The month of June, the Pride Month, has just passed. Since India decriminalized homosexuality two years ago, LGBTI+ people in India have found the freedom to be who God created them to be.
Even though Indian and Catholic culture are highly influenced by an anthropology that is gender binary and frowns on LGBTI+ people, young members of the community participate in Gay Pride celebrations with abandon. But sadly, many have not yet come out to their parents about their sexuality because of the homophobic attitudes nurtured by religion and culture.
When a young actor in India committed suicide recently, the whole country was caught in the grip of discussions on what caused people to take their own life.
A young intersex person called Daniel, talking about causes of suicide, asked: “What happens when one’s own family think you are shameful and make you feel that the world is not a place where you can live?
“Where were you when I was teased and insulted with shameful words? How many times have you all been responsible for making people like me feel unworthy, unwanted, and you shame them because of their body, gender, sexuality and various other choices they make?
“Some even told me very solicitously, ‘It is only a phase, the world is not ready for things like this?’ Others condemned me to live in the closet and said, ‘I pity you, you are a sinner and God will not forgive this act. You are unnatural, only prayers can heal you … etc.’”
He pointed out that society has to take responsibility for people’s suicides because they create a society that is unaccepting, especially regarding LGBTI+ persons.
Speaking at a webinar recently, Daniel declared that he believes in Jesus and follows him because “I see Jesus as a revolutionary. I may not be accepted by the Church but know Jesus accepts me. I decided to become a revolutionary like Jesus and work for the liberation of people like me. I then realized that Christianity cannot be bound within an institution like the Catholic Church — it is much bigger than that.”
Why do we who follow Jesus, who was welcoming and accepting of all people, continue to ignore the deepest needs and aspirations of the LGBTI+ community?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that having a homosexual orientation itself is not a sin, and that LGBTI+ people, like all people, are to be treated with respect. But “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to “natural law” as they close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a “genuine affective and sexual complementarity,” so under no circumstances can they be approved.
A significant number of Catholic faithful who identify as LGBTI+ are therefore dismissed as non-existent because the Catholic Church refuses to update itself on the latest scientific research on gender and sexuality with genuine pastoral concern, to alleviate the suffering and mental trauma many LGBTI+ people experience in their families, faith community and society at large.
If we as a Church are the medium through which God expresses love to humankind, how can we enforce an age-old tradition and continue to inflict pain on LGBTI+ people and their families, even driving many to commit suicide?
Has the Catholic Church ever delved into the depths of this question? Has there ever been a dialogue with members of the LGBTI+ community?
We know that Pope Francis has close contact with a gay person and therefore, when questioned about his position on homosexuals, he gave his now famous quote: “Who am I to judge?”
It is also refreshing that Archbishop Franz Lackner of Salzberg commissioned a study as president of the Liturgical Commission of Austria to examine the question related to homosexuality and to explore a possible blessing for same sex couples. This is how Jesus would expect his followers to respond as a Good Shepherd, to go out to the least and the last to bring them into the safety of the sheepfold.
We are all called to be like Jesus, to reach out in love and concern to the LGBTI+ community and understand their reality, especially the pain that they go through, especially when their own parents reject them for who they were born to be.
Andy, a young gay man, related his story on a webinar during Pride Month. He related how from the age of 11 he started realizing that he was different. He felt attraction to people of his own sex, but at that time there was no discourse on homosexuality. He decided that the best place for him was a seminary.
One day his sister came to speak to him about a problem with their parents trying to arrange a marriage for her. He said that even though her sexuality was obvious to everyone, no one wanted to admit it. He tried to tell her that she was confused and that she would soon begin to accept a proposal for marriage. But he said he saw the light in her eyes fade away. The support she expected from him did not materialize. She left and took her life. Their father died two years later of heartbreak.
For Andy that was the turning point. He realised that religion excludes more than it includes. He left the seminary and the Church. He then pursued a career as an academic. He too experienced periods when suicide seemed an inviting proposition, but he soldiered on as he found academia provided him with the space to read and learn more about himself. He titled his M.Phil thesis “Queering Genet.” He found an encouraging guide and through his conversations with his guide and his peers he finally “came out” and began to live his true self.
I find the insensitivity with which judgments are made and rules are created very disturbing. We have to find a way to help LGBTI+ persons and their families to live the fullness of life that Jesus came to give. That is a significant part of the mission that is lacking in the institutional Church.
Let us hope the third decade of the 21st century will change that.
Virginia Saldanha is the former executive secretary of the Office of Laity of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences and a freelance writer and advocate for women's issues based in Mumbai, India. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.