I want to draw your attention to a beautifully written, heartbreaking and important article by Joyce Calvo, about the spiritual abuse and eventual suicide of her daughter, Alana Chen. I’m going to keep my remarks as brief as I can because I want you to read Calvo’s article and spend your time thinking about what she has to say. I just want to point out something I have seen in the reactions whenever there’s a new story about Alana Chen’s tragic death.
As you may recall, Alana Chen was a devout Catholic teenager who loved Christ, went to daily Mass, served the homeless and wanted to become a nun, but who was attracted to women. She confessed this to a priest, and was then spiritually abused by two priests and several nuns. The alleged abusers still deny this happened, but Ms. Chen lays out her case perfectly convincingly, even including photos from Alana’s diary. Alana was taught to hate herself, was bullied and emotionally tortured until she suffered PTSD, and died from suicide.
I am also a Catholic who loves Christ; I wanted to be a nun when I was a little girl, I’m passionate about helping the homeless and I am attracted to women. I’m bisexual. So when the story of Chen’s suicide hit the news late in 2019, I was deeply horrified and angry at what happened. I wrote an opinion piece about it. The piece was widely shared and I got a huge backlash, which I expected. You can’t talk about LGBTQ issues in the Church and not get trolled. But what I didn’t expect was all the denial. People insisted that Chen hadn’t died from suicide, it would all turn out to be an accident and I would be sued and lose my job as a writer for expressing my outrage at her death. People from her church wrote a patronizing series of comments trying to paint themselves as victims because they were traumatized by Alana’s suicide and the angry phone calls they were getting. Father Nix, whom Calvo identifies as Alana’s first spiritual abuser, threatened to sue me for calling his alleged torturous behavior torture. Many heterosexual Catholics informed me that this couldn’t possibly have happened because it “just doesn’t sound real” and “doesn’t pass the smell test.” There must be a different explanation for Alana’s death, they said, because Catholic parishes don’t treat people this way and it doesn’t make sense.
Meanwhile, my LGBTQ Catholic friends all remarked that it sounded perfectly believable to them. The same sort of thing had been done to them, to one degree or another. They feared the same harassment when they went to a new parish. They had been vilified in similar ways. Youth group leaders who work with teens especially had stories of LGBTQ Catholic teenagers who were trying to be faithful to Church teaching facing similar treatment from pastors and teachers.
To us, this story was perfectly believable. To Catholics who weren’t LGBTQ, it was nonsense.
The problem was glaringly obvious and well known to one group of people, and not only invisible but completely preposterous to the others– to the point where it murdered a young woman, and heterosexual Catholics were expressing their angry denial right over her corpse.
This is what the Church looks like if you’re LGBTQ.
This is what it’s like to be an LGBTQ Catholic. I have been Catholic since I was baptized, one month after I was born. I have tried my best to follow every Church teaching on sexuality and gone to confession when I slipped up, just as I assume heterosexual Catholics have to do with their attraction to people of the opposite sex. But I was still spiritually abused. My mother joked that she’d shoot me if I came out of the closet. I was told slanderous stories vilifying and dehumanizing LGBTQ people, painting them as psychopaths and monsters with no self control who really wanted to victimize children and even animals. I was told that LGBTQ people were the reason God sent AIDS to ravage the earth, that all the innocent deaths of children and heterosexual people from the disease were collateral damage from how much the Lord hated gay sex. I hated myself because of that. I tried as hard as I could to repress things about me I couldn’t change instead of facing my sexuality in a healthy way. And I am an exceptionally mild case. Alana Chen’s spiritual torture was infinitely worse. I know full well that a huge number of my fellow LGBTQ Catholics have it infinitely worse, much more like what happened to Alana than what happened to me. Not for our actions, but just because we feel differently than other people do. Just because the ways in which we’re tempted to sin by objectifying others aren’t the exact same ways others are tempted.
Meanwhile, Catholics who aren’t LGBTQ are in complete denial that it’s happening. They don’t see a problem.
And that is a problem.
I’m sure some heterosexual Catholics really do hate everyone who’s not like them and relish when we suffer, but don’t think that’s true of the majority. But the majority are still refusing to listen to us and see what they’re doing. And it’s killing people. It killed Alana Chen, it’s killed others, and it will kill again.
Alana Chen is a child of God. God created her in His image because He thought the world wasn’t complete without her. He sent her among us. And our Church killed her, in God’s name. She is with God now.
My God convert our hearts so this doesn’t happen again. But we have to be willing to change.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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