circles these days that it surely must make the gay Catholic want to say to his or her church, as Jesus said to St. Peter, "Do you love me?"

It's a sad irony, because there is one life-changing resource in the Christian tradition that can transform those who feel unloved--that is, Jesus.  The Son of God reached out specifically to those on the margins, specifically to those who felt rejected, specifically to those who felt excluded from the community.  For Jesus, as the theologian James Alison has written, there was no "other."  And there is much in the Catholic tradition in particular that can help gays and lesbians as well. To begin with, the lives of the saints, which show us how God builds on the individuality of each person to create something wonderful and holy, are powerful messages to all who feel too "different" to be part of the Body of Christ.  (Even specific episodes from the lives of the saints--like the story of St. Francis of Assisi leaping off his horse to tend to the leper, the outcast, and being rewarded with a mystical vision--speak of the Christian call to reach out precisely to those who feel most marginalized.)  The voluminous writings of popes and theologians on human dignity all speak to the great gift that every person's life represents.  Or the Catechism, which states (in a line often ignored) that gays and lesbians must be welcomed with "respect, sensitivity and compassion."  They can also reach "Christian perfection," that is, holiness, says the Catechism

Those places in our tradition might all be good places to start when it comes to outreach, especially with youth (and not just with gay and lesbian youth, but with all who feel excluded).  And if pro-life means trying to avoid anything that will threaten any life, from natural conception to natural death, then we should be finding ways to protect all life, which also means preventing suicides, and preventing gay suicides.  In any event, there is much for us, the church, still to do.

For my part, not knowing what else to do, I wrote this prayer.

A Prayer When I Feel Hated

Loving God, you made me who I am. I praise you and I love you, for I am wonderfully made, in your own image.

But when people make fun of me, I feel hurt and embarrassed and even ashamed. So please God, help me remember my own goodness, which lies in you. Help me remember my dignity, which you gave me when I was conceived. Help me remember that I can live a life of love, because you created my heart.

Be with me, loving God, when people hate me, and help me to respond how you would want me to: with a love that respects others, but also respects me. Help me find friends who love me for who I am. Help me, most of all, to be a loving person.

And God, help me remember that Jesus loves me. For he was seen as an outcast, too. He was misunderstood, too. He was beaten and spat upon. Jesus understands me, and loves me with a special love, because of the way you made me. And when I am feeling lonely, help me to remember that Jesus welcomed everyone as a friend. Jesus reminded everyone that God loved them. Jesus encouraged everyone to embrace their dignity, even when others were blind to seeing that dignity. Jesus loved everyone with the boundless love that you gave him. And he loves me, too.

One more thing, God: Help me remember that nothing is impossible with you, that you have a way of making things better, and that you can find a way of love for me, even if I can’t see it right now. Help me remember all these things in the heart you created, loving God.


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13 years ago
A great prayer, Fr. Martin.  Thanks for that. 

I noticed this post a few days ago at the Episcopal Cafe  -  Clementi's death a "call to action"   http://www.episcopalcafe.com/lead/sexuality/clementis_death_a_call_to_acti.html  
13 years ago
Thank you for this, Father.  Too often Catholics can feel crippled in the face of issues surrounding the LGBT community.  We need to have strength and compassion and not respond to hate with uncertainty.  Your piece helps us put this into context and know how to respond.
Eugene Pagano
13 years ago
I am gay in orientation but celibate, but find Father Martin's observations atypically compassionate for Roman Catholic commentary.  I have left the RCC for the Episcopal Church in large part because of the attitudes that are expressed by some many of the RC bishops (and many of the comments that will soon be posted here) such as the USCCB Committee of Doctrine's recent denunciation of Professor Lawler and Salzman's ''The Sexual Person'', a book that had the bravery to suggest that ''natural complementarity'' may be different for straights and gays (http://ncronline.org/news/us-bishops-rebuke-creighton-theologians).  I accept the Episcopal Church's teaching that it has the sacraments, the Real Presence in the Eucharist, valid ordination and Apostolic succession.  Why come back to a church whose teaching about ''natural complementarity'' is a theology/teology more fitting to electric plugs and sockets than to human beings in all their variety?
Martin Gallagher
13 years ago
Good post, Fr. M.

On Sunday, our deacon's homily at the "teen mass" also focused on the connection between it being pro-life Sunday and the necessity of treating those in the "middle of life" (i.e. in addition to the unborn and dying) with respect.  It can't be said enough, I suppose.

Eugene, I'm straight, I accept the church's teachings including the ones on sexuality, but I (and many, many other Catholics) would certainly welcome you back.  You're in our prayers.

