By Steve Chalke
If just one thing can be taken from the Pope’s recent comments on what he would say to the parents of gays and lesbians; it’s an overriding sense of confusion and the Catholic Church’s awkwardness over the topic.
We could charitably say that the pontiff was caught off-guard and misspoke when he stated that: ‘When it shows itself from childhood, there is a lot that can be done through psychiatry, to see how things are. It is something else if it shows itself after 20 years.”
But sadly that is not how the world works and many people will just assume that he sees homosexuality as a psychiatric illness that can be treated if caught young. A later clarification from the Holy See just seemed to make things worse.
So what should we expect from the Catholic Church?
Oasis’ recent report In the Name of Love: The Church, exclusion and LGB mental health issues established three key points when it comes to churches and homosexuality:
- Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are up to 12 times more likely to experience mental health problems including depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.
- These problems with mental health are as a direct result of discrimination and a sense of societal inferiority.
- Churches are one of the biggest sources of direct discrimination against lesbians, gay men and bisexual people (LGB).
Put simply churches, which should be centres of love and support are actively damaging the mental health of LGB people. Oasis identified five damaging practices that churches inflict on LGB people:
- LGB people are ‘offered’ the chance to be prayed for, with the goal of ‘releasing’ them from ‘same-sex attraction’.
- treating ‘same sex attraction’ as an illness or affliction.
- refusing leadership or voluntary positions to LGBT people.
- teaching extremely negative messages in sermons, Sunday schools and youth groups.
- Asking LGB people to keep their sexuality a secret.
Homosexuality is not a new social phenomenon: it has, for centuries now, been established as a basic-fact of human existence. As such, whatever your beliefs, no church official, least of all the Pope, should be so badly briefed that they need to backtrack in this way.
When you deal with a topic with awkwardness it belies a feeling of awkwardness around the wider issue. An awkwardness that can be read to say that homosexuality is a shameful, difficult topic to discuss.
Pope Francis has made great progress but it is time that, whatever its beliefs, the Catholic Church, and ultimately the Pope himself, learn to talk about homosexuality, as well as the wider issues of all human sexuality, in a more straightforward way. Perhaps this would help create a healthier church; in terms of the sexual health and behaviour of its priests as well as its laity.
We need more straight-talk from the Catholic Church - LGB people, all people, deserve better.