(Photo: us.fotolia.com | kichigin19)
While most people are
familiar with Janet E. Smith because
of her work to clarify the Church’s teaching on contraception, she has recently
expanded her focus to include those with same-sex attraction and those who
minister to them.
Smith, who holds the Father
Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in
Detroit, has teamed up with Courage, the
international Catholic apostolate ministering to those with same-sex
attraction, to organize a conference entitled “Welcoming and
Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters With Same-Sex Attraction,” to be held
August 10-12 in Plymouth, Michigan.
The event is designed for
bishops, priests, religious, school superintendents, and diocesan personnel who
minister to those with same-sex attraction. It is also open to friends and
family of those with SSA who want to learn more about supporting their loved
Conference speakers include
Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, Courage Executive Director
Father Paul Check, Teresa Tomeo, Ralph Martin, and others, under the theme
“Love One Another as I Have Loved You.”
Smith, who has written and
edited several books, including The
Right to Privacy and Why
Humanae Vitae Was Right, spoke
with CWR about the motivation behind the event and how working with same-sex
attraction issues is not such a stretch from her previous work on contraception.
What motivated you and the other conference organizers to pull this event together?
Janet E. Smith: Courage has been working on devising and employing good pastoral
approaches to those who experience same-sex attraction for decades. I have been
speaking on the issue for years and have been impressed with the work of
Courage. Several of us who follow same-sex issues closely were a bit dismayed
at the interim report of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. While we
certainly agree that there should be no unjust discrimination against those
with same-sex attraction, the interim report seemed to treat same-sex
attraction too much as something that in itself brings gifts. We certainly
believe that those who experience SSA have wonderful gifts, but that SSA in
itself is not a source of gifts, though experience of dealing with it can be. We
also thought that certain movements concerning same-sex issues come perilously
close to treating same-sex attraction as another “gender.” When we saw that the
for the [October 2015] synod asked that people devise good pastoral approaches,
we thought we had something to offer. The documents associated with the synod
don’t seem to convey any awareness that some good pastoral practices have been
We decided to put on a
conference and also to publish the talks. We wanted to do something
comprehensive, something that would explain the authentic Christian
anthropology that underlies the Church’s teaching. We wanted to have those who
have worked closely with those who experience same-sex attraction by offering
them spiritual and psychological counseling explain their techniques and goals.
Most of their work is directed to underlying issues rather than to the same-sex
attraction itself. Essential to our project was to hear from those who
experience same-sex attraction and have committed themselves to a lifetime of
seeking holiness. Those stories are delightfully and sometimes perplexingly
diverse and altogether touching and inspiring. We also wanted an analysis of
why our culture has become so accepting of same-sex relationships, and also wanted
to provide some practical suggestions on how dioceses and parishes can educate
the faithful about these issues.
A book entitled Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral
Approaches to Same-Sex Issues is being published by Ignatius Press and will
likely be available in early August of this year. We have more than 30 speakers
for the conference. This volume includes only half of the essays; we hope that
we will publish soon the additional essays, which are every bit as good.
We have been working under
very tight deadlines to organize the conference and to publish a book (or two).
It has been gratifying to see how people responded to the idea for the
conference and the book. For instance, Archbishop Vigneron immediately approved
of the idea and has been a great help, as has [Detroit Auxiliary] Bishop
Michael Byrnes. Cardinal Collins from Toronto will be coming and Bishop Rhoades
from Fort Wayne-South Bend is sending a large contingent. I have been very
edified by the generous response from many very busy people who made time to
work on essays, to edit essays, to see things through to production, to get
everything ready for the conference. The Our Sunday Visitor Foundation gave us
a very generous grant. I can only think the quick inclination to be a part of this
stems from a love for those who experience SSA and a belief that the Church has
much to offer, and that we in the Church have much to learn.
One feature of this
conference/book is that many authors of the essays may be voices unknown to
readers. There is a freshness to the presentations; there is nothing hackneyed
or formulaic here. The authors are not naïve about the challenges that same-sex
attraction presents, but they are convinced of the power of Christ to give us
the graces to live the truth.
We know there are many
people out there who want to be good friends to those who experience SSA; who
want to walk with them in our mutual quest for holiness; who want to build
loving communities with them. They do not want to sacrifice the truth to be loving,
but rather are convinced that living in accord with truth is necessary for
those seeking authentic love, happiness, and holiness. We don’t think we have
the final solution and answers to all the questions raised about these issues,
but we believe we have made a good start and that people who attend the
conference and/or buy the book(s) will learn a great deal. We also hope to hold
a conference in Rome before the Synod on the Family in October.
are well known as a defender of the Church’s teaching about contraception. Have
you turned your attention from contraception to SSA, or is there a connection
between the two?
