It’s no secret that the Catholic Church is probably the most outspoken, dedicated, and well-funded out of all the groups opposing LGBT equality. America’s Catholic hierarchy is packed with homophobes, some of whom have become household names (Timothy Dolan, John Nienstedt, Salvatore Cordileone, Thomas Paprocki).
Whether it’s marriage equality, adoption rights, employment non-discrimination, immigration reform, or violence against women -- if a policy advances the rights of or even includes LGBT people, chances are our country’s Catholic bishops oppose it.
And they’re in it for the long haul: at their meeting this summer, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted to ignore Pope Francis’ call to stop “obsessing” over same-sex marriage and instead vowed to continue their unholy crusade against it for as long as necessary. The fight against equal marriage rights “[is] a major task on a generational scale,” Baltimore Archbishop William Lori said, comparing it to the bishops’ decades-long struggle against legalized abortion.
This malicious anti-LGBT spiritual bullying has real-life consequences for LGBT Catholics and their families. It seems like every week we hear another story about a gay church musician fired for marrying his husband, a lesbian Catholic school teacher forced to resign after getting engaged to her longtime female partner, a church administrator who has to choose between keeping her job and signing a “code of conduct” that condemns people like her gay son. And LGBT youth who grow up in the Catholic faith often experience higher levels of anxiety, guilt, and shame around their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
It’s a reality I know all too well -- I myself was one of those queer Catholic kids. The realization that I was gay came with feelings of extreme guilt, serious self-loathing, and sheer terror about the prospect of spending an eternity in hell.
I was determined to rid myself of my homosexuality by any means necessary, up to and including suicide, which I attempted when I was 16 years old. Several years later, after I’d finally reconciled my spirituality with my sexuality and I’d met and married the love of my life, I was pushed out of my public music ministry in the Catholic Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The diocesan official who banned me said my presence as a married gay man would “cause a scandal.” Although this all happened many years ago and I’ve since left religion altogether, the wounds never go away; I remember the pain inflicted on me by the Catholic Church like it happened yesterday.
That’s probably why I get so irritated by people who react to the church’s targeting and firing of LGBT Catholics and allies with a shrug, a sneer, or a dismissive, self-righteous comment like “what did they expect?” Unless you’ve gone through it yourself, you have no idea what a shattering, life altering, demoralizing, and humiliating experience it is. “What did they expect?” is victim blaming, pure and simple, and the absolute worst way to respond when a person is suffering.
Just as maddening as “what did they expect?” is the other response that people always seem to have to the gay Catholic musician, lesbian Catholic school teacher, or church worker with an LGBT child: “why do they belong to an organization that hates them?”
This response is completely masturbatory: it makes the person saying it feel good about themselves for what they perceive to be their superior state of enlightenment, but doesn’t actually accomplish much else. Instead of acknowledging the victim’s unjust suffering and offering sympathy and support, this response shames them for being in a spiritual place that’s different from one’s own. It’s also profoundly unhelpful, unless one believes that only certain LGBT people, in certain religious communities and faith traditions, deserve justice and basic human dignity.
The fact is, there will always be LGBT Catholics, and there will always be LGBT kids who are born into Catholic families and who will struggle with the guilt, shame, and increased risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide that the church’s homophobic teachings cause. We must care about them, stand with them, and speak out on their behalf when they encounter bigotry, even — no, especially — when that bigotry is expected and routine. The alternative — responding to suffering members of our community with a cold-hearted shrug of indifference because they happen to be Catholic — is nothing short of reprehensible.