Editor’s Note: You can practically taste the poignancy in this beautiful free-form poem inspired by recent and ongoing events. It’s author, who gave the blog permission to repost his poem here, also recently wrote a book about his experiences as a gay priest which was reviewed here on the Rational Doubt Blog. The original formatting of the poem was unintentionally altered to fit this blog’s parameters. The original can be seen here. /Linda LaScola, Editor
** You are invited to an online reading by the author, Monday June 22 at 9PM Eastern. Details here. **
By Tom Rastrelli
You who now see and who are not only speaking out but are deeply searching your souls and questioning your white privilege.
You who are waking up to the accountability that you have for the historical violence and genocide your systems have sown and reaped across the earth to enshrine and ensure the denial of the fact that Black Lives Matter.
You progressive Catholics who are social-justice warriors, liberation theologians, allies of LGBTQ+ persons, relief workers fighting to save the lives of black, indigenous, people of color and their children living in “Third World” countries.
Best friends, parents, grandparents, siblings, and families of those whose victory you celebrate because Pope Francis just called out Trump and the GOP for being racist.
I’m glad you’re speaking out.
I affirm that.
Keep it up.
I affirm your righteous indignation at the injustices of the United States of America and its compassionate conservatives that your Church has so long failed to challenge so directly and vocally.
The Pope said, “George Floyd,” twice.
And offered support to “an American bishop” who knelt in support during a Black Lives Matter protest.
Names are powerful.
May we all never forget the name George Floyd.
But I can’t reconcile the truth of history and my own experience with your joy about this Pope and the believers he represents. All this does is bring me more pain, sadness and anger.
And I can’t reconcile the rest of the news out of Vatican City:
“But Francis has also lamented that the U.S. church is ‘obsessed’ with abortion, contraception and gay marriage to the detriment of its other teachings.”
Lamented. The man you venerate laments my marriage, my love.
Think about that, Catholic allies.
Sit with that for a minute.
Or for a lifetime.
Like I have.
Sit with that for a lifetime.
Sit with that through a childhood and coming of age during the AIDS pandemic.
Sit with that as your priest assaults you during confession.
He laments my love.
Your Successor to St. Peter.
laments my love
Sit with that for a lifetime.
This Institution as you call it.
This Church is still one of the leading voices in the world that does violence to people like me.
This Church enables its believers to cast aside people like me.
To psychologically torture us with conversion therapy.
To lie to us about condoms and sexual protection that could have protected us.
To erase us from our families and communities.
This Church has murdered, shunned, shamed and tortured people like me for two millennia.
Two thousand years.
And to this day continues to call people like me “intrinsically disordered.”
And not only teaches that my love is less than your heterosexual love
But sinks millions of dollars into legislating against LGBTQ+ civil rights.
This Church, right now, is fighting tooth and nail to keep people like me from being able to adopt children.
Think about that.
This Church and this Pope, your beloved, celebrated, progressive Francis,
Doesn’t think that I am a suitable role model for children.
This Church that has protected and continues to protect pedophiles and those who have protected them for generations.
And not only allowed, thus encouraged, pedophiles to repeat offend.
They knew. Actually knew what these monsters were doing to children.
Sex with tens of thousands of children.
This Church teaches and legislates that I am not suitable to be a parent.
Dear loving, empathetic, generous, pious, devout, joyful, Francis-loving, Ignatius-quoting, Dorothy-feeding Catholics,
You who are applauding this pope and his message.
You need also to listen to the voices, pain, experience, and historical trauma of your LGBTQ+ children.
Your queer kids.
Your bachelor uncles.
Your old maid aunts.
Your different cousins.
Your unmarried middle-aged youth directors, teachers, liturgists, pastoral associates,
Sisters, Brothers. Mothers.
Your friends and family who have no place at your communion table.
You will say, “But we welcome you.”
But you don’t.
If we’re married to a person of the same sex,
If we’ve had an abortion,
If we’re divorced without your annulment,
If we convert to Judaism or Islam,
If we believe in a deity that’s not in the Divine Revelation of your God’s Scripture and Tradition,
If we use our free will to question and deny the existence of your God,
We are not —
Not welcome — at
Your communion table.
We are EX-communicated.
Or as the Church would say, “You have excommunicated yourselves.”
Because, it has to be our fault.
That is the narrative this Church teaches.
This Church does not value LGBTQ+ lives.
It hasn’t historically and it doesn’t today.
If you don’t know our history, then learn it.