13 years ago
Ah, thank you for this column, for what you wrote, for the prayer. As a Catholic woman, I feel distraught when I run into homophobia anywhere but particularly in the Roman Catholic Church.
I completely agree that Jesus always goes to those pushed at the margin. And God created gays... Why is it so hard for some to celebrate this fact?
13 years ago
Any suicide is a terrible loss and many more teenagers are afflicted than these cases that the media are focusing on.  Bullying is a much bigger issue than this analysis admits - it is not an identity or group specific issue.

In any case, this seems to be Fr. Martin's topic of choice when criticising the Church; however, pope Benedict has specifically stated that bullying or aggressive behavior towards those with same sex attraction is an evil.

Why not take on the homosexual pride/power movement that attempts to slander Christianity in general - and Catholicism in specific - in blaming theology for these deaths?  Guys like Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan are specifically anti-Catholic in their rhetoric.

Why not question homosexual activists that refuse to enter the Church except on their terms?  It is a two way street - but Fr. Martin seems to only present on side with the homosexual groups always in the right and the Church always in the wrong.

I think Eve Tushnet is a much better approach than the standard liberal / identity politics approach on this topic: http://www.bustedhalo.com/features/lesbian-catholic-and-celibate
Craig McKee
13 years ago
Another helpful reading is Prayers for Bobby (also a movie):
13 years ago
Also, why can we not consider the psychological damage that the homosexual lifestyle has done to this boy - how it contributed to his obvious deep depression before the suicide.

Even before he killed himself he was posting questions on a gay porn site regarding the situation.

While he should not be picked on and we should do everything we can to prevent such bullying, we should also be able to address destructive homosexual behavior, depression and pride that is much more damaging to these kids than any mere bully.

Christ protected and loved the outcast, but he also called for the cessation of sin - not for acceptance of it in a false compassion. 
Michael Cremin
13 years ago
The Church's position on homosexuality is that a gay person's sexual orientation is sinful if it is acted upon. Period. Why would any gay person feel welcome? The Church's stance on homosexuality adds to the hostile environment gay people experience in our country, and in the world. So long as the Church continues to teach that homosexual acts are inherently disordered, and that things like gay adoption are a grave, damaging evil, gay people will feel unwelcome. This isn't rocket science, friends. I have many gay friends and relatives, and I can tell you that they have absolutely no interest in Catholicism, which is completely understandable.

Monica Doyle
13 years ago
Great article, even greater prayer.  Is there a good definition for ''loved sinner'' that will reach modern people whose formal religious education ended a long time ago?  Some catechetical resources define sin as ''missing the mark'' of being the full person we were meant to be. Would defining ''loved sinner'' as ''being loved even though we are still missing the mark'' do justice to the term ? Or is there a better explanation ? 
13 years ago
Here, the writer considers what further we might do, so that those who are suffering society's scorn would first of all know of the love of God for each and every one of us.  Yes, as this writer says, we should look to the example of Jesus Christ, who did indeed move among the outcasts of his day - tax collectors and prostitutes, with love and forgiveness.   Sure he said go and sin no more, but that was after he had ministered to them.  

All I can add to this:  I feel that "wedge issue" politics and mega-churches using wedge issues to steer voters toward their political party surely are partly to blame for such tragedies as Clementi's suicide.  So let's try as Catholics to be further from such politics and more about the Gospel.  And let us pray for those who feel hated and in despair. 
Molly Roach
13 years ago
I have been reading about these sorrowful events through the lens of bullying.  One of my brothers was bullied badly as a kid-he had learning disabilities- and I was his very ineffective defender throughout our childhood. This experience formed me in awareness of the vulnerable and led me to conclude: God help the different!
The insecurity of teenagers and young adults leaves them vulnerable to looking around for evidence of weakness in others.  This isn't new but broadcasting what they discover on line is a new variable that has the power to destroy-not only their victims but themselves.  That desire to expose the weaknesses in another, that's a central energy in bullying.  So how can we help each other and our kids to live with insecurity and grow through it to responsible adulthood?
As for the Church vis a vis the situation of homosexual people, I think we have to emerge from our obsession about sexual sins so that we can take up the mission entrusted to us by Christ.  We have been sitting too long at the fireside of being right and have halted in the work of cultivating and supporting the growing unity of the human family in Christ.  With the woman caught in adultery, Jesus didn't join in the accusations, but he did ask the accusers about who was without sin among them.  When they dispersed he sent the woman on her way with the instruction not to commit this sin again. We have inherited a powerfully accusing language around issues in sexuality and are impoverished because of that.
Kay Satterfield
13 years ago
As a mother of a sensitive child who was bullied on such a scale when she was a young teenager that it sent her into a deep depression, I think this prayer, meant for the person who is struggling to pray to God for help, is a compassionate response from Fr Martin to show solidarity with those who suffer because they are different in some way.  It reflects the face of a compassionate Jesus.
Molly Roach
13 years ago
Want to add that a wonderful prayer for protection is the Breastplate of Saint Patrick, easily googled.
Boreta Singleton
13 years ago
Thanks, Jim- your writing certainly brings grace to a situation in which some forget that we are ALL created in God's image and likeness.
William Lindsey
13 years ago
Brett, I hope I can measure my words and respond to your statements in a helpful way.  My goal is to be as honest as possible, and at the same time, try to avoid unhelpful venting of the deep level of pain and, yes, anger I feel as I read some of your reflections on this issue.

I'm particularly troubled by the following statement: "Also, why can we not consider the psychological damage that the homosexual lifestyle has done to this boy - how it contributed to his obvious deep depression before the suicide."

I wonder if you see that this statement comes dangerously close to blaiming a teenaged suicide victim for his own suicide.  Or perhaps it would be more helpful for me to say that this is what I hear in your words-and you may not have intended such blame.

When someone has been persistently bullied because of his sexual orientation (or perceived sexual orientation), and then had his privacy grossly invaded by people around him, who placed videos of his private life on the internet, I think it is entirely unhelpful to talk about the "psychological damage that the homosexual lifestyle" has done to him.

What demands attention in this story is the brutal bullying, the invasion of privacy, the silence (and tacit support) of many people-including many Christian people-re: such behavior in our society.

Frankly, I can't envisage any Christian response to these suicides of gay teens that wants to go where you want to go-to blaming them for being gay.  To talking about the "homosexual lifestyle" and its "damage" to those who are gay.

I say I can't envisage any such Christian response because nothing I read in the gospels leads me in that direction-and much that I read in the gospels leads me in an opposite direction. 

When some Catholic people of faith respond to the suicide of gay teens in this way, is it any wonder that those raised Catholic like Mr. Savage and Mr. Sullivan feel intense revulsion at what the church says and does to those of us who are gay?  Wouldn't an appropriate Catholic response to such expressions of revulsion be to reach out and ask those who express it why we feel such pain and anger-and what you can do to bring healing?

In all honesty, and with respect, I don't see your response to Tyler Clementi's suicide as helpful in the least-or adequately Catholic or Christian.
13 years ago
I am no longer an active Catholic - after almost 60 years as an active, parish-participating Catholic, I left the church a few years ago.  However, my former parish is a good place to go to sit in silence, to hear God's voice, which I often do when the church is not busy, because it is within walking distance of my home.  Recently, I found a stack of handouts at the entrance to the church, right next to the church bulletins.  I don't remember the title or exact wording - but the first thing that jumped out in very large letters was the word "sodomites."  It was a highly offensive letter written under the name of the Knights of Columbus, apparently intended to inflame Catholics and push them to support the bishops' war against civil gay marriage.  It was abhorrent.  I may have broken some kind of human law in putting the entire stack of letters in the garbage, where they belonged/ They did not belong a house of God.  God's law is love, not hate.

I am not gay, nor are any of my children gay, nor anyone in my family or nieces or nephews nor anyone I know among my friends.  But, that is irrelevant.  Given the church's war against gays (and apparently they have enlisted the financial support of the K of C), is it surprising that young gay men and women feel hopeless within the so-called Christian community?
Joe Murray
13 years ago
I was deeply stunned over of suicides of 15 year old Billy Lucas, 13-year-old Asher Brown, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, 13-year-old Seth Walsh, and 19-year-old Raymond Chase like I am sure JAMES MARTIN, S.J. was. I do not doubt Father Martin sincerity in writing the above article, but these are words we have heard so often before. It was my hope that some difficult questions would not only be asked about why this happened, but why some Catholic apologist still want to skirt the question of homophobia in the Church, and yes even in Catholic Publications.

There is no doubt in my my mind that many people of good will are in the pews of our Church, and they like me have been stunned into silence about these suicides. By the same token I think we need to start asking some difficult questions about these suicides, and engage in a mature dialog about what part the Church may of played in them, if any. One only has the look at the response of the Catholic Conferences of Minnesota and Iowa to the issue of Gay Marriage to understand that something is not right in our Church.

What part if any do religious beliefs, or traditions play in the suicide rate among Gay Teenagers? I realize this question will be seen by some as an attack on the Church, but if we are sincere about getting to the bottom of this matter we will have to travel in some difficult terrain. 

Joe Murray
Rainbow Sash Movement 
13 years ago
The sad reality is that people have difficulty approaching the issue of sexuality without bringing their biased political opinion.

I once had a long discussion with a high school assistant principal about his job.  He said that his whole job was centered around trying to help the kids before they screwed up their lives.  Much if this discussion centered around the dynamic that occurs between two guys and a girl.  These very insecure young men and woman often did crazy sexual things.  When one of the individuals was ''of age'' this ended up being a sexual assault.  Pictures and video were taken and it was child porn.  At times some of these insecure individuals get arrested and at times they commit suicide.

None of the discussion had to due with same sex issues though I am sure these also occurred. 

