Today’s post is by guest blogger Paula Mattras, a 77-year old grandmother from Fort Myers, Florida, who is also a retired U.S. State Department employee and the mother of a gay son.
The dawning of a new reality came into my life in 1991 when my older son told me that he is gay. Gay! How could that be? My husband (deceased 6 years prior) and I were cradle Catholics and I was totally ignorant of the subject of homosexuality. I did not know it was possible that we could have produced a gay son.
My first instinct was that I needed to protect him (somehow) from people at his work who might hold that against him and either hurt him or get him fired; from relatives and friends who might find out and then shun him and/or all of us; from my co-workers who would turn their backs on me and get me fired from my own work. With the exception of one of his aunts, none of this ever happened, and in time she has come around. But it took a long time for me to confide in anyone, as the only reference in church I had heard came from a priest who said homosexuals go to hell.
After about four years, I confided my “secret” to a good friend who led me to PFLAG which is dedicated to educating parents and friends of GLBT people–a real lifeline. 40-45 people attended each meeting and a minimum half of them were Catholics. We met at the Jewish Confederation office where we were warmly welcomed. It was a relief and refreshing to be in a group where we all had experienced the same phenomenon in our families.
For several years, though, the thought kept nagging me that a support group for families was needed in my own Catholic parish. I still longed to hear positive statements in a Catholic setting, from a priest, on Catholic property. Eventually I worked up the courage to approach my pastor. And guess what? He agreed with me! “Yes, start such a support group,” he said.
Attendance was small and varied, but we were all happy to get to know one another and share our stories. Some gay couples attended, and they answered any questions we had. When a new set of parents would arrive, they would glance around nervously, but once the personal stories began, tensions simply melted away. Sharing honestly is very healing. Our pastor participated a few times and reassured parents that God loves all His children–all. Who had ever heard that in a Catholic setting before? We hadn’t.
Once Blessed Pope John (now St. John XXIII) parish was established in my Fort Myers, Florida, neighborhood, I transferred to it. After waiting to hear what sort of messages would be received regarding our GLBT population, and hearing none, I once again drew up the courage to pursue establishment of another support group. Based on the message of the USCCB document, Always Our Children, our pastor gave me the green light to proceed.
Again, the group was always small, anywhere from one to five couples, but parents were thrilled that we had such a group in our parish that was non-judgmental, truly listening, accepting and reflecting the love that our Lord has for all his children. New parents came with worried faces and left with joyful faces. Love and acceptance are transforming.
The first question parents usually ask is “What did we do wrong?” Hearing the answer to that question is the first step in parental healing. The answer: “Nothing. They are always our children, created in the image and likeness of God.”
Three years later, a woman who had a lesbian sister arrived at our meeting. Within minutes it was evident that she did not come for support but rather to tell us how sinful homosexuality was and how wrong we were about the issue. She wanted to be able to hand her sister a note outlining the steps she needed to take to rid herself of the notion that she was lesbian. She took up most of the evening.
Not long after that that our deacon and I went to the diocesan office to discuss broadening the scope of support groups like ours to other parishes in our diocese. I was asked if I “taught” church teaching on the subject and I said that our group was a support group for parents and families, and that I would ask them to speak with a priest about the teachings. Our mission was to listen to lived experiences and to confirm that our Lord loves ALL His children – no exceptions.
In the meantime, the woman who thought homosexuality was sinful wrote to the bishop about our group, and her opinion was that we were not offering proper church teaching on the subject. Shortly thereafter, our pastor received a letter from the bishop effectively shutting down our group. The priests were to have nothing to do with our group, which could no longer meet at the parish.
So once again Catholic parents of GLBT children here have found themselves with no parish-sponsored support group. Word has gotten around about our former group, though, and so when some parents learn about their children’s orientations, they call me, and we meet in my home.
My faith in God’s goodness is unshakeable. My faith in some Church representatives here on earth is badly shaken, however. It saddens me that I can hold such a thought but I have to be honest about it.
The good news is that there are many prelates in the hierarchy who have been listening, hearing, observing and learning. They, too, have begun to question past pronouncements and judgments, their own included. The recent vote in Ireland, where 90% of the population received their education from Catholic institutions, clearly demonstrates the awakening of honest, personal conscience.
Yes, the Spirit is alive and well and I take heart that one day–hopefully soon– our little support group will be reinstated. Until then, we continue to minister as we can.