Approaches on a welcoming pastoral for homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people

Pastoral de la Diversidad Sexual de CVX Chile (Pastoral Sexual Diversity CVX, Santiago de Chile),  September 14, 2014 [1]
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These reflections arise from our journey as a pastoral, from our expectations and from our context, inserted in the Latin-American Church in Chile.
We write from our deep gratitude for what we have received in our life as Catholic Christians. We share with you our reflections in the belief that all of us walk together giving testimony of “the great hope we have received”, and even if we had differences, it is this hope that brings us together.

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Welcoming, healing and dialogue in the communities of the Church and with its hierarchy

Our experience with the Church is made up of stories that on the one hand express a deep yearning for welcoming, and on the other hand, consists of experiences of distancing, pain and rejection. Thanks to PADIS+ and with the help of our companions, of concrete people and individual communities in our close environment we have been able to experience a timid reencounter with the “institution”, a reencounter that for most of us needs healing old injuries and pains.
Given the above, our ecclesial belonging, under the roof of the Christian Life Community in Chile, supposes for many of our members a bridge linking us with the local and the universal Church, a sign of hope and acceptance. We need these concrete gestures and actions from people that, inspired by the Gospel and the Spirit, help us elaborate our frustrations and pains, and react against the violence and discrimination of which we have been subject.
In this sense, it was deeply painful for us that the Holy See, in the year 2011, rejected signing a text presented in the UN about decriminalisation of homosexuality. It hurt us because we know about the consequences an apparent legitimation of homophobia might bring on us and our brothers and sisters.
In our process of reencountering with the Church, various elements helped and continue helping. We can discern the following fruits in our walking together as PADIS+ (Pastoral de la Diversidad Sexual de CVX Chile ):

  •  The concrete accounts of our stories with God and our personal encounter with Jesus helped share what we have lived. PADIS+ has allowed the Word to circulate among us and with that, the available stories and testimonies being different, different become as well the valuations and judgments on ourselves and of our identity as Catholics. We sense that for many people is easier accepting and respecting us when they meet us personally and agree to facing their prejudices and conceptions in dialogue with our stories and our testimony of faith.
  •  For this and for other reasons it is that we have decided attending the conference ‘Ways of Love’ in Rome on 3 October 2014. If our testimony can be a contribution to making the Church and society a more respectful and more humane place, the effort and the motivation will be more than worthy.
  •  Sharing in community with other lesbian, gay and bisexual persons has allowed us a reencounter with our roots and our stories of faith. We have reviewed the images of God and of the Church we inherited from our families and parishes of origin, taking distance from all that contributed to separating us from God and the Church, and that made us experience ourselves from a viewpoint of pain and guilt. Reflecting on these images allowed us re-assuring our belief in a God of unconditional love and confirm in practice that a Church reflecting that love is possible, acknowledging the action of God and of the Spirit in the life of each of us, in our projects and desires.
  •  At the same time PADIS+ has acknowledged our frustration and resistances, the damage and violence some of us have been subjected to every time religion is used as a resource for discrimination, exclusion and aggression towards a person that is different by reason of his/her sexual orientation. Our insertion within the community welcoming us has allowed feeling the companionship and the support of those who defend our active participation in the Church
  • Organizing PADIS+ as lay people in the Church, we have been able to make ours the fruits of the Second Vatican Council on the dignity inherent to all those baptised and the responsibility we all have for the greater growth of the body of Christ on this Earth
  • A space of participation in the Church becomes even more important when considering that oftentimes we are “doubly discriminated”, that is, for being gay and, by other people of the LGBT community, for our Catholic identity. It is little understood in many LGBTI organisations why it is that “we want to stay where we are discriminated against”.
  •  For our companions, religious and lay people, companionship and welcome are understood as listening to the needs and desires of the ‘other’. Far from any imposition or attempt to submit others to my own ideals, there is an invitation to orient life toward more consistency, veracity, transparency and a deep recognition of knowing that we are created and loved by the God of love. Also, accompaniment respects the rhythm and process of the person and of the group (‘time, place and person’), implicating reciprocally in the pastoral action.
  • Despite our story and the particular experiences, we have gradually discerned our way of influencing in the manner the Church approaches our reality. We seek dialogue and the spaces for sharing our testimony with the clergy and with the bishops in Chile.
    Trusts are fragile, but with each conversation we feel that we are growing. We are hopeful for until now we have been confirmed every time more that the path of dialogue and of knowledge opens spaces for welcoming and understanding within the Church.

