Earlier this year, “gay Catholic” Joseph Prever remarked that he had a problem with some of the language surrounding homosexuality in the Catholic Church: “Many of us emphasize the need to move towards self-acceptance and away from shame. For this reason we often stay away from the language of ‘disorder’ and ‘brokenness’ that often surrounds the issue…” Recently, Ron Belgau of “Spiritual Friendship” had this to say about the word “disordered“ and its apparent effect on those who may hear it: “There’s a place for that. Present-day culture doesn’t understand the philosophical framework of the catechism, and often interprets it, falsely, with a psychological lens, which makes it sound less-than-merciful.” Aaron Taylor, another member of Mr. Belgau’s circle, commented further: “One problem with the language of ‘intrinsic disorder’ is that almost no-one apart from theologians trained in the scholastic tradition correctly grasps its meaning.”
This past summer, I spent almost every Sunday in San Francisco’s Castro District, the gay center of the Universe and the birthplace of the modern “gay” liberation movement. I know the neighborhood well as I walked into it as a rather stupid and naive boy of eighteen in 1988. Although the near height of the AIDS crisis, I was so convinced that I was “gay” – I willingly took the risk. I thought it would be worth it – considering, after spending most of my life, to that point, as the school “faggot,” I foolishly thought that nothing could be as bad and painful as that. Later, after standing by too many open graves, I began to realize that nothing much had changed; I was still that frightened boy, looking for anyone to accept him, that, ten years before, stepped blindly into the Castro. But, I couldn’t leave. Instead, I decided to stay and die, but the Lord Jesus Christ took pity on me.
The Lord found me as a blooded and beaten piece of flesh, like the “Good Samaritan,” He picked up the road kill everyone else passed by and saw to my care – He paid the bill. When I came to, I never wanted to go back to that place where I crashed. Now, over fifteen years later, I go there all the time. It doesn’t hurt anymore. For, I gave all that was “gay” in me to God. And, He healed it. My only prayer is to help others find that same peace in themselves. That is why I walk endlessly up and down Castro Street, Market, and Folsom wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with my web-site: www.jesuslovesgaymen.com and www.jesuslovesgaywomen. To the questioning and the wholly dissatisfied: it begins a conversation.
Since 2012, when I began this ministry, I have spoken to literally hundreds of “gay” men. The vast majority are former Catholics – usually having been raised in a Catholic home and attending Catholic parochial schools. After hearing this: I always ask: “Are you still Catholic.” The answer is almost unanimously: “No!” I inquire: “Why?” Here, the answers are strikingly similar. And, they have absolutely NOTHING to do with words like “disorder:” in fact, none have even heard of it in terms of Catholicism and homosexuality. In reality, the reason they leave is rather simple: like many in my generation, heterosexual and homosexual alike – it was just plain apathy. Especially for gay men, with a world of “love” and acceptance awaiting in the “gay” world: the Church seemed irrelevant; what could compete with instant fulfillment after a life filled with isolation and emptiness? Then, at that point: “gay” is greater than God.
Looking back to the point when I gave up any still lingering allegiance to Christ or His Church, it wasn’t so much a singular moment in time, but a process that started in childhood. And, this is where I would make the argument that “gay” men do not leave the Church because it is too conservative, but because it is too liberal. As gay men, growing up rather confused and isolated, as adults we become instinctively attracted to order and community: this is evidenced in the often obsessive fastidiousness of gay men and the rather fascistic pecking order of masculine dominance seen everywhere from gay porn to the local dance club and bar; gay men are also preoccupied with an apparently endless calendar of social and political events: parades, rallies, street fairs – at which, although attended my thousands, they seem to know and hug everyone. Combined with this, is a near indestructible love of beauty; in the midst of bloated and blotched bodies dying of AIDS, gay men still worshiped the beautiful male form; I saw it everywhere in gay porn; believing it – I half expected to arrive in San Francisco and, to see no one that was sick.
In the post-1960s Vatican II era, the church-going experience, at least in California, become a rather sappy and folkish affair with guitar playing and lots of hand-holding; (in the late-80s, I was fascinated by some ex-Catholic homosexual men that I knew who oftentimes made pilgrimages to high-Anglican services; relishing the beauty of the music and the graceful gestures of the ritual;) while in Catholicism, the once exquisite church interiors, in particular the lush poly-chrome statues of the Saints, were stripped in favor of a more clean and decidedly un-ethnic appearance; the florid sort of Italian-Catholicism I grew up with at home was nowhere to be seen in our local church-in-the-round. But, at the same time, in the late-70s to early-80s, gay culture was exploding: reaching a high-point with Madonna and her music-video “Like a Prayer;” a cunningly deceptive, but stunning, piece of propaganda which mixed old-world Catholic imagery and pornography. The powerful iconography that Catholicism was no longer interested in – Madonna picked up. In my head, this was real – what felt incredibly false was being forced to sing once again the tired lyrics to “The Sounds of Silence” at our school Mass.
