November 20, 2009

Truth and love both needed when discussing same-sex attractions

By Sean Gallagher

The Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality and homosexual behavior are controversial.

Many people not only reject them, but do so with great passion.

While this can make it difficult for some Catholics who accept these teachings to talk about them with friends or co-workers, it can be an even greater challenge when a close relative is either living a gay lifestyle or is actively supporting those who do. (Related story: People with same-sex attractions support each other to live chaste lives)

Robert Cavera, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in East Lansing, Mich., experienced this when his son began to live a gay lifestyle.

“The more I tried to straighten him out, the more that I tried to push my understanding on him, the more he pulled back,” Cavera said. “And instead of creating an avenue for communication, I was just establishing barriers. So what I needed to do was to step back.

“And whenever I see him, I give him a big hug and tell him how much I love him. And I never bring it up because he already knows what I think. I’ve told him, but I’m not going to beat him over the head with it.”

Cavera and his wife, Susan, give support to friends and relatives of those with same-sex attractions as leaders of a chapter of Encourage.

The outreach is a part of Courage, an apostolate based in the Archdiocese of New York that seeks to support people with same-sex attractions who want to live according to the Church’s teachings on chastity and homosexuality.

Cavera said being truthful in speaking about same-sex attractions is important, but that this always needs to be tempered with love.

“To share the truth without love is to be mean,” he said. “You just beat people with it. To love and not share the truth is deceitful. And there’s a lot of that going on.”

No matter how positive and loving Catholics might be in speaking about the Church’s teachings on this topic, those listening to them might still express strong opposition.

“I recognize that it is not going to be popular with a lot of people,” said Deacon Steve Hodges, chaplain of the Courage chapter based in Indianapolis. “But following Christ in today’s society, regardless of the topic, is not popular either. It’s not easy. But if we’re going to be true disciples, we have to recognize that we’re going to be on the front lines from time to time.”

This can be especially true for Courage members on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, according to Dominican Father Stan Drongowski.

“These are young people who really do want to be holy,” said Father Stan, the associate pastor of the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington and the chaplain for the Courage chapter there. “And holiness is not really an attribute toward which the secular university is striving. So it’s a value that is not held. But these young [people] have it.”

Father Paul Check is a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., who works for the national office of Courage, which gives support to those who have same-sex attractions, but want to live according to the Church’s teachings on chastity and homosexuality.

He encourages Catholics to look at people who experience same-sex attractions as individuals, and not simply label them or put them in a broader category of people.

“In any human endeavor that is complex, and where there is the possibility that offense might be taken or where the topic is controversial, great care has got to be exercised with how to approach someone because we’re always dealing with an individual,” Father Check said. “We’re not dealing with a condition, strictly speaking. We’re always talking about individual people. And maybe that’s where some of the conversation does tend to break down.”

Dr. Philip Sutton, a clinical psychologist based in South Bend, Ind., and the president-elect of the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, emphasized this when discussing the fact that people who live a gay lifestyle experience a higher than average risk to adverse physical, mental and relational health, and that studies have shown that this is not due to anti-gay discrimination.

“That’s not to say that a given person may experience even traumatic discrimination,” Sutton said. “It’s not to say that it isn’t a factor. But, clearly, it’s not a sufficient factor.”

(To learn more about Encourage, log on to To learn more about the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality, log on to

Local site Links: