Two booklets containing the personal stories and faith journeys of LGBT Catholics and their families are now available in electronic form, spreading the power of experience as a way to build inclusiveness and equality.
The first booklet , entitled Being LGBT and Catholic, was published by the LGBT Catholics and Friends Ministry of the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Manhattan. Featuring accounts of people from different ages and backgrounds, each story ends in a shared place of community at St. Ignatius parish. The stories were collected over the past year.
In the introduction, parishioner Anthony Miserandino, a parent, writes:
“Each of the stories is an invitation to the parish to gain a richer appreciation and deeper understanding of a new ministry that extends the welcoming embrace of the Gospel to all members of the parish community.”
He further states that the mission of the ministry comes from St. Ignatius’ words that “God loves us, creates us, and wants to share life with us forever.”
This love is echoed in the memories of Michael Beiser, a parishioner since 1982. During a difficult period of coming out to his Catholic mother about his sexual identity and HIV status, he remembers hearing “swarms of sparrows chirping in the trees and drowning out the confusion in my head: I knew from the Gospel that God the Father watches over the sparrows, and why not me?”
Two accounts come from a father and a son. Ivan Briggiler recounts the relief that he felt when he son came out to their family, and also hearing an inner voice saying to himself, “Now is your time to run with the ball.” Ivan has become a strong advocate for his son, Marcos, and is clear that he is still learning. He says: “I also wanted to show my love and support by asking questions. It was my way of trying to tell Marcos that I was by his side.”
17-year-old Marcos emphasizes the combination of identity as a Catholic and a gay teenager. “I did, and do not want to have to, sacrifice anything. I am Marcos Briggiler and with that comes my many layers. I want to be a normal, gay, Catholic, teenage boy anywhere and everywhere.” He also acknowledges the hard work of past activists: “Thanks to those who came before me, I was able to come out at the age of 15 in an all-boys, Catholic school.”
One of those elders is another member of the group, Lou Csabay, who lived through painful early years when he came out in the 1950s. Though his family was generally supportive , he went through ‘reparative behavior modification therapy’ of ‘electro-shocks and nausea-producing drugs,’ and was married to a woman for many years. Later, he turned away from the Catholic church, joining the Unitarian Universalist church, and marrying Mike, now his husband of 20 years. Still, Lou longed for the church of his childhood traditions. He describes a transformative experience:
“But recently, a series of amazing events occurred. Early in 2017, Mike and I traveled to Italy to celebrate his retirement. There, we both experienced an intense spiritual experience. Not in the Basilica of Rome or the Duomo of Florence, but in the quiet chapel of Assisi and in the 9th century St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Amalfi. There, I am convinced I heard the words of Christ and the Holy Spirit, calling me home.
After their trip, Lou and Mike were introduced to the LGBT ministry at St. Ignatius:
“This experience led to an amazing homecoming for me and Mike, and an overwhelming feeling of being welcomed by a community of priests and parishioners who have embraced us. We are proud and humbled to make St. Ignatius our spiritual home.”
In 2015, a similar book was published by the Open Hearts LGBT Ministry at St. Patrick- St. Anthony Church in Hartford, Connecticut. Entitled Our Place at the Table, this book takes a mix of personal accounts and poetry from parishioners and their loved ones. Editor Michael Reynolds writes In the introduction:
“All of the stories arise out of a desire to speak our truth, to share our experiences in faith with the larger community and world.
“In a world that is ever-evolving and expanding, so too our faith stories have and continue to evolve and expand. These stories seek to capture and share elements that may invite the reader to consider the reality and possibility of a truly united, One Catholic church. A church where all are valued, welcomed, affirmed and incorporated as we are.”
Beyond telling their own personal histories, many of the accounts in Our Place at The Table seek to create that place at the intersection of church and LGBT identity. Parishioner Len Discenza writes:
“I feel that God is calling me to continue to be a witness to LGBT folks of God’s love, mercy and acceptance of everyone. I see that LGBT folks can be happy within the church, given the chance. They bring such great gifts and lead such happy, faith-filled and holy lives that I have come to know that this is really God’s will for LGBT folks, that they be included in Christ’s church as full members.”
Similarly, parishioner Sherri Hart expresses a hope to educate others as central to the goal of sharing her story:
“Something of equal interest to me was helping others, gay or straight, to better understand. This idea became increasingly appealing to me, and before long it was something I realized I thought of often. I began thinking that I could either run from my faith or lead with it.”
Rich Broggini, a parent, laments the way that many professed faithful turn away from those in their communities who need support:
“The most painful part of the journey has been coming to know and feel some of the prejudice, judgement, and rejection our gay children experience, especially from fellow Christians or at least people who claim to be so. Jesus asks only one response from us: to love unconditionally as he did. Jesus asks us not to judge. It seems that many fellow Christians reverse this, and it hurts.”
Marilyn Pinto tells of her experience attending a civil union ceremony between two women:
“I listened to the scripture, the inspiring blessing of the minister. I witnessed the support of family and friends, children and elders, all rejoicing in the love they shared for these two women! It was God breaking into our world, incarnate, in all who were present, as two lives came together vowing before God to love one another forever, their love pouring out to each one of us.
“It was a sacrament! And I cried as I rejoiced in it all, and I knew that what I was experiencing was real and good and right. I really have no words, and I cannot explain it. For me, all I can say is that love was present, joy was present, sacrament happened.”
Both books express the broad goals of further welcoming in LGBTQ communities in their parish homes and are regularly looking for additional ways to do so. Their current work of sharing the individual stories of church members is a necessary step towards healing and unity. St. Patrick – St. Anthony and St. Ignatius of Loyal parishes each serve as strong models of hospitality that other church communities can use as inspiration for our own continual work progressing towards radical and abundant love.
For ideas about how to develop LGBT ministry in a parish, visit our “Parish Life” webpage for a number of resources. You can also look at our list of LGBT-friendly parishes and faith communities, too.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, July 22, 2018