25May Why the Catholic Church in America is divided

One Catholic’s story:

“More than 20 years ago, my beloved sister told us that she is lesbian.  This sister is not a rebel.  She is likeable, easy going, and had plenty of boyfriends.  I don’t think that she wanted the label of being lesbian — she was out of touch for our family for two years before telling us.  I was so happy that she accepted herself and I was proud of my family for our support of her.  Later, I did Bible study on homosexuality, and became comfortable with being Christian and supporting responsible, loving gay relationships.  Over the years, I became friends with other folks who are gay, and had the honor to serve some as clients.

During those years, I also found so much beauty in the Catholic church, in our loving, and welcoming parish, in our stand for the poor and marginalized.  Sometimes, clients would joke with me about ‘Catholics and their good works.’  As a committed Catholic, I volunteered in my parish, educated my children in Catholic schools, was honored to spend time on the parish council, and learned to tithe to my church.  As a professional woman, I was uncomfortable with the lack of progress on women’s ordination and the roll back of previously gender inclusive language and I was uncomfortable with the harsh language the church used to describe homosexuality.  Despite this, the church was 70% good for me, and I compromised, thinking, ‘How can one ever get 1.2 billion Catholics to agree?’ and I loved being a part of a world-wide church.

Then, this spring, my parish began a campaign for the marriage amendment in our bulletins — I heard the first announcement at mass on Feb 12.  Somehow, I had thought that this campaign would pass us by.  I saw our pastor’s introduction of this advocacy, indicating that it regarded, ‘this important opportunity for Minnesota voters.’  As I reviewed the advocacy communications, one of my friend’s voices (a woman who is lesbian) rang in my head, ‘I don’t know how I’ll feel, what I’ll do, if this amendment passes’ and I could hear her hurt and worry. Between Feb 12 and the end of April, there were about 10 advocacy pieces, both direct and indirect.  In May, there were more.   This does not count the simultaneous ramp in communications on ‘all things marriage’

Throughout my 23 years at my parish, my husband, children and I had attended mass regularly, but starting with the amendment advocacy, I attended only intermittently, and my husband and I tried to figure out what to do next.  We were so tied into our parish.  Many of our friends go there and the parents of our children’s school friends.  My husband I were Eucharistic ministers and our son played in the music ministry.  I volunteered there for a charity I love, which supports abandoned children in South America.  I realized that Catholicism was part of the fabric of our lives.  It was passed onto me from my great, great grandmother, Johanna Burke, from Ireland, and to my husband, from his polish grandfather.  But, I would look at the on-going advocacy communications and hear my friend’s voice in my head.  I checked with other friends who are gay, and heard their feelings on the amendment, and the comment that most sticks with me is, ‘The amendment says to us we’re not ok.’

I expressed my views to my pastor in a letter.  He thanked me for my heartfelt views, but indicated that the advocacy would continue.  Over time, I came to know other parishioners in my situation.  Several also expressed their concerns to our pastor.  But the advocacy continued.  We asked staff which parishioners were on the marriage amendment committee and they couldn’t share names.  We asked if the meetings were open to others and were told they weren’t. Among these parishioners I’ve come to know is the mother of a gay son who says she feels beat up by this.  Others who feel in pain are psychologists or health professionals, younger people, people who feel strongly about social justice, etc.

After much hesitation, this group of parishioners and I decided to attend the pro amendment Archdiocesan session at our parish.  We hoped to express our views, having felt that our voices had gone unheard.  At the session, the facilitator indicated that there would be no verbal discussion, and questions were to be written down for answer by the speakers at the end.

The first speaker was a priest.  He said that the church holds that homosexual acts are disordered, and that we are all broken.  The implication was that gay folks who have an intimate relationship are acting in a broken way.  He said that his greatest heroes are gay people who, ‘fall off the wagon’ then come to him saying, ‘Father, I want to try again.’

The next speaker was introduced as a “downtown attorney.”  He went through the position of “Minnesota for Marriage” (the political group that advocates for the amendment).  He listed the problems that he perceived with heterosexual marriage, divorce, cohabitation without marriage, etc., and then concluded that these problems will get worse if there is gay civil marriage.  At the end of his talk, he cited seven to eight court cases which, I felt, were intended to create urgency among marriage amendment proponents for more action.  Based on my knowledge of these cases, not all facts of each case were presented. The Archdiocesan representative wrapped up by asking attendees to have courage in pursuing marriage amendment advocacy.

After the session, I shared with the Archdiocesan representative, “what hurts the most is that the Archbishop knew in rolling out this campaign that there would be people like me — people who would get hurt — because these campaigns have been occurring throughout the country for over four years.”  She expressed that the Archbishop cares about people like me and is praying for us every day.  She explained that the Archbishop represents the truth.

