Sensitive ministry affirms ‘fundamental dignity’ of all
Since being appointed last year by Archbishop Gregory Aymond as chaplain of the archdiocese’s pastoral outreach to Catholics with homosexual orientation, Father Salvador Galvez has learned first-hand the sensitive challenges schools face in ministering to students who have a homosexual orientation and who are at an increased risk of being ostracized or bullied.
Father Galvez and other leaders of the archdiocesan ministry to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons joined with other archdiocesan officials Jan. 25 to present a 3 1/2-hour workshop at St. Mary’s Dominican High School on how best to offer “pastoral care and spiritual nourishment” to those students and their families.
Cruel labels, possible targets
“When the archbishop appointed me chaplain for this new ministry, one of his concerns was our children in schools,” Father Galvez told about 30 administrators, teachers and campus ministers from archdiocesan high schools. “It is easy to put labels on students. You know better than I that kids sometimes are very cruel and judgmental and can make the lives of these students uneasy, difficult and traumatic.
“We are going into this ministry with the vision and the spirit of Jesus, with the wisdom of the church and with the charism of educators,” Father Galvez added. “We are also looking for a pastoral understanding. We have to look at the theology of the church, but there also is pastoral care. We cannot put the same label on people. We have to care for each student, as Jesus did. It is time for us to face this reality.”
Father Galvez was joined by Father Buddy Noel, parochial vicar of Our Lady of the Lake Church in Mandeville, and Kurt Bindewald, director of university ministry at Loyola University New Orleans, who are members of the LGBT ministry team.
Also offering advice to the school administrators were Mount Carmel Sister Mary Ellen Wheelahan, the archdiocesan safe environment coordinator, and Alice Hughes, director of the Office of Religious Education.
The presenters took pains to explain the terminology used to classify individuals and their sexual identity, but they stressed that often teenagers, because of the emotional and physical changes of adolescence, are confused about their sexual identity.
No perfect answers
“If we all had these perfect answers, we could write this perfect policy manual,” Bindewald said. “But the reason we are adamant about being here is that we consider this to be a pro-life issue. One of the biggest statistics is that these are students who attempt to commit suicide at a higher rate (four times more likely than other students).”
Father Noel said the foundational teaching of the church, found in Genesis, is that every human being is made “in the image and likeness of God.”
“That’s an incredibly important statement for us to make,” Father Noel said. “It is the fundamental statement of moral theology. Every human being is made in God’s image and likeness and therefore has transcendent dignity. God loves us beyond our understanding.”
In a letter to the U.S. Senate last year, the U.S. bishops, citing the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” wrote: “No one should be an object of scorn, hatred or violence for any reason, including sexual inclination. The Church affords special concern and pastoral attention to those who experience a homosexual inclination and stand committed to avoid ‘every sign of unjust discrimination in this regard.’”
Father Noel said Pope Francis, in particular, has made it very clear that the church must open its arms to everyone rather than shut itself off from the world.
Meet people where they are
“Pope Francis says we must affirm the fundamental dignity of everybody,” Father Noel said. “When a young person knows and feels respected, then we can begin talking to him. We have to start out as pastoral ministers, caring for the people who come to us and not throwing the book at them. Even if they are doing something against the teaching of the church, we need to bring them slowly to that point.”
Father Noel said everyone, even those who are married, are called to chastity “according to one’s state of life.”
“Married persons are called to chastity in that they are faithful to their spouse,” he said. “A religious person takes a vow of chastity. Single persons are also called to chastity. It is sometimes disingenuous simply to tell the homosexual person, ‘You’re called to chastity,’ because so am I. Chastity is something that is arrived at.”
The workshop was held despite severe cold weather that kept several participants from the northshore from attending. There are plans to do additional school workshops and also to offer training for teachers on these sexual identity issues, Father Galvez said.
“St. John Bosco says if you save one soul, you are saving your life for heaven,” Father Galvez said. “This is a very difficult mission, but we must be Christ for others, no matter what. The mission of this ministry is to provide pastoral care, not to provide theology or food. We are to embrace rejected people and give them the knowledge that God loves them and that they can find a place in the church.”
Father Galvez is available to speak with persons or family members dealing with the challenges of sexual orientation. He can be reached at 227-3220. His office is located at 820 Dauphine St. in the former Cathedral Academy School.