While the Church is in the midst of consultations for next year’s Synod of Young People, Pabel said identity must be the starting point for discussing pastoral care for LGBTQ youth.
“Often when I preach about this, I say that is who we really are. More than being straight or gay, we are God’s children,” he said. “That’s helpful for the Courage ministry because it means that the Church can and should have a ministry to people with same-sex attraction... they have the dignity of any other child of God and therefore, there needs to be pastoral ministry to them.”
Pabel is the chaplain of the Archdiocese of Vancouver’s Courage ministry, a Catholic lay apostolate that provides a “spiritual support system” for men and women with same-sex attractions. Local chapters can be found around the world, including in Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa.
Pastoral ministry for people with same-sex attractions is not something young people often hear the Church talk about, said Pabel. The synod is the Church’s opportunity to bring this hidden ministry to light.
“(Young people) don’t hear the Church talking to them about this. They might not have a clue or think the Church doesn’t care,” said Pabel. “One very important thing that the synod can do in terms of pastoral ministry is acknowledge that there are Catholics who are like this. They don’t have a disease. This is not some sort of pathology. That they are our beloved brothers and sisters. They have gifts to bring to the Church.”
Fr. Kevin Belgrave, chaplain of Courage ministry in the Archdiocese of Toronto, said that Courage has three dimensions of support: building fellowship among its members, providing spiritual care through the sacraments and facilitating weekly group meetings to share their spiritual life with others.
“It’s not like the Church is this club for the perfect that just lays burden on people…. The Church is a refuge for sinners,” said Belgrave. “That’s what people have a right to receive from Christians, the love of Jesus Christ, a community of people striving for redemption and the fullest vision of the person and the means to live it.”
Young people who are questioning their sexual orientation face many obstacles in Canada.
According to a 2007 study by Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre, youth who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning their sexual orientation are 33 per cent more likely to report a suicide attempt in comparison to seven per cent of youth overall.
Almost half of LGBTQ youth surveyed in a 2011 research study by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust do not feel like they belong in their school environment, compared to only 3.5 per cent of their heterosexual counterparts.
A 2013 Toronto study found that one in five of Toronto’s homeless youth are LGBTQ.
Even with these numbers, Pabel and Belgrave said many of their groups’ members are generally above 40 years old. It is rare that either Pabel or Belgrave encounter a person in their 20s seeking support from Courage.
“Demographic is not an overriding concern,” said Pabel. “If there is someone who is 60 or someone who is 25, both who wish to receive spiritual care from the Church, I’m there for them.”
Courage, Pabel said, is a ministry that focuses on adults experiencing same-sex attraction. Pabel said that ministry to minors (below the age of 18) are a special ministry in itself.
Belgrave said the best way to support younger persons is to equip the people who are closest to them — their family, friends, educators and pastors.
“Courage in one ministry in the Church,” said Belgrave. “Because it is important to meet anyone who is expressing any question or concern, it’s important that the people who are closest to that person feel best ready to respond to them.”
Belgrave recommends turning to resources available on the Courage International website (www.couragerc.org), including a documentary about gender identity featuring Courage members called Everlasting Hills (www.everlastinghills.org.)