When Fr James Martin SJ posed the question “What Should Gay Catholics Do?” at America blog, he offered no answers. When I repeated the question here (and also at the Daily Kos, where I cross-posted the piece), I listed some possible strategies – but I put these in generalities, rather than specifics. However, many of the gay men and lesbians who responded by comments at America, here, and at Kos, have shared some extracts of their personal stories. These vary in tone – from relief at having left the Catholic church, to some who have found some form of uneasy tension within the church, to some who remain deep in anguish at having not yet fond any resolution. Collectivelyand individually, many of these left me painfully aware of a phrase used by James Alison, “A Heart Close to Cracking.”
James Alison has more reason than most for anger: as a Dominican priest and academic theologian, he was forced out of the priesthood and his livelihood simply for his honesty, speaking openly about the challenges of gay men in the priesthood. He was thrown out into the world bereft of home, family, or livelihood. He has since made a new life as an important independent theologian and writer, with three important books suggesting ways for us to find a “Faith Beyond Resentment” (the title of the first book in the set.). He has a great deal of sage and helpful advice in these books, some of which I hope to discuss with you over the next few months. Essentially, Alison offers the hope the hope and reassurance that it is possible to move beyond the heart close to breaking, mostly by adopting an attitude of Ignatian indifference to the institutional church, and by getting to know God, the God of “delight”.
Before expanding this theme with Alison, though, I think it is important for us to hear the voices of heartbreak. I have been collecting the stories, anecdotes and links posted in the three comment threads (America, QTC and Daily Kos). In some cases, I have reprinted the full text of these, in others I have provided links to the writers own blogsites .These have all been published already, but for simplicity I list only the first names here, and have made no attempt to edit or comment.
Christians often exalt and pray for the gift of tongues. Here, I ask you instead to pray for the gift of ears, as you listen carefully and hear the voices of these hearts.
(NOTE: This is taking a lot longer to put together than I anticipated. It will in any case never be complete, so I am posting it , for now, as is. It will be continuously updated ans expanded.)
My own story:
This has been up for some months now, and I do not want to make an issue of it this time around. For completeness though, and for any readers who have not yet seen it, read it here, or the story of a landmark retreat that underpins my thinking ,or my personal response to official teaching.
Jeremiah writes at Gospel for Gays, mostly on Gospel reflections. He shares my belief though, in the importance of sharing our stories. In his original post, Jeremiah tells of how he was driven away from the church, and then returned
“not as a furtive and shamefaced creature, and not as a man gripped by anger at an uncomprehending institution. I returned merely as myself, feeling very much a member of a pilgrim”,
with a further reflection later on the challenge of “Squaring the Circle“.
Jeremiah also encourages others to share their stories on his blog. This Guest Blog, called My Story of Finding Love, is a useful corrective to the idea that the fight by gay men is about an obsession with sex. It’s not – it’s about love.
On the same site, Phillip reminds us that we have not made ourselves gay, but that “I am the work of his hands“
Bill is one who by his own admission has heart close to cracking, and with good reason – the hostility of some in the church destroyed his career as a theologian. Bill writes at Bilgrimage, and was a major contributor to the discussion in Fr Martin’s comment thread. He has written frequently and openly of many strands in his story. Inthe first part of a recent post where he encourages us all to share our stories, he includes part of his own. (The rest of the post refers to what some others have written) Read it at “Bearing Witness: Creating Welcoming Spaces to Hear LGBT Catholic Stories of Grace” .
Note, please, the precise wording: these are stories of “grace”: grace found frequently outside the church, not always in it – but grace, all the same.
In the comment thread, “BManD” tells something of his story as an openly gay priest:
I am a gay priest, out to my bishop and the presbyterate and my family. I have thought of a blog for out gay priests but we already have wonderful Catholic blogs, like this one. I have no doubt there are other out gay priests across the country. I am emphasizing the OUT of course. If we can be in touch with each other, through this blog or one of the others mentioned in this article, we could let the Spirit lead us from there.
