An upcoming international conference in Rome is hoping to give a face to those with same-sex attraction living in accord with the Church's teaching on homosexuality — and to help make their voice heard at the Synod on the Family. Centering on the pastoral needs of men and women who experience homosexual tendencies, the conference is partly in response to the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family, where persons with same-sex attraction did not have an adequate voice, according to one organizer. “There was a voice that was not heard at that synod,” said Fr. Paul Check, the director of the Courage Apostolate, a group which offers pastoral care and support for homosexual persons. “That is the voice of the person for whom homosexuality is a part of their story and their life.” While it is important that the Catholic catechism is “straightforward and precise” in its language on the subject of homosexuality, Fr. Check said this conference aims to bring the teaching a step further. “What we wanted to do,” he said, was “to put a face on the teaching of the Church in the lived experience of this person” with same-sex attraction. Their story, he said, includes those who had lived the gay lifestyle, but have since had a “change of heart.” “Their homosexuality is not vanquished by any means, but they see it in a different light,” he said. “They trust that what the Church teaches is true, and (that it) leads to fulfillment, even if it can be hard to live.” The conference, entitled: “Living the Truth in Love: Addressing the Pastoral Needs of Men and Women with Homosexual Tendencies” will take place in Rome's Pontifical Thomas Aquinas University — or, the Angelicum — on Friday, Oct. 2.
Organized by Courage, Ignatius Press, and the Napa Institute, the gathering was intentionally scheduled to take place as close to the Synod on the Family as possible. At least two of the Synod fathers will take part in the event: French Guinea's Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Pontifical Council for Divine Worship, and Australia's Cardinal George Pell, prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy. In 2014, a preparatory document for last year's Synod, known as the Instrumentum Laboris, touched on questions facing families today, including the pastoral concerns with regard to persons with same-sex attraction. “It requested that we in the Church be thinking about effective, appropriate, pastoral approaches to same-sex issues,” said Dr. Janet Smith, a professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, and one of the organizers of the conference. Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at the seminary, explained that there is already a wealth of information on the subject of pastoral care for same-sex attracted persons — the challenge is getting this knowledge to those who need it. “There’s already a body of understanding, a body of knowledge, that exists,” she said. The conference, therefore, aims at directing those responsible for pastoral care — people who work in parishes, dioceses, high schools, etc. — to these resources. One of the resources she cited was a documentary released July 2014 by Courage, entitled “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which chronicles the stories of two men and one woman having same-sex attraction, and how they eventually found peace in the Catholic Church. Smith also cited a newly published book to which she is a contributor, Living the Truth in Love. This book resulted from a similar conference in Detroit last August that was put together by the same organizers. Friday's conference in Rome comes at a time in history when many Catholics struggle to understand the Church's teaching on homosexuality. This difficulty, Smith says, largely begins from an inability to understand the Church's teaching on contraception. “If you don’t understand why contraception is out of sync with God’s plan for sexuality, it will also be hard to understand (the Church’s) teaching on homosexuality,” she said. Smith suggested that this difficulty in understanding also results from a lack of exposure to authentic Catholic teaching on homosexuality. “They don’t have a very good foundation on which to build an understanding of an issue like same-sex attraction. Add to that, we are bombarded all day long by the media about the acceptability of same-sex sexual relationships.” “It’s a very difficult thing to educate a Catholic populace that has not been educated in its own Church, and it’s being educated by the culture.” The conference will also include Monsignor Livio Melina, president of Rome's John Paul II Institute on Marriage and the Family, as well as experts such as Dr. Paul McHugh of Johns Hopkins; Dr. Timothy Lock, a clinical psychologist; and Dr. Jennifer Morse of the Ruth Institute. There will also be a panel discussion featuring testimonies of Catholics living faithfully with same-sex attraction. This year's Synod on the Family, to be held on Oct. 4-25, will be the second and larger of two such gatherings to take place in the course of a year. Like its 2014 precursor, the focus of the 2015 Synod of Bishops will be the family, this time with the theme: “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and the modern world.”