Today I am somewhat angry. Maybe licking wounds is the better terminology, as that is at the root of the rancor I feel. Some of it—even a lot of it—is admittedly personal. But some is not.
I painfully re-learned something yesterday about forgiveness and trust—that they are not always the same. Nor should they necessarily be. But I came face to face with some distrust and it sort of split open an injury I have been carrying, on and off, for a couple of years now. And it is becoming harder and harder to re-stitch it each time.
Some of you know that, just over 2 years ago, after 5 years returned to Roman Catholicism (preceded by 35 years away), I allowed myself to question—deeply—my Faith choice. Unlike when I left the Church as a teen, this was after 6-7 years of theology study, both from Protestant and Catholic perspectives, life experiences such as a 12 year marriage and divorce while during that same period of time being an Assemblies of God minister as well, and 15 subsequent years as an actively LGBT (gay) man. In short a fairly conflicted and circuitous path at times.
While many of my former friends and colleagues had written me off, my Catholic family and friends never had for the most part during those years. Several were praying—hard—for my return to the Faith, as I later found out, but never had they set me aside as an untouchable in any way. That was not so true of my evangelical friends from that era. One pastoral associate from shortly before my resignation as a licensed minister in 1991 had actually told a mutual friend from work who attended his church to “not spend time with me, since I had made choices that were not in keeping with Scripture.” And even after I became celibate in 1999, which was several years before I returned to Catholicism, similar reactions occurred when I contacted old friends and the like who I had known during ministry years.
Ironically after returning to Rome, I began studying ferociously to make up for lost time, and to really learn the Faith I had once dismissed. It was during the midst of those studies that doubts began to creep in, and while more subtle, I noticed as well an increasing trend among Catholics towards distancing those with my background. It was certainly not taught from the pulpit, but the blogosphere was full of anger and blame towards homosexuals for everything from the priest scandals to breaking up marriages and corrupting children. All I knew was that was not who I was, nor who I attempted to be ever during my active years either. Nor was it true of most LGBT people I knew personally.
Several times I nearly left the Church again, but after one or maybe two days at most, I was back in the confessional and repented of my short detours. I however told no one else of those struggles at that time. To the world I was the “happy guy who had left his life of sin behind,” and who had found Jesus fully in His Church. And much of the time this was indeed the case. But even as I studied, I became more and more convinced that some of the pain inflicted upon my “kind” was far less than needful, and very sincerely questioned the methods which I was seeing which caused that kind of reaction to us. An example would be “gay rights.” The Church teaches that all are to be treated with dignity, but how far did that go? I was not sure. I knew of some Catholic bloggers who wrote publicly that passing laws against gays having such necessities as basic health care was the right answer, since it would then have the effect of “saving us from ourselves.” To which I said then and say now, wasteful rubbish (and that would be the nice phrase for it). But nevertheless it was said with increasing frequency, and from surprising corners of the blogging world.
Understand please that I am on board with official Catholic teaching, which is in opposition to so-called “marriage equality.” I share the fears that many do about the redefinition of marriage as such, and have for years now. I also know that the Vatican has officially come forth with clear direction regarding both this and civil unions, which would only lead to a fight for marriage eventually. Case in point is Vermont, the first state to pass civil unions, and where just a few years later same-gender marriages became legal. Civil unions are to homosexual marriage what marijuana often is to methamphetamines. One can, and often does, lead to the other. I get that.
In any case I went through two periods in the last two years where I did actually leave and begin attending a “gay friendly” Episcopal/Anglican parish. Once was for around 6 months and the other an additional 4. I still both times considered myself Catholic but not “Roman.” So, yes, I was in schism for 10 months in the last 7 and 1/2 years as a returned Catholic. And I realize now why and how serious that was, as well as the fact that it hurt many people who were not expecting it, such as those who faithfully followed my blog. Then again an astoundingly high percentage of those going through adult RCIA as I had, over half in fact, leave the Church totally and never return. Thankfully that was not and is not me.
I think I now can say with some assurance that this is not going to occur again. But I cannot prove such to others by words alone. There will always be some “blogger buds” who will ever only remember me as the “guy who fell” from his unasked-for pedestal. But I have also taken several concrete steps to become surer going forward, and I want to share those with you, as I have perhaps not done so in the past.
At Christmas, I sent a 2 page letter to all of my family and several friends, sharing my experience openly and as honestly as possible from my heart. I also posted that letter on this blog and on FB/Twitter. I as well wrote to a number of people I knew of who were personally hurt or upset by my faulty decisions. Most importantly I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) and owned up to this as the sin that it was. Since Advent I have resumed daily Mass and the Rosary/Divine Mercy Chaplet, in addition to Confession every other week. And an inward peace is there which I have missed so very much during those times of inner conflict.
