Father Tony

Advice for a Gay Roman Catholic Convert

Filed By Father Tony | October 15, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: anti-gay Christians, gay Catholics, pope, roman catholic church

Fr. Tony,

Hello, my name is Steven. I was viewing the Bilerico website and saw your blog. I have a question in hoping you may assist me. First of all, I am a Roman Catholic and have been for over two years now. I love the church and do attend mass; however, I am a 45 yr old gay man. According to the church, gays are not allowed to practice their lifestyle. I thought I could simply ignore how I feel, but I cannot. God created us and if he did not want us to have these "feelings" , then we wouldn't experience them and want to seek out companionship with a member of the same sex. If I confess to my priest how I feel and would want to establish a loving and stable relationship with another man, would be I facing excommunication from the church?

I hope I can find a peacable solution as to what to do. I understand some catholic churches do accept GLBT couples.

Peace be with you always,

Steven M.

Dear Steven,

There are no Roman Catholic Churches that are really totally open to your lifestyle. Some are more gay-hospitable than others, but NONE of them are going to tell you that you can have gay sex, although you'll find plenty of priests who will privately tell you it's OK - and then suggest dinner to "discuss it further".

The question with the big shoulders is "Why did you join this religion two years ago, and what did you hope to derive from being a Roman Catholic?"

At the time of your conversion, surely you were given a catechism that outlined the particulars of this organization. Surely you were schooled in the words of the Creed which is a detailed but basic list of the components of belief that every Roman Catholic MUST own.

I have an idea that your response to this would be that sexuality is not treated SPECIFICALLY in those vehicles and you'd be right in your response, hence the current hand-wringing and harumphing and condemning that constitute American Catholic leadership.

Let's jump to the conclusion of the crowd: most folks reading your letter will impatiently say "What's his problem? He should just leave that church and join a better one. Get over it. They will never like or accept him. He probably subconsciously joined a church that he knew would tell him he is a bad boy. He's probably guilt-ridden and wants to be whipped for his dirty little secret."

My response will be slightly more patient. You joined the Roman Catholic Church because there was something expressed in its 2000 year old tradition that made you feel good and closer to God through its delivery of Jesus Christ, right? What you are now wrestling with are the rules and regulations that silly old men have devised over centuries in their effort to bottle up and contain and dispense the free-flowing and overwhelming goodness of that very Jesus. You have a choice. You can remain a Roman Catholic and ignore the voices of nonsense (including the Pope and bishops who claim extreme authority in their insane proclamations) or you can leave it and find a better way to discipline yourself spiritually. You seem thoughtful. I am rather sure that you can find Jesus without joining one of his fan clubs that exact heavy dues for no return.

That's right. The Catholic Church has become a fan club. Jesus is the star. There are dues to be paid. Jesus doesn't see a penny of the dues collected, and most of it goes to maintaining the fan club rather than extending the mercy that Jesus spoke about. (You do know, don't you, that you can perform good deeds and acts of mercy and kindness without a fan club card?)

Regarding your question about excommunication, you would really have to make some huge headlines to be worth all the effort that goes into excommunication. Almost nobody gets excommunicated these days. Even Catholic politicians who deserve it don't get it. Even if you were to bring your boyfriend up the center aisle of the church wearing shirts that say "We're queer and we have queer sex with each other twice a day" the folks next to you in the pew may not want to shake your hands during the "kiss of peace" but you would not be excommunicated. I myself have not been excommunicated or even suspended, so go figure.

Ultimately, it boils down to this: are you comfortable with a double standard, and can you laugh at hypocrisy? If you are and if you can, you will find some wonderful benefits to be derived from the roots of Catholicism - not its current leafing.

