I need your help, Pope Francis, but let me tell you a bit about myself before I tell you why.
First of all, I'm not Catholic. As a kid, Catholicism seemed pretty mysterious to me -- especially the "Fish on Friday" law. It was also scary to learn from my Catholic classmates that we Protestants weren't going to be all that welcomed in Heaven. Of course, most of you reading this may not even remember the Fish on Friday rule, and it didn't take me long to figure out that the "only one doorway to Heaven" view wasn't just owned by the Catholics. I have learned that the exclusive heavenly real estate story is shared by some Christians, Muslims and other religious folks from all sorts of traditions.
Second, as a non-Catholic I never paid all that much attention to any of the Popes -- no offense intended -- although I should say that the Pope before you did get my attention, as he seemed a bit more mean-spirited and more of a homophobe than some of his predecessors. And while I have a theory on that, it isn't why I am writing to you today.
I should mention though that I did feel drawn to Mother Theresa. She seemed less focused on talking the talk and more on walking the walk. She lived a life where all of us were God's children. Anyone concerned with helping the underdog and the vulnerable was an inspirational role model for me. Mother Theresa reminded me to be a little less self-absorbed and more accepting and loving.
I also heard that the Catholic Church is in the process of recognizing Mother Theresa as a saint. I hope I got that right, as that's what encouraged me to reach out to you, Pope Francis.
Here's my request: I want you to call my boyfriend's family.
It's not that my guy's family just doesn't like me, how could they? After seven years they don't even know me. I've only met one sister. I have never met his parents, his other sister or brother, or their families. The reason I need you to call is that this family, being devout Catholics, have decided that when it came to me, a gay man, there was absolutely no room in their lives. I am never mentioned by name, and their wish that I didn't exist is emphasized and capitalized in bold letters of silence. They seem to think, "if we don't mention him, he doesn't exist", or at the very least, I'll go away.
My boyfriend's brother is a devout Catholic who did once acknowledge that I was a "child of God," but then quickly added that he didn't want to meet me, couldn't and wouldn't talk to me -- or even about me -- and absolutely couldn't or wouldn't ever set foot in our house, even if I wasn't there. He even asked my partner to stop talking about me around his family because it would upset his teenage kids.
His wife, a campus minister who converted to Catholicism in order to be accepted into my boyfriend's family, apparently endorses a view that the rules and teachings of the Catholic Church call for, or at least allow for, my exclusion from her family. She once angrily explained to my partner that he was being self-centered to want to share the gay part and the me part of his life with her family.
There's another sister with a nice husband and three beautiful kids who seems more independent and open, but we've never met either. And I am not sure how that would happen since she'd have to go against the wishes of her parents, who have decided that "the love that dare not speak its name" is me, Paul. On the plus side, this sister does ask about me more and more often, and this Christmas we did get a card addressed to us both -- a breakthrough that meant more than you might guess.
Then there's the sister who has really tried to reach across the pew. She has visited several times, talks to me on the phone and almost always asks how I'm doing when there's a call or email. That said, when she got married in California this past year, I wasn't included. She wanted to invite me, and actually did include me in the original invitation, but when word got out her mother said that if I was invited, the mother of the bride would be a no-show. And given that the parents were paying for the Church wedding and reception, her options were pretty limited.
And if being uninvited wasn't enough, my partner's Dad suggested that I stay as far away as possible for the wedding weekend. The wedding was on the west coast, and apparently, it was deemed safer for everyone and, I fear, okay with God and your Church, if I were banished to the east coast.
In the interest of transparency (and I should have probably mentioned this much earlier), I need to disclose that not only am I gay, I am also much older than my partner; that's a double whammy. Gay was seriously just about as bad as it could get, but then again, older and gay was quite a bit worse. The gay thing would have been enough to slam the door shut, but the older and gay thing called for nailing the door tight, with deadly determination.
When all is said and done I am basically invisible when it comes to my partner's family, and I have to own some of that. Being invisible actually kept me out of harm's way, so I went along with it. Having spent most of my life in the closet, what harm could come from staying invisible to a family who wished I didn't exist?
So, Pope Francis, if you're still with me, that is why I need you to make a phone call or two - maybe even three - to my boyfriend's family.
All of this family drama has taken place under the banner of what God wants and what Catholicism or being a good Catholic demands. As I believe my partner's family are good people I have to assume their behavior reflects what the Church demands of them, or the family thinks God wants.
Although following the Pope's teachings has never been a focus of mine, you've caught my attention. I have been watching you and listening too. I am beginning to have hope and feel that your words of acceptance and love may actually represent the beginning of a change from Rome that might have implications for folks like me. And if I am right about this, I could use a little help.
I am hoping you could make some phone calls to explain that there have been some updates on what being one of God's children really means. I am hoping you'd be able to call and explain that if someone truly is a "child of God" that they need to be treated with a little love. Perhaps you could mention that the Inn is actually quite big and has many rooms, and the "No Vacancy" sign is now in the attic collecting dust.
Could you also explain to my partner's brother that being gay isn't contagious -- that if you're not gay, you, your wife and your kids can't possibly catch it. And could you please mention to the sister who is the college minister and who may be counseling students from the LGBTQT community, or who know someone from that community, that she is in a position to do a lot of good and maybe a lot of harm too. I am worried that her understanding of Catholic compassion may be experienced by some as rejection. I feel pretty safe in thinking that discrimination and homophobia in the name of love or the Catholic Church would not please Mother Theresa.
And finally, could you comfort my boyfriend's parents, who I know love my partner but are broken-hearted that their son has fallen in love with another guy. If you told them that they didn't have to worry about their son losing God's love or being banished from Heaven, I know they'd be very relieved. And maybe if you mentioned that love is love, that God's view of the world and his children is an inclusive one and that He is not offended by our love for each other, then I think they could stop worrying and being so angry. My goal here is simply to promote less angst and a little more love.
I know I am asking a lot Pope Francis, but I think your phone calls just might help my partner's parents and his family rediscover what a beautiful (and handsome) kind, gentle, warm and caring person their son is, and come to even value how our love for one another enriches his life. Perhaps they will begin to see that they have so much to be thankful for, and that they are missing out on so many opportunities to spend time with, and love the man their son has become. It's not too late for a miracle. I still believe in them!
PS: I've also enclosed my phone number. After you've made the calls to my partner's family, could you call me? I know I am far from perfect and have so much to learn. I think a five minute conversation with you could set me straight (so to speak) on a few issues.