In my role as both executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and editor of Rainbow Spirit, CPCSM’s journal publication, I’ve had the honor of interviewing some very inspiring people over the past three years.
I’d like to share these interviews via The Wild Reed, and will begin today with the first interview I conducted in the fall of 2003, shortly after my election by the CPCSM board to the position of co-president – a position that morphed into pastoral coordinator and then executive coordinator.
The fall 2003 issue of the Rainbow Spirit was also the first one I worked on as editor – although I had helped launch the very first issue of the publication back in 1997.
I’ve always enjoyed interviewing people and given the events in the Twin Cities during the summer of 2003 surrounding Kathy Itzin, she seemed the perfect person to be my first Rainbow Spirit interviewee.
And after reading Kathy’s honest and insightful responses to my questions, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The Voice of a Good Heart
An interview with Kathy Itzin
By Michael Bayly
Kathy Itzin, religious educator and member of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, was unwittingly in the news this past summer. CPCSM co-president Michael Bayly caught up with Kathy over coffee to find out what all the fuss was about.
Michael Bayly: Can you explain the recent incident involving the rescinding of your catechetical award by Archbishop Flynn?
Kathy Itzin: Earlier this year I was nominated for a Catechetical Leadership Award. It’s given annually to a number of professional educators in the diocese – to youth ministers, religious education directors, and teachers in Catholic schools.
The person who nominated me filled out a three-page form which asked things like: How [does the person being nominated] reach out to the poor? How do they work for justice? How do they show excellence in teaching? How do they further their own spiritual development? [The nomination process] was very holistic.
I was honoured to be nominated and then later, honoured to be selected. Two days before [the awards ceremony] the archdiocese called to let me know that because they had concerns about my “lifestyle”, it was impossible to give me the award.
Michael Bayly: What has been the most painful part of this experience for you?
Kathy Itzin: I’ve really tried to live a life of integrity – a life of justice and honesty. I try to make choices in my day-to-day life [that reflect these qualities]. Before I had children, when I had more time to volunteer, I would do [that type of activity]. I enjoy it and believe in it.
From my perspective I have a really happy, healthy life – and a happy, healthy family. I’m very grateful and feel very blessed by that. So it’s difficult to have somebody say that my example of who I am and what I do is contrary to Christian doctrine. If you’re looking at the letter of the law, it is. But from my perspective it’s the exact opposite.
Michael Bayly: How has it been for your kids?
Kathy Itzin: It was hard at first with all the media attention. My oldest daughter, Annie – who’s just turned thirteen – thought she should stay home from school because she was worried about me. I told her I was fine and to hightail it to school. When she got there and her teacher asked how she was doing, Annie started crying.
[My partner] Carol and I have received letters from all over. A huge number are positive, but there’s always a few that are, like, what you’d call hate mail. People have called us on the phone and it’s happened that they’ve all been positive. But I’ve been talking with my children about how if they answer the phone and somebody’s saying something really mean, they just hang-up.
[Despite] the tenseness [of the situation] our home life is still pretty normal. But just the number of supportive phone calls at night meant no bedtime story for three days. So it’s been stressful for them in that way.
Michael Bayly: Why do you remain in the church given its stance on gender and sexual orientation?
Kathy Itzin: I see it as like being in the United States. I’m really against the war in Iraq, I’m really against the insane government cuts to programs serving the poor. It makes me incredibly angry that in many ways the United States government does not share the values that I have. But I’m not going to move to Canada.
In a similar way there are certain things about the church that drive me insane. Yet there is more about the church that I see and which can give hope and courage to people. [There are aspects of the church] that encourage spirituality and empowerment to transform the bad things in the world into good things. I’m able to be part of that while I’m in the church. And at the same time, I get nurtured and challenged and transformed also.
Michael Bayly: What have been some of the steps in your journey whereby you have reconciled being both Catholic and lesbian?
Kathy Itzin: There’s been several. One step involved realizing that God and the church are two different things. [Another is that church] teaching evolves – and is always evolving. Once I realized that God’s fine with [who I am], it made all the difference.
At St. Benedict’s I was taught many things about faith and spirituality that I appreciate. It was a very stable community. I majored in theology and was taught that it is important to be questioning all the time, to be encouraging the church to grow. That became part of me.
Michael Bayly: Have you ever questioned your decision to be out, and to be an educator and - to varying degrees – an activist with groups like CPCSM and Rainbow Families?
Kathy Itzin: I decided a long time ago that this is my life. I’m not going to live my life based on fear, based on hiding. This is who I am and I’m happy about that. I’m also happy with my family and the choices I’ve made to get the family I have.
It’s not, like, I broadcast it around – I don’t. However, I don’t apologize for my life or our family. This is who we are and we participate in the community [of the church] like every other family – and on some level more so – simply because I’m on the staff [of St. Joan of Arc].
Michael Bayly: The local church, and in particular the community of St. Joan of Arc, clearly acknowledges your story, i.e., the human dimension of your struggle to live a full and meaningful life as the person you were created to be. Why do you think stories like yours are not acknowledged and nurtured by the majority of those “higher” in the hierarchical church?
Kathy Itzin: It’s important to remember that s much is changing so quickly. I mean it was only in 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality was not a mental disorder. So in terms of two thousand years [of the Christian tradition], thirty years is not that long. Much of the information we have about sexual orientation has happened in a very short period of time.
Church teaching on important issues has evolved and continues to evolve. I mean, it took the church until 1860 before it came out against slavery. [With regards to sexual orientation issues] it’s starting – we’re getting a lot of education in the last sixty years.
Scripture, tradition, experience – we need to integrate all of these through open discussion. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of this type of discussion within the church. We need to have people of good hearts, versed in theology as well as their personal experience, getting together and honestly discussing these types of issues. That’s what we need to be fostering. That’s the only way you arrive at truth – to have honest discussion by people of good heart.