Untangling the Experiences of Being ‘Queer and Catholic’

Mark Dowd

Queer and Catholic: A life of contradiction, is a new autobiography by a gay Catholic man in the United Kingdom who recounts his developments in sexuality and spirituality and where those two areas converged.  The book is by Mark Dowd, a former Dominican friar who left religious life to pursue a career in TV and radio journalism, initially with the BBC and now as an independent freelancer.  Mark shared some thoughts about his life and his book with Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

1. Your autobiography is entitled “Queer and Catholic,” with the subtitle “A life of contradiction.” Can you explain the contradiction a bit?
There are actually TWO contradictions to explain. First of all, many outsiders to the Roman Catholic Church may think it’s impossible to be a happy gay Catholic because of the church’s official stance on “disordered” gay sexuality, and yet the book’s narrative shows that not to be the case.
The second contradiction is that despite the teaching, the irony is that parts of the church are very gay and quite a good place for LGBT people to be. I refer to some of these places in the chapters in the sections on Dominican life and also the making of the TV film, “Queer and Catholic.”I have always said that if the Vegetarian Society discovered 50% plus of its members had a hankering for meat, it would have an identity crisis. The same is there with the Roman Catholic Church with its teaching and yet its preponderance of gay men in its clerical ranks.

2. You dedicate the book to your parents. How did they respond to you when you came out? What did they think of you writing a book about your faith and sexuality?
Their initial reaction was not great! It was 1974 and they rushed me off to the doctors for treatment. Over the years they mellowed, my mother more so than my father. Regrettably, when I got round to writing Queer and Catholic in 2016, they were no longer alive. To be honest, writing a truthful account with my frank views about them might have been very difficult had they still been around.
That said, my parents were Catholics born in the 1920s into very working-class families. This was never going to be an easy ride for them and never for a moment did I doubt their love for me. In those earlier years of my teens, despite their struggles with my emerging sexuality, they never rejected me. As the years passed by and the more they had contact with other LGBTQ friends and romantic partners, the easier it became for them I believe.

3. As a young man who knew he was gay, you entered the Dominican Friars and stayed for a short time. Did your experience in religious life aid or hinder your ability to reconcile your spirituality and sexuality?
I think it helped rather than hindered. It was 1981 when I joined for just under two years, but I was told on entry that being gay wasn’t an issue. I was in the company of many inspiring teachers and preachers who were also gay. When I had the dilemma about whether to stay or leave to live with a man a loved, I received excellent counsel and non-condemnatory advice and words from my prior. The Dominicans in England were and still are an inspiration to me.

4. Your story is so personal and filled with particular details of your individual life. What do you think are some of the elements or emotions from your story that will resonate with other LGBTQ Catholics?
There are so many. For example, trying to make sense of the gospel message is one. It is puzzling to hear all the words about one’s sexuality being “disordered” and yet realizing that for Jesus, this was a nothing issue, not mentioned even once (in fact sex is fairly minor..he seems much more preoccupied with social justice for the marginalized and targeting hypocrisy and empty legalistic religious practice.)
I alsothink the search to build new family beyond one’s immediate familial surroundings is a common experience, as is the struggle to find a relaxed intimacy and acceptance in a life partner. The alleged “instability” in LGBT relationships can perhaps be traced in my generation (I am 58 now) to feelings of disapproval and self –doubt that we pick up at an early age and perhaps never quite fully overcome. It may be self-deception when we say “we are over it” when there are still lingering wounds and sores to reckon with that perhaps stem from childhood.

5. How do you nourish yourself spiritually?
Badly! I have such a restless and easily distracted mind that requires constant stimulation, that I find prayer and meditation very hard. I have pledged to go on an eight-day guided retreat with the Jesuits later this year to get some guidance. In short, I am nourished, not through any of my own efforts but by the grace of God that, almost on a daily basis, surrounds me with great inspiring people and words of wisdom. This is pure gift and not a result of anything I have done.
As readers of Queer and Catholic will also see, I am especially devoted to the example of the sacrificial love and self-giving of Blessed Oscar Romero whose martyrdom in 1980 had a very strong effect on me. I am overjoyed that he will soon be made a saint. I’ve always struggled to devote myself to particular saints, but here is one that will be like the Pole Star for me. I find his abandonment to God’s will both amazingly inspiring and also not a little scary. It demands the same of us, and I am all too well aware of how hard this is to do.

