How Do You Reconcile Being LGBT and Catholic?
In my over 20 years of working in LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church, by far the most frequent question that I have been asked is “How can someone by LGBT and Catholic at the same time?” It’s a puzzling question to those who don’t share in one or both of those identities. I’m always tempted to answer that question with the lines that appear at the beginning of the classic film, “Song of Bernadette,” about the saint’s visions at Lourdes: “For those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible. For those who do believe, no explanation is necessary.”
An alternative answer, however, comes in the form of an essay from the UK, which appeared on the news blog, Sosogay.co.uk. Author Brian Kelly, who writes from a Northern Irish perspective, acknowledges that although being gay and Catholic is a puzzle to some, it is not so to him:
“In reality, I feel comfortable as a gay Catholic, because I don’t particularly see the need for them to fit one another perfectly in order for both to be relevant to my life but I know that technically they do conflict. . . “
For Kelly, and for many LGBT Catholics that I have met, Catholic identity does not necessarily mean Catholic conformity:
“. . . [B]eing a Catholic is more than just attending a weekly gathering, and faith in God is more than just what you’re told by the clergy. It’s a way of life, and particularly in devout countries like mine, it’s something which binds the community together in schools, neighborhoods and organizations. Northern Ireland in particular is still a polarised state, with two sides divided on ethno-political grounds, where your religion is your label. Of course this has softened in recent years, but the roots run deep enough so that people still feel much more bound by their religion – whether they like it or not – than they might in a multi-ethnic country. Feelings of obligation to the Pope might be waning, but feelings of belonging among fellow Catholics are not.
Like it the U.S., and many other nations, Catholics in Northern Ireland are also supportive of LGBT issues, despite their hierarchy’s opposition to them. Catholic lay people have made up their own minds on these matters:
“It’s worth noting that of the two largest political parties in Northern Ireland – the DUP (largely Unionist, Protestant voters) and Sinn Fein (largely Republican, Catholic voters), it is Sinn Fein which supports marriage equality. The DUP are rejecting it, and indeed tried to prevent the decriminalization of homosexuality in Northern Ireland as recently as 1982. This democratic politics speaks louder for the views of the people on the ground than the voice of an unelected man in Rome.”
Kelly paints a picture of the contemporary Catholic Church in Northern Ireland that remains spiritually and socially strong, while the laity grow more distant from the hiearchy:
“I now see a new generation of young people who still identify as Catholic, but reject some of the teachings of the Church. I know people who still pray and have spirituality, but don’t necessarily take it to the door of a chapel. I see communities who act out the positive, generous and loving elements of Catholic teachings, but have dropped the divisive and damning beliefs that have kept their country in fear, guilt, and even poverty, for the centuries in which the Church monopolized Ireland’s institutions. Many might say this sounds like picking and choosing – indeed it is a style of reform – but if it’s reform for the better welfare and happiness of people, why shouldn’t it be so? After all, faith is about being happy – religion became too much about control.”
Every LGBT Catholic that I know makes peace with the church in their own individual way, though there are some similarities across the stories. How do you reconcile your Catholicism with your LGBT or LGBT-ally identity ? Please share you ideas and experiences in the “Comments” section of this post.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Quite honestly, I have been struggling. I am the parent of a lesbian daughter. I love her and her partner and am feeling left out at church. We have actually changed churches in the last month. I have decided that I do need to stay Catholic for no other reason than to show support for other LGBT people and their families. I will continue to pray for the church leaders that they can embrace God message to love one another.
I too am from Ireland, the southern bit. I made the terrible mistake of trying to be someone that I wasn’t which impacted disastrously on other people’s lives as well as my own. Eventually, through the extraordinary writings of John McNeill, SJ, I discovered there were other ways of understanding supposed biblical prohibitions on homosexuality than those put forward in official Church teaching. Because Church failed me so badly, I discovered I needed to work out a morality of my own that made real sense to me, not the one that I tried to live up to for so long only to realise it was fundamentality flawed – indeed intrinsically disordered, if you will. There are lots of things I can still do that fall far short of that personal morality, but loving another man in a committed relationship is not one of them. I have not left the Catholic Church, though I am happy to worship literally in any church where I am made to feel welcome – especially if there’s good music. [Oh, and long before my journey to become true to myself, I crossed the rubicon of receiving Communion in other denomination churches on the simple premise that – whatever the differences may or may not be – I still wanted to participate as fully as I could in the service I was attending.]
Catholic parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender daughters and sons are everywhere. We were taught by the Catholic Church that every child is God’s gift to the family and to the world. But when we learn that one or more of our children is LGB or T, there seems to be some back-pedaling (mildly put) by church leaders. However, the truth of the wholeness and holiness of all our children remain. Parents can be a loud and loving voice to tell our church leaders to open their hearts, talk with our LGBT children and get to know them. That’s what Jesus would do, right?! Checkout the Fortunate Families web site to find many stories of Catholic parents of LGBT daughters and sons. Peace.
