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Spiritual Guidance and Counseling of Homosexual and Transgender Persons

OCAMPR 2018 - Compliance and Resistance

With the theme “Compliance and Resistance” the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion conference was held November 8-10, 2018 at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Cultural Center in Somerset NJ. OCAMPR exists to facilitate Orthodox Christian fellowship, dialogue and education of professionals in religion, psychology and medicine.

These talks were recorded by Ancient Faith Radio in partnership with OCAMPR and are made available here for free access and download. Several talks were video recorded while others provide a combination of audio and slides.

OCAMPR welcomes interdisciplinary dialogue and is committed to exploring an Orthodox Christian understanding and perspective on a variety of pastoral issues. Toward that end, presentations and papers are offered for ongoing discussion and dialogue. The opinions of presenters do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the OCAMPR organization, Ancient Faith Ministries, or of the Orthodox Church.

December 2018

Spiritual Guidance and Counseling of Homosexual and Transgender Persons

Fr. Vasileios Thermos, MD, PhD, Psychiatrist in private practice and Associate Professor at Athens Ecclesiastical Academy, GREECE.

December 13, 2018 Length: 57:20

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Dr. Philip Mamalakis: Fr. Vasileios was born in Greece and studied medicine and theology at the University of Athens. He is a psychiatrist of children and adolescents. He has a Ph.D. from the faculty of theology of the University of Athens, and graduated with a degree and actually serves as the Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Psychology at the Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens. He’s been trained as a visiting scholar at Harvard University, Boston University, Boston College, and Andover Newton, and was a visiting research scholar at the University of Texas for the Institute of Medical Humanities. His master’s thesis was completed at the Theological School of Balamand University in Lebanon. His main interests are the pastoral presence of the Church, the religious personality, the psychology and psychopathology of religious experience and religious behavior, the psychology of the clergy and ecclesiastical organizations, the psychology of the religious dimensions of culture, the dialogue between psychoanalysis and theology, functional issues of the Church, etc. [Laughter] I could go on. Especially et cetera, because his interests are diverse, his education extensive, and his contribution to the Church significant.

As important, he’s the proud father of two daughters and two grandchildren, has been a clergy for 32 years, and we are honored to now be able to share in his wisdom and his learning on this topic. Please join me in welcoming Fr. Vasileios. [Applause]

Rev. Fr. Vasileios Thermos, M.D., Ph.D.: I speak of a general project that I have been working for years on homosexuality and gender identity, that is most appropriate, I guess, for this general title of the conference. I had worked, as I said, for years and produced, by the grace of God, two books: one big one and one small one. Also I realized that as time passes we need more and more research, because what we know helps us realize that there are many more that we don’t know.

What about this particular aspect of compliance and resistance? Before I enter the main topic, I would like to say a few things about the contemporary landscape on sexual orientation and gender identity, because people who come for spiritual guidance and for professional counseling live in this landscape and are affected by this. We should know how things work in this cultural climate in which we live. What is the cultural background in the West on eros and sexuality? We know that in modernity the normative series was eros, that is, romantic love, and then sex, and then marriage. In modernity, eros and sexuality became legitimate, in contrast to premodern eras. Occasionally, we had sporadic sexual intercourses without romantic love, especially during the sexual revolution of the ‘60s, but marriage was still in the picture. Homosexuality was usually considered as a deviation.

When post-modernity came in the middle of our lives, there were some overt trends that can be still noticed, which I will count very briefly. Post-modernity gives emphasis on senses and emotions: death of ideologies, a shift from the rational, intellectual domain to senses and emotions, experience. Also, it introduced moral relativism, which is based on exaggerated individualism. The subject of post-modernity is incoherent. There is no accountability to a principle of coherence. There is no need for one to be coherent. Inconsistencies are legitimate now. We also have consumerism and the spectacle. Actually, I believe that without these historic developments—the society of spectacle and the society of consumerism—we would not have post-modernity. Those two developments gave birth to post-modernity.

Also what is interesting for our topic is the loosening of the extinction of genres, of different types. Now types, in any classification, are mixed in post-modernity. There is an inclination for that. And what about sex? Very briefly, schematically, in the pre-modern era, sex was just tolerable, in marriage, for procreation. In modernity, it’s a human right. And in post-modernity, it’s play and fun.

