to Maida Commission, July 26, 1994
Preliminary Draft of Responses to Questions Posed by the Commission
1. What would you say is the basic purpose in the workshops you give and in the writings you produce?
The basic purpose of our ministry is to serve as bridge builders between the Church and its gay and lesbian members. We accomplish this as advocates for both groups to be reconciled:
1) We are advocates for the Church to convey the full range of teaching on homosexuality and homophobia* to lesbian and gay persons. Although Catholics are knowledgeable about the teaching on the objective immorality of homogenital acts, they are largely unaware of the other teachings on homosexuality: the personhood and human dignity of gay and lesbian people, social justice and civil rights, the immorality of unjust discrimination and violence toward homosexual persons, and the mandate for authentic pastoral care.
2) We are advocates for gay and lesbian persons to the larger Church community by listening to their experiences, by articulating their concerns, and by being present to them pastorally in their efforts to integrate their sexuality and their faith lives. Since they are their families have traditionally not been heard in Church forums, it is important to help them voice their experiences of life and their Christian journeys. In this way, the Church community will have a more compete understanding of the complex reality of homosexuality as it affects the lives of people in our Church and will be able to respond in a realistic, sensitive and compassionate manner.
In our ministry of bridge building, we place special emphasis on promoting reconciliation for gay and lesbian Catholics, their families and friends who often feel neglected and excluded from the Church. Using Gospel imperatives, we bring spiritual and psychological healing to people who feel isolated from and rejected by both society and church. These painful experiences, often tinged by anger, arise from perceptions of hostility or lack of pastoral concern from some segments in the Church. Our ministry is motivated by a serious concern about the attrition of lesbian and gay Catholics and their families from active participation in Church life. Working for reconciliation means that we must interpret the hopes and fears of each group to the other.
* Homophobia is commonly defined as an irrational fear of homosexuality or homosexual people. It includes a variety of reactions from mild discomfort or anxiety about homosexuality to a strong fear that can generate hatred of and violence against homosexual people.
2. What goals do you hope to accomplish through your workshops and writings?
One of our goals is to provide responsible, balanced, and contemporary information and education on the topics of homosexuality and homophobia. This involves the exposition of the teachings of the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, the positions and studies from other Christian denominations, and relevant data from the empirical and social sciences on human sexuality, sexual identity, and sexual orientation. Pastoral issues discussed include family ministry, social justice, civil rights and social discrimination. An educational presentation of these issues requires us to distinguish between doctrinal affirmations which require assent from Catholics and those which "are not of a doctrinal nature but (which) pertain more or less to the realm of social commentary" and allow for differing prudential judgements among people of good will (Archbishop John Quinn, "Toward an Understanding of the Letter On the Care of Homosexual Person, " America, Feb. 7, 1987, p. 92).
Another goal is to promote and provide informed dialogue in the Catholic community. We attempt to clarify, ground, and apply Church teachings within the overall context of traditional principles of sound pastoral care. We utilize fundamental principles of Catholic moral theology and highlight pastoral programs such as diocesan ministries which exemplify a sense of authentic compassion for gay and lesbian members of the Church. This goal relates to the mandate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) expressed in the 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons that bishops "support, with the means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons" (n. 17). This goal also relates to the call of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) that homosexual persons should have "a special degree of pastoral understanding and care" and "an active role in the Christian community" (To Live in Christ Jesus, 1976, n. 52). We promote what the CDF calls "attentive study, active concern, and honest theologically well-balanced counsel" (1986 Letter, n. 2) on the topic of homosexuality.
3. In what you write and teach, how would you describe the way you present the official teaching of the Church in reference to homosexuality?
We present the official magisterial teachings in reference to homosexuality with respect and clarity, given the variety of educational settings and audiences. We present these teachings in the manner in which Cardinal Ratzinger characterizes the Catechisms presentation of the faith; i.e., "not argumentatively or apologetically" (quoted in the Joseph A. Komonchak, "The Authority of the Catechism," Introducing the Catechism of the United States, p. 18). It should be noted that our workshops are attended by non-Catholics as well as Catholics.
