Why Queer Latinxs Aren’t Giving Up on the Catholic Church

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Latinxs make up 34 percent of all American Catholic adults. As of 2022, the Catholic Church still does not recognize gay marriages, and according to Pew Research, Latinx Catholics tend to be more aligned with the church than European American Catholics. They are also more likely than European American Catholics to view various behaviors, such as homosexuality, as sins. For many queer Catholic Latinxs, navigating faith, community, and emotional well-being within the church can be like walking a tightrope.

In the last few years, Pope Francis has been vocal about being more accepting of queer people in the church – or at least creating spaces for pastoral care. He declared early in his papacy, “If someone is gay, and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Pope Francis even went so far as to openly thank the cofounder of New Ways Ministry, Sister Jeannine Gramick, who was barred from community work because she supported LGBTQ+ Catholics. However, the Pope has also upheld church doctrine that calls for LGBTQ+ chastity and refers to homosexual acts as “disordered.” Just last year, the Vatican’s doctrinal body declared that Catholic priests could not bless same-sex unions, much to the frustration of those who saw the Pope’s previous comments as a step in a more accepting direction.

With the Vatican refusing to change its stance on homosexuality being a sin, how do LGBTQ+ individuals fit into and navigate a religion that’s set not only on their expulsion, but on their destruction? The answer isn’t black or white, but queer Latinx Catholics who stick to their faith and parish do so for many reasons.

Family and Community Acceptance Versus Tolerance

When Andy Ruiz came out as trans, the first thing her mother did was find a parish that would be loving to and accepting of her children. “With my queer identities, that’s why my mom took a more active role to find a church that was supportive of [my siblings and me]” Ruiz tells POPSUGAR. “Coming out trans to my family, it was like, ‘Well, if the priest says you can come through, come through,'” she laughs. Ruiz’s family comes from a little pueblo in Guanajuato, Mexico, and her Catholicism was heavily mixed with Indigenous practices and more centered on local traditions and feminine deities. “I got to see another side of Catholicism,” she says. “We believed in spirits and other saints that are not recognized by the church . . . my mom always told me as a kid to not look at the Bible at face value or to take the Bible’s teachings directly from someone else,” Ruiz says.

Queer Latinas and Latinx Catholics are not a monolith, but for many, there tends to be a focus on the written word of Jesus over acceptance from the Church itself. Catholic Latina/xs who come from families or parishes that are affirming of their identity might also find it easier to stay in the Church regardless of what the Vatican mandates. “What matters to me is what Jesus said,” Victoria Jiminez, who identifies as gender nonbinary, says. “Jesus was a Black anarchist illegal immigrant who was undermining the state, who was anti-capitalist and emphasized community and loving your neighbor.”

Jimenez, who comes from a strict, non-accepting Cuban household, says that their personal spirituality is what got them through the hurtful things people say about LGBTQ+ individuals. “What else do you have when you’re gay except your internal monologue and your spirituality?” Jimenez says. “It’s not like you can rely on the community, because you see how they react to other people – kids internalize that. We grew up listening to that – some people have amazing families, but again, everyone’s interpretation [of the scripture] is really different.”

Everyone Picks and Chooses

According to Pew Research, 53 percent of US Catholics have never read the Bible or seldom read the Bible. That’s led some to think that the opinions of many US Catholics are based more on the biblical interpretations of priests than on their own understanding of the scripture. “It’s hard to separate culture from religion. The problem, in my opinion, [is that] a lot of people who are very religious discriminate against the LGBT community based on what they believe are religious tenets, but most people haven’t studied the Bible,” Yunuen Trujillo, a lesbian Catholic lay minister and author of “LGBTQ Catholics: A Guide to Inclusive Ministry,” says.

To understand queer Catholics’ presence in the church, we have to look no further than the example set by non-queer Catholics in the church. “Everyone picks and chooses,” Trujillo tells POPSUGAR. “For the issue of queer identities, everybody will tell you, ‘Well, doctrine says this.’ But what does doctrine say about helping the poor? There are more quotes about that in the Bible than anything else.”

