I received a phone call from a priest with a request. He wanted to know if I would permit our Mass and Confessional schedule be published in a flyer for those attending the Gay Games 9 in Akron and Cleveland.
Of course, there was no hesitation to say yes. Our doors are open and there is a welcome to all our Catholic brothers and sisters to worship God.
Over the week however I was just a bit uncomfortable and momentarily sad to think that we still equate a man or woman who is homosexual as a person of questionable morals. Why did I think that? Well, because the request was based on a presumption that our parish may be perceived as condoning homosexual activity by finding our Masses listed in a pamphlet at the Gay Games 9. That presumption would be terribly inaccurate!
In 1997 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a Pastoral Letter to parents whose child is homosexual. It’s entitled: “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers”. You can type in the title on your search engine and get the entire Letter. This Letter was also intended for Church Ministers to guide them with practical approaches to assist. I think all the approaches are valuable, so I copied them here with permission. But two are highlighted because I believe they apply to all Catholics:
- Be available to parents and families who ask for your pastoral help, spiritual guidance, and prayer.
- Welcome homosexual persons into the faith community, and seek out those on the margins. Avoid stereotyping and condemning. Strive first to listen. Do not presume that all homosexual persons are sexually active.
- Learn more about homosexuality and church teaching so your preaching, teaching, and counseling will be informed and effective.
- When speaking publicly, use the words “homosexual,” “gay,” and “lesbian” in honest and accurate ways.
- Maintain a list of agencies, community groups, and counselors or other experts to whom you can refer homosexual persons or their parents and family members when they ask you for specialized assistance. Recommend agencies that operate in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching.
- Help to establish or promote support groups for parents and family members.
- Learn about HIV/AIDS so you will be more informed and compassionate in your ministry. Include prayers in the liturgy for those living with HIV/AIDS, their caregivers, those who have died, and their families, companions, and friends. A special Mass for healing and anointing of the sick might be connected with World AIDS Awareness Day (Dec 1) or with a local AIDS awareness program. Copyright ©1997, U.S. Catholic Conference, Washington, DC
Given these pastoral recommendations, I know as a priest (i.e. “Pastoral Minister”), we have done more in this parish than advertise our Mass schedule. Sr. Rita Mary Harwood, SND, who was interviewed for a recent article in the Akron Beacon Journal, is the Diocesan Director of Ministry to Gays and Lesbians in the Church.
With her oversight, St. Bernard Parish has been on occasion a location for our brothers and sisters to gather for prayer, spiritual presentations, and socials. To be a homosexual Catholic or a Catholic homosexual (depending on how you look at it) is a challenge. Actually it is a spiritual battle to live a virtuous life in our culture that laughs at the very suggestion of being chaste or celibate. Our parish could do more to support parents and to help support men and women who are seeking to live a life in which a “Someone” isn’t turned into a “something” for their own personal pleasure in thought or deed – and that applies to both sexual orientations!
Let us pray for those in our parish community who strive to live in conformity to the example and teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray too for those who have given up the challenge. And finally, let us pray for our youth who have chosen to sacrifice their very life – God’s gift – because they feared rejection, a life of ridicule, or condemnation.
Providing support to parents and Church Ministers was only one way the Bishops chose to respond fifteen years ago. It is up to us today. We can do more; and as the pastor of St. Bernard I am open to do more with God’s help, the direction from our Diocese, and your efforts. In Christ, Fr. Dan