When I left religious life last July I knew many things about the state of the Roman Catholic Church. I knew that numbers were inflated, that most parishes count the number of baptized members as part of their census, not the number of active members in good standing. I knew that groups like Call to Action, New Ways Ministry, and the Women's Ordination Conference work tirelessly to change the status quo but fail time and again to be recognized by the Vatican. I knew that there were about as many straight priests and seminarians as there were gay priests and seminarians. I knew that most Jesuits were gay and that many younger Jesuits are confounded by Pope Francis's liberalism, notwithstanding their personal rage at internal church politics.
I left the Jesuits as the sensationalist media celebrated Pope Francis; a media that gives him a free pass at every opportunity, after every selfie with an adorable child. I left the Jesuits because I could not remain Catholic, or part of a church that paradoxically assigns authority to a pope but whose members choose to do what they want, where they want -- I often asked myself: Why have a pope if you're going to run your parish or practice your faith through a localized metric of pastoral theology? Why profess your faith through the Nicene Creed? What is the importance of communal worship in a secular and aggressively atheistic world?
Today I realize something new about my departure from religious life: I left the Catholic Church as an openly gay Jesuit seminarian because I could not publicly support or minister to the LGBTQ community. My superiors, rectors, and provincials told me that such activity would generate red flags; that my own ordination to the priesthood would be called into question. As a result I went into a deep depression and felt desolate.
In my silence and pain, I watched as gay students at the Jesuit prep school I worked at could not form a gay-straight alliance. On Fridays I sipped beer with married gay and lesbian colleagues who could never tell our students about their partners or why they wore a wedding ring. I watched other gay Jesuits teach and serve with great affection and love but longed to be freed from the bondage of a self-imposed prison.
Thankfully, I returned to the words in Psalm 139 for consolation.
As I transition to the Anglican Communion, some of my peers and good friends at the General Theological Seminary tell me that I should not lob grenades on the Catholic Church. That I should process and integrate my experience, seek the good in my new spiritual home, and leave "them" alone. They tell me that most Catholics are adults, and it is their decision to stay or leave. This brings me to ask an important question: What is our role as irritants for change?
Like the American author James Baldwin or civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., I refuse to be imprisoned by a white, Western, male-centered, and heterosexist establishment. I refuse to sit back and watch countless LGBTQ Christians be fired from jobs or have to travel miles upon miles to attend "gay-friendly" parishes where gays and lesbians can safely stand in the communion line. I refuse to sit back when gay priests and seminarians frequent gay bars or employ gay dating apps while their parishioners pray for their church to welcome them to the sacrament of marriage. It is not fair that some gay priests can serve as presidents of high schools or universities, run clinics or be college professors, while nearly 200,000 homeless LGBTQ youth live lives estranged from their families.
When Barack Obama was elected president, many naively said, "We no longer need the African-American civil rights movement." How wrong they are! One need only recall the racially charged events in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., and Cleveland. And now people's voting rights are in jeopardy, thanks to inaction by politicians like John Boehner. The same must be said about the gay liberation movement! As the Supreme Court prepares to decide about the constitutionality of marriage, many are gearing up to celebrate, but marriage does not mean complete success for the LGBTQ community. Gay marriage came about because of the free market, not because it is just or right.
Whether it is in Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, men and women are being fired from jobs in the Catholic Church because they are married to a person of the same gender or because they support the civil rights of gays and lesbians to adopt children. When they are fired, they are unemployed and are brought closer to poverty.
As a therapist I work with many adolescent boys who are bullied, called "gay" or "faggot" while their school does nothing about it. These boys hate going to school, a place where they should be safe and allowed to explore their sexuality and human relationships.
The Catholic Church teaches her billions of members that same-sex love is intrinsically disordered, that same-sex love is a mortal sin, and that the only way to be appropriately homosexual is through chastity and the single life. The universal implementation of this antigay theology across continents is damaging to millions. How does this message contribute to systemic evil and social sin? Countries like Uganda and Russia still imprison gay people.
Why won't an archbishop like Charles Chaput of Philadelphia recognize a gay couple at the center of a hate crime in his diocese? How long will it be before our married gay friends can work openly in the Archdiocese of New York? Hopefully it will happen before Timothy Cardinal Dolan implements a morality contract. Why don't religious orders like the Jesuits and her gay priests publicly decry discrimination against sexuality, gender, or same-sex marriage?
These days Pope Francis is less murky. He's telling the world what he believes, most recently in the Philippines, where he strongly opposed gay marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples. That message sounds less like his most famous five words, "Who am I to judge?" Perhaps the media is tiring of him, his machismo, him telling men that it's OK to beat your children. This is the very pope who told his flock not to have sex like bunny rabbits but who did not invite them to use contraception.
The next time you see a gay or straight person process toward communion, ask yourself, "Is this church the church where I am called to serve and worship?" And the next time you see your gay priest at the local gay bar, ask him about his own frustration with celibacy or his internal homophobia and why he won't marry gay or lesbian couples at next Sunday's Mass.
The answers to these questions won't surprise you, but hopefully they will enkindle you toward nonviolent action on behalf of the LGBTQ community. A community that for all her recent victories, remains a long, long way from equality.
BENJAMIN BRENKERT is a graduate student at the General Theological Seminary, and New York-based writer. Follow him on Twitter @BenBrenkert