I lost my faith trying to ‘pray myself straight’

The author was 13 years-old the first time he tried to “pray the gay away”. Lying in bed one night, he started talking to God, and begged him to make him straight.

by Patrick Kelleher

I had a number of theories about my sexuality in my early years. At one point, I believed that God had made me gay as a challenge to see if I could overcome my same-sex desire. Later, about a year and a half into my efforts to pray myself straight, I thought that he might have just made some horrendous mistake. But even believing that was difficult, because I knew that God didn’t make mistakes. So, the theory I ultimately settled on was that my attraction to other boys was actually just a phase – it would pass in time and then, finally, I would be just like everybody else.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen.

Today, I am 26 years-old and I am openly and confidently gay. But I still look back on that teenager who so desperately wanted to change who he was and wonder: how did it get to that point? There were many reasons, of course; homophobic bullying, a hostile society – but my intense Catholic faith also played a big part in making me hate myself.

Many of us in Ireland talk about being “raised Catholic”, but this means different things for different people. Some people have intense religious childhoods where any deviation from their faith is met with punishment and shame. For others, it means stepping into a church for the odd communion or confirmation, but little else.

My childhood fell somewhere in the middle of these extremes. My parents, while not exactly devout Catholics themselves, brought us to mass most weekends. We were cultural Catholics, but religion was also a big part of our lives. It was how we came together and it allowed us to connect to something bigger than ourselves.

I lapped it all up. I was a voracious reader, and while I never successfully managed to read the Bible (I tried), I adored the stories I heard in mass. When I was a child, religion seemed exciting, thrilling, and – at its core – obvious. Why wouldn’t I believe in God? He loved me unconditionally. It was a glorious safety net for a child who was, from an early age, prone to anxiety.

I started praying to God every night early on in childhood. Prayer was part of my daily ritual and I looked forward to it. When I think back on that time, I remember feeling so close to God – I felt innately connected with something important. It was a comforting feeling, and I still miss it sometimes.

I didn’t yet know I was gay, but there were plenty of signs indicating that I was different from other children. When I was nine years old, in the playground, another child referred to something as “gay”. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew by the way he said it that it was a bad thing. When I asked, he explained that it was when two boys liked each other. I distinctly remember how I squirmed and thought to myself: “I hope that isn’t me.”

At 11 years-old, when most boys my age started having crushes on girls, I started having crushes on boys. By the time I was 12, my sexuality was in full swing – and I despised myself for it. I ventured onto Google and quickly established that being gay was not only socially unacceptable, but my church – the religion I cared so passionately about – strictly forbade it. I became increasingly aware of just how hated gay people were within Catholicism. It was an incredibly isolating and alienating feeling, to feel rejected from a place in which I had always felt so at home. I was too young to see the Catholic church’s anti-LGBT+ views for what they are: bigoted, normative, hateful. Instead, I told myself that I was the problem – that I needed to be fixed.

It was in that context that I started asking God to help me, to try to pray myself straight. My efforts were not without their complications; by that point, my faith was starting to crumble around me. I had backed myself into a theological corner, and it was patently clear that there was no easy way out of it. If God never makes mistakes, and makes us in his image, how could he have gone so far wrong with me? Why would he voluntarily create somebody who was intrinsically disordered when he makes everybody in his image? And if he truly loved me, as I had always been told he did, then why would he put me through this unbearable suffering? These questions did not have easy answers, and even while I continued to pray myself straight, they pushed me gently towards the exit door of atheism.

But I held out some hope. I took to crying myself to sleep, forgoing my nightly prayer routine for songs that made me feel less alone. When I was 13, I finally came up with a plan of action – I decided I would ask God to take this burden from me. To my dismay, my efforts to pray myself straight only made me more miserable. I felt utterly hopeless, and started to wonder if I would be better off dead. I contemplated suicide on numerous occasions as a teenager; whether to die or stay alive became a constant grappling point. I often wondered which would hurt my parents more: me dying or me coming out as gay.

Just before my 15th birthday, as I yet again tried to pray myself straight, I told God it would be the last time I would ask him to fix me. I told him I had had enough – I had tried hard enough to rid myself of these feelings. I asked him to rescue me – and he didn’t. That finally put an end to my belief in a higher power.

I’m sure that I will never fully understand the extent of the damage growing up Catholic and gay had on me. Like many queer people, I still, on occasion, feel a deep, internalised shame about my sexuality, and I still feel hatred, anger and betrayal wash over me every time I step inside a church. It is like visiting a childhood home and learning that things are not the same as they were. It is an intensely alienating feeling, standing in a beautiful Catholic church, remembering all the times I tried to pray myself straight, all the times I asked God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary to rescue me.

