The 100th Sheep
Reconciling homosexuality and Catholicism at Notre Dame
Editor’s note: The interviewees requested that their names be changed. The author, concerned for the privacy of the interviewees, also requested to remain anonymous. For more information, contact the Rover at email@example.com.
In the midst of a conversation on campus about the Church’s response to homosexuality, two male students who are both gay and Catholic spoke with the Rover about God, faith, sexuality and the Notre Dame experience.
James and Patrick began with remarks about their journeys of faith and sexuality.
“For a long time I ignored the issue completely,” James said. “I even dated a girl for two years going into my freshman year.”
After one of his closest friends came out to him second semester of his freshman year, James felt called to practice more “self-analysis and prayer,” and ended up telling that friend later in the semester that he, too, is gay.
Patrick also began experiencing feelings of attraction toward boys in late middle school, but neither of them realized what those feelings meant until much later.
Like James, Patrick was in several relationships with girls that all resulted in friendships. He did not come out to anyone at Notre Dame until after Christmas break of his freshman year.
Patrick elaborated on why he waited so long to acknowledge his homosexuality: “It was really a fear of not being accepted. At that point I had done a lot of research about the Catholic teaching; I knew it was considered ‘intrinsically disordered’ and my thought was that any manifestation would be strictly prohibited, even talking about it.”
James highlighted some of the difficulties in coming out: “It’s not just the fact that you’re gay; if you’re Catholic, also by choosing to acknowledge the fact that I’m gay, I will never be married, never have a family, and possibly find discrimination or be looked down upon. I always had this mindset of going to school, getting a job, starting a family, etc … and that came crashing down around me.”
Both James and Patrick shared that they were wary of being “labeled” and considered part of the popular gay culture if they were open about their homosexuality.
“If you tell people that you’re gay, they automatically assume you’re pro gay-marriage,” James said.
But he and Patrick assert that is not necessarily the case.
For instance, James sees it as a serious misconception to assume that if a person is both gay and Catholic, he must be “very closeted or uncomfortable with himself.”
Both shared that the student body is “more welcoming than they are given credit for” but also suggested a more nuanced view is needed to understand the experiences of gay Notre Dame students.
“I don’t think there’s a hostile attitude toward homosexuals; rather, students are uncomfortable with the question itself,” Patrick said.
James likewise stated: “I know in my dorm there’s a guy who came out about his sexuality, and he has received nothing but acceptance … But sometimes there’s an atmosphere of taboo about the subject.”
Searching for the source of this taboo, the Rover proceeded to ask how, if at all, Notre Dame is a microcosm for the experience of gay Catholics within the Church. How is the Catholic Church meeting the spiritual needs of the faithful LGBT community?
James responded: “Very few people in ministry are taught about how to minister to LGBT youth and adults even though we are expected to live out this extremely difficult calling of lifelong celibacy. There are very few people who understand the difficulties of the LGBT community within the Church. That’s why you have all these voices that are so loud and often so bitter and angry with the Church right now—because they feel they’re lost sheep and no one has come to find them.”
Patrick shared: “It’s like faithful, religious homosexual people are an anomaly … A lot of times when a few religious people get together, you’ll get a lot of ‘well the gays want this, but this is what the Church says.’ It’s this collective concept of there’s ‘them’ over there and the Church over here, like we’re intrinsically separated. Then … within the gay community there’s this sense that religious people are trying to put us down. So from both sides, there’s a sense that one can’t stand both within the Church and still be a homosexual. That attitude has to go away; it’s alienating many, many people.”
In response to these statements, the Rover sought clarification about desires for doctrinal changes versus acknowledgement of faithful, gay Catholics.
“Instead of being acknowledged,” James said, “it’s like we’re being looked down on. You hear a message of irreconcilability promulgated through the media and other sources as a teenager that says if you start feeling these feelings of attraction and you’re Catholic then you need to choose one or the other. That’s something that I went through myself. The Church accepts homosexuals; you don’t have to choose one or the other. The fact remains, however, that the Church’s call to homosexuals is very difficult.”
Both James and Patrick are heeding the call to celibacy, but not without some difficulty.
“It’s a difficult thing to be told when you’re twenty years old that you’ll be spending the rest of your life not alone, but on your own,” James shared. “That’s why people look at you and say, ‘You are insane, why are you doing this?’ Oftentimes people don’t see that faith is such a beautiful thing. I cannot imagine not living a life of faith, so if that’s what it comes down to, of course that’s what I’m going to do.”
Patrick expressed feelings of isolation.
“That’s what’s so hard, there’s this call, this very rocky road that they [the Church] ask of us [homosexuals], and once we’re on the road, they say goodbye and go down the easy road,” he said.
The question facing the Church concerns the most effective ways to pastorally approach teachings about homosexuality.
“The teaching is loving at its heart, and that of course is present in the Church,” Patrick explained. “It’s just a matter of the Church figuring out how to manifest it … Attitudinally I think a sense of acceptance and a sense of love within the Body of the Church … would be earth-shaking for many of us.”
Despite this, neither of the men saw an inherent contradiction between being gay and Catholic, and both offered advice to others struggling with their sexuality and their faith.
“It’s a long path, but reconciliation can be reached between the two. You have to understand that, and that’s not easy, but we’re here to help you. We want to help you,” James expressed. “Reach out to someone, and realize that you aren’t alone. You are not the only person who is both gay and in the Church.”
Patrick offered: “The first thing that I would say is that you’re not alone … keep hope and stand firm in who you are as a person, in who you are as a faithful man. It is a difficult road, and I can’t lie and say that it is easy. There will be many winds and many rains that want to knock you off your way and change you, and you have to learn to identify those forces and stand against them, because they’ll come from all sides.”
The Rover concluded the interview by asking James and Patrick if they, as representatives of gay Catholics, feel welcomed by the Church. The longest pause of the day followed.
“I think that initial welcome is there in the Church, they want to accept, they just don’t know how,” James remarked.
Patrick’s response was less optimistic: “No, I don’t think I feel welcomed by the Church. I think I need to have to my foot in the door, but I want to put my foot in the door because I know at some point I’ll be embraced.”