I have not been told to be silent about being a gay priest. I minister in an area with a large GLBT population. I have recently been in touch with another OUT priest from a different state and will visit another one in my own state soon. As Jesus said ” Where two or three are gathered in my name we will form a committee”. I may have that last part wrong! But five or six OUT priests speaking with one voice on a site like this could have an impact, especially using our names and dioceses. Come, Holy Spirit!
Priests are in a particularly difficult position. We need also to hear more of their stories. Father Geoff Farrow, who suffered his own persecution and loss of livelihood by the church since his open support for gay marriage and opposition to Prop 8 in California, has written on the topical but tricky “Question of outing gay priests”
Jayden’s story above all is one of grace, well outside the mainstream church, in a place he describes as one of exile. Jayden writes at the Gay Mystic, offering wonderful insights into the spiritual lessons we can gain from cross-cultural mystical traditions, which he calls (rightly) “a place of inspiration”. The fascinating thing about Jayden is how far he has moved from the institutional church, but how close he remains to some core Catholic teaching: an intense devotion to the Eucharist, respect for the power of devotions such as the infant of Prague and Marian apparitions, the power of the papal presence, and voluntary celibacy. Yet he doesn’t pull his punches when attacking the appalling horrors of the church, either. With rare courage and honesty, Jayden tells his story at “Encountering Christ on the Margins With Joy: Embracing Ourselves as Exiles“.
I read Eric’s story of finding God in gay lovemaking, as “An Erotic encounter with the Divine”, at Jesus in Love blog. This particularpost ahs nothing to do with the Catholic church, but in a comment to my question at this site, “What IS a gay Catholic to do?” wrote that
I’m one who walked away. Shook the dust from my sandals, more or less, and said goodbye to the church that despite it’s words hates me and all homosexuals. Of course, I had the added impetus to walk in that my Archbishop was quite happy to refer to gays as faggots. To my face (I wasn’t out, so I guess that somewhat ameliorates that incident.) I formally renounced, in writing, my baptism in the Catholic church.
What ensued was 13 years of serious hatred for the RCC. It has only been in the past year that I have finally made a serious effort to forgive the RCC.
But, I have always cringed at the term “Recovering Catholic”. Hidden within my hatred lies a still simmering love for the church. Whenever someone called me a recovering catholic I countered with “There’s nothing to recover from.” And, quite oddly, I am the only one permitted to badmouth the catholic church in my presence!
Talk about conflicted!
After “shaking the dust from the sandals,” he joined the MCC. It was a tape he heard at an MCC gathering that led him to the profoundly spiritual experience in lovemaking, that he wrote about at Jesus in Love Blog. (He usually writes at his own blog, Scott’n Eric)
A link at Reluctant Rebel led me to “Sebastian”, who writes at Suffer the Arrows – a reference to the martyrdom of St Sebastian. This is his comment, as repeated on his own blog, in responding to Fr Martin’s question:
This question is so vexing, in part because every Catholic has firm opinions, but not everyone has much experience in dealing with the issue on a personal basis either as a gay Catholic or as a straight Catholic who has had actual, honest and reflective conversations with gay Catholics. The question is not what “those” gays do or don’t do. The question is what we together as members of the Church do…….
However, for Catholics who are gay, at the present moment, the institutional Church offers only a situation of profound cognitive dissonance……..
Increasingly, there is the perception among gay and lesbian Catholics that we are being “painted into a corner,” by an institution that does not value us and our contributions, does not appear to want us, and insists sometimes on going out of its way to offend us. Just what does the institution expect us to do in such a situation?
