Last week Pope Francis allegedly put his international calling plan to good use by contacting a 25-year-old French man who had written a letter expressing his concerns about going to hell for being gay. The pope's response, according to this young Catholic: "Your homosexuality. It doesn't matter."
This reply, coupled with the pope's previous "who am I to judge [gays]?" statement, has prompted a few of my friends and relatives to ask for my opinion on the matter. OK, if I'm being honest, they didn't always ask for it. Sometimes they posted their own opinion on Facebook, and I threw in my two cents. In either situation, though, the subtext, as I understood it, was, "Hey, the pope supports gay people! Isn't that great?"
My response: Eh, kinda? Maybe? I hope so?
Before I explain my lack of enthusiasm, a little background on me: I'm gay. I don't believe in God. And I was raised Catholic. Very Catholic.
For the first 18 years of my life, my butt slid into a freshly polished pew every Sunday to listen to a well-meaning choir director sing a loud and off-key rendition of "On Eagles' Wings." I was also an alter boy, but not a very good one. A priest scolded me once after I tried to reorganize the tabernacle by mixing consecrated and unconsecrated communion wafers together.
Although I attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through the 12th grade, I started to question my faith in middle school when group of nuns visited my eighth-grade religion class armed with flyers that warned of a fast-approaching apocalypse. According to the nuns, a statue of the Virgin Mary was crying tears of blood somewhere in South America, and unless we said enough Hail Marys, the world was going to end. I lived in fear for weeks. I said my prayers at bedtime, hoping that I wouldn't be awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of four horsemen galloping toward my bedroom window. Once I finally realized that the weekly forecast didn't call for a rainstorm of hellfire, I began to wonder whether God should be placed in the same category as Santa Clause and the Care Bears: fictional characters I had once believed to be real.
My initial break with the church had nothing to do with my sexuality. I just knew that I didn't believe in the god about which I was taught catchy songs in Sunday school. By the time I got to college (I decided to attend a school that happened to be a Lutheran institution, to which my parents responded, "You can do whatever you want to, but are you sure you want a Lutheran school?"), I fluctuated between labeling myself an agnostic and labeling myself an atheist. Some days I was open to the idea of there being a higher power who created us, and some days I was ready to slap a Darwin fish on the bumper of my car and be done with it.
I didn't begrudge other people their faith, though. In fact, when I was home for the holidays, I would still attend Easter and Christmas services with my family. I knew it made my parents happy to have us all together, and I liked the sense of tradition.
Today, however, as an openly gay man, my feelings toward the Catholic Church have changed. I find myself uncomfortable just sitting in a church -- and for once, that has nothing to do with the stiff wooden pews.
The church's official stance on homosexuality is this: Being gay and having homosexual desires is not a sin, but acting on those desires? Big-time sin.
I'm a man. I'm in a committed relationship with another man. We sleep in the same bed and share a loving kiss before falling asleep each night. In the eyes of the church, that makes me immoral.
Thankfully, my Catholic friends and family do not share that opinion. Many of them have even assured me that their priest or parish is gay-friendly. I'm glad that that's the case, but it doesn't make me any more comfortable sitting through a service. For me, I can't make that separation of saying, "Well, the church teaches this, but the parishioners believe that," which is why I now pass on attending holiday masses with my family.
However, there are a few events that I don't want to skip out on just because they take place in a church. In the past few years I've been put in situations where I had to ask myself which I would regret more: stepping foot inside a church and compromising my beliefs as a proud gay man or not being there to see my little sister get married, say one last goodbye to a grandparent at their funeral, or accept the role of godparent to my niece and nephew when my siblings made it clear that my participation didn't have to have a religious aspect to it. I chose not to miss out on those moments, and I'm OK with my decisions, but I wish I didn't have to make them. I wish the Catholic Church made me feel more welcomed.
And that's why I'd like Pope Francis to call me. Because I need a little clarification.
My homosexual desires. They don't matter. But is that only if I don't act on them? Or will the church still condemn me for slow dancing with my partner at the next wedding we attend?
If the answer is yes, Francis, then don't be alarmed when you hear a dial tone. That's just me hanging up.