Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care
Issued by USCCB, November 14, 2006. Copyright © 2006, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.
Given the general principles of Church teaching just enunciated, the following guidelines for pastoral care emerge.
- As baptized members of the Catholic community, persons with a homosexual inclination continue to look to the Church for a place where they may live in authentic human integrity and holiness of life. Being welcomed into and participating in their local faith community is the foundation of spiritual support that the Church offers to them. Full and active participation is encouraged.35 Participation in a worshiping Catholic community is a support for living a life of chastity and integrity and an encouragement to an ongoing personal conversion.
- Essential to the success of ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination will be the support and leadership of the bishop and other pastoral leaders. A welcoming stance of Christian love by the leadership and the community as a whole is essential for this important work. This is particularly important because more than a few persons with a homosexual inclination feel themselves to be unwelcome and rejected.
- Persons who experience same-sex attraction and yet are living in accord with Church teaching should be encouraged to take an active role in the life of the faith community. However, the Church has a right to deny roles of service to those whose behavior violates her teaching. Such service may seem to condone an immoral lifestyle and may even be an occasion of scandal.
- Special care ought to be taken to ensure that those carrying out the ministry of the Church not use their position of leadership to advocate positions or behaviors not in keeping with the teachings of the Church. They must not belong to groups that oppose Church teaching. It is not sufficient for those involved in this ministry to adopt a position of distant neutrality with regard to Church teaching.36
- For some persons, revealing their homosexual tendencies to certain close friends, family members, a spiritual director, confessor, or members of a Church support group may provide some spiritual and emotional help and aid them in their growth in the Christian life. In the context of parish life, however, general public self- disclosures are not helpful and should not be encouraged.
- Sad to say, there are many persons with a homosexual inclination who feel alienated from the Church. Outreach programs and evangelization efforts ought to be mindful of such persons. In areas where there are larger concentrations of homosexual persons, individuals may profitably be dedicated solely to outreach ministry to them; in other areas, ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination should be included as part of overall evangelization efforts.
- Church policies should explicitly reject unjust discrimination and harassment of any persons, including those with a homosexual inclination. Procedures should be in place to handle complaints.
- Catechesis ought to reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular. “Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons.”37 In tone, catechesis ought to be welcoming yet challenging, charitable but firm in the truth.
- The work of catechesis is exercised first in the family by parents of children. The Church should assist parents as the first teachers of their children regarding sexual and affective development as well as their children’s understanding of divine and natural law in matters of human sexuality.
- Catechesis starts with the formation of those who so generously engage in this essential ministry. Care should be taken in their selection and training; individuals who do not support Church teaching should not serve in this ministry. Sponsoring training days and days of reflection conducted by theologically sound and pastorally wise ministers is an important component of this formation.
- Moral choices ought to be based on sound moral teachings. Ongoing catechesis and conscience formation for persons who experience same-sex attraction should be an important part of this Catholic ministry, counteracting some prevalent societal mores and providing the basis for making informed moral judgments.
- The Church’s teaching in its fullness ought to be presented by the clergy especially from the pulpit and in other appropriate venues. Catechesis should also involve the entire parish community. Ignorance of the fullness of Church teaching is often the greatest barrier to an effective ministry to persons with a homosexual inclination. Catechesis in the parish should also teach the virtues that are needed to live out the call to chastity, e.g., selfless love, fortitude, temperance, etc.
- Catechesis for the community ought to denounce unjustly discriminatory and violent behaviors against homosexual persons and to seek to correct misinformation that can lead to these behaviors. Parish social justice ministries integrally formed in the moral and social teachings of the Church may be one venue for promoting just behaviors and opposing unjust discrimination towards persons with a homosexual inclination.
- Local bishops should oversee material used for catechesis to ensure that the information contained is accurate and that nothing is contrary to Church teaching.
- Catechesis, especially for young people, should explain the true nature and purpose of human sexuality and should promote the virtue of chastity, which has been both little understood and little valued in contemporary society.38
Sacraments and Worship
- Catholics who are living in accord with the Church’s moral teachings are invited and encouraged to participate fully and regularly in the sacramental life of the Church. The importance of frequent reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, for one’s ongoing strengthening and sanctification should be emphasized.