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2. Homophobia and pain

We come from a country where discrimination of who is “different” is structural. We can see it and identify it in relation to indigenous peoples, migrants (specifically those of indigenous and African descent), and especially those impoverished socially, culturally and economically.
In relation to the sexual diversity, the Chilean society has undergone a considerable opening in the last years. In 1998 consensual homosexual relations between adults were decriminalised. Nowadays, the country is expecting the approval by Congress of draft legislation on civil unions between homosexuals (and heterosexuals as well) that will allow greater legal protection to their patrimonial, tax, inheritance and, eventually, family matters. A law on gender identity is also under discussion, intending to facilitate health services, protection and legal recognition of transsexuals.

With a heavy heart, we acknowledge that in our country – in 2012 and 2013 – two young gay men were brutally beaten, resulting in their death. In addition, there are the cases of our brothers and sisters abused and discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity. Such cases do not always make it to the news and even less, the headlines. And if they do, we quickly return to our routines and the indignation does not go any further.

In the ecclesial area we sense, in general, a spirit similar to what we perceive in our society, evidencing a discreet advance in said matters, among which is to be noted, e.g., the recent statement by a Bishop of the Chilean Episcopal Conference energetically condemning homophobia as expression of an attitude not coherent with the Gospel or the person of Jesus Christ. Notwithstanding the above, there are also adverse signs within the laity, the clergy and in the Chilean bishopric, maintaining in their words and practices, the condemnation of us living our sexuality fully, as an expression of love to another person.

In our country, there is a great social and cultural segregation that the educational system reproduces and amplifies. Catholic private schools, where the majority of the sons and daughters of the Chilean elite are educated, and who then mostly govern the country due to the structures proper of our country, receive an education that does usually not incorporate in the curriculum inclusion of the sexual diversity. Most of the schools do not have liberty of action for incorporating these contents into their education plans, and if they do so, they only incorporate them in the extent they adjust to the Magisterium and the Catholic doctrine. This means leaving outside the contributions of other disciplines and knowledge on sexuality that would facilitate the development of processes of discernment for the students in the light of the Gospel and their experience.

As Pastoral, we shamefully recognise that we also represent part of the features of structural discrimination of our country. Despite our best intentions, we experience difficulties when me we encounter people different to us by reason of their race, economic condition, gender, sex and/or religion. Many times we find ourselves tempted to distance ourselves from people who do not live their sexuality according to our values and criteria. We also have to convert towards a better welcoming, so that we always see the person first, as Jesus did when encountering and healing the foreigner (Mt 15:21-28). For us this challenge is preferentially the learning about and the readiness to welcome transsexual people that want to approach our group and all those – already a part of the group or not – coming from different social and/or cultural backgrounds. This, of course, respecting the decision of any person whether he or she wants to participate and integrate PADIS+.

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3. Of conditions and options. The testimony of love in truthfulness

According to the Magisterium and the Catholic doctrine, the Church proposes us to live our sexuality in chastity, assuming that all of us feel the call to opt for a celibate life. This would be a call due to an innate condition we experience as immutable and that is therefore not an “option” for us. Not all of us are called to the same, however. Chastity requires our consent and our freedom. As the teachings of the Church are formulated in these matters, they do not offer alternatives besides the one mentioned, leaving outside other paths and ways of possible personal and communitarian calling.

