The Archbishop of Omaha, Bishop George Lucas, has endorsed a new human sexuality curriculum for use in some schools in the archdiocese. The archdiocese includes 70 schools in several Nebraskan counties.
The new curriculum continues to up hold traditional church teaching about “traditional marriage,” homosexuality, the binary nature of gender, and the reservation of sex for married couples. To Catholic parents who have long expressed concerns about how modern secular sex education and today’s attitudes about sex may affect their children, this may come as a relief. To people who have been let down by traditional Catholic teachings on human sexuality, this may come as a disappointment.
I know I am, as an openly queer and gender non-conforming Catholic, disappointed. I live at the John Paul II Newman Center, a Catholic dorm privately owned by the Archdiocese of Omaha but affiliated with the University of Nebraska at Omaha. In my time at the Newman Center, I have come to appreciate how deeply and sincerely many Catholics hold their faith. I have also been a witness to how homophobia can take root in even the kindest and well-meaning people, causing hurt to others, consciously and unconsciously.
The Catholic Church teaches respect of others, despite their sexual orientation, yet often times the rhetoric espoused by the members of the same church, cannot fail to incur a sublte yet more insidious kind of homophobia in its faithful. The idea of beginning this process in school, when youth in our communities are incredibly impressionable, fills me with a familiar dread.
I know what it’s like growing up queer and Catholic. It’s like growing up in a pressure cooker. Imagine having to denounce same-sex relationships under the duress of the kind of social pressure that comes with more “traditional” Catholic social and spiritual circles.
Imagine my horror as a young teenager when I began experiencing the kind of attractions countless spiritual leaders, whether priests or teachers, called “intrinsically disordered.”
Imagine what it’s like to suppress and push deep, deep down a simple high school crush or the beginnings of young love as you watch another friend get quickly rejected from the social support system of your church, as it is publicly revealed that they are in a relationship with someone of the same gender.
Or watching your friends’ faces grow sour as they pass a queer couple, the same couple that stirs feelings of hope and joy in your own heart as you walk past and try to stifle your own smile. Or maybe you don’t have to imagine–you might know from personal experience.
The unspoken truth of any society is that you avoid those who are other, who are different, who are “disordered.” The permutations of this tendency are countless and historical as they are personal. When your teacher tells you (as the Omaha World-Herald reports) that the new curriculum says that the Catholic Church “does not teach that those with a same-sex attraction are lesser people, are evil or are going to hell,” you are still surrounded by classmates, your peers, your friends who think you are diseased and sick.
When the class is called upon to have “deep compassion for those confused about their own maleness or femaleness,” you are still left to contend with the subtle but still hurtful pitying glances.
When your friends around you giggle and make plans for their distant weddings, you are left to muse upon the knowledge that none of your Catholic friends will attend one of the most momentous days of your life.