Our Lady of Pride

— Santa Muerte Loves Her Queer Children

By Andrew Chesnut

Santa Muerte, a folk saint of death, opens her arms to all LGBTQ+ people. Although there are many queer-coded saints within the Catholic Church, from Saint Sebastian to Joan of Arc to Juana Inés de la Cruz, none is more comforting to many LGBTQ+ Mexicans and other LGBTQ+ individuals around the world than La Santísima. It may seem strange that people who fight for their identities and existence on a daily basis would embrace a figure of death, but for queer devotees A.B. and Ash Mestizo, she is a source of solidarity and comfort.

A.B. is a nonbinary person living in Canada who was raised in the Catholic Church but parted ways with it many years ago due to continued homophobia and transphobia. They have struggled with mental illness all their life, acknowledging that “it is a battle which, I expect, I will lose one day.” Two and a half years ago, they attempted suicide but stopped as a divine presence called out to them. It was only until this year, describing the experience to a friend, that their friend suggested it may have been Santa Muerte’s voice in the darkness.

Similarly, pansexual Ash Mestizo was born into a Nicaraguan Catholic family. Although his grandmother was extremely devout, running the whole family’s spiritual health like many Latinx matriarchs, his mother was a free spirit who took advantage of the family’s inherited spiritual gifts. Seeing her use these gifts–connecting her and other members of the family to the spirit world and allowing superhuman abilities, Mestizo sought answers in Catholicism, then Evangelical Protestantism, Viccan, Asatru, ancestral folk magic, and finally sorcery.

After Mestizo’s children were born, he became involved in LGBTQ+ and BIPOC activism, climate advocacy, and anti-racism work, putting away their magical practice and ancestor veneration. It was only when his grandmother died that he needed a connection to the spirit world, right at the time that he found Santa Muerte. Ash “saw in her [his grandmother], the Latinx women I’d known, who raised me, who’d given me my heritage and my spirituality and my magic.”

This was one of the reasons A.B. was worried about joining the New Religious Movement (NRM) of Santa Muerte. Because they have no Spanish or Indigenous roots, A.B. first believed devotion to the skeleton often wearing a black cloak or wedding dress, , would be cultural or religious appropriation. However, as they have come to discover through Facebook groups like Devoted to Death, led by Dr. Andrew Chesnut, author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint (2017, Oxford University Press), Santa Muerte is one of the most universal faith figures as what she represents is the one experience that unifies and equalizes everyone, and her group of followers is growing meteorically, as far away as Poland and Ukraine.

According to Dr. Chesnut, Santa Muerte is the “fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.” The COVID-19 pandemic likely contributed to this growth, with Chesnut referring to her as the newest plague saint, but one of the largest group of her followers are LGBTQ+ people of faith, often those raised in the Catholic Church but felt abandoned and traumatized by a Church that viewed their identities as a sin, continue not to recognize gay marriage, and limit access to gender affirming healthcare.

According to a 2020 study published by the Williams Institute, almost half (46.7%) of LGBT adults are religious, with almost 25% of religious LGBT adults identifying as Roman Catholic. It’s estimated that 1.3 million LGBT Roman Catholics live in the United States, and of these 1.3 million, LGBT adults are more likely to be highly or moderately religious if they are Latinx. Even so, of the 65% of Latinx individuals who were born in the US and raised Catholic, 23% said that they no longer identify as Catholic, including Mestizo, largely due to  sex abuse within the Church, queerphobia, treatment of those in poverty or on the margins, and religious trauma.

Caption: “Our Lady of Pride”

I founded and currently direct Queer and Catholic, A CLGS Oral History Project based out of the Pacific School of Religion, and have discovered many LGBTQ+ people of faith who feel disenfranchised inside the Church. Yet, at the same time, they feel tied to it because it is all they have ever known spiritually, or often in the case of Latinx, Irish, Italian, or Polish Catholics, the Church is an integral part of their identities. Every celebration, from birthdays to baptisms to saint feast days to funerals is celebrated inside the Church so to leave would be recognizing a spiritual and cultural death that many queer people fear.

