Conference on Gender & Sexuality Asks ‘Why Stay?’

The experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the Catholic Church were the focus of an academic conference sponsored by and for graduate students at the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) at Boston College in April.

This second annual conference was organized by members of Gaudete, the school’s LGBTQ+ support group. ”Gaudete” is a Latin term that connotes rejoicing and celebration, reflecting the group’s purpose of celebrating LGBTQ+ presence in the Catholic Church. The conference was held on Saturday, April 14th, and was entitled “Why Stay? Gender, Sexuality, and Catholic Theology.”

The goal of the conference was to start a discussion on a variety of topics: why marginalized groups, primarily members of the LGBTQ+ community, choose to stay in the Church; what resources they have that help them stay; and why staying could be harmful for some. The day centered around 18 graduate student presenters, most from the STM and a few from the Divinity schools at Harvard and Yale.

Dr. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

Dr. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza of Harvard Divinity, a noted Catholic feminist theologian, served as the keynote speaker. Although she has never explicitly written about LGBTQ+ issues, her extensive and groundbreaking work in feminist biblical scholarship offered an insightful critical perspective of a Church that is deeply rooted in patriarchal and heteronormative ideals.

Following Schüssler Fiorenza’s talk, graduate students presented throughout the day on a wide range of topics such as coming out, pastoral care for LGBTQ+ students at Catholic universities, suicide ideation in LGBTQ+ people, and viewing Mary as a model of courage for gay men in the Catholic faith.

Gabbriella Carroll, second-year Masters of Theological Studies student, presented a paper on queerness and liturgy that drew from her own personal experience of the Mass. She ended her paper in a powerful statement:

“Now, I have to be honest: the Eucharist never used to be a huge part of my faith. I do not know a lot about Eucharistic theology. But the Catechism states that ‘in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.’ It is the source and summit of our ecclesial life. If Christ is in the Eucharist, and if we are never apart from Christ, then who I am, without exception, has a rightful place in this story. Receiving Eucharist at Mass for me is an act of holy resistance: each time I respond ‘Amen’ to that raised bread before me, I am shouting ‘Yes, let it be done, let it be recognized that I am indeed part of the body of Christ, in all my queer love.’ I do not know where I stand in relationship with my Mother Church: some days I feel her embrace more than others. Some days I feel pushed away. Some days I wonder if I should run toward something different. I do not know whether I have left or chosen to stay, but I do know this: I was not created to be an apology. The divine presses in on us and seeks to enter our lives. In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, God awaits us ‘every instant of our action, in the work of the moment.’ We cannot escape the divine milieu. God is love, and love knows no bounds. And most of all, love never fails.”

Ariell Watson, a third-year Masters of Divinity student and conference organizer, explained why the planning team chose the theme of “Why Stay?” for the conference day. She said:

“The conference theme was a gripping topic because of its frankness. Most Catholics who have experienced marginalization in the Church have been asked “why stay?”, or have asked it of themselves. It’s a question that underpins our very presence in the community, and yet we rarely discuss it publicly. The planning team found inspiration in the Lady Gaga song ‘A Million Reasons,’ which powerfully asserts ‘you’re giving me a million reasons to let you go…but, baby, I just need one good one to stay.’ What is that one good reason that outweighs the million reasons to leave? This theme allowed us to really explore our love for the Church, while still wrestling with the pain it causes. I think ‘Why Stay?’ (instead of ‘Why Leave?’ for example) allowed us to focus on the hope we have for the Catholic Church. The prevailing tone of the day was the sincere love we share for this community, even in struggle and imperfection.”

For both years that the conference has been held, the organizers have chosen to end the day in a rather unconventional way for an academic conference: in liturgy. This year, the conference organizers used Lady Gaga’s song “A Million Reasons” during the liturgy celebration while participants processed up to a bowl of coals and sprinkled incense on them to offer intentions. Closing the day in prayer proved to be meaningful for many conference participants, including Justin Hoch, first-year MA/MSW and paper presenter:

At the closing liturgy

“I appreciated how the conference seemed to develop a real sense of community, focused on academic dialogue, fellowship, and prayer together. I think one of the strengths of the conference was the closing liturgy in which many people gathered to pray for inclusion, healing, and courage. No matter one’s identity or beliefs, everyone seemed to relate to the the theme of Why Stay. The question is a real challenge, but a great question to ask as many seem to be leaving the Church. It is easy to see and be critical of the negative things happening in the Church with a sense of despair; yet, this conference offered hope.”

We applaud the STM and Gaudete for their courage and energy in taking up this issue in the academic setting. We invite you to continue the conversation. If you identify as an LGBTQ+ Catholic, share with us in the comments section why you stay in the Church!

–Lizzie Sextro, New Ways Ministry, May 5, 2018

19 replies
  1. Ben
    Ben says:

    I am 58 years old but still waiting for the Church to extend me the love of Christ.

    Marginalized and frankly abused, I left the Church last year.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    ‘Why Stay?’

    1 My Response

    I participate in a blog, Equality on Trial. I use the name Elihu_Bystander, a name that you will recognize as appearing in the book of Job. Recently, one of my fellow bloggers asked me this question. “I am a gay Christian and sometimes I am discriminate for being gay and other times I am ask why being gay do I believe in God.”

    This was my response: What you say is very true. I have the same experience. I have been able to minimize discrimination of me by the church simply by being there and not going away. On the other hand, I find myself having to defend why being gay I believe in God. I believe it comes down to: we are all created in the image and likeness of God. And all deserve respect for the dignity that God gave us. God did not make any mistakes when he created us. Whether you believe in God or not, all deserve that dignity. I am much more likely to effect change in the Church by staying. I refuse to go away.

    2 Liturgy Celebration

    The closing prayer service was very compelling and oh so important. I am a director of RCIA in a medium sized parish in the San Joaquin Valley CA. I always have a closing prayer service at the end of each gathering. Liturgy provides a focal point and a summary for what just happened.

    3 Applaud

    I likewise applaud the STM and Gaudete for their courage and energy in taking up this issue in the academic setting. I would like to hear a podcast of the proceedings of any future conference on this topic by STM and Gaudete.

    Gaudete, gaudete!
    Christus est natus
    Ex Maria virgine.

    Tempus adest gratiae
    Hoc quod optabamus,
    Carmina leticiae
    Devote reddamus.

  3. John Montague
    John Montague says:

    As a gay Catholic for the past 16 years I have facilitated a Day of Reflection for Catholic parents of LGBT children. I stay because Jesus has called me to this ministry. “Seeing with Heart” is the only way the Church is going to change in welcoming us.

    • Dorothy
      Dorothy says:

      “Seeing with heart” sounds like you center. I think getting more Catholics to sit in centering prayer daily, or at least weekly, will help the Church get to the truth in this and many other matters.

  4. Cathy Hoffmann
    Cathy Hoffmann says:

    This resonates deeply with within me…very powerful words!!

    but I do know this: I was not created to be an apology. The divine presses in on us and seeks to enter our lives. In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, God awaits us ‘every instant of our action, in the work of the moment.’ We cannot escape the divine milieu. God is love, and love knows no bounds. And most of all, love never fails.”

    Sometimes I forget, thank you for the reminder 🙂

  5. Barb Monda
    Barb Monda says:

    This was a very powerful Blog because someone spoke frankly, her truth. As we learn to speak frankly, we may find out how much we share, and then gain power from our own honesty. Personally, I feel the Catholic Church has remained so abusive, to so many, because too many people have not spoken frankly, and to be very frank! THEY HAVE NOT, AND STILL ARE NOT YET, BEEN GIVEN AN ‘EAR’ FOR THEIR FRANKNESS.
    Now to be very, very frank…It may take some shouting and stomping to wake up those dressed in red and purple and white who appear to not have working ears. As a teacher, I learned there is no point being in front of a class trying to teach something if you cannot get the students attention! I remember Jesus had a little story about this subject. Something about seeds and rocks and thistles… If Queers can dig up the hard, rocky and thorny soil of the Vatican they will not be the only ones who will benefit.

  6. JP
    JP says:

    One of the reasons why I chose to stay in the Church is community. There is a community in the Church that is very unique. While the language and other details in liturgy and doctrine point to marginalization a of various communities, I see hope in the Body of Christ. I see hope in the people who are working to create a church that is inclusive. They give me the courage to stay and to carry on that mission, so that others after me can find a warm embrace or a place of belonging in the Body of Christ. Now I find that my mission isn’t just to create an inclusive Church but to create a space where all belong. I chose to stay because of the hope I received not just in the Resurrection but in the Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints.

    • Ben
      Ben says:

      Confused here.

      I see no attempt of the parishes in my area (California) to be inclusive. In fact, I see GLBT members being marginalized; some members won’t even talk to those of us who are closeted. Some priests will not even return our emails.

      Just where does one find an inclusive Catholic community, where GLBT members in good standing can be active participants in lay ministry of any sort?

      Example: In our diocese, every member who engages in any sort of group – even the rosary group or knights of Columbus – must be fingerprinted and allow a background check. Such checks are then used to search out and marginalize transgendered members.

      So, even the most inclusive of our parishes cannot be truly inclusive. We are under the thumb of the bishop, and he controls everything.

