I go to church almost every Sunday and have been for a year and a bit now. I occasionally read Bible passages during service or help out here and there as well. I love the community around this particular church and a lot of my friends originate from there.
I grew up Catholic, but now attend an Anglican church. To me these are two branches of the same Christian faith, but one is safe and welcoming of me, and one is not. I wanted to talk about why I left Catholicism and do so by asking you to step into someone else’s shoes.
Imagine for me that you’re Catholic and that you’re gay and/or trans. Let’s also imagine that you’re a young adult, so that you’ve only experienced the church as it is now.
In elementary school, you might have learned that your Catholic school considered talking about people like you having rights inappropriate. In 2014, the principal of an Ottawa Catholic school prohibited a student from doing a project on gay rights, after the student had been asked to pick a topic on social justice.
In high school, dealing with the rejection you face based on your sexuality or gender identity, you might have tried to turn to a support group. In 2011, support groups for gay youth were banned in Ottawa Catholic schools, as they were in all Catholic schools in the province. The provincial government had to pass a law to prohibit Catholic schools from enacting these bans. It was hard fought with assertions that accepting gay youth was incompatible with the Catholic faith.
As a student you might have also looked to teachers for help, only to find no real support. In my exchanges with teachers, and discussions with social workers that dealt with teachers, there were numerous accounts of Catholic teachers who were afraid to support queer youth on account of what it might do to their career.
Out of high school now, you might hear that the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, responsible for religious teachings in Ontario Catholic schools, continues its guidelines for gay students which affirms that they’re “intrinsically disordered” and that they are “immoral” for pursuing loving relationships. Equal rejection is accorded to trans students in separate guidelines. These are in documents to support the students.
In university, you might joke with other students about about your presence being contentious when you go to Pride, because by this point you’re all too familiar with the rejection from Catholic schools and know they would never support an environment where you were accepted.
Meanwhile, stories of the Catholic faith in schools might make your news aggregator or Facebook feed. Trustees for the Halton Catholic school board vote against including sexual orientation and gender identity in its anti-bullying policy. The Edmonton Catholic district doesn’t let a seven year old transgender girl use the girl’s washrooms. Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools fires a teacher after he transitions.
As a young adult, you now have agency on which church you wish to attend. If you’re new to Ottawa, it might mean church hopping or looking at options.
As an individual well acquainted with the Internet, you might look at the website for these churches. You might find, as I did, blog posts by the Father of the nearby Catholic church you were interested in attending expressing exasperation that people are making a fuss over the church’s stance on sexual orientation. You’ve witnessed great hurt being done and now see it paired with a complete lack of understanding for that hurt.
Meanwhile, you see the Ottawa archbishop, Terrence Prendergast, call the deep bonds of affection and love like that for your significant other “sterile, destructive social arrangements” and regard inclusion as “unrelenting attempts to change or destroy the Church“. You see him assert that Catholics who consider doctor-assisted death could be denied last rites and funerals.
Catholic bishops call this love.
It does not resemble the love you were taught as a young child in Catholic school. But then again, those words were for a child that was assumed to be a straight, cisgender, male.
Then you discover it. A church that worships the same faith you do and that at its core accepts you.
You finally witness the love that was missing. You see that others have found it too, in the diversity of those with you on those Sunday mornings, young and old, queer and not. In the little things they say and do.
And so you walk away from Catholicism but do so feeling more Christian than ever before.