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Pastoral Care of LGBTQ Youth

compassion

The purpose of this pastoral message is to reach out to parents trying to cope with the discovery of homosexuality in their adolescent or adult child. It urges families to draw upon the reservoirs of faith, hope, and love as they face uncharted futures.[1] And it is at this point that we part ways with the Church in our dealings with homosexual children, for we are aware of what the Catholic Church has to say on the subject of homosexuality.

The late Pontiff John Paul II writes in his Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,

“In the discussion which followed the publication of the Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option, it is not.”[2]

I write from the position of a man who was raised within the Catholic Church with all the traditions and rites given to him by Holy Mother Church. I myself am gay and am living with HIV/AIDS. In my lifetime I have had issues with the church and have moved away from the Magisterium and the Catholic Church because of their immovable stance on the homosexual person and homosexuality as a whole. This statement does not make me any less of a spiritual man having left the Church because of her treatment of gay men and women. If your family is involved with going to church or have any participation in spiritual beliefs, I encourage you to maintain that spiritual connection to a God of your understanding, a Power Greater than yourselves.

“It is something of a platitude to claim that organized religion has not been good for gay men, just as it has not been good for other marginalized groups such as women and so-called heretics. There seems to be something strangely threatening to religious power when it enters into contact with individuals or collectives who do not represent the sexual or the gender norm – or any other norm, for that matter. In some senses, this is a natural response by institutions that believe they have a right to exercise a monopoly and a control over moral codes, whether this right is claimed by virtue of “divine authority,” “democratic privilege,” or “reason of state.” Political power acts in similar ways, as does, though far more subtly, economic power. Gay men have therefore always had a suspicious view of religious institutions, as though these could turn at any instant and devour them. In many cases, the cynical and distrust emerge from childhood or adolescent contexts where religion has played an oppressively stifling role.” [3]

Even though we can make the argument that the church is not kind to those who are marginalized or different, in my world today I find that there are little kindnesses in many sacred and religious communities with men and women of faith who are willing to go to any length to keep their flock from falling apart. The Anglican Church of Montreal has done wonderful work with LGBTQ people and also people with AIDS; I am one of those persons.

We live in a more progressive country, Canada. And we live in a more progressive city, Montreal. And it has been my experience that I have never been turned away from the sacraments or the church in my many years as a gay HIV positive man.

I have survived two coming out experiences in my life, the first time as a young man “Coming Out” into the world ay large and later in my life when I was “Diagnosed with AIDS.” In today’s day and age, unlike the years when I was growing up, gay lifestyles have become more main stream. We still see people with AIDS treated with disgust and disdain even today as I work with new diagnosis folk.

In the Bishops letter to parents of homosexual children they speak about the stages of acceptance and staying true to ones emotions and allowing the spirit of God to guide you, as long as you maintain adherence to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

I know for many families reconciling a homosexual in the family and the church [ones faith] is a task not for the feint of heart. I know that, in today’s day and age, still there is an amount of stigma attached to being gay, I also believe that if homosexuality is approached from the right direction, this can be avoided, if all parties step up to the plate and we all follow certain spiritual practices and follow the words of Jesus when he spoke of loving our neighbor as ourselves. This was a huge issue for my parents in the 1980’s. My father dictated the family social gospel. And what was spoken was not broken in our home.

So it went that I came to a point in my life that I knew that I was different. It was the first day of junior high school, when I walked into the gym at school, that rush of emotion hit me and like a wave, washed over me and made me whole. My parents kept secrets. What they did behind closed doors and what they shared openly in community were two very different things. And they did not think twice about publicly sharing their racist and homophobic views with friends and family, while living in their secrets.

My step mother had begun to notice that my “difference” needed some assistance and she would prepare dinner parties for family and friends and invite professional gay men [doctors, lawyers, educators] to join us. These additional dinner guests did wonders for my father’s hatred of all things gay, because they had my ear, and he did not.

