Recently, I woke up with a thin veneer of existential dread. My first 30-60 minutes or so each day are reserved for prayer and meditation, practices that I struggle mightily with. I endeavor to do it anyway. Sometimes I lose the struggle, and I pay the consequences, and try to hide out to avoid being contagious to people who have to deal with my scattered self.
Today I worked my way down the list. Work? Messy. The big project I’m on is up in the air, not sure if we’ll have the resources we need to do it. But that’s not news. Kid? – feels closer, and I’m sad that I’ll be traveling over most of his spring break, but he’s doing well.
And then it hit me. PTSD. It’s the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) of my twelve years as an out, queer parent of a child in Catholic school. My son attended three schools in three dioceses, all of which were warm and welcoming, but I never, ever lost the fear that something would change and that the faith and tradition that I’d tried so hard to give him would be shattered, causing him – and me – trauma and grief.
And then I remembered that the night before, I read an article about parishioners who were protesting the decision of a Catholic elementary school in Kansas to deny admission to a child of a lesbian couple.My rational mind thought “Good! Revolts are necessary, and by what shred of a stretch of the imagination does the abuse-hiding, abuser-protecting Church claim to hold any moral high ground on ANY matter related to sexuality?” But then I went to bed.
In my sleep, my unprotected, unshielded brain didn’t read the article from my safe distance in California. It read it as a parent – as a Mom who would’ve done anything in my power and beyond to protect my child. During that time, I wrote about being queer and Catholic for years, even as a staff writer on another blog – but always under a pseudonym. My son is 21 now, and a student at a secular liberal arts college. My queerness cannot hurt him, and our parish welcomes him – and me – fully and completely. My child isn’t a defenseless child, but a thoughtful, compassionate adult who has come to terms through his own wisdom with the complexities and messiness and even evil within the Church – as well as its goodness. For that, I give tremendous thanks for those 12 years of Catholic education.
But “Catholic” is universal. My kid may have made it through to the other side enriched by the experience, but there’s a five year old in Kansas who is being hurt in a very real way by the Church. That five year old is my child too, and yours. Same also with the children of the parents who are justifiably outraged at the school’s blatant discrimination. What lesson are they learning about their school? Did the pastor go from house to house yesterday, chastising those who ate meat on Lenten Fridays? While he was there, did he raid the bathroom for evidence of contraceptive pills? If not, how did he choose to pick up the stone labeled “homosexuality” and lob it – not at the parents, even, but at the child?
It doesn’t take much to take me back to a hopelessly cluttered rectory office in Portland, Oregon on a Saturday afternoon in 2004, to the urgently-called meeting with a priest to explain why I had to get my son out of the school where he was being bullied, and how it would only be for a year, and how I’d be careful to not come out there for that year to not cause scandal, and how I’d heard of a school in California that had rejected the child of a same-sex couple, but since I was single, and it was only to be for a year, and one of my priests had been his seminary classmate, could my child please come to his school?
I knew how hateful some Church leaders’ rhetoric was towards LGBTQ. I knew about the risk of people finding out about me. I also knew that I had to get my son out of the school he was in. I had to give him shelter, give him safety. And despite all I knew about the Church and who the fearful Magisterium says that I am, as a child of Catholic education myself, I knew it was the safest place for him, if only for a year. I put my faith in God, in the teachings of Christ, and in that quirky priest who quietly listened, and said he was on board with the whole thing except the “leaving in a year” part. Oh, and the “not coming out” part, too.
Of course the experience was wonderful. I cried when we left that place to move to California, and still stubbornly, relentlessly remain on the school’s Facebook page. His middle school in San Jose was the epitome of diversity – of all of the diversity imaginable in God’s beloved community. His high school motto, “Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve” might as well be etched in the heart of every kid there. At each school, I had painful conversations with administrators and teachers, probing for any sign at all that we’d not be welcome. If I heard of any issue – such as a school six states away denying admission to the child of a same-sex couple – I’d react with panic and check in: he’s still good, right? Still safe?
Twelve years, three dioceses, three schools, one high school diploma, and one young man who knows the very best of who we Catholics can be, and of how our faith calls us to be present in the world. At his high school, some of the worst was threatened, but those Catholic school kids stepped up, living what they were taught. The school, its students, and its teachers are safe and welcome. All of them.
I cannot fathom how any school leader, pastor, or bishop could, for even an instant, believe that what is happening to the Kansas family and their son is anything but sin, anything but scandal. Matthew 19:14 does NOT read “Let the little children of heterosexual parents come to me, even if the parents have been divorced or use birth control, but put millstones around the necks of the children of same-sex parents.” I just double-checked that to be sure. It’s just NOT THERE. Evidently the Archdiocese thought that having the child of gay parents enrolled would be “a source of confusion” to the other children. Might they not also be confused about why the Church refuses to hold sex abusers accountable? That was personally what I always dreaded having to explain to my son. I’m still at a loss on that one, frankly.
Yet the threat of such lunacy is real. Real enough that three years after my son’s graduation from Catholic high school, and with no other children to worry about, I still experience an instant of fear for him and for all of our children when I hear about incidents elsewhere. The fear dissipates quickly, but not the sorrow for the little one who could be blessed with the richness of a faith tradition rooted in love and compassion, but instead sees only hate and bigotry.
We are better than that. We have to do better for our children. All of them.
I’m writing a letter to St. Ann’s, the Catholic parish. I deeply understand the family’s desire to protect their own privacy, having hidden behind a pseudonym myself, but I hope they see this post somehow. This exclusionary stance is not who we are called to be, even if it is what the Church is right now. You are loved, and your beloved child is our child, too. I’m so sorry.
—Sarah Gregory, New Ways Ministry, April 17, 2019