It dawned on me, after talking with the Archdiocesan representative that the Archdiocesan leadership will not stop hurting people over this issue, or, I suppose, any issue where they feel they have the truth.  I have come to believe that they simply do not have boundaries in place where they would say, “I really believe this, and want to promote it, but will not do so at the price of hurting others.”

After I left the Archdiocesan meeting, I also recognized that during the session, one group of parishioners, the marriage amendment committee members, were being encouraged by the Archdiocese to on-goingly hurt another group of parishioners.  The first group may not know they are hurting the second group, but the Archdiocesan leadership knows.  And, our parish leadership knows.

Along the way, I’ve also heard of courage in the Catholic church, of quite a number of parish priests in the Archdiocese “lying low” on the marriage amendment, or even writing or homilizing against the Archdiocesan actions, and of three retired priests who have directly come out against the amendment and said that gay Catholics and their families need allies.  In addition, 80 former priests have also come out against the amendment.

It has been a journey to sort through what I think, overall.  I do feel betrayed, at each level in the Catholic church, by my parish, by the Archdiocese, and by Rome.  I have found my way to the local Coalition for Catholic Church Reform.  I find these folks delightful, so learned in theology and church workings.  And, so committed to the good they see in the Catholic church.  In addition, the group from my parish and I have started actively volunteering with MN United for All Families; I suspect, that many of us would not have been as active in this initiative without the pain caused by our Archdiocese and parish.  My husband and I have also been church hopping, close to our home, right here in the ‘burbs. At Lutheran churches we’ve heard thoughtful sermons, some by gifted female pastors, on tolerance, including regarding sexuality.  At a Methodist church, the service was led by a talented young woman, and my neighbors told me that the church has a couple of active families led by lesbian couples.

Early in my journey, I talked with a rabbi, though I have found such good Catholic clergy since then.  He advised me to find people like myself and not lose my relationship with God.  While God and I have had a rocky time of it, I have found the rabbi’s words echoing back to me again and again, and I have been glad to hear them.”

13 Responses

  1. Clare McGoldrick

    Over the years I have become very comfortable with excessive eating. Through my reading of the bible, while it has passsages that clearly condemn gluttony, it also talks a lot about feasting in the kingdom, which are very comforting. Many of my family and friends are also over weight and like me enjoy a lifestyle of positive affirmation of the goodness of food. In the past I have tried to hide some of my eating, through the guilt and shame caused by all those people who look down on people like me.

    When is the Church going to come around and understand that although many years ago people ate a lot less food than we do currently, things have changed, we have moved on from that. We now live in a culture of abundance, at least here in the enlightened west, where it is possible to exercise great freedom of choice and access to food 24/7.
    The Church needs to get with it and remove the hurtful references in the Catechism to gluttony, and to stop advocating for temperance and moderation in food consumption. Being a consumer is now my main identity, it is my preferred lifestyle choice, why should I be made feel guilty for that?

    We need to stop the hierarchy trying to talk about its version of the truth when it comes to our bodies, and start to live our own truth. After all nothing could actually be absolutely true and apply to everyone, could it? And its much more important for church leaders to make sure that they don’t make me feel uncomfortable than that they teach the truth, isn’t it.

  2. Laura Kuntz

    Clare, I am the American Catholic whose story has been shared. I, too, search for constants, and believe that the church should — must — stand for those. I think the constant is love. I think if we start there, and hold each other with care, the rest will sort itself out. I so respect what you are all doing in terms of dialogue and coming together. Your work deeply touches me.

  3. ger gleeson.

    Laura, I am now in the autumn of my days and because of your story I think back on my first few days at school. As a four year old I was told that I was made by God, and in his own image and likeness. You Laura and each and everyone, was made by the Creator, and it is clear to me, that no MAN MADE LAWS will change his love and compassion for each and everyone. There are many Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters of mine in all sections of society including the Religious life, and when we all meet our God, it is my firm conviction that he will judge us on what good we did in life for our fellow person. Love God, love your neighbour is all that really matters.

  4. Martin Murray

    Clare, it seems to me that comparing homosexuality to gluttony implies that gay people are obsessed with sex, or are sex addicts. This is dangerous stereotyping. Surely in matters sexual the sin lies in the area a of promiscuity, unfaithfulness and abuse. In these ways we all, straight and gay can fail in our efforts to love. I agree with Laura, love is the constant.

  5. Joe O'Leary

    “The Archbishop represents the Truth!”, presumably because he has shut himself off from consultation and dialogue, and from any serious theological reflection. It is these “Truth”-junkies who have done most to destroy the Catholic Church.

  6. Matt Walsh

    Clare, as cute as your little analogy is, it is flawed. The science seems to indicate, and any gay person will tell you, that unlike gluttony, being gay isn’t a choice.