We feel we must live our life in the manner in which God created us and as he calls us in our consciences. We would like to invite others to look at the fruits and share with us our joys and challenges. We also invite to leave the final judgment of the fruits to God, owner and inspirer of life. While we perceive our sexual orientation as a “given”, the concrete calling, the state of life and lifestyle appear as freely chosen options after discernment every person makes before God, being faithful to his/her conscience. And as such will give fruits of peach and joy.

In society, we encounter testimonies and concrete life experiences that present as legitimate the expressions of affection between people of the same sex, although the recognition and legal protection of those relations is still in our Congress. Our encounters and meetings have allowed knowing the desires of those who have discerned their calling to life in couple, experimenting in practice that the measure of Christian love does not distinguish or condition their possibilities of expression.

We see in chastity; celibacy; life as a couple; and parenting calls that imply our freedom and consent. In fidelity to our conscience we opt for ways of humanisation that facilitate the realization of our projects. They differ in no aspect from the calling experienced by any  Christian man or woman. Family appears as a possible horizon, that many already experience in the nucleus of their couples and/or in relation to those they consider are their family.

Doctrine does not recognise as valid the above aspirations. The separation between homosexual acts and “condition” does not make it easier for us to integrate our experience into the affective and sexual areas, within horizons of realisation and fulfilment that might be also good news for others. We do not understand the sense behind this, nor the condemnation that many of us experience every time we hear the Church refer in this manner to our expressions of affection and love. It is contradictory for us that, although we choose living our sexuality according to the same criteria proposed to all heterosexual couple, i.e., fidelity, fecundity, mutual support and abandonment to each other and God, the response of the Church is, for every case and circumstance, the same condemnation and rejection.

The openness and sensitivity we perceive in our society and within the Church encourages us to trust that this Synod for the Family may be an occasion for reviewing the teachings of the Church on these matters and to discern together new manners of approaching the reality of many couples of lesbians, gays and bisexuals already living together, forming families and/or raising children. That includes manners of helping same sex couples with children in their desire to educate them in the Catholic faith.

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4. Training of the clergy and of religious persons in matters of sexuality and sexual diversity

Some of us have experienced the expulsion from the training to priesthood or in religious congregations due to our sexual orientation. Others have opted not to pursue the path of a consecrated life due to experiences of discrimination they lived or for the fact of having to permanently silence a fundamental aspect of their life, even wanting to choose the call to celibacy.
It has been very fruitful for us meeting once a year with a group of religious brothers and sisters and priests that have expressed their interest in knowing us and learning together. The personal meeting with them has allowed us knowing their impressions and challenging teaching traditions that dispense with the person and place it as an object to know. This kind of meetings and dialogues also challenge prejudice and assumptions transmitted within the religious institutes themselves or the diocesan training.

It is our impression that the invisibility of sexuality in religious life, the secrecy towards homosexuality in it and the laxity that some have seen and heard, challenge us in wanting to collaborate so that homosexuality as incompatible with someone’s calling to a religious life. We ask: If we are going to talk of sexuality or homosexuality in the Church, are we therefore including the sexual orientation of all involved? Or just the sexual orientation of those who as laymen and laywomen are “in contact with the world”?

It is not about homosexual men and women religious to come out (although it might be helpful if they could, knowing the greater strength of the testimony of faith and of Christ that usually allows the truth that comes with assuming oneself). But it is about asking ourselves: what kind of sexual education does the clergy receive? How does this education prepare them to accompany lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people? How are homosexuals belonging to religious base communities treated today? How is homophobia noticed and how is it eradicated h within the educational institutions and within communities? What happens with the experience and expression of sexuality within those communities and how does it have an effect outside (in the pastoral work)?
How could the education of men and women religious and priests gain in a healthy integration of the creative energy of sexuality for a higher strength and credibility of the testimony they give to the Church and to society? How should welcoming of different sexual orientations be included in these contexts? We feel this process might create awareness for the welcoming of any person that is “different”, event if it were inside the clergy or the institutes, in the fraternal coexistence and in the pastoral work.

