Special Report — Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality: Speaking Out with Courage

The pastoral message Always Our Children manifests compassionate understanding of persons with homosexual tendencies, and their parents and siblings. It is theologically sound on the morality of homosexual acts, and its broad message is that parents should love their children who struggle with homosexual tendencies, while not accepting homosexual behavior. We are also pleased to see that the document recognizes the complex nature of homosexuality, and makes the important distinction between just and unjust discrimination. In a spirit of love, we have gathered some suggestions from leaders, members, and supporters of Courage throughout the country, and we pass these suggestions on to the bishops, with the hope that the pastoral letter can be strengthened.

The letter says that “sexuality is a gift from God” and then goes on to quote the Catechism: “Everyone . . .  should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” The idea conveyed is that homosexuality is also a gift from God, to be accepted as one’s fixed and permanent identity. However, the full quote describes the complementarity of man and woman. It is incorrect to use this quote as a justification of homosexuality as a fixed state.

Neither can homosexual attraction be considered a gift from God, except in the sense that suffering can be a gift. In the context of homosexuality, it is more accurate to speak of “sexual attraction” than “sexual identity.” It is important to distinguish between the proper other-sex attraction and a misdirected same-sex attraction. The conviction that a misdirected attraction is a stable or “fundamental dimension of one’s personality” has no support from Catholic teaching.

The 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons warned that, in some cases, “an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral or even good.” We suggest that a pastoral on this subject stress that the homosexual inclination cannot be considered equal to heterosexuality. The capacity for human love, expressed in its highest form by the sacrament of marriage, is a fundamental component of human nature and of God’s plan for mankind. This vocation is ordered to the full giving of one’s self in the sacramental bond and in parenthood, and thus is an inherent good. Homosexuality is nothing of the sort.


In addressing how a parent should deal with an adolescent confused about his sexual identity, the document says, “If your son or daughter is an adolescent, it is possible that he or she may be experimenting with some homosexual behaviors as part of the process of coming to terms with sexual identity. Isolated acts do not make someone homosexual . . .  Sometimes the best approach may be a ‘wait and see’ attitude, while you try to maintain a trusting relationship and provide various kinds of support, information, and encouragement.”

This “wait and see” attitude is very dangerous. If someone is attracted to drugs or alcohol, we do not accept that attraction as a given, or indicate that it is beyond his power to reject. The parent should do everything possible to help the youth move away from this attraction. Pastors should remind parents that their first obligation is to protect the child from immoral and dangerous behavior.

Given the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among male homosexuals, advising parents to adopt a “wait and see attitude” to same-sex experimentation among adolescents is an invitation to tragedy. If the male child has been involved in homosexual behavior, he ought to be immediately tested. In several large cities, a significant number of youth who were involved in homosexual activity became HIV positive, and new studies show that nine percent of homosexually active males aged twenty to twenty-two are already HIV positive. The earlier a boy becomes involved in same sex behavior, the more likely he is to contract a potentially fatal sexually transmitted disease.

Moreover, the document seems to imply that “experimenting with some homosexual behaviors as part of the process of coming to terms with sexual identity” is part of a normal developmental process. On the contrary, adolescents should be discouraged from experimenting with illicit sexual behavior, which is both immoral and futile. When seeking professional help, the parents should choose a knowledgeable counselor who respects the moral teaching of the Church.

The document accurately describes the emotions of parents upon discovering that their child is struggling with homosexual desires; however, the fear that these parents have for the spiritual welfare of their grown children is not mentioned in the document. This is the first anxiety that many parents express in counseling sessions with priests.

Finally, we would request the bishops consider the work of Courage and Encourage, not mentioned in the document. Courage is a spiritual support group for men and women with homo-tendencies who desire to live by the teachings of the Catholic Church. Under the inspiration of the late Cardinal Cooke in 1980, this group has developed a practical spiritual program for living the chaste life in union with Jesus Christ. It stresses its Catholic identity by encouraging members to receive frequently the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist, and to develop a strong devotion to Mary. It is now in twenty-eight dioceses in the United States, six in Canada, and is also found in the Philippines, England, and Ireland. In 1994, Courage was approved by the Pontifical Council for the Family as a ministry to persons experiencing homosexual attractions.

Encourage, an outgrowth of Courage, exists in Canada and the United States. It designed to provide, in a Catholic context, spiritual support and guidance to parents of persons who experience homosexual attraction. The parents, who are very often opposed by their own grown children, are in need of spiritual and psychological help. Very often a son or daughter who has decided to “come out” may demand, as a condition for continuing the relationship, that his or her parents acknowledge that homosexuality is morally acceptable. In such situations, these parents often undergo a form of martyrdom in adhering to their faith; nevertheless, they continue to love their children.

The foregoing article is excerpted from a statement by Courage founder John Harvey, O.S.F.S.


John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S., is founder and director of the support group Courage.

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