A Guttmacher Institute analysis of federal government data from 2012 found by their early 20s, 89 percent of never-married Catholic women had had sex, and virtually all of them were using some form of contraception: things strictly forbidden by the Church. A 2020 study found that among US Catholic women, 25 percent use sterilization, 15 percent use long-acting reversible contraceptives (such as IUDs), and 25 percent use hormonal methods (such as birth-control pills). It also found that 24 percent of women who obtained abortions in 2014 identified as Catholic.

Many queer Catholics ask: why fixate on this hateful interpretation of the scripture while turning a blind eye to other “sins” – such as the child abuse, discrimination against women, genocide, and colonization committed by and on behalf of the Vatican. Sodom and Gomorrah is the main scripture cited to justify homophobia, but even that, according to many, is open to interpretation.

“In college, one of the really fascinating things that my professor was teaching me was that the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament versus New Testament was really off,” Ruiz says. “The New Testament side says that it was sodomy and homosexuality that really smited [sic] [the city], but in the Torah, it’s focused on the act of rape itself. This simple mistranslation could have changed our world drastically. Rape was seen as such a vile thing that God decided to destroy a city over it? Imagine if that would have been our moral law now?”

“My Relationship With God Can Exist Without the Church”

Often, queer Catholic Latinxs must keep their sexuality a secret or consider “chastity” to stay in the church. But more often than not, they either find a more accepting parish or leave the Church altogether. “You want to keep your community, but you don’t want to not be yourself,” Trujillo says. “It shouldn’t be a trade-off. Just like parents shouldn’t have to choose between the church and their children, gay people shouldn’t have to choose between having a partner and living a happy and healthy life and continuing to have the community they were raised with. Why should they have to lose that community? It’s not fair.”

There are directories of accepting parishes, but these can be outdated, and the trial-and-error process of finding accepting priests can be too emotionally exhausting for some. LGBTQ+ Catholics may find it easier to leave or to practice “domestic church” – which is when people organize and get together to worship in their living rooms. Many queer Catholics stay and fight for their rights within the church, but Trujillo says that there is still a long way to go – both in the church and in Latinx culture.

Trujillo says that there is no shame in leaving if your mental and emotional health is suffering. “You don’t have to go to church to be Catholic. In Catholicism and Christianity, there is a lot of common theory, [but] the only thing that matters is what Jesus said,” she says. “When I go to the gospel, [Jesus] was eating with everyone who was discriminated against; he would talk to women and put women in positions of leadership. He would break all the rules: he did the opposite of whatever religious and social rules were at the time. You have to love yourself, and you have to love others – that’s what justifies staying in the Church. That’s the biggest teaching.”

Priest says it’s ‘sad’ Catholic Church will bless tractors but not same-sex couples when they marry

Kellie Harrington and Mandy Loughlin on their wedding day.

By Sarah Mac Donald

A well-known priest has congratulated Olympic medallist Kellie Harrington and her wife Mandy Loughlin on their wedding and criticised the Catholic Church’s stance on same-sex blessings as “out of date”.

Fr Paddy Byrne, parish priest of Abbeyleix, Ballinakill, Raheen in Co Laois, lamented the “sad” fact that he can bless tractors and cars but not a loving same-sex couple.

Speaking to the Irish Independent he said the boxer and healthcare worker “encompasses and personifies all that Christianity is about”.

In a tweet, Fr Byrne described Kelly Harrington as “a national treasure” and said he wished her and her partner health and happiness.

“I find it sad that as church we can bless cars, tractors…I’m not assuming this couple may want such ritual, but for many likewise who do we should,” he wrote.

He was congratulated by Labour TD, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, for his comments.

Fr Byrne told the Irish Independent the Church’s ban on same-sex blessings is “one of the reasons why the level of practice among under 60s at the moment is in freefall”.

He added: “It is not about diluting the truth of Christianity – it is about embracing the consequences of the radical love of Jesus Christ.”

Referring to the sense of exclusion many gay couples feel within Catholicism, he asked: “How can we continue to alienate these couples at such a happy moment in their lives and not offer at least some form of recognition – spiritual nourishment – and ritual?”

