DEAR ABBY: Our 36-year-old son, "Bill," has just informed us by letter that he is gay. At present, we live on opposite sides of the country, so we can't sit down and discuss this.
Bill never married, but he has dated women and even came close to marriage. He is so outgoing that strangers invite him for holiday dinners. He's a college graduate, but changes jobs frequently. Bill spent four years in the Air Force and is always working out for a healthy body. He is Catholic and respects his beliefs.
My husband thinks we got the wrong baby in the hospital where Bill was born.
How do we deal with this? Can you recommend some reading material that will help us cope? Should we go to counseling or should Bill? Are there support groups close to us? Are gay people able to abstain from having relationships without hurting their mental health or their family? Will Bill be accepted by Christ when he dies? I'm too ashamed to ask my own priest. -- NEEDS ADVICE FAST IN FLORIDA
DEAR NEEDS ADVICE FAST: Homosexuality is not a mental illness, and Bill does not need counseling. However, your husband may need it in order to accept his son's sexual orientation.
I urge you to put aside your feelings of shame and talk to your priest. The church teaches that all people are called to live chastely according to their state in life. For the married that means faithful monogamy. For the unmarried, it means sexual abstinence.
I recommend a document called "Always Our Children," which is a pastoral statement by the Commission on Marriage and Family Life of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, specially addressed to parents of gay and lesbian children. Parents do not have to choose between faith and their children. My sources within the church also tell me that Christ already accepts your son -- so put your fears to rest.
For more information and reading material, and to locate support groups in your area, write to Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), 1101 14th St. N.W., Suite 1030, Washington, D.C. 20005.