In case you haven’t heard, Australia has a new Human Rights Commissioner.
His name is Ed Santow and he took up his role nearly two months ago. He says that he cares “deeply, personally and professionally about LGBTI issues” with one LGBTI website promoting him as “committed to ensuring the LGBTI struggle for equality is fought respectfully and ultimately won”.
Mr Santow went out of his way at the start of his tenure to invite LGBTI communities to raise issues that concern them directly, asking those with “lived experiences” of their “human rights being violated” to inform him accordingly.
Earlier this month, weeks into his new role, he addressed the AGM of the Victoria Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. While there, he was informed by a gay radio station presenter that American priest, Fr Philip Bochanski, assistant director of Courage International, the Catholic apostolate that provides pastoral care to people with same-sex attraction, was touring Australia suggesting that priests speak about chastity when offering pastoral advice to people who experience same-sex attraction.
The radio presenter, seemingly disturbed by the word “chastity”, asked Mr Santow when he would “stand up for gay Catholics”. The Commissioner replied that he was “taking in the advice of people directly affected by issues related to LGBTI, learning what is really important to this community”. “We will do all we can,” he said, “to make a difference.”
I for one am genuinely pleased that Mr Santow is a man not afraid to reach out to his constituents. What does interest me though is how he will balance the rights of one group that directly opposes, and even seeks to destroy, the rights of another.
Many Catholics do not know of, or misunderstand, the selfless care offered by the Courage apostolate. Its role is to socially and spiritually support persons touched by same-sex attraction and to provide them with a safe and confidential forum in which to share deeply and privately with the purpose of living in peace and happiness.
Neither do many know of Courage’s sister organisation called Encourage which supports families and friends of those with same-sex attraction.
Courage is also mentioned amid a wide selection of peer-reviewed published studies which have shown that there are serious psychological and medical risks associated with same-sex unions.
These studies have described how same-sex male couples whose relationship lasted longer than five years incorporated some provision for outside sexual activity in their relationship with many couples learning very early in their relationship that ownership of each other sexually can be the greatest internal threat to their staying together.
Partner instability is similarly seen to be present in lesbian relationships with a 2010 specialised study in the respected peer-reviewed journal, Marriage and Family Review, showing lesbian relationships to be statistically less stable than heterosexual relationships. The same report showed that 40 per cent of the lesbian couples who had conceived a child by artificial insemination had broken up.
Then there is the 2011 study which analysed the impact of sexual orientation on suicide mortality in Denmark during the first 12 years after legalisation of same-sex registered unions. The result?
The age-adjusted suicide risk for men in legalised same-sex unions was nearly eight times greater than the suicide risk for men in a heterosexual marriage.
Yet more worrying, a study of lifetime abuse victimisation published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that seven per cent of heterosexual males reported being abused whereas 39 per cent of males with same-sex attraction reported being abused by other males with same-sex attraction.
The research on persons who had sought help from Courage revealed a very different story. People with same-sex attraction do indeed have more mental health distress than a heterosexually-oriented, normative sample.
And yet the same-sex respondents who had become more chaste reported a significant improvement in their overall mental health, also related to their engagement with authentic spirituality.
Simply put, positive correlations were found between chastity, religious participation and self-reported measures of happiness.
The heart cry of people with same-sex attraction for more love, connection, acceptance and inner peace, is the very byproduct that Courage has been producing over the years. And yet now, even this humble ministry is being put under the microscope.
If Mr Santow is genuinely concerned with the human rights of all Australians, then I look forward to seeing him reach out with the same warm – and urgent – invitation to Catholics and those of other religions and of none who experience identical degrees of same-sex attraction or gender questioning as those in the VGLRL but whose lived experiences show that their human rights are being violated through bullying, mockery and vilification by LGBTI communities.
I hope too that Santow will take heed of Pope Francis’ wisdom that “before all else comes the individual person, in his or her wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love”.
We now sit and await Mr Santow’s invitation to arrive into Courage’s inbox.