Writer visits campus, discusses faith journey

Dan Mattson, a professional musician and Catholic writer, spoke on his personal struggle with his faith as a person who experiences same-sex attraction. The talk, “Same-Sex Attraction and Catholicism,” sponsored by Students for Child Oriented Policy (SCOP) and The Irish Rover, offered a deeply personal glimpse into Mattson’s life, documenting his struggles with same-sex attraction growing up and his eventual rediscovering of his faith. Mattson affirmed the beauty found in the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality and how liberating the truth of human sexuality is to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.

Mattson began his talk with describing how he first encountered his attraction for those of the same sex as a child. In high school, Mattson encountered rejection from his male peers due to his talents lying more with music than with athletic ability, and entered college caught between his belief that God wanted happiness for his life and feeling attraction towards the boys who better exemplified the traits he wished he had. After his college girlfriend left him to date another woman, Mattson swore he would never date a woman again, and decided to turn his back on God and live the way he wanted. While working as a professional musician, Mattson entered into a committed relationship with another man for a year. “Some people have this strange notion of Church teaching,” said Mattson, “…that if you’re living outside of Church teaching, you’re not going to be happy. No, I was happy, on a certain level…But where we were going wrong was when we were having sex…We were using each other in that moment. And we couldn’t see that in the moment. It felt like love, it seemed like love. But it wasn’t. It was mutual use of each other.”

Baptized Catholic but raised Evangelical, Mattson, although he never lost faith in God, had been away from Catholicism for thirty years when his godparents invited him to a conference offered by Courage International. Courage is the only Vatican-sanctioned ministry for those who struggle with same-sex attractions and is focused on promoting chastity, prayer, fellowship, support, and living as a role model to others. Mattson was deeply moved by the beauty of the Mass and the homily of Cardinal Regali on mercy: “It was a balm to my soul. And I knew he was talking to people like me, people who might have been rejected from the Church. And he was welcoming and he said, ‘You are loved, Christ welcomes you, you are my beloved son.’”

By the end of Mass, Mattson had decided that he would come back to the Catholic Church and was able to receive the sacraments. “It was so liberating. It was so cleansing, the best moment of my life up to that point was that moment of Confession,” said Mattson. “The truth had set me free and the truth told me that I am a beloved son of God.”

A key theme of Mattson’s talk and his responses during the Q&A was that experiencing attractions towards those of the same sex is not defining to one’s identity. Rather than defining oneself by one’s sexual orientation, Mattson discussed viewing people in terms of being “male and female who have experiences and attractions,” who are fundamentally children of God. This is in line with the Church’s documents on homosexuality. As stated by the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, “the human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation….Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a “heterosexual” or a “homosexual” and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

“I have never felt more welcomed and loved than in the Catholic Church,” said Mattson, strongly repudiating the idea that the Church has to change its teaching on sexuality in order to be welcoming to Catholics who experience same-sex attraction. The Church’s teaching recognizes that the identity of the person lies in being fundamentally body and soul, upholding the truth written on our bodies that men are made to give themselves to women and vice versa. Although he found that having a homosexual relationship brought him some happiness, it was only in living the Church’s teaching that he found “peace, true happiness, contentment, and fulfillment.” “The gauge shouldn’t be how happy we are, the gauge should be the truth by which we want to live our lives,” said Mattson, emphasizing that the meaning of life is not found in pursuing pleasure or personal satisfaction, but rather by living in accordance with the truth.

There was, however, some student backlash to Mattson’s talk. Students during the Q&A enquired how the Church and the families of gay children can really be accepting and loving of their children without accepting their lifestyle. Some students wrote a letter to the Observer detailing their objections to the ideas discussed in Mattson’s talk. The letter accused Mattson of promoting an interpretation of Catholic teaching that requires that LGBT Catholics need to hope that one day God will change their sexuality. However, Mattson specifically promoted viewing the Church’s teaching on human sexuality as upholding chastity, rather than asking Catholics to change their sexual orientation.

Although many Catholics disagree with the Church’s teaching, it has been made clear by Church authorities that this teaching is a matter of doctrine and not up for debate. Although this immutability of doctrine may be distressing to some, Mattson summarized his talk by stating that he hoped people were “inspired to consider that the Church actually is the place for happiness for all people including a man like me, who lives with attractions to men.”

Teresa Kaza is a junior double majoring in Biology and Philosophy. She has resigned herself to living in unrelenting, sunless, eternal South Bend winter. If you would like to console her that hippie skirt and sandals weather is coming soon, please contact her at tkaza1@nd.edu.