Smith: Maybe I have a pathological appetite for controversy?
I haven’t really turned my
attention from contraception to SSA but extended my conviction that procreative
power is a defining and wondrous feature of the sexual act. Much of my work
(see particularly my talk Contraception:
Why Not) explains how contraception has been devastating to relationships
and our culture. The connections between contracepted heterosexual sex and
homosexual “sexual acts” are real and help explain why the vast majority of the
population that is basically heterosexual is willing to approve of same-sex
relationshipsdesired only by about 2 percent of the population. Whether
consciously or not, those who use contraception have come to think of “sex” as
a recreational activity that need have no relationship to making babies or even
to being an expression of love. If it is moral for heterosexuals to engage in
non-procreative, uncommitted sexual acts, why shouldn’t it be moral for those
with SSA to engage in non-procreative, uncommitted “sexual acts”?
I also simply and
completely love the Church and its wisdom. I think many people in our culture
are tremendously unhappy and misguided either because of their own choices
regarding sexuality or the choices of others (such as their parents!), and I
want to spread a truth that I think will help people find a true and
The deafening message from secular media is that same-sex attraction is a fixed
state that, once actively embraced, leads to happiness. What’s wrong with this
Smith: What is wrong with it is that it is false to human nature and the
experience of many of those who have same-sex attractionboth of those who are
still active in the “gay” lifestyle and those who have chosen to live chastely.
The life of every person is difficult; the lives of those who struggle with
unwanted temptations that are challenging to control are especially difficult.
Those who present any kind of rosy picture of life in general, and in
particular of the lives of those with same-sex attraction who seek to find
happiness in same-sex relationships, are not presenting true pictures. For
males the amount of promiscuity often results in serious physical and
psychological problems; for females the cycle of falling in love, trying to
live together, and living with the heartbreak of breaking up can be
devastating. Just as heterosexuals who do not live by the Church’s teaching are
often putting a false face on their experiences, so too do many of those with
same-sex attraction. That is why the testimonies of those who have left the
“gay” life and are seeking holiness is so important. This is a testimony the
media ignores or discounts.
What resources are available to those who want to offer solid pastoral care
and/or the love of friendship to those who struggle with SSA?
Smith: Courage has a terrific set of materials. A very important tool is the
artistic and moving film The Desire of
the Everlasting Hills, which features the testimonies of three individuals
who were in same-sex relationships but who have returned to the Church and
found happiness there. It is a terrific tool for expanding the understanding of
what various choices entail. Courage is also producing a series of videos on
same-sex issues that will be a tremendous help for educators in teaching people
about same-sex attraction.
What would you say to someone who sees nothing wrong with the “gay lifestyle,”
either as a participant or outsider?
Smith: There is no pat statement that is suitable for every person: speaking
to the active homosexual is very different from speaking to the confused
teenager who does not experience SSA but who wants to accept his/her friend who
does. Speaking to parents of a child with SSA presents its own challenges.
Speaking to an atheist or agnostic is very different from speaking to a
Christian. Speaking to a Christian knowledgeable about Scripture and respectful
of Scripture is very different from speaking to one who interprets Scripture
according to modern categories.
Most people who do not
experience SSA but who are very favorable to same-sex relationships are
favorable more out of compassion than out of a conviction that same-sex
relationships are natural and good. They rightly sense that everyone is meant
to love and be loved: thus they say things like “every one has a right to love
whomever they want.” They don’t want their loved ones or anyone with SSA to
live lives of loneliness. It is important to acknowledge the truth of the
insight that life without love is unbearable and not true to human nature. But
it is important to point out that there are many kinds of love and that most of
them don’t and shouldn’t involve sexual expression. Parents and grandchildren
love each other; brothers and sisters love each other; teachers and students
love each other; and friends love each other, but none of these loves should be
expressed sexually. Expressing love sexually is appropriate only for those who
can participate in the full “meaning” of the sexual act, an act that includes
affirmation of the complementary difference between the two sexes and the
orientation to new life that belongs in sexual expression.
those who think God makes people homosexualstart to waver in their approval of
same-sex relationships when they are provoked to think about why God would have
given homosexuals the same genitals as heterosexuals, genitals that don’t “fit”
well and cannot enable homosexuals in their sexual “acts” either to achieve
complementary unity or to be the source of new life. Both in the divine economy
and in the theory of evolution, same-sex “sexual acts” (they cannot be called
“intercourse”) find no intelligible place.
At the same time, we
must be adamant that we do not want our brother and sisters who experience same-sex
attraction to be lonely and unloved. We need to be their friends and companions
and welcome them into a warm circle of loving friends and family.