What is the contemporary landscape of sexuality in the light of post-modern developments? Now we’re going to more specific examination. Social permissiveness, disconnection of romantic love and sexuality—sexuality now has become autonomous—experimentation and exploration, priority on excitement, not on affect—it’s just excitement: I need to be excited. I don’t care to name it. “Are you in love?” people are asked. I don’t care to answer if I am in love or not; it’s just excitement, and I am enjoying it. Losing enough barriers between friendly closeness and eros sexuality—we will come to this again—hedonism and lust as public culture, alternatives in the place of perversions, and fluidity of gender, which is queer theory.

Do you think that we should answer any questions for clarification in the process, or all at the end? What do you think? Coming from the birthland of democracy, I would like to ask you. [Laughter] So it’s up to you.

What is the post-modern impact on sexuality, on homosexuality? We know that there is a false increase in homosexuality, in coming out, because of the permissiveness of society, but I think there is a real increase as well for various reasons. First because of the encouragement of bisexuals. In the past, they could be more easily channeled to heterosexuality. Also because of an induction of latent predisposition, because of the surrounding provocative culture. Because of a sexualization of friendly intimacy. Now we can see the losing of barriers. And because of the turn of other emotions into same-sex attraction. In the past, we could not see the two last cases as we see them today. So more tolerance and/or compassion by Christians results to more coming out, so there is a real increase.

Let’s summarize the Christian stances toward homosexuality in general, although, of course, it’s very schematic, because not all conservative denominations are the same and not all liberal ones. In general, conservative Christians consider it environmental, and at an absolute degree fundamentalists usually speak about free choice: they tell them, “No, it’s your deliberate choice. You are perverts. You choose to collect more types of pleasure.” Instead, liberal Christians, and the movements, consider homosexuality exclusively biological, genetic. Another difference is the ecclesiological exclusion versus the inclusion; and the anxiety and fear and disgust to add among conservative Christians, while in the liberal context we can see assertiveness and affirmative attitudes.

You know well that Christianity has been divided, and we are more and more divided. There is a polarization in Christianity in terms of the confrontation of homosexuality and gender issues. What I find remarkable here is some Christians, in front of hostile modernity and post-modernity, regress to andro-centric attitudes. Their polarization is: the holy East, which might be the West, but it’s holy Orthodoxy; and the corrupted West. By regressing to this polarization, they actually regress to pre-modern values.

So for them, for example, they identify pre-modern social culture values with Christian theology and spiritual imperatives. For them, regressive stereotypes co-exist with attitudes against the West, against immigrants, against democracy. Statistically, these attitudes are over-represented among Christians—conservative or fundamentalist Christians—who get anxious in front of modernity and post-modernity, and think erroneously that the antidote to this corruption is just a regression to pre-modern values, what they call tradition. This is a famous misinterpretation of tradition. Concomitant phenomena are a defensive, insecure faith, fundamentalism and fanaticism, isolation, and clericalism. It’s not a coincidence you’ll find all of them clustered together in those individuals.

What about sex change? A few words: sex change is not queer theory. It may be necessary when persistent dysphoria and dissonance are present, because every person is entitled to harmony between biological sex and psychological gender. It’s another issue that has to be discussed: when sex change is necessary and what’s the differential diagnosis of gender dysphoria. In a few words, we should say that the international psychiatric community has been strongly influenced by the movements, so we know that the DSM-5 changed what was called “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria,” and the ICD-11 to “gender incongruence.”

This is a depathologizing, as you understand. This has to be credited to the movements. It was a triumph for them, because now, while in the past they were blaming psychiatrists, now they say—and I was personally attacked in Greece; they have an excellent watch that writes down everything in the world—they say, “You don’t align together with the international bodies of psychiatrists. This is science,” they say. “This is science. You have to consider it.”

A differential diagnosis of gender dysphoria should exclude obsessive-compulsive disorder, when the content of the ideation is gender dysphoria, is about gender dysphoria; also borderline personality disorder, which has to be treated, and sometimes you may see improvement in the subjective feeling of gender dysphoria; and autistic spectrum as well. They have to be excluded before a decision for sex change. Movements don’t agree, because they affirm any gender dysphoria. They just say you have to respect the person’s dysphoria. An extreme aspect of this, an extreme version of this is that even from the very beginning, from childhood or from preschoolers, for preschoolers they say we have to accept the identity of the toddler and in school we have to allow boys and girls play with all types of toys and we have to wait for the child to grow up and decide about his or her gender.

Anyway, my impression is that the movements present a behavior that could be named a hate for the sexual difference. This is what I have perceived of them. The queer theory credos are that gender is non-binary; there are various types of gender condition; a mobility of gender; gender is a social construction; and gender dysphoria is not a mental disorder.