And, just like the men I talk with, as boys and teenagers, we absolutely had no idea what the Church taught with regards to homosexuality; despite what some imagine – I never experienced a rejection from the Church: no one ever spilled vitriol about homosexuality, said I was going to hell, or made me feel like I had a “disorder.” If anything, I came to believe that “gay” was rather inconsequential; like masturbation, a private matter that we didn’t discuss. During my twelve years in Catholic school, I can recall the subject of sexuality only being mentioned once: a rather intense looking associate pastor at our church, filled-in as our instructor for “Religion” class. During that hour, our laywoman teacher was nowhere to be seen; when she got back, in the middle of his recitation concerning the evils of masturbation, I could plainly see that she was irked. Afterwards, Father got the bum’s rush and our teacher began to apologize profusely; at least for the day, it was quite the scandal. After school, I remember hearing the other children speak of the incident – everyone blew it off and regarded the priest as a loose nut.
While Catholicism seemed confused, hopelessly conflicted, and stuck in a weird sort of hippie-Jesus phase, “gay” culture looked solid and offering the ultimate answer. And, following my wasted childhood in Catholic school, “gay” was not only who I was, but what I believed, and how I thought: it offered an identity and a philosophy; when I arrived, “gay” theology was still based on survival and the demand for AIDS research; in the early-90s, everyone was tired of the stink from death and wanted to party again – the focus shifted, at the time – I thought bizarrely, to gays in the military; after the salvation of viral cocktails, the “gay” train pumped steam heavenward, returned to its disco-era roots of bang till you drop, and, at nearly thirty, I couldn’t keep up anymore – I fell down and didn’t want to get back up.
Today, the men who are beginning to contemplate a deeper meaning to their lives – besides “gay,” are nearing a similar point of over saturation; like I did, they have done nearly everything sexual that there is to do – yet, they still feel curiously empty. I ask them if Jesus is anywhere on their radar. For the most part, the answer is “No;” as they are stuck in the memories of a Catholic Church that was in the midst of an internal upheaval in the 70s and 80s. Today, their opinion hasn’t changed – with “gay” internet web-sites featuring such headlines as “Belgian bishop says Catholic Church should bless same-sex couples” and “Mexican Catholic bishop says homophobes are the sick ones not gay people” and “Catholic Bishop Cites Leviticus, Claims Gays Deserve Death.” To many: the Church still looks confused and chaotic; combined with the bad press surrounding the priest-sex-scandal: most gay men see the Church as a closet filled with latent homosexuals who are obsessively self-conflicted and endlessly caught within their own world of bureaucratic dialogue. Despite still dealing death – “gay” continues to offer more.
The answer: an honest and courageous full revelation of the Truth: despite what some think, the “Catechism,” and its wording, is neither off-putting nor un-pastoral; what it does offer to “gay” men is a sense of solidity. And, to those who are searching – it does offer an answer; albeit a difficult and challenging one, but an answer. For, although it breaks my heart, most gay men will only start to question the concept of their “gayness” when they reach a crisis stage: either someone dies, they get dumped one too many times, or they get seriously ill. Then, they begin to question. That’s precisely where and when I meet them. Right then, NOW, the Church needs to be a Father to these men; like the Prodigal Son, they know they have made the wrong decisions and are tired of literally sleeping with the pigs; they need the Love of the Father. Here, the Church must provide: strong, resolute, and manly men. And, they do exist. Back in April of this year, I met two Franciscan Friars of the Renewal on a somewhat chilly day in San Francisco; here, I was, bundled in my heaviest winter coat, freezing, only about 60-65 degrees outside, and the New York City based Friars are walking about in bare feet. These were real solid men; something the Church seems to lack at times; and, this is why so many lost and lonely boys turn to “gay” culture, for despite the “fairy” stereotype, the homosexual world is filled with oily flexing-hyper-pumped men; in my youth, the priests always felt affected and strangely neutered. Yet, what authentic and unafraid Catholicism has to offer is bold and not conflated like the gay steroid-prima-donnas; its real, and it’s the answer. Remarkably, it all comes together – when I saw these outwardly rough and tumble men, radically change, and then become radiantly beautiful while offering the Sacrifice of the Mass. Man transformed. And, the possibility of “gay” men transformed. That is my prayer.