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Catholic theology and LGBTQ suicide

| Thursday, December 10, 2015

Conversations about suicide can be awkward. A number of my friends have said that they don’t understand what would cause someone to make that decision. But there’s an answer within Catholic theology.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote that “man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: It is good that you exist. … Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself.” From this acceptance, man can come to understand and know his acceptance by God. Perhaps this is why Fr. John Navone suggests that the pure of heart have a radical vision of acceptance: “To enjoy the beatitude of the pure heart means that wherever you look, whatever you are looking at, what you see is God.”

But there’s also a dark side to Benedict’s words. Just as man can only learn to accept himself through acceptance by another, he can only learn a rejection of the self through rejection by another. Benedict continues: “If ever man’s sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable.” In Catholic theology, God’s acceptance and rejection are intimately tied to the activity of members of the Church. “Body of Christ” is not merely analogical or metaphorical, but is of such depth that the activity of each Christian is the literal activity of God. The Catechism teaches about a mysterious union, such that “whomever you exclude from your communion will be excluded from communion with God.”

Acceptance and recognition by others is central to reconciliation with reality. Perhaps as a corollary to Benedict, Romano Guardini writes: “What I do not perceive does not belong to my world.” Just as God sustains the existence of all things by being mindful of them, in a way we can personally annihilate those things that we work to forget, overlook or reject. And, “They wish I was gone,” can translate to, “I wish I was gone.” Benedict writes, “The moral drama, the decision for good or evil, begins with our eyes, when we choose whether or not to look at the face of the other.” And it ends when we look away.

This might help explain the high suicide rates among LGBTQ people. Nearly one in three Americans who commit suicide are LGBTQ, a number as disproportionately high as LGBTQ rejection. A 2012 study found that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and more than 40 percent of these kids either ran away because of family rejection of sexual orientation or gender identity or were forced out of their homes by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many perceive religious influences as the source of this social and psychological rejection. More than 60 percent of Americans believe that “negative messages” from places of worship “contribute either a lot or a little to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.” This perception is perhaps validated by a recent study finding that, while treatment from mental health or medical providers had no effect on suicide attempt rates for LGB people, faith-based counseling was associated with increased attempt rates.

G.K. Chesterton writes: “[A] suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything.” But for many LGBTQ people, suicide can be a response to Christian family or friends who want to see the last of them. Or it can be a response to the fear that a disclosure of certain parts of their lives would incite such a desire. Whether right or wrong, it’s a response following a certain kind of logic driven by Christian platitudes about protecting the “traditional family” or condemning “aberrations” to “God’s design.” The Catechism states that suicide “offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity,” but suicide is sometimes a response to ties that have been broken by others. Just as Evangelium Vitae, “The Gospel of Life,” insists that “every man is his ‘brother’s keeper,’” there’s a gospel of death that corresponds to those who are not kept.

I suspect as American culture finds stable places for LGBTQ people to seek fulfillment in society, we will more often tend towards those spaces than the tenuous positions established in conservative Christian communities. But if Christian communities want to do more than simply walk the line between life and death for LGBTQ people, they’ll need to create a new paradigm for sexual ethics. As Guardini writes, the moral life becomes impoverished when it is “a mere matter of routine.” It needs, rather, “the creative realization of something which does not as yet exist.” But people might get tired waiting around for it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • NDaniels

    The moral life becomes impoverished when we deny The Truth of Love.
    Love is ordered to the inherent personal and relational Dignity of the persons existing in a relationship of Love.

    Many of our beloved sons and daughters struggle with learning how to develop healthy and Holy relationships and friendships that are grounded in authentic Love, and thus respectful of themselves and others, in private as well as in public, not just those beloved sons and daughters who have developed a same-sex sexual attraction.

    Catholic Theology is grounded in the truth about the human person, who from the moment of conception, has been created and brought into being, in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a beloved son or daughter.

    • João Pedro Santos

      And you are another disgusting human being contributing to the stigmatization of LGBTQ people. People like you have blood in their hands.

      • John Robin

        That’s quite an abusive comment. Rather than critique NDaniels’ post factually, you condemn Daniels as a “disgusting human being”?

        Are ad hominem attacks tolerated in this forum?

        • João Pedro Santos

          It isn’t an abusive comment. In a viewpoint about LGBTQ suicide (which happens due to hate and prejudice), NDaniels made a comment which contributes to the stigmatization of LGBTQ people (and it isn’t the first time such comments are made by him). So yes, his comment was disgusting.

          • John Robin

            You didn’t like NDaniels’ comment. Rather that intelligently critique the comment, you called its author “another disgusting human being”. That’s an ad hominem attack, and a form of personal abuse. And a very poor rhetorical tool.

          • João Pedro Santos

            I criticized his comment. I don’t really care whether you consider my comment to be “inteligent” or not. I’m not waiting from approval from homophobes (and this is not an ad hominem, it’s the truth).

          • John Robin

            João Pedro Santos, everyone can plainly see what you wrote: “…you are another disgusting human being…”.

            That’s over the top: as is the rest of your comment, labeling your opponent as belonging to a group guilty of the blood of others.

            Ad hominem attacks like yours do not display either intelligence or good character. I regret the times that I’ve shamefully stooped to using them. I encourage you to avoid them.

          • ND2016

            Wow, what an incredible piece, and how absolutely heartbreaking that some felt the need to try to continue the problem with their comments.

            I remember reading this when it was first published and finding it moving. I searched for it this morning because I needed support, and I’m walking away feeling worse than before because of some of these comments.

            What motivates someone, after reading an article about how people in the Church sometimes stigmatize LGBT people so much that they want to kill themselves, to then go online and make sure that they continue stigmatizing LGBT people? How blind are you to the message of this piece?

            Christopher Damian, thank you for this honest, brave, and moving piece. To the homophobic commenters on here (that’s not an attack or charged word, that’s simply the correct word to describe those people in this situation), you make me embarrassed to have graduated from Notre Dame – I hope that you did not, because ND failed if so. I can’t help but agree with someone else’s comment – you’ve got blood on your hands.


            A graduate depressed by the Church’s stigmatization who is reminded that it’s not going anyway anytime soon

          • John Robin

            ND2016, I went back and reread what I wrote, and can’t imagine why your note was directed to me. You didn’t explain the connection, and I don’t see it. If you care to explain, I’ll try to understand.

            I don’t believe that anything I said “stigmatizes LGBT people”. Feel free to enlighten me.

          • John Robin

            ND2016, four days have passed since you accused me of “homophobic” remarks in my postings above. I’ve politely invited you to substantiate your accusation, but neither you have done so, nor withdrawn your rash remarks.

            In response to your unjustified accusation, I have to say that I’m offended by your intolerance of opposing views, and your catholiphobic comments which stigmatize those who articulate and support a respectful, Catholic vision of marriage.

            And especially, I’m offended that you, presumably a graduate of Notre Dame, seem to misconstrue a peaceful, factual discussion about the nature of marriage, as a personal attack. Have a diploma? Act like it. Grow up. Engage in adult, respectful, and meaningful discussion, if you like. Make your case. Argue and persuade, if you will, with conviction and good manners. Expect some to agree with you, and others to disagree. But if you’re going to respond to opposing views with name-calling and ad hominem attacks, remember: intellect and character are tested by words and deeds, not diplomas.

          • John Robin

            ND2016, four days have passed since you accused me (and others) of being “homophobic commenters”. I’ve politely invited you to substantiate your accusation, but you have declined to defend or remove your rash words.

            I reject your ad hominem attack, and am offended by your catholiphobic rhetoric and intolerance of those who merely try to articulate and defend a respectful and correct Catholic vision of marriage. Rather than attempting to clarify why you feel such a vision may be defective or inadequate, you instead stigmatize Catholics as “homophobics” having “blood on [our] hands”. Rather than clarify your case, rather than analyze your opponents’ position, you pout. You are “feeling worse”, “embarrassed”, and “depressed”. Emotions are important, but are not a solid foundation for rational discussion. Others may empathize with your feelings, but are not likely to be persuaded by them.

            Apparently you are a Notre Dame graduate. I suggest take your diploma down from the wall and look at it. Consider what it means. You have successfully completed an expensive program of study at a prestigious university, and now presumably have some ability to think. Congratulations. But your diploma is merely paper. If your treatment of those with differing views is marked by an inability to investigate, understand, communicate, persuade, win over -and to respectfully disagree and peacefully coexist- then your diploma remains merely paper. True intellect and character are proven by words and deeds, not diplomas.

          • disqus_xIgd29W64J

            “Perhaps you even possess some ability to think.” seems like an ad homoniem attack.

          • John Robin

            You’re grasping at straws. More specifically, it seems to me you’re grasping for something to be offended about.

          • Punta Venyage

            Joao, it’s fine say “I personally don’t like your comment.” or “I think that your view is wrong based on x, y, or z.”

            Calling someone a homophobe or claiming that their view stigmatizes an entire group of people is incredibly intolerant.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Do you even know the meaning of “intolerant”?

          • Punta Venyage
          • Tom Z.

            What do you call someone who doesn’t believe black people should have the same rights as white people because of the color of their skin? Answer: Racist.

          • Punta Venyage

            Ok… And… What’s your point?

          • disqus_xIgd29W64J

            John, I do believe that João is not attacking the argument by stating that NDaniel is a disgusting human being. Instead, NDaniel is perceived as a disgusting human being because of his LGBT-stigmatizing comment.
            And to be honest, I agree with João inference. Those who uses churches teaching to stigmatize LGBT relationships can appear to me as disgusting human beings. They do disgust me, but I do recognize them as human beings still.

      • NDaniels

        There is nothing disgusting about desiring that all our beloved sons and daughters be treated with Dignity and respect in private and public. Identifying our beloved sons and daughters according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, which sexually objectifies the human person, is in itself demeaning to our beloved.

        • João Pedro Santos

          Do you even know what sexual objectification means?

    • mcasey6

      “We will not tolerate the engaging in or condoning of sexual behavior that does not reflect the upmost respect for the human person.”

      Right. Because straight love is all gentle roses and chaste kisses!
      O.K. Are some gay people disordered? Sure. About the same % as straight disordered people. That has nothing to do with it.
      I’m a lifelong Catholic and long-married father, but love is love. Telling people God disapproves of their love is cruel.

      • John Robin

        Mcasey6, the Church does not teach that “gay people” are “disordered”. But it does teach that certain kinds of acts are sinful, and some of these are by nature disordered. But there is no basis in Catholic teaching for persons experiencing same-sex attraction to be treated with any lack of love, compassion, or respect. “Love is love” is an meaningless and empty slogan. The Church does not ever condemn authentic “love”, nor does it claim that God ever “disapproves of …love”.

        But love, compassion, and respect require honest and truth. Catholic teaching is clear that human sexuality is a great gift and blessing, but that when it is exercised apart from its divinely ordained place in loving, exclusive, heterosexual, and marital context, it is contrary to God’s design and harmful to persons and society. Recognizing and respecting this truth does not imply any lack of love or respect for those who have sinned or struggle in this area. All of us have sinned, and all of us are inclined to sin. It’s never right to condemn each other as persons, but it is right to gently but faithfully uphold the truth and try to help each other to embrace it.

        • MJ

          “But love, compassion, and respect require honesty and truth.”

          This is the problem. The Church has managed to convince some people that “honesty” and “truth” – as the Church defines it – is an expression of “love” and “compassion”. But this very expression is what is damaging other members of the Church to the point they consider suicide.

          The Church’s cognitive dissonance on this is astounding. Or would be, if it wasn’t tone deaf in many other areas as well.

          • John Robin

            MJ, I’d like to understand more clearly what you mean. Would you please elaborate a little on what you see as the Church’s cognitive dissonance in this area?

        • disqus_xIgd29W64J

          “Love is love” is not an empty slogan, John. While this slogan can be seen as not a good one, “love is love” does encompass an attempt to define love. That is (all kinds of) love can be termed as love. And subsequently (all kinds of) love should be paid equal respect.
          To claim that there exists authenticity for love seems to be too big of an argument. I am not sure if you can properly defend such argument. And even if you did, what would qualify you for judging the authenticity of this “love” or that “love.” Subsequently, to claim that same-sex attraction constitutes inauthentic love and a sin proper that does not reflect honesty and truth is another claim that you have to lean heavily on the argument that God designed this or that.
          It’s dubious to claim that your perceived truth is a transcendental one. Subsequently, it would be less than ideal for you to impose your “truth” on others through “helping each other understand and embrace it (your “truth”)”. While I think that is a kind attempt, it would be far less invasive to claim your desire to help each other understand and embrace the “truth” is conditioned upon that when the person consents for you to do so.

      • NDaniels

        In order for Love to be Love, every act of Love, must be ordered to the inherent personal and relational Dignity of the human person. This is true for all persons existing in a relationship of Love, regardless of their desires or inclinations. This is why a man will not Love his wife, in the same manner as he Loves his daughter, or his son, or his mother, or his father, or his friend. God never disapproves of Love; engaging in acts that are not ordered to the inherent Dignity of the human person, is not Love.

  • disqus_xIgd29W64J

    Hi John, I apologize for my less than careful reading. My impression came from your “The Church does not ever condemn authentic “love”, nor does it claim that God ever “disapproves of …love”.” So I assumed that you were accusing same-sex “love” (as you may want to double quotation this) as inauthentic.
    I read through your comments again and they seemed mostly careful. I guess the key point here is: you can disapprove of lgbt relationships, or conceive same-sex acts as sins. But at the end of the day, give gay people hugs and let them know that you can help them (even it is in your Catholic way). And if a gay person commits suicide, mourn as if you would for any other human beings as opposed to discussing how wrong of sin he’s committed.

    • John Robin

      Disqus, thank you for your thoughts, I really appreciate reading them. I completely agree with everything you’ve said.

      A suicide is always a tragic loss of life, regardless of what led to it. I suspect few people take their own lives when they know they are really valued and loved.

      Each of us is a sinner. Yet every Christian is under orders to love other sinners as well as ourselves, and to practice the same kind of generosity and mercy toward others that we hope to continue receiving from God. This does not mean pretending that sinful behavior is good, but it does require respect, love, and acceptance of each other as individuals loved by God.