Coming Out

Young, Gay Catholics struggle to reconcile faith and sexual identity

Twenty-seven-year old doctoral student Brian Flanagan would never be mistaken for a liberal firebrand—in fact he is probably better described as a moderate conservative—but he does identify himself as gay and Catholic and doesn’t feel the need to renounce either part of that identity. Instead, Flanagan wishes confrontation on certain issues could be replaced with conversation. “I think it’s just as easy for a gay person to shoot back with ‘You’re being homophobic’ sometimes as it is for someone to shoot back with ‘You’re going to hell.’ I mean, that sort of dialogue doesn’t help people” he says. “[In Catholic tradition], there’s a precedent for being careful of what we approve and what we don’t approve. But there’s also an importance in listening to an experience that a straight person might not have…I would ask [for] a sort of openness to listen to my story, listen to ‘This is how I’m trying to live my life’ and if I’m wrong, you have sort of a duty to try to correct me.”

Do unto others…

While Flanagan asks for people to listen to his story, he and Jamie Levine have listened to the story of Catholic teaching against homosexuality and have sought ways to reconcile it with their own experience. Since coming out, Levine has felt pushed out of the Catholic Church by the teaching that asserts that a homosexual orientation is “intrinsically
disordered.” Nevertheless, she also recognizes that the Church is bigger than a single doctrine and that her faith’s teachings on loving your neighbor and social justice continue to have an enormous impact on her.

Although Levine has explored other religious traditions that welcome gay people, she acknowledges that she hasn’t found a perfect fit. “The one that I identify best with now is Quakerism, but I miss the music of mass and…to a certain degree I miss the structure.” Her conflict over wanting to be part of a faith community that doesn’t accept her sexual orientation is an everyday struggle for her.

“So help he me God”
Ironically, in Flanagan’s case, coming to grips with his sexual orientation actually helped strengthen his faith and his relationship with God. When he was coming out, he remembers he had “long nights in my room thinking, ‘It’s just you and me God, you’re the only person who knows this.’ I think that was when my real prayer life first started to become my own….”

Once he left his house for college, Flanagan discovered that some communities of Catholics actually supported gays and lesbians (see sidebar on first page of this article). Nevertheless, he regrets that gay Catholics do not have institutional support in the coming out process and believes that the Church is missing out on an enormous opportunity to both teach and minister to a portion of its flock. “The Church has lost its ability to sort of teach anything to huge numbers of gay people and to bring any of the gospel to a huge class of people.” Instead, gays often struggle alone in their coming out process and in wondering how to live their lives as gay Christians regardless of whether or not one is sexually active. “We have to organize our lives as gay people some way and we’re not being given some help to do that…It’s their responsibility to help guide us” he says, “but there are no teachings on how to live one’s life as a gay Christian”. In fact the Church teaches that the only option for homosexual persons is living a celibate life.

Should I stay or should I go?

Flanagan prays that the future of Catholicism will be different and believes the Church is experiencing its own “coming out” process. Drawing from his own experience, Flanagan says, “People don’t come out on their own overnight. You spend years sort of figuring it out yourself and years of sort of getting comfortable with yourself. So the Church is in a coming out process of realizing that there are a bunch of gay and lesbian people who are already part of the family and trying to figure out where we fit into things.”

Flanagan is not alone in his decision to stay in the church, many gay Catholics, have stayed despite the Church’s current doctrine on homosexual expression. “There are a good number of [gay Catholics] who are witnesses to the fact that there’s something so good here in the Catholic Church’s understanding of God that we think is so important” he says. “Even though on some level we’re [being] pushed out the side door, we’re refusing to leave the table. And not out of a sense of pride or ‘This is my right to be here.’ But more out of a sense of ‘Well, we really still want to be part of this community, we really still want to be part of this family.'”