Today, I am firmly an atheist and the only masses I attend are the odd Catholic wedding. I’m not necessarily happy I’m an atheist, but I am happy that I’m no longer part of an organisation that is not just intolerant, but is actively hostile to LGBT+ people. I now understand that I, like all queer people, deserve so much better than what the Catholic church is prepared to offer us. I still hold out hope that one day, the church will change its teachings on LGBT+ issues, but that hope dims by the day. Every time it looks like Pope Francis is starting to move towards greater acceptance, he imminently throws more discrimination our way.

While my hope has dimmed, it has not died completely. I don’t keep that flame alive for my own benefit – I no longer care what the Catholic church thinks of me. I keep my hope alive for all the other children growing up in that institution. It breaks my heart that they have to learn that they are not loved unconditionally like their straight and cisgender peers. I hope that one day, young queer people will no longer contemplate suicide because the church that was supposed to love them rejected them. I hope that they will be able to go to mass and won’t feel alienated in the way so many queer people do.

But right now, change looks a long way off. The Catholic church of today is an intensely backwards organisation that endeavours to keep people inside tiny boxes. But queer people cannot – and will not – thrive inside boxes.

If you have been affected by this story, you can contact any of the following by clicking on the link:

LGBT Helpline
Aware 
Pieta House 
Mental Health Ireland

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Creates New Expert Commission to Study Women Deacons

A female priest on an ancient reliquary box

The Vatican said Wednesday that Pope Francis has created a new commission of experts to examine whether women can be deacons, an ordained role in the Catholic Church currently reserved for men.

The 10-member commission, the second of Francis’ pontificate to study the fraught issue, includes equal numbers of men and women representing the United States and six European countries.

Deacons are ordained ministers who perform many of the same functions as priests. They preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and they can preach. They cannot celebrate Mass.

Married men can be ordained as deacons. Women cannot, though historians say women served as deacons in the early Christian church.

In response to women demanding to be given greater roles in the 21st century, Francis established a commission in 2016 to study female deacons in the early Christian church. But the members failed to reach a consensus and the group effectively ended its work.

The issue was revived during Francis’ 2019 summit on the Amazon. The region’s bishops called for the question of women deacons to be revisited given the shortage or priests in the vast territory. Francis agreed at the time, and the new commission appears to be his follow-up.

Significantly, the scope of the commission’s mandate does not appear to be limited to the early church, as was the 2016 commission. Amazonian bishops had called for the real-life experiences of their region’s Catholic faithful to be taken into consideration in any new evaluation.

Advocates for expanding the ministry to include women say doing so would give women greater say in the ministry and governance of the church, while also helping address priest shortages in several parts of the world.

Opponents say allowing women to be deacons would become a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood. The Catholic Church reserves the priesthood for men, saying Christ chose only men as his 12 apostles. Francis has repeatedly reaffirmed the teaching.

The new commission has as its president the archbishop of the central Italian city of L’Aquila, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi. An official from the Holy See’s powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was named to serve as No. 2.

Confessions of a Gay Priest – Book Review

by Linda LaScola

Editor’s Note: Last autumn, Alexis Record and Tom Rastrelli appeared together in one of many blog posts here that commemorated The Clergy Project’s 1000 Member Milestone. I thought they were a good example of the variety of religious backgrounds that people who leave religion come from. Now they are back together in what I think is even a more interesting way – a former fundamentalist reviewing the memoir of a former Catholic priest.  /Linda LaScola, Editor

First, with permission from the publisher, Alexis starts with excerpts from the prologue:

            The Church needed something new. In January, the Boston Globe had exposed Cardinal Bernard Francis Law for covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests. As the months before my ordination passed, a mounting number of bishops fell in shame. I doubted my calling. But the Church was different in Dubuque. My archbishop hadn’t harbored pedophiles. He’d turned them over to the police. He’d offered their victims support and healing. I would do the same. 

            After the archbishop completed the prayer, a priest lifted the deacon’s stole from my shoulder and replaced it with a priest’s stole. Over my head, he lowered a chasuble with gold-and-blue embroidery matching the archbishop’s. I crossed from the center of the sanctuary to the cathedra, the ornately carved oak throne where the archbishop sat. I knelt before him. From a crystal pitcher, he poured syrupy chrism–holy oil scented with balsam–over my upturned hands. Pressing his palms against mine, the archbishop smeared large crosses as he prayed: “The Father anointed Our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” He folded his glistening hands around mine. His dark eyes were absolution. I would sacrifice myself for him, for God.