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5. Jesus’ message and our apostolate as baptised men and women

In our personal stories there has been fragmentation due to the difficult process of assuming ourselves as “different” people; the Church has many times reinforced this fragmentation. At the same time, assuming ourselves has been for many of us an act of the most profound trust and honesty before God, in the depth of the soul, where “the Creator talks to its creature”. If we still continue and are in the Church, working for the Kingdom and committed, it has been to promote a change, to give testimony of this good news that is the dignity of the baptism.
We have not been called to remain in the “tents of Tabor” but to take this good news to our brothers and sisters, homosexual and heterosexual, and even to those who experience more resistance and difficulty with our acceptance.

We are aware that the resistance in our country and in the Church are still greater in a reality that remains hostile and that in many ecclesiastical sectors is being maintained and promoted. Having PADIS+ and the space CLC Chile provides; being known by the Episcopal Conference of Chile, with whose representatives we are in contact and who have visited us – we are fortunate. This awareness produces in us a sense of responsibility to our gay brothers, our lesbian sisters and our bisexual and transsexual brothers and sisters. We are a fortunate group for we have an intimate and private space in which we can meet, talk and grow together as a community of faith. Those that for various reasons do not have the safeguards and the protection we do have, are more exposed to homophobia and its effects.

We are a most fortunate group; we know that our history as PADIS+ is not the rule among those who still feel discriminated against and misunderstood due to their sexual orientation and membership in the Church, or that of their sons and daughters. What we have lived cannot be kept to ourselves – the good news must be shared.
Our testimony has allowed others recognising the action of God present in places where maybe they did not expect finding him. For the Church and for society it has been reason for joy and hope, for renewal and encounter with realities that have always been perceived as threatening.

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6. Our dreams as fathers and mothers of LGB sons and daughters

Our experience as parents, accompanying our homosexual and bisexual sons and daughters has proven us that it is indispensable that spaces within family pastorals are generated for fathers and mothers with homosexual and bisexual sons and daughters to be companions and contention to each other in this journey. When a son comes out to his parents is the time when the parents “go in” before society and the Church. Anguish arises, so do blame, insecurity, fear of the unknown and it seems the world is coming to an end.
We dream of a Church willing to welcome the families with homosexual and bisexual sons and daughters, caring for them and providing tools for this family to continue walking with their son or daughter without shame, without fear, feeling part of the community to which it belongs. All this for they are certain that their son or daughter will still be recognised and valued as a person in whole.
We dream of a Church willing to open itself and allow an integral development of the person, looking at the challenges the new times invite us to live.
We dream of a Church that is brave and has no fear to welcome all men and women, regardless of their sexual orientation, opening the way for the children knowing from their primary education the different models of family existing in all their dimension.
We dream of a Church willing to be faithful to the message of the gospel and be a place for encounter and welcoming of all of God’s children, with no exclusions whatsoever.
We dream of leaving behind manuals and documents and replacing them with active and genuine listening of the novelty the other reveals me. We have confidence in the action of God on the life of every person, in the Spirit that inhabits our consciences and in the certainty that we need each other mutually in the process of discovering ones with the others.

We feel that this desire resounds with what we read from other countries’ inputs for the Synod that some episcopal conferences have summarised and published. We dare also saying it resounds with a wider sensus fidei on the part of people not directly concerned with the matter we pose.

We believe, and we have so confirmed through the reactions of many people that have known us, that the fruits we perceive are reason for rejoicing and hoping: People that are hurt with the Church come back to it; they confirm their link to the Church and love it again through the testimony of the greater community – religious brothers and sisters, laymen, laywomen – who welcome them. Wounds can heal; those previously isolated and distant go back to live their faith in community; pain and anger bit by bit convert into sharing of the testimony of welcome and outgoing towards others.

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Pastoral de la Diversidad Sexual de CVX Chile

pastoraldiversidadsexual@gmail.com

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[1] Translation. The original is in Spanish language. Please refer to the original whenever possible.

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