CHARLESTON — Two groups within the Diocese of Charleston are reaching out to assist persons with same-sex attraction. It is a difficult attraction to talk about. Many people in the church, both clergy and laity, are uncomfortable with the subject.
Oftentimes, it is not spoken of and people with this attraction go neglected and unassisted by the church. Meanwhile, our society seems over-run with talk on gay lifestyles, gay marriages, and gay rights.
Bishop Robert J. Baker addresses same-sex attraction in his recent pastoral letter, “The Redemption of Our Bodies.” He places his explanation within an overall summary of Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”
Bishop Baker begins by explaining traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality. A homosexual orientation is not of itself a sin. The church teaches that homosexuality is a disordered inclination and involves disordered affections.
Any homosexual act is gravely sinful because it violates the dignity of the person and human nature. Since the homosexual person’s sexual desires cannot be morally fulfilled, the attraction can cause deep and serious suffering within the person. It is not a minor disorder.
While affirming this teaching, Bishop Baker concurrently stresses the unique identity of each human person. He argues: “We are never defined by our disorders. We are persons with dignity and inexhaustible value before God, despite our disorders.” He further stresses the responsibility of the church to minister and care for homosexual persons. He writes: “We, as a Christian community, should reach out to those suffering from a homosexual inclination so that they might be surrounded by the love of friendship. Those who suffer from a homosexual orientation should not be abandoned to loneliness and despair. We, broken images in our own right, must invite such individuals to make full recourse to the resources of our faith to learn how to live chastely.”
In line with this teaching, Deacon Ed Peitler hopes to initiate a clinical service for those who have unwanted same-sex attraction. He plans to provide individual and group counseling that is consistent with the church’s teachings. Deacon Peitler is a licensed professional counselor with more than 30 years of experience.
The deacon explains that same-sex attraction “has been a neglected ministry in the church and it’s important that the church openly confront it … and provide assistance to those who desire it.” He elaborates that the church recognizes this omission and is “anxious to offer this service” to those who need and want it.
This local effort is within the same ministerial outreach as the international spiritual support group Courage.
The work of Courage with persons who struggle with a same-sex attraction is also done within the framework of Catholic teaching and practice. It seeks to have local chapters, which offer chastity education and a support group to its members. Founded by Franciscan Father Benedict Groeschel and Oblate Father John Harvey, the group celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Local chapters can be found on its Web site. As Peter, a member of Courage, expressed it, “As I began to strive toward living a chaste life, a new world opened up around me. Healthy friendships with men began forming, and I felt a greater and deeper sense of maturity and love.”
Almost every Christian knows a family member or friend who struggles with a same-sex attraction. It is a difficult dilemma. Bishop Baker’s pastoral letter and the efforts of the Catholic Church are working to assure everyone that these persons are not abandoned by the church.
The church is not outraged by these members, but truly wants to embrace them and help them to live a morally healthy life — a life marked by a love which is ordered according to nature and truth; a love which gives life and grace, and allows the person to be free from fear, depression, and anger; and a life which is fully and abundantly lived.
For more information
Deacon Ed Peitler can be reached at (843) 384-3967. Courage’s Web site is: www.couragerc.org. Local chapters can be located through this Web site. The Charleston area chapter is run by Sister Jane Livingston, who may be contacted at (843) 577-0175 or at email@example.com.