The other day on Twitter, someone said; People should not bury their heads in sand. Kids do not learn to be gay; and then asked me: Honest curiosity, how would a Catholic standpoint address a pupils issues coming to terms with being gay?
So where do we start? Perhaps here: 'Kids do not learn to be gay.'
That was asserted as a self-evident truth: and presumably for similar reasons to the reasoning behind: 'when did you choose to be straight?'
In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly points out, when discussing homosexuality (§2357 ff) 'Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.'
As with so many other aspects of the development of the human, it seems to be a mixture of (in their broadest senses) both nature and nurture.
That is, some people may, for natural reasons, be more likely to be subject to same sex attraction than others; and the circumstances of their lives will incline some of those more than others to develop such characteristics further.
At that stage, of course, it is largely out of the awareness, let alone control, of the individual, and is therefore entirely blameless. Nonetheless it is, objectively, a disorder; that is both self-evident from biology, and clear from the teaching of the Church (§2360: 'Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of a man and a woman' and §2357 'Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered'). People suffering from this disorder must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity (§2358).
Nonetheless, I think that there is a step, and a significant one, from being involuntarily subject to same-sex attraction (SSA), and declaring oneself to be gay (either to oneself or to others.)
I know many people who are subject to SSA; some of them recognise the truth and wisdom of the Church's teaching and live lives of heroic struggle. Others declare themselves to be gay, and the Church to be wrong.
The latter declare that their 'sexual identity' is not a choice; but in fact it is: they could have chosen to respond as the former group have done.
When is that choice made? They declare, and I imagine sincerely, that they never made such a choice. But that, along with the question 'when did you choose to be straight?' misunderstands how we develop as human beings.
Consider the case of a brave fireman, who risks his life to save someone from a burning building. Afterwards someone asks him how he came to be so brave. Typically, he cannot answer the question. He may deny that he is brave, or say that he had no choice; and his colleagues may testify that he has always been that way.
But the truth is, such a characteristic is built over years of small choices: choosing to act bravely rather than in a cowardly fashion, time after time, until it is a part of his character. So by the time of this incident he is not, perhaps, making a choice for bravery. But over time, he has done so, and consistently at that.
Bravery, like any moral quality can be learned; even though we may have different pre-dispositions for it.
That is why the Catechism goes on to say that the correct response to homosexual inclinations lies in 'the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom.' (§2359)
Another leap of illogic is the assumption that if 'being gay' is not a choice, it is therefore a good thing. At one level this is understandable: if it is not a choice, then nobody can be culpable: no guilt attaches where there is no choice. But the lack of guilt does not mean it is a good state. Consider the man born blind: Our Lord assures us that it was through no fault of his or his parents: yet it is still a disorder, a falling away from the perfection of God's design and plan.
How do such disorders come about? Gay Christians are fond of saying that they accept the way God has created them. But that is to ignore this problem: that creation is not the way God created it. Something has happened in between: that primeval catastrophe known as the Fall.
So while one is not culpable of being subject to SSA, it is nonetheless a bad thing. And where moral responsibility, and therefore the possibility of either virtue or sin, does arise is in how one responds to that condition.
So: 'how would a Catholic standpoint address a pupils issues coming to terms with being gay?'
Firstly, by not accepting the assumptions of the question as framed. 'Being gay' is not something that simply happens to one. One may be subject to SSA, and to temptations in that direction, but we would not collude with the Orwellian use of language that is designed to make this seem normative, morally good, and inevitable, as none of that is the case.
I know many of my gay friends would assert that my analysis is not true to their experience. However, we cannot give primacy to experience in that way, as we know that it is unreliable.
For example, another friend of mine has left his wife and children. He argues that he has a better relationship with his children now that he has left than when he lived at home with them in an atmosphere of quarrelling and resentment. His wife and children (and indeed I, as an outside observer) see a very different reality. But he has convinced himself, sincerely, that this is the case: because that is something we human beings are very adept at doing. We know that our intentions are, by and large, good, and so we justify our behaviour, above all to ourselves, by interpreting the evidence in ways that allow us to seem good. Our old friend confirmation bias has a lot to contribute here.
We are really not the best judges in our own cases, as we have too much of a vested interest in the outcome!
Other ways we can help the hypothetical child in the question above include sound formation before this issue even raises its head. We need to teach children that their impulses are not always good (ie Original Sin) and that they can be controlled (personal responsibility). We do that both by word and by example, and also by helping children make good decisions in small matters (such as not bullying, not reacting angrily to provocation and so on) so that as they confront more difficult challenges (the various temptations of the teenage years) they have some character to draw on, and a good grasp of what is at stake.
Further, we need to teach them the good news of the human vocation; and the truths of the Church's noble vision of chastity; and again we need to set an example: we should ourselves avoid watching inappropriate TV programmes or films, reading indecent books or magazines and so on.
We should teach and exemplify specific disciplines, such as custody of the eyes: a habitual response of avoiding looking at anything or anyone who may provoke lust in us.
Also, however, we do well not to dwell too much on these things. A growing child who is kept busy with education and healthy recreational activities will have less time to dwell on such matter - particularly if responsible adults steer him or her away from inappropriate TV etc. Allowing teenagers to brood on sex is very bad for them: it takes on a disproportionate part of their thinking and identity.
Moreover, we must teach, and exemplify, heroic courage, so that should one of our children or pupils turn out (despite all we can do to minimise the risk) to be one of those of whom the Catechism speaks 'who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies' they may be able 'to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.' (§2358).
That is done: By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.' (§2359)
Above all, of course, we must love them, and give them the security of knowing that we will love them no matter what, just as God does; but that we love them too much to lie to them or to collude with the world in saying that homosexual acts are anything other than intrinsically disordered.