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placeholder September 5, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 15   •   Oakland, CA

Rev. Stephan Kappler, pastor and licensed clinical psychologist, and Rilene Simpson of the Courage apostolate were the speakers at Theology on Tap's summer presentation.

'Who Am I to Judge:' lively evening for young Catholics

Theology on Tap — or, in this case, served in frosty mugs of margaritas — drew an audience that filled a banquet room set for 60 at a Pittsburg restaurant on a hot July evening for a gathering entitled, "Who Am I to Judge: Catholics and Homosexuality."

The program, geared to adults ranging in age from 21 to 40, did not turn away others, who ranged from 10 months to the 80s.

Ugo Ofoegbu, 32, is one of a dozen members of a young adult Catholic community at St. Callistus Parish in El Sobrante.

"We're active in our parish and really want to do more for ourselves and our parish," he said.

Young married couple Tony and Shannon Seidl are "always interested in learning more about our Church, theology and dogma," said Tony Seidl. He and his wife were accompanied by their children, ages 3 and 10 months.

The gathering of young adult Catholics, said coordinator Steven Lewis, is to serve those who might say, "I need to know I'm not the only 24-year-old Catholic in the world."

On this evening of lively discussion, they were certainly not alone.

Speakers were Father Stephan Kappler, who is both pastor of St. Jarlath Parish in Oakland and a licensed clinical psychologist at Kairos Psychology Group, and Rilene Simpson, of Courage a ministry offering international ministries, support groups for men and women who experience same-sex attraction. The story of her return to the Catholic faith is told in the film "Desire of the Everlasting Hills."

Father Kappler said he would be speaking "as a pastor and as a psychologist." The talk began with a discussion of human sexuality.

"The gift of sexuality is a gift that is given to each and every one of us," Father Kappler said. "We are sexual beings, at all times, throughout our adult life. That's not going to change, regardless of our state in life, regardless of how we decide to live that gift of sexuality."

"It's a gift that's been given to all of us. Our task as faithful Catholics is to receive that gift gratefully, to understand it as much as we can, to live it responsibly and to live it faithfully."

Our sexual orientation is one part of our identity as a person, Father Kappler said. Catholic teaching about sexual orientation is simple and straightforward, he said.

"Homosexuality, a sexual orientation, is not a sin. It is not a choice. As you know, sin always involves choice," he said.

The church also says homosexual persons need to be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity, Father Kappler said.

"The Catholic view of sexuality and sexual activity is clearly ordered in the conjugal bond between husband and wife," he said. "The place for human sexuality is in the conjugal bond, the marriage bond between husband and wife."

As a Catholic community, as a very diverse family of people, Father Kappler said, "we need to be very clear to welcome and include LGBT Catholics in our parishes."'

Sexual identity is just one part of a person's overall identity, he said. "I think we need to be careful not to reduce people to just their sexual orientation."

"We need to ask is that person living their life visiting the sick, working for peace and justice? Is that person looking out for the poor, is that person living with a sense of mercy and compassion? Is that person living their faith?"

Simpson began her talk by passing around the room a framed photo of herself and her female partner, taken at their commitment celebration they had in the late '90s to commemorate 15 years together. "We were committed to each other for life," she said.

"For 25 years we were very happy," she said, "living the good life as far as you could tell."

But the economic collapse in the mid-2000s put an end to those good financial times; the house was sold.

With Proposition 8 on the horizon, the possibility that the window for same-sex marriage in California was closing loomed. Her partner said, "I think it's time to get married."

Although she had committed to her partner, "turning that into a marriage didn't fit my understanding of what marriage is," Simpson said.

"It had nothing to do with the Catholic Church," she said. "I was an atheist. It came from inside my soul. I said, 'I can't marry you.'"

By the fall, they went their separate ways.

"Do you believe in God?" her therapist asked one day, which was "the last thing I expected to hear from a secular therapist," Simpson said.

Thirty-five years of atheism, with a sprinkle of new age somewhere in there, did not stop her from answering in the affirmative.

"On July 4, 2009, after 35 years, I went to confession," she said. She said she was grateful to find that the Church hadn't changed its teaching "like so many in the world had."

She heard about Courage on a Catholic radio program.

"Courage is an apostolate of the church that helps people who want to live chaste lives, through a support group structure. You have to want to be there," she said. "It's warm, inviting and welcoming," she said.

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