How The Church Can Reach Out To Gays & Lesbians In The Current Climate

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, made some blunt comments regarding the Catholic Church’s outreach to gays and lesbians this past week, telling reporters from ABC that “we haven’t been too good at that.” Dolan’s comments followed an earlier statement saying that the Church needed to be sure it’s defense of marriage as being an institution between one man and one woman didn’t degenerate into an attack on the men and women who deal with a homosexual affliction.

Dolan’s statements—especially the latter—hit the nail on the head and represent the challenge the Church faces. The questions that come to my mind are first of all, how does the Church reach out to gays and lesbians without compromising unchangeable Catholic teachings, and what level of success should be expected.

I’ll start with the second question—I think we’ve got to be realistic and say that at least for the short-term, the success rates won’t be high. The movement of gays and lesbians is exceptionally militant right now, and as much as we might genuinely believe in the human dignity of everyone who deals with same-sex attraction, the leadership of the gay and lesbian movements have chosen to define themselves exclusively by their sexual attraction, and to further define the legalization of marriage as the only way they feel their dignity is being upheld. We can’t give in on either point, creating an impasse that it will require a lot of prayer to get through, before we can reach the point of significant progress.

But “significant progress” is usually measured by worldly standards—be it huge numbers of people who change their minds, political victories, etc. The Catholic Church is above worldly standards and is in the mission of saving individual souls. And behind the media noise of today are going to be men and women who wrestle with same-sex attraction, don’t really want to live that way and are looking for a place of spiritual refuge to work things out.

These aren’t the people who will get on television, start up a blog or have reporters looking to talk to them. They’re just the ones who are really looking for what the Catholic Church has to offer—the graces that pour out through the sacramental life and the certitude that comes with embrace of infallible doctrine, unchanged through two millennia. Cardinal Dolan is right—if a rigorous defense of the true nature of marriage comes off hostile, these people are likely to stay away.

It’s difficult not to feel  hostile when the leadership of the current gay and lesbian movement feels the need to stick everything in your face, to judge your motives and to, in effect, play God, by damning the intentions of their opponents at every turn. Such is the state of politics in America today. But behind the politics are people who are hurting, need help and need to know there’s a place they can go. If the leadership of the Catholic Church keeps this type of person at the heart of its ministry, and doesn’t measure its success by dramatic and sudden shifts of public opinion, then the day of the Church’s inevitable victory will be hastened, and a lot of people behind the scenes looking for an answer to same-sex attraction will be better for it.

P.S. A similar theme was hit by CV blogger Tim Shaughnessy in his fine piece about Starbucks, Chick-Fil-A and the gay marriage debate.

Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com

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Categories:Marriage

16 thoughts on “How The Church Can Reach Out To Gays & Lesbians In The Current Climate

  1. Anindo C says:

    The Catholic Church’s doctrine on homosexuality is, at its Thomist core, nonsense. The connection with what is unusual and non-normal (as in the case of homosexuality) and what is immoral/evil was never honestly made by Aquinas or anyone else before or after him in the Church. And so it remains to this day. These medieval (and ultimately) bronze age views on sexual morality are neither necessary nor healthy. And the faster young Christians of all sects jettison these primitive ideas, the faster they’ll be on the road to a full life filled with love…. and Jesus (if they choose him too).

    1. Joe M says:

      Anindo C. What, then, is your explanation for this excerpt from the Bible:

      “26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.(Romans 1:26-27 NIV)”

  2. TM says:

    I’m gay and I’ve been in a long-term, loving, monogamous relationship longer than many marriages last, gay or straight. I do not hide who I am or how I live. I do not make it my first agenda item, but if I get questions, I answer them honestly. Because I am also an orthodox Catholic – I strive to live by the teachings of the Church in every regard and I have to be willing to give witness to that. It has not been an easy path, and quite honestly, the Church doesn’t have a lot to say about it that’s helpful. The profile of my type in the Church and in society is not high. The noise from the “be gay and be proud” crowd is deafening and the corresponding near-silence from the Church on this question speaks volumes to many Catholics – they have ceased to believe that the Church teaching on same-sex attraction has any validity, they are not taught and it is not preached, for the most part. There are no popular saints’ lives that tell the story of someone who is same-sex attracted and chooses to live a joyful life of service to Christ and humankind while living chastely. There’s tons of “role-models” for gay teens on the proud and loud side, but within the Church it goes undiscussed in almost any fashion. The Courage Apostolate has certainly stepped up in this area, but their reach and impact is limited (for various reasons, some of which have to do with pastors who do not support their work). So I think a great first step would be honesty – yes there are same-sex attracted people in the Church, yes it is possible to be a good Catholic in that category and live a celibate, chaste life, and here are your role models – here’s the kind of lives they lead, not empty and unfulfilled and warped as you would be led to believe, but happy and full and redemptive. And here’s why they choose to lead those lives, here is the full richess of Christ and His teaching. We need that conversation, we need those stories, we need clear teaching and preaching that people can understand and use in order to do just what you say – change one heart and mind at a time. Easter blessings to all!

    1. rbaron says:

      TM ,

      That is a beautiful message. Could you clarify, are you in a monogamous relationship or do you live a chaste life?

