14Jan 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.

20 Responses

  1. Shaun

    As I’ve said elsewhere, if we want to look at reasons for despair and suicide in young men, why not ask them? I’m a young man and I’m saying changes in ‘gender roles’ where men are no longer valued and where their place in society has been replaced by young women who are often out-competing them for jobs is a major, major problem. Look at that carefully. Are we courageous enough to do this? Nobody else is. Not a word. Men are the new underclass in modern Ireland. The feminists and their agenda, in seeking to correct perceived wrongs of the past, have now begun to discriminate against who they saw as their former oppressors.

  2. Kevin

    I’d certainly hope there is the courage to go and look at what is driving young people, any and all of them, to despair and suicide, Shaun. Maybe help same young people have, restore a sense of true faith, not least in themselves as human beings – all equal as told are all – certainly in Christ. A faith which might for one or two then seek out deeper reasons for the meaning of life, maybe their lives – why it is precious and worth holding on to.

    I hope you find such people Shaun on your journey – endeavours in this. The young are crying out – for faith too in some regard – not least something of a kind of faith that gives birth to greater sense of self worth, value, self respect and community. A faith that re integrates, heals, makes wholesome once more – even ‘holy’.

    Good luck and God bless you and any/all others.

    Tragedy indeed when the young are driven to such measures.

  3. Fr John Wotherspoon

    Two items not covered in the above article:

  4. Gene Carr

    This piece begs two question: is suicide risk and other maladies a function of the condition and practice of homosexuality itself, or a consequence of past (and current) stigmatization? If these maladies are a function of the inclination has not society used stigmatization and disapproval as a means to discourage and limit damage to individuals and society. Test: is suicide just as high in very ‘liberal’ milieus as it is in more ‘conservative’ milieus? The answer is apparently yes it is. Back to square one.

  5. Shaun

    Thank you Kevin for your words of encouragement. I have spoken to many young people about faith and there is great desire in them for God, and great openness and sincerity. I’ve prayed with young people too, and it is a great privilage to see their faith. I would like to offer something of my own experience. I, as a young man, have in the past, on many occasions, been despairing and suicidal. Thank God I never did anything in order to work towards such a goal. However, before I ‘found God’ – or He found me! – I was closer to despair. I find now that, no matter how bad things might get, or seem, I know that there is a God in heaven Who loves me completely. I know that His grace IS sufficient for me, and that he who has God, as the saint said, has everything. There is great consolation in this. Even if all is lost (which it isn’t) in an earthly sense, there is still God Who is everything! How could one despair if this is one’s belief? If the light of faith is out, then there is only darkness, and so much darkness, but it need not be like this. I find a tremendously consoling message, attributed to Mother Teresa, in the words of JESUS to the soul, all souls, especially those in despair. This, to me, is the message of the Gospel: there is a God in heaven Who loves you! Read it here: http://www.mcpriests.com/03_I_thirst_PrayerEN.htm

  6. Con Carroll

    Was anyone listening to RTE radio, Wednesday 15 january, 2014, about gay clergy (on Sean o Rourke). In the year of 2014 in the catholic church in the Republic of Ireland, no one person who is openly gay within the Catholic clergy. One thought that the day of witch hunting was over. It says a lot about been open and brotherhood acceptance.
    If one were to stand on the streets of the Capital, ask people what is their opinion about men ordained within the Catholic church who are gay, we can be assured that many people would be more concerned about paying bill on their homes, holding on to their employment

  7. Bob Hayes

    Suicide is always tragic and the rise in suicides (and suicide attempts) amongst young people is deeply worrying. This article, however, creates hypotheses that tell us more about the author’s agenda than about the many and complex factors that may lead young people to self-harm and/or suicide. This article is about the author’s wish to change the Church and it will contribute nothing to saving young lives.
    Firstly, despite what the above article implies, the only reference to sexual orientation in the research findings of the RCSI report states: ‘We also found that being of a minority sexual orientation was associated with mental ill-health among young adults’. (S 6.2.6, p. 37) Nothing more regarding sexual orientation, although the same section of the report noted other factors: ‘We found that experiences of family discord, intimate relationship abuse and stress related to death, health, work and relationships were implicated in young people’s risk of experiencing a mental disorder’.
    Lest anyone feels the urge to claim that the Church and her teaching on homosexuality might contribute to despair amongst vulnerable youngsters, please remember:
    a) Irish people, especially the young, have been deserting the Church in droves for several decades;
    b) The Church is peripheral (or irrelevant) to many Irish people;
    c) Very few young Catholics will have read or be familiar with the CDF’s ‘Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons’.
    It strikes me as very sad that the tragedy of youth suicide and self-harm is being used as a vehicle to pursue so-called ‘reform’ of Tradition.
    If we really care – at a secular level – about young people’s mental health, we should be speaking-up about alcohol misuse (the RCSI report notes that by 24 years 75% will have embarked on binge drinking), family breakdown, abusive relationships, stress related to bereavement, (un)employment and the pressures of living in a society that worships celebrity and consumerism.
    And most of all we should welcome young people in our worship and our churches – not as a special interest group, ‘yoof’ – but the same as each and every member of the People of God: equal in the sight of God.

  8. Shaun

    Bob, that was a very reasoned response. I had been thinking similar things but had not the wherewithal to express it so eloquently. Good points Gene also. I should say, as an extension of Bob’s piece, in today’s world, young men are far more self-conscious than men of the previous generations. Whereas women have been preoccupied with their appearance for some time now, especially under the influence of women’s magazines which promote the ‘ideal figure’, increasingly, we see that today, young men are more concerned about appearance and body image, in extreme cases resulting in anorexia, or body dysmorphic disorder, seen in cases of men who pursue body-building to the extreme (and this especially popular in the gay community, where youth and virility are prized). I do believe the rise of men’s magazines and the insidious world of internet pornography is the cause of so much of this modern day suffering, unprecedented in the history of the human race. Young men today have, for one reason or another, a profound sense of not being ‘good enough’ – as men. I know I do not speak solely for myself. The mass media has a massive influence on our young people and so much of it is negative and very damaging. I also believe we are seeing in the brokenness the working out of ‘the father wound’, a problem since the time of Adam, but especially pronounced in this modern world, fixated as it is on technology, lust, power, and the mass media and e-communications which creates a super-web of iniquity, entrapping so many who come into contact with it!

  9. Joe O'Leary

    Fr Wotherspoon, I think you are greatly damaging your ministry by your double denial of the human reality of gay folk (in your claim that gayness can be changed and in your reduction of gayness to isolated physical acts). Is it any wonder that young people have concluded that we clerics have nothing of value to say about the sexual dimensions of human life?

  10. Shaun

    I just read Fr. Wotherspoon’s article. It is very simple and informative. He does hit the nail on the head about the elephant in the room. For all the talk about gay rights and marriage and so on, nobody (in polite circles anyway) actually addresses the acts involved. It reminds me of the abortion issue: lots of ‘pro-choice’ people talk about abortion rights, women’s rights, right to choose etc… but hardly any of them have the guts to come out and describe abortion or even tolerate others to talk about it and describe it. Hence the US-based ‘Priests for Life’ campaign ‘Is this what you mean by abortion?’ whereby they take the elephant out of the cage and present it, describing what abortion is and does to the unborn. Likewise, we need to, carefully and prudently obviously, bring the homosexual elephant out of the room and perhaps shine the light of day on these acts so they may be seen as they really are. Obviously great care and discernment is necessary so as not to present occasions of sin and to be prudent in speech. How this is to be done in the light of Christ and the good of souls I have no idea, but we need to get beyond rhetoric and show how depraved and injurious homosexual acts really are, and how damaging they are to the body, soul, mind, and salvation of men.

  11. Joe O'Leary

    No sexual act is “depraved and injurious” if it is an expression of love within a loving relationship. This fetishism of acts and holy horror of “buggery” is the reason why Ireland was so disgracefully late in decriminalizing homosexuality. Such atomized pseudo-morality that ignores human rights and human welfare is being recycled again by the opponents of gay marriage, which is why they are losing the argument so massively.

  12. Shaun

    Joe, in 2000 years of Catholic Tradition, can you present any consistent Church teaching that homosexual acts are permitted? Can you show me the writings of any Church Father or Saint or Pope or Bishop who wrote that they were ok? Can you tell me why you seem willing to ignore the biological realities outlined in detail by medical persons on the dangers and injurious nature of homosexual acts as opposed to normal male-female sexual intercourse?

  13. Bob Hayes

    Joe (no. 11) ‘No sexual act is “depraved and injurious” if it is an expression of love within a loving relationship’.
    Is that so Joe?
    So the sexual acts between a married man and his lover (behind the back of his wife) are not ‘“depraved and injurious” if it is an expression of love within a loving relationship’?
    Polygamous sexual relations are not ‘“depraved and injurious” if it is an expression of love within a loving relationship’?
    Incestuous sexual relations are not ‘“depraved and injurious” if it is an expression of love within a loving relationship’?
    Is this what you are really saying Joe?

