In what ways can the Church provide pastoral care for men and women of same-sex attraction that is compassionate and affirming in the faith — all the while remaining true to its teachings? At the opening of the Synod on the Family, participants were reminded that the Church's pastoral approach towards persons with same-sex attraction is an issue worthy of attention. Over the next two weeks, the Extraordinary Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization will explore the various concerns faced by families today: among them, the pastoral care of individuals with same-sex attraction. In his remarks on Oct. 6, general relator for the synod Cardinal Peter Erdo said there was “a broad consensus that people with a homosexual orientation should not be discriminated against,” and that most Catholics do not expect same-sex relationships to “be equated with marriage between a man and a woman.” However, he noted that there is no “consensus among the vast majority of Catholics on the ideology of gender theories.” The cardinal based his remarks on the data contained in the Instrumentum Laboris — a working document published earlier this year as part of the preparations for the synod. The document is a compilation of responses to a questionnaire sent out to families at the end of 2013 designed to assess the pastoral needs of the global Church with regard to the needs of the family. Addressing a wide range of issues cited by the document which relate to the family, he noted how “the majority of human beings seek personal happiness in life with a permanent bond between a man and a woman, together with the children of their union.” However, “the specific aspects of doctrine and the Church's Magisterium on marriage and family are not always sufficiently well-known by the faithful.” Although Cardinal Erdo spoke just briefly about the pastoral care of individuals with same-sex attraction in his intervention at the synod on Monday morning, the passages from the working document he referred to address the issues in greater length. One of the themes addressed in the Instrumentum Laboris regards the civil recognition of same-sex unions as determined by “socio-cultural, religious and political” contexts. According to the episcopal conferences, one example includes those places where “repressive and punitive measures,” are taken against “homosexuality in all its aspects,” and public manifestation of homosexuality “is prohibited by civil law.” In such contexts, according to the document, “the Church provides different forms of spiritual care for single, homosexual people who seek the Church's assistance.” Other circumstances include places where homosexuality is tolerated so long as it remains hidden, as well as states which recognize civil unions and — in some cases — so-called “marriages” between same-sex couples. Every bishops' conference opposes the redefinition of marriage, according to the document. At the same time, they express a desire to find “a balance between the Church's teaching on the family and respectful, non-judgemental attitude towards people living in such unions.” “On the whole,” the document states, “the extreme reactions to these unions, whether compromising or uncompromising, do not seem to have facilitated the development of an effective pastoral program which is consistent with the Magisterium and compassionate towards the persons concerned.” An additional factor complicating the Church's pastoral care for those with same-sex attraction pertains to the promotion of “gender ideology” — a point highlighted by Cardinal Erdo during his intervention Monday morning. Although aimed at eliminating homophobia, the introduction of this gender ideology (in some places at the elementary level) leads to the spreading of a mentality which “proposes, in fact, to undermine sexual identity.” Finally, the Instrumentum Laboris addresses the concern surrounding the pastoral care of children of same-sex couples. The responses to the questionnaire, according to the document, indicate clear opposition “to legislation which would allow the adoption of children by persons in a same-sex union,” due to the “risk to the integral good of the child, who has the right to have a mother and father.” Pastoral concerns arise, however, in cases where same-sex couples request baptism for the children in their care. The majority consensus from Catholics around the world is that children in these cases “must be received with the same care, tenderness and concern which is given to other children.” That being said, the document stressed the need to ensure children raised by same-sex couples would be properly instructed in the faith. The Instrumentum Laboris also highlights some general pastoral guidelines with regard to persons with SSA, and the various issues which depend on whether or not have chosen to pursue a homosexual life style. Many episcopal conferences have addressed the need for pastoral programs. Others expressed unease at the prospect of welcoming those with same-sex attraction in a spirit that is at once merciful and true to Catholic teaching, “all the while attempting to provide appropriate pastoral care which takes every aspect of the person into consideration.” Still others stress the importance of terminology, with some recommending against the use of terms such as “gay,” “lesbian” or “homosexual” as a way of defining a person's identity. On the whole, however, “the great challenge will be to develop a ministry which can maintain the proper balance between accepting persons in a spirit of compassion,” the working document said, “gradually guiding them to authentic human and Christian maturity.”
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