Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s music, laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so, Benedicamus Domino.
- Hilaire Belloc
The problem for too many LGBT Catholics (and other Christians), even the suggestion of being happy while both Catholic and gay seems impossible – even paradoxical. Instead, conscious of the “disordered” language of Vatican documents on sexuality, reports of the exclusion from parish ministry or Catholic employment of lesbian or gay Catholics who publicly announce their truth in marriage, and the perception of unremitting Catholic hostility to LGBT people, for many of us, there seem to be few options available for a life of honesty and integrity. None of these, it would seem, include all of happy, Catholic, and gay. Some simply renounce their Catholic faith to embrace other denominations or none (rejecting “Catholic”); some renounce their sexuality and any hope of happiness in love, tor solitary, loveless lives of sexual abstinence in obedience to the Catechism (rejecting “gay”). Others, rejecting these extremes, attempt a constant juggling act, in a complex relationship with the Church, in which closeted sexual dalliances co-exist with constant guilt, assuaged by tortured visits to the confessional (rejecting neither “Catholic” nor “gay” – but fully satisfying neither, and substantially limiting the scope for “happy”).
To square the circle, we need a recovery program.
The Courage ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics, which is formally approved by the institutional Church and which supports its members in attempts to live within the limits of Vatican doctrine on sexuality, uses a 12 – step program, modelled on that of Alcoholics Anonymous. There is a problem with the Courage 12 – step program, however, as there is with those of the ex-gay movement, and with so – called conversion therapies, “Recovery” and “therapy” both imply that there is exists some form of illness or disorder from which healing is required – and these programs all misdiagnose the illness. Homosexuality (or “same – sex attraction”, or “homoerotic sexual orientation”, or “same – sex affectional orientation”, call it what you will), is not in any way a disease or condition that requires any form of therapy or healing, and attempts at such conversion are now recognised by the major professional organisations as dangerous and potentially harmful to mental health. (Even the British Association of Christian Counsellors has now banned the practice). Our orientation is not a pathology which needs healing, nor is its expression, in most of the world, any longer considered criminal. Even in the Catholic Church and most other denominations, nor is the orientation itself considered sinful.
As lesbian or gay Catholics and other Christians, we most certainly do not need a program of recovery from our orientation. What many of us do need, is a program of recovery from undeserved guilt. A little tongue in cheek, but also with entirely serious intent, I am working towards the development of just such a program.
In my life and gay Catholic journey, I’ve been blessed with some fortunate circumstances. Growing up with a solid Catholic education, I began by attempting to live completely within the bounds of Catholic teaching, sexual and other. Experience of the totally inappropriate marriage which followed, led me step by step entirely away from the Catholic Church (and from all religion). Freed from the constraints of external sexual rules, I developed the courage to come out openly as a gay man – and became involved for a time in gay activism. In a supreme irony, I was then gradually led back to the life of the Church by a man who became my life partner. By this time, I had become comfortable in my own skin as a gay man, and secure in the knowledge of the value and morality of our relationship, which in all respects except name, was a common – law marriage. But I was also closely familiar with the official disapproval of the institutional church. My path back to church was greatly eased by some wise words from a Jesuit priest I had known as a young student, who advised me not to prejudge the response of the Church, to take things one step at a time – and to place my trust in God, who would not reject me or my relationship. I took his advice, and have since experienced an ever-deepening exploration of the relationship between faith and sexuality.
In round numbers, it is now thirty years since I came out as gay, twenty years since I found a way back into the Church, ten years since I began to participate in the Soho “gay Masses”, and five years since I began this blog site. Over the years, I’ve read as widely as I could on topics relevant to faith and sexuality, reflected on them, prayed over them, and discussed them, in formal spiritual direction, and in informal conversation with friends, colleagues – and readers. I’ve written about them, here and elsewhere, exhaustively (and sometimes repetitively), sometimes well, sometimes badly.
It’s time, I think, to start to consolidate the best of what I have learned, into several series of posts on the most important themes. One of these is concrete guidance for troubled gay or lesbian Catholics, and other Christians, on the most useful approaches to resolving the apparent contradiction between faith and a homoerotic sexuality. That series of posts, structured as a 12 – step program for recovery from Catholic / Christian guilt, I will group under the umbrella term,”How to be Happy, Catholic and Gay”.
In my next post in the developing series, I will present a draft outline: a proposed list of 12 steps that we need to take in our journey to wholeness. In developing it, I will be drawing on the lessons of my experience, on the writing of the queer theologians and other professionals who have helped me, on the published stories of other lesbian and gay people of faith – and on you, my readers. I’ve had some useful material from you already, as published comments, and in private correspondence, but would love to hear more.
What have you personally, found to be helpful in your own attempts to reconcile faith and sexuality (and conversely, what remains the greatest difficulties you have yet to confront?)
- “The Meaning of Sex” (Letters to the Catholic Right) (queeringthechurch.com)
- Catholic Church Isn’t Anti-Gay, But the Bishops Are – And They Can Fix This (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
- RIP: Father Robert Nugent, co-founder of LGBT Catholic group New Ways Ministry (jesusinlove.blogspot.com)
- Priests, activists welcome McAleese’s criticism of Church stance on gay people (irishtimes.com)
- Three Excellent Responses to Cardinal Dolan’s Remarks on “the Church” and Being “Out-Marketed” on the Issue of Marriage Equality (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- Father Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Passes Into Eternal Life (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com)
- Miss Coco Peru Helps Cancel Talk By ‘Pray Away the Gay’ Preacher at NYC High School: VIDEO (towleroad.com)
- Catholic Gay Activists Blast Cardinal Dolan (lezgetreal.com)
- Catholic Students Rally To Save Gay Vice Principal’s Job (mintpressnews.com)
- Former Irish President Mary McAleese Calls on Catholic Church to Face “Herd of Elephants” in Living Room–Issue of Homosexuality and Pastoral Care of Gay People (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)