6. What gifts do LGBTQ people bring to the Catholic Church?
Apart from the obvious gifts of musical ability, intelligence, and imagination, one PARTICULAR gift is fidelity. It’s so easy to pack up and leave the church, but those who show loyalty bear witness to the power of the gospel and its transcendent appeal. It’s a chance to bear witness to the truth. This characteristic was something my mother noticed: “There must be something in it if you people all stay and want to last the course” she would say. “Why can’t the Bishops and Cardinals see that?” Good question, Mum! Thankfully, slowly, many of them are beginning to have a change of heart.

7. Why should LGBTQ Catholics stay in the Church?
If the gospel message is founded on truth and if the Roman Catholic Church has a particular mission to bear that truth to the world, then walking away, however understandable, would constitute a kind of failure. “Blessed are those who suffer when they speak all kinds of calumny against you and are persecuted,” we hear in the Beatitiudes. Well, whoever thought that much of those negative actions might come from fellow Catholics and fellow Christians! But the Church is the travelling, emerging pilgrim People of God and LGBT people are part of that emerging story which has not yet come to light. Catholics have to embrace tradition and authority, but a faith that embraces Incarnation also has to accept the fact that the world God made is inherently good and LGBT people arepart of that patchwork quilt of creation. The Church needs US to bring the truth to the world about how we are simply a naturally occurring minority variant in a pluralistic world. One size does not fit all and young LGBT people need us to be role models, stand firm and proudly declare who we are. Jesus indeed LOVES US!

8. As a gay Catholic, do you have hope that the Church will become more a place of full equality for LGBTQ people?
Not in my lifetime. My pessimism revolves around two factors. The first is that any change to church teaching on same sex acts will be inevitably linked to the teaching on artificial contraception given that the current view is that ALL sexual activity must be linked to the possibility of procreation. If the church has to countenance a shift on the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, many will see this as a crisis for the church’s teaching authority and standing in the world (despite the fact that about 90% or more of Catholics do not agree with the teaching!). There will be talk of slippery slopes and relativism, so change when it comes is going to be some time ahead I think.

Secondly, Rome is engaged is a battle for hearts and minds in Africa and other part of the world where Islam and evangelical Christianity is in the ascendancy. Being seen to be soft and accommodating on LGBTQ issues would probably not go down well in these parts and is likely to lead to a loss of Rome’s influence, a matter which many cardinals with a strong sense of geopolitics would find unpalatable. In an ideal world, the discussion would be about justice and integrity and not about power, influence and numbers. But we do not live, alas, in such a world.

I got married just a few weeks ago. There could be no mention of God in the civil ceremony (the UK is fiercely secular in such matters) and it is some source of sadness that if I want to find a way to thank God for my husband Stephen, in the presence of an ordained minister with friends and family, it is all going to have to be “hush hush” and behind the scenes. Totally the opposite of the required spirit of openness and celebration. I pray and hope that one day, it will NOT be like this!

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 25, 2018

Related article:

Bay Area Reporter: “Journalism was calling for gay Catholic man”

3 replies
  1. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    Thank you for this perspective. The author is quite optimistic I must say. For many of us , especially speaking as a lesbian and a woman, we are quite unwanted except as persons who run a church behind the scenes. We aren’t even good for bringing boys into the world who might become priests! The tacit acceptance of gay men by other gay men as priests isn’t unusual. But it’s still really really nasty as one expounds about the intrinsic evil of others. As I usually say, in real life outside the church, I wouldn’t ever join an organization that rejects equality of women and lgbtq folks. Enough said.

    Reply
  2. Richard G Evans
    Richard G Evans says:

    I was a cradle Catholic and then an evangelical minister for many years before divorcing and coming out in the early 1990s. I returned to the Catholic Church in 2005 and have been celibate for many years (however I do not find that to be a requirement for my life as a gay man but a choice), but just this last year found a home within a home in the Episcopal Church. I do not believe I “failed” myself or anyone else by moving on from Rome. I would challenge the author on one point though. We do not “need” to remain in Rome to be Christians or part of the fullness of the Faith. That may be the author’s calling and certainly I do not diminish that from him in any way. But I find it a bit offensive that he appears to think we all should remain in a church or other culture where we simply do not fit in. One day I may return again–or not. But that is my personal decision based upon prayer, study, and what my heart tells me. I agree with him that we should not leave or stay for LGBT reasons alone however, and to be extremely careful not to leave in defeat. Looks overall like a good read.

    Reply

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