I’m happy for LGBTQ+ Catholics that Pope Francis said that monogamous, same-sex families are kinda sorta okay. Since the initial story broke, it turns out that he was endorsing civil unions while vehemently fighting gay marriage. Now that we have full marriage equality in the USA–for now, anyway–it still feels like too little too late. I was happy being a Catholic until I read the Baltimore Catechism during Confirmation classes, and until I realized exactly how conditional the Church’s “unconditional” love really was. It still pains me to think of the Franciscan Friars who treated me with such love and caring as a little girl, versus how they would have viewed my “lifestyle choices,” if I’d been brave (or stupid) enough to tell them about them. It makes me bitter to think that they’d approve my marriage to a cis man but would have condemned the other relationships I’ve been in. Those particular Friars are mostly gone now, and their political views were more conservative than many other Catholics. Those were the ones I grew up with, though.
I know there are LGBTQ Catholics out there, and I’m glad that they’re working to change the system from within. I just couldn’t reconcile myself with the Church’s basic theology (original sin, the sacraments, transubstantiation), let alone its positions on social issues near and dear to my heart. Yes, Catholics continue to do a tremendous amount to help the most vulnerable communities across the globe. Yes, they provide real spiritual succor to many, many people, including my husband, my mother, and my family in California. I’ll always have a deep grief for having to leave the Church. I’ve tried to go back to services but always end up crying in the middle of them. But it’s also a relief to have left an institution so completely out of step with my own view of the world, my concept of Divinity, and the life of the spirit.
I spent decades rebuilding a spiritual and religious framework that feeds my soul. After some church shopping, I eventually realized that I needed to worship the Divine with a feminine face. Protestant denominations had some attraction, but they also got rid of some of the best parts of Catholicism: Mary, the Mother of God, sacred art and statues, ritual. I dedicated myself to paganism in 1996. It was a very lonely road at first. I practiced solo and online for the most part until the early ’00s, when I joined CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) at First Parish Cambridge in Cambridge, Mass. I was very active at First Parish for years, and it was a very healing thing. I’d found an actual community anchored in an actual church building whose official doctrine matched my own beliefs. Even better, I connected with other people in the congregation and felt like I was part of a community of like-minded individuals who genuinely cared about one another. Life changes though and people move on. Most of them paired off, moved to the suburbs, and started popping out kids. I myself eventually moved across the river, and wasn’t motivated enough to drive an hour on a Sunday morning for services. I still celebrated with the Women’s Sacred Circle once a month, but had to leave off even that while I was working on my MFA. I recently rejoined, but once the pandemic and the lockdown happened, I decided to bow out. I spent a good chunk of my 20s conducting ritual in front of a computer screen and didn’t feel the need to do it again, even if the technology has improved. I may try to rejoin once there’s a widespread vaccine, but I’m not sure that I will.
A connection to a spiritual and religious community is essential to my own well-being. I get some of that by participating in AA, which constantly reminds me that I need to develop and maintain a relationship with the Goddess, on a daily and practical level. It doesn’t fulfill that bone-deep need for ritual with like-minded people though–with witches, specifically. I’m part of a very small coven that meets for the Sabbats close to and sometimes inside of my home here in Boston. Lockdown has been hard on us, and one of our members is suffering from severe health problems and hasn’t been able to attend ritual since the summer. We’ve been able to do ritual in a socially distanced manner outdoor, but will most likely be going online after Samhain. That connection is also essential to my spiritual and emotional health.
I’m glad that I was eventually able to find a connection to beloved community with a similar concept of the Divine. My hope is that Pope Francis’s new policies will make the Church such a place for more LGBTQ+ people as well.
Image of cross with rainbow behind it by Abcdz2000 via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0.