- The Christian life is a progressive journey toward a deepening of one’s discipleship of Christ. People do not all move forward at the same pace, nor do they always proceed in a direct line toward their goal. Those who stumble along the way should be encouraged to remain in the community and to continue to strive for holiness through conversion of life. In this regard, frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is of great importance. Ongoing, sound spiritual direction is of significant help.
- The Church recognizes that “marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.”39 Consequently, the Church does not support so-called same-sex “marriages” or any semblance thereof, including civil unions that give the appearance of a marriage. Church ministers may not bless such unions or promote them in any way, directly or indirectly.
- Similarly, the Church does not support the adoption of children by same-sex couples since homosexual unions are contrary to the divine plan.40
- Baptism of children in the care of same-sex couples presents a serious pastoral concern. Nevertheless, the Church does not refuse the Sacrament of Baptism to these children, but there must be a well founded hope that the children will be brought up in the Catholic religion.41 In those cases where Baptism is permitted, pastoral ministers should exercise prudential judgment when preparing baptismal ceremonies. Also, in preparing the baptismal record, a distinction should be made between natural parents and adoptive parents.42
- Many virtuous people who experience same-sex attraction are ardently striving to live their faith within the Catholic community so as not to fall into the lifestyle and values of a “gay subculture.” The Church’s ministries are to encourage them to persevere in their efforts through teaching, guidance, and fellowship. Primary among these is spiritual direction from a priest.
- Young people, in particular, need special encouragement and guidance, since the best way of helping young people is to aid them in not getting involved in homosexual relations or in the subculture in the first place, since these experiences create further obstacles.
- There are particular temptations for those who experience homosexual attractions. For some, these attractions may be short-lived or situational, but for others, they may be part of a lifelong experience.43 Pastoral support and counseling services ought to be made readily available for persons who experience such attractions and for the families to which they belong.
- It can be helpful for persons who find themselves with homosexual attractions to gather together in mutual understanding and support. This can be particularly the case because persons with a homosexual inclination may feel “different,” which can lead to isolation and alienation, which are risk factors for an unhealthy life, including unchaste behaviors. Support groups, noted for their adherence to Church teaching, for persons who experience same-sex attraction continue to be an important part of Church ministries and are to be encouraged.44 Persons with a homosexual inclination should not be encouraged to define themselves primarily in terms of their sexual inclination, however, or to participate in “gay subcultures,” which often tend to promote immoral lifestyles. Rather, they should be encouraged to form relationships with the wider community.
- Pastoral and psychological care for adolescents who struggle with sexual attraction issues is of particular importance. Adolescents with homosexual attractions can be at serious risk for personal difficulties, including suicidal tendencies and attempts as well as enticements to promiscuity and exploitation by adults. Every effort should be made to ensure that adolescents have access to age-appropriate professional counseling services that respect Church teaching in matters of human sexuality.
- Professionals providing counseling services for persons who experience same-sex attraction and the families to which they belong should be chosen carefully to ensure that they uphold the Church’s understanding of the human person. Efforts should be made to identify and publicize those services that conduct their work in a manner that accords with Church teaching.
- Pastoral support should include care for people who become ill with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
- The discovery that a family member has homosexual tendencies can pose a serious concern for parents, siblings, and spouses. The Church reaches out to them, seeking to help ensure that the bonds of love among the family members remain intact. A helpful way of addressing this issue is through the formation of support groups for individuals and families, where they can also learn the full truth of the Church’s teaching regarding the human dignity of persons with a homosexual inclination and the moral principles regarding chastity that lead to the fullness of authentic human living.
- Other organizations in our society devoted to persons with a homosexual inclination can be of support—or a hindrance—in living a chaste and holy life. Each should be evaluated on its own merits using Church teachings as a guide and participation should be encouraged or discouraged accordingly, as appropriate.