In Their Own Words, LGBT and Ally Catholics Explain Why They Stay In the Church

Cathy Califano

Even with recent years’ positive steps in the church, remaining Catholic can be deeply challenging for LGBT people and their loved ones. Sacramental denials, harsh rhetoric, and church worker firings are simply the surface of the harm that some church officials, perhaps unintentionally, inflict. The question of “why stay?” remains real and relevant.

Thankfully, for Catholics, this question, and the larger ecclesial and faith journeys behind it, are shared with one another, so we can sustain one another by sharing wisdom and fostering hope, such as the following stories exemplify.

Cathy Califano, a Philadelphia Catholic with children in parochial schools, wrote about why she stays, in an essay for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She stated:

“The parallels between being caught in that crossfire [of urban gun violence] and last month’s firing of Margie Winters from my children’s school, Waldron Mercy Academy, are painfully acute. Families and kids are trapped between polarizing and too-often vitriolic forces in the Catholic Church. Several women have been deeply wounded and probably permanently scarred. And the future of this educational enterprise is in jeopardy as people question how any reasonable parent could stay in such a place.”

Yet Califano, who attended sixteen years of Catholic school herself, chooses to remain Catholic and keep her children in parochial schools, because she wants their lives “to be grounded in the Catholicism that has fundamentally supported my faith and understanding of the church.” This version of Catholicism focuses on strong faith communities fostering change towards social justice. Califano explained:

“I’m staying because these past weeks, while difficult and sad for many of us, provided an opportunity for dialogue so critical for successful change movements. . .I’m staying because I want to continue to labor with the Sisters of Mercy, who have a legacy of advocacy and service for those often overlooked by society — poor women and children, the mentally ill, the homeless, and the drug addicted.

“I am part of a movement of both lay and religious leaders from around the world who want to make the Catholic Church more inclusive, more equitable, more socially just. . .No more time for duck and cover; we’re in the crossfire. There’s change that needs delivering.”

Another Philadelphia-area Catholic, Lauren Puzen, also spoke to the Philadelphia Inquirer about remaining Catholic. Puzen’s upbringing in the church was not easy, and she struggled to be openly gay and to find affirming parish communities:

” ‘I really had to stay closeted in my younger years. In most recent years, when coming to Philadelphia as a young adult, I would church-hop. . .There were many churches where I was instantly uncomfortable. There can be a vibe about the community and even the Mass, and you can quickly tell whether you are accepted or not.’ “

Eric Fought

Puzen, too, has chosen to stay and finds hope in the community of believers where “so many Roman Catholics [from her community] are really taking a stand and speaking the church teachings that they know of love and acceptance.” This includes Pope Francis who she would thank for “living in solidarity. . .[and] setting people’s hearts on fire” if they run into each other during his Philadelphia visit.

Finally, Eric Fought, a gay Catholic who founded the San Damiano Center, offered an August Scriptural reflection on why he remains Catholic. He wrote:

“I can’t speak for anyone else. But, because the question is so often asked, I reflect on it nearly every day. And the answer I return to over and over again is quite simply, ‘to whom shall I go?’. . .

“But my faith is not mine to leave or give up. It was given to me; it was a gift—a gift, not only from the Creator, but also from my parents, grandparents and all of my ancestors. Like me, and like all of us, they faced hardship, abuse, doubt, alienation and pain. Yet they remained. They remained and passed the tradition and rich history on to me.”

Word cloud from the responses of what Catholics would tell Pope Francis about LGBT issues

Word cloud from the responses of what Catholics would tell Pope Francis about LGBT issues

Fought feels “a responsibility and a duty” to God’s people to remain in the church to make it a better home, while respecting those who find spiritual homes elsewhere.

A few weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 asked readers what they would say to Pope Francis about LGBT issues if they had five minutes with the pontiff. You can read a sampling of the many responses here.

Now I ask: if you are an LGBT or Ally Catholic, why do you stay in the church? Leave your thoughts and insights in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. Don Larson
    Don Larson says:

    I stay in the Church for several reasons, but perhaps the most pressing for me is the Eucharist. No where else can I go and receive Our Lord in Holy Communion – really think about it – no where else. It is the real Body and Blood of Jesus, and whereever anyone else may stand on the issue, for me I so wholly need the sustainance of receiving Him in this Sacrament. I also need just to be able to reflect in His presence in the Eucharist – in fact the most difficult day of the year for me is Holy Saturday when the tabernacle is emptied. So, I also need the community, the shared beliefs and prayer, but above all Our Dear Lord in Communion – what a great and eternal gift!

  2. lynne miller
    lynne miller says:

    I stayed away from church for a long time after realizing I am a lesbian. I didn’t want to be dishonest, and represent myself as something I was not, I felt that if I couldn’t follow the rules I shouldn’t be part of the . But I was so lonely, and had such an empty place inside me, and I longed for the Eucharist and even for Confession. After reading a lot on the Dignity web site I decided that the Church is People, the People are the Church, not the hierarchy, so I came back, and have been receiving the Sacraments, and have never been challenged. I’m so grateful to be back, and hope things continue to get better instead of worse. It may take a while, but I have faith that someday we will be welcomed at the altar as much as anyone.

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    Bob, you may just have unleashed a tsunami of passionate responses with your open invitation! But I’m going to take the risk of posting an e-mail which I sent a year or two ago to Fr. Jon Reardon — one of the three co-chaplains of the splendid Cardinal Newman Catholic Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. It’s admittedly on the long side — but I hope you’ll give it a free pass. I’m confident that the URL links cited will also be of great interest to our own readers:


    Hello, Fr. Jon!