    The Bible also says this:

    “No bastard shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD.

    So why are we allowing 4th generation descendants of children born out-of-wedlock to come into our churches? Where’s the outrage? It’s against the Bible!!!! Also, the Bible EXPLICITLY endorses slavery, many times over. It prohibits eating pork. We disregard all of this.

    The reality is that the Bible is simply not an authoritative, consistent or complete text on morality, in and of itself, and has always been subject to interpretation.

    I think that’s what Jesus disagreed with the Pharisees for.

  7. Sean O'Donnell

    Laura, how familiar your story is to a Catholic in the UK. Like you and your husband, my wife and I were very involved in our local parish – Eucharistic Ministers, Catechists for First Holy Communion and Confirmation, supported Catholic education for our children by volunteering as a School Governor including a stint as Chair of Governors, etc, etc. However, the Church has become less and less tolerant of difference and we have struggled in recent years to cope with the increasingly intolerant tone of the heirarchy – whether its championing of anti-gay sentiment with its campaign against gay marriage, the imposition, without effective lay involvement, of new liturgy using cod English in order to translate in literal terms from from the Latin losing the ready accessibility of the meaning of the liturgy to the ordinary lay person – all concerns raised against these and other impositions are just dismissed as the Magisterium knows best. After 57 years as a cradle Catholic I like you I feel I have been betrayed by the Church and since the turn of the year have embarked on a new journey of faith. My wife and I are exploring more tolerant places of worship and have found them so welcoming, joyful and prayerful. However, we still consider ourselves to be Catholics and was interested to hear in your blog of the Coalition for Catholic Church Reform. Does anyone reading this know whether this exists in the UK. If not where can one get information on it to set up something similar in the UK. May God bless you and your family – thank you so much for sharing your story.

  8. James

    Clare, the Bible is clear about the morality of divorce. Read Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9. Christ Himself says that to remarry is to commit adultery, with the exception being infidelity. You can deny the meaning of these passages only with some fancy exegetical footwork.

    Despite all this, I don’t recall any movement in the Catholic Church to make a civil divorce only permissible on these grounds, nor is there one occurring now. In fact, the Church has, on numerous occasions, chosen to bless second and even third marriages (Newt Gingrich being a prominent example). They weren’t forced to by law. They chose to.

    I’m not suggesting we demonize divorcees. To the contrary, grace should be extended to those who have made mistakes and seek to start a new life, if not within the Church then certainly within the legal sphere. It’s a pity that this type of compassion and understanding is never extended to gays and lesbians who are not seeking to impose anything on the Church but are simply trying to seek a legal mechanism for protecting their relationships.

    Yes, I know what the Bible says. The Bible also suggests that it is perfectly moral to beat one’s slaves (Exodus 21:20-21) as well as many other things too numerous to count that are interpreted away by the most conservative of Bible-believing Christians. The Bible is not useless, but there’s a danger in simply trying to take it at face value and applying it to everyday life as if it were an instruction manual. That’s how we ended up with the Southern Baptist Convention who used Scripture as a means for justifying American slavery.

  9. Laura Kuntz

    Sean, you can find more information our the Coalition for Catholic Church Reform at http://www.cccrmn.org/v2/index.php. This is an organization founded in our Archdiocese that brings together several reform groups, including the national U.S. Catholic reform group, Call to Action (which has been very pro active on supporting our nuns). Please feel free to email them via the contacts page and share your situation. Please feel free to use my name. You may also want to check out the Call to Action website at http://www.cta-usa.org/. Also, feel free to contact them. They may know sister organizations in the U.K. I have learned from these reformers that the Catholic church has two problems, an at times over-reaching hierarchy and a historically passive laity. I am now trying not to be “historically passive.” And, I am trying to “be the change” that I want to see. And, for me, being in dialogue with all of you is, currently (among other connections) church to me — and a great, great pleasure.

  10. Steve Edward

    I know that Fatima is regarded as ‘discredited’ by many who share the views of the writer but if you believe in it then Our Lady’s assertion that most people who go to hell go there because of sexual sins seem to contradict the views expressed. I don’t recall Her being quoted as saying that the Church didn’t understand what sexual sin was.

  11. Sean O'Donnell

    Laura, many thanks for your response and the information you’ve given me. I will follow up the links. God bless.

  12. Sean O'Donnell

    Steve, I believe that Our Lady has been very saddened by the Church’s lack of understanding of sexual sin. The priest child sex abuse scandal, the Church’s cover up over many decades and still no effective acceptance of responsibility, let alone repentance, would suggest understanding is still some way off.

  13. Gerard Flynn

    Steve, the church has never said that any human being has gone to hell.