Bullying, Freedom of Speech and the Church

A Bully Free Zone sign - School in Berea, Ohio
Image via Wikipedia


WITH yet another tragic bullying incident which led to

the suicide of a precious child of God in the news of late, I wanted to share

my own thoughts on the topic of bullying. Some have suggested the Church simply

change her doctrine. Others have proposed that the more “out” society

is in general, the less this will occur. I see it somewhat differently and

would like to share my own thoughts on the topic. I am also including a link to

the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) official document on

how the Church might best serve LGBT/SSA youth or those of all ages while not

compromising her beliefs on the matter. It is worth more than a cursory

reading. The link to it is at the end of this note. So here goes:

With regard to bullying, there is never an excuse in the world for

it.  When I was in late elementary to early junior high school, I was

bullied—a lot.  Ironically back then I did not even know “the facts of

life” but I did know I somehow did not fit in with other boys—I was terribly

un-athletic, liked to read or study, and always last to be picked during recess

games. Other boys of course picked up on this and I was called such names as

“fem,” “Susie” and “girl,” sometimes even by those I considered

friends.   There was one boy in the neighborhood who was an altar boy

as well and he used to play with me but then eventually began to mercilessly

tease me, chase me home from school and threaten me, and I lived in absolute

fear of getting up in the morning—and had no idea how to fight back so never

did so. For two years he kept this up, and I begged my mother not to get

involved because I was so afraid it would make things worse.  But, Irish

tempered and protective woman who she was, she one day cornered him and told

him to NEVER touch or threaten me again or she would go straight to his

parents.  He began to cry and never bothered me again.

But for some children it is not that easy.   We now live in

a world where kids know of sexuality in all of its varieties at an early age,

and those who are different are called far worse names than I ever dreamed of.

While we think the newer openness about the topic would make things easier, the

suicide rates and bullying rates appear to be at an all-time high.  And

there is likely some blame on all sides—parents who pay little or no attention

to their children, teachers or other educators who turn the other way, and

young people who simply know far too much about the world, including sexuality,

and then in turn use it against their fellow classmates.

To some the answer is for the Church to no longer speak on these

topics, or worse, in the interest of “tolerance” to tacitly or directly approve

those in lifestyles which directly contradict their doctrine.  To others

(not all) in the LGBT community, many believe that encouraging young folks of

12 or 13 and up to “get it over with and come out” is a better solution. I do

not see either as the de facto solution however because the first asks the

Church to teach something she simply does not believe, and the second pressures

youth to identify themselves within a subculture they may not be yet ready to

accept being part of.

Answers then do not lie  within the greater society attempting to remove 1st Amendment rights

of churches, synagogues and mosques to speak on areas of their own doctrine and

concern.  The rotting can of worms this would rip open could potentially

have such far-reaching effects that I do not for a moment believe that would be

ultimately helpful.  And the dangers of such an approach should be obvious

to the thinking and freedom minded person. But those same churches and

religious groups assuredly have a moral obligation to teach with kindness, and

to openly accept those within their ranks who disagree with their tenets—with the caveat 

that a private religious body must always have the freedom

to restrict seriously dissenting people from certain activities (i.e. being

forced to administer Holy Communion to openly active or coupled LGBT members or

to abortion advocates) or to appoint them to positions of authority and

leadership within said organizations.

In the 2006 US Catholic

Bishop’s document “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination:

Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” among many other points of discussion, one recommendation

is to encourage, support and assist the young person who is struggling in this

area while on the other hand not necessarily attempting to embolden them to

make a public announcement about it, at least prematurely.  There is huge wisdom

here. Looking back on my own experiences, had I even known what homosexuality

was at the time, if I had told those who bullied me that I was one of “those”

types I would have likely been a suicide victim myself. The bullying would

never have stopped with being chased home from school on occasion.

Yet this is what we ask of our children today when we try so hard to

get them to “explore” themselves.  We set them up to be bullied and then

wonder why it happens.  The harsh truth sadly remains that the world is

not nice.  It is indeed far better to teach those same youth some

practical skills to deal with that lack of “niceness” and then let them decide,

without pressure either way, if and who they wish to tell their “secret”

to.  It would be great if our world was not filled with human sharks—but

it is.  And the sooner we realize it the better chance our children of all

inclinations will be to deal with the hostility that still exists. That is how

this man sees it anyway.

*USCCB Document 2006

See particularly pages 17-19.