For many people, queer and Catholic can seem like opposite identities. For Sam Albano of Carmel, Indiana, they complement each other in a powerful way. Blogger Katie Grieze interviewed Albano about how this young man has negotiated these two poles.
The 30-year old openly gay man had been working within his parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Carmel, to make the Catholic Church a more diverse, welcoming place for all people. However, after his public support for same-sex marriage in 2014, his pastor asked him to step down from the Parish Council. In the interview, he describes his decision to step down from the leadership position, and his refusal to compromise either of his beliefs saying:
“I’m not called to sit on a parish council my whole life. I’m called to be honest about my faith and experience. I’m called to make things better for LGBT folks in the church. If I can’t do that and serve the parish at the same time, then I resign.”
While giving up his leadership position was difficult, Sam decided that maintaining his faith life as a Catholic was important to him. Grieze writes:
“Sam might call the church out on its flaws, but he never means to stand against it. That would be like standing against himself. [He says] ‘I’m for the Catholic Church. I’m against practices that happen that are harmful to people within the church.’”
He also offered another reason for his decision to stay:
“Because if we go away, there will be no LGBT presence in the Catholic Church. And there will be no motivation to make things better.”
Reconciling his identities did not come easy. It took many years for Sam to be comfortable being both a gay man and a Catholic. He describes spending time in prayer trying to reconcile his Catholic faith with his sexuality, saying he prayed to God asking for the ability to be a Catholic that followed the church’s teaching about celibacy for lesbian and gay people. He recalled his prayer:
“‘God, I want to believe this doctrine. I want to believe I should be celibate for the rest of my life. But I don’t know if I can.’ He sat and tried to listen. ‘Maybe you don’t have to’, Sam felt God answer. ‘Maybe part of your calling is to be in a relationship with another man.’”
After that, he met with other LGBT Catholics at the 2013 convention of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBTQ Catholics and allies, as well as with the local chapter, Dignity/Indianapolis. These connections were followed by a series of conversations with God where Sam became more comfortable with his sexuality. He remembered one incident:
“While driving down I-465 in Indianapolis on a Sunday afternoon, [I] began to pray.
‘You know, God, I really think it’s okay for me to be gay. I think it would be okay if I started dating. But I’m not totally, 100 percent sure this is okay with you.’
“In that moment, [I] felt a sense of peace.”
Sam is not alone. Some estimates say that around 4% of Catholics identify as LGBTQ, and two-thirds of all U.S. Catholics approve of same-sex marriage–similar to proportions in the general population. Many other LGBTQ people identify as former Catholics who were not able to reconcile the harm that the Catholic Church has perpetuated on them and their identity. Sam Albano has worked hard to ensure that the Catholic Church remains a welcoming place for himself and other LGBTQ people. It has not been without struggles and heartache, but in the end Albano has found peace.
“Thank you, God, for making me gay and Catholic.”
Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, May 14, 2018