A short psychiatric criticism on queer theory: it’s not ideological. It’s not only theological; there have also been psychiatric criticism on queer theory, that identity fluidity causes psychic pain—it’s not just something so innocent—that experimentation, losing single boundaries at the risk of breaking them into psychosis; and that the monopoly of discourse about rights, performativity—you know, Judith Butler—and gender spectrum may conceal psychopathology. If the discourse is only ideological, it may conceal psychopathology, which might be bipolar disorder, severe borderline disorder, body-related OCD, defensive or characterological inability for monogamy, or choices of moral nature: reluctance to stay in a stable relationship, rationalized promiscuity, open marriages in various combinations, and theorizing on polyamory.

Thus, queer movement seems to impose ideology and desire on science: on psychology and psychiatry. This is the landscape. People come in for spiritual guidance and for professional counseling live in this society, and they are exposed to all these types of theories and material.

Just a critique to the LGBQI movements: They claim all same-sex attractions as homosexual or bisexual orientation, whatever attraction it is. In Pride demonstrations, at least in Europe—I am not sure about America, but in Europe, Pride demonstrations, the movements, ally with weird and provocative behaviors and also sex workers. I posted an article in a Greek newspaper, for which I have been very much attacked by the movements. You call it Pride, okay, I understand it. Those persecutions who have been persecuted and still are, and some of them are murdered, need a movement. Okay, I understand it. What about Pride? What about those provocative behaviors during the demonstration, sometimes blasphemous behaviors against the icons? What about sex workers? Is it a matter of pride to be a sex worker? What type of pride is this? They have deviated…

Also the demand that psychiatric and psychoanalytic discourse is banned in their domain, they do believe that in the interior of their domain, only their ideological discourse should be valid, not any other discourse, because other criteria is being imported. And they expect that law should cover all nuances. They maximize their legal demands so that all nuances have to be covered.

A few words for addressing pastorally the psychic pain: Church we know kind of extinguishes it, but she can and must alleviate it when a homosexual and/or gender dysphoric suffers, subjectively. Attributions about meaning offer certain relief. Cross helps pain make sense: participation in the cross of Christ. Empathic love by Christians implements the essence of the Church. Nice words that are applied with much difficulty in practice.

What about the equipment now? Let’s proceed to the main topic. The equipment of counselors and spiritual fathers. Of course, both of them need to have adequate scientific knowledge, no prejudice, otherwise we are not appropriate for doing this work, a solid theological background for spiritual fathers, unconditional love, and arguments that don’t reduce homosexual/transgender, but encourage them towards self-valuing. Also the POGAACHU method for which I’ll tell you later what it is.

The spiritual guidance for homosexuals and transgenders: I’m grateful to Dr. Rossi, because he mentioned healthy and unhealthy morbid compliance. Not all compliances are healthy. Which can be the reasons for health compliance? A strong spiritual motivation, which means a healthy faith, and here the role of religious education can be preventive. Imagine a person that grows up homosexual or with gender dysphoria, and has been religious and has attended Sunday schools and ceremonies and confession. We know that the theology conveyed may vary tremendously. Sometimes it’s the healthy, real theology of the Church, and other times it’s the private theology of the priest or the catechist. So religious education is so important because it shapes the quality of faith and spiritual life of a young person. Other reasons for healthy compliance may be fatigue and disappointment from the wrong life, because they just hate and feel disgust towards their previous life and have a strong motivation to change life in the Church; trust on the spiritual father and love for him; and supportive family and ecclesiastical network.

Is there any false compliance? Yes, [there] is. Let’s see some reasons. Excessive guilt. Excessive guilt can be intolerable, so people may rush to comply in the hope that they will be relieved from guilt, but they are not fully present in their compliance. This phenomenon is very closely connected with false self. It’s not the same; that’s why I mentioned it separately. False self is a condition in which aspects of the healthy self have been isolated and concealed and deactivated, especially emotions and desires of the body sometimes. Usually false selves have developed the intellect very much. Some of them, in general, even for straight people—it’s not only a matter of sexuality—some false selves give the impression of very much compliant persons in the Church. The expectations of parents and clergy are very high on them. They sometimes get disillusioned and disappointed because their adolescent crisis occurs much later, sometimes after the age of 20 or 25 or 30, and it’s very intense, and it disorganizes the mental life. It may be a false compliance sometimes. I think this is a variation of that saying of Christ: Not everybody that tells me, “Lord, Lord,” is awoken, is really longing for the kingdom.