Was this freshman event at this university a Gay issue?  Or was this a bigger issue of disordered sexuality by the video makers, insecurity, imaturity and stupidity?

I personally don't think this is a gay issue at all.  It would be a mistake to approach this issue from that narrow-minded viewpoint.
13 years ago
To speak of ministerial outreach to persons who are homosexual brings such a backlash, even here in the commentary - persons are suspicious of the writer that he is 'advocating' something that he said nothing about at all.  

I'm used to re-reading a writer's words if I am not sure what that writer means.  So to any who 'aren't sure' what Father Martin is advocating, I'd suggest going through each sentence or paragraph and writing in your own words what you just read. Or make an outline,  while looking at the actual words that were written.

I think in re-reading you will first see this good priest's true sadness for despair suicides.  Then he says that since this tragic death,  'many of the people interviewed speak of overcoming the hatred that they felt in Christian churches, schools and other organizations.'   We should note, this isn't Father James Martin criticizing the church-he is responding to those who have felt 'hatred' from Christians. 

This is a very well written and thoughtful response to those who feel they are in such pain, and that the Christian churches are not helping them in their pain.  Think about that word - they are feeling hatred!  In a place that they should know the love of God, and that his mercy will overcome anything.

Father James Martin should be blessed and thanked for having the compassion of Jesus.   I feel that if he and Tyler had met, he would have made sure Tyler knew that God loved him.  Maybe that shy skinny violin-playing college freshman would still be alive.  

What about the next kid in despair, what can we do?  Let's consider what this article mentions:

'On the positive side, the USCCB's document 'Always Our Children' is a fine start, especially for parents who have homosexual children.  And many large dioceses and archdioceses, like the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, have excellent outreach programs for gay and lesbian Catholics.  And of course on the local level many gays and lesbians feel not only welcomed by their pastors and pastoral staffs, but have become key members of their parishes communities, serving in a variety of roles.  Without them our church would be immeasurably poorer. '    

So if anything, Father seems to be advocating:   that we read a UCCB document, and that we have local outreach programs for gay and lesbian Catholics, welcome them and their gifts.  

Sadly, my local parish only mentions homosexuality when it is naming off sins - I've never heard a word of welcome or inclusion.   I can see that someone might interpret this as a message of hatred.   We can and should do better.

Mary Schreiner
13 years ago
This article should be titled, ''What is a Catholic Response to Teenage Suicide?''  Forget the gay part. 

Teenagers are committing suicide for a lot more reasons than their sexuality.  To pick that one reason in particular does an injustice to all suffering teenagers.

To say that gay teens have it harder than straight teens is also an injustice.  Everyone has difficulties growing up.  The end.  Marginalizing a host of other issues in favor of the one with a label (homosexuality) only creates greater problems in trying to help these teens.

If Fr. Martin really wanted to write a diatribe on the problems with local Catholics and how they approach homosexuality, he shouldn't have bothered bringing up the suicide issue.  He should've titled the article, ''What is a Catholic Response to a Gay Teen?''
Ann Engelhart
13 years ago
In Malta, a young man who spoke on behalf of those marginalized in society including those with a different sexual orientation, asked Pope Benedict what can be their place in the church...what is Jesus' call for them?

Pope Benedict responded: ''Maybe some of you will say to me, Saint Paul is often severe in his writings. How can I say that he was spreading a message of love? My answer is this. God loves every one of us with a depth and intensity that we can hardly begin to imagine.  And he knows us intimately, he knows all our strengths and all our faults. Because he loves us so much, he wants to purify us of our faults and build up our virtues so that we can have life in abundance. When he challenges us because something in our lives is displeasing to him, he is not rejecting us, but he is asking us to change and become more perfect.''
That is what he asked of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. God rejects no one. And the Church rejects no one. Yet in his great love, God challenges all of us to change and to become more perfect.


Michael Cremin
13 years ago
Mary wrote, "To say that gay teens have it harder than straight teens is also an injustice.  Everyone has difficulties growing up.  The end.  Marginalizing a host of other issues in favor of the one with a label (homosexuality) only creates greater problems in trying to help these teens."

If by 'have it harder' you mean commit suicide at a much higher rate than the teen population as a whole, you are correct: gay teenagers, on average, are much more likely than non-gay teens, to kill themselves. While having 'difficulties growning up' is certainly a common experience for most/all young people, having the weight of the Catholic Church's condemnation of your sexual orientation hanging over your head is an experience unique to gay people. Pointing out that the young people in this story, in particular, killed themselves for reasons realted to their homosexuality, and that young people, in general, are more likely to kill themselves if they are gay, doesn't marginalize anyone. It points out the truth.