Mestizo is no longer Catholic or Christian , but still finds meaning in the Catholic interpretation and worship of Santa Muerte. “The Catholic-style interaction with Her made sense as someone who grew up with that modality of engagement with the Divine.”

The Church they once loved (and still often do love) does not love them back and creates a culture where families abandon and persecute them. But many still yearn for spiritual meaning and comfort in Catholic material cultures, so they turn to folk Catholicism, including the NRM of Santa Muerte. It is liberation through acceptance of death, as death is more imminent for those who live on the fringes of life, including LGBTQ+ individuals. LGBTQ+ folks are often thrown out of their homes, disowned by family and friends, undergo conversion therapy, or worse, all of which cause massive trauma and put queer lives in danger. “Some of us are too visible at the wrong moment,” A.B. writes, “and are murdered for it.”

“Queer folks have already failed at being acceptable to the Church and to society at large,” A.B. explained, “We have already failed at being acceptable to our families. If you’re already dead, why worry? Love fully. Fight recklessly. Seize joy where it lies, for as long as it lasts.”

Santa Muerte is therefore a personified version of Memento Mori, or a culture that forces people to confront their own mortality and eventual demise. In doing so, she cleanses LGBTQ+ people who often hide their entire lives out of fear or internalize the guilt and shame vocalized by the Church, their family members, and others, allowing her LGBTQ+ devotees to let go of the social baggage that they carry. Her devotion also resonates with people of the LGBTQ+ community who have lost friends and loved ones to the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, when the government left LGBTQ+ people for death. Santa Muerte stands defiantly draped in the AIDS quilt.

For people living their lives in fear of murder, torture, or worse because of who they are, death strangely is the one true constant, the one true comfort and absolute, the one experience that unifies all people–everyone will die.

A.B. finds comfort in knowing that Santa Muerte will call out to them again, trusting that when she does, they will be ready to pass peacefully in her embrace. This comfort is the result of the physical and emotional trauma religious institutions and societies inflict on their LGBTQ+ members, but in embracing it, it helps people like A.B. “find the strength to fight a little longer; maybe she will quiet some of that deep pain and help you to turn your anger away from yourself and towards the enemies who put you in the shadows. A soldier who knows they’re about to die has nothing to fear.” At the same time, it also provides Mestizo with mental strength and helps him to find a fuller life as “witchy, queer, healthier, happier.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope tells transgender person: ‘God loves us as we are’

— Pope Francis has previously said “who am I to judge?” when asked about the LGBTQ community.

Pope Francis at a Mass on Sunday to celebrate the World Day of Grandparents and the elderly at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

Pope Francis has told a young transgender person that “God loves us as we are,” his latest outreach gesture towards the LGBTQ community.

His comments, released by Vatican media on Tuesday, were in a podcast in which Francis listened and responded to audio messages from young people ahead of a Catholic youth festival which he will attend in Portugal next week.

One of the young people was Giona, an Italian in their early 20s who said they were “torn by the dichotomy between (their Catholic) faith and transgender identity.”

Francis replied that “the Lord always walks with us. … Even if we are sinners, he draws near to help us. The Lord loves us as we are. This is God’s crazy love.”

The Catholic Church teaches that members of the LGBTQ community should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and their human rights respected.

Whether the church can and should be more welcoming toward LGBTQ people, for example by offering blessings for same-sex unions, is a particularly sensitive topic.

Francis has famously said “who am I to judge?” in an answer to a question specifically about gay people and has condemned laws criminalizing members of the LGBTQ community as a sin and an injustice.

At the same time, the 86-year-old pontiff has reaffirmed that marriage can only be understood as a life-long union between a man and a woman. He backs civil laws giving same-sex couples rights in bureaucratic matters such as pensions and health care.

