Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Diversity Inc.: Gay & Catholic: Confessions of My (Former) Guilt

April 14, 2009 By Kevin Canessa Jr.

Also read: LGBTreligionreligion in the workplace


I was sitting at my desk last week when I got an e-mail news alert: Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made a harsh comment about the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Barack Obama to be this year's commencement speaker. (Click here to read the full story in the Chicago Sun-Times.)


"It is clear that Notre Dame didn't understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation," said George.


Despite this and Obama's stance on certain social issues, Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins said that he had no plans to rescind the offer to the president to speak.


Click here to read "Religion in the Workplace: The Four Questions."

Click here to read "Religion at Work: Former EEOC Chair Discusses Legal Issues."

Click here to read "Who Represents the Christian Viewpoint?"


Once again, we've got a Catholic cardinal making a controversial statement surrounding President Obama. And once again, the cardinal has it all wrong.


Why? This is not a debate about Obama's stance on any social issue. It's more about the Catholic Church, which, by sheer definition, should be welcoming to everyone. Check the definition of "catholic." What you'll find is that it means a place where everyone--all people, great and small--are welcome.


George's outcry about Obama's scheduled appearance at Notre Dame doesn't exactly strike me as all-welcoming. It doesn't strike me as embracing. It doesn't strike me as anything remotely close to being the way I once remembered my church.


This brings me to why I'm writing.


Several months ago, when Cardinal James Stafford made remarks about the Roman Catholic Church and Obama, I wrote a column about my faith journey, my battles with the church and how difficult I found it to be Catholic these days. You can read that story by clicking here.


This piece, however, is more than just about my battles with the church or my disdain with George's decision to publicly chide Notre Dame for inviting our president to be a speaker. Instead, this is all about how this church continues to damage the lives of so many people it comes in contact with. It's about its repressive nature. It's about its uncanny ability to make so many good people feel so badly about themselves--without real merit.


Anyone who's Catholic will probably know this, but there's so much guilt associated with the faith. Whether it was in the brutality experienced at the hands of some nuns who were outright mean or the guilt many of us felt when we did something wrong without going to confession, the church has done a number on the lives of countless people. Myself included.


For close to 30 years, I loved the Catholic Church more than I did myself. I worked for many years in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., as a teacher, campus minister and youth minister at schools and in parishes. I loved my work because it wasn't really work in the truest sense. It was, instead, a way of life--a life I loved. It's a life I miss sometimes.


But that same church that I loved so much kept slamming its doors in my face. Every time there was a story about gay marriage in the news, anytime it came up in a presidential debate, anytime one of my students asked me what I felt about same-sex marriage, there I was, myself gay, having to lie through my teeth because if I was truthful, I'd be fired. It was sickening.


For all those years, whenever a priest would take to the pulpit to tell us how sinful and sickening and disgusting it was that two women or two men could love each other, there I was again, myself gay, taking it all in--feeling sick to my stomach most of the time.


Whenever the wonderful nuns who taught me in grammar school would read the part in Leviticus that says it's sinful for two men to lie with each other, I'd want to cry.


Because all along, whether it was in grammar school, high school, college or after, the Roman Catholic Church spit at me. It told me I was no good. It told me I was not worthy of the Kingdom of God. It told me--and all the rest of the people who are LGBT--that we were buying ourselves a one-way ticket to hell.


I bottled that up inside me. I allowed the church to dictate how I lived my life. I dated women because if there was to be a school function and I needed a date, it would have to be with a woman. I tricked myself into believing I wanted to marry a woman, settle down and have a family. I tricked myself into loathing myself beyond what words can say.


No More. Not Anymore.


After years of oppression, I finally decided enough was enough. Truth be told, being gay was just one part of me. If the church was willing to reject all my talents because of my sexual orientation--and folks, the church did exactly that without even realizing it--why would I ever want to be part of such an organization?


Yes, the Catholic Church told me I was not worthy of it because of one part of my life. I have no doubt there are millions more like me who are still scared out of their minds to be who they really are because of what they've been told by the church. I know, with certainty, that a good chunk of the priests are in the same boat I was in for three decades of my life.


This all goes back to Cardinal George.


Because of a few disagreements the church has with Obama, the cardinal says the people at Notre Dame have "embarrassed" the church for inviting the president of the United States of America to speak. Do you see that guilt? George's comments were clearly designed to make the university president feel guilty.


This illustrates the microcosm that is the Catholic Church--the church that does a fantastic job of making those who are LGBT feel worthless. While I felt sad when I first read about Cardinal George's comment, I later chalked it up to the church being its usual self: making the innocent feel guilty.


Then I felt a lot better. I reminded myself that the guilt the cardinal was trying to impose was mindless. And that's just how it was with all that guilt I allowed myself to be consumed by for all those years.


I finally saw the light.

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