Can You Be Both Gay and Catholic?

Can You Be Both Gay and Catholic? November 9, 2014



The Catholic Church has long recognized that a not negligible number of men and women experience deep-seated homosexual tendencies. Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) 2358. It further recognizes that for many these tendencies constitute a very real trial.

Importantly, the Church doesn’t try to analyze – either psychologically or theologically – why these tendencies exist. Nor does it condemn those who experience them.

What the Church does do is set forth certain moral obligations and guidelines – but not solely for those who are gay.

The Church makes clear that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity [and that] every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Id.).

That’s a clear obligation to which we, as Catholics, must adhere – or else we ourselves will fall short and be in need of our own grace and forgiveness.

The Church then reminds that all are called to celibacy outside of the bonds of marriage. Of course, this constitutes a particularly difficult trial and challenge for gay men and women because same sex marriage is not and cannot be recognized within the Church. Catholic men and women who identify as gay are ever called to a life of celibacy.

Is this just? Is this necessary? Is this even possible? Why would any rational person who is not seeking to become a member of the clergy commit to such an onerous, and quite possibly lonely, lifestyle?

The Church provides one answer. It may well be the answer:

By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. CCC 2359

Christian perfection. Well, isn’t that – shouldn’t that – be our ultimate goal as Catholics no matter who we are, and no matter what tendencies we ourselves might experience or bring to the table?

Fellow Patheos blogger Eve Tushnet recently published an important book on the subject: Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith. It deserves both a wide audience and a serious, respectful discussion.

Importantly, she unveils another, more here and now, advantage that gay Catholics may well recognize and take comfort from (highlighted below).

Eve takes us through her own transformation, her own decision making, that has led her to actively, consciously choose to be a faithful Catholic, even as she has had to come to terms with what that means as a gay person within the Church.

Here’s a brief synopsis by her publisher:

In this first book from an openly lesbian and celibate Catholic, widely published writer and blogger Eve Tushnet recounts her spiritual and intellectual journey from atheism to Catholicism and shows how gay Catholics can love and be loved while following Church teaching.

Eve Tushnet was among the unlikeliest of converts. The only child of two atheist academics, Tushnet was a typical Yale undergraduate until the day she went out to poke fun at a gathering of philosophical debaters, who happened also to be Catholic. Instead of enjoying mocking what she termed the “zoo animals,” she found herself engaged in intellectual conversation with them and, in a move that surprised even her, she soon converted to Catholicism. Already self-identifying as a lesbian, Tushnet searched for a third way in the seeming two-option system available to gay Catholics: reject Church teaching on homosexuality or reject the truth of your sexuality.

Gay and Catholic is the fruit of Tushnet’s searching: what she learned in studying Christian history and theology and her articulation of how gay Catholics can pour their love and need for connection into friendships, community, service, and artistic creation.

We would all do well to read and understand that last sentence again. It dispels the notion that a life of celibacy is necessarily a lonely one.

It can be. But there are other possibilities.

Interestingly, I’ve heard similar thoughts expressed by clergy: celibacy is said to enhance their ability to love, and to love more deeply, more people than if they were in a one-on-one marital relationship. The time, the caring, the love not concentrated on the one can be more readily available for the many.

Christian perfection and potentially more intimate, loving friendships. Quite a trade-off.

Gay and Catholic.

Yes it’s possible. Perhaps not easy. Perhaps not desirable. But certainly possible.

And it just might be the one road – albeit fraught with its own peculiar landmines, disappointments, and pain – that ultimately leads many home.

From the sound of it, Eve has already traveled pretty far along that road.

Here is the link to order your copy of Eve’s book. And you can read more about Eve and her book in this America Magazine interview.

May you find that your own particular path home is blessed.


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  • Maria

    Certainly NOT an easy path. Thanks Tom, you may have helped open the door for others to find their way back.

    • Tom Zampino

      Thank you Maria. I pray that you are right!

  • captcrisis

    You describe a Church that might exist in the (hopefully near) future but does not exist yet. If gay Catholics must live a life of celibacy anyway, why are they forbidden to become priests? Why can’t even single gay people become adoptive parents? These are irrational positions that can only be explained by homophobia. One can see this here at the Patheos “Catholic Channel”. During the recent synod, there was a lot of consternation when it seemed that teaching on homosexuality might change (such as on gay marriage), and barely disguised glee when it turned out it wouldn’t. Dr. Popcak, for example, danced all around his couch. Again, this can only be explained by homophobia, a revulsion of homosexuality that has to be overcome before Catechism c. 2358 can be truly complied with.

    • Episteme

      Much of the problem falls also with the idolatry of nuclear-family procreation that the modern Church has (and fears that things like the synods will threaten). Just as CCC 2359 Catholics are shunned, even heterosexual celibate lay Catholics who have charitable reasons not to marry (such as those who are tasked with caring for other family members at certain stages of their life before they might be able to create such pair bonds – the CCC 2231 Catholic) is likewise shunned or mocked. To too many nowadays, sadly, the reaction to a secular world gone awry is NOT to go out and try to evangelize but rather to attempt to freeze the Church into an imagined social purity that never existed in this community of sinners-seeking-perfection.

      After all, we’re not intrinsically any better than anyone out there (pick an epistle, any epistle!), we just have the manual, hopefully some graces that aren’t our doing, and the task of building a better world of love that includes working to save our fellow man – and that means being a support for those who are seeking a helping hand with controlling the flesh, not playing musical chairs with the pews and pushing out those who didn’t existentially get there in time…

    • Laureen

      Homosexual men are in the priesthood; who told u they aren’t? If a “gay” person is celibate/chaste in his/her life, who told u s/he “can’t” adopt a child? I am one, & know a slew of other people, who have 0 “homophobia” in the blood. “Married” & “homosexual” is an oxymoron–a contradiction in terms. Marriage between homosexuals (both genders) doesn’t exist, CAN’T exist. Like purple cows, leprechauns & the man in the moon don’t exist–they’re fantasies. Marriage is now, always has been, & always will be, a lifelong committed union between 1 woman & 1 man.

      I think u ought to get your facts straight first; THEN u can distort them any way you want to.

  • Tom Zampino

    A comment was deleted. Please re-read my comment policy.

  • MaryRoseM

    Catholics who are single, divorced or choose to remain single, are also called to chastity.This represents a very large number of people. All of us are called to chastity and that would also include those who are married. Each of us according to our station in life.

    • Laureen

      How are married persons called to “chastity”? What are you talking about?
      What definition of “chastity” are you working with? ‘Chaste’ married couples? What?

      • Tom Zampino

        “Chaste” does not mean the same as “celibacy” in this context. The Catechism, for example, defines “Offenses Against Chastity” to include the use of pornography, prostitution, rape, masturbation, lust, and adultery. CCC 2351 – 2356. Thus even married men and women are called to chastity.

        • Laureen

          The topic here has has 0 to do w/”offenses” against chastity, & your quote from the CCC doesn’t even mention homosexuality/acts, which is the subject. I consulted my dictionary, published by McMillan, & wrote my reply based on how it defines these terms::
          “CHASTITY: a way of life that excludes sexual activity, esp. for religious reasons.”
          “CELIBACY: a state of not having sex for a period of time, or of never having sex.”
          My CCC isn’t handy, but I don’t know if it gives definitions of these terms.
          Married couples are not called to chastity or celibacy as defined by my dictionary, & that’s what I was replying to. I was never chaste or celibate when I was married; I still assert that these 2 states are directed @ those who are not married–rather than those who are.

          • PSdan

            No, they are both correct. Hie thee to the CCC.

  • Laureen

    Any person not married is called to the chaste or celibate state. Doesn’t matter who you are attracted to sexually–which in no way defines who you are as a person–if you are unmarried, you are to refrain/abstain from all sexual activity. So yes, if a person is willing to submit his/her impulses/attractions to the doctrines of the Church on sexuality, along w/the rest s/he must do to be & stay in full communion w/the Church, a “gay” person can be a full-fledged member of the 1 True Church. The key here is adhering to the teachings of the Church, on sexuality & everything else.

    “Gay” (AND straight) & Catholic DO go together. (Sexually inactive gays, that is; & chaste unmarried heterosexuals, & married couples–all are welcome, all can be Catholic)