By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Catholics attracted to someone of the same sex, and the families who love them, want their church to treat them with dignity and respect. Leaders in the Davenport Diocese recognize the need to minister to these individuals and families. That’s why two diocesan priests — one a longtime pastor and the other a vocations director and moral theologian — will attend conferences this summer on same-sex attraction. The diocese’s Marriage and Family Life office, meanwhile, is developing resources and planning to create chapters of two support groups. One ministers to persons with same-sex attraction and the other ministers to family members, spouses and friends.
The initiatives stem in part from a report on the reality of families today in the Davenport Diocese that Bishop Martin Amos prepared for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Family. His report focuses on diocesan Catholics’ responses to a series of 46 questions concerning a separate report produced by the 2014 extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family.
“Pastoral care to persons with same-sex attraction was the second-most commented on section coming from our respondents,” said Marianne Agnoli, the diocese’s Marriage and Family Life Coordinator. Bishop Amos’ report noted that “the starting point in addressing this area of ministry must always be the full human dignity and value of the person experiencing same-sex attraction as a child of God.” Furthermore, “viable alternatives and support for those who wish to live in accord with church teaching should be offered.”
Agnoli has also talked with clergy and parish staff seeking guidance ministering to people experiencing or affected by same-sex attractions and individuals and families searching for support. She identified two support groups for the diocese to consider. Courage, an international apostolate of the Catholic Church, ministers to individuals attracted to someone of the same sex. Encourage is the affiliate support group for their family members, spouses and friends. Agnoli and diocesan priests Father Tony Herold and Father Thom Hennen have been working with the Archdiocese of Dubuque and the Diocese of Des Moines. Both dioceses offer Courage and Encourage chapters.
“We hope to begin establishing Courage/ Encourage support groups throughout the Davenport Diocese by this fall,” Agnoli said. “It’s an effort to respond to Pope Francis’ call to prepare for the Year of Mercy by intentionally reaching out to individuals and families who may feel as though they are living on the ‘fringes’ of the church.”
Fr. Herold, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, will attend the 28th Annual Courage Conference in Mundelein, Illinois, from July 30–Aug. 2. Fr. Hennen, diocesan vocations director, will attend a conference titled: “Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same-Sex Attraction” in Plymouth, Michigan, Aug. 10-12.
“I hope to gain insight into healthy ways to minister to folks who struggle with same-sex attraction,” Fr. Herold said. “Also, I hope to understand the issues that are before the church as we embrace our brothers and sisters and those who love them with the compassion and sensitivity that should mark our lives as Christians. The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides me some marching orders.”
He noted that “many folks who identify with same-sex attraction believe that the church hates them or that we do not believe they are fully human and/or worthy of God’s grace and mercy. This is not true. The struggles people experience around sexuality are not unique to those who live with homosexual tendencies, although the specific issue of same-sex attraction has unique challenges. Every one of us is called to live a chaste life. The real key to ministering the love of God is accepting, loving and helping one another to live a life of intentional discipleship in Christ.”
Fr. Herold hopes the information he gains from the conference in Mundelein “could shed more light than heat on a very timely and controversial topic. I also hope that we would provide support for those who are struggling with same-sex attraction and for their parents, families, relatives and friends. We need each other and Christ’s love embraces all.”
“I feel strongly that while the church must continue to preach the truth regarding sexual morality (in general, not just in regard to homosexuality), we must always do so in love,” said Fr. Hennen. “We cannot hold firm to the church’s teaching without also reaching out pastorally to those who are affected by this teaching. I think there is a real need for this ministry (outreach to those individuals who experience same-sex attraction and their families) in our diocese and I am most willing and grateful to help in getting something going. My hope for the conference is just to get a sense of where to begin.”
Fr. Hennen said that over the years he’s encountered “persons struggling with same-sex attraction, either in the sacrament of reconciliation or in the setting of pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. I have found that for the most part these individuals truly love the church and want to remain faithful, but like all Christians they struggle. Often they feel spiritually homeless. I have always felt at a loss as to local resources to which I could direct them to help them to grow more. So, I think this will be a very valuable ministry for the diocese.”
For more information concerning resources for those experiencing same-sex attractions or about becoming a part of this diocesan support ministry, please contact Marianne Agnoli, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator, agnolim@davenport
diocese.org or (563) 888-4242. All correspondence will be kept confidential.