Also a pathological attachment to the spiritual father, because those people may match to an authoritarian one, and the compliance may be false for some years. Also naive expectations for change of homosexual orientation or gender dysphoria through prayer or fasting: just by praying or fasting, the sexual orientation will change. There are many people, and some spiritual fathers, that expect this. Also they tend—both lay and spiritual fathers—may attribute those issues to demonic influence. They may cultivate a false compliance in the disguise of spiritual life, and nothing changes inside them: no sexual orientation or dysphoria, no real genuine spiritual change occurs.

An issue that is of great importance here is that in this struggle of the young person to cope with homosexual orientation or gender dysphoria in false compliance, a false vocation may develop. Pain and guilt may create expectations that homosexual orientation will diminish if the person offers himself to priesthood or monasticism. Sometimes it’s a product of guilt and a kind of commercial exchange: I will offer you my life, and you will help me to get rid of this burden.

Either married priesthood or celibacy may shape a false vocation where the core naive idea is to overcome the problem through an assertive flight forward, instead of coming to terms with the problem and knowing better what it is. A flight forward without looking back makes a desperate movement which, obviously, is not effective. This may function in the future as the clock-bomb risk at midlife, which means a coming out of homosexuality for a married man or woman, or coming out a middle life in the monastic context, or psychosomatic problems or a mental collapse or whatever: a clock-bomb.

A diagnostic tip here for spiritual fathers should be that a premarital sexual abstinence does not warrant suitability of the candidate. Very often spiritual fathers believe that a young man who has abstained and seems consistent in his spiritual life is an appropriate person to be ordained. But in fact that is not the case; this is not enough. We need to develop, I think, a more thorough spiritual assessment of people, and make people trust us, because there are teenagers who have never expressed their secret.

Now let’s go to professional counseling for homosexuals and transgender people: reasons for healthy compliance. Again, strong motivation for healing; headache and disappointment from own life, as with the other case; therapeutic alliance; capacity for insight; and supportive family and ecclesiastical network. But what are the reasons for false compliance? Again, excessive guilt, false self, a coercive referral to counseling, or secondary gains that the person may have, especially teenagers or youth who stay still with their parents or sometimes husbands and wives, and also idealized transference. Idealized transference, in general, is a factor that may facilitate compliance in general in various issues without a real change.

When we think of false compliance, we should have in mind that externally the counselor, the spiritual father, may be very content of the person, but there’s no real change in sight. I’m not talking about the change of sexual orientation or gender dysphoria—it would be too ambitious—but I am talking about spiritual change. This is called the tunnel phenomenon, and was noticed in seminarians in the Catholic Church. They presented a very well… gratifying and excellent behavior in their years in the seminary, and then after graduating everything was as before. There was no real change at all.

What about resistance? I have found resistance to both here. Maybe ideological oppositions of the person: a mindset permeated by post-modernism. That’s why I present that material in the beginning. Influential connections with the gay and trans movement. A wrong theology or a repelling faith that has been internalized: so the person rebels against a distorted god, a distorted representation of God; and authoritarian rejection of pastoral practice. Sometimes we are authoritarian, and then we blame people: they don’t cooperate. “They left us. They don’t want to spiritually change.” But sometimes this is what we should have in mind: sometimes resistance is very healthy. There are people who have to survive psychologically, so they have to abandon the Church or confession, to survive psychologically sometimes. It’s very healthy in short terms. Of course, in long terms, it might be very dangerous. Also a judgmental or rejected counseling can be a reason for resistance. And a hostile congregation. These have been widely discussed; you are well aware.

In both compliance and resistance, don’t forget the POGAACHU method. I’ll tell you shortly what it is. Let’s add an eschatological perspective, which is what God sees in everyone. He looks not at our photos but our videos, in a dynamic process, in the rate of our acceleration, in our struggles, not just instant photos. God sees in everyone what we can become, by God’s grace. Elytis was a Greek Nobel laureate, a poet who wrote: “Shines inside me what I ignore, yet it shines.” We need the Church that can see this way to people.

Thank you for not being like this—[Laughter] but it was the wrong slide [slide of audience yawning]—thank you for not being like this [slide of students sleeping]. [Laughter] That’s better. Too much and too dense; I apologize for this.

