Bishops need to accept link between traditional teaching on homosexuality and suicide risk
Mary McAleese has shone a spotlight on a culture of silence and secrecy surrounding the issue of homosexuality and the Catholic Church.This topic can no longer be shoved under the carpet of any curial office, episcopal residence or parochial house. The link between minority sexual orientation and greater risk suicide is real.
Please see the recent research findings on The Mental Health of Young People in Ireland (2013), Report of Psychiatric Epidemiology Research across Lifespan (PERL), Cannon, Coughlan, Clarke, Harley and Kelleher Dublin: Royal College of Surgeons. The key findings relevant to this discussion are in Chapter 5.1.2
- Gay, lesbian, bisexual young people four times more likely to have a diagnosable mental disorder than hetero sexual counterparts;
- Over seven times more likely to have experienced suicidal ideation, engaged in suicidal acts or exhibited mood disorder
- Incidents of self-harm ten times more likely than in heterosexual youth
In the same month (October 2013) in which this research was published, the Irish Catholic bishops published their Day for Life message. In the section ‘Care for those who are suicidal and their families’, the following points are made
- The increased incidence of suicide, especially among younger men is a matter of grave concern.
- The Church wishes to show its care for and closeness to those who, for whatever reason, believe their own lives are no longer worthwhile and are tempted to give up on life itself.
- We encourage individual Christians and parish communities to consider ways in which they can reach out and care for those around them who may be vulnerable to suicide, as well as to those who continue to suffer as a result of the suicide of someone close to them.
- We all have a role to play – a call to work together for the culture of life.
- Catholic social teaching holds up the vision that no person should ever be marginalised or set aside. All have an inherent value and worth that comes not from governments or the State, but from the very heart of God.
The Bishops’ call to reach out to those vulnerable is laudable. But how can the Church face up to the unpalatable truth ie, that Tradition may be in error regarding the nature of homosexuality?
The following examples are available on the Vatican website:
CDF Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. (1986). In Section 3 second paragraph, referring to a Declaration on Sexual Ethics (1975), it states
‘ In the discussion that followed this Declaration, however, an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder’.
This plainly wrong teaching fed into the Vatican (2005) Instruction: Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.
If the Catholic Church is to credibly uphold the vision, proclaimed above, that no person should ever be marginalised and truly believes that all have a God-given value and worth, both of these potentially harmful documents need urgent revision.
We are blessed with prophetic people who have prepared the ground for reasoned dialogue on this sensitive issue.
The bible is often used as a scriptural weapon to denounce gay people. Kieran O’Mahony, Augustinian, gave a valuable insight into Homosexuality and the Bible, in a seminar in all Hallows last summer, that could be a useful starting point for discussion. It debunked myths that have fed homophobia for centuries
Owen O’Sullivan, Capuchin, wrote a powerful piece ‘On Including Gays’ published in the Furrow in March 2010
The writings of James Alison, a Dominican theologian, deserve widespread study and consideration.
The gentle, insightful Sean Fagan, a Marist moral theologian, in response to an article by Fr. John Hanvey, called ‘From Loneliness to Belonging: Being Gay and Catholic’, wrote in a piece called ‘God’s Holy People’:
‘The ‘teaching’ on homosexuality is not a message from the Gospel but was culturally conditioned and repeated mechanically through centuries, without any input from the lived experience of homosexuals themselves, who are temples of the Holy Spirit and as close to God as the writers of Church documents. Reference to ‘constant teaching of the Church’, adds nothing to its value as teaching, mere repetition does not make it more true. Pius IX and Gregory XVI both condemned freedom of conscience as ‘sheer madness’, whereas Vatican Council II declared it a basic human right’.
There is a wonderful diversity in Creation and surely God did not make a mistake with anyone.