He said he did not know Kellie personally or anything about her religious background or tradition, but he felt it was a “paradox” that cars and tractors can be blessed when a committed couple could not.

“I wanted to acknowledge a happy moment in her life particularly in the context of Holy Week, which is a narrative about inclusion, love and welcome.

“These couples aren’t from the moon, they are from loving families, they are our siblings, they are our people, they are us – they are humanity.”

Stressing that he was “not a maverick in any way”, he said people on the ground in the Church buy into the need to offer gay couples a ritual to mark their commitment.

“I speak on behalf of the vast majority of the members of the parishes that I serve and particularly the younger members of those parishes. I speak on behalf of clergy as well. The majority of us find it not just disappointing but almost embarrassing that we cannot celebrate these occasions in our churches,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

I’m Catholic. The Church should welcome everyone — gays too.

I’m a staunch Catholic. But I object when the Church rejects gays. Everyone should be celebrated regardless of their sexuality.

by

“Let’s go to church, people!” my mother shouts to us every Sunday morning.

My sleep is not essential because the enthusiasm I wake up with is astounding. I love my religion. I love Catholicism.

The older I get, the longer my prayers and the more I realize the importance of the foundation that my family and church have given me: a belief system with answers to all questions man hasn’t answered. This same belief system has shaped the calm person I am. Without it, I would be lost, without meaning.

I’m far from alone. The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest faiths on the planet — and growing. The faith claims more than 1.3 billion followers worldwide. For most of these Catholics, religion is the foundation of their identity; however, for a significant minority, religion prevents them from embracing their identity. The more they discover who they are, the further their authentic selves are from the doctrines of their founding religion.

I am talking about gay Catholics.

You are either gay or Catholic.

While I’m not gay, for others, like Matthew LaBanca, being gay means having to choose between Catholicism and one’s identity, but never both. LaBanca’s story, one of many, about him as an LGBTQI+ member losing his job as music director in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn parish the moment he married his boyfriend, attests to the inexistence of a middle ground.

You are either gay or Catholic.

Logically, because of Catholic rules, he could not wed his boyfriend in the Catholic Church, which had witnessed his best and worst moments for 46 years. Why? If the Bible says that we, as humans, have to stick to the core principle and commandments of the Catholic faith — “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” — then why do individuals not accept everyone as they are? If you would love to be fired from your job because of your identity, then fire people for who they are.

I am Joseph — a name with a religious legacy that my great-grandfather trusted me to inherit. I have attended staunch Catholic schools in the formative and adolescent years of my life. I have assumed leadership roles that require me to go to the Basilica every morning to teach my peers how to perform Mass correctly. These positions often meant that I addressed questions about religion and why things are done differently in the Catholic Church. Although I rarely had solid answers — if anything, I had even more questions — one thing I knew for sure was that in Genesis 19, God destroyed Sodom and Gomora for their grave sins, specifically their acts of homosexuality, which implied that God opposed homosexuality.

But I believe that only God can make a final judgment on who lives or dies; therefore, I reject the prejudices and the othering of the LGBTQI+ community by the Catholic Church, and I will continue to hope, pray and speak out about my belief that the Church should do so as well.

It takes a staunch, straight Catholic to dismantle prejudices against gays.

I know that some might ask, “Why not just leave the Church and find one that is more open and liberal?” My response is that just as it takes a Ugandan to effect change in Uganda, it takes a staunch, straight Catholic to dismantle the prejudices against the LGBTQI+ community in the Catholic Church. Besides, no human is perfect; the Church leaders are also human. Thinking of them as flawless humans is a misleading mindset. This is a fact that Jesus recognized.

In Matthew 16:23, Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” From this Bible verse, Jesus rebukes the rock of the Church, Peter, indicating that the Church heads don’t have the right to judge what’s good or bad because they are not perfect beings themselves. The role of the Church leaders is to provide a safe space for everyone to grow and a belief system with answers to questions man hasn’t answered.

I believe that denying the existence of gay people is questioning God’s choice of creating a very diverse world. Everyone should be celebrated regardless of their sexuality.

It is my prayer that gay Catholics should keep their jobs, that the Catholic Church should welcome everyone and that only God should judge what is right and wrong. Amen.

