In a personal article for the Philippines news outlet Inquirer, 60-year old Nice Rodriguez chronicles both her relationship with the Catholic church and her identity as a Filipina lesbian woman, marking how this intersection of communities has changed over the course of her life.
Raised Catholic in the Philippines, Rodriguez left the church after high school in response to ‘severe declarations’ by the Vatican against the LGBTQ community. She writes:
“Approaching my late teens, I was ready for the world, to fall in love and be loved. It was both a torturous and fun time. But as midlife approached, I came back reluctantly to the Church, and marked that return by confessing to a Redemptorist priest I had met abroad.”
Following this initial undertaking of reconciliation, Rodriguez became a lay associate of a Catholic monastic order, with structured retreats and time for priestly consultations. While she describes years spent as a ‘spiritual tourist’ in Eastern religions and the Anglican church looking for a religious home, she faced difficulties fully becoming part of another faith tradition. Of this time, she says:
“I was still Catholic to the core. I start my travels with the sign of the cross, and I find the holy water comforting. I sleep better with a crucifix in my room. There was always a saint to call for every problem under the sun. And when a fire erupted in a house across [from]] my bedroom, I still called on the God of my childhood for help.”
After years spent away from the Catholic church, Rodriguez remarks that among the most notable changes to her return was the way that the sacrament of reconciliation was held in her new parish. Rather than the confessional boxes of her high school years, she now found chairs set out in the open, just outside of earshot from other waiting penitents. She partook in the sacrament regularly, often bracing for the reaction of the priest before beginning:
“I also learned to adjust to my confessor. Does he look homophobic? How old is he? What’s his nationality?
“In the beginning, I would wait until I was the last penitent because I was too nervous to be an early bird. I would take a peep and watch how the other retreatants looked after their priestly encounters. In the beginning, too, I always cried at the thought of how unfair it was to always tell somebody I was sorry for being gay. And there were times when I didn’t feel like a sinner at all.”
Rodriguez continued to be active in her new church group, while continually struggling to balance her sexuality with the church where she felt most at home. Yet as she writes about her current life in the church, she recounted a conversation in which she approached a priest in her community about her new committed relationship, her first in many years:
“And so I was back in the setup. “Father, I am gay and I met somebody.” And what he said next took me by surprise. “Kayo na ba talaga? Sigurado na ba kayo?” My tearful, bewildered Catholic eyes widened. “Kung kayo na, go tell your families.”
In Tagalog, the priest asked if she was sure, and if so, that they should reach out to their families. He then asked, “Do you feel guilty about it?” and Rodriguez replied:
“No Father…I waited a long time for this to come into my life. It is the purest thing I could ever feel for somebody. I love her more than my life.”
Rodriguez ends her piece by recounting criticism from some friends who say she is making a mistake to go back to the Catholic church after the negative experiences she has had in the past. While she is still hesitant about a full return, she holds to the necessity of forgiveness in painful situations:
“I am not sure myself. I could roam the churches in the metro and do mock confessions all over to gauge the current trend, but I don’t want to do that. Whether I got lucky and ended up with the real Jesus—who these priests represented anyway—I was finally hearing the confession that has eluded me my whole life.”
Rodriguez’s full account can be read here. As more LGBTQ Catholics continue to speak out about their identities and their experiences of inclusion or exclusion from the church, we hope that they will be heard and recognized as valuable and welcome in all aspects of church life.
—Catherine Buck, July 8, 2018