Announcing the new Catholic parents group in Springfield, MA, this article will soon appear in the Greater Boston PFLAG newsletter. Printed here with permission of the authors, co-founders of the group.
“Being Catholic is in my bones,” my friend pronounced. It seems that despite her best efforts, she can not deny the influence her Church persistently plays in her life even as she approaches her golden years – an influence in which she admittedly continues to find much solace and peace. I concurred. Being Catholic is in my bones too.
In 1998, our then newly turned 16 year old son announced to us that he was gay. He told us that it was something he had known for as long as he could remember and that it was something he could not change nor would choose to change. He sweetly spoke of his love for us and confidently knew of our love for him and explained that, “nothing changes.” He said it was a realization which awakened in him as early as the 4th or 5th grade while a student at St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Springfield. He learned much at St. Thomas, not the least of which was that he was a child of God, created in His image and likeness and loved with an abiding and all-embracing love. He learned that “catholic” meant “universal and encompassing-all.”
And yet there was a fear in us upon the delivery of his news. How did our Church really feel about our son? Why were words like “disordered” and “condition” used by our institutional Church to describe our son’s self-identity? That was not what our son was feeling about himself. How could we make sense out of all the mixed messages we heard? On the one hand, a woman from our local parish wrote a note offering us condolences, suggesting that, “what she had heard about our son must be a prank because we were good Catholic parents and would protect our children against the evils of the world.” And on the other hand our pastor, Fr George Farland was willing to attend a PFLAG meeting and sit on a panel of community religious leaders and support our son and us when PFLAG stated that they were having a difficult time finding a Catholic priest to agree to be part of the group. The mixed messages have persisted.
The institutional Church’s response to the hot button, gay civil rights issues of the day has been less than welcoming, and yet some bishops have openly and unconditionally welcomed their dioceses’ gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
So, as the calcium leaches readily from my middle-aged, post-menopausal bones the “catholic” remains, tenaciously protecting the aging frame from total fracture – reminding me of all that came before. Weren’t the miraculous graces of Baptism, Penance, Eucharist, Confirmation, and Matrimony bestowed upon my husband and me many years ago? Wasn’t that grace alive within us still? Wasn’t it in Confirmation when we became “soldiers of Christ,” that we were commanded to love others as our God loves us?
Wasn’t it through the sacrament of Matrimony that we ultimately were blessed with the gift of our son? And what of my husband and my 16 years of Catholic education, characterized by the dictates of Vatican II, which taught us that we were the Church? Is what we were reading and becoming aware of with regard to our son and his sexual orientation, our Church’s response? What does the Church say about our son? And how do we define Church? Is this our church? And if we are the Church, what are/were we saying about our son? Anything?
Discovering Always Our Children was truly a God-send. This document, authored by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1997, speaks to parents of GLBT persons – assuring them of God’s and the Church’s deep and abiding love of their children. It states that our gay children, “are gifted and called for a purpose in God’s design” and ought to be welcomed with compassion and love. It pledges that our gay children are “always our children and that nothing can ever change that.” Unfortunately, this important work of the institutional Church has been largely disregarded by many – both within and outside of the Church. We wanted people to be aware of the important work the institutional Church had done in writing this pastoral letter. We wanted to make this a living document.
Armed with this pastoral message, we visited our Bishop Timothy McDonnell and told him of our plan to start a support group for parents and friends of GLBT persons within the Diocese of Springfield. Its words of affirmation and allinclusiveness would be the basis for our mission statement. We felt energized and empowered. We were welcomed with that same pastoral spirit. Our Bishop listened. We told the Bishop our son’s story, explaining that all stories are not as hope-filled and happy. We told him how some children’s stories are at best lukewarm and others filled with desperation. We told him that gay youth may be at risk and that these same gay youth and their parents needed him. And he listened.
When the Bishop mentioned homogenital sex, we explained that something as one dimensional as sex could never adequately explain or define our son’s personhood. We asked the Bishop if he had ever loved a gay person, explaining that to love a gay person is to never see the world the same way again. And he listened. We asked him if he would support our idea – and he said yes.
Always Our Children meets the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month at Sacred Heart Church in Springfield, MA. All are welcome. Its mission is to reach out to gay youth and their parents and friends.
Its message is a simple one, “to love others, as God has loved us.”
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