Dialogue on the Article- “Pastoral Care of the Queer Person: Questions for the Synod”

reach-out copy

I wrote the article “Pastoral Care of the Queer Person: Questions for the Synod” and received the comment “This whole thing is painfully vague.”  I was a bit tired of the negative comments I was receiving from those who obviously hadn’t read what I wrote and so I responded in somewhat of a snarky manner, but it turned into a good discussion about the subject.  I felt like it’s worth posting because it’s relevant to the overall discussion…


Daniel: This whole thing is painfully vague.


I’m sorry you found my writing so painful. I’m not sure what you mean by vague. I don’t think there is anything vague about the statistics and research I presented of the disproportionate amount of homeless queer youth on our streets. If you notice the title of this piece you will see that it says “questions for the synod”, not answers for the synod. I never suggested that I had the answers for them, rather I presented the data about the homeless queer youth I’ve worked with for years. I’m suggesting we explore ways to reach out to these “throw away” kids, as well as the queer adults. I’m suggesting, just like Cardinal Dolan did, that we listen to people.

I realize you said the “whole thing is painfully vague”, but if you could be more specific I might be able to clarify something you have a question about.


Daniel:  Well, here I am and I am listening to you. If your point is that the LGBTQ community has suffered, then you made the point well, especially viz the homelessness. But you focus, strangely enough, on the Synod on the Family as a source for solutions. Now I have never read your writing before with the exception of this post, so I don’t know where you stand, so that’s my disclaimer there. But when you write this: “How can the Church follow Christ’s example? What do queer people want and need to feel welcomed and supported in the Church where they may find him?” I feel that you have very specific answers here. Since you work with such groups, surely you are in touch with what queer people want and what best makes them feel welcomed. But again, you, for reasons that I suspect (and I may be wrong) lay in the typical audience of this blog do not actually advance any answers. One can listen to questions all day, but without answers offered or discussion points given, there is no point in listening. Instead, I feel like the whole point has been obfuscated.

You pretty clearly allude that the marriage debate is neither here nor there in regards to this question especially since you seem to recognize that the Church will not actually change on that point. I am not saying you are challenging Church teaching. You have been very good at not doing so. But vague suggestions about listening and being open are little more than clichés and platitudes, and that puts me off because you had an opportunity to make some really good points but chose not to. Looking to Jesus is not an actual proposal. Saying, “Forgive LGBT and treat them as you would any other sinner, because you also are a sinner and probably just as bad as anyone else, so only offer correction in the same context as you would any other sinner” is much clearer. That at least, has been my approach, and it has worked well.

This line: “What do they hope for from the Church, and how is the Church failing those hopes, thus contributing to a sense of hopelessness?” confused me. There is only one thing to hope in the Church and that is hope for salvation. If you’re trying to get something else out of it, then you’re probably having trouble with faith too.


Thank you for taking the time to elaborate because now I can address your questions more constructively. This is my first time writing for a Catholic forum… and to be honest, I tend to avoid Catholic blogs and media when it comes to this topic… particularly the dreaded comment box which is often full of such hate. Last night when I responded to your comment and another comment, I think the comments on my article were getting to me a bit. But allow me to respond to the questions you raised.

I’m a social worker and the writing I tend to do is generally within secular forums related to poverty and homelessness. Within that forum I tend to address the importance of faith communities though because I see the connection. The unique thing about faith communities is that they teach about the value of people and human dignity. Not to get too far off the subject, but in our culture ones value is directly related to how much they contribute to the ‘system’. The poor and marginalized have very little value in our culture, and yet the Church is radically counter culture about this… hence the importance of faith communities with this subject.

It’s not just that the LGBTQ community ‘has’ suffered, rather it’s that they are currently suffering. When working with homeless youth, my intent wasn’t to work with queer youth in particular, but it’s just who you end up working with because such a large percentage of homeless youth are queer. The focus on the Synod of the Family is intentional because a major source of social support is ones family. Queer people don’t just come out of nowhere… they come from families.

You wrote… “But when you write this: “How can the Church follow Christ’s example? What do queer people want and need to feel welcomed and supported in the Church where they may find him?” I feel that you have very specific answers here.”

I don’t really have a specific answer here. What I do know is that Christ reached out to the poor and the marginalized. I don’t think I can provide the answer, rather I think that we need to open dialogue to work on finding a better answer. What I may think is needed for someone to feel welcome may be very different from what others think is needed. I don’t think it’s a one size fits all type of issue.

My reason for raising the issue of poverty and homelessness regarding this population is because it doesn’t seem to be part of the discussions I hear/read within the Church. It’s a subject often neglected with the LGBTQ community too, but that’s beginning to shift due to the awareness being raised regarding the issue.