If you choose to discuss this with your priest, keep in mind that different priests give vastly different answers. You'll want to find one who will say "Your conscience is informed, now make your personal decision. If you choose to commit what your church calls sin, and then regret it, you can confess it and God will forgive you." That is rather at the heart of Roman Catholicism: sin and forgiveness. The soiling and the laundering. Questioning and direction. Nonsense and enlightenment. Being of the world vs not of this world. Wanting to be like Jesus and frequently falling short of a great imitation. Seeking, losing and finding one's way.

Steven, I am convinced that nobody ever found peace by fearing God or the clergy. I do not think God wants our fear (although the clergy certainly does.) I think God finds the concept of "God-fearing people" stupid. If you are not going to fear God, why should you fear a pope, a cardinal, a bishop or a priest? Look within yourself. God is there, empowering you to be the best Steven imaginable. Unleash it either within or without the Roman Catholic Church and you'll be OK. Oh and another thing God does not want: your worry. There is nothing in the gospels to make us think that Jesus was a worrier. He seemed to be relaxed in the way that people who have set in place their personal convictions and live accordingly are relaxed. He had only one recorded moment of anxiety and that was the night before he died. He wasn't much looking forward to the next eighteen hours but he bit the bullet and remained true to his convictions. Do the same, and no one or nothing will harm the essential you.

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ROBERT VITARELLI | October 15, 2009 12:45 PM

i know exactly how you feel, man. we love our church but feel it doesn't love us back . . . enough. on the one hand, you don't want to be the sort of RC that picks and chooses from the church's menu; on the other hand, you're hit by guilt knowing the church's "stance" on homo behavior. go back in history, way back, when the church actually condoned gay unions. if you google yale u. press, you can find reference to a rather scholarly tome published years ago that hits that subject. my advice? make your confession . . . carefully at first. you may be surprised how receptive and supportive the confessor on the other side of the screen can be.

Yes, RV, I agree about going back to early Caholicism. That's what i meant when I recommended looking to "the roots of Catholicism - not its current leafing". The leaves will wither and fall with the season, but the roots are healthy.

I've looked into this over the years and all I can say is it's rubbish. People weren't even marrying in the church at the time these 'friending' ceremonies were taking place. Why should the church take such a keen interest in gay unions at that time and not even require marriages to be consecrated in the church. There were laws enacted in the civil arena during the 12th and 13th centuries condemning buggery/gay sex and the church itself was having the Benedictines build prison monestaries for its same-sex fornicating monks. The church did not deem that marriage was a sacrament until the 1200s, although there was a marriage recorded to have happened in a church in the 800s. Even so it was a later edict in the 15th century which demanded that the faithful be married in a church before a priest (or else... whatever else is).

Friending ceremonies were just that. If two people took it further the church wasn't sanctioning it.

Excuse me but there is nothing to confess. Steven? YOU HAVE NOTHING TO CONFESS. Being gay and having feelings of same sex attraction is not something you need to confess. Perhaps you may want to share that information with a priest but NOT CONFESS. Am i the only one who feels this way? Someone get me a valium. (i am kidding about the valium) Oy freakin vey. I am fed up with gay people feeling less than and this is catering to it Steven.

Dear ewe,
While I happen to agree with you that he has committed no sin, I am advising a man who is a Catholic convert and subscribes to that church's sacraments and beliefs. These include confession. Hence my version of what many priests will tell him:

"Your conscience is informed, now make your personal decision. If you choose to commit what your church calls sin, and then regret it, you can confess it and God will forgive you."

If Steven feels no regret, he should make no confession. You need to feel some kind of contrition before you can ever offer a valid apology or ask forgiveness.

PS: Worthwhile Catholic confessions are like personal dialogues where the priest keeps his mouth shut and allows an unburdening to take place.

Thank you FT. I looked up the word Confess before i commented and the definition alluded to feelings of guilt. While i fully understand and admire your thoughtful response to Steven, i can only say that more gay people need to tell other gay people to "SNAP OUT OF IT."