The first lesson I tell parents is this, “Always be careful what you say in front of your children, because one day your words may come back to haunt you.” This was the case for me. I never openly came out to my family because of the stance I knew already existed.

My father’s physical, emotional and verbal abuse kept me in my closet for the whole of my adolescent life. He attempted to beat “different” out of me. His constant barrage of “You were a mistake and should never have been born” took a toll on me in my adult life. You can’t abuse difference out of your children. What you do to your children, they will do to others in their future lives. How you treat your children now, will translate into how they will treat others as adults.

The Bishop’s letter states “There seems to be no single cause of a homosexual orientation. A common opinion of experts is that there are multiple factors – genetic, hormonal, and psychological – that may give rise to it. Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.”[4]

While parents work to navigate their minefield of emotions, so too your children are braving the same waters you are, but on a more personal level.

Each person will respond to their respective challenges, each according to their gifts.

There is a notion of liberation and freedom when one decides to take that step outside themselves to accept what is theirs to be taken. It is always safe to stay where one is comfortable to wade through the waters of change in order to maintain some sense of equilibrium in the rolling tide.

A good piece of advice here is that if you don’t know where you are going, then sit in this spot and get to know your feelings and your surroundings, consult with your fellows at this spot and consult your guides, look at your map, and once you are ready to make a move forwards, take that next step, but not until you are sufficiently prepared to do so.

[Explanation: Just because you are dealing with a gay son or daughter, neither of you need leave the church or your faith community.] If people have issues with who you are or what you believe, or that your son or daughter is different, that is their problem, not yours. We are powerless over people, places and things.

Finding your way will happen. It can be done. God is present everywhere, and it has come to pass for me and countless others that one does not need institution to find God.

God exists everywhere…

“For a Gay Man, acceptance by the dominant heterosexual world is never complete, nor is it ever an easy thing to learn to live without. One always feels a bit off balance, almost as though one were the last piece missing from a jigsaw puzzle. Heterosexuals may try to reassure us as much as they can, but they inevitably betray themselves, and they usually end up betraying us. All gay men have known at some point in their lives – and sad to say for some, for most of their lives – the feeling of being the outsider, the raw and stigmatizing experience of marginality. For some, it has scarred them forever; for others, it is a source of liberation and genuine relief… [5]

Over the whole of my life, I have cultivated a “religiously” spiritual life, in addition to my religious leanings. I love the Church, even if the Church does not love me fully in communion with all that is holy. The same may be for your children, if they were raised in the church.

If we are to expand as Christians and fully adopt the greatest commandment of loving God and loving neighbor as ourselves, then we must move into a spiritual paradigm. I maintain that this paradigm is most helpful in reminding us that even if the institution says one thing, God is as constant as the North Star. I don’t believe for one moment that God would turn away anyone from his love.

Donald Boisvert writes:

“Perhaps, as many continue to claim, religion and gay culture do not belong together. Perhaps they are mutually exclusive spheres, and the best we can hope for is a fragile stalemate, a draw at high noon. Yes, perhaps indeed. The pitfalls of religious institutions with respect to homosexuality are legion, and gay men are right to be wary of them. Yet gay men keep believing. We continue to attend church and temple, to pray and to meditate, to come together to celebrate and to worship. What explains this almost irrational need to remain part of what is certainly a homophobic – and somewhat passé, in the eyes of some – cultural institution?” [6]

So we maintain decorum of spiritual seeking in this journey of personal growth and discovery, because even as your child grows into the man or woman they will be, so too, you, as parents will grow into a new place in your lives as well. You will find commonality with other parents who are on this journey. And your children, by way of education and personal friendships will find their way into the gay world as well. When the two worlds collide, the one that popular culture dictates as normal, the heterosexual way of growing up, coupling and being fruitful and multiplying, gay men and women, we find our way around these prescribed notions of normalcy and we find a new route to divinity outside the normal parameters of life and love.

To be different is to be blessed.

You would be amazed to know how much of an impact gay men and women make on the world they inhabit. We continue with Out on Holy Ground where Donald writes:

“Gay theologian and psychotherapist John J. McNeill makes a similar biological argument: The homosexual community has, perhaps, a special role to play in liberating the heterosexual community to a fuller understanding of themselves as persons by being an organic challenge within society to the partial and dehumanizing aspects of these [i.e., traditional] sexual-identity images…

Gays carry a special spiritual consciousness, and they challenge other human beings to see beyond the closed boundaries of nature. This view of gay people as spiritual visionaries and cultural change-agents is part of a long tradition in gay spirituality”[7]

“An article entitled ‘Coming Out as Spiritual Revelation” expresses quite well this line of reasoning. In somewhat grandiose tone, its author writes:

We see a special role for gay people. In revealing that what looks weird, unnatural, queer or freakish is in fact another natural part of an unlimited and complex universe, don’t gay people in coming out provide a key to a spiritual maturity for themselves and for others? What could be less useful in a soulless Darwinian world than individuals that don’t procreate? Why in the world are we in the world? I believe we are here to reveal a further dimension of the diversity of life, and, in so doing, our fellow human beings into celebrating life’s differences.

Moreover, I believe that gay people are here to witness to the truth that human life is not just about procreation, as magical and wonderful as it is. Reproduction is not the only mission for women and men. Just as God gave us a soulful dimension that binds us like a spiritual umbilical cord to the mother of creation and to each other, so she has created gay people to reveal this spiritual dimension.”[8]

Life is a gift from God. And nobody has the right to take that life from any human being, no matter if they are gay or straight. As soon as society finds the divinity of the human life, in every life, then acceptance of that which is different can become a spiritual experience for both the homosexual child and his or her parents and thereby extension, the society we live in and the world at large.

“Marginality is a most effective formative experience; it is the furnace that tempers the steel. Its corollary is loss. For most gay men, consciously or not, loss is the defining texture of our lives. Simply by having had to give up so much that so many others take for granted on an almost daily basis – whether family, children, lovers, acceptance, or inclusion – we have learned how to live on intimate terms with the experience of loss. In many cases, this experience has been sharpened to the point of exhaustion and rebellion by the overwhelming impact of AIDS on our lives and those of our lived ones.”[9]

It has come to pass in the last twenty years that I have seen some of the most heinous actions carried out by human beings upon other human beings. With the onset of AIDS in our world, Christians, human beings and spiritual people have participated in some of the most reprehensible actions I have ever witnessed. Being gay is one issue, having HIV or AIDS is totally another beast.

I was 26 when I was diagnosed with AIDS and I was told that I was going to die. I called my family together for a meeting and they responded according to their coping skills and understanding and their ability to deal with that kind of news. I remembered the words of my parents from my earlier adolescence. My mother worked in home health care and she cared for people with AIDS and I remember how she mocked and made fun of the faggots being punished by God.

What my parents did to me after that, I would not wish on any other human being. God forbid their friends find out I was gay, first off, and secondly, heaven forbid they find out I had AIDS, what would they think about my parents. They were more concerned about themselves rather than me.

I witnessed parents throwing their sick children out into the streets. I watched them turn their backs on life and love because of an illness. I watched as lovers and friends turned their backs on their friends and each other. It got so bad for me that I had to walk away from my family because they were treating me like pariah. It was amazing witnessing my own family act as ignorant and as stupid as they did, even knowing my mother worked in the health care field.

It wasn’t like they were not educated, yet they embarked on a path where they treated me like a leper, with bleach bottles in the bathroom and plastic utensils on the dinner table and they did this in front of friends and family, which totally made me sick inside.

