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.’ “
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.
“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.”
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