Complete Article HERE!

What led to the historic papal apology?

How the Catholic Church has changed its tone

By Brittany Hobson

First Nations, Inuit and Metis residential school survivors, knowledge keepers, elders, and youth have wrapped up meetings with Pope Francis at the Vatican with an historic apology.

The delegation was there to renew calls for the Pope to apologize for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.

On Friday, the Pope said: “I am very sorry.” He also said he will come to Canada, but a date has not been set.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 calls to action in 2015. Among them was a request for an apology from the Pope and for the apology to take place in Canada within one year of the release of the report.

A number of individual Catholic organizations, parishes and bishops have apologized to Indigenous children and their families for the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical and sexual abuse the church inflicted on youngsters forced to attend the schools. One of the most recent apologies was issued last September by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A previous pope expressed “sorrow”

A common argument for why it took so long for an apology is that the issue was already addressed, say some experts.

In 2009, a small delegation led by Phil Fontaine, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, met with former pope Benedict to discuss the abuse and trauma at residential schools with the hope of securing an apology. Benedict expressed “sorrow” for what happened but did not apologize.

Christopher Hrynkow, a professor in the department of religion and culture at St. Thomas Moore College in Saskatoon, says some in the Catholic community saw this as enough of an apology. But he says the TRC asked for something different.

“Everybody understands the importance of the Pope in Catholic culture and what he represents,” Hrynkow says.

He adds some believe that because religious organizations had entered into a partnership with Canada, an apology rested with those specific groups and not with the corporate Catholic Church.

Click to play video: 'Maskwacis residential school survivor pleads for Pope Francis to apologize'
2:02 Maskwacis residential school survivor pleads for Pope Francis to apologize

Jeremy Bergen calls previous statements from the church “wishy-washy,” because they didn’t fully acknowledge the church’s role in the schools.

“They’re sorry bad things happen but they don’t say what everyone’s kind of thinking: the church did it,” says Bergen, an associate professor of religious studies and theological studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Ontario.

In 2019, Pope Francis convened a summit on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. At the time, church higher-ups from around the world apologized to survivors of clergy abuse.

Massimo Faggioli, professor of historical theology at Villanova University in Philadelphia, says he believes some in the Vatican perceived this “sealed the deal” for an apology.

The Church’s language

Apologies from the church are relatively new, says Faggioli. The decision to issue apologies started roughly 40 years ago when former pope John Paul II began his reign.

Bergen says apologetic language is not something churches are comfortable with.

In past years, church statements have used terms such as “repent, confess, or ask pardon or forgiveness,” says Bergen.

He says the Catholic Church needs to learn to speak a new language in order to better communicate with those who have been harmed by its actions. This includes words that make it clear what the wrong was, who did the wrong, and who’s responsible for it.

Support from bishops

Canadian bishops have been divided over the need for an apology from the Pope, says Joe Gunn, executive director for Centre Oblat – A Voice for Justice in Ottawa.

Pope Francis has led with the idea of a more consultative church. And Hrynkow says a commitment to visit Canada would have previously been met with hesitation from the Pope without a direct invitation from bishops.

The request from Canadian bishops had to be there and it wasn’t, says Gunn, who used to work with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

That changed last year with the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country.

Click to play video: 'PM announces more funding for residential school investigations & healing'
PM announces more funding for residential school investigations & healing

“Now all of the bishops of Canada are saying, ‘You know what? It’s a really good idea for him to come here. He should visit. This is what needs to be done,’” says Gunn.

Coming to Canada

Had the Pope waited to apologize in Canada, it would have been a first of its kind, says Faggioli.

Never before has a papal visit been built around the issue of abuse, he says. Previous apologies have been made during papal trips but those were done behind closed doors or last minute.

Delegates at the Vatican say they still expect a more fulsome apology will come from the Pope when he’s on Canadian soil.

“The Canadian case is a big test because it’s new,” says Faggioli. “It’s no longer the sexual abuse against minors itself. But it’s a history of abuse that is sexual, cultural, civilizational, national (and) it’s educational.

“It is much bigger.”

Click to play video: 'Why Pope Francis will have to come to Canada to make amends'
Why Pope Francis will have to come to Canada to make amends

Complete Article HERE!

Untangling knots and building bonds

— Our Lady Undoer of Knots church welcomes LGBTQ+ people, other disaffected Catholics

Al Risdorfer, a pastor at Our Lady Undoer of Knots Inclusive Catholic Community, stands inside of St. Mark’s On the Hill Epsicopal Church, where Our Lady Undoer of Knots leases space to hold Mass every Sunday at 6 p.m.

By Marcus Dieterle

On a recent Sunday, Father Al Risdorfer stands in front of an altar, flanked by the Maryland flag and an LGBTQ+ pride banner, with rainbow colors reminiscent of the stained glass windows that filter the church’s light.

As a cantor’s voice echoes off stone walls, parishioners line up to receive Holy Communion. No one is turned away.

Risdorfer tells Baltimore Fishbowl that the church community, Our Lady Undoer of Knots, wants to keep Catholic traditions alive while serving as an inclusive, nonjudgmental and affirming space for LGBTQ+ people, divorcees, and others who have been left out of the Roman Catholic Church.

“We’re a community,” he said. “We’re social justice-oriented. We have great fellowship with one another….We pray well, we play well, and we don’t have all the nonsense. We don’t have all the judgment. We don’t have all the condemnations. We don’t have all the division.”

On a mission to redefine what it means to be a devout Catholic, Our Lady Undoer of Knots is building an independent Catholic community that is welcoming to all, and trying to fulfill its social justice vision. It has been a rocky road for the church, trying to grow its parish while many Catholics are leaving the faith altogether, and amid social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. But still, the passion and community are growing.

Every Sunday at 6 p.m., Our Lady Undoer of Knots holds Mass at St. Mark’s On The Hill Episcopal Church in Pikesville, where they lease space. They also livestream the Mass and post recordings on their website, Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo.

Path to priesthood

Although he was ordained four years ago, Risdorfer said he has always wanted to be a priest.

After high school, Risdorfer attended seminary for six years but left before taking his vows. And while attending graduate school to earn his master’s degree in organization management, he came out as a gay man – an identity that he said was also always with him, even before he had the words to express it.

Risdorfer, who has worked in human resources throughout his professional career with technology companies and nonprofits, said there are “an awful lot of transferable skills” between ministry and HR.

“I keep joking to people that I make the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, and occasionally I raise somebody from the dead in the HR job,” he said. “In HR, you get people that are just unmotivated and you kind of bring them back to life.”

Now, he and the other members of the community at Our Lady Undoer of Knots hope to motivate people to turn or return to the Catholic faith.

The church community also aims to promote social justice, which Risdorfer said is a tenet of the faith although many do not live up to the principle. Our Lady Undoer of Knots plan to assist low-income families and provide a safe space for survivors of conversion therapy and religious trauma, among other efforts.

Al Risdorfer holds an icon of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, painted by Rev. Anjel Scarborough, formerly of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

After facing homophobia at another church, Risdorfer and his partner at the time – now husband, Tony Bono, a retired professional soccer player – searched for a congregation where they wouldn’t face discrimination.

They found a parish that was part of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA), a Catholic jurisdiction independent from the Roman Catholic Church. After a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, the CACINA church married Risdorfer and Bono.

When that church was looking for priests, Risdorfer volunteered to return to his studies. He was ordained as a deacon in 2018, and as a priest in 2019.

From there, Risdorfer helped found Our Lady Undoer of Knots in the Baltimore area, a parish under CACINA at the time. Our Lady Undoer of Knots has since left CACINA and joined another Catholic jurisdiction, Progressive Catholic Church International.

Our Lady Undoer of Knots has also revived the Baltimore chapter of DignityUSA, the world’s largest and oldest community of LGBTQ+ Catholics, which has not had a chapter in Baltimore since the 1980s. Dignity Baltimore operates as a ministry of Our Lady Undoer of Knots.

When Our Lady Undoer of Knots began in November 2019, it operated out of Risdorfer and Bono’s home in Howard County. Soon after, they began renting their current space at St. Mark’s, located at 1620 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville, where they hoped to cultivate the parish. Then, the pandemic hit.

Though their plans were stalled, Our Lady Undoer of Knots is still striving to grow in size and impact.

At odds with Rome

Risdorfer explained that Our Lady Undoer of Knots, the Marian devotion that the church community is named after, signifies the ability of Mary, mother of God, to help people navigate tangles and challenges in life.

Pope Francis has expressed some support for LGBTQ+ people, including saying that same-sex couples have the right to have children and that parents should not throw out their children from their homes for being an LGBTQ+ identity. But he has also said that while having a “tendency” for same-sex attraction is not a sin, acting on that attraction is sinful.

This icon of Our Lady Undoer of Knots was painted by Rev. Anjel Scarborough, formerly of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ellicott City. Al Risdorfer, pastor at Our Lady Undoer of Knots Inclusive Catholic Community, purchased it from an art auction that St. Peter’s was holding.

Risdorfer said those latter beliefs continue to force individuals to hide who they are and have turned many away from the faith. He added that the Roman Catholic Church also has also looked down on those of other backgrounds, such as those who are transgender, divorcees, and women or nonbinary individuals seeking to become leaders in the church.

“We figured the knot that needs to be untied here is how do we bring people back to the church, back to God?” Risdorfer said. “Because a lot of them, when they walked out of the church and walked out of the pews, they just kept on going.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots holds a traditional Catholic Mass that Risdorfer said most “cradle to grave Catholics” like himself would be familiar with, from scripture readings to singing of hymns to Communion.

But they do not swear allegiance to Rome and all worshipers are welcome to be part of their church community.

In March, the Vatican released a statement saying that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex marriages and unions, which they called “sinful.”

Catholic churches and dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, also continue to promote a program called “Courage” that “seeks to help persons with same-sex attractions develop an interior life of chastity and move beyond the confines of the homosexual identity to a more complete identity in Christ.”

Risdorfer said LGBTQ+ people should not have to hide who they are to be part of the Catholic faith.

“We are not ‘intrinsically morally disordered,’” he said, referring to a 1986 Roman Catholic Church document that called same-sex attraction a tendency toward “intrinsic moral evil” and an inclination that is “an objective disorder.”

“We are good, we are children of God, and we’re not going away,” Risdorfer said.

A different ‘GPS’

Risdorfer said Our Lady Undoer of Knots has a different “GPS” – which stands for how the church community views “gender, power and sexuality” – than other Catholic churches, particularly those that are allegiant to Rome.

Last year, Pope Francis formally allowed women to give Communion, read during Mass and perform other tasks. But he maintained that women cannot become priests.

At Our Lady Undoer of Knots, people of all genders can be ordained as priests and take on other roles in the church.

There is also less hierarchy in their church’s power structure, which Risdorfer described as “more collaborative” and “not top down.”

Body and blood

While Risdorfer said about half of the parish is part of the LGBTQ+ community, those are not the only people they are looking to reach. They also want to connect with divorced Catholics; individuals who have had abortions; women and nonbinary people, as well as married people, looking to be ordained; and anyone else who does not feel represented in the Catholic church.

Vivian Hogan came to Our Lady Undoer of Knots after being unable to receive Communion at other churches.

Hogan divorced her first husband and married her second husband, whom she has been married to now for 49 years. But for most of her life, she could not receive Communion because her first marriage had not been annulled.

Though Hogan attended Mass at other churches on and off throughout her life, not being able to receive Communion for all those years weighed on her.

When she started attending Our Lady Undoer of Knots in November 2021, she said Risdorfer gave her “unconditional absolution” and she was able to once again receive Communion.

The Pikesville church is about an hour each way from her home in Damascus every Sunday, but Hogan said the community she has found is well worth the trip.

“It’s a much smaller community [than other churches],” she said. “Everyone knows one another and they’re very friendly and outgoing.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots Inclusive Catholic Community holds Mass every Sunday at 6 p.m. inside St. Mark’s On the Hill Episcopal Church in Pikesville, where they lease the space.

Jared Dixon, also a parishioner at Our Lady Undoer of Knots, said many Catholic churches have “weaponized” Communion.

