“Telling our stories” is important because our experience directly contradicts the absurdities contained in official Vatican doctrines.
For example, the CDF “Letter to the bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons” consistently presents a false dichotomy, in which heterosexual relationships are described as loving, conjugal, mutual self-giving, but the same-sex counterparts are seen as no more than indulgent self-gratification.
This is patently absurd. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention to the real world, that many heterosexual encounters are also no better than self gratification, or otherwise fall short of the noble ideal of loving, mutual self-giving. Conversely, the experience of many lesbian and gay Catholic couples shows very clearly that our relationships too, can be fully loving, mutual self giving.
Increasingly, some Catholic bishops are coming to understand this. During the 2015 bishops synod on marriage and family, Cardinal Christoph schonborn of Vienna described one gay couple he had come to know, and how their relationship was demonstrably about love and mutual support. As Fr James Martin SJ reports in his book Building a Bridge,
Around that time, Cardinal Schönborn spoke of a gay couple he knew who had transformed his understanding of LGBT people. He even offered some qualified praise for his friend’s same-sex union.
The cardinal said: “One shares one’s life, one shares the joys and sufferings, one helps one another. We must recognize that this person has made an important step for his own good and for the good of others, even though, of course, this is not a situation that the church can consider regular”.
It should come as no surprise that Cardinal Schonborn and others like him who have first hand knowledge of lesbian and gay couples, are in the forefront of Catholic leaders promoting improved pastoral support for LGBT Catholics, even to the extent of support for same sex unions. In the Protestant churches there are countless examples of pastors who have come to support gay marriage after conversations with gay couples in their congregations, which have shown them that these relationships have much in common with those pastors’ own marriages.
Telling our stories is furthermore important to bring home to our church leaders just how much existing doctrines are not merely misguided, but are also downright hurtful and damaging. There is abundant statistical evidence that LGBT youth in particular have much higher rates of suicide, self harm and substance abuse than their straight peers. They are also more likely to run away from home, and then perhaps to fall into prostitution as a means of simple survival. Furthermore, there exists solid research evidence that to some extent at least, these difficulties faced by LGBT youth are aggravated by real or perceived church teaching and practice.
For still others, our stories tell of how the desire to comply has led us into inappropriate and ultimately destructive heterosexual marriages, or to simply walk away from the church entirely. Both of these are part of my own story.
In “Building a Bridge”, Fr James Martin S.J. expands on the established Catholic teaching that Catholics must show “respect compassion and sensitivity” to gay people, by pointing out that this is impossible without first listening to us and our stories. That, in turn, is impossible unless our stories are out there to be heard.