Being Gay and Catholic
When Joe Pietrus’ son told him he was gay, Pietrus found himself in the position his son had been for years: in the closet.
“I am gay, and God doesn’t love me anymore,” Pietrus’ son told him. Pietrus, a devout Catholic, didn’t know how to react, and didn’t acknowledge that his son was gay for a long time.
“That’s not pretty. And it wasn’t the right thing to do,” Pietrus said. “I don’t want any parent to do what I did.”
Today, Pietrus heads up Always Our Children, a support program for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their loved ones at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Raleigh, N.C.
He spoke on April 18 at “Food for Thought: Finding the intersection between the LGBTQ and Catholic communities,” a discussion hosted by the University of North Carolina's Newman Catholic Student Center.
The support group’s message is that you cannot be unbaptized: Your gifts are valued and you are welcome in the Catholic community regardless of your sexual orientation, as expressed in the 1998 U.S. bishops pastoral letter for which the support group is named.
The 1998 pastoral letter says, “Generally, homosexual orientation is experienced as a given, not as something freely chosen. By itself, therefore, a homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.” Its basis is the doctrine of human dignity, which says that every human life has inherent value.
“Homosexual people are created by God, loved by God, and should be honored and respected,” Rev. Monsignor John Wall from the Newman Center said.
St. Francis of Assisi acknowledges this more than other churches. In addition to hosting All Our Children, the church has had an active LGBTQ ministry for more than a decade.
Cathy Dodlinger, an active member of St. Francis, has been with her partner, Jane, for 20 years.
“If I had to leave the Catholic Church, it would have to be the saddest moment of my life,” she said. But it’s still not easy to be Catholic and gay (or Catholic and progressive).
Recently, Dodlinger went to another parish where a priest gave “a nasty homily” condemning homosexuality.
And although the Catholic church welcomes homosexuals as they are, it still says it’s against church teaching for LGBTQ people to have sex, in large part because Catholics shouldn’t have sex before marriage. The answer to this problem seems pretty obvious, but Catholic bishops have hardly been at the forefront of the fight for marriage equality. Last year, bishops of both North Carolina dioceses came out in support of Amendment One, which put a ban against gay marriage and domestic partnerships in the North Carolina constitution.
So the Catholic Church is hardly a leader in LGBTQ rights, and more of a reflection of progress made by society as a whole.
But considering its mammoth worldwide membership, that’s something.
Students at the event had mixed reactions to Pietrus and Dodlinger’s message. One student spoke about a beloved gay uncle.
“I can’t tell him his past homosexual lifestyle is right,” he said. But later, after hearing Pietrus talk more he changed his mind. “Who the hell am I to judge anyone else?”
This article originally appeared in Campus BluePrint a student publication at the University of North Carolina that receives funding and training as a member of the Campus Progress journalism network.