      1. TM says:

        We are exclusively committed to the support and care of one another in all ways, muck akin to marriage – I use monogamous in that sense, not completely true to the meaning of the word, you are correct. I strive to live a chaste life.

        1. Lilian says:

          Dear TM, I don’t know you personally but how my heart reach to you! What beautiful message you have expressed here. Please “speak up more” you and your community so that the deafening voices can be quieting down for their own good and of all. We are all brothers and sisters. How sweet it is to say: I love you too just as God does.

    2. Ann says:

      “there are same-sex attracted people in the Church, yes it is possible to be a good Catholic in that category and live a celibate, chaste life, and here are your role models – here’s the kind of lives they lead, not empty and unfulfilled and warped as you would be led to believe, but happy and full and redemptive. And here’s why they choose to lead those lives, here is the full richess of Christ and His teaching. We need that conversation, we need those stories, we need clear teaching and preaching that people can understand and use in order to do just what you say – ”
      Yes, but these folks need to step up to the plate on their own. No one is stopping them.

  3. Joannie says:

    Yes he is so “orthodox ” and solid that he gave Holy Communion to VP Joe Biden on Palm Sunday. Or that he treats Priests that want to use the Latin Mass as pariahs. Or maybe because he called a “she” or maybe because he gave a thumbs up to a LGBT group at St. Francis Xavier Church. Orthodox my foot!

    1. GREG SMITH says:

      Joannie ~ “maybe because he called a “she..’” What are you refering to here?

      Thanks,

      Greg

    2. Lilian says:

      Joannie. Do I think correctly that you meant to reply to Jack Regan’s comment? I sense an emotional outrage here, which is totally understanding when we witness The church being wounded, even within. I didn’t know about the points you raised here but I would like to comment that I thank Our Lord for giving us a Holy Pope, this is what The Church needs: holy people. Holiness does not go against in speaking the Truth clearly and in Wisdom, leading to true charity.

  4. GREG SMITH says:

    Dear Dan~ Let me share some thoughts on how *not* to reach out to gays and lesbians:
    1: Don’t tell a lesbian in a loving stable relationship raising a couple of kids she suffers from “homosexual affliction.”

    2: Don’t do, as Cdl George did, and start a fight over something like the timing and route of the Pride Parade and then compare the LGBT movement to the Klu Klx Klan.

    3: Don’t continue to promote fear mongering and hysteria if some gays in some places can marry or even have civil union protection.

    4: Don’t teach our beliefs about fairness and dignity for gay people *only* as an afterthought. The Church should have taken the lead on opposing the Ugandan “kill the gays” legislation.

    5: Don’t demonize LGBT community leaders. Many of them such as my girlfriend Rachael Maddow and Kate Kendall at the National Center for Lesbian Rights are as reasonable and affable as Cdl. Dolan. Oh yeah .. no one, except maybe porn stars, defines themselves exclusively by their sexual attraction.

    6: Finally a *do*. Do get to know real live gay families and learn about their lives, loves dreams and fears. Cdl. Dolan would do well to invite some gay families over for dinner a or brunch at the chancellery.

    Also, I greatly respect the fine people in Courage, and have a friend who spoke at their conference. However, basing outreach to gays based on that small group is, as the Pope might say, “self referential”

    I hope this is helpful.

    Pax tecum, Greg

    1. Joe M says:

      Greg Smith. While I agree with the article that outreach can be improved, I don’t think that it would be a good solution to be unclear about the teachings of Jesus.

      “26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.(Romans 1:26-27 NIV)”

      If you believe that the Bible is the word of God and you are concerned with the salvation of gay people, it is dangerous to suggest acceptance of gay relationships.

      1. Kevin says:

        You say that being embracing of homosexuals and affirming of homosexual relations and marriages is against the teaching of Jesus, and yet you then quote Paul, who, in case you did not know, is not Jesus.

        Can you please show me a single time when Jesus himself mentioned homosexuality?

  5. Tony says:

    Several points of disagreement:

    You refer to homosexuality as an affliction, which is basically a disease, or something that causes suffering. This might be a good example of how Catholics aren’t doing a good job of reaching out to gay people–by failing to understand what homosexuality is.

    Second, you claim that the “militant gays” only view homosexuality in terms of sex. Have you read your own words lately? You wrote a column a couple weeks ago on how gay marriage can’t be allowed because gays have multiple partners, high rates of AIDS, etc., without ever mentioning anything besides sex that goes into marriage.

    1. Joe M says:

      Tony.

      If you believe in the Bible and seek to live according to the teachings of Jesus, desires to have gay relationships would be a source of conflict and suffering.

      If that circumstance is not an affliction, how would you describe it?

      The goal of outreach is to encourage people to join the Church. Joining the Church includes embracing its teachings about marriage and sexuality. Outreach should not be about changing the teachings in order to be easy or more appealing.

  6. Jack Regan says:

    I really like Dolan. Ever since I heard him speak in Madrid in 2011. I was hoping he would be elected Pope!! As it was though, we got a good man.

    He is orthodox and clear, yet hard to seriously dislike. A combination we need in our leaders…

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