    I happen to be a Holy Cross College and Yale University graduate, who discovered Newman at the end of Fr. Joe Quigley’s tenure, deeply felt the loving spirit of the Catholic community I found here, and decided to “adopt” Newman as a sort of ersatz Christian ashram. I may not agree with you on everything theological — nor (I suspect) do the vast majority of today’s practicing Catholic college kids — but I’m glad you’re here as a community resource.

    In addition to having all of the requisite RCC initiations, I’ve also received two high-level Tibetan Buddhist initiations (Arya Tara and Amitabha), and have studied Buddhist meditation with Khen Rinpoche for several years, during his annual Spring semester visits to Smith College. Rinpoche was subsequently chosen by His Holiness The Dalai Lama to be, in effect, the stand-in for the Panchen Lama, who was kidnapped by the Chinese Communists while still a young boy. Hence Rinpoche is now the second-highest-ranking monk in the Gelugpa Lineage, next only to The Dalai Lama himself. We were very lucky, and very blessed, to have him teaching at the Five Colleges for so many years. Here’s a link to his life and work:

    You might also be interested to know that it was the writings of Thomas Merton (Fr. M. Louis), and most especially of Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB, which finally enabled me to re-identify with my original Catholic initiations at a new level of integration and understanding. Here are two worthwhile links for you to browse:–thomas-merton.html

    Closer to home here at Newman, I do feel prompted to raise a few political and intellectual concerns. While I absolutely respect your position of conscience about medical abortion — as expressed in your recent sermon on the subject — please understand that people of good will and sincere Christian faith, including a huge number of practicing Catholics, are obliged to disagree with you. It’s one thing for Catholics to hold the honest position of conscience that abortion is “a moral evil” under almost all circumstances. But it’s quite another thing for Catholics to be lobbying to have their own personal theological views legally imposed upon Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists, agnostics, or anybody else. What if the Jews were lobbying to require ALL American citizens to “keep kosher”, or to keep their Sabbath on Saturday? I consider any such form of sectarian lobbying, especially in a pluralist democracy, to be extremely unwise, imprudent, and a menacing invitation to turn our pluralist democracy into a monolithic theocracy. Should this ever happen, we can kiss the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights goodbye. Just consider the situation of women in the Islamic world as a dire cautionary tale.

    And as with the RCC’s position on abortion, so also with its vehement opposition to same-sex civil marriages or domestic partnerships. To be fair: nobody would ever ask or expect any religious denomination to perform, within its own sanctuary, any marriage which it does not theologically support. The LDS (Mormon) Church, for example, does not permit the mixed marriage of a Church member and a non-member to be performed within the Sanctuary of the Inner Temple. But neither does the LDS lobby to prohibit the civil marriages of ANY and ALL citizens who hold theological views contrary to those held by the LDS Church.

    I happen to have a very good online friend at Wesleyan University, Maria Johnson, who hosts a program (on an every-other-week schedule) called “Reasonably Catholic”. Maria has ties to the Passionist Retreat Center in West Hartford; and her program is also available as a podcast. It’s something which I would urge you to check out, at least in its readily-available online edition. Here’s a link to access all of the “Reasonably Catholic” podcasts:

    Good luck in your ministry to this passionate and rambunctious community of college students. In spite of our theological disagreements, it still moves me very deeply to observe that a large number of young people are motivated to gather together in prayer, to listen to Scripture readings together, and to share The Lord’s Peace with their brothers and sisters in Faith. May it always be so — from here to eternity and back again!

  4. Mr & Mrs.. Robert F. Burns
    Mr & Mrs.. Robert F. Burns says:

    The reason my wife and I stay in the church is we were both raised catholic and it is part of who we are. But more than that we are very involved in our parish, we both are Eucharistic ministers and volunteers. Our three daughters and son (who is gay) went to 12 years of catholic schools. and sorry to say only one attends mass. They said they cannot accept that their brother is not accepted by the church. It was one of our parish priest that told us to love and support our gay son no matter what the church says. So we stay in the catholic church because as the saying goes “can’t rock the boat if you get out” so we are going to stay and rock the church. Hoping that ourselves and others like us will help to bring the church to more understanding and accepting people for who they truly are.

  5. Thomas smith
    Thomas smith says:

    I remain Catholic and openly gay because it was my church that taught me the importance of personal integrity. I like the analogy of Mother Church. If your mother is sick, do you leave her and look for another mother. No, you stay and tend to her wounds and pray with her. She gave you life. She needs you now. Another thing; DADT is destroying the priesthood, as it did in the military. I wish Pope Francis would just say, “stop the nonsense! Get out of the castles, trim your tassels, get out of peoples’ consciences and get into the streets to serve the poor and sick. Do what Jesus would do! Time’s a wasting.

  6. Jody Tarpy
    Jody Tarpy says:

    I have decided to stay Catholic because I know Jesus loves me for who I truly am. He is not ashamed of me, He would not condemn me, He would not say I am a sin, or my actions are sinful, when they have been created by God. I have recently come out of the closet at 45 years old. It took me that long to come to terms with myself. Part of the reason is my Catholic upbringing and wrong messages. However I realize now that I can be a change of social justice in the Church. I can stand out in the Church as a force for good and what is right, with my Integrity intact. And if I show the strength of God by my voice, even if I am condemned, I will have made a difference. And the light of the LGBT Catholic community will never go out, as long as we keep the conversation alive.


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