  14. Joe O'Leary

    Bob Hayes, you illustrate my point well. The repertory of sexual acts available to an adulterous or incestuous couple is identical with that available to those in a genuinely loving relationship. It is not the acts as such but the context that makes the difference.

    The “biological realities” Shaun refers to seem to be just a panic brewed up by culture war ideologists. I have never met a male gay couple or indeed any gay male who was bothered by the terrible medical dangers the ideologists pretend to be concerned about. The health benefits of stable gay unions, on the other hand, are manifest in the psychological wellbeing of gay couples and in the protection such relationships provide against the well-known health hazards of promiscuous sex.

    The argument from authority is pretty feeble here. Can you find any church Father, any Pope, any Council who says anything as positive about the Jews as what we find in Nostra Aetate 4? There is such a thing as Development in the church’s thinking, and as in the cases of slavery, usury and much marriage legislation the Church is being influenced here also by the best thinking of the times in which it finds itself. We now see clearly that the ideas that Jews are blind, carnal, condemned by God to perpetual servitude, are simply benighted and odious, though as children we prayed for “the perfidious Jews” without batting an eyelid. Likewise we are coming to see that the discourse on gays of church figures like St John Chrysostom and St Peter Damian is riddled with lethal blind spots. We have that discourse played back to us daily by homophobic African preachers, and they hold a mirror up to what we have been, and what some of us still are. Happily thousands upon thousands of gay couples, both female and male, have allowed love to lead them and have built constructive and creative lives which edify all who know them. That is the way change happens, the way humanity progresses. Even senior churchmen are beginning to get the message, and to understand that what is offered here is a moment of grace and conversion.

  15. Shaun

    Joe @14, that’s situation ethics, condemned by the Church. Some acts are just wrong always and everywhere.

    The Jews, like all men, have to accept JESUS as Lord and Saviour in order to come to salvation. Their covenant has indeed been revoked despite what some high Churchmen might say. Nostra Aetate and other Vatican II statements are pastoral in nature, hence they’re concerned more with how we get on with Jews in daily life for example, rather than dealing with doctrine which has not changed; as we know, VII was a purely pastoral council, yet some treat it as a super-dogma.

  16. Joe O'Leary

    “Some high churchmen” seems to mean St Paul and Vatican II: Nostra Aetate. 4.”The church cannot forget that it received the revelation of the Old Testament by way of that people with whom God in his inexpressible mercy established the ancient covenant. Nor can it forget that it draws nourishment from that good olive tree onto which the wild olive branches
    of the Gentiles have been grafted (see Rom 11:17-24)…The apostle Paul maintains that the Jews remain very dear to God, for the sake of the patriarchs, since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or
    the choice he made…. It is true that the church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from holy scripture.”

  17. Joe O'Leary

    “some acts are just wrong always and everywhere” — perhaps, but it is not so easy to define these acts. Killing is always wrong, as a negative thing, yet it is morally justified in some cases. The “morality of the sacrosanct semen” denounced by Yves Congar served as a black and white rule for confessors but began to break down with the massive rejection of the contraception ban; and it is further breaking down with the valorization of gay unions. The church handles these problems pastorally, applying equity and epiekeia, and recognizing that objectively immoral acts can be diminished in guilt, inculpable, or subjectively defensible. I suggest a Development in the direction of recognizing the good in other sexual acts than the approved marital act open to the transmission of life.

  18. Paddy Ferry

    Very well explained, Joe, @14 and 16. Your learned patience in this debate is truly admirable. We need more like minded people to support you on this site.

  19. Bob Hayes

    Joe (no. 14), you seem to have overlooked my question. You stated (at 13) ‘No sexual act is “depraved and injurious” if it is an expression of love within a loving relationship’. If people engage in sexual activity that is, for example, adulterous or incestuous, do you view it as morally acceptable so long as ‘it is an expression of love within a loving relationship’? Do you believe that all consenting relationships are inherently moral?

  20. Joe O'Leary

    Bob Hayes, my point simply was that one cannot judge the quality or the moral standing of a relationship by inspecting the sexual acts that may occur within it. The immorality of adultery and incest is established on other grounds, having more to do with justice than with the “morality of the sacrosanct semen” (Congar).

    On gay marriage, I think the case for it should be based on concrete premises — on how it contributes to the Common Good. I think it behoves all of us to think of the Common Good in all moral deliberations, as the ancient Greeks and Romans did.