WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Lives on a different course – time to catch up with society

Greg Byrne
9 November 2011

One of the workshops at a recent Diocesan gathering, within the Foundation of ‘Identity and Community’, raised the issue of gay people in the Church. The time has come for the Catholic Church to have discussions about this and other topics within the broader field of human sexuality.

Society’s attitudes and legislation are changing rapidly in regard to homosexuality. This does not necessarily mean the Church should follow secular thought but, if we are truly a people who ‘read the signs of the times’, then frank and open discussion on the subject is a must. If the Catholic Church is to remain relevant in the world and to the younger generation, this dialogue is imperative.

I was interested to read two articles in the March issue of Aurora (“From the Shadows” and “A Bishop’s Plea”) which contained recommendations from two separate sources that the Church should examine its stance on human sexuality.

From “A Bishop’s Plea” we read, “Bishop Malone agreed that abuse raised many taboo topics and for that reason he would like to see a comprehensive and open re-examination by the Church of the whole question of human sexuality.”

In “From the Shadows”, Richard Sipe, who was trained to deal with the mental health of Catholic priests, is quoted as saying that “….the Church should openly and credibly review its stance on other closely related matters, including a married priesthood, women’s ordination, birth control, abortion, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage.”

I have a personal interest in the Church’s attitude toward homosexuality.
My wife and I have seven children, two girls and five boys. A few years ago we discovered that one of our sons is gay.

We can find no reason for his being gay. He was raised in the same family under the same conditions as our other six children. In retrospect he did display different characteristics from the other boys but we just put that down to his individuality. I now realise that his homosexuality was always within him. It is an intrinsic part of who he is. It is not a choice or a decision he has made; it is the way God created him.

I include an extract from a letter he recently wrote to us:

I think I need to start by explaining what it’s like being gay in society. I don’t feel safe in public. Ever. Every time I leave my house it is a bit of a struggle. If people don’t say or do anything homophobic to me there is still the fear that they might. Walking down the street my heart always beats too quickly and my thoughts race. I don’t think I need to explain what feeling unsafe is like, but I do need to express that this is a daily occurrence for me, and not just for me but sadly for most queer people. This is why we create safe spaces. This is why queer people are 14 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers and why 30% of queer Australians will attempt suicide. It’s not as rare as we like to believe. It’s hard being gay in a hetero-dominated society. Get it? I didn’t choose to be gay. Why the hell would I in these times?

A journey through a powerful grief
The moment our son chose to tell us of his homosexuality, several years ago, was a moment of shock and pain. Our lives were placed on a different course. Years do not erase the details of that day. We recall the weather, the time of day, the room, our thoughts and, most of all, our feelings. It was a moment that marked the beginning of a journey through a powerful grief.

When confronted with our son’s homosexuality, we were filled with fear for what the world may do to him and out of shame for how we must have failed him. The initial fear, hurt, denial, anger, alienation and shame, among other feelings, flooded our minds. We could only assure our son that we loved him but it was useless trying to get a sensible conversation out of us in that state of confusion.

Not alone in the struggle
Over the following months we contacted a group PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and by sharing stories we realised we are by no means alone in the struggle and we gain much support from each other. We have been referred to the latest research and literature on the subject, all of which confirms our belief and experience that homosexuality is not caused by being ‘overly mothered’ or ‘underly fathered’ or sexually abused or any other external factor. Homosexuality is an intrinsic part of a person in the same way that heterosexuality is a part of others.

And yet, as parents, we still have an uneasy feeling as we become aware that we are associated with an ‘undesirable’ group. We fear that anger and rejection will be directed, not only at our child, but also toward us when people learn that we have a gay child. Armed only with myths, we were poorly prepared to defend ourselves against the shock and confusion we felt at first. We had been victimised on several counts. We were hurt by the outdated, unsubstantiated and often opposing ‘expert’ opinions that floated around in the scientific community. We were hurt by the whispers, smirks, innuendo and jokes that were an acceptable part of our social community. We were hurt by the bigotry that is present in so many of our religious communities.

I quote from an article by The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG:

The various religions in Australia and elsewhere are presently addressing the uncomfortable need to change their approaches to human sexuality. Sadly, it has to be said that in the past, religion has often been the source of much of the pain, injustice and discrimination against homosexual and bisexual people. The churches especially must accept much of the blame for the homophobia that still exists in Australia, as in all communities. This is both the puzzle and the challenge. It is a puzzle because such attitudes seem so incompatible with the basic lessons of our faith. The challenge is to expedite a change of view and to reiterate the universality of religious outreach. In the past there was perhaps an excuse for ignorance about sexuality. Today there is none.

Here is a rich harvest of people – homosexual people, their families and friends – who are crying out for acceptance and support. The Catholic Church should lead the way by welcoming them into the Body of Christ and in turn being enriched by the many talents they bring.

Conversely here is a group of people the Church can alienate, driving a wedge between them and the God that the Church is meant to represent.

The Christ who befriended the outcast will surely be found among these people. The Catholic Church needs to carefully consider her attitude toward them.

Greg Byrne is a parishioner at Forster in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese of New South Wales. This reflection was first published in Aurora, the magazine of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese. Used with kind permission.