Franciscan alumnus Bryan Wells spoke to a full crowd in the Gentile Gallery on Wednesday concerning how Catholics can better love and understand those with same-sex attraction.
Wells said that in addressing same-sex attraction, Christians either tend toward the extremes of judgment or simply avoiding the topic. Both, said Wells, damage the person’s dignity.
“They feel they can’t talk about same-sex attraction because of hostility and judgment,” said Wells.
“We tend to think homosexuality is the worst sin out there,” said Wells. “But homosexuality doesn’t disqualify anyone from heaven any more than gossiping or disobeying one’s parents.”
Wells noted that the Church does not yet understand this. He interviewed people both within and outside of the Church who experience same-sex attraction, and read many articles regarding how people who experience same-sex attraction felt the Church viewed them. Among the responses were “disgusting,” “abnormal,” “unworthy,” and “no way God can love or care for me because I am a disgrace.”
Wells presented these responses as a challenge to the audience to reach out in unconditional friendship and love.
“We cannot impede on the cross God has given them,” said Wells. “We need to love them where they are.”
Wells emphasized that understanding the position of those with same-sex attraction should not be taken lightly. He stated that eight out of ten people who experience same-sex attraction are verbally harassed, and are eight times more likely to commit suicide than their peers.
Statistically, he said, in a congregation of 400 Catholics, 13 adults experience same-sex attraction, according to Wells. Out of 40 youth, one to two experience same-sex attraction.
Wells encouraged those gathered to practice an increased awareness of the language they use when encountering same-sex attracted persons.
“We tend to make blanket statements, such as ‘love the sin, hate the sinner,’” said Wells. “But for many people, their sin is tied up in their identity. So they don’t hear that you love them.”
Wells noted that many who experience same-sex attraction are often isolated and silenced. When encountering someone who struggles with homosexuality, “do not be afraid to ask if they want to talk about it,” he said.
Sophomore Ryan Heckman recognized that Wells focused on love.
“Our call is to love people, and yes, that can include hard messages,” said Heckman. “But the first thing we need to show them is that they are loved.”
Patrick Neve, sophomore, elaborated that Wells “gave a new perspective on encountering people with same-sex attraction and asking for their story instead of giving correction.”
Wells also shared his personal experience with with same-sex attraction. Through junior high and high school he lived in shame, partly due to being part of a devout Catholic family. A large breakthrough came when he shared his struggles with his household.
“They didn’t treat me as a special case they had to go out and fix,” said Wells. “This cross doesn’t define who I am. It’s just the way God’s chosen me to go to heaven.”
An attendee of the talk, who wished to be named as RAB, experiences same-sex attraction.
“He nailed everything I have ever wanted to tell my straight friends,” said RAB. “I have similarly experienced a lot of grace through my friends and my household in that they did not treat me any differently after coming out to them.”
“I gave him a hug after the talk,” said RAB. “I told him that I was a freshman last year and I thought I was the only one on campus. I’m glad I wasn’t.”
The presentation was the third lecture in the Symposium on Human Sexuality, which is sponsored by the Office of Evangelization and Student Life.