DETROIT (CNA/EWTN News) - When presenters addressed last year's Synod of Bishops to discuss challenges facing the family, there was one group who voice was absent - those with same-sex attraction living chastely.
So says Father Paul Check, executive director of Courage, a Catholic outreach ministry to persons experiencing homosexual desires.
At the organization's international conference, he emphasized the importance of hearing testimonies from those for whom same-sex attraction is "a lived reality" but who believe that the Church's teaching on chastity "leads to peace."
"Our best ambassadors are our members," Father Check said. The personal stories of these faithful Catholics must be heard, he continued, since a "personal narrative" reaches the modern audience more broadly than an argument on chastity from natural moral law, vital as it is.
The Courage conference, "Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same-Sex Attraction," was held August 10-12 in Detroit, Michigan. Almost 400 people attended from six countries, including some 125 clergy and four bishops. The rest were primarily lay persons who hold ministry positions at parishes, and family members of persons with same-sex attraction.
It was the organization's first conference devoted to Church leaders in pastoral ministry on the issue. Speakers included persons who have experienced same-sex attraction but who have been guided to live chastity by friendships and the Church, as well as experts in areas of psychology, natural law, and chastity.
The Courage conference was developed from the questions posed ahead of the 2015 Synod on the Family. The lineamenta, or part of the preparatory document for the synod, features questions sent to bishops' conferences all over the world for consideration.
"The pastoral care of persons with homosexual tendencies poses new challenges today, due to the manner in which their rights are proposed in society," the lineamenta states.
"How can the Christian community give pastoral attention to families with persons with homosexual tendencies? What are the responses that, in light of cultural sensitivities, are considered to be most appropriate?"
Although the natural moral law is "indispensable" to understanding the Church's teaching on sexuality, it is "not mutually accepted as a starting point for many conversations," Fr. Check said, because many people cannot agree on exactly what human nature is or what natural law is.
However, he said, personal testimonies of those with same-sex attractions who strive to be chaste can help correct common "misconceptions" about chastity in modern society, namely that it is "onerous" and "unnatural."
Courage has already attempted to tell these stories in the format of a film, "Desire of the Everlasting Hills," which focuses on the personal stories of three people who lived an openly homosexual lifestyle but returned to the Church and are now trying to live chastely.
However, the Church must be careful not to treat young people experiencing same-sex attractions as if they are defined by these attractions, Father Check warned.
Many young people are "over-sexualized," he said, because they are taught early in life that all of their feelings of attraction are natural and should be acted on, even though the years before maturity can be a time of confusion and change, and feelings experienced as a teenager are not the "final word."
More importantly, he added, to define a young person by their sexual feelings towards anyone, regardless of gender, is an injustice because their sexuality is only "one part" of their human nature.
Catholics should be "avoiding sexualizing young people so that they aren't entering into a sphere or realm of the human condition for which they are not yet prepared psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, morally," he told CNA in an interview at the conference.
"And that's not just young people who may feel the same-sex inclination. That's for all (young people)."
A challenge, Father Check acknowledged in his conference address, is for Catholics to reach out to those experiencing these inclinations in a spirit of "encounter" like that proposed by Pope Francis, and invite them to "trust us" and "walk with them."
This involves upholding the truth of sexuality expressed in the Church's teaching while proposing it in a charitable and inviting manner, he explained.
Jesus did not begin his ministry with Calvary, Father Check noted, but first offered something that "drew people to Him," while at the same time never abandoning truth or causing scandal.
"Friendships and relationships are things that are an essential part of a fulfilled human life," he stated, and through chaste relationships with others working to live chastely, Catholics can offer what everyone seeks - happiness and deep relationships.
Through friendships, they can help others sort through their own attractions and desires and discern the good from the bad. Ultimately, friendships can help others discover the truth about themselves.
And if man knows the truth about himself, his actions will reflect that. Father Check said, stressing that man is "created in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Christ's blood, and the beneficiary of grace."