My suggestion about listening and being open is not meant to be vague. You provided a concrete suggestion of…

You wrote… “Saying, “Forgive LGBT and treat them as you would any other sinner, because you also are a sinner and probably just as bad as anyone else, so only offer correction in the same context as you would any other sinner” is much clearer.”

This is quite foreign to my system of thought. What you wrote sounds extremely vague to me. Forgive them for what? Offering correction is assuming they have done something wrong because they are queer… or are something wrong. I feel like it’s suggesting that we are doing something out of the ordinary to love a queer person. We can’t limit this subject to just being about a ‘sexual act’, because it’s much more complex than that. Often a sexual act is irrelevant to the subject at hand.

I hear (often, but only within the Catholic setting) that if someone is a virgin or isn’t sexually active, they AREN’T queer! Using that logic is neglecting to see the complexity of this topic. It’s neglecting to see the persons lived experience… in fact it’s attempting to negate it. Many of the homeless LGBTQ homeless youth I worked with were virgins and/or not sexually active. Many were forced to engage in survival sex after ending up homeless. I’m not saying it was rare to find sexually active queer teens, but that’s common behavior for teens in general.

I was an HIV test counselor and a big part of that counseling entails getting people to speak openly and in detail about their sexual activity… so you can educate them on what puts them at risk for HIV. Talk about a learning experience! This experience gave me a new insight into the relationship aspect of sex… particularly with gay men and transgender individuals. We would speak about their sexual activity, but that was such a small aspect of their actions. It starts long before the sex part. And although I wasn’t in a role like a religious or anything, they would share about their longing for love with me. The conversations were so honest and raw. I wouldn’t judge them… and I think they could sense that because people really opened up with me. So when I’m talking about this stuff not just being about sex, I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has talked a lot about sex with queer people.

I wasn’t even Catholic at the time, but the subject of God came up a lot. I think the experience of being an outcast makes people have a deep longing for a connection with God. Now that I’m Catholic (and my friends have seen it hasn’t turned me into a “judgmental anti-gay person”) my friends ask me about this stuff a lot. They are very leery of the Church though… and I don’t blame them! They sure love Pope Francis though. And not because they think he’s changing the teachings. None of my friends think he’s changing the teachings… he’s just ‘seeing’ queer people. That’s big!

You wrote…. “There is only one thing to hope in the Church and that is hope for salvation. If you’re trying to get something else out of it, then you’re probably having trouble with faith too.

Once again, this is foreign to my system of thought. Yes, there is hope in the Church for salvation, but it’s not limited to that. Hope is a major factor here. We need to work as a community to help each other as we struggle with hope. Pope Francis expressed this well in an interview when he said…

“…“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

“…Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent. The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”

“…We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

“…A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

Listen to what people are saying beneath the hurt and anger. They need to let that hurt and anger out to get to the real issue. Be present to them and remind them of one very important thing they NEED to hear… that they are Beloved!

I ask every queer Catholic the question… “Why are you still here? You could go to another faith community that has different teachings… so WHY are you here?” Without fail… every single time… I am given the same answer. The Eucharist! And that’s the same reason I am here… it’s why I became Catholic! It’s why I stay! When it comes to spiritual direction the thing that has been most consistent from my spiritual director is to direct (at times re-direct) my focus to the Eucharist. My list of reasons for leaving the Church is MUCH longer than my list for staying, but the Eucharist trumps them all. I hear the same from queer Catholics. So rather than trying to change their opinion about something, just listen to them, be present to them, show them love… and allow the Holy Spirit to work within them. Seems like people don’t give Him enough credit to work within people. It’s not our job to change people, it’s our job to love people.


Daniel:  Thank you for your very generous reply! I think upon your elaboration, I find that we probably do not actually disagree but rather find ourselves employing different emphasis given our very different situations. You see, I work in Youth Ministry at a parish so I am looking at this from a very different perspective. Nevertheless, I am glad I got to see yours!

In regards to my comment about forgiveness, i meant in the case of someone who comes to me as actively participating in homosexual acts, rather than someone who is merely SSA. I think on some level, I will always be slightly uncomfortable with SSA, but just the orientation does not and has never barred me from making associations and bonds personally. I hope I have made the distinction for when you said : “I feel like it’s suggesting that we are doing something out of the ordinary to love a queer person.” It is not out of the ordinary to show love and charity to a sinner but given today’s culture, it is new to do so for one who is queer. http://www.arlingtondiocese.org/offices/courage.aspx

That’s an outreach program that I am very supportive of in my diocese. It does not try to change anyone, but rather encourages them to live the Christian life as best as they can, just like anyone else.

