True compassion

The Church, by which I mean hierarchy, clergy, religious, and laity, must step up and face the challenge posed by the militant gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer activists -- the GLBTQ coalition. It is simply not enough to defend marriage; we have to explain to the people in the pews, to our children, and to world why the Church does not -- cannot -- accept sexual relations between two persons of the same sex. We must do so with love and compassion, but without sacrificing the truth.

First, while many people sincerely believe that individuals are born with same-sex attraction (SSA) and gender identity disorders (GID) and can't change, there is no replicated scientific evidence to support that belief. There is overwhelming evidence SSA and GID are not genetic or biological conditions. If they were, then identical twins would virtually always have the same pattern of sexual attraction and this is not the case.

That does not mean that SSA and GID are a choice. Nor is there a single explanation for all SSA. Each person with SSA has his or her own unique personal history. A number of therapists are convinced that some babies are born more vulnerable to the anxiety. This vulnerability combined with early negative experiences can affect the babies' ability to identify with their same-sex parent or peers. The child grows up trying to find the love and acceptance missed as a baby and this need becomes interpreted as sexual desire. Because these negative experiences occur during the first two years of life before memory, GLBTQ persons may honestly say they always felt different and were born that way.

Although persons with GID and SSA have free will and can choose not to act on their feelings, the inner forces driving them to engage in sexual behavior with persons of the same sex are very strong and their struggle and suffering should not be underestimated. There are, however, numerous reports of change of sexual attraction -- both spontaneous and through therapy. The more we understand about the origins of SSA, the greater the potential for prevention.

Therapists who work with people who want to be free of SSA and GID have made real progress in understanding the early childhood traumas and deficits which put a person on the path to GID and SSA. I strongly recommend "Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy'' by Joseph J. Nicolosi and "The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction: A Comprehensive Counseling Resource'' by Janelle M. Hallman.

There is growing understanding of the part failure to attach plays in many psychological disorders. According to attachment theory, in order to achieve psychological wholeness a person needs to successfully negotiate several stages in early childhood: attachment to the mother, separation from the mother, identification with the same-sex parent or peers. Failure to negotiate the first stage, makes it more difficult to negotiate the second, and third. While a history of failure to securely attach, separate, and identify probably accounts for many instances of SSA and GID, there are other less common reasons. When the individual histories of persons with SSA and GID are probed, the reasons for their patterns of thought can usually be discerned.

As Catholic Christians we have an obligation to treat every person as a fellow sinner in need of grace. We can thank God that we do not have these particular temptations, while at the same time making sure that therapy, counseling, support groups (like Courage), and understanding priests in the confessional are available. If the problem is never mentioned from the pulpit, if support and counseling are not easily accessible, if the priest in the confessional has no practical direction to offer, those who suffer from such temptations will rightly feel alone and abandoned. They will be tempted by the world which says "Come out. Join the gay community. Be proud."

When they do so, they will join a community where psychological disorders, suicidal ideation, substance abuse problems, relationship instability, domestic violence, STDS, HIV, cancer and other health problems are far more common. They will cut themselves off from the source of grace and often become angry at God.

Compassion requires that we do not, like the priest and the Levite, pass by the man who fell among thieves, but offer real help.

Dale O'Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality."

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