The primary sources for Catholic teaching are statements from Roman Congregations, episcopal documents, pastoral letters from the U.S. and other national hierarchies. This teaching includes five major areas:
1) Homogenital behavior
The magisterium teaches that homogenital activity is intrinsically and objectively wrong because same-sex genital activity is "not a complementary union, able to transmit life" (1986 Letter, n. 7). The episcopal magisterium calls all lesbian and gay persons to a chaste life (1986 Letter, n. 13) and provides pastoral means t help them towards this goal.
2) Homosexual orientation
The Vatican (CDF) teaches that the homosexual orientation is "some kind of innate instinct" (Persona Humana, 1975, n. 8) and that it is "an objective disorder" (1986 Letter, n. 13). The National Conference of Catholic Bishops teaches that a homosexual orientation "because not freely chosen, is not sinful" (Human Sexuality, 1990, p. 55). In a pastoral letter on April 5, 1984, Cardinal James Hickey spoke of the orientation as being "not morally wrong in and of itself." Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in his letter to the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force on January 2, 1985, said that the orientation is "not in itself immoral or sinful." Similarly, the bishops of Massachusetts stated on may 31, 1984 that the orientation is "morally neutral."
3) Pastoral ministry
Church teaching advocates authentic and compassionate pastoral care for gay and lesbian persons (1986 Letter, n. 15). Archbishop John R. Quinns Ministry and Homosexuality in the Archdiocese of San Francisco (1983) is one of the most comprehensive pastoral approaches. The 1986 Pastoral Guidelines for Ministry to Homosexuals in the Diocese of San Jose is another, though shorter, outline of a good model for pastoral care. The NCCB states that lesbian and gay people should be accorded a "special degree of pastoral understanding and care" and should have "an active role in the Christian community" (To Live in Christ Jesus, 1976, n. 52).
4) Prejudice and discrimination against gay and lesbian persons
In its 1983 document, The Prejudice against Homosexuals and the Ministry of the Church, the Washington State Catholic Conference taught that "prejudice against homosexuals is a greater infringement of the norm of Christian morality than is homosexual orientation or activity" (quoted in John Gallagher, Homosexuality and the Magisterium, p. 50). The U.S. bishops call on all Christians and citizens of good will to "confront their own fears about homosexuality and to curb the humor and discrimination that offend homosexual persons" (Human Sexuality, 1990, p. 55).
5) Civil rights and the human dignity of gay and lesbian persons
Church documents teach respect for an individuals human and civil rights. The 1986 CDF Letter speaks of the dignity of gay and lesbian persons and their fundamental identity as children of God and heirs to eternal life (n. 16) and notes that this "intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law" (n. 10). In their 1990 Human Sexuality document, the NCCB reiterated their 1976 statement that gay and lesbian persons (should not suffer from prejudice against their basic human rights. They have a right to respect, friendship, and justice" (p. 55). In Some Considerations concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons in 1992, the CDF taught that "homosexual persons, as human persons, have the same rights as all persons including the right of not being treated in a manner which offends their personal dignity. Among other rights, all persons have the right to work, to housing, etc." (n. 12).
4. Is it within the scope of your own goals to draw people to an acceptance and practice of the official teaching of the Church in this area, and, if so, how do you go about trying to achieve these goals?
It is within the scope of our goals to draw Catholics to an acceptance and practice of the official teachings of the Church in all five areas in the ways described below. The various methods of achieving these goals depend to some degree on the nature of the audience (primarily gay and lesbian, primarily heterosexual, mixed group, Catholic, non-Catholic, etc.) and the educational setting (retreat, workshop, lecture, etc.)
