by: Ian Rogers
I sit cross-legged on my bed, staring at the streetlamp across the road, beside the courtyard where my friends once played. For those of you that don’t know -and I think that is most of you, Internet- this place is a sacred space. Like a shrine to the apparition of some saint or the occurrence of a miracle, this spot reminds me of God’s presence in the world. It marks not only the place of my conversion, but the time I opted out of suicide and whispered my first earnest prayer. So it makes sense that I start writing here of all places. This spot is a place for new beginnings, where I first began my journey as Ian, the gay Catholic.
That’s right. You read it correctly. I am a gay, Virgin Mary-loving, saint-intercessing, knees-bowed, eucharist-bound Catholic boy who’s proud to say he attends the Roman rite. And although my friends at college have heard — nay, been brow beaten with — my love for all things churchy, tonight I am coming out. Way out. Like, the heavenly host proclaiming the birth of a Savior through songs of jubilation, out. So, get ready for this Catholic explosion — because it’s a doozy.
As you socially conscious queers and allies probably know, this month has not been a good one for Queer/Catholic relations — but is it ever? For those of you out of the loop, everything started with a conflict regarding a newly planned route for the Chicago Pride Parade. Due to problems with crowd control and traffic in last year’s parade, the city and parade planners moved the route to pass in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. The church was not consulted with the change until it happened, and grew worried with that the parade would interfere with their Masses. Conflict born.
Then Cardinal George came crashing into the situation. On a local Fox News interview, the Cardinal implied that the gay liberation movement could morph into something like the Klu Klux Klan, with its anti-Catholic rhetoric.
Then he reminded the public that while every person deserves respect and access to spiritual help, homosexuals need to live chastely or participate in a heterosexual marriage in order to live a life in discipleship with Jesus Christ.
Okay, the whole “strap a chastity belt on the homosexual” act is nothing new. But at least the Magisterium is getting creative with their phobia. I never saw the ol’ Gay = Klu Klux Klan comparison coming!
So how does a person remain Catholic after such vitriolic statements? Or, better yet, how does one remain Catholic when the official documents produced by the Vatican call homosexual relations “intrinsically disordered.” At face value, the Church’s culture is toxic, stubborn, and evil. How does one spiritually thrive when all seems lost? Why remain a Catholic?
These questions reverberate around my head whenever one of these scandals makes headway in the news. They revisit every time a priest, whether they have good intentions or bad, mentions homosexuality. They torment me when I hear rumors of sexual abuse within the clergy. They grace my head with doubts when I hear of more progressive, Protestant churches making headway. They ask: Why? Why? Why?
And yet, I am still Catholic.
I stay because I believe in the Nicene Creed, that little “ditty” we say right before we partake of the Lord’s Supper. I close my eyes and with a heavy breath I utter in an almost Delphic trance: “I believe in God, the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth…” I understand these words, not the Pope’s words, are my beliefs.
But I also believe in the papacy, though I disagree with most things our Pope says about how to live a moral, sexual life.
I see things with a Catholic eye and aesthetic. Protestant and Catholic worship are different, and I know I can say this because I regularly attend Methodist services after Mass back home. I enjoy the rowdy singing and clapping, the worship with guitars, the rousing speeches the pastor gives when he intones with the Spirit. I imagine I am in an ancient house-church in Turkey and that the people around me are my family. But it is different from how I feel at a Catholic church. Yes, they offer that vital role of support everyone needs. But something is missing.
I feel dispossessed in large auditorium-like churches where pictures of Jesus are stripped of His Sacred Heart, as if actual biology overcame the loveliness of symbolism. I do not like crosses that lack The Suffering Man nailed to it, flesh whipped and head crowned with thorns. They appear to me barren, merely signs without expression. And I find myself asking, “Where are the Saints?” Where is Mary holding her Child, smiling in her secret joy? Where is Joseph, holding his staff of lilies over Mary to adore his adopted Son? And where are the modern saints? What about St. Therese of Liseaux, St. Ignatius of Loyola, or St. Bernadette Soubirous, whose wellspring supposedly cured my Nana from blindness?
Most of all, where is the Eucharist? I believe in that little morsel of love which God gives in each Mass. Not only is God present to me in church, but he asks me to partake and share of His essence. A flush of joy enters into me when I know He is physically there.
I worship Jesus at bent knees and in adoration of the Eucharist. Tell me what other place can offer this, and I will go.
The truth is that Catholicism isn’t just a religion; it is a tradition that is ingrained. I know that this is the rite by which all my ancestors have worshipped, from century to century. When I go to Mass, I join with them and my family above, with the Saints and the Angels, praising God. Corrupt, wicked prelates have cycled through the church, but this perspective remains the same. And I think the way I see things is beautiful.
I also find acceptance there.