            Hands dripping with chrism, I stood, turned, and walked to my spot at the foot of the altar. I glanced at the front row into my parents’ eyes. They were crying, grinning. I smiled through tears. I was a priest. 

[—]

            Less than two years later, I turned my back on the archbishop. This time, I held my tears. I rushed from his office into February’s darkness. The frigid night air burned my cheeks. In the corner of the icy parking lot, my black pickup offered refuge. My only private space, it was where I retreated to sing, talk on my phone, and cry–all the things a young priest didn’t want his pastor or cleaning lady to witness. I drove through blocks of Catholic neighborhoods, people who trusted the archbishop. Now, I had to obey his command by covering up sexual abuse.

[…] 

            On the north end of town, a boat ramp would provide easy access to the frozen Mississippi. My plan: drive until the ice buckled under the weight of the truck. 

Tom Rastrelli

Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary

By Alexis Record

For half a decade now I have been a Free Hugs Mom at our local Pride parade with Sunday Assembly San Diego. I become everyone’s mom despite age differences and embrace hundreds of people while making sure they’re drinking water and wearing sunscreen in the summer sun, you know, Mom concerns. Most importantly of all, I tell folks I’m proud of them. Most laugh or smile at my apron, some cry, and a few collapse into my arms as if a stranger’s acceptance might squeeze their fractured parts into some semblance of wholeness. As our group discussed doing an emotionally exhausting two-day Pride event this year, I was still recovering from finishing my tear-stained advanced copy of Tom Rastrelli’s book, Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary. It solidified my resolve to love on those kids.

Recently it felt as if an additional child was in my home: young Tom Rastrelli. I poured my love and support into him as he navigated pure hell. “Oh baby,” I’d tell him as he doubled down on homophobic lessons and planted deeper roots into his own victimization, like a vulnerable plant choosing the darkest corner where growth was promised.

What makes Rastrelli’s story so compelling are his flourishes of detail. His experiences are incredibly visceral–a real strength of his writing–which in turn make the abuses he suffered that much more excruciating. Each page is pure beauty and heartbreak. I found myself unable to put it down, needing to know what happens next. Needing to know Tom would be okay.

Rastrelli excavates the darker parts of his theology and clerical experiences without being anti-Catholic. In fact, I was struck with the humanity of his fellow seminarians and priests. The religious boy’s club included drinking, swearing, smoking, sexism, and jokes about pedophilia as the topic of the day which would not look out of place among a group of men in any other part of society. These boys grow through spiritual practice into priests. They are portrayed with a fair hand, not as monsters, but as loving servants of congregants who become unwitting facilitators of abusive and inhumane doctrines. They encouraged counseling, but not from women who pointed out sexism within the system. They practiced forgiveness, but used it to sweep grievous abuses under the rug. They offered real friendship, but caused their friends to hate their sexualities. They were real people, good people, doing the best they could with the tools they had. It made me want to take my local priest out to coffee to see how he’s holding up.

I’ve never been Catholic. The closest I’ve come is years ago working as a priest’s sign language interpreter during Mass. I outed myself as protestant by signing each word of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” instead of crossing myself and as a result wasn’t asked back. Yet, I did not need to be completely familiar with all aspects of Catholic tradition to follow this story. Any conservative Christian will recognize, as I did, the strong desire to be lost in God’s presence, the pressure to cover up for the sins of godly men, and the deep self loathing after every masturbatory orgasm.

Rastrelli takes the reader on a unique journey most of the faithful never see. Like many of the other wide-eyed liberal students who loved the Church, he set out to affect change from within it only to be gradually and incessantly chiseled into the very shape of those hard beliefs he did not think reflected Christ. Seminarians during this process swallowed larger and larger boluses of cognitive dissonance until they were either consumed from within or vomited out of God’s presence. They were told not to make waves and not to confuse the faithful with their own doubts about the system. It was amazing to me just how so many good people became unwilling participants in facilitating horrific evils. Offering a holy profession for homosexual men who would never be allowed to have sex within the confines of that system and then laying all the blame for child predation upon the gays is just one of those evils.

The brutal parts of this story include the author’s homophobia recounted from his early years and directed selfward like a knife at his own throat, the sexual abuse the reader voyeuristically shares, and, almost worse, the excusing and minimizing of that abuse by the very men supposedly speaking and acting for God himself. Worshipping a tortured savior meant suffering throughout the story was almost always mistaken for love. Oh baby.