Read the full post at “On the question of what gay Catholics are supposed to do”
In another post, Sebastian quotes an anecdote from “Since My Last Confession” , which provides another useful response from an unnamed gay father (as in “Daddy”, not as in priest):
“Why are you still Catholic?” I asked a gay father of three.“Entirely aside from my spiritual life and my promise to the good priests and nuns that were here when my children were christened, I also feel a political responsibility not to leave but instead to sit my gay ass in the pew and not be budged by people who don’t want me there,” he said. “It’s a Rosa Parks thing. I’m just not moving. It’s my Church too, as much as theirs. If I want to leave, I will, but I won’t leave because somebody else wants me to leave or because it makes somebody else uncomfortable. I just won’t do it. I won’t do it for myself, and I won’t do it for people who are not yet born, who will have the same struggle. That’s …my very quiet way of saying, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, and I’m proud of it.’ I’m there, and [my husband] is there, and I’m proud we are there. If it were appropriate to raise my middle finger, that’s what I am doing – in a polite, kiss-of-peace kind of way.”That, my friends, is brilliant, in a Rosa Parks kind of way………………………
Alix has contributed several comments to this site since I last wrote about Fr Martin’s question. In her comment, she put a question:
While raised in the RCC, I left when I graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school. Away from God all those years, while still being a lesbian, I ended up gravitating to a then unknown to me Protestant church (Assemblies of God) that turned out to be inherently fundamental and homophobic. Unfortunately for me, I did not “get that” initially. I loved the services, the preaching and felt spiritually fed. I discovered God on a deeply personal level—a relationship I had never experienced before. My heart was full. Then my identity of being a lesbian was acknowledged and I was politely “shown the door.” That was because the pastor openly preached on that Sunday that “homosexuality was the worst sin in the Bible.” After the service, I challenged him. I asked him to refer to the specific scripture that said that (because I never read that despite reading through various translations). He wanted to avoid this conversation with me totally, but I countered with reminding him that he always said that the Bible would prove its own truth. Again, I challenged him to point out where in the Bible was that specifically quoted and he hemmed and hawed. I told him, according to my Bible in Rev 21:8 “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (NKJV) Nowhere did it say that only the homosexuals would burn in this lake of fire, and even pointed out that the sexually immoral were not even listed first! He could not respond and just walked away and greeted other members.
I was so filled with God’s Spirit and left homeless. I have always tried to live my life by Rom 12:1-2, but if I am to obey the letter and the spirit of the law, then that makes me feel that, while acknowledging that I have always been and will always be a lesbian, I would have to choose celibacy. Therefore, I am at a major crossroads in my life. While I continue to enjoy my personal relationship with God, I miss dearly fellowshipping with other believers and hearing God’s word being preached. The idea of choosing celibacy harkens back to the comments in the article about reparative therapy. I do not suffer with something from which to cure. Being a lesbian is who I am, not what I chose to be. Moreover, I am proud of who I am. So, what am I to do?
She has since written up her painful story in more detail at “Christian and Queer Revisited” , at AlixRites.
In a later post, Alix notes how the fact of blogging about her difficulties has shown her a number of friends she did not previoulsy realise she had, and has generated new e-friends. This, I think is a common experience of many queer bloggers. If we cannot find truly welcoming church communities on the gound, we create them in cyberspace.
(Other than Alix, I have not come across too many lesbians writing about their personal journeys reconciling Catholicism and sexuality, although there are some who write about other issues in the church, or from a more ganeral perspective. I find it odd that for once, it should be the men who are more willinlgy exposing their inner hurt, while the women are more guarded. Does this simply indicate more men who are blogging, a genuine greater reticence on the part of women, or my own myopia? I wonder. I would be delighted if any readers could point me to specifically personal stories from lesbian Catholics.)
Several stories were placed in the comments thread following Fr Martin’s post. You could read them there, but the thread is long ,and includes also a lot of more abstract argument – which I thought was not always insightful or helpful – which you would have to wade through to get to the useful bits. I have tried to extract from the trhead the genuinely personal responses, and placed them on their own pages on this site. Have a look at Phillip’s story