When I was a child, at best, I would describe Catholicism as an occasionally pleasant distraction. After Mass on Sunday, my father usually took us to get donuts; at school, “religion class” was a welcome break from “mathematics” and “English.” We generally listened to Bible stories read by the teacher while everyone colored smelly mimeographed comic-book style images of Jesus. Occasionally, something truly exciting happened: our First Communion – I got to wear a tie, sit in the first pew of the church, and have a party afterwards. But other than that, I had practically no idea what all the fuss was about. Later, when I was a teenager, my parents kind of stopped going to Mass; then, when they insisted, I argued if I should even be required to go on Easter and Christmas. At this time, Catholicism was only a slight nuisance.
Suddenly, the Church returned to my consciousness; as I got older, I knew that I needed to make a decision about something. Although I struggled with the thought for several years, even at the height of the AIDS crisis, and the possibility of coming-out meant an early death, I was nearly convinced of my own homosexuality. I was gay. For a reason that is still semi-mysterious, I chose to speak to a priest. Perhaps, I had no one else to talk to; maybe because he was a man; or I simply wanted someone to confirm what I already thought, and I instinctively knew that he would do just that. While I was incredibly trepidatious, he didn’t disappoint me. But deep inside of me, I had an odd reaction that I couldn’t understand. I wanted him to say something else. Instead, he told me that I had been created this way – by God.
In the next few months, what he said seemed to make more and more sense. At school, although I tried desperately to pass-for-straight, the older boys still apparently saw right through my pitiful ruse – their torturing of me took a precipitous uptake; at home, I delved further into gay porn, and I started hanging-around men I hardly knew – guys at my father’s business, male teachers, a Catholic priest.
Later, I blamed myself – I should have gone home; I should not have gotten into his car; I should have…I should have. Regardless, I believed that my fate was inevitable.
In two years, I would find myself in a San Francisco gay bar – still looking to be in the company of men.
46% of the homosexual men in contrast to 7% of the heterosexual men reported homosexual molestation.
Over the next ten years, my contact with Catholicism was limited to attending the all-too-frequent funeral at the local Catholic parish for a young man who died of AIDS, and the odd gay back-yard wedding officiated by an off-the-clock priest. I didn’t need religion; in my estimation, the gay community provided everything I wanted: a set of beliefs, a purpose for life, and a sense of belonging – a brotherhood.
For some guys, this wasn’t enough. Over the years, a peculiar friend or acquaintance would occasionally drift in and out of my narrow field-of-view; one such special person was a thoughtful baby-boomer who grew up in a decidedly more traditional Catholic atmosphere than I did. Raised in an ethnic East Coast parish, his distance from Catholicism in adulthood caused him pain. I think his greatest desire was to successfully integrate his religion and his sexual identity. In the work of gay Jesuit priest John J. McNeill, he found a way to do that; you could be gay and Catholic: “Since most gay people experience their homosexual orientation as a part of creation,” McNeill stated, the Church’s teachings are incorrect because no loving God who deliberately make a person “with an intrinsic orientation to evil.” At several local parishes, he found priests who whole-heartedly agreed with this assessment. But he was ex-military, accustomed to discipline and a certain chain of command, and although this assurance didn’t go all way the way to the top, like those men who were concurrently fighting for the rights of gays in the US armed forces, the words of McNeill were enough for him to stay in the battle. We lost touch with each other; I subsequently heard that he died of AIDS.
I guess those same priests who handed him the book by McNeill – buried him.
I never would have thought someday I’d return to the Catholic Church. But I did. Like my friend, the pseudo-religiosity surrounding urban gay pop-culture wasn’t good enough anymore. Madonna singing “Like a Prayer” to a waxen image of a saint was only fulfilling for a brief moment. One day, I chose to step inside a Catholic church – I selected one a significant enough distance from my neighborhood of the Castro, but close enough to walk; besides, it was a pretty building with nice “decorations;” that’s about how deep was my thinking.
The priest I spoke with seemed nice enough; he wanted to introduce me to someone. Wow, I thought. Did he hook-up my dead friend?
Years before, as a semi-not-interested observer of Catholicism in San Francisco, I initially supposed that the majority of pro-gay activists in the Church were primarily relegated to a single parish located closest to the gay-ghetto of the Castro. Then, I realized that the huge rainbow flag waving in the air at Harvey Milk Plaza cast a very large shadow. A number of the parishes in San Francisco were not as bold as some; they didn’t offer “pride” Masses or LGBT ministries, but they were assuredly unwelcoming to those who questioned some of the fundamental tenants of so-called “queer” theology – namely that God made you that way.
