February 15, 2012

Devil’s Advocate

[Editor's note: Please welcome our newest writer to the blog! We're thrilled to have you, Shane!]

Like so many people who write on this blog, I was falling inlove—but it wasn’t the Disney story I imagined it would be. It was going all wrong.

No, this isn’t another coming out story. And Love Story time was yesterday, so this isn’t a story about how the man of my dreams came and swept me away despite my best heteronormative efforts. No, I can’t even get “falling in love all wrong” right. You see, I was falling in love with the Catholic Church. Not just God and not just Catholicism—those two had laid irrevocable claims on my soul long before—but specifically the Roman Catholic Church.

You can imagine my surprise. Despite the fact that at that point in my life, I was just coming to terms with my sexuality, and, on top of that, I already had my fair share of struggles with Church teaching. Growing up, I had been pretty much the only Christian—much less Catholic—in my group of friends, and so I had heard the various objections to the Church's teachings ad nauseum. But despite all of this, I couldn’t ignore the fact that God was undeniably calling me to a deeper involvement with His Church.

This seemed to be just a bit of a problem. There are gay guys out there who are, philosophically speaking, theistic. There are even gay guys out there who identify as Catholic, but who often maintain a careful disdain of the institutional Roman Church. Gay guys who consider themselves in love with the Roman Catholic Church seem to be few and far between.

What I was hearing all around me didn’t help [“Why are you still Catholic at all?”], and even the counselor I was seeing told me it was hopeless. I mean, I’ve sworn off hopeless crushes on straight guys; how could I expect any relationship with the Church to work out any better?

Hans Küng, an ecumenical theologian and Catholic priest once wrote “the problem ofGod is more important than the problem of the Church; but the latter often stands in the way of the former." I agree with Küng when he says this last part doesn’t have to be the case.

“There are two ways of getting home,” GK Chesterton writes in The Everlasting Man,“and one of them is to stay there. The other way is to walk all the way round the whole world till we comeback to the same place.” While I could hold up My Experience as infallible and withhold my assent to the Church until she reworks the witness of 2000 years of some of the world's brightest men and women so I don’t ever have to be challenged, I have seen my interpretation of my experience be wrong or incomplete again and again.

At the end of the day, every time I am at Mass or Adoration,God confirms He wants me in His Church. And I have no clue why He’s asking that of me, to be honest. It’d be so much easier to join some nice LGBT-affirming Episcopalian parish. But I can’t. I am Roman Catholic. And my love of God—of Catholicism—of Church—really isn’t a choice. And I can no more divorce my Church from myself than I can my sexuality.


  1. Shane,

    Thanks for sharing! It's so good to hear from another gay Catholic. I loved God's Church before I loved my girlfriend, and I don't believe He wants me to choose between the two. Thank you for sharing the beautiful story of your faith and love.

  2. It's good to see another faithful blogger. Though I'm not one (as you know :-P) diversity of opinion is a very important thing to have on this blog. And it's fun! I'm glad that you chose to start writing for this.

    As for your posts, I like the corollary that you draw between identifying as Catholic and identifying as Gay. Out of curiosity, is it that you see the Church's doctrine on homosexuality as something that will eventually change, or just something that you'll have to live with?

  3. "I can no more divorce my Church from myself than I can my sexuality." Alright, that's absolute crap.

    Your desire to become a part of an organization that rejects the very core of your being is masochistic and makes me concerned for your mental health.

  4. Welcome! It's awesome that you find yourself in love with the Church (and I wish I had stuck around more senior year [/my apologies], not that that was entirely my choice :S).

    My spiritual identity/religious affiliation is tough to discuss, probably because I'm not entirely sure where I stand. I explored atheism for a while (or disguised thoughts of it as ignosticism, but as it turns out I am definitely a theist). That experience was also very much like coming out.

    My parents tirelessly insist that I AM Catholic, but I guess I've grown distant from the institution (and feel unwelcome in some places by its members) and have increasingly distanced myself from the name. And frankly they (the institution) just keep doing and saying things that are offensive or just embarrassing.

    And I feel what you mean about/have seen everywhere what you say about people recommending either you leave the Church or accept its teachings entirely (embrace your "objectively disordered" nature [as the Catechism phrases it]? Ugh, I hate that wording).

    I respect your struggle perhaps more than you know--to this day I feel not up to the exhausting fight, even if I feel at (many!) times called to it. It must be difficult to find yourself in love with the Church, to feel what are surely such mixed/conflicting influences.

    So for now, I work on my family and conservative Catholic sister in particular, as little good as it feels I am doing. I wish so much I could be at Duke to talk to you about all this because there's so much I'd love to learn from you. But for what it's worth, keep fighting the good fight! Let me know if you have time to talk sometime; it'd be awesome to hear your thoughts on some of the arguments the Church makes.

    Relatedly, are there any reading materials which have proven particularly helpful or enlightening? Thanks for sharing all of this; I have so much respect for you and your struggles in this, though I feel I'm somewhat given up the fight myself, at least for a while. Best of luck!

  5. @Anonymous 1:28:

    I am so sorry that you seem to be so shortsighted. I don't think it's "absolute crap" that this author refuses to let one tenet of Church doctrine force him to abandon what is clearly an important part of his life. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of the Catholic Church in general (I'm not especially spiritual so I guess it's pretty easy), but I would never project that opinion onto individual Catholics because not all Catholics share anti-gay beliefs, even if that is the official position of the Church.

    I'll give you a more personal example. I was in ROTC here at Duke while Don't Ask Don't Tell was still in effect, but not once did my patriotism or dedication to the organization falter because of my opinion of one military policy. The American government isn't perfect, but I still love my country as much now as ever before. Does this make me a masochist? Should I see a mental health professional?

    I'd go into more detail, but frankly I don't want to waste the time explaining something so obvious. I know a few closeted Christians who refuse to admit who they are because of how their respective churches would feel about it--at least Shane is honest about who he is and what he believes in. I don't think it's crazy for him to love Catholicism, I think it's courageous--certainly more courageous than someone who refuses to identify him/herself while insulting someone with whom s/he disagrees.

    P.S. I hope anyone reading my comment will appreciate the following reference:

  6. @Kyle: I have heard various opinions on this, but generally speaking, the view seems to be the development of doctrine is a slow process and that to expect considerable development of this doctrine in the near future would probably be unrealistic.

    @anon1:28: I guess my response, besides inviting you to contact me cause I love talking about things like this, is to ask why my sexuality is more fundamental to my core being than my soul.

    @matt: The relationship between the Church as the People of God and the Church as the hierarchical institution is an interesting one--and of course neither of those are strictly monolithic. With respect to the Catechism, it has this to say on homosexuals: "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity" (CCC 2358).

    I think the popular debate one sees on this topic has suffered from isolating this question from the rest of the Catholic doctrine. The thing about Catholic doctrine is how it is extremely cohesive. Try to just change one part of it and you start realizing that everything is so interconnected...I could go on, but I'll just shoot you an email and we can continue discussing this at your leisure.

  7. Shane - really interesting post! Among other things, it gives me - a lapsed Catholic who has nonetheless never had any doctrinal admonitions against being my full self - a great deal to think about when you - someone who can only be in full communion with the Church by denying what I believe to be an inherent part of your self - have such a deep and sincere connection to the Church.

    To be honest, my highest hurdle with the Roman Catholic Church is in the treatment of women. I distinctly remember in grade school (Catholic) one of the priests berating one of the nuns for something on the order of having taken a tray out of the tabernacle to clean it. That he elected to do this just before mass started while the 1st-8th graders were in attendance, and that the nun was someone we had all had for reading class and who practiced that kind of tough but loving educational style that makes you respect her for demanding that you respect yourself, and that his later apology (over the intercom, no less) was peppered with caveats about, "but women should not..." was, I believe, the beginning of the end of my ability to feel I could better know and serve God through the Roman Catholic Church.

    I'm afraid at the moment another among the problems I have connecting with the Roman Catholic Church is a deep sense of cynicism about the hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church leadership at, basically, all levels. Given the decades of abuse that have been perpetrated against the innocent by men in positions of power, and given the response to that abuse of cover-ups, attacks on the victims, and so on, I do not believe the Roman Catholic Church has heard Jesus' teaching particularly well - specifically from Matthew 7:3-5:

    3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

    I certainly respect your statement to Matt about cohesiveness and consistency - though (being a bit flip) - I would also pass along this about consistency :)

  8. Shane, welcome to the blog and thank you for sharing. I love it.

  9. Shane, your courage and intellect are inspiring. Indeed, the tapestry of the Church's teachings begins to unravel with removal of any of the threads. It seems that fully embracing those teachings means tempering one area of your life in order to, out of pure love, more fully develop your whole (spiritual and physical) self. God be with you on your lifelong journey.