In the weeks following the Vatican’s’s declaration that priests cannot bless same-gender couples, there are reports that people are leaving the church because of this decision. On Saturday, Bondings 2.0 reported about comments by Antwerp’s Bishop Johan Bonny that more than 7o0 people formally left the church in the wake of that ban. But while some people may be finally throwing in the towel and leaving the church, for others, their Catholicism runs deeper than the institution in Rome.
Fr. James Martin, SJ, told Religion News Service he has heard from many LGBTQ Catholics since the announcement, including about a dozen for whom “this was the last straw.” But artist and entrepreneur Brian Rodda penned a commentary for The Advocate describing how his understanding of Catholic identity has shifted to a more personal piety following his disillusionment with the institutional church.
For Rodda, the Vatican statement is more proof of the church operating as a shame-based culture, furthering division and discrimination of minority groups. “I fear more people will use the . . . language to justify their hate, ignorance, and violent attacks intended to shame ‘the other’ out of us and out of a ‘good’ Christian society,” he writes.
And yet, even after not attending Mass for 15 years, Rodda still holds space for the Catholic piece of his spirituality, praying and meditating with the Holy Spirit, Mary, and Jesus on the Cross. “This boy may have left the church, but the church most certainly has not left this man,”he said.
For others, the ban on same-gender blessings was the end of the line. Eder Díaz Santillan hosts a podcast called “De Pueblo Católico and Gay,” where he interviews Latinx LGBTQ Catholics (for Bondings 2.0’s report on this podcast, click here). Only days after the Vatican statement, he announced that he no longer calls himself a Catholic, explaining to his followers on Instagram that “It took me this long to realize I can let go of anything that hurts me.” Even though Santillan told Religion News Service he had become used to the church’s “condemning narrative,” he was shocked at the bluntness of the recent decree and could no longer “normalize being Catholic and gay to my audience.”
More than a matter of opinion, Santillan sees the church’s position as a life or death issue, exacerbating discrimination and anti-LGBTQ government policies, especially in Latin America. Even though he feels he can no longer identify as a Catholic, he is certain of his work helping others, “who like me have to live with the trauma of the Catholic Church.”
Xorje Olivares is also host of a podcast featuring LGBTQ Catholics, “Queer I am, Lord,” but he has landed at a different place than Santillan. Like Rodda, he emphasizes the breadth of spirituality within Catholicism, explaining:
“Everybody’s journey toward their acceptance of the Catholic faith or the role of the Catholic Church in their lives is their own, very much like everyone’s journey to their queerness is their own.”
Olivares empathizes with those who do leave, but chooses to remain and find joy anyway. “Here I am, me and all my queer friends,” he said. “We’ve been knocking on the door over, and over, and over again, and I would be so upset with myself if the door finally opens and the church becomes a little more welcoming, and I’m not there because I decided to walk away.”
However LGBTQ Catholics, friends, and allies respond to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s ban, Fr. Martin hopes they remember “they are, by virtue of their baptism, as much a part of the church as their pastor, their bishop, or the Pope.” He continues to invite LGBTQ Catholics to claim their belonging, “even [to] a church that seems not to know how to welcome them.”
It might look different for every individual, but for some like Rodda, leaving the institution did not mean leaving the church itself. “It would be easier to cancel the church in my mind,” he wrote. “I tried, it didn’t work. A church still lives within me.” Blessed indeed is the church inclusive of the beauty and diversity of its many members.
—Angela Howard McParland, New Ways Ministry, May 3, 2021