In reality, I still believed it, but I thought it more a condemnation than a gift. I didn’t want to be constantly reminded, since birth, I had been condemned by God. I wanted to believe in a loving God; I just needed to be shown the way.
Thankfully, the Lord placed in my pathway a few very good priests, and some equally courageous Catholic laymen; they recognized a broken soul in need of help. For a while, they allowed me to mourn, boil with rage, and feel incredibly sorry for myself, but then they challenged me with the truth. I wasn’t merely the conglomeration of my former traumas. At times, I didn’t want to hear it; only they cared enough to tell me what I needed to know – not simply what I was willing to accept. That’s love. If these men cared for me, I could see a God that loved me too.
Primarily due to their inspiration, I did something I never thought I would do – even more inconceivable than returning to the Catholic Church, I went back to San Francisco; back to my old neighborhood, and back to the LGBT community. Like the brave men who helped me, I wanted to help them; not to demand that they change their lives, but to tell them the truth. Then, they could make their own decision. That’s what happened to me.
However, almost immediately, I realized that my greatest challenge did not come from any sort of secular gay-agenda, but from within the Catholic Church itself. I will never forget speaking to a certain young man at one of the gay “pride” events in San Francisco; he was interested in Christianity, but never settled into any sort of organized religion or denomination. Typically, I don’t discuss my own religion…but he asked. I said I was Catholic. He told me how he had attended a parish with a friend who is a regular parishioner; according to him, after Mass, he heard all of their talking-points: the Church is changing, same-sex marriage will be accepted, LGBT people must stay in the Church in order to make this happen. He didn’t believe it, but he believed that they believed it. Within the next few months, I met a drag-queen, who did believe it. And a guy wearing a leather harness and nothing else, he believed it too.
I don’t know why they believed what they were told; they are a precious minority. The majority of the LGBT community is not preoccupied with the internal turmoil taking place within Catholicism; if they are interested in Christianity, there are a number of denominations that accept same-sex relationships and marriages. However, there is an odd group that persists; often headed by gay academics, usually tenured professors in theology departments at Jesuit universities, their theories are frequently modeled on those once espoused by the gay Catholic theologian John Boswell. In order for these theories to make any sense, it requires an exhaustive deconstruction of nearly every Biblical passage that deals with homosexuality; Paul wasn’t referring to loving same-sex relationships, only abusive homosexual master-slave power dynamics; sometimes these theories move into the realm of revisionism: the Roman centurion in Matthew (Chapter 8) was gay and asking for Jesus to heal his same-sex partner; Jesus himself was gay and John was his lover. These theories may sound nonsensical, even blasphemous, but for those who are desperately trying to make sense of their sexuality – they can be a revelation. When I identified as gay, I didn’t need religion to help me understand who I was. I thought I knew it. But like my dead friend, there are confused, desperate, and trusting souls who are often susceptible to suggestion and manipulation. In a sense, it’s a form of predation. Tragically, those who are most distant from the center of such deceits, are also those who suffer the greatest. When I returned to San Francisco, the priests who deceived my friend were still alive and enjoying their golden-years – while he died in his 40s.
“…because I know church history, I know change takes centuries. We are planting seeds for change at the upper level of leadership.” – Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry
“Progress for LGBT Catholics is slow and happens in incremental pieces…” – Catholic Ministry for Lesbian and Gay Catholics (CMLGP) – The official Archdiocesan ministry for the LGBT community in Los Angeles
“If we leave it, if we abandon the Church then it’s never going to change. So, we have to continue living here, being an example and encouraging other people to be that example because that’s what’s going to change the Church.” – Out at St. Paul
The deceptions continue; some of the old voices remain; the most egregious of them – Jeannine Gramick, who has been officially censured (twice) by the Catholic Church; once by the Vatican, after a lengthy investigation, and a second time by the USCCB; but those documents are essentially worthless, because bishops and priests still allow her to mislead unsuspecting Catholics. Yet, new, stronger, and younger influencers have replaced her. Probably, the most notable of this group is the Jesuit James Martin. His list of controversial quotes are numerous, but the one that struck me as particularly cruel and dishonest was when he told a young Catholic man, “engaged” to his same-sex partner, that one day – he would be able to openly kiss his “husband” during the hand shack of peace at Mass. So? You might say. Only, I understand what Martin is implying – one day you will kiss in church – one day you will marry in the Church. He implied this again. When asked about the possibility, Martin said: there is “not currently” a Catholic ritual that recognizes same-sex relationships. Yet, apparently, the German bishops are working on this.
