WHEN a family member discloses their homosexual orientation there are usually many questions, emotions and a great deal of distress, not only for the family receiving the news, but for the person disclosing.
Many families experience feelings of guilt, believing they must have done something wrong.
Others may feel shame because they’re concerned about what others think.
Some parents blame themselves with the misconception they were too weak, too strong, absent or overly protective of sons and daughters.
Others fear what they don’t understand, believing their child will be lost to them in some mysterious world or will automatically become HIV+.
Additionally, for the Christian family, there may often be the extra stress of the Church and their religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, in many cases families remove themselves from Church at a time when they’re in need of compassion and understanding with the fear of perceived judgment from fellow parishioners.
It is a time when family values and beliefs can be greatly challenged. Some feel they have to choose between their religion and their child.
Some time ago I met a wonderful Christian family struggling with the knowledge of having a homosexual son.
The parents, married 39 years, were deeply religious and the family regularly attended church. That is until four years ago when they began to feel they and their son were being negatively judged by fellow parishioners.
Like many, the father believed homosexuals were paedophiles and deviants and, not surprisingly, greatly feared for his son’s future.
Both parents prayed twice a day for two years for their son to be heterosexual. The father felt such shame and fear that he suffered severe depression and was hospitalised because of stress and heart problems.
Furthermore, both parents became concerned about their son’s mental health, seriously fearing an attempted suicide because of the stress he was experiencing.
The father is the first to say he treated his son badly, but now believes him to be heroic because of the brave stance he took to live a life without secrets.
Unfortunately, many in society don’t understand the self loathing these young people experience and for some it can take many years to come to terms with their sexuality, if ever.
The many young people I have talked to about “coming out” all said telling parents is the most difficult thing they’ve ever had to do, because they believe parental acceptance is most important. Research indicates that considering suicide or the risk of homelessness is greater for homosexuals than heterosexuals, and that its incidence increases markedly around the time they disclose their orientation to family.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu argues the struggle with homosexuality is like the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
He believes lesbians and gays (like the blacks were) are blamed and made to suffer for something they have no control over. He believes sexual orientation is not a matter of choice and it’s hard to believe anyone would choose to be gay in such a homophobic world.
The debate about the rights and wrongs of homosexuality will continue for a long time.
However, showing kindness and understanding towards families and young people struggling with this dilemma will encourage them to remain in the Church at a time when regretfully so many quietly leave never to return to fellowship.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
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