“How to Be Happy, Catholic and Gay” (Towards a 12 – step Recovery Program)

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”).

Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washingto...

Portal of the Church of Pilgrims, in Washington, DC, with a LGBT banner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?)

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5 comments for ““How to Be Happy, Catholic and Gay” (Towards a 12 – step Recovery Program)

  1. January 16, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Hi! I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

    I’m a gay Catholic in my early 30s, just starting to reconcile my faith -learned through more than 20 years of Catholic education- and my sexuality. Probably the biggest challenge that I face right now is finding meaning in non-procreational sex. I’ve read plenty of interpretations of the scriptures and also rationalized the evidence for gay relationships – there is indeed no harm in living a fulfilling life as a gay man. But how can sex mean something for me and my partner? Where the actual ‘good’ in it? How could it be more than just an act of mutual satisfaction?

    I’m sure these questions pop in the heads of many people. Thanks! :)

    • January 16, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Where can we find “meaning” in sex – procreative, or otherwise? That’s a complex question, which indeed troubles many people, and not only gay men.

      To begin to untangle the knot, first ask yourself, does there need to be “meaning” in every sexual act? Or is procreation the only possible meaning? It’s certainly not true that different – sex couples engage in intercourse in the hope of making a baby: most couples, including Catholic couples, devote a great deal of care in their sex lives to preventing unwanted pregnancy.

      At Letters to the Catholic Right, “Frank” has an entire series of posts on the subject, responding to a book called “On the Meaning of Sex” (disagreeing strongly with the assertions in the book). Neither the book nor Frank’s response are from an LGBT perspective, but Frank’s rebuttal has obvious application to us. I am developing a series of my own, reflecting and expanding on Frank’s series from my perspective as a gay man. My introductory post appeared here, and the first substantive post, “The Meaning of Sex” Ch 1 (LTCR): The Value of Experience (on the book’s first chapter), will publish tomorrow, at noon British time. Follow up posts will appear at weekly intervals, Fridays at noon.

  2. May 3, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    This is very interesting and really great reading. I’m not Catholic myself but agree with the first sentence: “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.” (very well written!).

    I’ve just turned 50, have been in a monogamous gay common-law marriage for 30 years, and have always questioned – or tried to reconcile – my homosexuality with my religion. Sadly, thirty years ago we were not welcomed in my church and thus left it and never found a ‘church’ to belong to which I sorely miss. My partner is a non-practising Catholic and seemed to lose his faith and never regain it. I didn’t lose faith and never will but it does make ‘the subject’ almost taboo in our home. He accepts my enthusiasm for Christ and my beliefs but doesn’t want to discuss it nor become involved in a Church again.

    In a short answer to the previous poster (a very thoughtful and intriguing question) , I think the answer may be in the sense of an ‘overwhelming love’ for the other person that you want to share rather than any type of satisfaction. It’s a closeness that can’t be expressed in a kiss or a hug alone. Opposite sex couples feel the same of course and it’s something we all share in common I think. Having been with my partner for 30 years I can honestly say that the situation changes over time but I truly believe the core value of a deep-rooted and earnest love remains.

    This is fascinating and I’m glad I found this blog to read!


    • May 3, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      Thanks. My primary concern is dealing with Catholic teaching and its difficulties, but I also hope to include in that help for (and from) people of other denominations too.

      The post you are responding to, is one that I wrote some time ago, intending it to be the start of an extended series – but then neglected, and later forgot about. However, your response is now the third time in two days that it’s been brought to my attention again. There must be a lesson in there: time to get back to work on the extended series that was originally planned.

      • Bruce
        May 3, 2014 at 11:06 pm

        Ahh…that explains why I couldn’t find the rest of the series!

        I think it would be interesting and well worth reading and thinking about, and like the other poster said “I look forward to reading the rest of the series!”


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