You are entitled to your own opinion, Mary. You are not entitled to your own facts. The end.
William Lindsey
13 years ago
And building on what Michael Reilly has said, in response to Mary (and I'm including Joe Kash in my response):

Can you imagine if there were an epidemic of suicides of African-American teens, saying, "Forget the black thing.  Every teen has it hard"?

We can't even respect these young folks - who they were, the identities some of them tried to claim - in death. 

The brutal callousness of this rhetoric that obliterates the characteristic of themselves for which these young folks died is breathtaking.  And that it masquerades as an adequate Christian response to this phenomemon is even more breathtaking.

As Joe Murray says, it's impossible to launch into a conversation about this topic - how should Catholics respond to gay teen suicides - without acknowledging that some Catholics and some Catholic responses are a big part of the problem.
13 years ago
A non-partisan, non-biased person would not so easily conclude that an increased suicide rate in the "gay" community is due to bullying.  An objective person would want to study this issue where ever the data might lead even if it caused you to get hate mail.

I agree that there is relatively increased problem of suicide in the "gay" community.  As a Catholic I want to understand and help.
William Lindsey
13 years ago
Mr. Kash, you say, "A non-partisan, non-biased person would not so easily conclude that an increased suicide rate in the "gay" community is due to bullying."

But we don't have to rely on bias or partisan politics for the pertinent information we need here, to determine whether these recent suicides are the result of bullying because people are gay or perceived to be gay.  We have abundant testimony of unbiased witnesses to prove the correlation.

There are also numerous well-conducted empirical studies showing that the rate of suicide among teens who are gay is much higher than the rate of suicide among teens at large. 

And your response to my analogy is, unfortunately, not comprehensible - not to me, at least.  I'm not sure if you're seeking to argue that discrimination against targeted minorities does not create severe problems for minorities that can, in fact, result in suicide.  (It does, and this, too, has been proven by empirical studies.)

Or perhaps you're arguing that there is no racial discrimination in our society?

Or perhaps you mean to say that Catholics ought not to concern ourselves with issues of discrimination, with racism and homophobia?  Or with the suicides that may result from such discrimination, especially among youth?

In either case, you might find the article by Keli Goff at Huffington Post right now, commenting on the different way we deal with bullying of African-American and gay teens, instructive.  As an African-American woman, she certainly sees an analogy here, and thinks it's important for us to look at.
13 years ago

Responding to Andy above, the document - Always Our Children  - does appear on the USCCB website.  

 ''Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers is a statement of the NCCB Committee on Marriage and Family. It was prepared in the Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women, and Youth under the supervision of the above committee. Publication was approved by the Administrative Committee on September 10, 1997. The statement is further authorized for publication by the undersigned.
Monsignor Dennis M. Schnurr, General Secretary, NCCB/USCC''

You have a good point that it's addressed to the parents.  It does end with a brief message, ''To our homosexual brothers and sisters we offer a concluding word. This message has been an outstretched hand to your parents and families inviting them to accept God's grace present in their lives now and to trust in the unfailing mercy of Jesus our Lord. Now we stretch out our hands and invite you to do the same. We are called to become one body, one spirit in Christ. We need one another if we are to '' . . . grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love'' (Eph 4:15-16).

Though at times you may feel discouraged, hurt, or angry, do not walk away from your families, from the Christian community, from all those who love you. In you God's love is revealed. You are always our children.''

Going back to the article, I'd like to point out that "What is a Catholic response to gay suicide?" was about the recent "rash of deaths" and did not purport to be an overall sociological study of suicide rates - it is addressing that many of the people interviewed speak of overcoming the hatred that they felt in Christian churches, schools and other organizations.  I think what we are coming up against here is uncomfortable for some people to admit - that we as a church may have been less than Christian.  That's the issue on the table. 
Joe Murray
13 years ago
We all need to engage in compassionate listening.
Can we at least try to engage in rational criticism without attacking each other? Clearly the input of LGBT people on this issue is being dismissed, by some on this board. How foolish it is that anyone on this board would say lets speak of suicides in general rather than in the particular. This is an echo of those who tried to defend the Church by saying child sexual abuse also happens in the secular society, let’s focus on that and not the Catholic Church. Both approaches must happen concurrently.
I am the first to admit my uncertainty as to the solution to this situation. However, putting old wind in new wine skins, in my opinion, is counterproductive. Yes, suicide happens in the broader society, but in the last three weeks 5 gay teenagers committed suicide and I make no apology for trying to understand why that is happening.  
Let us attempt to be clear on this matter, from a gay perspective the Catholic Leadership has been tone deaf to the needs of Catholic LGBT people, "Always our Children" included. It is not unreasonable to ask is there a connection between the Church’s homophobia, and the suicide rate among LGBT Teenagers? It is merely a question, nothing else; however, I think the question will gain public currency.
Joe Murray
Rainbow Sash Movement
13 years ago
It seems that the pro-homosexual lifestyle posters on here will not even stop to consider the fact that the very thing that they are advocating may contribute much, much more to the depression and confusion of these kids than any bullying.

