Gerald Coleman’s article provides one more example of how far we must go before our church truly lives up to its teaching about homosexual persons. In their pastoral letter Always Our Children (1997), the U.S. Catholic bishops say: All in all, it is essential to recall one basic truth. God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation. Thus, our total personhood is more encompassing than sexual orientation. Human beings see the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7). God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual.
In another place they add, speaking directly to the homosexual person, In you God’s love is revealed. Clearly God loves us as we are, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
In spite of this understanding of the inherent goodness of the homosexual person, Father Coleman would demand that a teacher in a Catholic school keep secret the fact that he or she is homosexual. And he insists on this even in the situation where a teacher publicly accepts the teaching of the church and desires to give witness to the fact that a homosexual can happily and successfully live the teaching of the church....
To me and, if I may presume to speak for them, to most homosexual people this is a very mixed and hurtful message. On the one hand they are encouraged to accept and love themselves as they are, and to be confident of God’s love for them, but on the other they must keep secret what is a fundamental dimension of one’s personality (Always Our Children). This does not mean that homosexual teachers need or would want to make some special effort to be known as homosexual. If they have truly come to accept themselves and to be happy with who they are, their sexual orientation can come to be a routinely acknowledged characteristic. To forbid this to homosexual people is implicitly to suggest there is something wrong with them.
Contrary to what Father Coleman seems to be suggesting, the mature, stable homosexual person would not want to be known as such because he or she is seeking support inappropriately from students or simply to satisfy others’ curiosity. Rather, he or she simply wants to deal honestly, and with integrity and self-assurance, concerning a reality of his or her life. It is a desire to live without the fear and secrecy that not acknowledging one’s orientation involves.
Father Coleman further suggests that because we live in an ethos that identifies a gay’ or lesbian’ as one who is sexually active, acknowledged homosexuals would inevitably lose their credibility as public representatives of the church. It seems to be a very unjust presumption that homosexual persons cannot maintain their commitment to celibacy and therefore would lose credibility. Although he also admits that there is evidence to support the statement that single heterosexuals are sexually active, he does not suggest that celibate heterosexual persons will be presumed to be active sexually. Clearly this is a double standard and reveals prejudice against homosexual persons.
If we really mean it when we say that God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual, I believe our community would be enriched by the acknowledged presence of homosexual teachers in our schools.
A letter I received from the mother of a homosexual son demonstrates how blessed it would be for children who become aware of their homosexual orientation to have a teacher he or she could look up to and turn to for guidance:
Our son grew up in a religious home. His father was a teacher, principal and guidance counselor in our Catholic school system. Our son was taught in Catholic elementary and high schools and attended part of his university at the Catholic college at our University. I think back with horror at what it must have been like for him growing up in a home, school and church where he had no one with whom he could talk this over. In our society there are no mentors for them. Parents are often the last ones told because there is so much at stake. It is so important for youth to be accepted by their families, and so devastating if they are notand this is a very real possibility for many of them.
It seems to me that young people who are gay or lesbian should not have to experience isolation, rejection, even violence because there are no mentors for them or role models in Catholic schools. It is clear that one of the most effective ways to break down fears and misconceptions about homosexual people is to put a human face on homosexuality, as the group PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays) tries to do in one of the programs it promotes. By providing teachers in Catholic schools who are acknowledged homosexuals, this would happen easily and quickly.
In fact, as I urge that teachers in Catholic schools be free to allow their sexual orientation to be known, I would add the same thing should be true of priests and religious. This seems shocking to many. Yet if we are truly rid of homophobia, we will have as much respect for the celibate homosexual priest or religious as we do for those who are heterosexual.
Why should a priest ever feel compelled to write as one wrote to me recently:
I am a Roman Catholic priest in good standing, and celibate. I did not choose to be so, but in God’s infinite love and mercy I was created a gay man. I do not claim to understand why I was blest in this manner. The mystery of sexuality is just that, mystery. It is a mystery that calls us to connection, empowers our actions and opens us to the ultimate mystery that is God.
I am one who continues to experience the oppression of homophobia within society and the church. To read the compassionate words that you share with the gay community and the church in general gives me a sense of hope and a feeling that my ministry as a gay priest is not in vain. I have struggled with the knowledge of my sexuality. I have sought ways that my gifts and talents could be used fully for building the kingdom of God. However, the fear of witch-hunts continues to keep a part of me in the closet. How I long to be able to be out (in appropriate ways) and honest with the people I serve. I fear rejection by the people I try to serve in love, which causes me much pain. Sometimes I wonder if I should remain a priest or go out into the sunlight in integrity and honesty.
The truth, once again, seems to be that our teaching about homosexual persons is a matter of words but not really something we are ready to act upon.
When we get to the point of living our teaching authentically, no homosexual persons will have to live in fear of becoming known as they really are. Also, children who are in the process of discovering their sexual orientation will never have to be afraid of taunts and rejection for their sexual orientation, nor will they feel, I am the only one. There will be a teacher, a priest, a religious they can turn to and look up to. They will have a model for the hope of growing up and discovering how to live a full and happy life.
Some time ago a mother of a gay man shared publicly how she and her husband dealt with the coming out of their son:
Pat and I, as Christian parents, were the disciples in the upper room, hiding behind locked doors, full of fear. We had dealt with many situations over 29 years of marriage, but how on earth were we going to deal with this one? We were in very different places. Pat was never going to tell anyone, and I, on the other hand, felt the need to tell everyone. Paul is a good son, and we had nothing to be ashamed of; we simply knew a little more about him. I somehow knew Paul wasn’t the one to change, that for him there was no choice. We were the ones who had to change our thinking.
This mother’s insight is correct. Homosexual persons are good and loved by God. They have no reason to be in hiding. They have a right to be known, respected and loved as they are.
We are the ones who have to change our thinking.