There is a Catholic Gay organization, Dignity USA. Check out their web-site, dignityusa.org , and look to see if there is a chapter in your city. If you intend to discuss your situation with any priest, I think that you should be selective, just as you would carefully select a physician with whom you needed to consult about something important. A priest working with Dignity would be a good choice, probably.

I also suggest looking at the books of John J . McNeil. Fr Tony posted an excerpt from him a few weeks back. The one that I suggest is : "Fredom, Glorious Freedom". They are available on amazon.com .
I think that in addition to your interest in confession, that you should be looking for a parish or other community for Mass at which you are comfortable being "out". These often are at universities or parishes affiliated with religious orders like Carmelites, Jesuits, Franciscans. You can't have much of a spiritual life in a parish in which one of the main things about you, your sexuality, is a matter of shame or hiding. Again, some Dignity chapters are great, and have mass every week too.
Also, look at youtube, Search for "gay catholic coming out" and get the one by Mary B. There are also a couple more, but hers is good, and talks about her own going to confession, and how lucky she was with a great priest.
Do you have any friends who are gay and practicing catholics? If so, hang out with them, go to church together, and be supportive to each other.
The reality is that if the Church really got rid of Gays, most of the priests, nuns, musicians and choir members, and many many more would disappear. Open your eyes, and realize that you probably have many in your midst already.

Lynn Miller | October 15, 2009 8:05 PM

In addition to Dignity USA, Steven may want to check out New Ways Ministry. Both are good organizations, and have slightly different focus.

Hey Fr. Tony,
I guess I consider myself a fence sitter these days. Here in Montreal, we have many Catholic parishes with open doors to all. There has been, as of late, a renewal of faith in our churches to welcome all and any. I know that I go to a particular Catholic church because of the pastor who serves it. He is one of my professors at the university and he knows me very well, and accepts me because I live a faith life. There are very few instances of priests shunning or turning away parishoners because they are gay, at least I have not heard of any lately.

On the other hand I attend services at the local Anglican Cathedral here on Tuesdays because of the woman who leads that parish. She is also my spiritual adviser and the Anglican church welcomes all and any regardless of sexual orientation.

There are many churches one can attend. I know that I am a Catholic in my heart and always will be. And today I can take it or leave it. As long as I maintain my relationship with God, then who is to say that whatever I do is wrong... Your writer has his faith and that in itself is wonderful - many gay people - don't have that desire or need to follow a faith, so as a Pastoral Minister (which I am today) I always encourage those who follow a faith to do so with wreckless abandon regardless of men or institution.

Faith is between us and our God. And no one else. At the end of the day, God exists, whether you seek him in church or in the field. I hope your writer will continue his faith search where ever he might. You don't have to out yourself to the parish priest. Being gay is who we are not what we are, and I don't think God has chosen sides as of yet.

Follow your faith. Let God lead you where he might. If your parish priests gives you shit, then leave and find another parish that will fulfill your needs. But never abandon your faith.

Faith is something we tend like a garden it cannot be taken from us. That is something I like to tell my folk. Never let an institution take from you that which is yours innately.

Jeremy in Montreal.

Good little Catholic girl no more... | October 16, 2009 1:50 AM

My first kiss (and experience) with a girl was when I was 18 and it happened with a girl from my youth group who went to the Catholic high school down the street from mine. The girl and I were both at a Catholic Family Campout with our respective families. After our fun, we both went to confession. She was lucky, as she happened to go to the gay priest. (I am assuming a lot here, but every one of his homilies involved Love and he is supposed to have been bound for Broadway way back when.) He told her basically what Father Tony said and urged her to follow her heart and soul, because they would not fail her.

I had the 12-step priest who had an alcohol problem...he was less forgiving, told me my salvation and immortal soul were in danger, and instructed me to say 5 Hail Mary's and 10 Our Father's and never do it again.

I started cutting every time I had a thought. I started fasting to make myself look less desirable. To save myself the trouble of abstaining. And I attempted suicide several times, berating myself for each failure.

