Gay and Catholic: what the church gets right and wrong about being gay

By Eve Tushnet The Catholic church should be the place where the outcast, humiliated, or desperate can feel at home. … Continued

By Eve Tushnet

The Catholic church should be the place where the outcast, humiliated, or desperate can feel at home. And yet for many gay Catholics the places where we should encounter the Word who brings hope–our churches, schools, and families–are instead filled with the silence which breeds despair.

As a lesbian and Catholic convert, I believe that our church has done a very good job of hiding our light under a bushel of indifference and ignorance. It’s shocking how many gay kids, even in Catholic schools–places where every child should feel like a beloved creature made in the image of God–are bullied. Parents and anyone else with an inside edge need to be vigilant in finding out what goes on in their children’s schools, rather than assuming that everything is okay until someone finally finds the courage to speak out. Teachers who can offer protection and an open heart to gay kids should find some way to make their willingness known, whether it’s a speech at an assembly or a “safe space” sticker on a door.

In asking, “What can the Catholic Church offer gay people?”, it’s easy to start with practicalities like these. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has a fairly good statement, “Always Our Children,” urging Catholic parents to accept and welcome their gay and lesbian children.

In the Washington archdiocese, St. Matthew’s Cathedral has a monthly support group which includes parents and relatives of gay people, gay Catholics ourselves, and anyone else who needs a place to talk. Our members span the spectrum of Catholic opinion on this topic. I’m celibate due to my religious beliefs; other members believe that the church must change to embrace gay sexual activity. But we all share two beliefs: that LGBT lives are valuable, and that LGBT Catholics are called to and capable of sainthood. Always Our Children meets this weekend, on Sunday at 3:15 in the afternoon; we meet at the same time on the second Sunday of every month, in the church basement.

There are also spiritual resources. Christ suffered humiliation and abuse so that we might put away shame and know that we are infinitely loved. It’s easy to feel unworthy of love, to feel like no one would love us if they really knew us. Well, God knows us completely. If Heaven were high school (God forbid), God would have our “purity test” scores. And yet still he loves us.

Father James Martin, SJ, has written “A Prayer When I Feel Hated” in response to the recent gay teens’ suicides. And Mary is always a mother for those children and teenagers whose suffering is ignored or even compounded by their own families.

But perhaps the most pressing question for young gay Catholics is discerning their vocation. Within the church, the most obvious vocations are marriage and the priesthood. The Catholic church’s position on gay marriage is well-known; the recent, conditional strictures on gay candidates for the priesthood have also gotten a lot of press.

But “vocation” is simply a quick way of saying, “the unique path God has given you to pour out your love and increase the beauty and joy in the world.” Every person has a vocation. A vocation is always positive, never negative: “Don’t have sex with another guy” is not a vocation!

Discerning a vocation can be complicated for gay Catholics. Homilies rarely mention vocations to artistry, devoted friendship, loving service to one’s family or to those in need. Yet these are all ways of loving God and others. St. Aelred, in his dialogue Spiritual Friendship, said that friends were called to sacrifice for one another even unto crucifixion. To a culture in which “friend” is a verb meaning, “annoy with Farmville,” this is almost incomprehensible. And yet Jesus said that the greatest love anyone can have is to give his life, not for his spouse or even his mother or child, but for his friends.

We are often told, including by many Christians, that the church asks gay people to lead an empty life devoid of love, or forces us to choose between human love in this life and God’s love in the afterlife. These false choices break hearts and spirits. Gay Catholics, even the celibate ones, can love and be loved, both by Christ who loves everyone and by the particular humans on whose shoulders we lean. Not only faith but hope and love are open to us, too.

Read Eve Tushnet’s blog here.

Eve Tushnet
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  • areyousaying

    It is impossible to be gay and Catholic – unless you’re a Priest.

  • dsulpizio

    I’m Catholic and bisexual…and celibate. Being Catholic, by definition,means accepting the tenants of Catholicism, which means as someone with same-sex attraction, that I do not act on my SSA.

  • dsulpizio

    I’m Catholic and bisexual..and celibate. Being Catholic, by definition,means accepting the tenants of Catholicism, which means as someone with same-sex attraction, that I do not act on my SSA.

