The group Catholic Lesbians at St. Francis Xavier Church, Manhattan recently shared with a local news outlet about members’ experiences and joys of being part of a church community which welcomes their perspectives and contributions.
The New York City Lens interviewed several members who explained how they have reconciled their lesbian identity with their Catholic faith. Parishioner Stephanie Samoy described encountering the parish and the Catholic Lesbians group in 2000 and knew it was a “rare community.” She told the reporter that it was a mixture of perceptions that first attracted her:
“The smell of chicken noodle soup — fed to impoverished believers during the parish’s weekly food drive — wafted into the church pews. Feeling what she attributed to love or the Holy Spirit, Samoy wept.”
Samoy said that because of her Catholic upbringing, accepting her sexuality was a “horrible time.” St. Francis Xavier was a unique parish for Samoy because its 300+ member group of Catholic Lesbians supported Samoy “to maintain both her identities as Christian and as LGBTQ.”
Catholic Lesbians was formed in 1995 and strives to center spirituality, pastoral ministry, and social justice. They participate in demonstrations throughout New York City and Washington D.C., and even sponsor liturgical events at St. Francis Xavier. Its mission statement says that the group “discovers that there is no dichotomy, no conflict in being Catholic and lesbian.”
The group is composed of Catholic women ages 22 to 80, who discuss spirituality, and also address church topics like male-centered church language and the ban on women priests. The news story described the groups as “a microcosm of hope, pushing a conversation about the leadership of the Catholic church accepting women from all walks of life.”
Samoy, who contributed to the mission statement, said, “This is a Roman Catholic Church and there’s an open space for queer women. It’s not courage; it’s dignity.”
Cristina Traina, a New Ways Ministry board member and Fordham University professor, is a member of Catholic Lesbians who wanted to join the efforts to “change the church from within.”
“Often, we get in touch with ourselves during upheavals, when thoughts we normally just work around come bubbling up to the surface in an undeniable way,” said Traina. She believes that the “double marginalization” of gay women in the church is “extraordinarily toxic.”
“To occupy a woman’s body and be Catholic already puts you in a situation of tension,” Traina said, “To be lesbian adds to the tension.” This tension and marginalization grows even stronger for people of color.
Rev. Kenneth Boller, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier, believes the church “has much to learn so it may understand all sexual orientations.”
The associate pastor, Rev. Ricardo da Silva, supports the parish’s LGBTQ welcome. According to the NY City Lens article, the priest “simply wants more people, regardless of sexuality, to be compelled to the faith.” [Editor’s note: This paragraph has been amended to correct an error it originally contained, due to a mistake in the primary source article.]
“I don’t think [Catholic leadership] would disagree with me in the respect that the church teaches that all are created in the image and likeness of God and that LGBTQ people should have a home in the church,” da Silva said. He does not mind St. Francis Xavier’s gay-friendly community or that the parish “colors a little outside the lines” of Catholic teaching. “Just look at Jesus, right?” da Silva said, “Look at who is important to Jesus: those on the margins.”
The Catholic Lesbians of St. Francis Xavier Church is an uplifting and inspiring example of how parish communities can not only welcome and support its LGBTQ members, but benefit from their presence. The group not only affirms queer, Catholic women in their intersectional identities, but is committed to bring a queer, justice-centered charism to their neighbors on the margins. That is a great gift and power that LGBTQ Catholics can bring to our communities. Those that the church pushes to the margins are the ones who more easily recognize where marginalization occurs. This experience and perspective on the margins is what the Church needs, especially as the global church participates in the Synod on Synodality.
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, April 1, 2022