In which we deal with a delicate subject

A reader writes:

I have a problem regarding how to what to say when certain topics come up at work. I am a public school teacher working at a residential psychiatric facility. Due to the environment my students are in, the subject of masturbation and homosexuality comes up frequently amongst the teachers. Our students spend most of their time around peers of the same sex, and many of them have been abused in the past. This leads to many of the students having disordered views of sex and sexual relationships. Homosexual relationships and masturbation, therefore, can be quit common on the residential side of the facility. The facility does frown on many of these actions and has a system in place to discourage “sexual acting out.” Students have informed me that public masturbation and physical relationships between students is punished. On the other hand, other staff members have stated that in the past masturbation was allowed in the shower or in bed. I do not specifically know what the present state of response is though. We as teachers are frequently told when students are punished for sexually acting out and also hear the students talk about relationships. When the topic of masturbation and homosexual relationships amongst the students comes up between teachers, how should I respond? The other teachers are of the opinion that sexual orientation is just an aspect of expressing yourself and any criticism of homosexual behavior is archaic. Other teachers have made comments like, “what are we, living in the 1700’s?”  and, “why are they so homophobic.” I agree with the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage, but when in the public square it is difficult to express those opinions. What is the best way to state that masturbation and homosexual actions are disordered actions and the punishment is not mere bigotry?

Are there any resources that might help in explaining Catholic teaching when it is brought up in a workplace environment?

In addition, it disheartens me that one of the most vocal people attends Mass at the same parish as I do.

Perhaps this may help. However, what I would really recommend is that you talk to your pastor or somebody with actual pastoral training.  The internet is a bad place to go for sensitive, informed pastoral council.  It’s the agora, not the sanctuary, and if somebody can find a way to stick a shiv between your ribs or inflict maximum cruelty on the most well-meaning person, they will. Avoid it like the plague for dealing with sensitive emotional, psychological, or pastoral issues.

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  • Gail Finke

    There is a letter from the president of the American Psychological Assocaition in the Wall Street Journal today saying there is no credible evidence at all that children of homosexual couples have any problems and that any laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals are making gay people “second class citizens” whose civil rights are being violated. Psychology as a profession (not all psychologists) has decided that homosexuality is not a problem of any kind, and that the property way to help a person with homosexual tendencies who is uncomfortable about them is to ensure they become comfortable about them. So that’s who you are dealing with — it’s not their person opinion, it is the accepted norm of their profession. Is there a seminary near you that teaches pastoral counseling? I would speak to one of the teachers there (if it’s a faithful seminary) because they might be able to help you state your views in a way that would not strike your colleagues as showing that you are incompetent and unfit for your job. As far as some of them being people at your parish goes, I hear you! Numerous people at my parish, including an employee, changed their Facebook profile pictures to the gay marriage equal sign last week.

  • Barbara

    Good advice Mark! Going to the Internet for advice of this nature is like plugging symptoms into google. The answer is almost always cancer.

  • freddy

    I’m not a mental health professional, but I am the mother of teenagers and young adults, so FWIW:
    I would approach this to my colleagues from the standpoint that, if some of the young people are victims of sexual or other abuse, they need both breathing space and the feeling of safety. Sexual expression by themselves or others denies them that and may jeopardize their continued healing. It is possible to approach the Church’s teaching on human sexuality by baby steps, as the Church’s teachings are not only true, but practical and practiceable. God bless!

  • bearing

    I clicked through to your 2011 article and read it, but I had to laugh a little bit when you wrote about how “rare” are the circumstances in which we will ever have to discuss masturbation:

    “It scarcely need be said that the nature of this particular sin is such that almost the only discussion of masturbation will arise for the average person is

    a) when…we read about it in some book of Catholic teaching…
    and are astonished to discover it is considered a grave sin (and then, as here, have to puzzle out why);
    b) when we encounter the sin in ourselves…”

    What about when we have to teach our children about it? That circumstance strikes me as not rare, but extremely common!

  • Michaelus

    Mark’s advice is absolutely correct.

    And everyone please make sure you do not notice that sodomy and masterbation are things that insane people like to do.

  • The Sheepcat

    The writings of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, may provide some helpful analogies. As I recall, he says that the mentally disabled men and women he has encountered reach for sexual gratification but are really in need of being loved in community.

  • Jordan Bissell

    The agora, not a sanctuary! Well said.

    With the advent of comboxes, it seems abundantly clear that people generally become meaner when they can conceal their personal identity, not nicer. Human nature.