Discovering an affirming parish community can seem like an unattainable reality for many LGBTQ Catholics. The journey of finding one can be extensive and arduous because it can sometimes be impeded by previous experiences with the church, or our own spiritual identity. Negative experiences that stem from homophobic or transphobic attitudes or statements can calcify the heart and soul.
This spiritual hardening can be softened when extraordinary efforts of pastoral leadership become a vehicle towards spiritual transformation for marginalized Catholics. An LGBTQ parishioner in Washington, D.C. experienced such a spiritual renewal when he discovered a warm and loving environment at his local Catholic parish
Joe Figini did not initially feel unwelcome in the church, in great part because he wasn’t open about his sexuality in other areas of his life. That feeling began to change however when he started the adoption process with his same-gender partner. Church leaders’ opposition to LGBTQ parents seeking to adopt hardened Figini’s heart towards the institution. Figini’s reflections provide an insight into that awareness:
“You know, I read what was coming out of the Vatican about gay people adopting children when I first adopted my son, and it was the most painful thing I can remember talking about gay people, visiting evil on children by doing this. I stopped coming to church.”
Although Figini ceased liturgical participation, his mother strongly encouraged him to christen his son, Isaac. Figini described the inspiring experience of his son’s baptism at Holy Trinity Church, Washington, D.C., and the challenge it posed to him as an LGBTQ parent.
“The baptism itself was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. But even despite that, I struggled with how to raise my son.”
Unwavering in her faith, Figini’s mother continued to be a vehicle of grace towards reconnecting her son with the church. She later asked if Figini would provide religious education for Isaac so that he could receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
Figini met with Judith Brusseau, Director of Religious Education at Holy Trinity, to discuss the process of enrolling his son in Holy Trinity’s elementary school. Their conversation demonstrates the grace and inclusivity that local pastoral leaders can cultivate for LGBTQ Catholics. Brusseau shared:
“In some respects, we’re a last-resort church before people really throw in the towel and say, ‘I’m not gonna have anything to do with this.’ So when someone comes and says, you know, I want to be here, as someone who works in the field for Christ, you have to say, ‘You’re welcome. You belong here. And I really feel that. She said, you know, ‘Please show up. We need you. If you don’t show up we are never going to change. This is YOUR church.”
Brusseau’s emphasis on creating a more inclusive spiritual space for LGBTQ Catholics echoes the reflections offered by Father James Martin, which were summarized in a recent Bondings 2.0 post. Father Martin underscored that LGBTQ Catholics are an integral component of their church through the sacrament of baptism. The Church belongs to them, just as it does to the local priest, bishop, and the pope.
After much discernment, Figini and his partner, who is not Catholic, enrolled their son Isaac at Holy Trinity’s elementary school. Figini articulates the welcoming and loving comments received from other parents whose children also attend the school:
“We start school and the parents in the school came up to me and were like, ‘We’re so glad you’re here.’ Every time that I had a moment of doubt I feel like, you know, God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit put the words in somebody’s mouth to reassure me that I belong…Christ loved people and welcomed people who were marginalized and celebrated them. I think this church and that teaching is deep and is strong, and broader than most people think.”
Indeed, Figini’s courage to explore and embrace his local spiritual community demonstrates the power of finding God’s loving grace in unexpected spaces. Such a step forward is not easy, as it is filled with spiritual doubt, questioning, and trepidation. However, as Figini’s story highlights, the church’s teaching of love thy neighbor and welcoming individuals runs deep within the fabric of many spiritual communities.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, March 7, 2020