1) We support gay and lesbian Catholics in their efforts to lead a chaste life in accord with traditional principles of pastoral and spiritual theology. We recognize that "their moral responsibility ought to be judged with a degree of prudence Living as a chaste homosexual person is not an easy way of life, particularly if one feels drawn to live a commitment with another person" (NCCB, Human Sexuality, 1990, p. 56).
2) We help gay and lesbian individuals affirm their "God-given dignity and worth" (CDF Letter, 1986, n. 13). As the 1983 pastoral plan, Ministry and Homosexuality in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, states, we help lesbian and gay persons to view their sexual orientation not as "truncated sexual development" (p. 6) but as a "building block rather than a stumbling block" (p. 9) in their ongoing search for unity and harmony.
3) We educate people about the ministries that currently exist in approximately a dozen dioceses and encourage the initiation of public, official ministries in the more than 170 dioceses where no ministries exist. One of our resources is a video documenting the parish-based ministry of Cardinal Mahoney for gay and lesbian Catholics in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
4) We help both homosexual and heterosexual people understand the sources and effects of their own fears about homosexuality. We examine and analyze institutional policies and practices which might be based on homophobia. We provide educational and interpersonal opportunities to help people eliminate attitudes and behaviors which are detrimental to the physical and psychological well-being of gay and lesbian people and the social and ecclesial communities.
5) We commend and support those Church leaders who have worked to ensure the passage of sound civil rights legislation in the past (e.g., in Minnesota, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Wisconsin). We encourage others in the Church to "affirm the fundamental human and civil rights of persons who are gay and lesbian" (Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Protecting the Human Rights of All, Nov. 6, 1992). We support sound legislation which is not opposed to the Churchs fundamental moral principles concerning marriage and family life.
5. Why do you think that a perception of ambiguity continues to remain regarding your writings and presentations regarding your adherence to and presentation of the teaching of the Church?
This question could best be answered if those who have charged us with "ambiguity" point out exactly where the ambiguity is found in our ministry.
The charge of "ambiguity" originated in a letter date Oct. 26, 1981 from Archbishop James Hickey of Washington, D.C. to all U.S. bishops and major superiors of religious women and men. In this letter, he asserted that we "present as viable options other opinions which hold that it is morally permissible for homosexuals to live together in a sexually active stable relationships." Since 1981, this accusation has been repeated in various forms. It has become accepted as true in some quarters because of Cardinal Hickeys position and influence in the Catholic community.
This charge has never been proven because it was and it untrue. When theological opinions are raised in a workshop, they are simply described and critiqued in reference to magisterial teaching. They are not offered as viable alternatives carrying the same weight or authority as official magisterial teaching.
In 1984, the Superior General of the School Sisters of Notre Dame requested that Archbishop Hickey or his theological advisor meet with us to resolve his concerns about perceive ambiguity. Archbishop Hickey was unwilling to do so.
The only way this charge can be realistically rebutted is by the testimony of competent individuals who have participated in our workshops. This Commission already has on record letters from five bishops who have attended our workshops and have judged them to be in full keeping with Church doctrine. Letters from additional bishops, diocesan officials, and qualified individuals testifying to our orthodoxy are also being entered into the official records of the Commission.
6. From the list of materials we have identified (or from other materials you may have prepared), which best represent what you try to present in your writings, talks and workshops?
In general, no one piece of writing, no one lecture, or workshop fully represents our ministry because the setting of each program, the educational model employed, and the audience addressed all vary. A talk or article for parents, for instance, would differ substantially in tone and even content from one for religion teachers or from one for homosexual priests and religious.
Building Bridges is based on essays we wrote from the early 1980s to 1992 and covers a wide variety of topics. It best represents the basic approach of our programs.
7. Are there any of your previous writings to which you would no longer subscribe or that you would modify in any substantial way?
In terms of our writings subsequent to 1988, which are the focus of the Commissions study, we are not aware of any writings which we would repudiate or substantially change. This does not mean, however, that we would not be ready to clarify or modify particular points in previous writings when necessary.
