A recent request from students at a Catholic high school to establish a gay-straight alliance club for students has led to inquiries about the Church's approach to pastoral care of individuals with same-sex attraction.
Last February, the archdiocese published "Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those With Same-Sex Attraction," as a resource to guide Church leaders with specific pastoral situations related to same-sex attraction. The document underlines the benefits and dangers of providing support groups. One thing is clear, though — the Church doesn't support the idea of conversion therapy, the so-called practice in which interventions are made to try to change a person's sexual orientation.
The issue received public and media attention after Nerinx Hall high school leadership rejected a student request to start a gay-straight alliance club.
Kurt Nelson, superintendent of Catholic education for the archdiocese, said the very idea that students requested a club signals that they "want more help and support."
But Nelson also said that "just because you don't have a club doesn't mean you're not providing help and support to kids." However, many factors need to be considered, such as the adults who will lead the group, as well as providing content that doesn't contradict Church teaching, thus posing the threat of creating a public scandal.
Offering trusted, trained adults in a school setting to accompany students is one option in which Catholic high schools provide pastoral care.
"We have had some schools already consulting with us on the issue of support for students with same-sex attraction," Nelson said. "They've identified staff members that are well-versed in Catholic teaching, but a safe person where kids can talk about this. It's somewhere they can go that they're not going to be judged but will be valued as a child of God."
The one-on-one approach also provides students an experience of accompaniment in many individual aspects of their lives, beyond the issue of sexual orientation.
The archdiocese and the national Courage Apostolate held a series of study days last spring to better understand the Church's pastoral care approach to individuals with same-sex attraction. The workshops provided select groups, including priests, deacons, educators and youth ministers, with better knowledge of the issues faced by those with same-sex attraction; and gave them the tools to respond compassionately, truthfully and charitably through all facets of pastoral care, according to event organizers.
According to Nelson, the Catholic Education Office is planning a follow up with educators now that they've had time to digest the "Hope and Holiness" document. The office serves as a resource to Catholic high schools, whether archdiocesan sponsored or independent. The office also assists the archbishop in upholding the Catholic identity of schools, which is required by Canon Law (can. 803-804).
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Hope and Holiness: Pastoral Care for Those with Same-Sex Attraction," was a document created in 2016 by the Archdiocese of St. Louis as a resource for those who desire to apply the teachings and care of the Church to very specific pastoral situations of same-sex attraction.
To read the document, visit www.archstl.org/hope