A Catholic Priest Gave Me Permission To Be Gay.
CELESTINE TAN writes a follow-up to his coming out summary on reconciling being gay and Catholic.
“Dear Jesus, Please don’t let me be gay.”
I remember muttering this prayer at the age of eight, hands clasped and eyes closed — hidden under the shadows of a flight of stairs during recess time — as the epiphany of my inordinate admiration for a classmate swept over me. That was when I prayed the gay away for the first time.
The second time I prayed the gay away was ten years later, I was a freshman who has just joined my college’s Catholic Students Society. Up till then I had been leading a double life: 1. my gay self and 2. my Catholic self. One evening as my youth pastor drove me home he asked, “Are you attracted to the same sex?” The tone of his voice was cautious and calculated. But I was taken aback at the confrontation point blank. I responded in a defiant tone, “Yes, I am gay.” However he explained in a loving-Christian manner that there was no “gay”, that I was merely experiencing “same-sex attraction”. He made it sound like I was just craving for chocolate cake and I have the choice to replace it with a less sinful option. He convinced me there and then in his car that my attraction to men was an affliction — a “cross” that somehow God has chosen me to carry, and to carry this cross meant that I needed to suppress my same-sex urges. I was told that if I were serious about dealing with same-sex attraction I must remove any “stumbling blocks” along the way, which at that time meant severing ties with my friends in the gay community. That evening I emptied my phone book and stopped responding to any of their calls or messages. I replaced my gay friends with friends from church.
It’s true that if you repeat a lie long enough, others will believe it and eventually you will too.
Cut off from the gay community, I assumed the identity of a straight man afflicted with same-sex attraction. I became a “born-again” Catholic who is fervent, zealous and quick to condemn anyone whom I suspect might be straying away from Mother Church. I was one of the rising stars amongst youth leaders at church. But secretly I kept my connection to the gay world with the help of the Internet, living forbidden lives vicariously through personals, chatrooms and blogs. Ironically this satiated my curiosity but fueled a deep seated unhappiness. Every day I looked in the mirror and thought, “Why won’t you just die?”. I was not suicidal, I was just tired of living.
The parish that I serve was ran by the Jesuits. I was close to some of the priests but never came out to them. Confessions have been kept vague and I consciously avoided gender pronouns until one Saturday afternoon —
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession.”
The priest listens as I list my sins. I took a deep breath and said,
“…and I am gay.”
A minute of uncomfortable silence ensued. Through the confessional screen, I could see the priest’s side profile, looking down eyes closed, framed like a somber portrait. I braced myself for the chastisement that was to come instead the priest said:
“Thank you for your thorough confession. The Church does not condone homosexual acts but being gay is not a sin my child. As a matter of fact there is no mention of Jesus condemning gay people in Scripture.”
I was stunned and all I could respond was, “OK, Father.”
“For your penance, I want you to pray and thank the Lord for the person that you are. Now say the Act of Contrition please.”
As they stood there asking him questions, he straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. When they heard this, they all left, one by one, the older ones first. Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing there. He straightened up and said to her, “Where are they? Is there no one left to condemn you?”
“No one, sir,” she answered.
“Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.”
Gospel of John, Chapter 8, Verses 7–11.
I walked out of the confessional feeling liberated but confused — all my life I was led to believe that being gay was wrong and that I was an affront to God. This experience gave me the courage to start opening up about my sexuality and come out to the other Jesuit priests either candidly or during confession; always fearing reprimand but I received nothing but compassion.
I started to go to confession more regularly; and as I got to know the fathers these turned into friendly weekly catch-ups before Mass that occasionally conclude in confession. Father A was my spiritual advisor at that time. During one of our catch-ups we spoke about how I was progressing with “dating” a female friend from church — whom I had full disclosure to about being “attracted to the same-sex”. I told him that she called the whole thing off and thought it would be best if we just continued as friends. He asked if I have ever considered “exploring”. Puzzled I asked him what did he mean? He smiled and said if he elaborated any further he might get himself into trouble.
I think that’s when a Catholic priest gave me permission to be gay.
Today the internet was abuzz with Pope Francis’ latest apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) in which there was a previously unseen welcome and openness towards the LGBT community —
The Church makes her own the attitude of the Lord Jesus, who offers his boundless love to each person without exception. During the Synod, we discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.
To gay Catholics everywhere it is unprecedented and a big deal that homosexuality and sin was not mentioned in the same breath.
The Jesuits rehabilitated me to trust in God. They showed me that if a servant of God, who is man and finite could offer me love, compassion and mercy — what more God who is infinite?