Speaking of family not one of those receiving the letter responded. Not a word. They either may have thought, “Here he goes again,” or in some cases were possibly even disappointed that I returned to the Church. I do not know. I do know that if one of them had sent me such a letter I would at least have acknowledged it. Real-time friends (the face-to-face kind) on the other hand have rejoiced with me, and those seeing me daily at work and elsewhere have noticed the change and been greatly encouraging as a result. Even several LGBT friends have been very kind about it—because they understand the struggle we from SSA/LGBT backgrounds have gone through with the institutional Church in general. Many of them want to be there, but are frightened to the point of sheer agony due to prior treatment in parish or para-church situations over the years. Well-meaning individuals, who think they are the first and only ones who have shared such things with us, have “offered” to cast out the demons within us, invited us to join their “charismatic” prayer group (and no I am not picking on charismatic Christians only here), or a host of other things far more damaging. There is a reason that LGBT persons feel like 2nd-class citizens in the Church. We are treated that way in far too many cases still. Never mind that we may understand theology better than those who have taken us on as their spiritual “project” for the day or week, nor that we have prayed far longer and harder for the “gay to go away” than they could dream or believe. Or that (speaking of me now) we have not had a sexual encounter since late in the last century. One slip though and you are suspect. Two and you may well be marked for life with little to no hope of returning to the respect you once had earned by either towing the Church line or suffering in silence while otherwise drowning.
So what prompted this tirade today? A couple of things. At my request, my story was removed from two websites it had been posted on. I did this before attempting to “go Anglican” precisely so that it would not cause a scandal. But apparently it did so anyway. I recently had contact with one of the webmasters, who may possibly re-post it “after at least 6 months.” And that may be very rightly the case. Time can indeed be a great healer, and arguably does help rebuild trust when nothing else can. What bothered me, however, and hurt me to the point of no sleep last night or very little, was the reason given.
He told me that a number of people had contacted him after I left. He did not tell me what was said, and I suspect that is between he and them. But whatever it was caused him to have hesitation about re-posting my story. As I said at the beginning, forgiveness and trust are not equals, and I do “get” why waiting may be a better idea. I also worry, though, at age 57 and with health issues, that an important and perhaps unusual testimony may not as a result be seen by someone who needs it. I am more aware than ever of my mortality, and who is to say that I will even be here, on blog world or in life, in 6 months? Or that this person may not, again which is his right, change minds about ever reposting again? One could correctly say, “You should have thought of that in the first place, Richard” and I cannot argue the point. But on the other hand I am not a priest, hold no leadership positions within my parish, and molested no one. I simply allowed my mind and heart to become scrambled on some issues which I have now thoroughly worked through. So it feels a tad excessive to me.
The other reason for today’s “whine and dine” is this: numerous people, particularly on FB, welcomed me back, people I had talked to constantly in the past, and who in some cases continually gave me encouragement several times a week less than a year ago. Of those people, very, very few have time to chat anymore, or even if I write to encourage them, I get one or two word answers at best in return (or a “like” in the case of FB). Granted, they are busy, I realize, and we lost touch for awhile by my choice. So I take some blame here.
But my real concern is that they are treating me differently, and I do in fact notice. Yes, they prayed for me, yes they rejoiced when I returned, and they each rooted for me on the path back to the One True Church. Now that I am there, however, I am apparently on my own. And I find that hurtful. And even perhaps a bit mean-spirited. If it were one or two folks I could ignore it and move on, but I can think of at least 6-8 or more who I had active connections with and now, nothing or nearly nothing, and even then only if initiated by me. To be sure, we have all played both roles in the Prodigal story, that of the sinning younger brother and that of the smug older brother who had been “good” all his life. I certainly have. But to be on the receiving end of the apparent “older brother” treatment, well it hurts more than I ever realized it would.
So that is it. I just felt the need to share this openly and honestly. You may ask how I know I will remain Catholic going forward? I would give you two answers, one being a question—how do you know you will? The other is a simple but profound verse from a Mass reading last week or possibly the week before. It is from Philippians 3, and talks of forgetting the past and moving on. I would first of all ask how easy you might find it, in my shoes that is, to even begin forgetting a past that is on your mind daily and when you fledgingly start to, is inadvertently thrown back at you by either silence or open hesitation from your Church brothers and sisters? Later in that passage, St Paul says one simple and yet weighty phrase in verse 16—“only let us hold true to what we have attained.” I realize now that I did not do that, and that, not LGBT issues, not hurtful words, and not theology, was the real inner conflict I kept allowing in and which literally raised hell with my brain and heart. I knew inwardly that God had brought me to Rome, and to stay. It was when I began to second-guess that, not once but several times, that my struggles began overwhelming me and my intellect became darkened as a result. And then the doubts began to rain and finally drown me, or nearly so. Point? I learned from my experiences, and hard-headed as I may be, I did learn. Because of that I can say at least with some confidence in His Grace that I will not turn back again.
If you need 6 months to begin believing that about me, so be it. I am just thankful that Christ in the person of the priest did not need to do so. The Church gave me 5 Hail Marys as a penance. Some of you are giving me 5 years, which is incidentally a longer sentence than some rapists get these days. I would simply, and humbly, ask for mercy, and at least the willingness to trust, which is implicit in real forgiveness. Not automatically, as I have already stated, but please do not hold me to a higher standard than Christ or the Church does.
Because that is not being a friend, whether in the blogosphere or the non-cyber world.
- When World Views Clash – Within Us (catholicboyrichard.com)
- My “Catholic” Christmas Letter to Friends, Loved Ones, and Online Family – 2nd Sunday of Advent 2012 (catholicboyrichard.com)
- Here’s a good way to get Catholics back to the confessional (osv.com)
- The Seal of the Confessional (secularnewsdaily.com)