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.