Father Tony

16 Years Old And Already A Catholic Rebel

Filed By Father Tony | January 07, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Catholic church, Catholic rebel, leslie gore, Martha Reeves, Vandellas, young gay Catholics

Fr. Tony,

My name is Donny, and I am a 16 year old Catholic. I read one of your articles online about the Roman Catholic Church and homosexuality and LOVED it. You brought up a really good point about the "fan club card"! My question to you is this... I love Jesus and most teachings of the Catholic Church but some just do not click. (Especially when it comes to homosexuality being "sinful"). I really want to have a partner some day and I do not want to be looked down on because of it! Would it be wrong to explore and find Jesus myself without the aid of the Church? Thanks for taking the time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

God bless,
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Dear Donny,

I am not in the habit of corresponding with 16 year olds, but in this public forum, and because you have written, and are obviously reading Bilerico (something I wish had been available to me when I was 16 and the only gay literature I possessed was my 40 volume set of Nancy Drew mysteries) I'll answer your questions. Do not expect any private email from me.

Two ground rules:
a) Be sure your parents are aware of what you are reading and writing. No secrets from the parents about this subject.
b) Take a shot at having this conversation with your local parish priest. Expect to be disappointed, but you never know. They are not all foolish. If he makes you feel "sinful" because of your sexual orientation, you tell him to speak to me.

I think it is foolish to try to force a 16 year old to do something or to not do something. For example, did your priest or your parents tell you not to masturbate? How'd that work out for you? I don't know anyone who successfully followed that prohibition and it sets a pattern of ridiculous and unattainable expectations.

The best counselors are the ones who will keep you from making big and permanent mistakes. Please listen to them if you are considering becoming sexually active. Believe me when I say that what you do not know at 16 can kill you, or at the very least, leave you with some bad memories that you will have to carry in your head forever.

I think the heart of the matter you present is whether or not anyone can find Jesus and/or God outside the Catholic Church or any other Christian Church. The fact is that it happens every day. The Catholic Church thinks it is the best "vehicle of salvation" and that you ought to stay in your pew even if it's a back row. I don't want to tell you to leave the church or stick with it. I do want you to know that many people find Jesus on their own. You may become one of them. God is OK with this.

As you form your decision about religion in the years to come, be sure you are asking the right questions:

1) Why do I want to join -- or keep my membership in - any religion? Here's a reason: some types of prayer are communal. It is healthy and good to celebrate with like-minded people, to recite cherished words and to share songs, rituals. I think it is good and healthy to belong to a tradition of some sort. (I cannot imagine what it would feel like to be without tradition or clan.) One of the problems I had with modern Catholicism was that the music was terrifically bad and killed the feeling of tradition. I loved the scarcely heard Gregorian chant and the old hymns, but there is a huge toleration for bad music in the modern Roman Catholic churches in America. It is sad. I also didn't like the fact that the Roman Catholic ritual was inflexible. I was not allowed to personalize it to the point of making the words deliver the beautiful truths that are at the center of the message of Jesus. If we can't personalize our rituals, we should have just left them in mysterious Latin and let people alone with their private thoughts while sitting in church. Basically, do not let any church leader tell you that you can't let your spirit express itself in a way that is beautifully and perfectly you. Mama Cass Elliot said it perfectly decades before you were born.

2) Who is Jesus and what did he really mean to say? Religious people are fond of telling us with surety what Jesus really meant when he said the things he said. It is always wise to listen to those who have studied the Bible, but avoid listening to folks who try to "sell" you their Jesus. Churches are crowded with people who insist that their version of Jesus is the only correct one. No one has a better response to those people than Leslie Gore, again, long before you were born (and long before she came out of the closet.) The voice is hers, but the words are Jesus' own:

3) Does your religion make you feel guilty or proud? If your church doesn't celebrate the real you and take delight in having the out-and-proud you -- and your boyfriend or someday your partner or husband --near its altar, shake the dust of that church off your shoes, but sing your way down the aisle and out the door with one of God's favorite hymns (Like a true diva, God first sang these words to Moses from inside a burning bush on a mountain when Moses asked him his name. Read Exodus 3:14):

One bit of advice. When you are in church, look around you and wonder what all the people in the pews and all the special people around the altar are so afraid of. Ask them. Most will not know how to answer that question. Some fear judgment. Some dread going home. Some fear death. Some fear what is in their heart. Some fear God. They are called the God-fearing and they are the strangest folks of all. God takes no enjoyment in your fear. Really, why fear God? It's not like you can do much about it if God gets pissed. It's not like you can hide if God is looking for you. This fact was best expressed by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas in 1965, and in this video you will see my idea of a really good church service. That's right, I come from the "liturgical shindig tradition":

Donny, I know it doesn't seem as if I have taken your question seriously enough, but really, you couldn't ask for better saints or guardian angels than Mama Cass, Leslie Gore and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Do not fear God. Find God inside yourself. Spend time with people who are skilled lovers in and out of church. Read the parables of Jesus often and hold on fiercely to the wisdom you find in his stories. If you are lucky, you will live to see an age in which the Catholic Church will do the same thing, and then we can all come home. Until then, you may find yourself churchless for awhile, but that is not a disaster. When I walked out the door of the Catholic Church after having said my very last Mass I did not for even one second feel that I was creating any distance between me and Jesus.

