Open letter
to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dear Pastors,

I write to object in the strongest possible terms to the ignorance, blatant homophobia and eschewal of reason manifest in your document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.

If the Catholic bishops of the United States would take the time and care to study any of the research evidence available, I wonder if they would find the harm and damage perpetuated by stances like the one they have taken conscionable.

I knew things were off to a bad start when I read the opening paragraph:

‘The mission of the Church is to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people and to minister to all people in his name. In our time and culture, special challenges are faced by those Church members who carry out this mission among persons who experience same-sex attraction.’

The reaction formation involved in counterpoising “the Church” and “Church members” with “people who experience same sex attraction” bespeaks one of the base causes of your ignorance. You ought to have known for 10 or 20 years now that somewhere of the order of 33 per cent of Catholic clergy in the US is gay: Donald Cozzens summarised the evidence very well and publicly for us all in The Changing Face of the Priesthood: A reflection on the priest's crisis of soul in 2000. You know, then, that it is highly likely that about one third of your own number has the very same “disordered inclination” of which you write. Can you not at least have some “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for them if not the courage to stand up for the rights of the rest of us?

In 2005, here in Australia, a major study found that:

• 80 per cent of respondent gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) people had experienced public insult
• 70 per cent had experienced verbal abuse
• 20 per cent had experienced explicit threats
• 13 per cent had experienced physical assault
(McNair, R., Thomacos, N., Not Yet Equal: Report of the VGLRL Same Sex Relationships Survey. 2005. Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.)

Research in your own country, in the UK and here also shows the results of this harassment:

• 55 per cent of gay men and lesbians had contemplated self-harm as a direct result of bullying
• 40 per cent had attempted self-harm or suicide on at least one occasion
• 30 per cent had done so more than once.
(Rivers, I., The Bullying of Sexual Minorities At School: Its Nature and Long Term Correlates. Educational and Child Psychology. 2001 Vol 18. p39)

• 64 per cent of non-operative transgender people had contemplated suicide on at least one occasion in their lives
• 37 per cent had made at least one attempt
(Singer et al 1997, Xavier 2000, Kenagy & Bostwick 2001, Nemoto et al 2001, Clements-Nolle et al 2001, Risser & Shelton 2002. Cited from [accessed on 16/11/06])

• same sex attracted young people (SSAYP) are three times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth
(Howard, J. et al, Same Sex Attracted Youth in Mental Health Promotion and Young People: Concepts and Practice. 2002. Eds Rowling, L, Martin, G., Walker, L. McGraw Hill, Australia)

• rural SSAYP are six times more likely to attempt suicide than the population as a whole
(Quinn, K., Rural Youth and Same Sex Attracted Youth: Issues, Interventions and Implications for Rural Counsellors. Rural and Remote Health. 2003 Vol 3.)

• 30 per cent of all homeless young people identify as gay or lesbian
(As long as I have my doona: A report on lesbian and gay youth homelessness [1995]. 2010 Gay and Lesbian Youth Service and the Australian Centre for Lesbian and Gay Research.)

and yet

• 67 per cent of Australian doctors surveyed knew of instances where GLBTI patients had either been refused care or received substandard care as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity
(Thomacos, N., Enhancing and Promoting the Health and Wellbeing of all Gay Men and Lesbians in Victoria. Lecture: University of Melbourne, Sept 2006)

I apologise for the flood of detail, but I found all that in 30 minutes on Google! How much work did you actually do before you finalised Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care? And were your enquiries detached, disinterested and unrestricted, or do you think you might have brought a certain bias to them?

These are the real-world consequences of the homophobia you reinforce with your notions that our “homosexual inclination is objectively disordered, i.e., it is an inclination that predisposes one toward what is truly not good for the human person” and that the things we do “are contrary to the natural law. … Under no circumstances can they be approved”. Social science is clear that the ongoing harassment directed against GLBTI people is the result of the systemic nature of homophobia and the cultural and religious beliefs you propagate. You actively support social norms that assume and require men to be masculine, women to be feminine and sexuality to be the attraction between male and female.

In your type of society, those who don’t conform to these norms are subject to various forms of homophobic harassment ranging from acts of physical violence to less direct processes of social exclusion and isolation. A 2005 survey of GLBTI people in my own state, Victoria found that:

• 80 per cent of respondents had experienced public insult;
• 70 per cent had been publicly abused;
• 20 per cent had experience explicit threats; and
• 13 per cent had been physically assaulted.
(McNair, R., Thomacos, N., Not Yet Equal: Report of the VGLRL Same Sex Relationships Survey. 2005. Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.)

What exactly is the “good news” you think you are bringing to this situation? Stop patronising us by assuming that those who see clearly the effects of what you say and do “do not understand that morality has an objective basis”. Objectivity can be nothing other than authentic subjectivity: “why is it that you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but don't consider the beam that is in your own eye?”

Terry Laidler
December 1, 2006

Terry Laidler is a member of the Victorian Ministerial Advisory Committee on Gay and Lesbian Health

Blessings on a week in which we might be more aware of the beam that is in our own eye ahead of the speck that is in our brother’s.

Penny Edman






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