Perspectives: Can you be gay and Catholic?

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Can you be gay and Catholic?

As part of the Perspectives series, BBC Religion and Ethics asked two contributors, both practising Roman Catholics to express their different standpoints. The Church's view is that sex should only take place within a marriage between a man and a woman.

Joe Ronan is a businessman and technologist who recently joined the Catholic Voices team. He is a lifelong Catholic, married with four children and takes an active part in parish life, as well as in the local community.

Terry is a practising Catholic, fully active in two parishes, who runs the Queering the Church website. Although once married, with two daughters and four grandchildren, he later recognized that he is gay. He lives with his civil partner and has been involved with the gay-friendly Soho Masses in London.

"What is a gay Catholic to do?"

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Humans have many ways of defining and expressing themselves, and the Church encourages them to explore all facets of their existence, not just their sexuality”

End Quote Joe Ronan Catholic Voices

Terry: A few years ago, the Jesuit priest James Martin put an important question at America magazine:

"What," he asked, "Is a gay Catholic to do?"

Introducing his question, Fr Martin began by observing five actions that most people would regard as standard life experiences or choices, but which are prohibited to gay Catholics if they wish to conform to standard Church teaching.

Briefly, these actions are:

To experience romantic, sexual love, to get married, to adopt children, to seek ordination, to take employment with the Church or its agencies.

I'd be interested in your response to his question - what is a gay Catholic to do?

Joe: The short answer is that they can do pretty much what every other Catholic can do; build bridges, run banks or oil companies, collect bins, be plumbers or doctors or lawyers, or whatever their skills allow them. Humans have many ways of defining and expressing themselves, and the Church encourages them to explore all facets of their existence, not just their sexuality.

We are asked to control our sexuality and not be dominated by it (or by any other part of our personality). This is as true for heterosexuality as for homosexuality. Any man that can show he has a commitment to celibacy, of either inclination, would be acceptable for ordination.

Terry: In Genesis 2, the Lord says, "It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a companion". St Paul writes, "It is better for a man to marry, than to burn". So, it is good to share our lives with another. Neither of these says "But not if he's gay". How then, do you suggest a gay man or woman should live in loving companionship with another?

Blessed single life

Joe: Paul in that passage makes it quite clear that there are many ways a man can be fulfilled apart from marriage. He also shows that there are trials and difficulties in all states. Life is not easy which ever path we're on. We're asked make the best of where we are and who we are, to channel our passions and energies to the benefit of our communities.

Attitudes to same-sex marriage

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Find out about other Christian attitudes to same-sex marriage on BBC Religion and Ethics

There are many ways of living in companionship and community that are fulfilling and worthwhile. When I was a young man, I was to some extent lonely, but found community and brotherhood with friends. For some that is a permanent way of life that is valued just as much as marriage.

Not all paths are open to everyone, but we flourish best when we maximise the potential we can achieve, not what might have been.

Terry: Are you suggesting then, that for a young man bursting with hormones, brought up and socially conditioned to believe that the natural course of human happiness is to marry and have children, he should be content to live alone and seek solace in "friends"?

That's not very helpful.

When I was young, fresh out of Catholic school, I simply assumed that I was obliged to follow (or attempt to follow) Catholic doctrines in every respect.

The result was that at a far too early age, I married a good Catholic woman with whom I had a strong emotional and intellectual connection - but no sexual spark at all. As it turned out, this was totally unfair on her.

Joe: The community and brotherhood I found was not at all a matter of "seeking solace", it was a tremendously fun and enlivening time which helped me understand myself much more, and made it more likely that I would achieve my full potential.

The point I'm making is that each person is unique and much greater than just their sexual orientation. There are many ways they can express love outside the sexual and those so blessed can be a huge source of inspiration to others. In not being married one is free to love a lot more people. That call to love everyone, rather than just one, is a positive and transforming one, and it has made saints of some.

Being single is a great opportunity to be express love in the world.

A deep struggle

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I have found since, that the more fully I have accepted and embraced my sexuality as God-given - the deeper I have been drawn into the practice of the Catholic faith”

End Quote Terry Queering the Church

Terry: I've had enough of skirting around abstractions and platitudes, Joe. I began by asking what is a gay Catholic to do. Let me now move on, to the varied strategies that many gay Catholics have adopted - starting with my own, heterosexual marriage.

You avoided answering my question, did you think that it was fair on my wife? My considered view, looking back with hindsight, is that it patently was not.

As good Catholics, we avoided all contraception - and two children quickly followed, to two young people grossly ill-prepared for child-raising. After a hugely difficult and tragic time for both of us, the strain on our marriage was intolerable - we both drifted steadily away from any religious practice or (in my case) even belief.

Joe: Your experience has been harrowing Terry, and though I don't know you I can respect you and sympathise with you. I have friends and family who have had similar turmoil in life and know how much it costs them.

None of us are untouched by life, it is for most a series of demanding and disrupting events for which no-one is ever prepared. I too have struggled and even now take things one at a time.

There's a reason for all those songs on the theme 'Day by day', 'One step at a time'; struggle is part of the human condition.

For me the enduring image of the Church is of a column of the sick, the poor, the lame, the oppressed, the flawed, all holding each other up as they struggle towards God. I'm part of that flawed community and I gain strength from being part of it, but I benefit most from what I give to it. I'm sorry if you find that simplistic or platitudinous, but to me it is what keeps life in perspective and helps me through.

The journey to understand ourselves

Terry: No Joe, I don't find that response in any way simplistic, but sincere - and accurate. Indeed, that image of a supportive Church is what has carried me, since - but that's getting ahead of the story.

So, I resume.

While trying to live fully within Church doctrine, I had been led into a disastrous and quite literally destructive marriage - and steadily drifted away from all religious practice.

Now, here's the central irony of my life. Like myself, my current partner was not a churchgoer when we met - but gradually, he returned to his Anglican faith, and then led me back to the Catholic Church, into which he was received himself. I have found since, that the more fully I have accepted and embraced my sexuality as God-given - the deeper I have been drawn into the practice of the faith.

Joe: One of the hardest journeys we have in life is the journey to understand ourselves. I'm certainly not there yet, but like you I think, I'm closer to that understanding that I was years ago, and I wish you well as you continue that journey.

I find the message of the Church is wide, all-encompassing and speaks to something deep inside. It calls us all to fulfil God's will, but also warns us that there are crosses to bear. One aspect of that is its teaching on marriage and sexuality which demands a high standard of all of us.

It values the openness to creation above other matters.

That is testing for many of all sexual inclinations, the unmarried and married alike.

The Church's message to us is a very positive one. The more we come to know ourselves, the better we know God, since we are made in his image. It's a long tunnel, but I hope we both see the light at the end of it.

Perspectives is a forum for invited contributors to write about personal and contemporary issues of faith and ethics. The views expressed here are those of the individual authors, not the BBC.

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