Speaker educates clergy on same-sex attractions, gender

Father Colin Blatchford from Courage International talks about navigating same-sex attractions and gender dysphoria in the Catholic Church during an informational meeting with diocesan employees and youth ministers April 17. (Malea Hargett)
Father Colin Blatchford from Courage International talks about navigating same-sex attractions and gender dysphoria in the Catholic Church during an informational meeting with diocesan employees and youth ministers April 17. (Malea Hargett)

Clergy and diocesan staff spent time in April learning about navigating same-sex attractions and gender dysphoria in the Catholic Church. 

Father Colin Blatchford, a priest for the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., addressed a three-day continuing education program for clergy April 16-18 at St. John Center in Little Rock. He gave a short overview to diocesan employees and youth ministers April 17. 

Father Blatchford has a master’s degree in theology from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and a master’s degree in psychology from Divine Mercy University. 

In 2020, he was appointed associate director of Courage International, a nonprofit that supports Catholics who experience same-sex attractions and gender dysphoria to strive for chastity. Members receive “pastoral support in the form of spiritual guidance, community prayer support and fellowship,” according to its mission statement. 

Courage International, founded in New York in 1980, includes more than 180 Courage chapters and 80 EnCourage chapters for family members in the United States and in 15 other countries,

Father Blatchford told Arkansas Catholic he began working on LGBTQ+ issues in the Church after doing a Fifth Step program in his diocese as a priest with a psychology background. As he continued to educate himself on areas of addiction, such as sexual addictions, he found himself working more with the LGBTQ+ community. 

“It made me realize that we need to do more than just confession,” Father Blatchford said. 

Father Jason Tyler, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville and director of continuing education of the clergy, said this is one of the many topics priests are taught about as they continue their education.

“Priests meet for continuing education twice per year,” Father Tyler said. “Some topics are more intellectual, such as one on the Dead Sea Scrolls a couple of years ago, and some are more pastoral, such as working with different segments of the population. People who experience same-sex attraction or gender identity discordance are part of the population entrusted to our care.”

It begins with Genesis 

Father Blatchford said the foundation begins by going back to the creation of man and woman in the Garden of Eden. 

“The reality is that none of us grow up in a vacuum,” he said. “And we are not meant to be separate. We are meant to be in relationship. … ‘He created them, he created man and woman in his own image and likeness.’ … God is proposing a certain story.”

Father Blatchford talked about the impact of psychology, anthropology and sociology on gender roles and their impact within the Church. 

“It used to be very often that you would have many people in that community that would form how you thought about yourself, whether you were good enough as a man or as a woman, whether you're sufficient to fulfill your sexual role in society as a man, to love as a man, to be loved as a man or as a woman,” Father Blatchford said. “And we don't have a lot of that now. And so that's part of where some of that problem comes from.”

Father Blatchford said God created men and women with “self-possession, knowledge and planning,” with certain differences, and to be in communion with one another.

“Being man or being woman, the catechism says, is an important part of how we see ourselves,” Father Blatchford said. “There can be worries about it, there can be concerns about my insufficiency or my ability to express that or to interact with others. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are male or female.”

Father Blatchford said the opposite sexes are able to bring out emotions, such as compassion, in one another, allowing them to become more like Christ, a role uniquely human. 

“We’re the only visible creature God willed into existence for its own self,” he said. “Everything else in creation is there for us. Not for us to use as we want and throw away, but to be a steward of. But there’s no reason for us to exist other than our own goodness. And so God didn’t have to create us, but he chose to.” 

Disordered pleasure and sin

“We’re talking about a true union of persons that’s ordered toward something greater. And so we start talking about, what does God have proposed for sexual pleasure? It’s important for us to understand the story that he’s told about the conjugal union, because this is how he wishes to enter into the world,” Father Blatchford said. 

He identified the characteristics of the conjugal union as intended by God as complementarity, permanence, fidelity and procreativity. 

“(God is) saying, if we wish to have sexual pleasure and we wish to find happiness, both in this life and the next, and even in the midst of suffering, then these are the characteristics that we have to find,” Father Blatchford said. “When we are seeking sexual pleasure, this has to be a part of what we're looking for. If these are missing, then we're seeking sexual pleasure in a disordered way.”

“The catechism is very clear that it does not have to do with the person but the acts,” Father Blatchford said. “What would fall into that? Pornography, masturbation, adultery, fornication, contraception. Then if we want to go out of the sexual sins, every sin … Any seeking of a created good that disorders our relationship with God or puts a created good in a place where only God should be, or another person, is a disordered action — that's sin.”

Finding compassion

Father Blatchford said it’s important for the Catholic laity to be compassionate to individuals experiencing same-sex attractions and gender dysphoria. 

“It's important for us to understand that … we're trying to respond to someone, we're trying to sit with them, that we don't want to just give the moral teaching of the Church and walk away,” he said. “We want to approach them with compassion. … We need to suffer with them. …(St.) John Paul (II) says the only response to human suffering is love. He says in (the 1960 book) ‘Love and Responsibility,’ you have authority over someone insofar as you have responsibility for them, which is based on love for them.”

Father Blatchford emphasized that we cannot lead these individuals, force them to move or remind them of Church teaching every time we see them, as it undermines the point. 

“You can correct insofar as somebody knows you’re willing to suffer with them … But compassion, suffering, sometimes means that we go and join Job sitting on the pile of refuse and saying, ‘Well, that's where we need to go,’” Father Blatchford said, pointing off in the distance. “‘But I'm not moving. I'm going with you.’ And that's the part I think that we have forgotten in some ways, or we're not as good at — saying, ‘I'm here and I'm not leaving.’”

Father Blatchford discussed why it’s important to educate priests on issues such as these. 

“There’s this fear factor. Like, ‘I’m not familiar with this.’ So it’s to help priests have a heart to be with their people, and to spend time with them, to help them in the midst of their suffering,” he said. “This is a way to help them do so.”

Father Blatchford advised members of the Catholic laity to show “authentic, loving accompaniment” to people living these lifestyles. 

“One, they need to know that you love them,” he told Arkansas Catholic. “Two, you need to communicate … God doesn’t make mistakes. He’s got a plan. … Tell me your story. … Because when people are heard, then they learn to hear the word of God.”

“These are topics which are being frequently discussed, and it's important for us as priests to be strengthened in a faith perspective on them,” Father Tyler said. “Without a doubt, we have parishioners wondering about these issues, and some will come to speak to us about their own experiences here, so it's important for us as priests to be able to have that conversation.”

Father Tyler hopes the clergy will be able to better minister “to the children of God entrusted to us,” by gaining a better understanding of the challenges they may face through continued education.

“My hope is that all of us as priests are strengthened in understanding the children of God we encounter and in helping them to draw closer to our heavenly Father,” Father Tyler said.

Father Blatchford said all sinners need support. 

“We’re all sinners. All sin is evil, right?” Father Blatchford said. “So let’s be cognizant that we’ve all sinned gravely at one time or another for the most part. To walk a mile in another person’s shoes is a hard thing. … Let’s try and help that person live a good and holy life.”

Katie Zakrzewski

Katie Zakrzewski joined Arkansas Catholic as associate editor in 2023 after working in local media and the environmental sector. A member of St. Mary Church in North Little Rock, she recently completed her master’s degree in public service from the Clinton School.

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