My boyfriend at the time of my diagnosis left me, all of my friends walked away. I saw sick men get thrown out of homes by landlords. I saw sick men get fired by employers, and good Christian church going people turn their backs on God’s creations, other human beings. Funeral parlors would not process sick people because of fear.

Churches demonized the sick and they stood on their bibles calling AIDS punishment by God for the sins of the flesh of men.

But it was the kindness of one man who made the difference in my survival. The man I credit for my survival. Todd was my employer, but after my diagnosis he became my champion, my father figure, my friend, my care taker, and my savior. I can’t tell you that the first thoughts in my mind were of God, at that point in my life. I had to deal with surviving with a death sentence.

And it was but for a group of men and women with a common goal who worked tirelessly in seeing that we had everything that we needed as the world turned in on itself and people turned upon each other.

Where was God in all of that insanity, I ask you? When religion turned on us, we turned on religion and those who lived, lived. Out of all the men I knew from that time, over 162 of them, are dead and thousands more are immortalized in the National AIDS Memorial Quilt and in addition all those who went to their deaths unknown to anyone but God alone. I am the last one left alive out of that original social circle of men.

Someone up there likes me and I always say to doctors who constantly look at science as fact, that one cannot deny or ignore the power of faith for a sick person’s survival.

After I was diagnosed, I read ravenously. I studied all the major religious and spiritual traditions, trying to make sense of death and in doing so I would be able to face my own death courageously and with some modicum of dignity. Alas, I lived and here I am speaking to you today. This has been my journey over these odd 15 years.

It is very easy to maintain an attitude of denial and to be narrow minded. It is too easy to listen to what the church says about homosexuality, “that it is a condition and is an objective disorder.” It is too easy to listen to the evangelical preachers condemn homosexuals as deviant and as an abomination unto God.

We can sift through our bibles and we can focus on the seven deadly scriptures to bolster our argument for discrimination and subjecting our children to the dictates of society as a whole. But I encourage you to study your scripture and to pray to your God and I hope to that end that you would come to understand scripture as something written for a specific time and for a specific people.

We must look at scripture from three points on the compass, the exegetical, meaning “what did the text mean in its original setting?” Secondly from a hermeneutical position: “What might the meaning of this text be today?” and thirdly Methodological with its two approaches (a) that Scripture as Revealed Morality and (b) Scripture as Revealed reality.

Much hatred of homosexuals is propagated by those who would use scripture as a means to an end. And those who follow religious teachings and the many institutional churches will wrestle with these angels if you find that your son or daughter is gay.

What route shall you take, will you deny them what is rightfully theirs and demonize them and turn them away from you like pariah? Or will you take the high road and live into love, accepting the special love that God has called you to see through.

Richard M. Gula writes “The Bible says what is has to say about the moral life in the forms and genres of laws and imperatives, to be sure, but also in narratives, parables, sayings, and other literary forms. The Bible is far from a handbook of ready-made judgments which we can immediately apply to current situations. Its ethical material both illumines the moral life with images to help us interpret what is going on and, in some instances; it prescribes behavior, such as in the ten commandments, the great commandment, and the instructions of St. Paul. The proper use of the Bible in either instance involves an ongoing dialogue between the faith experiences of the biblical community and those of today.”[10]

This is our ministry. And this is what I see as needing to change for the future. I spend so much of my life working with my kids and with those who appear on my path.

I have spent the better part of fifteen years working with LGBTQ young people, I work with adults coming out later in life, and I have worked with the sick and the dying from AIDS and from other terminal diseases.

Where the Church has failed to see to the care of those they see as “other,” I have seen to care for those who find themselves looking at the Church from the outside in. I believe that Pastoral Ministry must change with the times. It is also my belief that the church needs to change with the times. But we know that the archaic institutional church we see today does not have the wherewithal to make that much needed change. And that is why working in the field works for me. If we are to bring the Gospel forward into the lives of those we touch, we must be willing to walk where many fear to tread.