The Church has the true compassionate position here: love all God's children and help them to achieve holiness through adherence to natural law. 

The gay activists, on the other hand, seem only to promote pride, power and sex.  These are the ills that are consuming society as a whole (both straight and gay) - these are not the solutions.

Your promotion of sin is not true compassion and will only lead to further hurt for these kids down the line.  The terrible truth is - even an a much more tolerant society/pop culture - suicide rates for homosexual adults - along with drug abuse and mental illness - are also much higher than the regular population.   

Again, Eve Tushnet is a breath of fresh air on this subject - a Jewish convert who is also a lesbian: http://eve-tushnet.blogspot.com/
Andy Buechel
13 years ago
You are of course correct, and I misspoke.  When I should have said is that Always Our Children is not a document of the bishops, though it is clearly a document issued under the auspices of the conference.  The bishops as a whole had very little input into the document (which probably explains why it exists in the first place).  Thus, it is probably inaccurate to treat AOC as though it mitigates the homophobia of the Catholic hierarchy.

As one who spent years accepting and promoting the Church's teaching on this matter, only to suffer a mental breakdown and near hospitalization, I can tell you with great assurance that the ''lifestyle'' of which you speak (and I have no idea what you mean by that) is not the problem here.  The erroneous teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality is.  I was a very miserable person while trying to be the ''good'' Catholic you and Eve Tushnet celebrate.  Accepting my sexuality as a gift and using it to enter into loving relationships has been much more fulfilling and life-giving than any attempt to twist myself into the humanity espoused by the Vatican's flattened natural law.
Sean Lilly
13 years ago
If I may interrupt all the arguing and hectoring and politicizing going on here...

Five children have just killed themselves.

Five families are completely shattered and will never ever be truly whole or healed again.

Every time a child dies,especially if he or she does so by his or her own hand, our blessed Lord screams with an anguish every bit the equal of anything he felt at Golgotha.

I know we're all having a great time arguing about homosexual influence and Church culpability and all that, but I think we're missing the point here.

If you want a Christian response to the subject of thsi article, I would suggest praying for the families and if you're personally acquainted with them, to that prayer add your unconditional support and unrestrained compassion.

No politics.  No blaming.  Not even figuring out how it happened, at least not right now.

Prayer, support, compassion.  That's all.
13 years ago
"The erroneous teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality is."

I am not an expert (still haven't even read humanae vitae), but the Church has been right on any number of modern sexual issues.  From condoms to the pill, we Catholics have seen the destructive nature of such technology and its effects on society: increased divorce, massive increase in STDs, sexual abuse, and the objectification of sexuality for commercial purposes.

I hate to say it, but it is not just about your feelings or desires...we are a society and you must be blind to see the havoc that utilitarian sexual desires have created around us.

The church understands sex in a complete, holistic manner: both unitive and procreative.  To separate the functions via technology or lifestyle is utilitarian and destructive. 

Sexual "identity" and "pride" will not save these kids - becoming truely human and obeying the true of God will save them.
13 years ago
Sean, this post by Fr. Martin is specifically on the question of "the Catholic response" - and that is the debate that is going on.  It is a theological rather than political discussion.
William Lindsey
13 years ago
Brett, I'm sorry, but I find your response to my observations less than convincing. 

You keep setting up polar opposites - the church and "homosexual activists" who are presumably politicizing the gay issue - as if those who believe we're raising valid questions about how the Catholic church deals with gay and lesbian human beings are somehow outside and opposed to the church.

This implies that you own the church, and that your position is apolitical.  It's just Catholic.

And yet Andrew Sullivan, whom you've implicitly excommunicated in your remarks above, considers himself a practicing Catholic.  Don't you think it's somewhat presumptuous of you to decide that your position alone is the authentic Catholic one, and that his is merely political? 

And don't you think that perhaps it's not helpful or charitable to reduce gay and lesbian people to your own fantasy about who we are sexually or what we do sexually?  How does that help the Catholic task of reaching out to those on the outside and bringing them into the body of Christ?

If Fr. Martin is correct when he notes that many Catholics approach gays and lesbians differently than they do other communities - with "thou shalt not" prohibitions before loving welcome - then how can you say that the church has "the true compassionate position."

I think you're not hearing something important in the testimony of your brothers and sisters who happen to be gay: this is that we find the church singles us out unfairly and often cruelly, and treats us in a way distinct from how it treats other communities.  It's very hard to convince people that you're all about compassion when you reduce them to caricatures of "pride, power and sex."