Conservatives have contested Francis’ more welcoming and less judgmental attitude towards the LGBTQ community, although he consistently refers to traditional Catholic teaching that says same-sex attraction is not sinful but same-sex acts are.

An upcoming world summit of bishops, due to convene this October and in 2024, is expected to discuss the church’s stance towards LGBT people, women and Catholics who have divorced and remarried outside the church.

Complete Article HERE!

Lesbian nuns tell their stories in new book that reflects changing times

“Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious” is out new this year from New Ways Ministry press.


I must know at least 1,000 nuns. (Though they are actually called “women religious” or “sisters.”) They taught me. I studied with them. We lived in the seminary with them. I’ve said Mass for several women congregations. We ministered together. I attended retreats given by them. They have been spiritual directors. I’ve written about them.

Yet, not once have I said to myself, “This nun is a lesbian.” And I think it’s because of my respect and reverence for them.

After reading two ground-breaking books about lesbian nuns, though, I think it’s the opposite. I had internalized the historic shame for same-sex feelings. Or, it simply does not matter.

The recently released “Love Tenderly” tells the story of 23 sisters coming to grips with their sexual orientation in the context of religious life. The contemporary work reflects a different milieu than the first ground-breaking, sensational “Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence,” published in 1985, which told 47 nuns’ stories. Jarring, it became an international hit because the words “lesbian” and “nun” had never been uttered in the same sentence in such a public way before. It also gave the curious a peek behind the convent walls that was not always flattering.

“Love Tenderly” oozes with tolerance and sensitivity, not only by the sisters telling their sometimes painful coming-out stories, but also of more accepting religious leadership in their communities.

Religious life in the U.S. has changed dramatically over the last 36 years.

'Lesbian Nuns'
“Lesbian Nuns: Breaking Silence” was originally published in 1985 and re-issued in 2013.

Years ago, young women entering Catholic orders were warned about “particular friendships,” which could be code for lesbians, and reminded to be friends with all sisters. But many women did bond and some crossed the line into sexual intimacy. When discovered, some were asked to leave the community or go for counseling or they were shamed.

Sister Kathleen Tuite — at 56, one of the youngest in the Dominican Sisters’ Caldwell order — is a product of the new formation. Entering the order at 25, she did her novitiate — or first period of formation — at a collaborative Dominican center in St. Louis with 10 other Dominican novices from all over the country. Unlike the closed environment in Caldwell, her novitiate was more expansive and open, exposing her to newer currents among young religious aspirants. A Dominican sister suggested I speak with her because she has her finger on the pulse of contemporary religious life.

“It was a wonderful experience with people on the same journey,” said Tuite, who later taught at St. Dominic Academy in Jersey City.

Throughout the next two decades, she also attended programs as part of Giving Voice, a program for anywhere between 50 and 80 young sisters, also from all over the country, so they would have support and encouragement to persevere in religious life. They also embodied a new understanding of church “where all God’s people live in pure love, social justice and truth,” she said.

These kinds of insights, she said, enabled sisters identifying as same-sex to remain in religious life, embracing the vow of celibacy with dignity and not shame.

The two anthologies recount the stories of young women who felt their call to enter the convent as sacred. Some described their feelings of attraction to girls since they were young, but not one said she entered because she wanted to fall in love with another nun. Though many described how their coming out was made safe in the confines of the convent in the company of other women, most felt lonely at first until they could confide in other sisters. Many stayed, some left and some returned.

“Sister Petra,” a pseudonym for a former congregational leader locally told me that “sex was never ever discussed” when she entered the convent. The main emphasis was “how to live a celibate life with women.”

She did become aware of “some people who did identify as lesbian and chose to leave.” It was not the lifestyle for them but “it was a safe space for exploration.”

She views the issue of same-sex relations as one of justice and adds that “inclusivity is always an issue” — not only in the matter of treating gays with dignity. Most religious communities of women have advocated for any people being treated unjustly in the church, especially women.

