Confessions of a gay Catholic
Vince Mallett | Friday, March 26, 2021
I don’t have a problem with calling myself Catholic. I go to Mass often (weekly before the pandemic hit). When I’m there, I say the Nicene Creed and mean every word of it: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth and …” I believe in humanity’s fall, and subsequent redemption through Christ; I believe in the intercession of the saints and I believe in the Immaculate Conception and bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is a holy institution, and that the teaching and traditions of the Church are not to be rejected without serious reflection.
Many Catholics would claim that I am not one of them based on my inclusion of three words there at the end: “without serious reflection.” I cannot accept the Church’s teaching wholesale — because I’m gay. I would love to say that my rejection of a couple tenets of Catholic teaching is a result of purely intellectual efforts on my part. It isn’t. It’s because I’m gay.
My religious life has been tied up with my sexuality ever since my awareness of the latter first came about. Growing up, I can remember praying in pretty much two ways: the standard Catholic Our Fathers and Hail Marys, and prayers for the intentions of others, especially family and those in need. To the best of my knowledge, the first time that I prayed for something for myself was when I asked God to make me straight. I didn’t put it in those words, because I didn’t think of myself as being gay and other people as being straight; I thought I had a problem, a disease, some sinful condition that God could heal just like he healed the sick.
As I came to accept that I could not change my sexuality, and slowly started to recognize that it was not a moral flaw, I drifted away from the Church. In high school, I started to think of religion as something that didn’t put any actual obligations on someone.
Religious narratives were comforting myths which were true only to the extent that they were able to relieve people’s problems, not to the extent that the stories they told about miracles and resurrection were truly accurate. I came to Notre Dame for a lot of reasons, one of which was the feeling that this belief wasn’t the whole story.
After almost four whole years here, I’ve come to realize that Catholicism means what it says, and that the foundational ideas the Church professes are true. Of course, that has meant questioning my acceptance of my own sexuality and my belief that romantic love need not be limited based on sex or gender. In fact, that pretty much sums up the entirety of my spiritual life. (This point was made really well by Maddie Foley’s Letter to the Editor in The Observer a couple years ago, which I highly recommend overall.) How could I ever worry about any other aspect of spirituality? On the one hand, the holy institution I swear allegiance to definitively teaches that men must not be in romantic relationships with other men. To most gay kids, that is, the ones that aren’t enveloped by Catholic theology at Notre Dame, the message is pretty clear: Gay people burn in hell. On the other hand, I cannot conceive of a future for myself in which I am both able to thrive and not married to another man. I’ve been trying to do so … for years. I can’t. To call this a “challenge” or a “paradox” or a “conundrum” is laughable to me. It’s the entirety of my lived experience. You can’t find ten consecutive minutes of my life within which I do not wonder whether I will burn in eternal torment for my willingness to affirm my love for other men.
A few weeks ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), a group of cardinals and bishops which promotes Catholic doctrine, released a statement clarifying that Roman Catholic clergymen cannot bless same-sex unions. The same-sex couples in these scenarios were not asking for the Church to marry them or to change its position on sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage. They simply wanted a priest to bless their relationship, to ask for God’s help in pursuing goodness in their lives. The CDF said this was not allowed, because same-sex relationships are sinful.
My heart sank when I read the news. I know that the Catholic Church is not going to change its position on same-sex marriage, at least within my lifetime. Personally, I don’t think it will ever change its teaching on the issue. Pope Francis, though quite happy to use language that recognizes that LGBTQ people are, you know, people, has stuck to the Church’s teaching in every official action he has taken. But every step backwards, every formal repetition of the Church’s rejection hurts a little bit more, because it reinforces the idea that I will never have a religious home.
Maybe you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “Why not just stop being Catholic?” If so, please go back and reread how I started. I cannot change what I believe simply because I don’t believe in some other thing. That would make me quite happy, in a lot of ways, but I can’t. Maybe you’re reading this and you’re thinking, “All he needs to do is follow God and the Church and he will find peace.” If so, please realize that I’ve tried. I would be shocked if there is a single LGBTQ person out there who has never tried their very, very best to deny themselves. At some point, one has to consider whether the peace of Christ actually lies down that road, if it is those who try to walk it find peace so rarely, if at all.
I know that carrying out God’s plan in one’s life isn’t easy. But it is possible, and it doesn’t drive hordes of believers to despair. Please, treat the LGBTQ people in your life with compassion. Help them carry their crosses, make their burdens lighter. Love one another, as God has loved us.
Vince Mallett is a senior majoring in philosophy with a minor in constitutional studies. He currently lives off-campus, though he calls both New Jersey and Carroll Hall home. He can be reached at [email protected] or @vince_mallett on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.