DETROIT (CNS) — The Archdiocese of Detroit will host an international conference this summer dedicated to exploring some of the complex challenges the Catholic Church faces in ministering to those with same-sex attraction.
The Aug. 10-12 conference at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth is titled “‘Love One Another as I Have Loved You’ — Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters With Same-Sex Attraction.”
It will be sponsored by Courage International, an apostolate that supports those with same-sex attraction in living and better understanding the church’s teachings on chastity, as well as Our Sunday Visitor and the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Open to those who minister in a pastoral setting to men and women with same-sex attraction, the conference is expected to draw 350 to 500 bishops, clergy, parish and school personnel from dioceses across the country, said David Grobbel, director of the Detroit archdiocesan Office for Marriage and Family Ministry.
“It’s high end in a sense, because there’s a lot of misnomers, misunderstandings and misperceptions about what the church teaches both from within and obviously without (the church). So we want to bring an understanding about what we teach, and it’s orthodox,” Grobbel said.
The conference also will seek to help answer some of the questions posed in the “lineamenta,” or outline, for the Oct. 4-25 synod on the family at the Vatican, especially with regard to the Catholic Church’s approach to the topic of homosexuality, Grobbel added.
Some of those questions included: “How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies?” and “What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate?”
Nearly 30 national and local speakers from a wide variety of ministries are expected to offer perspectives during the conference, from experts in Christian anthropology, natural law and Scripture, to Catholic psychologists and counselors.
Each speaker also will write a short summary article of his or her talk, which will be compiled into a book and made available to the synod fathers in Rome as a resource for the upcoming gathering. California-based Ignatius Press will publish the book, which could include two volumes and is expected to be released before the August conference.
“This conference is almost directly in relationship to (the synod),” Grobbel told The Michigan Catholic, Detroit’s archdiocesan newspaper. “They want to be able to offer resources to inform the bishops who are gathering (in Rome).”
Local speakers will include Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron; Father John Riccardo, a Plymouth pastor, who holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family; and Sacred Heart Major Seminary professors Janet Smith, Ralph Martin and Mary Healy. National speakers will include Courage executive director Father Paul Check, authors such as Msgr. Charles Pope and Deborah Savage, and Ruth Institute founder Jennifer Roback Morse.
Talks also will include personal testimonies from those who experience same-sex attraction “on how chaste friendships and the church have helped them on their journey toward chastity and sanctity.”
Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney chair of life ethics at the seminary and is serving her third term as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family, acknowledged that the church’s teachings on homosexuality can be controversial and not well understood, especially among young people.
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual attraction itself is not sinful, though homosexual actions are sinful. People with a homosexual inclination “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“It often sounds patronizing to say that those with same-sex attraction have the full dignity of all persons and that they are not alone in experiencing sexual desires that are not good — virtually every human being does,” Smith said. However, “the church’s teaching is not so hard to understand if one agrees that it is clear that sex is meant to unify the complementary bodies and souls of a male and female who are committed to each other and to the task of raising the children they conceive with each other.”
Smith said while Scripture is clear on its teachings regarding sexuality, many today view opposition to homosexuality as “a kind of prejudice or even hate.”
For the church to effectively respond in such an environment, she said, it must utilize not just sound Catholic teaching and reasoning, but the personal experience of those who have found love and redemption through the grace of chastity.
“We live in an age where personal experience is the chief source of truth for most people,” Smith said. “More and more of those who have been involved in the same-sex lifestyle are telling their stories, their stories of loneliness, alienation, confusion, promiscuity and heartbreak. For these there is a second chapter to that story, a beautiful story of having found the truth and having peace, love and acceptance in the church.”
She added that two recent films, “The Desire of the Everlasting Hills” and “The Third Way,” have been instrumental in telling those stories, and recommended their promotion by pastors and dioceses to help “engage in the conversation.”
Smith said the Courage conference would provide the opportunity to listen to a wide range of experts on Christian anthropology and sexuality, but also to individuals “who have lived it.”
“We need to learn how to listen to and love and help those with same-sex attraction; many of our speakers have done just that and are great guides,” Smith said. “And finally, of course, we want to help individual Catholics who love those with same-sex attraction be better friends to them, to help priests and parishes be more welcoming, and to serve better those who experience same-sex attraction.”
Stechschulte is managing editor of The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit.