Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
December 31st, 2009

A Queer Conversation

A traditional nun and her openly gay cousin discuss sexuality and the Catholic Church

by and Sr. Bernadette Reis and Paul Mages
 
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Sr. Bernadette and Paul Mages, Christmas 1989

Sr. Bernadette and Paul Mages, Christmas 1989

BH: How have your perceptions of the Catholic Church changed?

PM: Well, the Catholic Church is so diverse. You have the hierarchy, which to me seems a bit out of touch, but then you have local churches, some of which seem magnificent. And then you have individuals — it’s really hard to generalize.

BH: You mentioned feeling unwelcome in the Catholic Church. Through Bernadette, do you feel a connection that maybe you hadn’t felt — with Catholicism maybe?

PM: No, I guess not profoundly because of my relationship with Bernadette. I don’t think that changed anything.

BH: Sister Bernadette, how have your perceptions of homosexuality changed since getting to know Paul and his partner on a more intimate level, friendship level — personal level?

SB: Well, it was my first close relationship with anyone who is gay, and I began to see that on the level of their feelings for each other, their relationship is similar to the feelings expressed by married couples that I know — my brothers and my sisters-in-law, friends. And I remember when I went home in January and my mother told me that she had heard that Paul had broken up and she obviously wanted more information. And I realized that this is just as sacred a relationship as anyone else and if anything’s been confided in me, it stays with me.

PM: I wrote in my Christmas card to Mary’s parents, you know, just a little bit telling them we were no longer together. But I rarely see them. I don’t have a really deep relationship with them. I mean, they’re family and I have a specific relationship with each one of them and great memories and all that. But it’s just too hard to develop a really deep, continuous relationship. Like when I was coming out, I realized that not all people, including family members, did not need to know the same amount of information.

“It was my first close relationship with anyone who is gay, and I began to see that on the level of their feelings for each other, their relationship is similar to the feelings expressed by married couples that I know… After I said something about how broken up you were, and that I was really concerned — and my Mom looked at me and she said, ‘well, then I guess’ — she said — ‘it’s just the same as if a married couple had broken up, isn’t it?’ with, like, the most 180-degree turn in emotion that I could detect in my Mom.” — Sister Bernadette

SB: And I think I really was able to communicate to my Mom something of what I had developed in my own understanding, and that is that, “what Paul is going through you would understand because you’re married, Mom.” And it actually came out because she then said to me — after I said something about how broken up you were, and that I was really concerned — and my Mom looked at me and she said, “well, then I guess” — she said — “it’s just the same as if a married couple had broken up, isn’t it?” with, like, the most 180-degree turn in emotion that I could detect in my Mom. And I felt really, really proud, I think, that I had been able to convey to her from my own relationship that this sensitivity that we owe to my cousin Paul is really the same that we would offer to a couple who’s going through a separation or a divorce, even though we may not agree with it or condone it or understand it. Their reality is something else, regardless. In the past, my Mom has not been so understanding about people who are homosexual. And I was just very proud that I was able to somehow convey to her, without having to say it, but just in the way I myself was reacting and projecting my emotion of what I was experiencing for you and your partner and how deeply I felt for both of you as you were going through this, that she was able to get the message.

PM: It was probably like that in Jesus’ time, too. He didn’t judge, but he got to know everybody. And then others probably witnessed, “Gee, look how Jesus acts with those people. It’s not so strange after all.” Or, “Gee, that must be what it’s like.”

BH: You’ve talked a little bit about your prayer life, Paul, and how in dealing with your sexuality you prayed. I’d be interested in hearing a little more about your own spirituality.

PM: It’s hard to sum it up. I’ve never tried to put it into words. Well, I mean being Christian is the most important thing in my life. The last ten, twenty years — ever since I really started questioning things, like in college. I just figured God created us and it just seems like it should be the most important focus in my life and everything comes from God, everything’s affected by God. So I just know the way I live is important, for myself and for who witnesses how I live. You know, I believe my soul is going to transform somehow after I die and so I wanted to be in good shape to meet God in whatever state that is — body, soul, both, neither. Just spending more time kind of devoting myself to my spirituality. I just kept reinforcing it and it made more sense, and it’s just taken on a greater percentage of who I am.

BH: Is it important to you that a partner share that faith?

PM: Well I think so. My former partner was brought up Catholic, officially, but they never went to church. I don’t think he had much of a prayer life, and you know, through me I think God reached him, and I was thankful for that. And he became more spiritual, more Christian through our relationship. I think it would be difficult to be with somebody who didn’t even believe in God. I mean, I think there would have to be a kernel of common ground there to build on. But I would never rule somebody out of a relationship just because they didn’t share very, very similar beliefs.

SB: It was obvious to me that it was a priority for you to get to your church on Sunday whenever you are here, so I mean, I could tell right away that that was definitely a commitment that both of them made. They rearranged their Sunday around it. I remember you guys discussing your Sunday plans at times and it was about ‘how we’re going to get to church, and when’.

BH: It doesn’t sound like coming to terms with your sexuality was even a bump in the road in your relationship with God.

“I just thought… how could God create all the people in the world if some of them aren’t intended and they’re mistakes and they should be corrected or have surgery or be converted? That just didn’t seem like what a loving God would do.” — Paul

PM: Well, it was. I mean, I was hoping I wasn’t doing something wrong, and I had to come to terms with it over time. It wasn’t just one moment where I just prayed about it, got the answer, and then it was taken care of. But over time, like I was saying earlier, I just thought that if you’re with somebody in a meaningful relationship, how can God frown upon it. And how could God create all the people in the world if some of them aren’t intended and they’re mistakes and they should be corrected or have surgery or be converted? That just didn’t seem like what a loving God would do. It just kind of made sense to me that I am supposed to be this way and these relationships are approved by God.

BH: Has getting to know Sister Bernadette again sparked any different thinking in your own sexuality, in your own behavior at all? Has it changed you at all? Reconnecting to a religious sister?

PM: I’m proud to have her as a close friend and member of my extended family. My relationship with her has reinforced my belief that in the Church there are capable, purposeful human beings trying to act in as holy a way as possible.

aqueerconversation-inside3b

BH: Has it changed you, Sister Bernadette, in regards to Paul?

SB: It’s changed me in the sense that what had been an issue that was very clear for me, is not so clear anymore — not in terms of what the Church teaches but in terms of my own understanding, I guess, just because of how murky and messy — ‘messy’ is not really the right word — how mysterious, I think is the better word to use. I don’t have access to all of the experience for me to even figure it out, I guess. So I’m willing to just let it go. I’m willing to really believe, like I said, that God is a father. And He’s working out with each one of us our salvation. And going back to the fact that each of us is extremely wounded and broken, you know, regardless of the life that we profess or live. And I think I’m a lot more ready to leave it in His hands rather than try to correct someone.

BH: Paul, some people reading this might find this pairing — a gay man and a traditional religious sister — somewhat odd, although you clearly don’t. Is there anything you think people need to understand?

PM: Well, one thing might be: once you’ve been judged I think it’s a lot easier to not judge in the future.

BH: Really? So you don’t feel judgment toward family members who judge you? Your feeling is not anger, necessarily?

“My relationship with her has reinforced my belief that in the Church there are capable, purposeful human beings trying to act in as holy a way as possible.”
— Paul

“What had been an issue that was very clear for me, is not so clear anymore… I’m willing to really believe… that God is a father. And He’s working out with each one of us our salvation. And… each of us is extremely wounded and broken, you know, regardless of the life that we profess or live. And I think I’m a lot more ready to leave it in His hands rather than try to correct someone.”
— Sister Bernadette

PM: No, I think they just don’t understand. Maybe they have no first-hand experience with being judged. I just know I’m very careful now, and when you, Sister Bernadette, were speaking earlier about your reactions I thought maybe you were referring to what I think of when I — somebody does something and I, you know, I think a racist comment or, you know, anything against some person because of what they look like, what they say or what they do, and I have to quickly correct myself and say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t like when people do that to me.’

BH: Well you must make judgments in life.

PM: Well, I make judgments but I don’t want to judge people. I mean, certain actions seem to me to be appropriate/inappropriate. But I’m not God, I’m not the judger.

