Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Gay and Lesbian Students in Catholic High Schools: A Qualitative Study of Alumni Narratives

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Gay and Lesbian Students in Catholic High Schools: A Qualitative Study of Alumni Narratives

Article excerpt

The Catholic Magisterium has made a distinction between homosexual orientation (disordered but not sinful), homosexual activity (sinful, but judged "with prudence"), rights of gay and lesbian people, and the Church's pastoral responsibilities to gay and lesbian people. Both the Vatican and the American bishops have clearly stated that the topic of homosexuality must be addressed in Catholic education, but the emphases on how it is addressed differ between the Vatican (emphasis on finding causes and cures) and the American bishops (providing pastoral care and inclusion). This article deals with the experiences of gay and lesbian youth in Catholic high schools. It is based on in-depth interviews with 25 (12 female and 13 male) gay and lesbian alumni who attended Catholic high schools in the 1980s and 1990s. What emerged is a theme of "disintegration." Things simply did not fit together in their lives in the areas of family, peers, school, spirituality, and identity. This is in stark contrast with Catholic teaching, which proposes that the purpose of Catholic education is the integration of all these areas.

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Both the American bishops and Vatican Congregations have issued a number of statements that address the topic of homosexuality in recent decades (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1975, 1986, 1994; United States Catholic Conference [USCC], 1976). While all documents touch on a number of issues, those from the American bishops tend to place greater emphasis on the pastoral care of gay and lesbian people while those from the Vatican tend to place greater emphasis on the immorality of homosexual sexual activity (Maher, 2003). A distinction is made between homosexual orientation and homosexual sexual activity. Violence and discrimination against gay and lesbian people is condemned, and the Church is called upon to minister to the needs of gay and lesbian people.

Since the Vatican Council II (1965), the Church has emphasized that children have a right to sex education. The theme that sexuality is a gift of God is present in all magisterial statements. Both the American bishops and Vatican congregations have also issued a number of statements that address the topic of homosexuality in Catholic education (Pontifical Council for the Family, 1996; Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, 1983; USCC, 1979, 1981, 1991; USCC, NCCB Committee on Marriage and Family, 1997). All emphasize that homosexuality must be addressed in Catholic education. In general, those from the American bishops tend to place greater emphasis on the pastoral care of gay and lesbian young people while those from the Vatican tend to place greater emphasis on finding causes and cures (or at least means of control) of homosexual behavior (Maher, 2003). The most comprehensive statement from the American bishops regarding the topic of homosexuality and Catholic education was in the document Human Sexuality: A Catholic Perspective for Education and Lifelong Learning (USCC, 1991). The final paragraph of the section reads:

   Educationally, homosexuality cannot and ought not to be skirted or
   ignored. The topic must be faced in all objectivity by the pupil
   and the educator when the case presents itself. First and foremost,
   we support modeling and teaching respect for every human person,
   regardless of sexual orientation. Second, a parent or teacher must
   also present clearly and unambiguously moral norms of the Christian
   tradition regarding homosexual genital activity, appropriately
   geared to the age level and maturity of the learner. Finally,
   parents and other educators must remain open to the possibility
   that a particular person, whether adolescent or adult, may be
   struggling to accept his or her own homosexual orientation. The
   distinction between being homosexual and doing homosexual genital
   actions, while not always clear and convincing, is a helpful and
   important one when dealing with the complex issue of homosexuality,
   particularly in the educational and pastoral arena. … 
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