Fortunate families is a very important group. They are what I wish the whole church would be about. They are the first place I turned when my daughter came out. My husband and I have been accepted as listening parents recently.
Being Catholic, or being Mormon, is a bit more like being Jewish than say being a Methodist. It involves a huge history, a way of looking at art, a way of thinking about grace, and so forth.
Catholic Irish people or Poles, for example, have Catholicism tightly wound into their very identity. Even a man such as the pope is cannot entirely dislodge this.
I remain a Catholic because I like the poems of Gerard Manly Hopkins and the fiction of Graham Greene, and the prose of Cardinal Newman. No mere pope can dispossess me of that.
I like your comparison. I tell everybody that while I have extreme disbelief in the church’s teachings, and sometimes I’m not sure I even believe in God, I am, and always will be, a Cultural Catholic. Catholicism shaped my worldview. I have no other frame work. I attended Catholic schools from 1st grade through graduate school. They made me who I am. My compassion, my focus on serving others, that all came from Catholicism. Ironically, it is my compassion and my desire for social justice taught to me by the church that made it clear I had to stand up for my LGBTQ friends. Also, there’s nothing like becoming a single mother by “choosing life” to make you feel ostracized by the church as well. *sigh*
Where’s the like button on this thing? There’s something radically wrong with pro life righteousness that stops at the exit door to the maternity hospital! Your post resonates hugely with me, Nelle.
For several years I reconciled being GLBT and Catholic because I was a member of a parish that was openly welcoming and had a fair percentage of GLBT members. The New Archbishop Nienstedt established an atmosphere which resulted in many leaving the parish. Last year our state was convulsed with an attempt to amend the state constitution to define marriage as man-woman only. The Archdiocese contributed at least $1 million to this effort. Official representatives of the Archdiocese used the most toxic and untrue language to support the amendment. Fortunately the people of the state saw through this and defeated the amendment by a large percentage. At the same time, the new Mass translations were foisted on us. These translations express a theology that directly contradicts the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council. All this comes on top of continuing revelations of criminal conduct by bishops to cover-up the sex scandal have put me over the edge. Benedict appoints a raging homophobe as Archbishop of San Francisco as a deliberate poke in the eye of the gay-lesbian Catholic community there. I no longer attend RCC masses or contribute to any RCC charity or other activity. I consider myself a Catholic “in exile.” I spend many years in the closet and refuse any longer to participate in an organization that considers me to be to be disordered and actively works to deprive me of civil rights.
My wife (cradle Roman Catholic) could no longer reconcile these two. A few months after our marriage, PropH8 passed in CA, driven heavily by the RC church. She was subjected to horrible sermons in church that said the most vile things about LGBT people. Those who have not endured one of these campaigns don’t know how vicious it is.
She moved to the Episcopal church, where she was received two years ago, and where we received a formal blessing of our civil marriage. My wife agrees with the late John Cogley, who described moving from Rome to Canterbury thusly: “I do not look upon this move as a ‘conversion’ since I have not changed any of the beliefs I formerly held,” he said. “Rather, it is a matter of finding my proper spiritual home.” Her faith is renewed and she doesn’t have to hide who she is.
I am glad that some Catholics stay to fight the good fight–good on you. But others, like my wife, may need to find a new home. (Even fighters may need a sabbatical!)
I’m with you and John Cogley, looking for my proper spiritual home. Thanks for this.
I cannot express myself as eloquently as Brian Kelly, or anyone else for that matter. I have to remain in the Catholic Church because I believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and I won’t let anyone keep me from that. And St Bernadette’s quote is quite apropos: My friends are bewildered when I tell them that being Gay is a gift from God, but it is. God has shown me His loving-kindness through the love of my late partner and in so many other ways. Recent changes in the Church and in my local Parish have not been kind, but I will stay. After all, if we all desert the Church, who will work to re-build it?
This is a tried and true question that LGBT Catholics must address constantly, with themselves, and with others. When discussing this question with non-Catholic friends over the last 15-20 years, however, I have noticed a clear shift in the meaning behind the question when it is posed to me. Now more than ever, when the question comes up, the context is slanted virtually in the same American political vein as the question: “How do you reconcile being gay with being Republican?” The angle of the question just exposes the sad reality of what the American hierarchy has done to distort the perception of Catholic social teachings, a number of which (though certainly not all) could be justifiably labelled as progressive, or even radical. Longstanding social and economic teachings with respect to the poor and for the wellfare of others (beyond ourselves) seem lost amidst the now dominant proclamations against GLBT folks, women in the Church, etc. It’s easy for me to answer the question when posed in this vein, as being Catholic does afford a conscience and a progressive stance that seems less understood these days, but is explainable nonetheless. But it is getting harder. It’s my view that – thanks to the American hierarchy and it’s strong political activity – the distinction between Catholic and Republican is not so apparent any more to some of our non-Catholic allies.