Pastoral outreach by any Christian community requires listening to and understanding the people the community wishes to include.  That is, it requires listening and understanding if inclusion is the real goal, and not an exclusion that appears impossible to justify from the standpoint of the gospel.
Vince Killoran
13 years ago
Homophobia is deep-seated in our culture and our understanding of masculinity.  C.J. Pascoe's DUDE, YOU'RE A FAG: SEXUALITY AND MASCULINITY IN HIGH SCHOOL(Univ. of California Press) is based on an 18 month ethnography of an American h.s.

Joe Murray is correct: let's engage in compassionate listening-and pay attention to the young people around us.
13 years ago
"I think you're not hearing something important in the testimony of your brothers and sisters who happen to be gay: this is that we find the church singles us out unfairly and often cruelly, and treats us in a way distinct from how it treats other communities."

I don't buy it, William.  I always find you to be a gentleman on here and when I speak of "pride, power and sex" I am speaking of Dan Savage and other gay power activitists that use such tragegy to use political correct rhetoric to silence religious traditions as "bigoted."

As for the Church, I cannot say that those with same-sex attraction are treated any different from myself - a single straight male.  They are told not to have sex and so am I.

As for celibacy, Jesus Christ was celibate (and priests and nuns and brothers and single Catholics), so it is not cruel and unusual to require celibacy for the santification of those with same-sex attraction.
Ann Turner
13 years ago
Wow, this brings forth really strong feelings from people, and many of us are convinced we are right.  What I can say, as a parent with several young folks in my extended family who are gay-some in committed unions-is that I believe the Church is not standing on the gospel in this regard.  Much as I love our church-much as I agree with Fr. Jim about the mercy of Christ and how this can be a deep resource for gays and lesbians who feel themselves to be on the margins-the Church needs to do far, far more to reach out to the gay community and welcome it in.  Gay unions do not threaten heterosexual marriages: there is not a shred of real evidence to support this.  The whole idea that homosexuality is "morally disordered" needs to be buried 20 feet deep.   Then burned.  Until the Church truly reaches out to the gay community and stops insisting on celibacy for all gays, no matter their unions, it is in danger of becoming irrelevant to this community. And the recent suicide of this gifted young violinist reminds us all of the deep shame that still exists in the gay community and which is terribly dangerous.
Marie Rehbein
13 years ago

There is one important difference between what the Church teaches heterosexual young people and what it teaches homosexual young people.  In the case of heterosexual young people, they must wait to be married and then they can have sex with their spouse.  In the case of homosexual young people, they are not permitted to have physically intimate relationships, ever.
Joe Murray
13 years ago
A comment was made by a single  straight man on this board that "I cannot say that those with same-sex attraction are treated any different from myself - a single straight male.  They are told not to have sex and so am I." Not quite the same LGBT Catholics are asked to never have sex, in order for us to have sex we must sin against our nature. The straight person on the other hand has the option of marriage which we are denied, and does not have to sin against their nature. That is apple and oranges.

Sadly these are the views that lead young people to think they are less worthy because they are LGBT.

I presume we are all Catholics here.  How do you get to know your neighbor, or even the person in the pew you are praying next to. Presumably you would rely on your experience with that person before you reach any conclusion. 

My hope is this conversation will not end. LGBT Catholics who are teens are just another suffering face Christ among us. We can cling to our differences, or we can engage each other in way that both challenges, educates, and allows us to be present to suffering in the world where ever we find it.

We are talking about  children taking their own lives don't you think it is prudent to ask why? While I agree that praying is important, and so is support for the families; however, I believe justice calls us to make every attempt, if possible,  to make sure this does not happen again

Joe Murray
Rainbow Sash Movement 
Peter Lakeonovich
13 years ago

It is settling to see you express your counter-cultural sentiments on this catholic blog - regardless of the reactions of the majority who are clearly infused with the zeitgeist.

It reminds me of the following from Lumen Gentium:

"So it is that that messianic people, although it does not actually include all men, and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, it is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth."

I believe you are suggesting nothing more than that our "lost" brothers and sisters, perhaps united with us in the Invisible Church of Christ, be brought into full communion in the Visible Chruch of Christ. 

Let us pray that it be so, for that is the only authentic Catholic response, unity in Christ.
Sean Lilly
13 years ago
"Sean, this post by Fr. Martin is specifically on the question of "the Catholic response" - and that is the debate that is going on.  It is a theological rather than political discussion."

Fine, let's cool it with the theologizing then.  We're arguing back and forth about Church teachings and the nefarious influence of a pro-homosexual lifestyle. 

Five children are dead.  Consumed by their self-loathing. 

I don't see how a Christian response to such a nightmare requires much theological debate.

The Christian response is love.  Love for the children and their families. Love given through spiritual effort (prayer and lots of it) and corporeal effort (sitting with a mother and letting her cry for hours, calling a funeral home, doing the grocery shopping because the last thing they should have to worry about right now is getting dinner on the table).      

