PLYMOUTH, Mich. (CNS) — Clarifying the Catholic Church’s position and preaching to those with same-sex attraction are critically important to evangelizing in today’s world, speakers said during an Aug. 10-12 conference at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth.
From defining human sexuality to reaffirming the belief that God calls us not to hate anybody and to embrace the complete person, church leaders are tasked with teaching congregations views that are becoming more and more countercultural.
During the three-day conference, “Love One Another As I Have Loved You: Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same-Sex Attraction,” a wide variety of speakers gave their perspectives on how best to discuss same-sex attraction in a constructive, informative way.
Dan Mattson, a Midwestern man who describes himself as same-sex attracted, addressed the challenges of discussing same-sex attraction with high school students. Mattson said many problems begin with a misinformed view of sex perpetuated by elements in the mainstream media.
“The reason magazines and tabloids sell is they use sex the wrong way,” Mattson said. “They use sex as a way that is not fulfilling, but it based solely on pleasure. We are committed to living a fulfilling life, which goes beyond simple pleasures.”
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Mattson said society places labels on people who experience same-sex attraction, and by creating “other” groups, mainstream culture forces people to place themselves into social boxes they might not be ready to identify with.
To combat such trends, Mattson suggested having more talks with students in middle and high school on multiple topics regarding sexuality, including chastity, homosexuality and what God is asking from his people.
“We need to have more talks in our schools, and not just one assembly where all the grades get together; different grades need different talks,” Mattson said. “We can’t just do this once a year and expect it to click; we need a series of short talks throughout the year. We also need the parents involved. Parents should be notified four weeks in advance of the talk to let them know (who’s) going to be giving the talk and what we will discuss.”
Father Timothy Christy, a priest of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, said same-sex attraction should be discussed in a parish setting, focusing on St. John Paul II’s theology of the body and how the same standards of morality and sexuality apply to everybody.
Father Christy said the biggest hurdle for the church to overcome is the false notion that it hates people with same-sex attraction, an opinion prevalent among the younger generation.
“So the question remains, how to respond with the church’s teaching to young people about same-sex attraction; it all starts with communication,” Father Christy said. “Our goal is for students to have an encounter with God and make disciples. To keep the environment a place to talk about important issues.”
Father Christy said church leaders can’t be afraid to discuss aspects of the faith that may be unpopular or seem “out of touch.”
“We need to focus on reality, and the reality is, we love God so much, we want to reach out for the truth,” Father Christy said. “The truth is God doesn’t hate gay people.”
Many speakers focused on the need to treat separately homosexual acts and people who have same-sex attraction, reaffirming the belief people should be defined by more than sexuality.
Father John Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, said that to begin preaching on homosexuality, the audience itself must be ready to discuss the topic.
“Despite how many times Catholics say, ‘God loves me,’ they still don’t know it,” Father Riccardo said.
“Until people have been warmed by the love of God, it is just cold steel — it will not bend,” he said, echoing themes from Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s recent pastoral letter on preaching. “When the word of God is proclaimed, it must be done so it wins the audience with God’s love, and from there, you can begin to preach.”
Father Riccardo emphasized that God hates sin because it’s harmful to us.
“When we discuss morality, it’s a matter of faith,” Father Riccardo said. “It’s a matter of faith in the belief that God knows what is best for us and he is looking out for our best interest.
“I have a difficult time with this when talking about homosexuality with eighth-graders, who keep asking me this question, ‘Why does the church hate gay people?’ I tell them we don’t, the church hates sin.”
Father Riccardo added that the church doesn’t single out homosexual behavior as a greater sin than others.
“It’s not some disorder for a few; it’s not hatred,” he said. “We are all disordered and we preach against homosexuality because it’s not good for you.”
Father Riccardo emphasized that the topics of homosexuality and morality cannot be adequately addressed in just one homily, and he reiterated that the message is about proclaiming God’s love for us and God wanting us to avoid things that are harmful.
“The Gospel is extraordinary news — God loves us so much he would die for us,” Father Riccardo said. “The Christian life is like a stained-glass window. On the outside, it looks dull and blase. But from the inside, it’s extraordinary and beautiful.”
Meloy writes for The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit.