I visit Thom’s site fairly regularly and have discovered that we have certain things in common. For instance, we are both drawn to the beauty of nature, are involved in anti-war activism and other forms of progressive social activism, and have the same taste in T-shirt messages! He comes across as someone I could definitely sit down with and have a long and interesting conversation over a cold beer (or a glass of good Australian wine!).
As Catholics, Thom and I also struggle with our Church’s stance on gay sexuality and its expression. Yesterday, Thom posted a very personal reflection about his journey from the Apostolic Pentecostal church of his childhood and youth, through his time with paganism, to his discovery and current involvement with Roman Catholicism. I greatly admire Thom’s brave sharing of what has clearly been, at times, a very difficult and painful struggle.
I was particularly moved by the following experience that he shares:
Thom also talks about the fiery evangelical preacher from his youth who would “preach and scream . . . while leaping about in the front of the church.”
Countless, tearful hours were spent in secret trying to “pray away the gay.” For anyone who has ever engaged in this spiritual activity, you know that it is an exercise in futility.
“It didn’t matter what he happened to be preaching about,” recalls Thom, “he always managed to sneak in ‘the gays.’ Or, rather, ‘faggots.’”
One thing I’ll say about the Roman Catholic Church’s anti-gay rhetoric, it’s certainly more sophisticated (what with its terms like “intrinsically disordered” and its appeals to “Natural Law”) than the crap Tom had to endure. Still, it’s crap nonetheless. It’s also demeaning, disrespectful, and potentially demoralizing - and Catholics such as Tom, myself, and countless others know it. Furthermore, we have to live with the pain of this awareness everyday. Indeed, contrary to what the Vatican insists, it is not our “same-sex attractions” that is the “cross” we bear, but the pain and oppressiveness of the Church’s intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt teachings on homosexuality.
I posted a lengthy response to Thom’s June 3 reflection on his blog, a reflection that he aptly entitled “Integrity.” Yet because of the limitations of Blogger with regards to length of comments and number of links that can be included in a response, not everything I wanted to say and share came through. So I’m posting it here on The Wild Reed – for Thom and for all gay Catholics struggling with the Church’s latest shift to a reactionary and exclusionary position with regards to human sexuality – and homosexuality in particular.
You certainly are a man of integrity.
Thank you for sharing your journey (your ongoing journey) with such honesty. It’s a powerful testimony and will, I’m sure, inspire and be of help to others.
I’ve thought, prayed, and written about many of the issues and questions that you raise. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts and direct you to some of my writings.
Much of what you reflect upon and write about is to do with what it means to be Catholic. I appreciate your questioning and exploration of this important question. I also appreciate your willingness to address the difficult issues around sexuality and spirituality. You are correct in your observation that the institutional Church is fixated on sex. I agree with author Eugene Kennedy when he says that this obsession is rooted in the Church’s own “unhealed wound” around sexuality.
The “Theology of the Body,” that Clayton [of The Weight of Glory blogsite] recommends is certainly something of which you need to be aware. It gives a good insight into the current thinking of the institutional Church on the issue of sexuality. Accordingly, it is extremely limited and non-reflective of many people’s experience of the sacred in their lives and relationships. Personally, I prefer the “Wisdom of the Body” as explored and articulated by folks like Evelyn and James Whitehead and Joan Timmerman.
Also, theologian Luke Timothy Johnson has written a helpful critique of the Theology of the Body. It can be found here. You also may find the writings of Joseph O’Leary of interest, as well as Daniel Helminiak’s thoughts on the “non-negotiables of human sexuality”.
Clayton, of course, is correct when he says that “there is a place for every human heart in the Church established by Christ.” Leaving aside the question of whether or not we can say that Jesus actually founded a Church at all (Hans Küng’s scholarly thoughts on this matter can be found here), I think it’s important to remember that for many of us (Catholics included) this “Church established by Christ” isn’t limited to Roman Catholicism. What we ultimately are part of is the Mystical Body of Christ. This to me is the most wondrous and important thing to hold on to. And as Dorothy Day said: “That the Mystical Body includes only the Roman Catholic Church is heresy. The Mystical Body is the inseparable oneness of the human race.”
Thom, judging by the integrity and compassion you embody, and your openness and willingness to search and journey, I believe you’re very much held in God’s loving and transforming embrace. Your questions and struggles are holy endeavors, leading you ever onwards on your journey. Many gay people have been lead away from various forms of organized religion, and as you’ve observed, sometimes it’s for their (our) spiritual survival and continued growth that they move on.
The Roman Catholic Church is driving away its gay members – and now more so than ever. In my work I often talk to people – gay and straight – working within the Church. The situation is becoming intolerable for many. One can easily despair, but then I look around (from Holland to Minnesota) and see amazing “underground” Catholic communities arising and flourishing. The hierarchy may well be abandoning us, but the Spirit stays with us and leads us on.
My prayer is that you remain trustful and open to this Spirit – wherever it leads you. And that you’ll continue sharing your journey on Ad Dominum.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Answer to a Troubled Liberal Catholic
Better Late Than Never
One Catholic Gay Parent Who Isn’t Leaving the Church