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No room for our gift, no room for our faith?


I am standing at the gift exchange counter. I feel like a gift I have been given has to be returned. I like this gift and I would like to keep it, but it appears that it is not mine to keep.

I was baptized Catholic. I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic schools from 1966-1983. I received my master’s degree from a Catholic institution and then worked at a Jesuit institution for four years. I know several priests who have been friends -- someone to have a beer with, discuss the Orioles recent loss or the events of the day.

I had my crisis of faith when I was in college. I had a hard time figuring out how to reconcile my feminist views with the patriarchy of the Catholic church. It was the gift of faith my parents gave me that didn’t quit on me. In my senior year, I returned to the church after a two-year boycott.

At no time during my crisis or other tough times in my life did I think the church would close the door on me. I thought and believed that, like the good shepherd, it would wait until I returned or even perhaps seek me out.

My gift of faith has survived four Buffalo Bills Super Bowl losses, and other major and minor losses. My faith has survived a lot and has never failed me. During long and painful years of struggling with who and what I was, I never once questioned God’s love for me. I worried about how my family and friends would think or feel about me as a lesbian. I would cry at weddings, thinking my parents would not walk their oldest daughter down the aisle of a church. But I kept going to church and in my prayers I never heard God say, “Don’t be who you are.” I spent a few years in the closet, a few years half in and half out, and I spent them with a just and merciful God, and a strong belief that I was created in God’s likeness.

I fell in love and stepped out of the closet for good. I was strengthened and supported by my gift of faith, and my belief that the Catholic church was about social justice. In response to the popular Christian question What would Jesus do? I laughingly told my friends that if Jesus were alive today he would be having dinner with me and not with the pope.

You might be wondering why I am telling you all this. I want you to understand who I am. I want you to know a little about the person that you call intrinsically evil. I know the distinction; it is the act that is disordered, not the orientation. But, your holiness, with all due respect, a refresher course in Logic 101 is needed. The time for hair-splitting needs to stop.

Here is the logic or the lack of logic as I see it: I am in a loving and committed relationship. We celebrated 10 years this past October. I have no legal rights in this relationship and can be discriminated against when anyone feels like it. Having read Luke’s gospel many times, I know the Catholic church is about social justice. However, the church is silent about these issues because to address them means acknowledging my relationship. It would mean acknowledging that a person’s sexuality involves being and doing. As I understand it, the Catholic church doesn’t know what makes someone homosexual or heterosexual any more than I do. We also agree that sex and one’s sexuality should be expressed between two adults in a loving and committed relationship.

Sex before marriage is a big no-no. Any Catholic girl got that message loud and clear. Gays and lesbians cannot get married in the Catholic church. You can see where the circle is headed. Not only are my acts of sexuality disordered and evil, I am committing another sin because they occur outside the sacrament of marriage.

Many Catholic gays and lesbians I know wonder, If offered the opportunity to get married in a religious ceremony, would I do it? Most feel the civil right to marry and be recognized by the state and the federal government is the key issue. We do pay taxes and yet are denied this fundamental human right as American citizens. I want both. Anybody gay or straight knows that a relationship worth having takes work. I would jump at the chance for some extra grace and a blessing from God. Every bit helps!

Recently you ordered that a priest and a nun working with gay and lesbian people cease their ministry. I understand the distinction that it was their teaching and not their working with gay people that got them into trouble. You might ask yourself whether, if you call the act of loving someone intrinsically evil, those persons you accuse of evil can be expected to seek you out for further ministry. You are closing the door.

I have a sister who sends her children to a Catholic school. My nieces wear uniforms like I used to wear in grade school. My nieces and nephews attended our commitment ceremony. They are too young to understand, but they do know that Donna and Linda come together like Tom and Melissa. They love us very much. How does my sister explain “just discrimination” to my godchild? How will my sister tell her children that my loving Linda is a sin?

My mother believes asking questions strengthens one’s faith. My dad says you just have to believe. I love them for giving me this gift.

I think it is time for the Catholic church to decide. I don’t think you can have just two catagories: all heterosexuals and all homo-celibate-sexuals. Is there no room for the rest? Hold us to the same standards of sin: no sex before marriage. Minister to us the same way you would minister to my parents or sister and brother-in-law when they might experience trouble in their relationships. Talk about sexuality with a young gay or lesbian teenager the same way my mother did with me. It is a gift from God, don’t abuse it or misuse it. Don’t preach about social justice and then tell my nieces and nephews that it’s OK to discriminate against me when it comes to adoption or teaching or marriage or love.

Either accept me as a full member of the Catholic church, a woman created in God’s likeness, a lesbian in a loving, committed relationship, or ask me to leave. The choice is yours.

I am standing at the gift exchange counter. The line is getting shorter. I wonder what you will do? As long as I still have my gift, I can only hope and pray.

Donna Swartwout writes from Nashua, N.H.

National Catholic Reporter, January 26, 2001