If you are an LGBTQI Catholic, you are a movement. I admit this sounds counterintuitive. Aren’t movements about a lot of people, not just an individual, creating some kind of impact or momentum toward a desired good or response to injustice? So let me explain.
At a recent holiday gathering, an attendee who identifies as a Catholic gay man spoke about how he thinks the Catholic Church is moving in a positive direction. He even identified some local church leaders as examples of individuals with whom he has had deep conversations about gay sexuality and inclusion in the church, and he named a local archdiocesan LGBTQI outreach organization as an example of progress.
When I called attention to the fact that the cited organization was founded on an expectation that its members would accept official church teaching (i.e., being gay is morally disordered and intrinsically evil) and expected its members to be celibate, he responded, “No one asked me to do this.”
Not to be too hard on this individual, whom I respect and who has many gifts to offer to our community, but I was taken aback by his lack of knowledge and understanding of what it truly means to be LGBTQI and a member of the Catholic Church. In reality, this person’s experience is not the experience of many other LGBTQI Catholics, and I felt called to respectfully point this out.
Whether you know it or not, just by being fully and openly LGBTQ or I and Catholic, you are part of a long and vital effort to effect change in the largest, most powerful institution on the planet. Each of us is a movement.
Each time you embrace your sexual orientation or gender identity and your Catholic faith, you challenge the church’s stance that there is an inherent conflict between these aspects of your selfhood.
Each day that you live in loving relationship, in a respectful, sexually intimate relationship, you are resisting the power of this institution.
Each time you offer your Catholic family members, friends, colleagues, and fellow worshippers the opportunity to embrace your true self, you hasten the day when the false dogma too long promulgated by the Vatican and church officials across the globe finally crumbles. Then LGBTQI people will at last be seen as fully human, embodying the divine just as much as our straight/cisgender kin do. When the harmful, dehumanizing teachings are finally repealed, the oppressive underpinnings of much social and legal discrimination will vanish.
So it took an experience at a holiday party to ignite my belief again in self-agency, of not waiting for someone else to create the next hashtag or catchphrase to address what I know isn’t right or just for many.
I need to continually embrace this belief that each of us is a movement, called to change perceptions, tell our story, speak up, show up, and sometimes act up. Ask questions. Challenge authorities who want to mask Catholic Church teaching within a cocoon of “pastoral care” that extends only to those who submit to the official outreach structure while omitting those who stand on the margins in their truth and integrity.
I believe that being a movement also means taking the risk as an individual to articulate a vision of a desired, valued, and spirit-filled future. We must do more than simply resist what we are against, even in this shameful and extremely challenging social and political environment. As a person of faith, I envision a church that is truly inclusive and just, respectful of all believers and their gifts. And as I articulate this vision, I invite others to share in it. This engagement can be formal or informal, spontaneous or continuous. When I am a movement, I am visionary and hope-filled while also holding the structures of power accountable.
Yes, I am a movement. I believe that none of us, as members of the human community or as people of faith, should ever forfeit the opportunity — and right — to bring all into the warmth and blessing of a just society, and for us Catholics, a just and respectful church.
So welcome to a new year. Be bold! Be beautiful! Be the movement that you are!
CHRISTOPHER PETT is president of DignityUSA, a national organization committed to equality for all LGBTQ Catholics. It is a founding member of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and the Equally Blessed coalition.