“It’s been seen as a reward for being a pious Catholic or pious Christian…. I don’t think that receiving Communion should be a reward for being good or [not receiving it] should be punishment for not being good. I feel like everybody should be able to approach the Lord’s table,” he said.

But Dixon, who is also the author of a novel in which characters navigate being gay in the Catholic church, said Our Lady Undoer of Knots is unlike other churches he has attended.

“You feel welcome the moment you walk in the door,” he said. “There’s no preconceived notion of ‘You need to be this way. You need to be that way. You can’t bring this part of yourself to church.’ We welcome you in every aspect of your life: however you show up, whoever you are, whoever you love.”

Welcome one and all

Destiny DiMattei, who is nonbinary, asexual and panromantic, sought a Catholic church that was affirming for LGBTQ+ people.

“I don’t have a relationship right now, but I want to know that wherever I am I’d be somewhere that that my partner and my relationship with my partner will be welcomed,” they said.

DiMattei, who is partially blind, reads from the lectionary in braille every Sunday. At Our Lady Undoer of Knots, they said they are able to not only provide their input but have those ideas respected.

“Everyone has as much impact as they have time for or are able to have…. I’m not just passively sitting around at Mass. I’m actually part of something,” they said.

John Hagens, a music minister with the church, was part of a group in college where he thought he was supported. But when he came out as gay and the group’s reaction was unwelcoming, he left.

“That was the one place where I felt like I could be safe in coming out to a group of people who I called friends and were really supportive of people,” he said. “I just didn’t have that experience. It went quite the other direction. I stopped feeling welcome in that community.”

He added “I was told all throughout growing up and all throughout high school and [college] that I was made in God’s image and God doesn’t make mistakes. And yet, here were these people who were supposedly leading the faith, telling me that I’m wrong and that I am sinful because of who I am.”

After he moved to Maryland to live with his partner Mike, they “bounced around to a few independent Catholic churches in the area” before eventually finding their “church home” at Our Lady Undoer of Knots.

“I never feel like I’m being lectured to,” Hagens said. “I don’t feel like someone is preaching at me. I feel like I’m just having a conversation with a good friend.”

Our Lady Undoer of Knots Inclusive Catholic Community holds Mass every Sunday at 6 p.m. inside St. Mark’s On the Hill Episcopal Church in Pikesville, where they lease the space.

Undoing knots

Risdorfer said the church needs more members to tackle the social justice work they have planned, such as aiding economically disadvantaged families.

“We’re in this Catch 22: I can’t do a lot because I haven’t grown because I haven’t done a lot because I haven’t grown,” he said.

Some people have been turned off by the Roman Catholic Church’s values not aligning with their own, Risdorfer said. Others, particularly young people, have not had as strong of an inclination toward religion that previous generations have had, he said.

DiMattei said other Catholic churches reinforce the idea of “sacrificial love and giving until it hurts,” which has been harmful to them as a person with a co-dependency background.

“How do I not constantly have the urge to do for others to the point of hurting myself, where it becomes too much?” they said. “What is that line? That’s a knot I’m still trying to undo in my life.”

But at Our Lady Undoer of Knots, they are looking to do and give what they can without feeling pressured past those boundaries, balancing their personal wellbeing with others’ needs.

Building bonds

While the church has been working to undo knots, they also recently helped tie a new, more hopeful knot for Dixon and his now-husband Jerry. The couple were married by Risdorfer this January.

Over the past six years or so, Dixon said it became important for him to have a church wedding because he wanted that spiritual connection. But until coming to Our Lady Undoer of Knots, they struggled to find a Catholic church that would let them marry.

“Finding the right church that would marry me and honor my commitment that I would make to my husband was very important,” Dixon said.

As Our Lady Undoer of Knots continues to grow, Hagens hopes more people who have been shut out by the Catholic church will find what they are looking for with their community.

“There are people who are waiting out there to lovingly affirm your whole self and not judge you for whatever you bring to the table because you are a person of the community,” he said. “We are sinners just as much as that other person; there is no one that’s perfect. But we at Our Lady Undoer of Knots really want to provide a space where all are welcome.”

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