The Easy and Ugly Labeling of Abuse Victims at the Vatican’s Synod on Young People

By Joseph Sciambra Published on October 15, 2018

The Catholic Church is in the midst of a worldwide sex abuse scandal. And yet, at the 2018 “Vatican Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” there is an effort by some within the Church to include for the first time the LGBT acronym within an official Church document. This follows the advice of those agitating for the full inclusion of LGBT Catholics into the Church, such as Jesuit priest James Martin. Martin and others believe that in order to express true compassion and sensitivity, the Church hierarchy must start addressing the LGBT community “by the name they choose.”

Same-Sex Attraction

Unfortunately, there are also forces within the Catholic Church that wish to convince those with same-sex attraction that they were born with such desires. Yet, at best, this is an overly simplistic way to explain a complex situation. It’s also an exercise in avoidance. Many other factors could at least partially determine why someone would develop a homosexual inclination.

For example, according to one study, 46 percent of homosexual men, in contrast to 7 percent of heterosexual men, reported an incident of homosexual molestation. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that a “significant” number of boys who were sexually abused by clergy later identify as “gay.” In addition, gay men who experienced childhood sexual abuse were much more likely to engage in high risk sexual behavior that then put them at a greater risk for HIV. Arguably there are those who survived sexual abuse, but later died from AIDS.

Before I left home for San Francisco, for some reason I went to a local Catholic church and spoke with a priest. At the time, I didn’t know why I was there. In hindsight, my life had been so devoid of any male influence — beyond the incessant teasing I endured at school — that I desperately wanted to hear some advice from a man. “You were born gay.” He didn’t change the perception I had of myself. My mind was already made up. I knew I was gay. Other boys had been telling me that since before I even knew what the word meant. However, the priest I spoke with didn’t know about any of that. He never asked. He didn’t know about my relationship with my father. He never asked. He also didn’t know that an adult male molested me the previous year. He never asked.

Labeling Groups

When certain clerics, bishops, and cardinals want to label an entire group of diverse individuals as gay, LGBT, or LGBTQIA etc., what do they actually know about these people? Not much. But as James Martin claims, that doesn’t really matter because those who identify as gay were simply born that way. When asked about this theory, Martin said:

Yes. Science and psychology shows that, and most people are finally coming to see that this — for mysterious reasons — is the way they are made. That’s something that’s held by almost every reputable psychologist and biologist. And the “LGBT” people I speak to have always felt that way. Part of it is accepting oneself and accepting this is the way God made you.

However, even the highly gay-affirmative American Psychological Association cannot make this claim. According to the APA:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.

Official Guidelines: You Were Born Gay

Unfortunately, Catholic LGBT ministries have already propagated the born gay theory in almost every diocese in the US, including: San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Baltimore, San Diego, Boston, San Jose, and Portland.

Yes, everyone who identifies as LGBT deserves compassion and sensitivity, but they also deserve honesty.

In the official “guidelines” from the Diocese of San Jose, with regards to “pastoral” considerations when counseling someone with same-sex attraction, priests are instructed to inform the person that they were essentially born gay. According to the document, “Diocese of San Jose Guidelines for The Catholic LGBT Ministry Council,” Catholics priests within the Diocese should “not presume any particular social or psychological analysis of sexuality in our society, except for a generally accepted premise that individuals do not choose and cannot change their sexual orientation but must understand it and integrate it into their life of faith and conscience.”

No Discussion

Such directives, if strictly adhered to by a priest, effectively neutralizes any discussion. Of course, unless they pursued specialized study or training, priests are not psychologists or therapists. But oftentimes the buried traumas of youth are only revealed through the vulnerability of some (especially men) during the Sacrament of Penance. Priests have repeatedly told me that the subject of homosexuality in males only surfaces in Confession.

Yet, the confessional is not the place for spiritual direction. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from men who are trying to live a chase life is: How can I find a good spiritual director? All I can say — “I wish you well.” And it is this lack of access to already overburdened parish priests, that I repeatedly hear as the main frustration from men who experience same-sex attraction.

Pope John Paul II

During the Soviet occupation of Poland, a young Karol Wojtyla found a way to circumvent the Communist eavesdropping at the universities. He would accompany his college students, whom they referred to stealthily as “uncle,” on various camping trips into the Polish mountainside. It was during these excursions, which included Mass and lengthy religious discussions, that the future Pope fielded more intimate questions from his students about relationships and sexuality which eventually formed the foundations for his later addresses on “the theology of the body.”

An Unlikely Friendship

When I returned to the Catholic Church in 1999, I was blessed to encounter a selfless and theologically orthodox priest who occasionally allowed me to accompany him on his daily duties: Mass at the parish, praying the Rosary with the sick in a local hospital, visits to the homebound and the elderly, the day interspersed with prayers and readings from the Liturgy of the Hours, and finishing in the afternoon with Holy Hour.

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At the time, I took for granted the friendship which developed between us. I had never had a completely healthy non-sexual relationship with another man. At first, although I liked him, I didn’t trust him. But, one day, during a conversation about my own childhood, he revealed his own difficult memories of a family torn apart by divorce. Then, I partially let me guard down.

When this priest found out about my past, it would have been easy for him to consider me as simply a gay man. But, he took the extraordinary step of getting to know me — just a little. And, that was enough. Yes, everyone who identifies as LGBT deserves compassion and sensitivity, but they also deserve honesty. I wasn’t traumatized by the truth, but I was deeply wounded by the lies — namely, that God made me gay. In reality, such a gross and reckless distortion (if I continued to believe it) could have cost me my life.

Misplaced Empathy

Out of misplaced empathy, the Synod may choose to label a large group of human beings as LGBT; although they do not fully understand the backgrounds of these beautiful souls. But one thing I am sure of — a number of people are sexual abuse survivors. Placing the LGBT acronym upon them is the easiest thing to do. It takes no effort. Therefore, the Church has failed some of them twice.

All of us have been hurt. And the kind priest who took the time to get to know me? He, too, had been hurt when he was a boy. But he had no homosexual tendencies — therefore, no one labeled him. And no one should label me … or anyone else.


Revised from a piece originally published at Republished with permission.

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