“Women are exiting the church like crazy and it has to come to grips with this exodus,” she said.

Tuite is now the vice president of Student Life at Caldwell University, owned by her religious order.

“My life is around women who have donated their lives as I have grown stronger in my religious life and allowed to develop the gifts I had,” she said.

She could see openly gay and transgender women disposed toward living celibate lives accepted in most religious orders today.

“Sister Petra” agreed, adding “if you have a vocation and feel called to serve.”

Religious communities of women continue to break new ground and lead the church by example.

Complete Article HERE!

At the Catholic Church’s worldwide synod, the deacons are missing

— Many if not most Catholics think women deacons are called for.


You may have heard that the Catholic Church is holding a worldwide Synod on Synodality, aimed at getting everybody together to talk about church. The object of all the gatherings — all the talking and praying — is for folks to understand the church’s mission. That is, to think about how to spread the Gospel in the most effective manner for their cultures.

The process began in October 2021 at the local level, with dioceses and groups eventually sending reports to Rome. Then, Rome sent a “Document for the Continental Stage” to seven continental assemblies (Africa and Madagascar; Asia; Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean; Oceania; the Middle East; and North America) and synthesized their responses.

In June, the Synod Office published what is called the “Instrumentum Laboris,” or working document for the meeting to be held in the massive Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City in October. Soon after, the list of nearly 450 synod participants appeared, some 364 of which are voting members; others are experts or facilitators.

In addition to Pope Francis, among voters and non-voters alike there will be some 273 bishops, 67 priests, 37 non-ordained men and women religious, 70 other lay men and women, and one deacon, Belgian Deacon Geert de Cubber.

You would not know from the list that de Cubber is, in fact, an ordained deacon. He is listed as “Mr.” not “Rev. Mr.” or “Dcn.,” as is the general custom. There are a few other mistakes. San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy’s name is spelled incorrectly. Two priests, the Rev. Eloy Bueno de la Fuente (Spain) and the Rev. Eamonn Conway (Ireland) are not noted as such. There may be a few other minor errors here and there. There may even be another deacon or two, but most probably not.

There were several deacons in the various synod processes, from parish and diocesan efforts to the national and continental levels, but that there is only one deacon in the entire assembly speaks volumes. After all, carrying the Gospel is a major diaconal task both literally and figuratively.

During Mass, the deacon carries the Gospel book and proclaims the Gospel reading and often preaches. Deacons, too, are most often connected with the church’s charity and social services.

Diaconal ministries are notably undertaken by women, and in 2016 the International Union of Superiors General, the organization of the heads of women’s religious institutes, asked Francis to examine restoring the abandoned tradition of ordaining women as deacons.

Two pontifical commissions prepared private reports for Francis on that question.

Now, according to the Instrumentum Laboris, “Most of the Continental Assemblies and the syntheses of several Episcopal Conferences call for the question of women’s inclusion in the diaconate to be considered.”

About this, it asks, “Is it possible to envisage this, and in what way?”

Many if not most Catholics think ordination is called for. But that battle has been going on for a long time.

The International Theological Commission, which advises the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, prepared reports on women deacons in 1997 and in 2002. The first reportedly determined there was no doctrine against ordaining women as deacons, but it never appeared: The prefect at the time, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), refused to sign it.

The second report, while it attempted to shut down the discussion with uncited passages from a book by Munich professor, Father Gerhard L. Müller, concluded that ordaining women as deacons was a question for the church’s “ministry of discernment.” Müller followed Ratzinger as CDF prefect.

Discernment is a big word in synodality. But who is discerning what for whom? The people of God agree that the mission of the church is to carry the Gospel to the world. That task is the principal duty of the deacon. And the people of God seem to think ordaining women once again for that task is a good idea.

Complete Article HERE!

Synod Forecast

— How Far The Pope Will Go Toward A More Inclusive Catholic Church

Solemn Holy Mass during the Days of Goodwill People in Velehrad, Czech Republic.