Do you seriously think any of those families gives so much as one hoot, let alone two, about what you, I, or the Church thinks about the moral implications of their dead child's sexual orientation?  Our role as Christians in this matter not to elucidate the hierarchy's position on homosexuality.  A bunch of thugs already made their opinion on their children's sexual orientation abundantly clear.  They've had enough opinions for the moment.

We respond with love.  Not judgments.  Not theology.  Just love.  It seems unnecessary to complicate it further.

We might to keep that in mind when it comes our Church and LGBT community in the future.
Gabriel McAuliffe
13 years ago
Thank you, Sean.  God bless you.
13 years ago
"The Christian response is love."

I completely agree, Sean.  And of course the parents of these kids are not interested in our discussion at this time.

However, TRUE love - beyond mere sentimentality - looks at the causes of this mental illness and anguish beyond the surface of this problem and looks to prevent more deaths.

True love looks at the roots of this tragedy rather the mere sympotms you are addressing. 

Tyler killed himself not because he was bullied (he said his roommate was basically a nice guy), he killed himself because of the anguish and terror of his sin and lifestyle that has been pushed on hi, popularized and glamorized by the dominat media culture.

You can only prevent such suicides by addressing the cause of anguish and confusion of the soul - i.e. living out of accord with God's love and will - not at the symptoms.

Like I said, only tough and honest love of Christ can save these kids (and their parents) not matter how hard it is on our liberal mindset.
William Lindsey
13 years ago
"Like I said, only tough and honest love of Christ can save these kids (and their parents) not matter how hard it is on our liberal mindset."

Brett, Jesus never said a single word about homosexuality.

He did, however, say, "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Matthew's gospel also applies to him the messianic prophecy of Isaiah noting that the one whom we await will not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick.

Tough and honest love?
Cally Rehm
13 years ago

If I knew any of these families personally, my first response would be to come with food, prayers and a hug, not a theological discussion. A theology discussion would simply be inappropriate in that time and place.

However, that does not make our general discussion inappropriate. That the death of a young person is a tragedy that we react to emotionally does not mean we cannot also react intellectually-trying to figure out why something happened and fleshing out exactly the Church's message is and how to communicate it. Intellectual rational thought and doctrine is as important to love as spontaneous, emotional and personal actions.

The teaching of Christ through the Church on sexuality is difficult for many people to accept. In my mind, it is appropriate and necessary for us to take time to reflect on how we can best communicate the love of God and the welcome of the Church to homosexual young people while also clearly maintaining the integrity of Catholic teaching on the subject.

13 years ago
William, Jesus says nothing on slavery or bigamy either but, He did say that He was here to fulfill the law rather than destroy.  Jewish law is extremely clear on homosexuality.

Where do the gay groups possibly get the impression that they alone are excluded from the law that Christ came to fulfill?

Where do they get the impression that they are without sin and therefore can approach Christ in His church on their terms and not His?  He specifially told the sinner - the adulteress - that she was forgiven but that she should sin no more.

This imagined innocence and pride of homosexual movement is not of Christianity origin, it is from the modern liberation movements of our time.  It is not truth, it is simply fashionable. 

Christ calls us to be humble and obedient to the point of death - to sacrifice ourselves!  Not to demand sexual exemptions from the law in the name of individuality or warped sense of "justice."

William, look at the gay movement - it is about power and pride and unlimited desire.  It looks to shut down Christian institutions and speech through court actions across the country.  Perhpas you and other Catholics here who are gay should look to reform their efforts - and the pride-filled nature of their movement - before attacking the Church.

13 years ago
I was wondering how long this commentary b y Fr. Martin would take...
13 years ago
Marie Rehbein
13 years ago

You write, "Tyler killed himself not because he was bullied (he said his roommate was basically a nice guy), he killed himself because of the anguish and terror of his sin and lifestyle that has been pushed on hi, popularized and glamorized by the dominat media culture."

Brett, if our culture were such that I were expected to be romantic with women, then I would see this as causing me some anguish, but that would be because I do not find myself romantically attracted to women. 

I think you are projecting your feelings onto Tyler.  However, to be truly compassionate you must understand the perspective that an actual homosexual person has.  If I were you I would ask God to give me some understanding of that perspective.

Also, the roomate might have been a nice guy in many respects, but by any standards what he did was a betrayal of trust and quite offensive.  I think such a thing could most certainly have led Tyler to give up on trying to become comfortable with the way God made him.
13 years ago
I am sorry that you take offense, William, but I am not speaking for God - I am simply stating the message that Christ brought to men: He came to bring the sword of Truth to men's hearts.

I find the sentimentality of your position good natured but essentially false and most any man would prefer the temporary pain of truth over the tender compassion of falsehood. 


"If I were you I would ask God to give me some understanding of that perspective."

You highlight differences where there are none; I am a human just like someone with same-sex attraction - we both seek God and both have the same basic human experiences.

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