last Sunday of communion to Catholics in St. Paul, Minnesota made national headlines in the US. The Washington Post, for instance, noted that over fifty Catholics were denied participation in their faith tradition’s ritualistic meal of remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection
Church authorities insist that this denial stemmed from the fact that the 50 or so Catholics were wearing a rainbow-colored sash, a symbol that authorities maintain is a sign of protest against Church teaching on homosexuality.
The Rainbow Sash, however, actually symbolizes acknowledgment and celebration of the diverse gift of human sexuality – a diversity that includes both heterosexuality and homosexuality.
As Brian McNeill, coordinator of the Twin Cities-based Rainbow Sash Alliance notes in the Washington Post article, “the premise of the sash is that gay people are part of the Catholic community, part of the people of God. We are proudly celebrating Mass.”
Of course, according to official Catholic teaching, it’s not being “gay” that’s the primary problem. Rather, it’s the “proudly celebrating” of one’s gayness that’s untenable.
In Catholicism’s official teaching, the homosexual orientation is understood as something an individual doesn’t choose. Nevertheless, homosexual persons, like myself and others, are told by orthodox Catholicism that we must view our sexual orientation not as a gift from God worthy of celebration and integration into our lives, but as a trial, as a cross to bear, as something loathsome that must be kept separate from our relational lives. Under no circumstances are we to express our sexuality, as such expression is considered a moral evil.
In practice, however, the majority of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Catholics, along with the people who know and love them, reject such a negative and life-denying understanding of homosexuality. Common sense, personal experience, and the findings of the social and medical sciences overwhelmingly support such a rejection.
As internationally renowned researcher on sexuality and sexual health, Dr. Simon Rosser, remarked in a 2004 interview I conducted for The Rainbow Spirit, the journal of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), “whether it’s homosexuality, contraception, premarital sex, divorce, masturbation, or HIV prevention, the official Church position is now so extreme, so negative, so ultra-conservative, and so ill-informed, that I’m confident that less than five percent of Catholics actually believe or follow Catholic sexual teaching. In this situation, either the Church reforms or it dies. Given the ability of the Catholic Church to survive, I’m confident it will reform. But we have to do our part . . .”
And GLBT Catholics are doing their part. Far from being immoral and separated from God, GLBT Catholics who are acting in good conscience and living fully human, relational lives, have gone to great lengths to attune themselves to the presence of God within all aspects of their Catholic tradition.
Yes, we’ve dutifully studied, reflected upon (and ultimately rejected) the ill-informed and homophobic rhetoric of the Vatican. Yet we’ve also reflected upon the words of prophets and theologians, studied the findings of the modern sciences, and cultivated prayerful interior lives wherein we’ve gone deep – soul deep – and heard the still small voice of God’s transforming love within. We’ve embarked on all of these endeavors while journeying through the pain and uncertainty of discovering we are gay in a predominantly straight world - one that is often hostile to the reality of our lives.
Yet throughout, that still small voice says, “Be not afraid!”
It says that we, as GLBT people, are created in God’s image.
It says that our homosexuality is a sacred gift – one that we are called to express lovingly and responsibly.
It says that our “cross to bear” isn’t our homosexuality, but rather the homophobia of our church and society.
This voice tells us that ultimately, love trumps tradition; that conscience, informed by God’s presence in the depths of our being, trumps doctrine developed by others unmindful of our reality and of God’s presence in our lives.
Dismissive of such a sacred presence and the journeys of faith that it compels GLBT people to courageously embark upon, some within our Church have declared that it is only “the way of chastity within the framework of prayer and the sacramental life” that will make GLBT people truly happy. Yet I and many others have experienced another “way” within this same framework – that being the way of conscious and compassionate living.
For some GLBT people such living may indeed mean a celibate life. Yet for others, their conscious, compassionate lives will call for and be sustained by the sacramental experience of a loving, committed relationship with another of the same gender. This is our truth, our sanctifying truth, as baptized Catholics. It is thus part of the truth of the Catholic Church.
The time is long overdue for those in positions of official leadership to recognize and honor such truth. They could start by ceasing to exclude those wearing the Rainbow Sash from participating in the Eucharistic meal of our shared faith.
See also the related Wild Reed posts:
• My Rainbow Sash Experience
• “Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”
• A Catholic's Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
• “Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash
Image: My friend David McCaffrey took this photo of me last year when we participated in the Pentecost Sunday mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.