On Sunday, you can usually find me celebrating Mass with hundreds of other Roman Catholics at Church in New York City. However, this past Sunday was slightly different. Although surrounded by more than 50 fellow parishioners, we were not merely attending Mass, but rather bringing our message of hope to the thousands lined up along Fifth Avenue in New York City. As GLBT Catholics, we participated in the Heritage of Pride March as a symbol of our unity with the diverse tapestry that makes-up the GLBT community.
Over the past year and a half, I have come to experience my faith community not only as a place of worship, but more importantly, as a spiritual home. As a gay Catholic, I have come to respect the Church's teachings regarding homosexuality, while at the same time bearing witness to the hypocrisy behind its perspective regarding GLBT people. As we marched this past Sunday -- the day upon which the Feast of Corpus Christi was observed in many churches -- I was reminded that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are members of the Body of Christ.
As a Roman Catholic, I accept the teachings of the Church as the perspective offered by the Magisterium, but I do not believe that it is founded in Scripture. This is especially true when we reflect on Christ's own ministry and his acceptance of all people. I believe it is our freedom of conscience and ability to reason that allows us to discern whether the Magisterium's teachings are concrete or are open to evolutionary (albeit gradual) change. With this in mind, the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents significant points of contradiction on the issue of homosexuality. For example, Catechism 2358 calls for "[Homosexuals] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided," which stands in direct contradiction to the statement preceding it (CCC# 2357) and subsequent to it (CCC# 2359). This presents the Church with a dilemma which I believe necessitates further discernment as to how the Church truly sees GLBT people.
With this understanding of Church teaching in mind, as I reflect on the current debate around same-sex marriage and Archbishop Dolan's response to the passage of marriage equality in New York State, I can't help but refer to the writings of Amartya Sen and his eloquent discourse on the influence of identity in our understanding of the world around us. Writing on identity and culture, Sen said, "The insistence that gays or lesbians live like heterosexuals, or stay inside the closets, is not only a demand for uniformity, it is also a denial of the freedom of choice." If the Church truly saw GLBT as humans first and GLBT people second, I can't help but think that the Church would have a very different perspective regarding same-sex marriage and human sexuality in general.
As a young gay Catholic, and a member of a Gay Catholics group in New York City, I take pride in my identity and in the powerful witness that my life has provided to the power of faith. As a young person, I was beat up on a daily basis in middle school and high school; I was denied the right to start a gay-straight alliance in a public high school; and my ability to effectively serve as a catechist for the Archdiocese was questioned by those who felt my sexuality served as an "impediment." In essence, only a few years ago I had come to accept bullying as a reality and perhaps even "normal." However, today I know that the only reality is equality.
Today, as I sit in the pew at my parish on Sundays, my heart fills with a hope that I know God intends our hearts and souls to witness. It is a hope that promises a future that is inclusive and not exclusive. This past Sunday, against the will of the Archbishop of New York, I and dozens of other Catholics carried this hope to the streets of New York City.
By participating in the Heritage of Pride March, I can only hope that the world will see the prophetic voices of those of us called to participate in this march. Our marching is not an act in defiance of the Archbishop and is not intended to challenge the teachings of the Magisterium, but rather is intended to serve as a moment for us to call the worldwide Church to witness the diversity that encompasses our faith community. We are not merely GLBT Catholics, but rather we are a people called by God to live our lives in service to the Word.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "Above the pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority, stands one's own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority." With the Pope's words in mind, I believe that it is by following our conscience as a church community that we act not against Rome, but rather in concert with our hearts united with the peace of Christ. However, the role of one's conscience and human reason is probably best captured by the 16th Century scholar Akbar, "The pursuit of reason and rejection of traditionalism are so brilliantly patent as to be above the need of argument. If traditionalism were proper, the prophets would merely have followed their own elders." It is by living our lives as GLBT Catholics and allowing our prophetic voices to be heard, that we will come to aid in the evolution of the Catholic Church.
A recent reply that I sent to a fellow Roman Catholic, who condemned my writings on equality, captures my sincere hope:
"Lastly on your point regarding hope, I believe that there is always hope: there is a hope that we will embrace our commonalities and seek to further understand our differences; there is a hope that our hearts might be united in service to the kingdom of peace rather than divided; there is always hope, for Christ himself is in fact our greatest hope. Without hope, we have denied our own existence."
Let us all hope for a day when the diverse make-up of the Catholic Church will be embraced by laity and clerics alike. Let us hope for a day when our Archbishop will shepherd us all in love rather than toward division.
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