Cristina Traina is a Catholic professor of religion at Northwestern University, just outside of Chicago. She is also a lesbian. She is also the wife of a male Lutheran minister and the mother of three grown children who have all become Methodists.
In an interview with the La Grange Sun-Times recently, Traina spoke of her faith life, her affective life, and the life of the Catholic Church.
Though her family and faith situation may not be run-of-the-mill (but then again, whose is?) Traina has experienced many of the familiar challenges that many Catholic LGBT people and allies experience. For example, there’s the age-old question of being simultaneously Catholic and LGBT.
Q: You identify as gay—how did your struggle with sexuality overlap with your struggle with religion? Because especially the Roman Catholic Church has very strong opinions about being gay.
Traina: Interestingly, I didn’t have a big religious struggle about it. One of the reasons is that I grew up in a very strangely wonderful Catholic community as a child …
In my opinion, the church was the community. The church was the people that were gathered around, celebrating Mass, interested in each other’s lives, helping each others children grow up, dealing with each other’s griefs. So, when I decided to come out, my church was still my community.
Questions like that for Traina also go beyond the obvious “How can you be gay and Catholic?” since she identifies as a lesbian and remains married to a man:
Q: . . .[H]ow can you be gay, Catholic and married to a man? I think that’s my essential question.
Traina: Ah. Well, gay, Catholic and married to a man … It’s because we had a long, wonderful relationship all the way along. We’ve raised children together, we’re very close to each other, and we’re big promoters of each other’s worlds and activities. And there’s no way that I ever wanted to be separated from him.
It wasn’t the question of, “Oh gee, I want a divorce.” It is how do I manage to be a lesbian and be married to a man? Right? And that has been the journey, but it has been important for me to surround myself with really wonderful women who are of various sexual orientations. And who are wonderful supports. And that has been just key.
But reconciling faith and sexuality is also a different question than why one remains within a faith tradition. Traina’s thoughts are instructive:
Q: But then why stay in the Roman Catholic Church? Because there are plenty of other denominations who are more understanding.
Traina: That is what my kids wonder as well. “Mom, why are you Catholic?” Right? This is the question.
After a certain point, you look around, and you say, “Well, they don’t really need an ethicist who thinks it’s OK to be gay in the Episcopalian Church. Well they might in Nigeria, but they don’t in the United States. So I hang out here, for that reason.
Q: So is it changed from within? Is that what you are advocating?
Traina: Yes, I am advocating change from within because, change from without generally ends up being fracture. Right? And there are a lot of things that I really value about my religious tradition, which I wouldn’t want to lose.
Long-time readers of Bondings 2.0 may remember Traina’s involvement in the Illinois Catholics for Marriage Equality movement last fall when that state was debating, and eventually passed, a marriage equality law. We featured an op-ed she wrote on the proposed law. In the recent interview, Traina reflects on the issue of marriage equality:
Q: Regarding homosexuality, Pope Francis was recently reported as saying, “Who am I to judge?” What is your take on that? What is the direction we are going?
Traina: Well, we have to remember that when we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church’s direction, we need to take our vitamins and think in terms of centuries.
Roman Catholicism has expanded its understanding of human rights, significantly, over a long period of time. Right? And the right to marry is one of the civil rights that we are talking about, and it is also begun to understand sexuality differently over time.
And so it is pretty likely that very soon Roman Catholics will be able to accept and deal with the idea of same sex marriage, because same sex marriage, is after all, being proposed as a civil function, not a religious one. It’s going to take Roman Catholics a very long time to get to the point of accepting same sex marriage as a sacrament.
For me, Traina’s story illustrates the wonderful diversity and complexity of love, sexuality, and commitment, as well as some of the many and varied reasons that people remain Catholic even though it sometimes seems that doing so is an impossible struggle.
You can watch the full interview of Traina below:
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry