In an open letter published on November 26 in The Baltimore Brew, a lifelong gay Catholic responded to a recent incident in which a seventh grade student at local parish school was told by a parish priest to remove her Pride shirt.
Entitled “A gay Catholic’s open letter to the St. Francis of Assisi school and parish community,” the letter by Paul Banach describes his experiences growing up as a gay Catholic, responds to the students who stood up for their peer, and offers a message to adults and educators in the Archdiocese of Baltimore where the incident occurred.
In the wake of the incident, parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi, Baltimore, rallied in support of the student. As Bondings 2.0 reported, members of the parish community wore rainbow face masks and shirts saying “I am a child of God” to mass to show their solidarity.
Banach reflected that growing up in Connecticut, “Catholic teachings ruled our world view. There was no room for me as a gay person in our church.” For Banach, it felt as though his identities as gay and Catholic were irreconcilable:
“I don’t have a memory of anyone explicitly saying it was wrong to be gay because it was so taboo, so foreign, so sinful that it warranted no discussion. I received the message from my Catholic community clearly: it is wrong to be gay. I knew something was very wrong with me.”
Banach commented that his Catholic formation imparted many positive values to him: “What mattered was being kind to people, helping those who are struggling or hurting and using my life to make a positive impact on the world.” He credited these beliefs for his decision to become a nurse, so that he could dedicate his life to helping others.
At the same time, his upbringing also gave him the sense that gay people did not and could not exist in Catholic spaces. “I believed God did not want me as I was. The darkness was unbearable,” Banach wrote.
In time, Banach came out as gay, a choice that transformed his life:
“In coming out to the friends who supported me, I once again found a will to live, help others, and make a positive difference in this world.”
He praised the community at St. Francis of Assisi for rallying around the student who was told to remove her Pride shirt, offering the support that he had wished for when he was growing up. In their example, he says, he found “a moment of relief and clarity I have been searching for my entire life. We are the church. I do belong.”
In the letter, Banach addresses the seventh graders directly, writing:
“I am so inspired by you. Through your actions, you sent a message of love and hope to people facing adversity everywhere. You have refilled my cup to continue to care as a neighbor and a nurse for all members of my community, especially those who, through no fault of their own, feel like they don’t belong. You are an example to the world of the greatest Catholic virtues: to love others and stand up for what is right, always. … From all of the people who used to feel like me, thank you.”
Banach closed the letter by sharing his message for priests, parents, and church leaders. “There are children like my former self in your parishes and in your schools suffering alone in silence today,” he reminds readers. “Your messages to remove symbols of inclusion are heard by them loud and clear. Your silence on the matter is heard loud and clear.”
Banach challenges church leaders and formators to send children messages of inclusion and acceptance today: “These children deserve to exist. I welcome them into our complicated and beautiful world as their fullest God-created selves,” he writes.
Through his moving letter, Banach both celebrates the inclusive attitude of parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi and invites the church to be more accepting of its LGBTQ members. Banach’s message underscores the importance of affirming LGBTQ youth in particular, which often saves lives. Banach’s honest and courageous witness is an important step towards realizing the more inclusive church of which he dreams.
—Grace Doerfler, December 6, 2021