Anyway, I think that it would have been good if you had included these clarifications somehow, especially given the, er, kind of responses you are receiving, but I get that that is not always possible. I thank you for your piece and your reply. I wish you the best in your work!

Peace, Daniel


Daniel,

I’m glad I was able to clarify my perspective a bit more. I’m still sorting out how to communicate my perspective effectively… and this was my first attempt at articulating it in this forum so I’m very aware that adjustments need to be made. The responses I’ve received have been somewhat surprising… although it shouldn’t be I guess because I know how comment boxes are. What I’m finding to be a challenge is that most people seem to want to start the discussion by focusing on a sexual act, but I feel like that’s putting the cart before the horse.

To accurately assess a situation we need to consider the many different aspects and factors. I was asked to write something ‘informational’ about queer homelessness and poverty. Since the general population of queer youth is only 3-5%, it should be quite shocking that up to 40% of the overall homeless youth population is LGBTQ! And yet people don’t seem to want to even consider this. One comment even suggested it’s “non-sequitur”.

As you can see I tend to get a bit wordy in my writing (that’s an understatement!)… and so it was a challenge for me to address this complex issue in the limited space of an article. I could have taken a number of different approaches to the subject and addressed countless factors, but I wanted to focus on presenting the data related to homelessness, poverty, abuse, and marginalization experienced. This needs to be part of the discussion.

Does this help to better follow my system of though when writing this article? Part of the “getting to know us” requires exploring what this population is experiencing. This is just the beginning though. I can’t provide the ‘answers’ people seem to want to read in an article, but that’s because it’s not that simple. It’s a process. This process needs to begin by listening. The questions I presented in the article were genuine, not loaded. We need to have a dialogue… like the one you and I are having now. It’s not about challenging the teachings… it’s about exploring how we can more effectively support those in our community.

You work in Youth Ministry in the parish so I am happy you are trying to understand my perspective because the kids I’ve worked with often start there. We need to discuss this because we, as a Church, need to find a more effective way to connect and support the youth there so they don’t end up becoming one of the statistics I’ve mentioned. It’s imperative to understand that these kids suffer greatly and it can be a death sentence for them without support… they are 4 times more likely to commit suicide.

I’m familiar with Courage… it seem to be the ministry LGBTQ folks are referred to within the Church. I’m glad some people have felt welcomed and supported through this ministry. I must admit… I have reservations about it because the fact that it’s a 12 Step model is unusual to me. I see how that could be fitting for someone dealing with a sexual addiction or disease, but it seems unusual to me that this is the model for LGBTQ people in general. This is one of the topics people seem to want to get into heated debates about, so I will leave it be because I don’t want this to detract from the subject I’m presenting.

I feel like some assume that secular outreach and support to LGBTQ people is in direct opposition with the way the Church could offer support. It makes sense that some would assume this being that the ministry in the Church is a 12 Step model… the focus is centered on a sexual act. My experience working with LGBTQ homeless youth had little to do with sex. The focus was on food, clothing, housing, medical care, counseling, education, job placement, etc…. social support. This is the focus for support when it comes to the ‘housies’ too (aka. non-homeless queer youth)… it’s needed support due to their lived experience. A lot of the support entails listening… it’s as simple as that.

The aspect related to a sexual act is education around HIV/SDI prevention. Too many of our youth continue to be contracting HIV/AIDS. It’s nonsense to think service providers would be encouraging sexual activity (unless the service provider is an idiot!)… especially since they are working hard to address the negative impact sex can have. So much of the sexual activity these kids have experienced was as a victim of abuse (not that made them queer, rather due to the fact that they are queer). It’s just more complex than what many assume.

I don’t know how I can communicate the lived experience so people can understand. I don’t know how to convey the heartbreaking stories of the thousands of youth I’ve worked with… at least in a way that people could hear it. This challenge is extremely disheartening for me at times. It breaks my heart to see queer people being stigmatized or pushed away from the Church… especially because I know what an awesome gift I was given to be drawn to the Church. Maybe it will take hearing the stories for themselves. There are some videos out there, but I feel like many will miss the message due to getting distracted by the messenger. Maybe they would be able to hear it if EWTN presented the stories. I don’t really know. But we need to be discussing and exploring this topic more.

Here is a video from the place I used to work here in San Francisco… in fact, I helped train the guy featured in the video and the kids in it are some of the kids I worked with for years.

Here is a video about what’s going on in NYC…

This is a creative video that presents a perspective most would never even consider about the experience of a queer kid. I don’t even want to think about the comments people will have about this one… and I won’t respond to them. It’s not to advocate anything… it’s just to consider a different perspective.

Thank you for your response Daniel. Keep up the good work with the youth ministry… our kids need the support!

Pace e bene,
Kelley

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