My Struggle with the Church's teaching on same-sex attraction
I am a struggler. In saying that, I would hasten to add that I am at least a devout struggler. And while that may sound like a contradiction in terms, I think that I am a long way from alone in this. Though your particular challenge may not be mine, or mine yours, I think we all have in common that a battle sometimes rages within us. We hear about the Church’s scandals, and about priests and even bishops who have literally driven others from the Church by their actions or inaction, and we wonder if the Church or even Christianity can still be true or valid.
But if the truth be told, we are each responsible for our own inward battles and how we react to them. We are responsible for ourselves, not for those who we see fall by the wayside when least expected. Then again, sometimes we are responsible for them as well, because perhaps we did not pray hard enough or, on rare occasions, confront―hopefully in a loving manner, of course―the situations or people who were busy pulling the rug out from under our Catholic Christian Faith―and whom we allowed to do so.
That is what happened to me, I think. I returned to the Church in the fall of 2004, after 35 years of evangelical Protestantism. For 20 of those years I was very active in the Christian communities I was part of, including serving as a licensed Assemblies of God minister for 12 years. If you have ever read my story, you may be one of those who were deeply “inspired,” and then later just as deeply dismayed after learning that I had begun questioning my return to the Faith. And question I did.
I questioned what seemed to be contradictions within the Councils over the years. I questioned what can sometimes seem like Catholic “obsession” (as Pope Francis has called it) with the very real battles the Church today faces over such issues as abortion and same-sex marriage. And in short, I derailed. Not once, not twice, but four times, all told, within a three-year period―and this after being back in the Church for around five years and never dreaming that the honeymoon would ever end.
You might wonder why. Well, so do I, even still. But I recall a certain first Pope who told Jesus, very sincerely, that he would “never” deny Him, and then did so three times that very night. I do not say that to excuse myself—not at all. But it does offer at least some explanation or context for the mystery of how weak we actually are.
My particular struggle happens to be in the area of same-sex attraction. I know the stronghold that sexuality can be in my life, and in some of yours too, whether heterosexual or otherwise. And though I never walked away from my commitment to celibacy during those ups and downs, I did walk away from what seemed to me to be almost a persecution of Christians who struggle as I do. It is such a delicate balance between loving others and hating their sinful behavior. And we all miss that balance sometimes. I did when (like St Peter when he stepped out of the boat and onto the water) I allowed my eyes to leave our Lord Jesus Christ and to look instead at the raging sea below me, a sea that included deep anger and not-so-hidden malice toward “people like me,” even though I was politely excluded from most of that anger because I was toeing the Church line, for the most part. People are much nicer to us when we agree with them. But I have come to appreciate why people do not always accept or remain on board with Church teaching about sexuality, which is not, by the way, just a simple matter of genital activity. The waters of our sexual natures run much deeper than body parts.
Far from being soft on sin, I do truly “get” why a modern 20- to 25-year-old who has always been and most likely always will be more attracted to someone of his own gender walks away from a Church that simply tells him “no” and gives him very little support on that journey of celibacy she asks of him. I was 49 when I returned to Rome. I’m 58 now, but I still feel the pain of being called such names as “sissy” and “Suzy” when I was growing up because I did not happen to be good at athletics and preferred to read or cook rather than throw a ball—something, incidentally, that I still cannot do with any precision! And most of that teasing and tormenting came from fellow Christians, in particular (in my case) fellow Catholics. That was my experience and it still stings half a century later. Childhood wounds run deep.
