If you are an LGBT Catholic, which is the harder thing to do: telling Catholic people you are LGBT or telling LGBT people that you are Catholic? In over 20 years working with the Catholic LGBT community, I’ve more often heard people say that the latter is much harder than the former.
In U.S. Catholic this past summer, Jeffrey Essman examined why it is so difficult to “come out” as a Catholic in today’s world. He notes that despite the recent change in tone on gay issues that Pope Francis has inaugurated, too many LGBT people still see religion generally, and Catholicism particularly, as the enemy. The statistics bear this out:
“A recent Pew Research Center survey of LGBT Americans found that 48 percent of the respondents—more than twice the national average—consider themselves atheist/agnostic or simply have no religious affiliation. Of the 51 percent who do have a religious affiliation, 26 percent are Catholics, and two thirds of that 26 percent consider their own church to be unfriendly toward them. When respondents were asked to list the religions they considered most unfriendly, 8 in 10 put the Catholic Church on the list, along with the Mormon Church and Islam. “
Essman, who took a spiritual hiatus from religion for a while, notes how important it is for gay people to share their spirituality with one another. In his case, it was another gay Catholic who helped to bring Essman back to the faith:
“. . . [T]he irony here is that it was a former boyfriend, a convert to Catholicism, who got me back into the church. I remember him telling me about his conversion experience, and I had never heard anyone, certainly not a gay man, talk so happily, so assuredly, so emphatically about his faith. Being in a relationship with him was an important layer of coming out for me, but it’s the moment of spiritual honesty that resonates with me still. I’m a Catholic. I’m a gay Catholic. And it grieves me to think that two thirds of my brothers and sisters don’t feel welcome in their own church. No one should feel unwelcome in a church—and certainly not in the church. “
Essman belongs to a New York City parish (which he doesn’t name) which has aided him on his spiritual journey by including him in the community in a way that is both unique and commonplace:
“. . . [G]enuine welcome goes far beyond acceptance and tolerance. Welcome is a joyous absurdity of openness and love, of oneness, and what I love most about my parish is that I’m not a gay Catholic there. I’m just a Catholic. There’s nothing special about me. On the contrary, I am appreciated but otherwise wonderfully taken for granted. It’s a genuine welcome that doesn’t just welcome you to church; it welcomes you to the baptism that made you church in the first place. “
And he reminds us that being part of the Catholic community is really so much more than doctrine:
“when I remember that, I remember why I’m in the church, why I’m one of the 26 percent. I’m not in the church for the catechism, I’m in it for the creed. I’m in it for the light and beauty I experience at the heart of Catholicism, far from any politics—far, even, from a good deal of theology. I’m in it for the spirit of the Eucharist, of scripture, and most of all for the spirit of the people I worship with every Sunday. A couple weeks ago I was sitting next to one of the older members of the parish and was in tears at the simplicity, intent, and quiet joy with which he sang the psalm response. No catechism can touch that. And it’s this experience of the church on the local level—which I think is the important one—that gives me hope for the church at large.”
(Editor’s note: If you are seeking a local gay-friendly Catholic parish in your area, check out New Ways Ministry’s list of welcoming parishes and communities by clicking here.)
And finally, for Essman, as for so many other LGBT Catholics, reconciliation means coming to terms with both one’s weaknesses and strengths, and in healing one’s past:
“I’m a sinner just like everyone else at my parish, but my sin isn’t my homosexuality. The sinfulness of my being gay is that it tempted me, allowed me—encouraged me, really—to think that I was somehow set off from the rest of society, that I wasn’t really part of the world. The sin of my homosexuality is that it led me to believe lies—deadly, soul-killing lies—a sin for which I am indeed heartily sorry. But by the grace of God I’ve forgiven the people who told me those lies, and I’ve forgiven myself for believing them. And by the grace of the people I pray with every week, by the love they give me and the love I return, I move forward with them into the truth: I am part of society. I am part of nature. And I am very happily part of the church.”
So, how about you? How did you reconcile being LGBT and being Catholic? What is it about your faith that you treasure and that keeps you going? What steps on your spiritual journey have helped you see yourself as a loved child of God? What is the relationship between your sexuality/gender identity and your spirituality. Feel free to share your reflections in the “Comments” section of this post.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry