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A Christian Response towards Persons with SSA in our Church

How should we respond if our child, sibling or friend comes out to us and says that he (or she) is a person with same-sex attraction (SSA)? In this second issue of our coverage on this topic, we find out how persons with SSA hope they can be accepted without prejudice, discrimination or condemnation within their spiritual family in the Catholic Church.

We found out from Ryan* and Vernon* what it has been like living with SSA in the Catholic Church. Read on about their two very different experiences.

Ryan's experience

1. What sort of struggles do you go through as a person with SSA?

I’ve always struggled with my self-image. I felt that I was less than attractive, if not outright repulsive to peers my age as I grew up during my primary and
secondary school years. I also found it difficult to fit into the hyper-masculine identifications that were such a common feature day-in-day-out such as swaggering, tough expressions and other physically demanding activities or expressions. I felt repulsed by them.

I went to an all-boys school and was mentally and physically bullied because I didn’t fit in. For the majority of my growing up years, I never mentioned,
shared or spoke about my SSA. When my family found out, I was punished. The punishments were at times physical, and the things they said were for the most part emotionally heavy and mentally distressing. Although they arranged for me to see a counsellor amid the turmoil, I could not bring myself to discuss my underlying non-sexual issues much less anything sexual, as I was just too confused, embarrassed and frightened.

As a teenager, I continued to struggle in relative silence, being at a loss as to how to share my inner struggles over beliefs, identity and worth with my family. If I did so, it caused anxiety, fear and worry, and if I shared with others outside, I faced more misunderstanding, shame, prejudice or was simply ostracised. Now as an adult, I realise I am not alone and that numerous colleagues, schoolmates, friends and relatives had similar challenges like mine.

2. Why have you stayed within the Catholic Church?

Joining Courage helped. Those who struggle most are the faithful with same-sex attractions and their relations. They are the real casualties from the breakdown, infighting and community dysfunction over homosexuality and religion. Members who identify as transsexual or transgendered suffer perhaps the most discrimination. The worst kind of discrimination is the pressure on people with SSA to deny their sexual orientation and to marry people of the opposite gender.

Yet, in the face of insurmountable odds, I personally still believe that the “[…] sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”1. That it is worth remaining in Church, the “[…] Body of Christ, for we are each individually members of it.”2

What is needed is a miracle to enable people, even a  handful, to decide to transcend the polemics, address the discrimination and to build up God’s good works for all children of God. Moreover, I believe that miracle lies in each of us, awaiting to be realised for “[…] it be done to me according to your word.”3 for “[…] the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”4

3. What kind of experiences did you encounter prior to joining Courage?

If by “experiences” here it means sexual ones, I did have a few on-and-off encounters with other guys in school (who I guess were just as curious as I was). They became a near daily and lived experience in my teenage years. This growing attraction to guys was accompanied by an increase in sexual behaviour, which correlated with familial, educational and societal pressures that led to experiences of abandonment, loneliness, almost non-existent self-esteem and excessive self-imagery, that could all intersperse over a prolonged duration. Over time, this created an addictive pattern. A seemingly unbreakable cycle of sexually deviant behaviour formed as time went on.

4. How has Courage changed your perspective towards life and the Church?

From a wider viewpoint, I have to come to acknowledge that there is new and much hope to believe in, for God is not against but for our deep and lasting joy in its ultimate sense. With these, we face our issues with courage, albeit not without its challenges, setbacks and obstacles. It is perhaps only God who, through His Church, possesses the deepest and widest possibilities for humankind, society and civilisation to flourish.

5. What would you hope to see in terms of support and integration of persons with SSA in the Catholic Church?

Firstly, that the faithful (especially those who do not experience SSA and who may know of others who do) be properly informed about people with SSA and their lives. They ought to get to know people with SSA in a respectful, compassionate and sensitive manner. They should learn to be comfortable with them. Only then can there be an honest encounter and clear understanding of each other.

Secondly, that the Church helps to provide spiritual support within the Church community for people with SSA. These possibilities are also opportunities for the faithful (especially those without SSA) to be involved to support those with SSA.

1 (cf. Romans 8:18)
2 (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
3 (cf. Luke 1:38)
4 (cf. John 1:14)
* Not his real name.
Vernon's experience

1. What sort of struggles do you go through as a person with SSA?

I really struggle with the thought of being judged negatively by a large number of people in our society. I also want to be truthful to people who are close to me such as my family (knowing they have expectations and all). I worry too about being able to live in chastity. However, in terms of being discriminated against, I
haven’t really experienced this, so I don’t struggle with that aspect of SSA.

2. What kind of experience did you encounter prior to joining Courage?

Actually, for me, I just go about leading my normal life, like any ordinary adult male. I go to work, do the housework and take part in my hobbies in my free time. Of course, I also have gay friends and have connected with gay Catholic friends to share issues related to my faith, but I am not the kind who goes out a lot or to parties.

My parents feel sad about my SSA, but they keep faith in God and take it as part of their cross. They feel I was raised with bad influences and see that as part of their sin. They forbid me from telling our relatives and members of the Church.

In the Church, I am a member of two choirs. One is more conservative, but they don’t ask me anything regarding SSA. The other choir, in which I am less active, is more accepting towards LGBT members, so there is no issue with that. So basically, in my Catholic communities, there hasn’t been any event where I got asked or was made to declare my SSA, and I also have never taken the initiative to mention it.

3. How has Courage changed your perspective towards life and the Catholic Church?

I came to know that the Catholic Church is providing us guidance through our spiritual director and group reflections. Courage has helped me realise that I am not in this alone and we can be together to support each other in our struggles. It has taught me to always remain hopeful in our faith and trust in God. Also, because the Catholic Church would welcome anyone with SSA at any point of time, I am reminded that the Church sees us as children of God who are very much loved.

4. What would you hope to see in terms of support and integration of persons with SSA in the Catholic Church?

I sincerely hope that any person with SSA can be accepted by being who they are in their own parish/community. Everyone as part of the body of the Church should support each other in our life journeys. They should be able to integrate into a Church community that accepts them and practises inclusiveness, regardless of any person’s sexual orientation.

* Not his real name

For Prayer and Reflection

1. Ryan and Vernon shared their struggles to deal with life’s challenges, to be holy and to live the virtue of chastity. How different are they from other young men who have opposite-sex attraction who also need to struggle to be holy and to live this virtue?

2. Vernon’s parents reacted to their son coming out to them on his SSA in a certain way that is not uncommon. How helpful was this? Are there other ways of responding that might be more helpful for each other’s journey through life towards God?

3. The Church teaches that a person with SSA, like every other person, is a precious child of God, to be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2358). What examples of lack of compassion and sensitivity can you identify from the sharings by Ryan and Vernon? What words or actions do we use that exacerbate the problem? On the other hand, what words or actions would help Ryan and Vernon feel supported and welcome in the parish community?

Finding Courage

Courage for men meets every Thursday. Courage for women meets every fortnight on Tuesdays. The Courage website is at www.courage.org.sg. For information on joining Courage, email sdcourage.sg@gmail.com.

Finding EnCourage

While Courage caters to the needs of Catholics with SSA, there is also EnCourage. A parent who learns that his or her child has SSA can be overwhelmed by feelings of shock, self-blame or hopelessness. Encourage helps parents, family members and friends to maintain healthy relationships with their loved ones with SSA. Encourage meets monthly. For information on joining EnCourage, email encouragesingapore@gmail.com.

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family