Therefore, when Pope Francis seems to give tacit approval to same-sex civil unions, it substantiates the narrative that has been circulating among LGBT Catholics for decades – that the church is changing. As one observer in the once Catholic stronghold of Ireland put it: “Nobody could have imagined it…” Now, I can surely understand why so many have chosen to stay in the Church – it actually looks like it’s changing.
For those of us who chose to embrace Catholic teachings – these theoretical “changes” have left very little room for us.
But this latest off-the-record, on-the-record, unofficial, official, misinterpreted, non-corrected remark from Francis is not the one that lost me. According to an article appearing in El Pais, the largest newspaper in Spain, on May 19, 2018, Pope Francis said to a male sex abuse survivor that: “God made you gay.” The comments were allegedly made during a meeting between Pope Francis and the victims of Chilean Catholic sex-offender priest Fernando Karadima. One of the men abused by the priest, former seminarian Juan Carlos Cruz, described his meeting with Pope Francis. James Martin, with an almost audible glee, quickly retweeted the article with the following message: Pope Francis: “God made you gay.”
My abuser, the priest who molested me when I was a teenager, said almost the exact same thing to me – before he did it. I couldn’t listen anymore. My abuser had already taken too much away from me – he almost took away my life. Now, he was going to take away what little was left of my faith.
Also, in 2018, later that same momentous year, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, in his now famous letter, made a series of disturbing accusations against Pope Francis; namely that he knew Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington DC was a serial sex abuser, and he did nothing about it; except promote him. I wasn’t surprised. My heart ached for his victims, but I was also strangely filled with hope. I thought, something will assuredly change for the better: survivors will see high-ranking prelates brought to justice, the corrupt apparatus that permitted someone like McCarrick to remain in power – will finally be dismantled, and even the Pope himself is not above the law of God; I believed – by the end of the week, he would resign. Nothing.
The dog whistle heard around the world; a signal to every priest and prelate – keep your mouth shut. A few priests have spoken out and suffered greatly. Addressing the bishops of the United States, the courageous Fr. Mark White wrote:
Speak. As individual men, as aggrieved fathers in God. As St. Thomas More put it so eloquently, “Silence gives consent.” The papal and episcopal silence at this point is genuinely sickening.
The silence is sickening, and years, even decades into this scandal, the lack of ecclesiastical accountability is truly unbearable. Those who should have experienced some sort of reckoning for the crimes they covered-up, remain largely unscathed. Similar to the dissemination of queer theology in the Church, those who are furthest from the power of the bishops have suffered the greatest. My anger towards false priests is only surpassed by the sorrow I feel for those innocent priests who are persecuted because they refuse to remain silent. Good priests have helped me; and they paid dearly. Mistreated by their bishops, a few of these priests, under enormous pressure, eventually succumbed to addiction, mental illness, and the near loss of their vocation. In our shared pain, we have forged strong friendships. But like all selfless fathers – they often disregard their own in order to help a fellow traveler carry their burden.
Almost since the day I returned to Catholicism, after a priest tried to introduce me to another guy, I have contemplated leaving the Church. But my personal journey towards the truth occurred simultaneously with my father’s long walk towards his own version of Calvary. While I threw mine away, my father sacrificed his own life in order to save his son. My father wasn’t an educated man, but he knew enough; he was often a man of few words, but when he spoke – he had something to say. Therefore, at the height of my self-destruction, when my dad stopped me in order to speak with me, I thought: I had better listen. Even though I had long disregarded him, like my ex-military friend, I still longed for authority. He cared enough to tell me the truth. Where abusive and conniving priests had sent me, my father was trying to pull me back. On the world stage, Francis plummets the equally confused deeper into oblivion – and eventually into hell itself.
After two decades of sometimes intensive psychological therapy and equally grueling self-examination, if I have learned one thing – it’s this: later in life, abuse victims will often resubmit to mistreatment and exploitation in a vain attempt to reenact the original abuse. It’s a vain attempt to finally resolve it. But the pain doesn’t go away; it only gets worse. In order to heal, the chain that binds us to our trauma must be broken.
“…what man is there among you, of whom if his son shall ask bread, will he reach him a stone?” – Matthew 7:9
My struggle with the Catholic Church has been a spiritual battle…and a psychological one as well. I often ask myself: How do I remain associated with an organization that is thoroughly controlled by corrupt and comprised men? When asking for help, you often hear such things as: Where will you go? To me, this sounds like an ultimatum – or a threat. I heard it from friends in San Francisco – as I packed my few belongings into the trunk of my car. They meant well, but they were protecting something – themselves…and a community. Only, I was sick and I had to leave. I saw the ultimate failure of the gay experiment in a row of graves. In the Catholic Church, I have seen it in the faces of those who were abused. The pain is acute. At times, remaining in the Church has caused me to almost lose my mind.
I feel as if I am submitting to further rounds of bondage. Am I still a masochist?
You can’t leave Jesus because of Judas? Well, it’s difficult to overlook Judas when his name is mentioned at every Mass. In certain archdiocese: Chicago, New York City, Washington DC; I simply wouldn’t be able stomach it.
Some things are worth risking your life for – gay wasn’t one of them. However, I still believe in the ultimate goodness of the Catholic Church, but until there is a radical displacement of current leadership, starting with Pope Francis, it becomes more and more difficult to stay; because, like the good priests I knew, the constant and intense strain begins to jeopardize my psychological and physical health. I can’t stand by helplessly as the same sort of priests who duped me, delude a whole new generation.
As my time in the gay male community was coming to a close, I often stood across the street from the first gay bar I ever walked into. In a little over 10 years, I had grown prematurely old and haggard. At night, I repeatedly haunted the sidewalks in front of the former homes of dead friends, the public parks where gay men sought anonymous sex, and the cruising alleyways off Polk Street. Sometimes for hours, I would watch as the new guys maneuvered their way through the community. Often assisted by older men or the already initiated, I tended to notice myself in these uneasy and impressionable newcomers. When I have attended gay Catholic meetings, queer theology lectures, or catechetical conferences that feature LGBT-affirmative speakers, I grow increasingly uncomfortable from my vantage point as a powerless spectator. I see myself, once again – in those who accept a lie.
An often-repeated conservative Christian accusation against the secular LGBT community is that they actively groom and recruit children. I will not argue the possible validity of this charge, but I can testify that this is exactly what takes place in the Catholic Church. At a recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, I listened as speaker after speaker attempted to persuade (and intimidate) Catholic priests, religious, educators, and parents into confirming an LGBT identity upon vulnerable children. After that, I’ve heard nearly the same approach occurring in several Catholic ministries around the country. This is a continuation of the abuse crisis – masquerading as compassion, and sensitivity.
In 1986, most bishops of the Catholic Church essentially ignored the directives from the Vatican concerning the “pastoral care” of homosexuals. According to the document:
“…this Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programs which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so…While their members may claim a desire to conform their lives to the teaching of Jesus, in fact they abandon the teaching of his Church. This contradictory action should not have the support of the Bishops in any way.”
For the most part, in the 1980s, the Vatican was rightly concerned about the pro-gay ministry Dignity, and the support the group received from numerous bishops. As a result, they were to be expelled from every parish and diocese. But starting with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the bishops performed a sleight-of-hand; instead, retaining their leadership and goals, Dignity was rebranded in several dioceses – mostly notably as AGLO (Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach) in Chicago.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” – George Orwell, “1984”
After the sex abuse crisis, there was the outward appearance of compliance and an all-encompassing crackdown, but the predation continues – under a different and more devious form. Abuse does not require physical contact. When I was a teenager, what that priest told me, in my fragile mental state, proved enough to influence my decisions; he didn’t have to touch me. He said enough.
Apologists for the current Holy Father, often dismiss or explain his several pro-gay statements are the result of: mistranslations, media manipulation, or confusion among the laity. But I do not think any of these are true. Pope Francis is neither naive nor stupid; he isn’t flippant either. He is methodical. Oftentimes, Francis acts like a predator. At first, they seem caring and sympathetic. Then you start to notice little deceits and lies; you scold yourself for doubting them – after all, they love you. The manipulation and mistreatment starts-out slowly and is sometimes obvious to perceptive bystanders. Later, after the abuse gets worse – you are making excuses for them.
Words have meaning. You can’t take them back. Francis never tries. His apparent approval of gay civil-unions – it’s already starting; not surprising, in my old hometown of San Francisco. Lives are being affected. Damage done. Francis is directly responsible for each soul that is lost. He is the abuser.