Read in detail about the torture devices your Holy Church,
Your Inquisition, had the imagination and calculation to realize.
Used to maim and kill people like me for centuries.
Learn about the lives of people who have been destroyed by the Church.
The Body of Christ
Body of Christ.
If the Church would have had its way, I would have died at the bottom of the icy Mississippi, another regrettable tragedy in a endless stream of forgettable names of queer Catholics who had the audacity to escape the hell of the Church by killing themselves.
Don’t respond by blaming the homophobic teachings and violence of the Church on the Institution.
Please don’t discount me. Don’t sidestep my pain and wrath.
And your discomfort.
Everyone one of you in the pews.
Everyone of you giving assent, power, money, presence, and veneration to this pope.
Every one of you who believes the only way you can experience God is to receive the Real Presence of Jesus on your tongue every few years, or
Every Christmas and Easter.
Every one of you who keeps the Third Commandment.
Every daily Mass goer.
Even those of you who say the Rosary.
Everyone one of you, good Catholics, who doesn’t stand up and protest against the evils that You, the Church, inflict upon LGBTQ+ persons,
Every one of You enables this violence,
And consistently betrays me and my LGBTQ+ siblings.
You can’t have it both ways:
Claim to be the Church while blaming the Institution.
You need to own your part in the destruction of the careers, families, mental health, and lives of so many queer people like me.
I love you.
But I am just so sad and extremely exhausted from decades of this torture that I can’t put up the front anymore to disguise the fact that I think any piece of this is acceptable and OK.
I spoke out as a child, asking about the wrongs of your Church.
I dedicated a decade of my life to rigorous study, spiritual practice, and personal sacrifice — “slavery to Christ” — in an attempt to understand
And to reform your Church.
I lost my career, my community, my friends, my family, and my nephews.
Yes, let’s say their names:
Incredible … I don’t even remember his middle name.
Because his mother erased me in the name of the Church.
Dear Catholics, you lost ALL of me.
I lost all of you trying to right the wrongs of your Church.
And I can’t fake that this hasn’t caused me pain deeper than anything in my lifetime.
I am so far beyond and over any praise lauded upon this Pope and this Church that perpetuates violence against people like me.
This Church and its theological privilege.
This Church that claims the Natural Law, while imprisoning scientists who prove how nature and the universe really behave.
This Church that codifies that reason and faith aren’t mutually exclusive, while proclaiming a single white man can speak with the mouth of an unknowable, omnipotent God on matters of faith and morals.
This Church with its historical racism.This Church with its endorsement and glorification of slavery.
This Church with it’s Lord.
This Church with its Master.
This Church that shouts from every pulpit on every mountaintop:
“I am a slave for Christ!”
This Church and its centuries-long bloody wars against black, indigenous, people of color in the Middle East.
This Church and its role in the global genocide of Black, Indigenous, People of Color as it sowed the seed of its Gospel, its Master, into the religions, minds, cultures, governments, and homes of those it came to greet “in the Peace of Christ.”
This Church and its drowning of good and loving cultures and gods, philosophers, scientists, free thinkers and heretics, women, witches, gypsies, prostitutes and queers, in the wake of its rise and maintenance of world domination and wealth. Its museums of pillaged pagan history. Its cathedrals of stolen scientific and artistic genius.
This Church in its complicity and cooperation with the Nazis.
6 million Jewish, BIPOC and queer lives.
This Church and its homophobia, its “gay cancer,” its holy, alcoholic, celibate, and closeted queer priests.
This Church that intentionally tells billions that condoms are a sin throughout a global pandemic that killed my people, erased a generation of us and set us back in our fight for equality for who knows how long.
This Church that continues to scare its believers around the world, especially in Africa, into not using condoms as AIDS kills generations and generations Black people.
This Church with its half-century of systematically poisoning American politics by making abortion the single issue for Catholics while turning a blind eye to the greedy, abusive, planet poisoning, science denying, school-shooting-enabling racists that this Church helped put in office.
This Church that legislates who I can love.
This Church that legislates what I can consent to do with my body, my life.
This Church that legislates against our trans and gender nonconforming siblings and what they can do with their bodies, their lives.
This Church that legislates against sick and suffering people of all ages and what they, including you, can do with their bodies, their lives.
This Church that legislates against women.
Even single, multi-job-working mothers who can’t afford another mouth to feed.
Even those who might die in childbirth and leave their children motherless.
Even the wives of your church buddies who can’t bear to bring another child into the care and control of her abusive, Corinthians-quoting husband.
