I belong to two groups that are defining in my life and, often, in my actions. I’m a gay man who came of age in the AIDS era and who spent many years before that living with a sense of isolation and stigmatization in a 1970s society that was far from the model of acceptance we see today.
I’m a Catholic man who abandoned my faith during that exact same coming-of-age era, and having reclaimed it after years of searching, find it to be a source of strength and comfort that I treasure.
It’s a fascinating and concerning time to be a member of these disparate groups. Having lived through a time when even whispers of being gay, let alone publicly out, were cause for rejection, there’s a lot of comfort when society confers upon you a level of acceptance heretofore unknown.
And the breaking down of the stigmatization will, hopefully, translate into declines in the heightened rate of drug and alcohol addiction, STDs, youth homelessness and suicide rates in the LGBT community. Increased acceptance has to impact these numbers, which are harrowing.
Meanwhile as I watch the modern gay community flourish, I see a church that I love and which I credit with saving my life when I found sobriety, caught in a whirlwind that grows more heartbreaking with each passing year. I sat in church this past Easter season, seeing smaller crowds than I did last year (when there were smaller crowds than the year before). I see my church accused of being anti-women and beholden to a past that no longer looks like today’s America.
I watch with both resentment and sorrow, revelation after revelation of cover up of crimes of abuse (fortunately, we here in Philadelphia were gifted with a wise leader, who took swift and affirmative steps to clean up the failed oversight of a number of leaders before him). I don’t blame the church for the crisis, though I do blame failed leadership, and pray that the pain these leaders have caused thousands of victims internationally can be rectified.
Besides the bad headlines for the church, many dioceses and parishes across the nation have ministries devoted to the unique spiritual needs of the gay community. And the largest NGO provider of AIDS-related medical treatment and services throughout the world? Yes, the Catholic Church.
It’s been tough throughout my life being gay. It’s often been tough being Catholic. But try being a gay Catholic, and finding your place, especially when the two communities have struggled over the years with each other.
All of this leads to a fundamental question at a historic time: how does a gay Catholic acknowledge Pride Month, which commenced June 1? And going even deeper, how do we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the cornerstone for the modern movement toward societal acceptance of the historically marginalized homosexual community, as celebrations across the nation are recognizing this year?
But as I stand proud for who I am, I also stand proud as a Catholic man, who has grown quite weary of the political leaders who ride on the biggest floats in these Pride events, talking of inclusion on one hand while waging war on the church with the other.
When members of our faith are attacked for simply being Catholic, as Mazie Hirono did on a national level or Brian Sims did on a local level in recent months, it’s clear that their model of inclusion is as discriminatory as many would claim religious leaders have been toward the gay community for so many years.
For me, the answer to remembering Stonewall in a manner consistent with my faith lies in service to, and dialogue between, my dual communities. The phrase “building a bridge” has gained a degree of renown in certain sectors by those looking to promote dialogue between the Catholic and gay communities. And I’m eager to promote this dialogue, as I feel it is essential to both communities.
So this is my plan for Pride:
— I’ve committed to making an effort to promote anti-bullying efforts in my local Catholic schools. Those most often the victims of bullying are also often the ones without the resources to fight back as the brave members of the gay community did that early morning of June 28, 1969 in Greenwich Village. By purchasing educational materials consistent with Catholic teaching, I feel I am honoring the spirit and message that both communities have at their core.
— I’m going to accept the invitation to evangelize that is at the heart of the modern Catholic movement. Whether speaking at a parish gathering, as I have been fortunate to do on numerous occasions, or in simple one-on-one conversation, getting the true word about the church’s message for the gay man and woman needs to be spread. And I encourage anyone like me to speak up. Ask your parish to host an evening of honest adult dialogue. Ensure that doctrinally correct literature (for example, Father Mike Schmitz’s “Made For Love”) or DVDs are available in your parish library.
— I’m going to pray for a coming together. As I mentioned earlier, the bridge between these two communities requires understanding and dialogue, which often both seem in short supply. Maybe united in prayer, we can seek out common ground and temper the harsh public discussions that often arise at the intersection of religion and sexuality.
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