By Claudia Ibarra
How can I be Catholic if the Catholic Church does not accept me for who I truly am? This is a question that all LGBT Catholics must ask themselves at some point in their life. The official Church doctrine—as laid out in the catechism—states that homosexual acts are “of grave depravity,” and will never be approved. Seeing Pope Francis in the United States, addressing Congress, gives me great hope for the Catholic faith. He is loving and compassionate—he looks past sin and at the person. That’s how I feel the Catholic Church needs to be. I find the Church’s treatment of LGBT people neither moral nor just.
Like most Catholics, I was born into the faith. My parents are Catholic, and they chose to raise their children as Catholic—baptizing us at infancy and sending us to Catholic school. The Catholic Church’s richness has guided with its rules and ways for my entire life. Our lives revolved around the church—we lived in the neighborhood of St. Luke Parish, the church and school my sisters and I attended. When I think of Catholicism, I think of singing in choir, reading at Mass, dressing in my white gown to receive my first Communion, our nativity play, stations of the cross, saying my rosary, pilgrimages, being a team member of retreats and summer camps, and seeing all of humanity as my brothers and sisters.
Knowing the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, I had to hide part of myself. I tried going out with guys, which made me deeply unhappy. I knew I only liked girls. I kept telling myself, “This is what good Catholic girls do…they date a guy, marry a guy, etc.” The prospect of never being happy saddened me beyond comprehension; it is very hard to stay alive when you lead a double life and know you are marching toward an unhappy future. But for a while, I was fine with not being out to my family and only dating women in secret. It wasn’t really a problem because I wasn’t in love.
Then I fell in love. I met an amazing woman who is, in one word, extraordinary. She raises me up, gives me hope, and has taught me the meaning of love. Once I allowed myself to be in love, everything else in my life was different. For the first time in my life, I was happy—moreover, everyone around me could see the difference. Love emboldened me; I started sharing who I truly was with those around me. Not everyone was happy for me—within a month of coming out to my friends, I lost a great deal of them. Those I still do see have made it their mission to say something about my sexuality, so I don’t engage in sharing my life with them. Coming out to my family was a real struggle. My parents still don’t understand. I’m not sorry for coming out as a lesbian—I am sorry for those who do not love me for my authentic self.
For LGBT Catholics, we cannot receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. I may go to Mass, but I do not receive the sacrament out of respect for the law of the Church, even though I highly disagree. And for Catholics, the whole of the Mass is centered on the Eucharist. So, without Communion, I go “unfed.” The Mass is empty, and I feel the separation even deeper.
I do not feel guilty about being with the woman I love, because God loves everyone—He created her. I deserve to love and be truly loved. I deserve to be accepted as all creation is accepted. I am not ashamed of who I am—I am made in God’s image just like anyone else. My sexuality should not be a divisive issue. As my authentic self, I’ve made new friends and continue to work on other aspects of my life. I still consider myself Catholic, I talk with God every day, I pray my rosary, and I love Pope Francis. I just hope one day the Church will love me back without caveats. For those LGBT Catholics out there, you are not alone. God still loves you, and He will not abandon you. The Church is moving in a positive direction, and the Church is evolving. Conversation and dialogue—as Pope Francis is doing—needs to happen first to change hearts and minds. I see a welcome change coming in the future.