Surprising, I know. But all the priests or people I care to have friendships with affirm me as whom I am. I do not shy from expressing myself, even if that means I make a few enemies or lose a few jobs working in the Church.
Yet, I am not ignorant to my own privilege. I chose a Catholic college that didn’t have trouble accepting the gay part of the LGBTQ spectrum. I know full well that transphobia is a consistent problem on campus. When I go home, I know that I can expect the same old homophobia, which at times is brutal. Once I was intellectually cornered by a priest in confessional on matters of Natural Moral Law. He slyly berated my views on homosexuality and told me that if I were to continue on the path that I was going, I would burn.
I was not able to enter my home parish with comfort for months.
I am still a Catholic.
The questions of “why” will always rattle about my head, but an even greater desire lies deep within to calm them. More questions bubble out. I wonder what other Catholic children would do without queer Catholic role models. What if they are left with only messages from people like the Cardinal? It’s then that I put my battle helmet back on — sometimes without knowing why — and get back to the good work.
Some queer activists believe that true progress will be made when the Catholic Church disappears from history. They believe that with the current flux of people leaving the Church, the Church will slowly dissipate and collapse from within. Afterwards, we will have true morality; sexual shame will be destroyed and people will explore liberal values more fully. Some will even go so far as to say that the Catholic Church is devoid of morality. This is a simplistic and bigoted opinion, just as bigoted as the Cardinal’s thoughts. They forget that I and many other queers and allies are part of this church and the movement. We are present, we are fighting, and the siege will not be lifted.
I see great shifts happening in our Church. The laity is unsettled. Catholic theologians are moving ideological positions. Conservative priests are losing their moral authority through their hypocrisies. It is like hearing ice crackle underneath a giant glacier. You can sense the tremors in the accepting whispers of the confessional, in personal letters, or more loudly in the outright conversations with some priests. I believe the hoarse breath of clericalism will not be able to hold back the currents. Indeed, I believe the Holy Spirit is flying.
And Catholic opinions are changing. The Public Religion Research Institute published statistics in 2011 that state that though Catholics are more likely to hear negative messages about homosexuality, Catholics are more supportive of legal recognition of same-sex couples than any other Christian denomination. Furthermore, it also states that the majority of Catholics (56%) do not believe that sexual relations between homosexuals is a sin. Among the general population, only 46 % believe it is not a sin. The official Vatican positions are rigid, but many American Catholics question them.
The Cardinal’s words are appalling. Nothing justifies comparing our movement and community to the KKK. But he is right that there is some anti-Catholic sentiment within the community. And reasonably so. The Magisterium says ugly things about our people, though they purport that they are an accepting bunch, so long as we do not express what makes us uniquely queer. But do not forget about us Catholic queers. Do not denigrate our experience. We are with you.
Please do not assume that I am oppressed when you meet me. If I need your liberation, I’ll come get you. But I believe there is dignity in suffering like my Lord. If I cry out, listen and empathize. If I need your advice, I will ask.
Please do not assume that I am holier than you. I am not. We are both people. We make mistakes. I’ll admit I have strayed from Jesus’ teachings before. I am not perfect. I am not a hypocrite. We are both human.
Please do not think I am some virgin white statue, untouched and untouchable. I am a living, breathing creation of God. There are enough statues in the Vatican for one world. I too desire love, sex, and friendship. I am not made of stone.
See me for who I am: the boy sitting on his bed, in his sacred space, looking out his window into the world for comfort. Will you deny one part of him, and accept the other? Will you take an axe and cut him into two, taking only that what you want? Well, then, you do not accept me at all. And look. The boy is dead. What use are all my parts separated?
Accept me as this jumbled-up Catholic boy. If I blow up with enthusiasm for my Church, understand it is just one of my quirks. It doesn’t mean that I do not recognize the injustices my church perpetuates. Quite the contrary, I am your useful ally on the inside. But I see life from a different perspective. It is not necessarily better or worse. But it is just as real as yours.
When I sit staring at the streetlamp shrine, I eventually close my eyes to let the light wash over my eyelids. Waiting calmly, I breathe slower and slower, fingers at first folded together in prayer. Then my hand reaches out into the shadows. There is a warm feeling. Jesus sits next to me, holding my hand, and the streetlamp is like the Father’s eye, exuding His radiant kindness. With the Father overhead, and Jesus by my side, the Holy Spirit translates our silence into love. We talk. And sometimes we dream.
This is why I am still a Catholic.
Ian Rogers is currently a student at Loyola University Chicago studying Creative Writing and Theology with an emphasis on Catholic Studies. He is the Safe Space Coordinator on the board of Advocate and is planning the first queer retreat on campus. Ian aspires to be a novelist, pastoral councilor, and LGBTQA activist. He enjoys cordial cherry chocolates, travel, and pieces by Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky. If this were a pageant, he would also enjoy bubble baths and world peace.