I’m a cradle Catholic, a father and a grandfather, deeply committed to the value of family. I’m heavily involved in my local Catholic parish, in a small market town in rural Surrey, one of the most conservative parts of the United Kingdom. I’m also openly gay, and happily partnered.
Some would think that’s impossible, that “gay Catholic” is a contradiction in terms. I found long ago though, that it is not. In this series of posts, and in my new video channel currently in preparation, I’ll be showing you why. I’ll show you, in fact, what I’ve learned over many years, about “How to be Happy, Catholic and Gay”.
Take Ownership of your Sexuality – It’s Good for Your Soul!
The first step is simply to take ownership of your sexuality, to “come out” – at least to yourself.
For decades, countless gay and lesbian people have found that coming out is an enormously liberating process. Mental health professionals know that it contributes to psychological and emotional growth. Theologians have similarly found that it also contributes to spiritual growth. It is is in fact a religious step, commanded by both the Catholic Catechism and the Bible.
When the senior Vatican theologian Msgr Krzysztof Charamsa came out as both gay and partnered, he described it as both liberating and a profoundly Christian step, because it was an act of honesty and integrity, which enabled him to commit fully to serving God and society, freed from shame and guilt.
Take Ownership of your Faith – It’s Good for You
Too many LGBT Catholics see the religion as a burden, a guilt trap. It need not and should not be. The English writer Hilaire Belloc wrote:
Where’ere the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s music, laughter and red, red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so,
It’s true that Vatican documents include some badly disordered language and frankly wacky rules on sex, but these are really not central to Catholicism. Get to know Catholic teaching in a broader context, including the absolute primacy of conscience. Then you too can discover Belloc’s “music laughter and red red wine” in the Catholic faith.
Form your Conscience: It’s Your Ally
It’s abundantly clear in Church teaching, that our first duty is to be true to our own consciences, even if this is in conflict with Church teaching. Following your conscience, though, is not just a simple matter of doing what you like. Conscience needs to be properly formed – and that does NOT mean simply memorising the Catechism.
The Catechism is part of it, but in addition to the disordered bits about sexual acts, learn the good bits – including the instruction to “accept our sexual identity”, and why the sexual rules are no big deal. In addition, learn something about Church history, and how there have always been queer people and straight allies in the Church, including saints and martyrs, bishops, cardinals and popes. Then, learn about the science of sexuality, both natural and social science. You will find that a same – sex affectional orientation is entirely natural, non – pathological, and is found in every human society throughout history, just like left- handedness – and is also found in every branch of the animal kingdom.
Develop a Spiritual Life – Learn to Pray.
If you still feel wary of the Church as an institution – apply direct to God, by developing a rich spiritual life. The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner has written that it is possible for each of us to have a direct experience of God – and once we have had that experience, nothing, not Church teaching, and not the bible Bible itself, can override what we learn direct from the source.
Catholic spirituality places a lot of emphasis on respect for the saints of the Church, for what we can learn from their lives, and from their spiritual or mystical writing. There are many styles of spirituality, with at least one suitable for every personality type. One example would be the rich structure of Ignatian spirituality taught by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, in his Spiritual Exercises.
Quite different, is the deceptively simple meditative practice of centring prayer. In between these two poles, are many others.
Whichever style of spirituality suits you, you should find that a strong spiritual life is the best possible defence against the abuse of religion to justify homophobia and discrimination. Some people in the Christian churches may harbour hatred – but God never does.
Practice Safer Texts: Hear the Good News of the Bible.
But in the absence of direct contact with the Lord, we still need other means to access God’s revelation, for which in Catholic teaching, we have two primary sources – the Bible, and tradition. Both have been badly abused to condemn and persecute sexual and gender minorities, but both these forms of spiritual abuse can be countered. To borrow the title of an excellent book on Bible readings for queer Christians, we need to “Take Back the Word”, to reclaim the Good News.
It’s a complete fallacy that the Bible “clearly” condemns homosexuality. Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s not a single line in the entire Bible against “homosexuality” and only a small number of verses that appear to oppose sexual acts between men – and even there, the real meaning and relevance to twentieth 20th-century lives are disputed. They really are not very important, but because they are so frequently trotted out against us, we need to make ourselves familiar with them, and understand why they amount to biblical abuse.
Then, we need to become familiar with the Good News of the Bible – – and why it is a friend, not a foe, for LGBT Christians. Get to know the numerous supportive passages, those that feature people of sexual or gender minorities, why Biblical “family values” are not what our enemies claim, and why a far more important message of the Bible is radical inclusion for all.
Take Back the Tradition
Catholic tradition, which the Church views as an additional source of divine revelation, has developed over two thousand years. However, not all of that tradition is sound. As the story of St Joan of Arc and others in church history shows us, the cardinals and theologians of the Church can at times be wrong,
Church teaching can change (and in fact, is constantly evolving, very gradually). Some of what is used today to oppose same – sex relationships is a result of what the young theologian Fr Joseph Ratzinger called a “distorting tradition”, against which we must be always on our guard.
This is especially true for lesbian, gay and transgender people. These distortions include a misrepresentation of the biblical evidence, of so-called “traditional” marriage, and of the theological tradition of natural law.
On the other hand, there are supportive elements in the Church’s long tradition, that have been lost over those two thousand years. There’s a forgotten history of queer martyrs and saints, bishops and popes. There’s a forgotten history of respect for intimate male friendships, and queer spirituality. We need to Take Back the Tradition.
Find and Join a Welcoming Church Community.
Probably the most important thing to do, is just to practice the faith, in a supportive and welcoming parish community. This may be difficult, where the perception can be that the Catholic Church is hostile to sexual or gender non-conformity, but there are many approaches to overcoming the difficulty.
For some people, it’s enough simply to attend a local parish, and participate in the Eucharistic celebration without disclosing one’s sexuality. This is not ideal, but it’s a start: many LGBT Catholics find that on the ground, parishes and parish priests are far more welcoming than is popularly supposed. If you find that your local parish or parish priest is in fact hostile, perhaps you can find another. If not, in some cities, there are explicitly welcoming parishes, or Mass celebrations especially designed for LGBT Catholics, their friends and their families. If none of these possibilities exist in your local area, there’s always the internet, and web – based faith resources and faith communities.
Always remember: “God said, it is not good for man to be alone…..” (Genesis 2).
You don’t have to be. Pope Francis has said, “The Church should be a field hospital for the wounded,” and indeed it can be – including for those wounded by the Church itself.