BH: So once you’ve been judged in your life —

PM: I think it gives you a different insight. If you’ve never had any kind of difficulty in that way to deal with — you know, it’s easy to just sit and say, “You’re wrong. You’re not white. You’re not male. You’re not rich. You’re not this. But once you’ve had to be on the other side and feel like somebody’s judging you; I don’t know, it just made me more humble.

BH: Has that changed your relationship to the rest of the world?

PM: Well, I guess a bit. Sure. I want to be of service to others. Yeah, I look for opportunities to get involved that way. I have a new attitude toward the homeless. It’s one group that I just really, I just really feel like I really want to help them in some profound way, somehow, sometime.

BH: Sister Bernadette? One thing you’d like to let people know?

SB: I guess the message I would like to give is that our main concern should be the person. And getting to know a person — allowing a person to reveal who he or she is rather than forcing my own revelation onto a person. And in that way, I think, in a relationship of openness and acceptance, I think we have the greatest ability to grow. And if there are ways that we need to be able to grow, I think that because of the love that a person has for another person, that it creates the ground for growth to be able to take place. And to allow myself to be challenged, too. I mean, because Paul and his partner, the gift that they’ve given me, has really challenged my understanding and has left me a lot like — I thrive on being sure — and I’m a lot less thriving on that.

PM: I would just hope, you know, the Church — again, that huge entity — would be able to slowly think a little bit more like Bernadette. Trying to just assess before reacting and get to know the people you’re dealing with before judging.

Originally published on June 3, 2009.

Pages: 1 2 3

Pages: 1 2 3

 
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
The Author : Bill McGarvey
Bill McGarvey is co-author of Busted Halo’s Freshman Survival Guide. Bill was editor-in-chief of Busted Halo for six year. In addition to having written extensively on the topics of culture and faith for NPR, Commonweal, America, The Tablet (in London), Factual (Spain), Time Out New York, and Book magazine, McGarvey is a singer/songwriter whose music has been critically acclaimed by the New York Times, Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Billboard and Performing Songwriter. You can follow him at his website billmcgarvey.com or on Facebook.com/billmcgarvey
See more articles by (99).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Bernadette G.

    Ignoring for the moment the larger question of whether homosexual behavior should be classified as sinful, I really wish that Christian discourse would collectively do away with the “love the sinner, hate the sin” line. More often than not, it’s used in a way that implicitly suggests that there are “sinners” and then “non-sinners” (a group to which, conveniently, we seem to belong). Yet, the concept that we are all sinners is at the very heart of the Christian faith. Furthermore, our inclination towards sin seems to be something so ingrained in human nature that we never seem to be able to go long at all without committing it (why else would we perform the penitential act every mass?). I worry that an unhealthy investment in determining the relative sinfulness of our neighbors too often gets in the way of the exhortation to examine our own consciences.

  • Matthew

    Joe, people like Scott and Alfonso do not speak for the church. They are individuals who seem to think Christianity is a religion of judgment and hate. That is their problem.

    Scott, saying this, “As a Catholic you must believe all of the truths the Catholic Church professes, otherwise you‚Äôre a heretic” is so profoundly ignorant and sad, I assume you have never talked to a thoughtful priest about your view.

    Sr. Bernadette shows an attitude and approach Godly Catholic charity and love, as you would expect. Your response is an example of judgment and hate.

  • joe

    does alfonso, or anyone else out there, ever wonder about that scenario where we die and head to heaven and are confronted by St. Peter at the pearly gates and he asks us, “how could you be part of an institution that so openly and adamantly persecuted your brothers and sisters?” And what will we be able to say?

  • Alfonso

    This is unbelievalbe. Whatever happened to Rebuke the sins of thy Neighbor? Rebuking is Caring. Most will Think that I am “Judgemental” but Homosexuality is clearly condemened we cannot be cowards of the Faith!! Truth is a double Edged sword!! Charity is when Christ rebuked the Scribes and Pharisees. Charity is when Christ Purged the temple. Love thy Nieghbor by correcting thy nieghbor save them from hell. We cannot deny God’s words ‚ÄúNot everyone who says to me, ‚ÄòLord, Lord,‚Äô will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven”. I say this out of Love, love for my fellow homosexual catholics that you must embrase your cross for God gave it to you because you Can bare it!! Offer your sufferings up to our Lord!! You Religious women and men Stand of for Christ, be a witness to him!! Be a witness to truth!! Tolerance is placing Truth at the Same level of Lies. May God help us.

  • William Grogan

    Wow. After reading many of the posts here,(this is a followup to a post I made on july1,) I am so glad I no longer belong to the catholic church. So many of its members, judging from some of these posts, are nothing more than self righteous, sanctimonious hypocrites, pointing fingers at anyone who disagrees with them. If any of you say I’m going to hell for my decision, fine, I’ll see you there.

  • Alycia

    I am so sad to see that the Paulists are back-handedly promoting a perversion, a sin through this mans homosexual lifestyle and this religious sisters acceptance of it. This is why the Paulists AREN’T gaining vocations, only those who promote and teach the fullness of our Catholic faith prosper.
    I encourage anyone who has a same-sex attraction to not give into this unfulfilling way of life and sin, but to please seek help. Please visit couragerc.net and live out your life in the way God has planned for you.

  • Scott Parker

    I would also like to add that anyone who says Jesus “preached a Gospel of acceptance” is lying. Have you actually picked up the Gospel and read what he taught? He rebukes people; a lot. Why? Because they’re sinful. He doesn’t get into conversations like “do you think such and such is OK” about sins (which here would be basically like asking “how to you trick yourself into thinking that your perverted sexual acts are somehow remotely related to love”) because he already knows what they are doing is evil. Rather, he teaches what is right. That is charity, that is love, that is following Christ.

    Good sentiments and “niceness” do not in any way necessarily mean love. The devil would be nice to you in order to tempt you, would he not? Satan doesn’t need to make you rebel directly against the truth – because you would never succeed a – all he needs is for you to be complacent about serving God and lull you into thinking you’re a “loving” person. So it is with evil.

    These are hard teachings. The world offers you comfort, but you weren’t made for comfort, you were made for greatness. Be perfect as you Heavenly Father is perfect.

  • Scott Parker

    Anna Teresa,

    Actually, you can’t be a Catholic and not follow Church teaching. As a Catholic you must believe all of the truths the Catholic Church professes, otherwise you’re a heretic, and, assuming one refuses to repent, will go for Hell. QED

    I have noted that there are many “everyone deserves such and such” statements from those opposed to the Church’s teaching, and they always justify their statements with the idea of “love.” Love is many things, one of them is chastity. Furthermore, Love cannot exist apart from the Truth. Therefore, any attempt to portray Sodomy, which is evil, as part of love, which is good, is lying. I strongly encourage all false “Catholics” to consider whether they actually love God if they will not obey their Father in Heaven.

  • Anna Teresa

    Kudos to Sr. Bernadette for living out the Christian calling to, “love one another as I have loved you.” I feel a very special connection to the Church, as it provided me with my own religious and spiritual conversion; however, I think it would do every human being a lot of good to search for God’s presence in all things and in all people. Really assess your relationship with God and with the Church, don’t just regurgitate the doctrine to other people… We are all His children and deserve to be treated as such. I think we can all agree that we are all sinners. And, I do believe you can be Catholic and not follow every teaching of the Catholic Church: this is called being a human. I have yet to meet a Roman Catholic, clergy or not, who I feel embodies every teaching of the Church. Let’s remember our LGBT brothers and sisters in our prayers, as well as those who have chose a life of celibacy by taking vows in the Catholic Church. Peace and blessing to all!

  • tito

    How can a person claim he is a practicing catholic if he/she doesn’t agree or follow the teaching of the Catholic Church?

  • Matthew Rand

    I am a “gay” man in a domestic partnership, but I don’t have an issue with traditional Catholic teaching on the subject. Who am I to say that my sexuality isn’t “intrinsically disordered”? Being a Catholic is about being in a God-revealed religion, where Jesus Christ handed down his teachings to the apostles and established a church.

    The teaching on homosexuality is part of those teachings that were handed down. It comes from God. So who am I to say that God is wrong? Truthfully, I believe the homosexual condition is a neurosis, not an intrinsic human condition.

powered by the Paulists