Silent no longer, Tom Rastrelli bravely reopens wounds and lays bare scars for all to see. His memoir is a breathtaking, priceless treasure–a bright light in the darkness. I’m proud to recommend it to believers and unbelievers alike. For victims of abuse, I suggest being gentle with yourself while reading. Also, drink some water, wear your sunblock, and avoid hazardous religious systems.

Confessions will be available April, 2020. Preorders available now, from Amazon.

Complete Article HERE!

EGR priest denies Communion to gay judge

Judge Sara Smolenski

by:

Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court, has been denied Communion at the church where she has been a parishioner for more than six decades because she is married to a woman.

It is a move that for many was the final straw in a pattern of behavior that has them calling for the removal of a priest — a priest who came to St. Stephen Catholic Church about three years ago.

In 1966, under the leadership of Rev. Msgr. Edward N. Alt, St. Stephen Catholic School became the first integrated Catholic school in Metro Grand Rapids and had a student body that was nearly 40 percent non-Catholic.

This tradition of inclusion and acceptance would be the essence of the school and the church for 50 years.

But now, some here say that is changing.

“I’ve been a member of St. Stephen’s Catholic Parish for 62 years, basically,” Smolenski said.

Smolenski who has been on the bench for nearly 30 years, comes from a family of prominent community members, including her father who was also a district court judge, and her brother, a state appeals court judge.

“I was baptized there, my parents were married there, every one of my nine siblings went to school (from) first through eighth grade. We buried my parents out of that school,” Smolenski said. “This is a church that is a part of who I am. This is a church who helped form my faith.”

News 8 featured Smolenski in March of 2016, when she became the first Kent County elected official to marry someone of the same sex.

But it was just last Saturday that Smolenski got a call from the parish priest, Father Scott Nolan.

“The way he said it was ‘because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion,’ that’s how he said it,” Smolenski explained. “I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you.”

It was a devastating revelation for the lifelong Catholic who months earlier gave $7,000 to the parish building fund.

“Oh my gosh, I’m not going to get Jesus at the church I have devoted my life to,” Smolenski said, fighting back tears. “I thought of my mom and dad who devoted their whole life to raising us Catholic, spending all that money at the Catholic education.”

Smolenski was not the first person to be denied, according to a dozen people News 8 talked to Tuesday, including one same-sex couple who was denied the Eucharist during their child’s communion service.

“The public shunning — everything about it was offensive,” Smolenski said of the denial months before her own.

It is part of a pattern, according to Micki Benz, a 40-year member of the parish who is a part of a group of members who have decided to speak out.

They point to the words of Pope Francis who wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation.

Evangelii Gaudium, translates as “joy of the Gospel,” that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak and the church is not a toll house but a place for everyone.

“(Nolan) has eliminated teachers who are gay. He has made it clear that gay people are not welcome,” Benz said.

For a period of time, Nolan forbade non-Catholics from participating in church services, including choir and reading before the congregation, members say.

Parishioners met with Nolan and were hopeful that he was changing his ways, until last Saturday when the beloved judge was denied Communion.

Nolan talked to News 8 briefly Tuesday, promising he would speak on the issue but then did not call back or return messages.

There are those who believe Nolan is in the right, but they would not go on camera. Others with kids attending school would not go on camera due to fear of reprisal, but all say they love the church and want healing.

“I love the St. Stephen’s I knew. I don’t love the St. Stephen’s of now,” Smolenski said.

Some members say it would be better overall for the church to change pastors.

“We don’t see Father Scott changing; therefore we’ve come to the conclusion that it’d be better for him and us if there were a change in our pastors,” Benz said.

Some parishioners have drafted a letter to Bishop David Walkowiak, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, explaining their position and asking for a meeting — a request he has not responded to in the past.

>> Inside WOODTV.com: Letter to Bishop David Walkowiak.

“We really, really want a meeting with him. Everybody is prepared to be very respectful. We just want him to know what this is doing to one of his parishes,” Benz said.

News 8 reached out to the Diocese of Grand Rapids who would not address the issue of whether Nolan’s actions are supported by the bishop.

A spokesperson did issue this terse statement presumably about what happened with Judge Smolenski: “This is a spiritual matter between her and her pastor.”

Smolenski says it is time to bring this into the light.

“I want to help somebody out there who’s never even been born to make their life a little bit easier — by standing up and speaking the truth,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

Holy Water, Film on HIV-Positive Gay Priest, Launches Kickstarter