Even the young girl whose brother, uncle or father has made the sweetest, nicest, truest, gentle love to her, confusing her, violating her, shaming her.
Even victims of incest.
Even victims of rape.
Even women who will die mentally and physically if they don’t act to save their bodies, their lives.
This Church legislates against them.
Now picture every person you’ve imagined in your head over the past few minutes.
Imagine they aren’t Catholic.
Imagine they aren’t even Christian for that matter.
How many of them are Black?
People of Color?
This Church, this Pope, that you now praise for nearly saying that Black Lives Matter.
This Church legislates against them.
Here are a few names for your Francis, your Church to proclaim:
Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells
Helle Jae O’Regan
Penélope Díaz Ramírez
Layla Pelaez Sánchez
Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos
Yampi Méndez Arocho
Neulisa Luciano Ruiz
“But,” you say.
I listen, Dear Catholics, as you ask:
“The Church has done good. Why are you discounting that?”
I am not discounting that. I am just calling you, the Church, to account for the sins you have committed and continue to commit. I’m calling you to acknowledge the privilege that comes with being at the top of the world’s geopolitical, cultural, and ecclesial food chain since Constantine.
“But Catholics have been persecuted and martyred for their faith. Why are you discounting that?”
I am not. Catholics and Christians were crucified, thrown to the lions and, yes, pockets, even nations of Catholics have been persecuted and murdered throughout history. I know. I mourn their lives, too.
And since 325, the Church has still been the global power, the aggressor, the self-proclaimed savior of every other culture they have encountered. The MAN.
Literally the top man. That bearded white straight dude in the sky.
Or crowned with a mitre and holding his crozier, because White Father knows best, and needs to use that staff to break his wayward sheep’s legs to keep them close to his heart.
He loves them so much.
More than they can possibly love themselves.
Sit for a minute with that image:
The Good Shepherd.
Who breaks the legs of his little lambs because he knows what is best for them.
Who breaks so hard that sometimes he has used weapons of war to kill nations wayward sheep. To kill their animals. To burn their fields and salt the soil, so nothing can grow.
Who sacrifices the Lamb of God, kills his own son, for an eternity of masses.
And then sometimes, He just uses psychological war to keep those sheep in check.
“But how can you discount the lives of the saints and martyrs and their miracles?”
How many of those martyrs you just used as a red herring to kill my voice were slaughtered by the very church that they loved?
How many Joans and Oscars?
How many Father Toms?
Your church not only kills those it oppresses, those who think or act differently, who question their own Church’s injustices and privilege,
It kills them and then rebrands them as Saints for the very same white straight male Church that killed them.
Sit with that.
Think about that.
If I were to define evil at its deepest root, that just about does it.
The White Patriarchy.
“But this is God’s will. You must do God’s will. How can you dismiss that?”
I am not.
I am not dismissing you.
I’m confronting you.
“But God loves you. The Church loves you. How can you underestimate that?”
I am not underestimating you or your God, Dear Catholics.
I fear you.
I fear you with my entire quaking being.
And I am so angry at you.
But I am not —
Not — underestimating you.
I know what you have done.
I know what you are capable of.
Have you not listened to a word I’ve said?
Have you not felt an emotion that I’ve painfully re-lived during this go around?
I am not discounting you.
I am telling you.
I am showing you.
I am begging you to see:
You are the only one that matters.
Bio: Tom Mayhall Rastrelli is the author of Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary published in the spring of 2020 by the University of Iowa Press. A performer since his Iowa childhood, Tom fell in love with the stage in his teens. While studying theatre in college, he embarked on a ten-year journey into the Catholic seminary and priesthood. A survivor of sexual abuse himself, Tom was ordained in 2002 in the midst of the sexual abuse crisis and left the priesthood in 2004. Since then, he’s built a career in communications and writing. Some of his essays have been featured on the HuffPost. He was “Tony” in Dennett-LaScola study of non-believing clergy. He lives in Salem, Oregon, with his husband, Bruce.
>>>>>>>Photo Credits: By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64103075 ; By Noël Coypel – http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Noel-Coypel/The-Resurrection-Of-Christ,-1700.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8811059 ; By Tomchen1989 – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32046344 ; “Vatican StPeter Square” by I, Dfmalan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vatican_StPeter_Square.jpg#/media/File:Vatican_StPeter_Square.jpg ; “Creation of the Sun and Moon face detail” by Michelangelo – Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg#/media/File:Creation_of_the_Sun_and_Moon_face_detail.jpg