As with any competent writer or researcher, we try to take into account any relevant information which becomes available. We try to keep abreast of developments in Church documents and ministerial approaches and to be conscious of new historical moments. We try to be cognizant of new data and scholarly research in social, biblical and empirical sciences. When appropriate, we incorporate these elements into our programs and writings. Consequently, it is possible that some statement would have to be modified, clarified, or even discarded.
8. Do you teach that the Church ought to change its official teaching regarding homosexuality and homosexual acts?
We do not teach that the Church ought to change its teaching on homosexuality and homogenital acts. But the question might also be asked if we teach that the Church ought to remain open to new data which would influence the development of a particular teaching. The Churchs teaching ought to be the truth as seen at the present moment. The U.S. bishops say that the discovery of moral truth is an ongoing process and that "data from the physical sciences, information from the social sciences, and the insights of human reason can all contribute to ones discovering moral truth" (Human Sexuality, 1990, p. 23).
In Prejudice Against Homosexuals and the Ministry of the Church, the bishops of the State of Washington, for example, say that their document "does not attempt to rethink or to develop substantially the Catholic position on the morality of homosexualityhowever much such rethinking and development is needed in this and all other areas of the Churchs tradition" (quoted in John Gallagher, Homosexuality and the Magisterium, p. 46). The bishops say that the Church can combat the evil of prejudice against homosexual people "by fostering ongoing theological research and criticism, with regard to its own theological tradition on homosexuality, none of which is infallibly taught" (p. 53).
That there have been developments in Church teaching on homosexuality is already evident. Since we undertook this ministry in 1971, there have been additions, clarifications, and modifications in several areas. For example, in 1971, the Church had not yet made clear the distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual acts or the distinction between temporary homosexuality and a permanent homosexual orientation. Both of these distinctions were first explicitly taught in 1975 (CDF, Humana Persona, n. 8). In 1971, the Church had not yet taught explicitly about the dignity and human rights of homosexual person nor about a "special degree of pastoral understanding and care," which was articulated in 1976 (NCCB, To Live in Christ Jesus, n. 52). In 1971, there was no teaching about the evils of prejudice, unjust discrimination, and violence against lesbian and gay persons, which was made explicit in 1982 (Washington State Catholic Conference, The Prejudice Against Homosexuals and the Ministry of the Church), in 1986 (CDF Letter, n. 10), and in 1990 (NCCB, Human Sexuality, p. 55).
We affirm these developments, are encouraged by the pastoral emphasis in documents, and advocate further research, study, and their full and effective implementation on the pastoral .
9. How would you distinguish your ministry to homosexual persons from a group such as Courage and the ministry of Fr. John Harvey?
Our approach differs from Fr. Harveys in the following ways:
1) We have no organization with chapters, members, and chaplains.
2) Although we do occasional spiritual direction and retreats, we do not offer regular spiritual services such as liturgical and sacramental ministries for gay and lesbian Catholics. Our ministry includes a significant component of education directed to non-gay groups and individuals (parents, clergy, etc.). Fr. Harveys seems oriented toward direct services to Catholics with homosexual difficulties.
3) Our psychological evaluation of the homosexual orientation differs from Fr. Harveys. We do not judge it to be a form of mental or emotional illness or a compulsive disorder. We hold that a constitutional homosexual orientation is "permanent, seemingly irreversible" (NCCB, Human Sexuality, 1990, p. 54).
We feel that the homosexual orientation represents "the situation in which one finds oneself, and so the starting point for ones response to Christs call to perfection. Responding to this call does not mean that one must change this orientation. Rather it entails living out the demands of chastity within that orientation" (A Ministry to Lesbian and Gay Catholic Persons, Archdiocese of Baltimore, 1981, quoted in John Gallagher, Homosexuality and the Magisterium, p. 39).