From responses to several hundred questionnaires circulated in preparation for the Family Synod in October 2014, one question stood out, “what is the attitude in your diocese/parish/community toward same sex marriage? The response was an overwhelming “not accepted”. Yes, there is a largely negative attitude among Catholics toward homosexuals. Why are Catholics so strongly homophobic? Is it because we have heard some priests say that homosexuality is sinful so by inference, homosexuals are bad people? I recall one religious sister involved in the family ministry exclaim with horror, “homosexuality is spreading rapidly in the West, and soon it will spread to Asia”. It sounded like she was talking about an epidemic. Sections of Church authority imply that homosexuals choose their sexual orientation. Or worse still, feminists are blamed for the ‘problem’. They argue that women have become so liberated that they make poor “wife material”. So women have chosen to shack up together and men prefer to be with other men, making homosexuality so common. We are taught and believe that there are two genders, the masculine and the feminine. These two genders have been rigidly compartmentalized, with qualities and roles for man and woman. Feminists have asserted that this kind of stereotyping has damaged humans who could have qualities that have been ascribed to the other gender or may want to do something in life that is seen as nontraditional for their gender.
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We are well aware of young men driven to suicide because they have been made fun of for being too effeminate, or that ragging in colleges goes so far as to take the life of a young person because he is not aggressive. Our insensitive and conservative Indian society has ensured that life will be hell for homosexuals who are looked upon as deviants. They dare not reveal their sexuality to their parents who happily arrange marriages for them. The homosexual partner is discovered only when the marriage is not consummated. We have had numerous examples of young nonresident Indians who marry according to the wishes of their parents. When they return to the freedom of Western society, the hapless bride is left alone and bewildered in a foreign country, while the young man continues to live life as he did before his heterosexual marriage. If the girl has courage to go for a divorce she does so, if not they live a lie forced by tradition. This is injustice to both partners. Homosexuals suffer much because they agonize over their sexuality that is seen as abnormal. They are born that way and do not choose their sexuality. Adolescence can be quite traumatic for these young people; parents who are judgmental only compound their problems. Today young people have the courage to be honest and open about their sexuality, but we have to be open and sensitive to allow them the freedom to be who they are. A group of lay people from different parts of India who gathered to deliberate on issues they wish to discus at the Synod, hope that the Synod fathers will take note of the reality of homosexuals and show them the understanding and inclusiveness of Jesus to live their life as they were created to be. The group wants “the third gender [to] be respected not only by all Catholics but especially the official Church.” Jesus was inclusive and welcoming to all so he would not force homosexuals to remain in the closet. Let us hope that the Catholic Church will have the courage to be inclusive like Jesus and Pope Francis and say “who are we to judge”, and allow homosexuals the opportunity to live their lives in freedom and truth.
Virginia Saldanha is the former executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Office of Laity and a freelance writer and advocate for women’s issues based in Mumbai.