David Browne, Secretary of the BBC Lesbian and Gay Group, looks at the recent letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on gay rights and finds it misunderstands homosexuality SOME OF my best friends are homosexual. When I take time to go to Mass they ask me why I bother, when the Catholic Church is anti-gay. My reply is always the same: gay people have spiritual needs too, and as God made me in his own image. to know him, love him and serve in this life, I choose to remain a Catholic. I have no such choice over being gay.
I did not choose my sexual orientation, and if I had had any choice I would not have chosen to be homosexual. This is why I find Vatican pronouncements on the subject so depressing, and remote from my experience as a Catholic striving to be true to the Faith.
The Vatican's note for the guidance of American bishops goes further than previous documents in putting into words the Church's lack of pastoral care for a minority of the faithful. It shows above all that the Vatican is misguided.
So why do I remain a Catholic? In part because I am sustained by hope through experience of the confessional. The advice from individual priests is not always consistent with the Vatican's publicly stated position that a shared single sex lifestyle is "objectively disordered".
Since the Vatican letter was leaked and published last week, my feelings have been more of sadness than outrage. I regret that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could be so badly advised in these modern times. Clearly there could have been no consultation with the people most concerned: gay Catholics.
Its concept that homosexual orientation is an objective disorder must be challenged. It is not new. The same phrase was used in an earlier Vatican document on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual People.
For a person who is ostracised from the family or the Church community because of his or her sexual orientation, there is little comfort in finding that the Church distinguishes between orientation and homosexual activity.
Candidates for the priesthood and religious life are taught that celibacy is difficult and chastity a charism given only to God's elect. But it is required of gay people without the graces and support available to those in religious life.
The idea that it is justifiable to discriminate against people who thorugh no choice of their own are made with this orientation, is not only insulting but betrays ignorance of society's greater understanding of homosexuality.
It is based on the poisonous notion that homosexuals are by nature inclined to molest chidlren. The proportion who do abuse children is no greater than among heterosexuals, and given that homosexuals account for less than 20 per cent of the general population. the number of gay child molesters is minuscule.
The letter says there is no right to homosexuality, so it should not form the basis for legal claims. Yet even the British Government removed the criminal legal sanction on homosexuality in the armed forces recently and is striving to bring the Isle of Man into line with the rest of the UK
on decriminalising homosexuality. It is depressing therefore to find that on homosexuality the Vatican is not only behind the times, but going in reverse.
Homosexual orientation is a fact of life. For a Catholic it is a challenge, and for some a burden until they come to terms with it. Then it can be liberating.
The Vatican letter, like past pronouncements, says nothing about homosexuality as a gift from God in his creation of human persons. "Coming out", acknowledging your sexual orientation to be different from society's norm, is a sacrament of letting go of images of personhood, sexuality and self that society had imposed. In their place is the freedom to be yourself as a loving and loveable person, for whom homosexuality is the legitimate channel of love.
Sadly, the hardest part of the challenge is coping with prejudice and irrational fear. Homophobia in the Church is the "problem" which the Vatican should be addressing. Instead fear and mistrust will be reinforced by public statements and advice of the sort released last week.
Homosexual Catholics have needs and the right to pastoral care from the Church to enable them to live life fully as God made them.