We must do the work of God where he may be found. Care of the individual begins at home. Because what our children learn at home, they will eventually carry out into the world. And if we are to be good agents of change, the work of change begins with us in our own lives.

If we turn from our children, they will turn from their neighbor and from themselves, if we do not personify love incarnate, then our children will not know what that proper love is, and it may take years and even for some decades to learn about love from the right direction. Every word we speak, every emotion we telegraph, every tone of voice we use with our children has a direct impact on the adults they will become.

I have seen this truth with my own eyes.

I cannot tell you how many kids I work with have been hurt by their families, friends, and church congregations and have turned to terrible addictions to ease and eliminate the pain of the past. In terms of recovery, we find that in that recovery, people come to believe in a power greater than themselves, and usually that ends up being God, even if they have had a past with a church that hurt them to begin with. We reorient the downtrodden into relationship with God on a spiritual plane, not necessarily an institutional plane.

But if for once, we could eliminate the first contact with negativity, how many lives can we change for the better, for the future. The dictates of society have so burdened us with rite and ritual and accepted ways of life and behavior that we have forgotten how to think and act for ourselves. We are so busy following the pack that we have lost our individual consciousness to act rightly and Godly. The teaching of Christ is so simple, to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If the world could embrace these two principles, what a world we could create.

But on the grander scale that is impossible, so that work must begin with us, in our lives, in our homes and in our families and in our social and religious circles.

We have but this one life to get it right, so how much time have you wasted living in fear, or anger or judgment? The time has come, the time is now. Today is the day we create change. Today is the day we renew our Christian calling to serve one another as Christ served us. These are the words I speak to my kids and my fellows. I am but one man, and my ministry is but one little effort in this big wide world. And I walk my path as it is laid out before me.

But I always return to the one common thread that exists in my story, my love for a Judeo Christian God and my need to worship God in his church with the sacraments and my fellows. Montreal is a huge religious city, and God can be found any number of places in any number of churches, no matter what faith you follow.

Find your path and walk it. There are people already on the path that you will come in contact with. Be sure to share your water, your bread and your hospitality with them. Walk in the desert with the pilgrim and find God. Every person on the path of life appears there for a specific reason, to teach us something specific, are you paying attention?

Each connection is an opportunity to learn about them or about yourself.

Every relationship is an opportunity to broaden your ability to love all of God’s creation. There is no darkness that God cannot touch. Learning that your son or daughter is gay should not be an earth shattering event, although for many that is what happens, because it challenges every fiber of our being and asks us to wrestle with our faith. You can either walk away, or turn your back on God or you can walk towards the light and see God in yourself and in your neighbor. We are spiritual beings living a human experience, and in that we are called to higher things. What will you do?

In the end of this Christian life I live, when on that last day I meet God, I want to hear him say to me

“Well done, good and faithful servant…”

We close with a reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Chapter 22:34-40.

The Greatest Commandment

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


[1] Always our Children, A pastoral message to parents of homosexual children and suggestions for Pastoral Ministers, NCCB Committee in Marriage and family. September 10, 1997

[2] Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, John Paul II, given at Rome, October 1, 1986. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect.

[3] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Meditations on Gay Men’s Spirituality, Pilgrim Press, Ohio, 2000, pgs. 111-112.

[4] Always our Children, A Pastoral Message to parents of homosexual children and suggestions for Pastoral ministers, NCCB, September 10, 1997.

[5] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Pilgrim Press, 2000, pg. 31

[6] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Pilgrim Press, Ohio, pg. 112

[7] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Pilgrim Press, Ohio, pg. 40

[8] Tim McFeeley, “Coming out as Spiritual Revelation,” Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review (1996)

[9] Donald Boisvert, Out on Holy Ground, Pilgrim Press, 2000, Ohio, pg. 31-32

[10] Richard Gula, Reason Informed by Faith, Foundations of Catholic Morality, Paulist Press, 1989, pgs. 181-182.