Needless to say, I eventually felt more and more estranged from the Church. When I came out about liking girls at 21, I had moved several states away from most of my family and came out through e-mail and over the phone. I was worried for my physical safety due to previous conversations which skirted around the topic. I will admit being confused when they started referring to me as a lesbian, as I had never really used that word to describe myself. I had only said I liked girls and that in most of my relationships with guys, I had sought out guys I had wanted to be...rather than those I was attracted to.

At 23 years old, I went to my last mass. Ash Wednesday of 2005. I looked around and realized the Church no longer held any value for me. This was a crushing realization, because my family has always been highly involved in the Church with liturgical music ministry, youth groups, eucharistic ministry, ushering and altar serving... My great grandfather was the highest you could be in the Knights of the Columbus. I had an uncle who was almost a priest. I used to play piano and organ for mass. I used to help run a Catholic youth group. I used to be a regular reader and eucharistic minister. I served faithfully as an altar server from the moment I was allowed to in the 6th grade. I loved serving during Holy Week, because it meant I could serve more than one mass a day. I thrived in this! I remember playing "mass" when I was younger and pretending I was the priest. Looking back on this memory, I started to do some more research. An online friend of mine had recently come out as transgender and while I wanted to ignore the more obvious signs in my own life, that was becoming more difficult. When Brandon Teena was murdered, I had been about to ask my parents about why nobody saw me as a boy any more... When he was killed, I shut up and tried really hard to be a "real girl."

Then I met my first transman in person in 2005 and something clicked. So, I looked hopefully toward Holy Mother Church for direction...and found only silence.

So, I left the church and went to the faith I knew would support and accept me as a whole person and would even eventually allow me to serve: Judaism. I converted some time ago and found keeping kosher and shabbat to be quite easy for me somehow.

After all, what's more Christlike than following Jewish law? ;-)

Long story short, I left the faith once I realized that the Church did not believe (or even care) that I existed. Condemnation, I could handle. After all, Dignity does exist as does New Ways Ministry. In the beginning, John McNeill's books kept me from killing myself. Once I realized that I was really male, despite my female beginnings...the suicidal thoughts left- except when I think too long about my nonexistence in the Church herself. (And they do mention us now. In encyclicals, which instruct bishops to NEVER EVER change the sex on baptismal documents. But when I ask individual priests about intersex individuals, they assure me that such things never occur. That transpeople and intersex individuals simply do not exist. It still makes me cry.)

But the Church's roots are much stronger. I do not regret being raised in Catholic schools. In fact, I even went to a Catholic university. And I credit my Catholic upbringing with helping me come out, realize who I was, and my ability to reasonably pick a religion which acknowledges and embraces my existence: Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism.

Should the Church acknowledge or possibly even accept people like me at some future time, I might come back... But wounds do take time to heal. And mine run very deep, both externally and internally. These are the battle scars I earned in priest-recommended, family-approved, ex-gay therapy.

But, I'm 28 now. And still here. Still waiting for more than silence. Still waiting.

Good little Catholic girl no more... | October 16, 2009 1:59 AM

My apologies for the long rant...

Lynn Miller | October 16, 2009 3:41 AM

No apologies are necessary. What you wrote is honest and heartfelt. It speaks of the pain you felt, and to some extent still feel.

I think your experience with the Church, to some degree, has been shared by many of us. Thank you for giving voice to this.

And I am glad you have found a new spiritual home, one that is safe and supportive. I think such community is hard to overrate.

I like reading your story and do not find it to be rant at all. You have come a long way.

"I think God finds the concept of "God-fearing people" stupid. If you are not going to fear God, why should you fear a pope, a cardinal, a bishop or a priest? Look within yourself. God is there, empowering you to be the best Steven imaginable. Unleash it either within or without the Roman Catholic Church and you'll be OK. "

Oh, Tony. That was lovely, and spot-on.

Fr. Tony--nail->head! As usual, you hit it!