  • dsulpizio

    I’m Catholic and bisexual…and celibate. Being Catholic, by definition,means accepting the tenants of Catholicism, which means as someone with same-sex attraction, that I do not act on my SSA.

  • musculars1

    Non celibate gay catholics could in good conscience stay in the Catholic Church but I think it is perhaps a bad choice to stay and support an organization that acts politically against them. To do so aligns oneself with the enemy of gay people. Oddly enough I would encourage my family to stay and fight the good fight on my behalf. Because as the hen and pig discussing breakfast, on this issue one is involved the other wholey committed

  • areyousaying

    Being a gay Catholic is like being a gay Republicans. Both groups are blatantly homophobic. Why would one torture him or herself that way and agree that they aren’t really what they are?

  • joe_allen_doty

    I am not a Roman Catholic Church member; but, using the correct meaning of “celibate,” I have always been celibate since I have never been legally married. I had a “Rest of Our Lives” covenanted relationship with Ed Pursell for almost 7 years and it only ended because he went to be with the LORD. The RCC wants gays to be chaste (which is virgin in the original sense). There are “Christians” who believe that God made some people homosexual and God expects them to be virgins their whole lives. That’s not in the Bible at all.

  • elizdelphi

    I have great admiration, respect and love for Catholics who experience same sex attraction and who live chaste good faithful lives and are able to participate fully in the Sacramental life of the Church. Commenter DSulpizio said it: that life lived in full is heroic, in the sense of heroic virtue. This is something so right, the Christian life of holiness is not a life free from suffering, weakness, difficulties, persecution, confusion and temptations, but a life of determined faith and virtue, above all of charity, in full Communion with the Church, and the successor to St Peter. There is true peace and joy to be found in such a life and as much as everyone else people who experience same sex attraction are called to be holy, to be saints. God doesn’t look at anyone and see “ontological gay-ness”, on the contrary sexual complementarity is integral to His creation and loving plan for us as men and women. In heaven, nobody is “gay or lesbian”; according to Jesus in the Gospels no one is married in heaven either; in heaven the Saints enjoy the vision of God, union with God. God has espoused Himself as husband to His bride, humanity.Celibate chastity is my own free and wholehearted choice for my life and we know from the words of Jesus and of St Paul that it’s even a better choice than marriage. Christian tradition has perenially reemphasized celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God as an anticipation of the heavenly marriage of union with God.

  • savedgeezer

    Whatever happened to repentance and the turning away from what God Himself has called sinfull?? Even though they may be gay and celibate, do they fight for the rights of God or the rights of gays ? You cannot have it both ways. Scripture is clear.

  • schnauzer21

    I am sorry to say, but it is individuals sucjh as the author that are doing more damage to the GLBT cause than any other group. By saying they are GLBT, and yet following the church teaching on the issue and remaining celibate, is saying you agree that it is a mental disorder and a choice to be avoided. Medical science has proven time and time again that it is genetically and hormonally based and that it is not something we can change.If it is just a choice, why do you not just change your mind? If it is not a choice then your god did indeed make you that way and why are you choosing to go against his plan?

  • Rayden1234

    Some religions are like the tea party. Or the tea party are like the religions that teach hate and spread bigotry through out history. When we learn that people are no more than a part of the animal kingdom and that we are only natural to our nature. Maybe then they will all see that we can not be free until all of use are free.

  • lepidopteryx

    I can’t imagine living my whole life without the experience of sexual pleasure just because my church didn’t approve of the adults I wanted to have sex with. And unless they’ve changed their tune, the Catholic Church doesn’t approve of self-pleasuring either. So those who aren’t attracted to the opposite sex are to serve their god by living lives of sexual frustration?

  • musculars1

    On what basis other than a disordered reading of natural law that codifies one’s own bigotry and unexplicated appeal to positive law(which would be laughable if advanced) does the pope and his holy bishops declare gay sex disordered? The fallacies of logic regurgitated in the comments permeate any rational discussion and when exhausted the only argument is “because I told you so! Rome has spoken!”