LGBTQ Catholics Feel Conflicted and Abandoned After Vatican Condemns Gay Marriage
The Vatican condemned gay marriage this week, saying that God “can’t bless sin.” Now, LGBTQ Catholics speak out about their frustration, and the faith some of them still cherish.
The statement of disapproval came straight from the Vatican. Earlier this week, we learned the Catholic Church would not bless same-sex unions since God “cannot bless sin.”
The formal response, issued on Monday by the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, made the official statement after being posed a question of whether or not Catholic clergy can bless gay unions.
The Vatican’s “negative” answer explained that the church will continue to welcome and bless gay Catholics, but could not do the same for same-sex unions because they don’t believe they are a part of “God’s plan.” The response was approved by Pope Francis, a surprise to many within the Catholic Church who had found him to be more progressive on the issue in previous instances.
“They’re children of God and have a right to a family,” Pope Francis previously said of same-sex civil unions in the 2020 documentary Francesco. “Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”
Such progressive sentiments echo a majority of Catholics. According to the Pew Research Center, 57% of Catholics strongly favor same-sex marriage. A study published by the Williams Institute in December 2020, estimated that there are 1.3 million LGBTQ Roman Catholics—24.8% of all religious LGBTQ adults (5.3 million).
“I have seen an enormous number of LGBTQ people whose faith and religious identity are so strong that they continue to push for acceptance, even against mammoth walls of opposition,” Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, told NBC News about the report’s findings on LGBT inclusion in the Roman Catholic Church. “LGBTQ people have many spiritual gifts which can renew religious institutions, if these groups would just perform the simple and holy acts of welcoming and listening.”
But now some LGBTQ Catholics have become conflicted on their place within the church following the Vatican’s discriminatory response and Pope Francis’ “disappointing” approval.
“It’s an absolute disappointment each and every time, and this week was no different,” says Xorje Olivares, a queer Bostonian and host of the new podcast “Queer I Am Lord” for his digital brand Hey Xorje. “I was angry, frustrated, aggravated, and yet unsurprised by the regurgitation of talking points that the church has used to disparage LGBTQ existence over the years, once again using the “sinful” rhetoric that has attributed to countless trauma suffered amongst queer folks simply looking for acknowledgment.”
“It is a tragedy to alienate Catholics based on this one aspect of our being,” says Jobert Abueva, a gay writer based in New Hope, PA, who is also global marketer for a non-profit. “We are feeling frustrated and even abandoned. It is based on anachronistic attitudes and is incongruous to the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Abueva, who recently wrote an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer titled “Why I’m finally done with the Catholic Church,” argues that the church’s recent anti-LGBTQ stance has influenced his decision to exit.
“The harsh, if not hostile, message toward the LGBTQ community is a tough pill to swallow for gay Catholics in America and the world over who have long had to walk the tightrope of our beliefs against a doctrine that continually turns a cold shoulder on this one aspect of who we are as holistic beings,” Abueva wrote in the op-ed.
But in spite of longtime concerns, LGBTQ Catholics have found the church’s recent doubling-down on excluding same-sex unions is sending mixed messages—especially from Pope Francis, who has disappointed some in the community.
“I have lost all hope,” says Abueva of the Pope evolving on same-sex marriage in the future. “It’s as if his progressive thinking has been squelched by more powerful forces with the church and he has since had to retreat.”
“As Pope Francis’s health fails and he is under greater control from conservative forces within the Vatican, I have zero hope and just as much interest,” says Dawn Ennis, transgender journalist, contributor to The Daily Beast, and managing editor of outsports.com. “People who once believed he would bring change need to say their goodbyes and walk away.”
“I believe in him, as a man, as a human being,” says Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, a Black lesbian journalist and owner of MFC3 Media, of still having faith in the Pope’s ability to become more progressive “even though I still question much of the papacy’s leadership.”
Some of those questions stem from how the Vatican appears to take a more outwardly aggressive stance against the LGBTQ community, while not having as much public condemnation regarding other controversial matters within church (such as child sexual abuse from priests, sexism, and racism).
“As someone raised in the church, I lived through the crises involving people on artificial means of life support, artificial insemination, the priest sex scandals and women demanding a greater role in church affairs,” said Ennis, who is no longer Catholic. “My father told me tales of boys being molested at his Catholic school, by priests so brazen they didn’t care that they were witnessed by their victims’ roommates. So I am someone who expected the church to do the same thing with the LGBTQ community it has done in every other controversy—ignore it, keep doing what it wants, and move on without apology or afterthought. Like the boys the priests molested as my dad watched, I knew the church would not care what we thought and would do whatever it wanted with holy impunity.”
“The church is weirdly fixated on this issue more than others, and I can’t quite figure out why,” Olivares says on what he describes to be an “underlying problem” of the Vatican’s focus on its LGBTQ members. “There’s little attempt to address its patriarchal tendencies, its blatant misogyny, or its repressive history, but by God, you’ll definitely hear a bishop or five say a few unkind words about the queer faithful every now and then.”
“But an underlying problem that continues to happen because of this queer fixation is a conflation of unrelated issues by hardline religious folks or church critics, namely when it comes to the abuse scandal or accusations of pedophilia,” Olivares adds. “It unwittingly propagates the age-old trope that queer people, gay men in particular, are predatory individuals—which is how some in the priesthood have been viewed following revelations of abuse. The church’s attempt at damage control on this front is always at our community’s expense.”
And while other LGBTQ Catholics have expressed similar concerns, the decision to abandon the church altogether isn’t as black and white.
“I am a born and raised Catholic and still attend Mass when home in Arizona,” says Fitzhugh-Craig. “Having gone to parochial schools for 12 years, there are some traditions and observations I continue to hold dear. However, in recent years, the church as a whole hasn’t aligned with my personal beliefs.”
“Over the years, I’ve come to understand that the capital-C church is not the institution but its congregants,” says Olivares. “Additionally, it’s incredibly difficult to remove myself from Catholicism considering how much it’s ingrained in my Mexican-American culture to the point where they’re almost synonymous. But I will be among the first to admit that it’s been grueling staying, knowing just how spiritually violent it’s been to other LGBTQ people with no signs of improving.”