Some bits of an online discussion.
Earlier this month, Patrick Gothman published a piece in Medium on “What It’s Like to be Celibate, Christian, and Gay.” He writes about his attempts to live up the Catholic Church’s teachings while not hating himself, trying to contribute to the life of the Church while hiding his sexuality from his community, and how he ultimately couldn’t reconcile his Church’s teachings and his sexuality. He concludes:
“We are not so incapable of humanity that if we fall in love we must commit some herculean act of charity to convince God not to abandon us forever. To know us is to realize this can’t be true. To read the Gospels is to know this isn’t true. Some may choose celibacy if they feel called. But to demand it of us, even if you believe it is the most compassionate, Scriptural thing you can do, is to ignore the reality of our lives played out before you. We are your sons and daughters, your friends and neighbors, your pew companions whose hands you shake and whose personal lives you discreetly avoid. But to ignore us is to lose us. One way or another.”
I was involved in a discussion with Catholic young adults about this piece. After some discussion, I shared:
“Richard Sipes did a study on priestly celibacy and found that priests who had a “mature adjustment to celibacy” had four things in common: a commitment to service, a well-structured prayer life, productive work, and a strong sense of community. I think that a lot of issues related to these questions would be alleviated if we started working on providing these things for gay people, rather than reiterating teachings we all already know.”
Someone commented on how finding communities in parishes can be very difficult. I responded:
“I totally agree. They’re almost totally absent in parishes, so I think that the only thing we can do is make those things happen ourselves. Parishes don’t provide communities like they used to, so we have to create them. It’s a lot of work, which is why most of us put off doing it. But if we’re serious about being Catholics, we have a responsibility to.”
Later, after reflecting some more on Patrick’s article, I commented:
“I guess I’m a bit back and forth on it. I do see much of Patrick’s article as the natural culmination of how gay people are often treated in the Church. For example, when I was in college, my (Catholic college’s) dorm rector kicked me out of my dorm after discovering I was struggling with chastity with another student, and then he banned me from attending Mass in the dorm’s chapel (which was where all of my friends went daily). A few years later, I was offered a position working for a Catholic organization, and I disclosed that I had written about my experiences as a gay Catholic (defending and explaining Church teaching). The offer was rescinded after the disclosure. So I do think being gay and Catholic is different, that you will experience unjust discrimination regardless of whether or not you affirm Church teaching, and that the people who should defend or help or care for you most are sometimes the people that inject the most shame into your life.
That being said, I think I’m Catholic largely because of the phenomenal Catholic friends I’ve had, who’ve stayed by my side for better or for worse, whatever decisions I’ve made. They’ve resisted chastising me or telling me what to do or condemning my choices even when they were clearly not good for me. And ultimately I think those friendships have been what’s made celibacy a life-giving experience. I think that regardless of your situation in life, your sexuality is meant to be a life-giving force in the community, which is part of why the experience of sexual repression can be so difficult. It’s actually inhumane. The task for Christian communities, then, is to allow, enable, and encourage gay people to be life-giving figures, bound up in deep relationships of openness, honesty, and mutuality. The greatest barrier to this isn’t ‘the secular media’ or ‘the liberal agenda’ or gay people who have left the Church. It’s ourselves.”
When asked if I had any advice:
“One thing that I think would be really helpful is for Catholics to rediscover the virtue of hospitality. I know a group of guys that hosted dinner at their home every Friday night. Anyone was welcome to come, no one RSVP’d, and you could bring friends. It was a great way to build an ongoing community, a reliable home every week over a shared meal. I think doing things like this and committing to them can be a great way to enter into the lives of people who may be afraid of singleness.
Maybe also consider getting to know the local LGBT community a bit. Go to events and just listen. Try to see what people desire for their lives and consider how you may be able to provide this for others. Christian teachings can be hard, but we commit to them because they’re beautiful, because they’re attractive and compelling. We need to discover why Catholicism may not be attractive to others; it’s usually because of a need for us to be evangelized ourselves. If the Church and Her teachings aren’t seen as attractive, it’s because we’re failing. The Church is attractive; we may just be doing a bad job of presenting Her. The Church is hemorrhaging gay people, and we’re responsible for that.
I think another thing to keep in mind is the nature of conversion. As Catholics, we can help others be open to conversion, but it is never something we can get others to do. Conversion is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit. So we shouldn’t get discouraged if our arguments or actions ‘don’t work.’ There’s no trick or secret formula to resolving these issues. Mother Teresa never thought she could save any of the people in her care from suffering, death, or despair. But she did her best to comfort them, to care for them, and to uphold their dignity in deeply personal ways. We can do the same.”