Two synods by the Catholic Church, to be held in Rome in late 2023 and 2024, are to debate possible and even radical changes to the Church’s practices and rules in line with the Argentine pope’s vision of a social and inclusive Church.

By Sergio Rubin

Pope Francis wants to press ahead this year with some of the bold reforms he envisages for the Catholic Church. Ample debate is already taking place on issues and likely to be aired in two synods to be held in Rome.

These include the rule of priest celibacy, allowing married men of proven faith to become priests in parishes with an acute shortage of vocations, women as deacons (the level below priesthood), full recognition of remarriage for divorced Catholics, a place for homosexuals in the Church and greater care and attention to the poor and socially excluded.

The Church wants to hold a synod (or clerical assembly) in two phases — in October 2023 and October 2024 — so it began organizing in 2021 a broad-based consultation among its clergy and flock worldwide, to promote internal dialogue “in the light of faith.”

In what is itself a “synodal process,” Catholics are being asked their views on a range of issues including thorny ones, and while this vast exercise will yield no resolutions, it will act as a reflector of the Christian mood on matters and act as a useful pointer ahead of the first synod.

Walking together

The Pope wants the Church to be more open to dialogue. In theological terms: it should be able to discern reality under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Etymologically, a synod is a confluence or “walking together,” which means that the first synod set for October will include among its 400 participants bishops and priests, but also laymen and laywomen. The latter are to constitute a quarter of all participants and for the first time, 56 laywomen will be voting at a synod. This is radical, prompting some observers to term the synod a “mini council.”

The coming synod will effectively consider the Church’s own broader “synodality” or the same spirit of “fraternal collaboration and discernment” associated with such gatherings. The initiative is important, not just for the level of participation it has already fomented across the Church, but for consolidating “the identity of God’s people opening itself to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in our communities, in the cries of the poor and the earth’s lament,” says Jorge Lozano, the archbishop of San Juan de Cuyo in Argentina. Monsignor Lozano has been an active contributor to preliminary consultations at the regional level.

He says “some progress” has already been made on issues like allowing married men to become priests or women as deacons.

Pope Francis attending a vigil prayer.
Pope Francis attends a vigil prayer on the eve of the XIV General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops at St Peter’s basilica on October 3, 2015 at the Vatican.

Addressing thorny issues

María Lía Zervino, president of the WUCWO (the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations) and one of the first three female members of the Dicastery for Bishops (the Vatican body that picks bishops) believes the synod is “of the utmost importance” because “only when we walk together, which we rarely do, can we preach the Good News credibly.” The synod, she says, was an opportunity to “find a new way of facing the Gospel and to apply the Vatican II Council in greater depth.” She is referring to the Church’s 20th century reforms.

Such issues should not monopolize the entire synod.

Zervino says controversial issues that had emerged in preliminary consultations were included in a working document “for consideration and treatment using the methodology of conversing in The Spirit.” But such issues should not, she says, monopolize the entire synod, nor should women’s active role in the Church be reduced to their ordination as deaconesses. Letting 56 women vote, she adds, “is an act of justice, not a feminist demand.”

Matias Taricco, an Argentine priest and theologian, sees the coming synod as a “new path for the entire Church” and undoubtedly a chance to confirm the direction Pope Francis wants it to take. He hopes the synod will address “all the thorny questions.”

Avoid bitterness

Theologian Marcela Mazzini also calls the synod a landmark as “it is dealing with nothing less than the Church adopting a new way of being.”

A more incisive presence and participation by women in the Church.

She is confident there will be advances on the contested issues, though cannot say which exactly, and how much. She doubted it would immediately pave the way for deaconesses in the Catholic Church, but “certainly it will address a more incisive presence and participation by women in the Church, not just in conversions but also in places where decisions are taken.”

To avoid any bitterness, Pope Francis has said the synod is no “congress or parliament, but the Church walking together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with God’s heart.”

Complete Article HERE!