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Canadian Bishops: a Person Is More Than a Sexual Orientation

OTTAWA, Canada, JULY 6, 2011.- A human person is much more than a sexual orientation or an identification with the homosexual or heterosexual lifestyle, say the bishops of Canada.

The Commission for Doctrine of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) stated this in a pastoral letter released June 27 on the issue of ministering to "adolescents and young adults who question their sexual identity or experience feelings of same sex attraction."

In the document, the term "same-sex attraction" refers to "one who feels an erotic and emotional attraction, which is predominant and not merely episodic, toward persons of the same sex, … with or without sexual relations."

While secular society has labeled such individuals as "gay" or "lesbian," the bishops explain that Church does not use these terms in official documents: "Although these words are common terms in current speech, they do not describe persons with the fullness and richness that the Church recognizes and respects in every man or woman."

"The human person can hardly be described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation," the letter adds.

Stressing the Catholic teaching that "every human person is a unique and irreplaceable gift created by our loving God," and must be treated with respect and dignity, the commission went on to clarify that it is the homosexual act, not the inclination, that is deemed immoral.

"To the extent that a same-sex attraction is not freely chosen, there is no personal culpability in having such an inclination," the bishops explain. "Nonetheless, when oriented toward genital activity, this inclination is 'objectively disordered.'

"This does not mean that the person as a whole is somehow defective or … has in some way been rejected by God. ... For many people, same-sex attraction constitutes a trial."

When facing such a trial, young people with same-sex attraction are urged to heed the words spoken by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: "Come to me, all you who are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthew 11: 28, 30).

True fulfillment

The bishops suggest that by following Christ's example of living a chaste and unselfish life, those who struggle with these feelings may reflect on the moral order. "Chastity teaches the way of self-mastery," the letter stated, adding that it is the "spiritual power, which frees love from selfishness and aggression. It makes self-giving possible and is the prerequisite for generous love and true fulfillment."

The bishops explain that all are called to live chaste lives, whether married or single, as chaste means to avoid sexual activity that is contrary to morality or religious teachings. "Since chastity is a way of loving," the bishops write, "it entails far more than the avoidance of sin. Like love, it can grow indefinitely."

The document restates the Catholic teachings that our sexuality is a gift given to us from God and is reserved for those men and women who are joined in the covenant of marriage: "It is only within this covenant that the two inseparable ends of marriage can be achieved: the deepening of love between spouses and the procreation and education of children. Any genital act outside the covenant of marriage cannot fulfill this twofold purpose intended by the Creator and thus is morally wrong."

Men and women were specifically created to complement each other in what Blessed John Paul II referred to in 1980 as "the spousal meaning of the body." The document goes on to explain that this is "the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity, which encompasses both the body and spirit, reveals the call of every human being to become a gift for the other person. This fundamental truth is the foundation of the Church’s understanding of sexuality."

Throughout history, the bishops explain, the Church has taught that homosexual acts are not in accordance with God's plan for humanity. However, the pastoral letter addresses that, in recent years, young people have been inundated with pressures from secular society and from the media that propagate moral relativity and hedonism, compromising the path of those struggling to find their true purpose God has planned for them.

The pastoral letter offers guidance to various groups within the Christian community, from parish priests, to educators and family members, on how to help young people with same-sex attraction make their "journey toward human maturity."

Authentic freedom

To the Catholic community as a whole, the bishops call for us to "counteract false ideas of freedom promoted by secular society" and to live and preach the Church's teaching on human sexuality, "which leads to authentic freedom."

Priests and pastoral workers are encouraged to welcome young people into the community without passing judgment and to listen to them and counsel them regarding God’s love and plan for them.

Educators, the bishops state, with the consent of the parents, should present "in a firm but charitable way the true nature and purpose of human sexuality in all dimensions." They said that educators who avoid answering difficult questions or shy away from the Church's full teaching on the subject are doing an injustice to our youth and "could lead young people into grave moral danger."

For parents whose child admits to having homosexual feelings, the bishops concede that they may face unique challenges and concerns as well: "Remember that your child needs you and the family now more than ever. Children always remain … God’s gift to you. At all times, strive to respond lovingly and with trust in divine Providence."

The commission encourages parents to support their child’s spiritual growth and possibly seek the guidance of a parish priest or professional counselor committed to the Church's teachings.

To the young adult facing same-sex attractions, the bishops offer words of encouragement, as well as advice for forging the road ahead. Young people are encouraged to accept God’s unfailing love for them, to "pray without ceasing" and to celebrate the sacraments regularly. The bishops also advise the young to "cultivate virtuous friendships" and to "be vigilant."

"Since chastity is not only a journey but also a battle, be on guard against temptations that will continually arise," they said. "God's grace will give you the strength to overcome temptation."

"Above all," the commission writes, "hold close to your heart that being a Christian is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, who gives your life meaning and a decisive direction."