Rock & a Hard Place

Posted by – December 19, 2006

I’ll admit that I find it incomprehensible to remain part of a Church that didn’t want me as a member or that felt I was “less than.” When I found out at a young age that I wouldn’t be “allowed” to be a priest, I washed my hands of the Church, and while I still consider myself culturally Catholic*, I’m also an agnostic and don’t miss mass. & I was always allergic to the incense, so I don’t miss that either. But I do still go to Saint Patrick’s to light candles in my grandmother’s memory, and I like to think she’d be quite pleased knowing that she – even from the grave – gets me into a church at all. I still read The Lives of the Saints, and I love the peace I can achieve, easily, when I’m sitting in a Church between masses. The quiet, the art, the ritual, the iconography: all these things make me feel at home.

But queer folks often don’t feel at home if they actually believe in their faith and want to be committed members of a faith-based community. One of my fellow Catholics has joined the UU but I think misses something of the aesthetics of Catholicism (one of the few things, imho, the Catholic Church did right. If you don’t feel a sense of awe entering Saint Patrick’s, I’d be very surprised).

One of the things I see Betty struggle with is how the faith she was raised in might condemn her for who she is, and she’s the one who brought this article to my attention.

I applaud the way these folks have stuck to a faith they believe in, that they feel comfortable in, and have not backed down or compromised their beliefs. But at the same time I find it quite baffling: if literal and conservative interpretation of the Bible yields the label of “sinner” for any gay or lesbian, yet you know you didn’t choose to be gay, why stay? Jesus’ advice, that those who are without sin cast the first stone, might be the key. Because we are all sinners, aren’t we? In one way or another, we are. The man who casts homosexuals out of his church or makes them feel uncomfortable has masturbated once in his life, at least. Or maybe he’s gambled, or coveted his neighbor’s wife, or over-eaten, or blasphemed, or doubted, or lied, or eaten shellfish. There are plenty of ways to sin – especially if one’s going to be strict about Old Testament restrictions – other than having sex with someone of your own gender, and I find the current Christian obsession with homosexuality as the sin that inspires Christians to act in decidedly un-Christian ways quite baffling. I still don’t remember anything in the Bible that says human beings should be judging each other’s sinfulness; last I checked, a sinner’s sins are between him and his God.

As someone raised Catholic I can’t help but find it tragic; after all, one of the huge reasons the Protestant religions happened was because the Church on Earth was interfering in the way a sinner might know his God, so for me, this current revival of people thinking they know the mind of God is a little bit of (the worst of) history repeating itself.

* By “cultural Catholic” I mean someone raised Catholic who was a descendent of a certain generation of Immigrants, who may not practice their faith but who think along its lines or honor certain Catholic traditions, ethics, and values, like the ones of Pope John XXIII. I could use the term “Catholic diaspora” here, too.

16 Comments on Rock & a Hard Place

  1. Phoebe says:

    If something is the truth, then it is the truth, and just because it may condemn me, and I may wish it were not true, my desire doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference in the matter — it will still be true. I find it very easy to understand how people can stay in a church that despises them…because they will despise themselves even more for foresaking the truth if they leave. Leaving would just be further proof of their weakness — and it is always worse to be an unbeliever than a mere sinner.

    Now, that’s not how *I* happen to think, but being raised deep in the Bible Belt, I know plenty who do, and it at least seems to be internally consistent.

  2. helenboyd says:

    i *just* finished a section in reid vanderbergh’s book Transition & Beyond about this – not an hour after writing this post.

    & he makes your very same point, tells an interesting story of an MTF who was from a fundamentalist background & had to figure out how to deal with both of his “truths.” it’s very interesting, & very useful, imho, that he tells that story.

  3. SavoyTruffle says:

    A lot of things rings true to me, especially during Christmastime. I’ve called myself a cultural catholic as well, though its meaning was somewhat different; my family are not recent immigrants, and, in fact, my father’s family is relatively recently catholic (starting with my great grandmother, I believe). To me, though, the Cultural Catholic label meant being raised surrounded by the teachings of Vatican II, and the jesuits and nuns of the seventies.

    UU is fine, and the fellowship is lovely, filled with wonderful people. But it does lack a certain grandeur. Which is both a good and a bad thing, I think.

  4. Zoe Vars says:

    I too was raised very Catholic; 13 years of Catholic school (K-12), nuns and priests in the family, alter boy (served mass with the Bishop), Eucharistic Minister, choir, the Archbishop of Canada was a family friend…
    These days I don’t even consider myself culturally catholic, though no doubt the experience of being raised as I was does color my view of things somewhat. The architecture of catholic cathedrals is awesome, but instead of moving me spiritually they tend to sicken me when I think of their cost and what good could have been done withthe money if only Rome shared its wealth. I know all the arguments for it both ways.
    I don’t miss the rituals, they all seem empty to me.
    My father is still very catholic (so he says) but he is part of a new movement that he calls something like the American Catholic Church that is trying to break from Rome. His church accepts the LG community. I’m not sure about the BT part, we’re still working on that one. They don’t like the way the catholic church deals with wealth and money, they believe in service and charity. And they practice it heavily.
    IT’s still not for me, I’m just not religious, but if you miss the Catholic church and want to go back, check out the American Catholic Church. Google it.

  5. tinasim02 says:

    I am another life-long Catholic, who’s never really been good about going to church, and has struggled to reconcile her faith with her feelings of gender identity. I have to say that I’ve spent a fair amount of time reconciling my religious beliefs with both the church’s teachings and my trans-whatever-ness. The Catholic in me feels that my trans-ness is my particular challenge from God, and it’s not important that I overcome it, but rather that I use it to help others (be it reaching out to a sister who cannot accept who she is, to my wife to help her come to her own understanding of it, or whatever). The pragmatist in me feels that it’s just what I am, and that I can do good or evil through my choices about it and the other things in my life.

    (BTW, as a Catholic, I have been appalled at how the Church is turning gay clergy into the “whipping boys” for the mistakes of the pedophilic clergy and the lack of oversight by the church hierarchy. What a loving, Christ-inspired approach to take! The church itself went from a religious organization to just another group that will protect its own in my book.)

  6. alison says:

    I find it hard to remain Catholic. Finally, our family has found a parish where the pastor doesn’t gay bash on a regular basis. I question whether this really matters when the heirarchy continues to destroy its gay members with guilt and shame. Ultimately, I know we’ll leave this church as well because the Catholic church continually shifts its priests around, allowing its worst priests to destroy multiple parishes. My wife and I have been Catholic nomads since we started dating, avoiding a string of alcoholic and diabolical priests, trying to find a place where we can enter the church without a feeling of rage.

    We still have many priest friends, and both of us have since we were young. Many people don’t realize it, but the majority of priests are closeted gay men. This was especially evident at the commitment ceremony last year for a gay former priest and his partner. Half the people attending the ceremony were gay priests, enjoying the opportunity to be out for the day in the company of an accepting crowd. The celebrant of the ceremony, our daughter’s godfather and the priest who married us, is also a gay former priest.

    The story of the number of gay priests is one we have heard time and time again from our priest friends. It makes sense. Where else is a young gay Catholic man to go to hide from homosexuality, which he is told is sinful? The celibacy of priesthood makes it a safe place to hide. Or so they think. When you get a seminary full of gay men running from their homosexuality it makes for a very strange and tempting situation. Ultimately, the closet and the solitary lifestyle lead many to depression and alcohol abuse. In the midwest, they are then sent for treatment in St. Louis to a center where the Catholic church does rehab with alcoholic priests and tries to ‘cure’ the gay ones. I considered the priesthood when I was in high school. I’m not sure why I didn’t pursue it, but thank heaven I didn’t.

    Why am I still Catholic? Some of it goes back to Helen’s thoughts of the aesthetics of Catholicism. Most of it, though, has to do with raising my daughters with some religion and sending them to Catholic school, which is a better option than the local public schools. Of course we realize there will be a number of messages they get in school that we will have discuss with our daughters. So ultimately my daughters are keeping me male, married, and in the Catholic church.

  7. Beauty says:

    I’m not Catholic, but I appreciate the beauty of the religion as it’s main goal is to save souls.

    I think you have been raised well as you can feel the serenity from being in a human building meant to be an earthly home of God.

    You’re right, your grandmother is proud of you for lighting a candle for her. You’re a very beautiful soul and your inquisitive nature is more precious to our father in heaven than those who feel they know it all … and though they admit they are not without sin, they find time in their lives to hate, judge, and cast those of us not like them out.

    I ask only what Jesus asked for them. “Father please forgive them for they know not what they do.” and if they feel they have such knowledge that I am no one to utter the words of Jesus then I ask why are they not praying for me or us in the same manner I pray for them?

    Great blog entry ma’am.

