Q. My daughter is gay and has been with her partner for more than 10 years. Both are cradle Catholics and are practicing today. They used to belong to a parish where the priest was wonderful and baptized their son in the church, but since then, they have moved and that priest has been transferred to a different parish quite a distance away.
It is time now for their son to begin religion education classes, but their fear is that he will be taught that his parents are bad and condemned to hell, as one priest said from the pulpit. They are both kind and loving girls — generous, hardworking and marvelous mothers. What advice do you think I should give them? (Columbus, Ohio)
A. I think it’s unlikely (I hope and pray it is unlikely) that your daughter and her partner will hear another priest say they are “bad and condemned to hell.” Such a statement conflicts with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which, although clearly rejecting homosexual acts as “contrary to the natural law” in No. 2357, states that people with deep-seated homosexual tendencies must be accepted with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” (No. 2358).
That approach gained further credibility in July 2013 when we famously heard Pope Francis answer a reporter’s question about homosexual persons with this: “Who am I to judge?” As I write this column, the Synod of Bishops on the family is wrestling with crafting balanced language to honor both of those principles: biblically based disapproval of homosexual activity but compassionate welcome to homosexual persons.
(Editor’s note: The original section heading in the synod’s midterm report – “welcoming homosexuals” — was changed to “pastoral attention to persons with homosexual orientation” in the approved final report. It also quoted a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”)
The first priest you mentioned was certainly right to baptize your daughter’s child. (Whatever one may think of homosexual activity, no one can impute any guilt to the child.) Have your daughter talk to people in her new neighborhood, and I’m certain she will be guided to a similarly minded priest who will be happy to place the boy in a religious education program that will offer a positive experience.
Q. At what age should young people be introduced to such subjects as abortion and terrorism? I understand that we cannot shield our children forever from the harsh realities of life, but I would like to preserve their innocence for as long as we can. I raise the question because recently my daughters attended Mass with their grandparents, and the priest focused on the evil of abortion and its connection with terrorism, explaining that it is because we murder innocent babies that terrorists will continue to attack.
My daughters came back to me with some uncomfortable questions that I would have preferred to save for a time when they had both the cognitive and emotional maturity to process that information. I know that all Masses cannot be “children’s Masses,” but I do expect all Masses to be “family friendly” with regard both to language and subject matter.
How are we to teach our youth the joy of “celebrating” the Lord’s Supper when going to Mass frightens them? (Johnstown, Pennsylvania)
A. I am not opposed to the link that the priest was making. A society that does not cherish life is quick to apply violent solutions to a range of problems: warfare and terrorism to settle disputes between nations or sects; abortion to resolve unwanted pregnancies; the death penalty to show that killing people is wrong.
As always, though, the issue is how this point is made — how to do it effectively and strongly but without giving offense. I’m inclined to believe that, especially from the pulpit, less graphic is better. (There is a wide span of ages in nearly every Sunday congregation.) But it’s also true that, with the pervasiveness of the media — and you point this out — you cannot shield young people forever from harsh realities. Your daughters are privileged to have someone like you to help them process what they are learning.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.