Vatican gives cover to those who hate gays As a...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

July 24, 1999

Vatican gives cover to those who hate gays

As a Catholic, I was saddened to read that the Vatican has ordered a Maryland priest and nun to end their 30-year ministry to gays and lesbians, informing them that they are "permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons" ("Vatican bars Md. priest, nun from ministry to gays," July 14).

Given the current political and cultural climate where homophobia -- fear and hatred of gay people -- often goes unchallenged, I am concerned that the Vatican's action may further marginalize gay people.

I don't believe the Vatican's intent is to hurt homosexuals, but its recent action will provide cover for those who hate them.

I teach history at a Catholic high school. On my classroom wall is a quote from Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: "Hatred Means Auschwitz."

My students have read Mr. Wiesel's "Night"; they understand the quote. They are familiar, too, with the names of hate and violence today: Kosovo, Bosnia, Oklahoma City, Littleton, Matthew Shepard.

Sometimes I think the most radical thing my students can do with their lives is simply refuse to hate, refuse to add to the carnage that marks so much of human history.

I shudder to think that contemporary religious doctrine could contribute to the fear and prejudice that underlies hate.

Could the Vatican's action inadvertently fuel further hatred of homosexuals?

In disciplining the Rev. Robert Nugent and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the Vatican stated that the homosexual orientation is objectively disordered and homosexual acts are intrinsically evil.

What might some people do with their own interpretation of this statement? Will it give them license to ridicule or bash gays or further exclude them from visible participation in our communities?

As it is, prejudice against gays is among the last socially acceptable forms of bigotry. Adults who would correct children for making racist comments ignore homophobic remarks or themselves laugh at or tell gay jokes.

The popular put-down kids use when they don't like something is to say, "that's gay." I hear it often at school. "Gay," then, becomes associated with "bad."

Would decent teachers or parents allow kids to say "that's black" or "that's Jewish"?

And what of gay youth? If their sexual orientation is "disordered," does that mean that they themselves are wrong? Are they less worthy of God's love, or their parents'? Are they entitled to full citizenship, to equal protection under the law?

Is it any wonder young gays are at a high risk for suicide? According to government studies, one-third of all young people who end their lives are gay.

Studies of gay adolescents also show that most of them experience severe feelings of isolation because of their sexuality; fully half say they are rejected by their parents because they are gay.

Think about that: Parents who have loved and sacrificed for their kids and would give up their own lives for their child, will reject gay children because they have swallowed society's lie that they are defective and perverse.

How long will the adult community continue to turn its back on our gay youth? How many more young people will we lose before we say to them, unequivocally, that their lives are precious?

A couple of years ago, a former student came back to school for a visit and told me she was gay. This student was as good and decent and kind a young person as one could hope to know.

When she told her mother she was gay, her mother disowned her. Her mother, after all, was a very religious person, and could not in any way condone what her daughter "had become."

My heart breaks for my students when I hear such stories. If the efforts of Sister Gramick and Reverend Nugent have prevented one child's suicide or mended one fractured family relationship, their work has not been in vain.

I applaud their courage, I commend their commitment and I hope they will find a way to continue their much-needed ministry.

Liz Reiley, Baltimore

Unionists blamed in Ireland

The Sun's editorial "Breakdown in Belfast" (July 18) suggested that the Irish Republican Army's (IRA)refusal to disarm justifies the Protestant Unionist's refusal to accept nationalist representation in the province's proposed new cabinet.

The editorial does not mention the reality of this cease-fire for the nationalists: many have been murdered, their homes have been bombed and hundreds of Catholic families have been terrorized.

By maintaining the cease-fire, the nationalists and the IRA have demonstrated their willingness to move forward.

Until the Unionists and the Northern Ireland government show, as the Good Friday Accords require, that "freedom from sectarian harassment" exists, it is unrealistic to expect the IRA to disarm.

The Unionists' intransigence is causing the gridlock in Northern Ireland.

Patrick J. Ward, Havre de Grace

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