  8. lizzy says:

    I miss being part of a church community, and did briefly concider going back to my old church, but then they came out with a new rabidly anti gay, anti trans statement. It was very strong on ” love the sinner” but equaly strong on how repugnent to God, all out ” perversions ” are.
    So I’m still a religious person without a church
    I need the outward manifestation of my inner belief some times. Especialy at this time of year, there is definitly an empty place where the anticipation of a moving church service used to be.
    Lizzy

  9. Zoe Vars says:

    The group my father is involved with is called “Call to Action”.
    Based on what many of the x-catholics here are saying, it may be worth looking into. They are against Rome and don’t care what the Pope thinks. The group was formed initially in response to the sex scandal cover up and the shuffling of the priests.
    In addition, they truly embrace everyone – homosexuality is not considered a sin. They focus on charity and good works, etc…
    There are many sub-groups and they should be able to help you find a parish that will welcome you . If there is one in your area, they know about it.
    http://www.cta-usa.org
    Hope this helps someone.

  10. SavoyTruffle says:

    Zoe,

    My Dad is also part of Call to Action, and he was at the Milwaukee conference in november, as a representative of his own group “Fortunate Families.”

    IIRC, CtA is an attempt to remind the Vatican about, well, a lot of things it seems to have forgotten.

    M

  11. alison says:

    I was a part of Call to Action, though about 10 years ago. They were very accepting of all, but they seemed to be missing a few things I still found important. Most people at CtA seemed to be missing a reverence for the rituals and what Helen called the ‘aesthetics of Catholicism’. Helen suggested that is one of the few things that the church did right and I agree. It is also one of the things that CtA didn’t do well enough for me.

  12. kathayork says:

    Let’s see, so much to think about here. Not being Catholic, but having many Catholic friends I have heard alot about what is going on in the church. Many think there is too much accomodation of homosexuality in the church, in the seminaries, and in the hierarchy, here in the US anyway (but not in the Vatican itself). So there is a backlash against the liberal side. One scripture that comes to my mind is “God is love,” and another that says “love conquers all.” People are too quick to judge, I agree. But there are always multiple sides to a single story. And we need to listen to all sides with an open heart and mind. And, of course, ask for wisdom, understanding and love from God. I don’t understand alot about sin, but I believe it exists (not hard to, when you read the news). And I believe God forgives those who ask him for it. But that is between them and God, others cannot judge their relationship.

  13. m says:

    (-: I would pray for you but I don’t go to church any longer. I will send you good wishes. I would prefer to sit next to a gay, trans, bi or straight openminded person at church any day. If we can’t have open minded love and acceptance at church, then what is the point of going? Any of us, no matter who we are.

    I am a lapsed Catholic as well. There is too much hypocrisy in the religion to take it seriously. But what I love about Catholicism is the THEATER of religion. No one does the incense, stained glass, candles and tricked out priests outfits like the Catholics.

  14. Zoe Vars says:

    “Most people at CtA seemed to be missing a reverence for the rituals and what Helen called the ‘aesthetics of Catholicism’.”

    CtA is not a church or parish, but more of an activist group though. They don’t control, design or influence what sort of ceremony a particular parish or priest does as far as the mass goes. There is no such thing as a CtA mass. I’m sure that you did find yourself among a few folks that weren’t interested in the trappings, and maybe it wa a ‘boring’ (as dad would put it) service, but that wasn’t because of CtA.
    I’ve been dragged to their church on two occassions and if it weren’t for the gay couples and passionate sermon about caring and doing charitable works as social responsibility I would have sworn I wa in a traditional catholic church.

    If youcontact CtA or one of their sub groups, you’ll likely get a list of parishes that are progressive and hopefully among them will be one that is to your likeing.

    Just remember that this comes fomr someone that isn’t really interested in any of this ‘modern christian mythology’ stuff.

  15. SavoyTruffle says:

    I agree with Zoe; the mission of CtA, as I understand it, is not necessarily to take away the theater, as m says, but to remind the Vatican and to a lesser extent the American bishops, that the church can be–and should be–more progressive than it is. It’s an affirmation of the best parts of VII.

    BTW, my father has started a blog about these sorts of issues:

    http://www.williampickett.com/blog

  16. alison says:

    I guess I should have been more clear. I attended a few CtA national conventions about 10 years ago with others from my city. The trouble I had with it was that the people that were in my area that I attended the convention with (and a number of others in attendance at the convention) were willing to throw out the baby with the bath water. They were rightly concerned about issues like homosexuality and ordaining married people and women. However, many of them (the ones I was personally associated with) were much too willing to give up parts of the faith and beliefs that I was unwilling to. I saw it (and maybe still do) as a lack of reverence, though in thinking about it now, I wonder if it was just their natural response to the pain they were feeling. In the small community I was living in for college my choices didn’t include the option of a traditional Catholic mass with people who shared my beliefs. I am now at a different place in my life, and my thoughts on the ability of anyone short of the pope to change the Catholic church have changed. I realized the futility and now try to make due with the church I have.

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