My phone rang one Saturday night at 11pm. It was my child. He never calls. He texts or uses Skype. That weekend he was visiting relatives out of state. I answered. His voice shook as he asked me the simple question. “Am I an abomination?” This was fear in his voice.
I said no with my heart breaking. It broke because I knew I raised him in a faith where concepts like hell and abominations existed in some traditions. Then I asked him why he would ask me such a question. He told me his family made him go to mass that evening. Roman Catholic Mass.
I asked him what happened in the mass that made him wonder that. With a weak and trembling vice on the verge of tears he told me how the homily was spent hearing about how transgender people and gay people were undermining the fabric of American society and the holy church. He said these abominations needed to be stopped. Then he went on to describe what abominations and mortal sin is and what it does to someone. Now I could hear the tears barely choked back as he relived what happened a scant few hours ago.
I felt anger and I felt sadness and I felt hurt. I wanted to reach through the phone somehow to traverse a few hundred miles instantly and hold him in my arms and assure him this was all bs. All I could do was say it. I told him that know nothing priest was a fool and was wrong and I am going to call the bishop and ream him a new one. My son said simply,”Dad, it was the Bishop. He was in town, he did the homily.”
This went on for awhile and we finished up with some healing. The pain was still there, but he knew I loved him and had his back. That was about as far as we were gonna get that night.
I looked up the Bishop for that area online and found that he was often speaking to the local political leaders about protecting Boy Scouts and other groups from the gay agenda. I learned how he would raise money and leverage the numbers of his churches as power on politicians.
My Local Experience
When I was a pastor my local experience with the Catholic Church was almost nil. In my life I have worked with some amazing nuns in efforts of aid in other countries and I was in community theater with a not so open gay priest once, but that was it.
The Priests of the large Catholic Church in our town would not participate in any of the clergy alliance events or joint services. We did have a woman who ran the local SOS Children’s Village orphanage come once in awhile and ask for aid. My youth outreach had many young ladies who were victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. There was an organization run by catholic charities called Guardian Angel Home. As a pastor I built a bridge with them and they gave wonderful counseling from trained experts in abuse and rape.
Then we had the ladies prayer group. The ladies prayer group from the Catholic parish in town would come to our meetings sometimes as representatives of the church. It was through them I learned they were praying against my youth outreach. I had, of course, asked why. One of them said, “All those homosexuals and girls dressed like tramps and smokers and other elements.” I was pretty sure the other elements was all the black kids, but I never got confirmation on that. Anyway, other than that, growing up in the Chicago area, you knew that the Chicago political machine had gears in it called Cardinal Bernadine and several well known priests. They spoke, aldermen listened.Growing up had some darks secrets. I was not in the Catholic Church as a kid, but many of my friends were. The Joliet Arch Dioceses was one of the world wide leaders in priests that victimized children. Some of those were people I knew in grade school, middle school and high school. The truth did not come out until we were adults, but the sheer numbers of people I knew was staggering.
National and Global Level
I want to like Pope Francis. I really do. I want to respect the beauty and mystery of Mass even as an atheists. I want to say I have hope for them to evolve with men like Richard Rohr writing such beauty and St Francis of Assisi having once walked this earth. But I cannot get there. There are a staggering 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. Just to put that in perspective, when we speak about the clout of the evangelicals, the World Christian Database estimates evangelicals to be about 300 million. Politicians know these numbers and pay attention to things like church attendance, student enrollment in parochial school and so forth.
Pope Francis says really nice things about LGBTQIA people, Muslims, the poor, and women. He sometimes makes kind gestures to these aforementioned demographics, but that does not seem to transfer over into church policy and the kindness sure has not spread to many American Catholic Churches. Many of these spaces seem more and more Republican strongholds of conservatism at its worst.
I know LGBTQIA Catholics. Mot stay in the closet. The ones that are out do not go to mass anymore. No matter what Francis says, until he allows all people marriage equality and full sacramental rights to LGBTQIA people, his kind words are meaningless gestures.
End of the day, one of the most direct and critical wounds to my son’s emotional well being from a Christian figure came at the hands of a bishop in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. I will never forget the tremble in his voice and the fear in his heart instilled by that man. I do not know if I will ever forgive the relatives that told him that he needs to understand the differences of opinion on LGBTQIA matters after that sermon. This is not a matter of polite disagreement on best ice cream flavor, this is life and death. I also know someone who is a closeted gay priest. He tries to make a difference. I know there are others.
Of them all, the Roman Catholic Church is the largest ship sailing the Christian sea. It does so with an extremely small rudder and it’s crew is sometimes deadly.