No, I am not whining. When I returned to the Church I knew there would be a price to pay for doing so, and I chose to accept that price, because I believed then and still believe now that it was the right thing to do. But knowing that something is right and yet having to hear over and over how evil my past was, or having people tell me they are “inspired” by my story but then not be particularly willing to walk with me on the journey toward wholeness we are all on, takes its toll after a while, and it did so with me shortly after five years of mostly blissful peace after my initial 2004 return. It was suggested to me on a few occasions that I might join the Knights of Columbus, attend Courage meetings, be part of various men’s groups, and a few other well-meaning but sometimes impractical ideas―and that is not to say that any or all of those options are not good and positive ones. But for various reasons, at least thus far, they have not been the best options for me, and I have found myself in these past few years feeling far more alone than I ever dreamed possible. On the one hand, I have often felt the ire and distrust of the actively LGBT community and my friends from that world. On the other hand, I have not particularly fit in with the beautiful Catholic families with two parents and five or six wonderful children and grandkids. At this stage, I will most likely never be an integral part of either group, at least not in this life, and that realization breeds fresh wounds as well as opening old ones.
So I have learned to be alone—and alone—and alone. And that is a particular struggle for one who is naturally more on the gregarious side, as I have been most of my life. But it has been in that aloneness that I have learned some of my greatest lessons, I think. For one thing, I have learned that I am far weaker than I would like to admit, even to myself—weak in faith, weak in devotion, and weak in a host of other ways. I have also learned that I am capable of being very angry, and I have never thought of myself as a particularly irate person. To the outside world I am cheerful, patient, devout, and on down the list. But inside myself I sometimes seethe and spit and just wish it was all over. No, I am not suicidal; I just mean I wish the struggles would end and that I could get back to simply enjoying life, whatever that ever elusive dream happens to mean or be, and which to each of us is different in detail yet similar in kind. But the biggest thing I have learned is that my aloneness is not unique to my struggle. My hunch is that in that sense we―you, the reader, and me―are more alike than not.
Some of you too have become angry at the Church, or at God Himself, as I have on many more than one occasion. Some of you with the “perfect Catholic family,” the ones that people such as me envy so often, wish you were out of what is, in reality, a hellish situation involving verbal or even physical abuse at times. And some of you truly do wish it was completely over—and perhaps are indeed even suicidal—all while going to Mass, praying the Rosary daily, and writing articles like this in the blogosphere. Again, we are not alone or unique in that. Ask Blessed Mother Teresa, who spent many years serving and few enjoying the sense of the presence of the God she served. Ask St John of the Cross, who literally wrote the book on the “Dark Night of the Soul.” Finally, ask yourself if you are in reality much different than I am at times. I am guessing not so much.
Last summer, after my last virtual kicking and screaming fit, which once again derailed me (that time for just a few weeks, thankfully), I came back. The difference this time is that I came all the way back—no questions asked. Note I did not say I have no more questions—I just mean I am finally, I believe, once again allowing God to give me the answers in His time and way—at least more and more. I made a solemn vow this time to remain on this beautiful and sometimes treacherous path of Catholic Christianity until I die. Period. No matter what. And I plan to do so. I know that within that plan, detours will abound, and the enemy of my soul and yours could indeed derail me once again if I allow it. But for the first time ever I can say I would rather die than let that happen. And perhaps that is the lesson I finally had to learn.
To anyone I have hurt or confused by my very public struggles, I deeply and truly apologize. I am fully and finally on board with official Catholic teaching and see no other path to the fullness of the Christian faith. I love my actively LGBT sisters and brothers and wish peace and joy for each of them, but I do not and cannot support what the Church does not, which is what some call “marriage equality” but in reality is the redefinition of the world’s oldest societal institution. That does not make me a bigot or a self-hater. It means I want basic rights for every human, both those in traditional and those in nontraditional relationships, but I do not want those affiliations to undermine that which God has given and that which, as Jesus said, “no man [should] put asunder.”
To those who read my story on this very site a few years ago and who may have trouble trusting me again, at least for a while, I will just say I frankly do not blame you. But I do ask you to pray for me, and to realize that God, in the Confessional, has forgiven me of my utter idiocy and wasted time, of which there has been more than enough of both. Like St Thomas, doubter that he was, I kneel before Jesus with my hand in His side and proclaim, “My Lord and My God.”
So, may we please struggle together?
Edited by Alice Rowan
Read Richard's full conversion story or click here to learn more about Struggles