By Dan Russo
This is the third article in a three-part series on Courage/Encourage in the archdiocese. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
DUBUQUE — When Catholic parents find out their child is attracted to people of the same-sex, it can be daunting. How does a mother or father make sure that child knows they are loved, but also explain to them why they want to be faithful to what the church teaches on homosexuality?
Monica and Linda, two mothers from the Archdiocese of Dubuque whose sons are gay, have experienced this struggle first-hand. They are part of Encourage, a Catholic apostolate for parents and others whose loved ones have same-sex attraction. This group, which has one branch so far meeting monthly in the archdiocese, is a companion organization to Courage — a ministry for Catholics with same-sex attraction who want to live out the church’s call to chastity.
Monica clearly remembers the day her son, then in his late teens, told her about his sexual orientation.
“I asked him because he had told me he had to have a heart to heart talk with me,” recalled Monica. “I went to the chapel and prayed about it and that’s what came to my mind. Right away I said, ‘I love you and there’s nothing you could say that would change that.’ I started with that and the walls kind of caved in on me after that. I struggled for a long time.”
During the initial discussion, Monica and her husband brought up their concerns, such as the impact on his spiritual life and possible risk to his health from sexually transmitted diseases if he became sexually active. The young man, who was passionate about his faith growing up, had been striving to come to terms with his sexuality.
“He had a very difficult time,” recalled his mother. “He was quiet about it. His faith life I worried about a lot. I tried to talk to him, but that was a tough time. I do remember him saying … that when he first discovered that attraction, in his early teens he would hold the crucifix and beg God to take it away. He didn’t want it. When (God) didn’t, he felt like ‘This is who I am.’”
Linda had a similar experience with her son, who revealed his attraction to her in his 20s. Both the women’s sons have been sexually active at different points and there remains tension around the issue, although they now “agree to disagree” on church teaching.
“That’s one thing we’ve learned right away — that (people with same-sex attraction) are very good at building walls —that they are one way with their family and another way with their friends,” said Linda. “In some ways they feel liberated when they can finally be themselves when they tell their family but I don’t think our son feels that way because he’s not bringing it up. He’s never really asked to bring (his boyfriend) home. I pray for that young man too and I would meet him. He’s loved by God. His mom loves him.”
The church teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but homosexual activity, and all other sexual activity outside of marriage, is sinful. According to the Catechism, which explains the church teaching on homosexuality in sections 2357-2359, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” because they are contrary to natural law and the biological sexual complementarity of males and females. The acts also go against the teaching of Scripture, the document states. The church goes on to say that people with same-sex attraction should be treated with love and compassion and that “unjust discrimination” should be avoided. The term “intrinsically disordered” and the teaching on chastity can be hard to accept for many people, including some Catholics.
“My daughter, she’s very faithful but she’s asked that question, ‘Why shouldn’t (her brother) be allowed to love?’” said Linda. “That’s actually not the right question to ask because he is allowed to love.”
Before becoming involved in Courage and Encourage both Monica and Linda had studied the church’s teaching on sexuality and accepted it, but note that it can be very hard to express to others in their lives.
“Deep down in your heart you know it’s right, but we haven’t been given those words to describe what we know until Pope John Paul II wrote Theology of the Body,” said Linda. “He was able to explain the natural law, complementarity. All of those things which are not moralistic. It’s basically scientific.”
Knowing that loving their sons while staying true to Catholic teaching would be difficult, both mothers sought out support. They met by chance in a prayer group. They then learned about Courage and Encourage and decided to go to a national conference the group holds every year at Mundelein Seminary near Chicago. The decision to go for the first time several years ago was a tough one, until the Holy Spirit intervened while Monica was at a eucharistic adoration chapel.
“There was a young woman in there and she handed me a note,” recalled Monica. “She wanted to sit down and chat with me. She was a missionary. I went (back) Wednesday and she was there again. As we were walking out, she said, ‘Do you think we could go out for a soda to get to know each other?’ I said, ‘I have way too much going on, how about on Friday?’ She said, ‘I can’t I’m going to a Courage conference. Do you know what that is?’ I actually started to cry and I said, ‘I’m supposed to be there.’”
Both women noted the deep faith of the Courage and Encourage members at the first conference they attended.
“The first thing that struck me was that Mass was the most reverent incredible experience I ever had at a Mass,” said Linda. “You knew that every single person going to it believed with their whole heart and soul that they were receiving Christ (in the Eucharist) and it was evident on their faces. It was very gratifying and hopeful to see so many clergy there supporting.”
The women went back to the conference this past summer. At this point, they don’t get into debates about church teaching with their sons.
“We’re trying to take it one day at a time,” said Monica. “I say a rosary for my kids every day. My job is to pray and not try to do God’s work. As I said to my son, it would be so much easier for me to go with the flow and go with the culture. I’d fit in with just about everybody if I did that, but my heart (would not) be right. I have to go with what I believe our Lord is directing here. I would say pray for (children with same-sex attraction) and love them. Listen to them because they’ve been hurting for years. This is a struggle (my son had) been keeping to himself for years.”
Both moms said homosexuality is just one of many sexual issues young people are dealing with today, including co-habitation outside marriage and other situations.
“(Meeting our sons’ partners) would be no different if (an unmarried) son was living with his girlfriend and asked if he could bring her home,” said Monica. “It’s basically the same thing. You have to welcome people. You love the sinner but not the sin.”
Monica and Linda, with the help of Father Jerry Kopacek, director of the ministry, renewed an organized effort to spread both Courage and Encourage in the archdiocese in 2014. The priest had been meeting with individuals one-on-one and had been leading a similar group in Waterloo for several years, but rekindled the outreach when recently re-assigned to Dubuque. The mothers approached Archbishop Jackels about their intentions. After getting his approval, they have been teaming up with Father Kopacek and are hoping to help as many families and individuals as they can.
“The real emphasis for Encourage is prayer, because that’s our role,” said Linda. “Our role is not to convert our children. Our role is not to be activist as far as being out there with a microphone or anything. Our role is to pray for them, ourselves and the rest of our family.”
For more information on Courage or Encourage, contact Father Kopacek at DBQSPXSD@dbqarch.org.
This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.