WASHINGTON (October 1, 1997) -- Parents who learn that their teenage or adult children have a homosexual orientation are urged to accept their children, themselves, and Church teaching on human dignity, the U.S. Bishops stress in Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers.
The message, which is self-described as an "outstretched hand," was made public September 30, and approved by the Bishops' Administrative Board at its annual Fall meeting, September 9-11.
It was developed by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' (NCCB) Committee on Marriage and Family, which represents the Bishops on marriage and family issues. Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien of Phoenix, chairs the Committee.
The message speaks to parents directly and notes that if they learn that their child may have a homosexual orientation, they can face a challenging, confusing time marked by such emotions as anger, relief, guilt and fear. Because of that, the Bishops said, Always Our Children aims "to offer loving support, reliable guidance, and recommendations for ministries suited to your needs and those of your child."
The message also addresses specific suggestions to priests and pastoral ministers about how to assist and counsel families and homosexual persons.
The Bishops underscored the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that states that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity." With the document, "the Bishops translated that message into a useful form for parents and families," Bishop O'Brien said.
Always Our Children develops the theme of acceptance in three parts. It notes that parents need to accept themselves and their own struggle; to accept and love their child; and to accept God's revelation about human dignity and sexuality as a prerequisite to understanding homosexuality in a person's life.
The Bishops urged parents not to break off contact with a child and warned that rejection can lead to substance abuse or suicide.
"Your child may need you and the family now more than ever," they said. "He or she is still the same person. This child, who has always been God's gift to you, may now be the cause of another gift: your family becoming more honest, respectful, and supportive."
The Bishops urge parents to seek "appropriate help" for themselves and for their child, but note that a person's right to choose or refuse therapies must be respected.
"Look for a therapist who has an appreciation of religious values and who understands the complex nature of sexuality," the Bishops said. "Such a person should be experienced at helping people discern the meaning of early sexual behaviors, sexual attractions, and sexual fantasies in ways that lead to more clarity and self-identity. In the course of this, however, it is essential for you to remain open to the possibility that your son or daughter is struggling to understand and accept a basic homosexual orientation."
The statement did not enter into the debate about the origin of homosexuality but simply stated that "multiple factors" seem to account for a homosexual orientation.
"Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose," they said.
In a section summarizing Church teaching, the Bishops emphasize the dignity of every person created in God's image and said that the virtue of chastity is a way of respecting personal dignity. The Bishops urged heterosexual and homosexual persons to cooperate with God's grace in order to live a chaste life.
This is the "higher standard of loving" taught by Christ, they said.
The Bishops also noted that living and loving chastely means that sexual intercourse must occur only within marriage between a man and a woman and added that this teaching pertains not only to homosexual relationships, but to pre-marital and extra-marital relationships as well.
The pastoral message highlights friendship, which, the Bishops said, is "a way of loving" and one that is "essential to healthy human development, as well as one of the richest possible human experiences." It also said that friendship "outside of genital sexual involvement" should be an integral part of a homosexual person's life.
The Bishops said the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons are to be respected and defended.
"All of us must strive to eliminate any form of injustice, oppression, or violence against them," they said.
The Bishops added that "all homosexual persons have a right to be welcomed into the community, to hear the Word of God, and to receive pastoral care." They also noted that persons in public roles of service and leadership in the Church, whether they be homosexual or heterosexual, should live lives consonant with Church teaching.
Always Our Children concludes with "pastoral recommendations" offered to parents as well as a separate set for priests and pastoral ministers. Parents are counseled to stay in a loving relationship with their child while recognizing that their acceptance "does not have to include approving all related attitudes and behavioral choices." They are also advised to seek out education and support groups and to remember that "you can only be responsible for your own beliefs and actions, not those of your adult children."
In speaking about the document, Bishop O'Brien noted the difficult position of many parents of gay and lesbian children.
"Parents of homosexual children need the Church," Bishop O'Brien said. "So often they can find themselves in a state of isolation and confusion, drifting to the margins of Church and community life. We think this pastoral message will offer them the encouragement and the tools they need to connect with God's love through the spiritual resources of the Church and with other parents. We would like them to experience the grace present at this moment in their family's life."
Bishop O'Brien said that preparation of the document took place over several years and in consultation with experts, pastoral ministers, parents, and the Bishops' Committees on Doctrine and Pastoral Practices.
Formal publication of the document in English and Spanish will be through the U.S. Catholic Conference Office for Publishing and Promotion Services.