Q1: Thank you, first of all, for tackling this very challenging subject. I’m a current social worker. Over the years, I’ve had people shoot my direction by priests who didn’t know what to do with them, because they were struggling in this area. I guess what I’m wondering is: Do you have any practical tips for this mixed group here on how we can, individually and collectively, support parishioners that are struggling with this subject? [Inaudible]

Fr. Vasileios: Thank you, although it would require one more workshop or more. You know, the reason why this problem is so hot and thorny in the Church is that it’s difficult for us to combine truth and love at the same time. To work only with truth, it’s easier. To work only with what we perceive as love, it’s also easier. But their combination is very, very difficult, because we need a different Church, I could say, from what we are now, in general, although souls, thinking like this, always existed and will exist.

We have to experience our truth as love and our love as truth. So practically, what it would mean: we need congregations that will not think and act and feel like the Pharisee, which means that we need congregations with more repentance for their own sins and passions. If we don’t have these congregations, we need priests who will train them. At the same time, we—what this combination is about—we don’t want to be set against the world, but we don’t want to resemble the world, to be absorbed by the world. This is very prophetic; this is the essence of the Church. This was from the very beginning, because the first centuries of the Church had so many similarities with the contemporary globalization. The surrounding culture was so hostile, and now Christians parents protest society as hostile: the educational system is hostile. It was not in the past like this, and I think that enjoying Christianity of society in the past, we forgot the beginnings of our Church. We have to combine truth and love in the hostile society this is.

So I don’t think I can be more practical now in this context. Or I could say that we need to develop more theology about homosexuality and gender, which is not simple, though, at all. Many Christians believe if we just recite, if we just repeat the biblical verses about homosexuality, this is theology. They are not enough, for various reasons: because they reflect the cultural climate and the cognitions of that time. We need to develop theology which, according to my opinion, homosexuality cannot be accepted as an alternative, theologically, but at the same time we are co-pilgrims with homosexual and gender-something brothers and sisters. I think it’s an existential transformation. It has to happen in the Church.

Q2: You spoke about the idea that the Pride parade and the Pride demonstration in particular are allied with weird and provocative behavior. How do we speak to that idea when the people that endorse this behavior or participate in it are moral relativists and don’t agree that we are [Inaudible]?

Fr. Vasileios: Can you repeat the last question, the last sentence?

Q2: How do we engage with this idea, given your post-modern analysis of the context in which these people operate? They don’t view the weird and provocative behaviors as weird and provocative because they’re relativists.

Fr. Vasileios: You mean people that frequent the Church, or just other people?

Q2: Whatever differentiation you want to make. I don’t know who is participating in what you are seeing, but I am sure that some people frequent a church—lower-case c—with this behavior.

Fr. Vasileios: They’re more rare to find in the Church, but in society in general, yes, I think they increase more and more. It’s difficult to change their mind, because we have to undo, to challenge and undo their philosophical background. This is a folk philosophy that anything goes and that there are many alternatives in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity and that the law… For example, there is an issue that goes so far as to the philosophy of law: Does law have the right to undo perennial civilization, stable parameters, like man-woman, like the couple? What about if, in the future, the structural unit of family is not made of two persons, but of three, maybe? Has the law the right to conform so that it will undo civilization, or are there any stable parameters that have to be preserved by the law? So there is a folk philosophy that is disseminated by the movement, and it’s difficult for them to convince people.

Sometimes I think what can be effective for some of them is not an intellectual argument; it’s not to quarrel intellectually. Some of those who resist and argue are just people who are emotionally traumatized, and some of them have complaints about the Church. So if they are approached at the level of the heart, with love, then they may give up their post-modern arguments. It depends; it needs discernment, depending on the context. The Church, the different contexts, in spiritual and professional counseling…

But every person is a unique case. Some of them require an intellectual challenging of their universe in which they have been trained by the movement. Others are more prone to a personal approach. But it’s difficult. It’s difficult because this post-modern landscape is somehow fascinating, because it’s promising, because it makes use—it makes rationalizations—of human rights, and at the same time it promotes pleasure; it’s double. In general, post-modern vindications make use of modern rights. They speak the language of another cultural stage, but the content of their message and demand is post-modern. The equation is the difference between identity and deviation. Maybe this will be the criterion about holy Communion.

Speaking about deviation, it reminds me of the passions. Passions are of a quantitative nature, are located on a continuum. To be very frequently angry or to resent, this might happen in a lower degree or a higher degree and is for sure a deviation. Of course I have to struggle against it. This is a personal sin. To me, sexual orientation is an identity which gives it a very special status. It’s not a personal sin, but this is a sinful condition, in terms of the cosmic dimension. A homosexual may be the best person in the world, maybe a loving person, an excellent person. His or her condition, as a cosmic dimension, is a sinful one, but it’s not a personal sin. So I’m speaking about identity as a qualitative attribute.

Of course, nobody is responsible for… nobody has created his or her sexual orientation. Out of my books I have supported this idea which I think we have a difficult time to capture. We consider sin as a personal condition. This is a most serious sin, a less serious sin—but on a personal basis. We have forgotten that sin may function in a cosmic dimension. There is no personal responsibility but in the cosmic dimension, I cannot function in the way God designed. It’s not my fault, but I cannot do it. So this is a sinful condition to me. These are the potentials I used in the big Greek book on homosexuality.

I think that this is the way I have found to work at the middle between the two extremes. The extremes are to blame homosexuals for their orientation, and the other extreme is to just invite them to be normally part of everything because it’s an alternative, an equivalent alternative to heterosexuality. This is not compatible with God’s design. We have to say this.

What about that method? Thank you for reminding me. This is it. Not so original; you already know this. The POGAACHU method is for all of the brothers and sisters we need to fervently Pray! Only God After All Can Help Us, whatever this help means.

Q3: Can you also comment on… As a physician, we know there are on a continuum… We know there are male and female; there’s a lot on the continuum: hermaphrodites. There have also been studies looking at genetics, even in homosexuals. I understand that culturally now there’s a big movement that has all the elements that you talked [about]. But I’m curious about the biological pieces, and how do you really think through this through your work?

Fr. Vasileios: Gender identity or sexual orientation?

Q3: Gender identity… Well, in the face of the biological pieces. How do you integrate that, for both psychiatric and theological?

Fr. Vasileios: Thank you. I am not an expert on this, but I think that, provided that intersexual individuals are very, very few in the population—the population that we discuss about the public speech is about are transsexual—in which we know there is no hormonal problem, but future hormonal research may reveal findings maybe in the future. Some Christians have tried to articulate a speech against the vindications of the movement, a speech that was based on the differences, functional differences between male and female brains—which is true, because they are shaped by hormones—but the difference, out of statistical nature, not every male brain is different from a female one. In the average, they are different. This is statistics here. We know that there are some males with normal levels of hormones, of testosterone, have more female mental characteristics. I think that it does not help so far, unless we know more.

Also the same for sexual orientation, for which I could say that I think that etiologically we should develop subtypes of homosexuality. There’s no one homosexuality; there are many. But there’s no motivation for funding research to finding subtypes of homosexuality. Of course the movement has no motivation at all. It has motivation to oppose this research. So I don’t know if there will be a time when we will know etiologically homosexuality of a genetic etiology is different from homosexuality of a family condition, a family etiology, or because of sexual abuse or whatever the subtypes will be. So we don’t know so much, but the future is very promising in terms of etiology.

Q4: What would you recommend if, as a youth counselor in church, in Sunday school, what would you encourage those of us [who are] to do or to say for youth who are struggling with their sexuality or sexual identity or who are confused? What are the things to say and not say that are practical?

Dr. Mamalakis: Could you repeat the question?

Fr. Vasileios: Let me clarify. Do you mean that in Sunday schools, to encourage youth, talk about, develop their questions on that, or just reveal their struggles? I’m not sure I got it well.

Q4: More so the ones who reveal their struggle. Or also the ones whom you feel may be struggling: should we approach them or not?

Fr. Vasileios: Of course, this cannot be done in public. Sometimes, yes, teenagers who are not inspired by their parents to express their struggle come to the person, the catechist or the spiritual father. A catechist may be in a privileged situation to hear and support young people in this, but except for this—and also the catechist should be… which is difficult, because catechists are young people… should be equipped with those qualities I described—but except for this we need another area of attitudes in the Church to help young people better handle gender issues. For example, we need to cultivate equality of genders. Children, adolescents need to see a male and a female catechist cooperate together, need to see how the two genders live in the Church and cooperate. They also need to hear healthy theology about gender, about women. It’s very difficult in an ecclesiastical context that is phobic against women, or regresses to premodern attitudes. It’s very difficult for a young person to seek for personal support unless a particular catechist inspires him or her.

A starting point would be to better educate our catechists about gender issues and sexual issues, and also spiritual fathers: so the key persons in each parish should be better educated and sensitized. Let’s stop. Thank you very much. [Applause]


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