Finally, because you are 16 and, I assume, living at home, you ought to obey your parents in this matter. If they insist you go to church each week, do it, but while you are there, take the opportunity to talk with other Catholics about your issues and your sexuality. If the people in your church are uncomfortable with this, the problem is theirs. Christians are fond of saying how much they love you until you show them the real you. That is the test of their love, and it is a test they should be forced to take. Jesus was teaching in the temple when he was much younger than you are. Keep your ears and eyes open, and use your voice. You'll say some dumb things in the years to come (God knows I have) but saying nothing is worse. And if I were your parent, I'd be telling you that you are way too young to be having sex with others, gay or straight or bi. You don't know what you don't know. That is why Jesus designed you with two hands. Use the left one for its natural purpose for at least another two years.

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Very moving, Father Tony. I liked your combination of compassion and caution in addressing the issues here. I wish I had had someone like you to talk to when I was 16.

Father Tony, your advice would aptly apply to those of other religions as well. I know that I questioned my religion (Christian Reformed{a small protestant religion}) at that age before leaving and joing the Presbyterian Church (our congregation is inclusive and the rituals of the church are similar to what I grew up with).

I enjoyed your insight and use of music in your explaination.

I believe it is our God-given right as gay men to introduce our younger brethern to great music classics such as these.

You are the only person I know who can work Martha Reeves and the Vandellas into advice on how to find your own personal Jesus.

I 'intellectually' left the Catholic Church at age 16 - and despite 12 years of Catholic education. It's the smartest, best thing I ever did, and it didn't lead me into a sinful, spiritless life that I'm aware of. Just my thinkin' here: if there's a God, he didn't create us to be wasting time on our knees. I'm 'God' over the aquarium I set up, and I don't expect all the little fishies to be clumped together, gazing up at me, and paying homage. If there's a Jesus; there is no need to seek him. He'll find you! But only if you do what He intends - which is to be kind and uplift your fellow human beings.
Donny didn't ask ME, of course, but I'd tell him to spend his church-time volunteering at a nursing home, a food bank, or some other charitable cause so that Jesus will be more likely to spot him in the crowd :)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | January 9, 2010 11:03 AM

Or a nursing home! Those old folks rock if they still have all their marbles!

Dr. King Mott | January 8, 2010 11:12 AM

Father Tony:

Oh that I could have heard this when 16. It would have saved me a desperate stab at orthodox catholicism, a pitiful dissertation, and a hopeless condition. At 32 I found what you are speaking of here and recognized that there truly was 'no where to run to...no where to hid.' My best to you.


Also please understand there is no "truth" about any religion - they are ideas wrapped in stories. Primarily because most human beings can't handle "not knowing," some creative people made up some compelling stories that became religions.

The truth is nobody knows, and anyone who says otherwise is misleading you. Father Tony (and anyone else) can believe what they "choose," but it doesn't make it true. They use "faith" to accomplish that. Faith is "the ability to believe something you cannot prove."

I actually have no real quarrel with religion. What bothers me though is 98% of "religious" people never actually choose their Faith - they inherit it. They believe what their parents believe. It would be more beneficial if people were allowed to grow and learn, study religion and then actually pick one. They don't.

I would encourage you to explore and continue to use your imagination as you create your life. You have the ability and creativity to create whatever you want and you don't need anyone's permission.

This is the truth: nobody has the answers and the questions are much more fun.

Explore. Learn. Be yourself. And, keep smiling.

I don't know where you get your figure, AndrewW, but count me in that 2%. I came to my faith when I was 30, and I had been an atheist for 12 years. It was a conscious decision that did not abandon my intellect, and it was a life-changing experience.

No, I don't expect you to follow me, and that's fine. But those of us who have made the choice find solace and communion that is not possible without faith.

Allow Donny the right to ask his questions within the framework of his desire for a relationship with God. I think Tony's given him the proper perspective on doing that while avoiding the danger of following blindly those who claim to "know." I think you're right in advising Donny that his own thoughts, questions and beliefs are at least equal to those who declare certainty.

I do agree that questions about faith are compelling. And "I don't know" is a good answer to a lot of those questions. Your closing line is great advice for anyone.

The 98% of "religious people" inheriting their faith is from Pew and Gallup. It's just the natural progression from parent to child. Most religious people are the same religion as their parents, grandparents, etc.

I'm glad you found something that gives you hope and solace. I would suggest that solace doesn't require faith. It works for some, but it's not required.

I think exploring makes the most sense. If we do that, we actually create our own beliefs, instead of inheriting them - whatever they may be.

I'm glad your journey was fruitful.

Great advice, in general, Tony. I was also raised in the Catholic Church and began to distance myself from it on my teens.

Donny didn't say whether or not he is out to friends or family. My main concern is that I wonder if suggesting that a 16-year-old live his life openly and honestly, which every parent should encourage their kids to do, (especially in church) might not be more than someone so young can handle without any emotional or spiritual support.

I would suggest building a support system of friends and trusted family members first before being so bold within the church community.

I didn't have anyone to talk to at 16 and the pressure and antagonism from everyone I should have been able to trust was such a betrayal. It kept me closeted, isolated, self-hating, depressed and suicidal for years. (I'm much better now.) Our culture promotes individuality, but can be very cruel to those who actually live their own truth.

Good point about the music. Back in the early 70's there was the Guitar/Folk Mass, designed to keep young people engaged. At our church we had a young, hip and totally gorgeous priest with killer blue eyes and an incredible voice and folk music style, who would sing selected pop tunes with a spiritual relevance that really related to young people. He was fired/dismissed/relocated/banished after singing "Imagine", by John Lennon, one Sunday.

My own personal brand of spirituality these days is very eclectic. I accept what makes sense, question what doesn't and reject anything that that promotes separation, intolerance or spiritual elitism. It works for me.

Father Tony gives very good advice here, especially about discussing this with the parents.
May I suggest that Donny look into Dignity, a group supporting GLBT Catholics if there is one in his area?