  7. Vernon Smith
    Vernon Smith says:

    Thank you so much for covering this event, Lizzie. Ultimately, this is THE question that gets posed to lgbtq+ Catholics above all others. And this may well be THE question that many lgbtq+ Catholics pose to themselves. I could be wrong, but during the last half decade of this blog, I do not remember this being the sole focus of any posting. Although it comes up constantly as a theme throughout blogs and comments, I just don’t remember it being the lone focus. (Please reference a blog post if there was one and correct me!) Like the proverbial elephant in the room, whether expressed or not, the question always lurks. For me, an answer is not simple or could be written in a brief comment. And a related question, equally complicated, that I reflect upon is, “what does it mean to leave or stay in the Church?” It is very important that this topic was addressed directly by this event, and raised in this blog forum. There are many, many tangents of this question that challenge our spiritual realities.

  8. peter
    peter says:

    I grew up seeing my mother marginalsied as a ‘Divorcee’ in the church. How could I receive communion when my mother was excluded from this activity. I stopped receiving the body of Christ early on. The church is too stuck in its own importance or too busy doing damage control around abuse to be concerned about the circumstances of the lives of the everyday person. I was baptised a Catholic. I am a humanist within a catholic community. Why is it so difficult for the main catholic community to love those who are different. Keep up the good work. Some of us have left the established church and would never return this is a fact. Blogs such as this are a wonderful door way to a space with persons who do care deeply about the things that REALLY matter.

  9. Ben
    Ben says:

    Sorry everyone, I should not even get involved in this site. I cannot see any reason at all for hope for GLBT Catholics.

    Sure, maybe – just maybe – there will be some significant movement in about fifty years but, you know, I am turning 58 next year and I don’t have yet another fifty years to expend on such ugliness.

    I will drop my connections to this site and leave you all in peace.

    • Ben
      Ben says:

      Actually, I am turning 58 next week. Point being, though, I just cannot continue to hang around and be further abused. I am getting old and need to be in a healthy environment.

    • says:

      Ben, peace on your journey, wherever you go. But, I do want to let you in on a little secret… Something great is about to happen and together we will soon be able to gaudete et exsultate.

  10. Joci Podulke
    Joci Podulke says:

    My name is Joci. Im an aromantic asexual. My gender identity is neutral. I stay because the Creator of the universe sent his son to die for me and HE says I belong. There are many days where I have to remind myself of that.

  11. Tom Gaudet
    Tom Gaudet says:

    Three cheers for BC for this very important discussion which can only benefit the Church. Despite the abuse, I stay in the RC Church because I am a baptized member of the Body of Christ, which is not dependent on the feelings or opinions of others. Monastic spirituality and contemplative prayer have been my lifeline to Christ. Without that deep listening and relationship with Christ, I would not have the fortitude to stay. I am now learning to live with paradox and contradiction because therein lies the Mystery. How ironic that I receive the Eucharist in a place where, for the most part, I am not welcome! Something about walking through fire to come to Christ. It’s worth the sacrifice.

  12. DONALD Maher
    DONALD Maher says:

    I stayed for a long time. I founded a ministry to Lesbian and Gay Catholics at St Paul the Apostle in Manhattan. I also helped to create and continue an intra Catholic coalition in NYC of gay Catholic ministries and helped to create a gay interfaith coalition in NY. Here in PA I have been s founding board member of an Independent/ecumenical congregation and for a number of years served in the LGBTQ task force for the NE PA Lutheran Synod. I no longer stay I occasionally attend a quiet morning Mass. I continue my search for a Christian community where my welcome and affirmation is a given. In my search I have grown to respect the Ana Baptist, Mennonite, Amish and Quaker cried and have discovered their are rare LGBT affirming and welcoming congregations. I wished their was one closer to where I live. Pope Frances is a breath of fresh air, but American clergy with rare exception are company men who do not live or preach the Gospel. I continue to search. I keep my faith. I try and sometimes succeed at living the Gospel. I live in northern Berks County in PA and hope to find a faith community nearby some day.

  13. Mary Damon
    Mary Damon says:

    At this point, I have no idea why I stay. I have been a religious seeker all my life. I studied comparative religion in grad school. I don’t feel part of a community at my local parish. I sing in a Congregational Church choir and attend Torah study at the synagogue more faithfully than I attend Mass. I see Jesus as a Jew. Yet I still feel like a Catholic.

  14. says:

    For many years I felt that those who left should have stayed to work for change. But then I made a credible allegation of clerical sexual misconduct against the transitional jesuit deacon who thought he could blackmail me with my single, closeted status. He thought my singleness was availability for him, and because I wanted to work for the church, I would remain silent. He was wrong. So now I know why people leave. After about 10 years, I also want to come back and believe that whether we stay or leave or return, we are all prophets daring to hope, consoled as we live to contradict suffering.


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