As an Ex-Gay Cradle Catholic, I Know the Devastation That Awaits Those Who Follow Fr. James Martin
Father James Martin, SJ, has attracted a national following by calling for the Catholic church to apologize to the LGBT community. He claims to support the Church’s traditional, biblical teachings on sexuality, but also hints broadly that on gay issues the official teachings haven’t been “received.” I’d like to offer Father Martin my own reflections. I grew up in a Catholic milieu that was nothing if not gay-friendly. And I paid quite a price for that.
I immersed myself in the gay world of New York.
I grew up a Catholic, of a sort. Mine was a Puerto Rican liberation-theology household in the 1970s and 1980s. A predominantly white Catholic parish close to our home was suburban and not liberal enough for my mother’s tastes. We attended instead less conservative churches close to a university campus. I was expected to watch videos promoting the Sandinistas. The religious sister who helped me prepare for confirmation often called God “She.”
I was positive that Jesus had founded the Catholic Church. I was also sure it was okay to engage in homosexual sex. So I did. A lot. For fifteen years, from the age of thirteen until the age of twenty-eight. I had sex, in fact, with over 200 men, the vast majority of whose names I still do not know. People around me gave each other AIDS and died.
I immersed myself in the gay world of New York. It was a world in which youth and beauty were weapons. Sexual freedom gave everyone license to manipulate and compete with each other. It was not Catholic guilt but cancer, my loss of a muscular physique, and my falling in love with a woman in 1999 that prompted me to break out of homosexuality. Because I’d never heard the priests or other Catholics I met take a biblical (or traditional Catholic) stand against the lifestyle that held me captive, I left that church in search of answers.
I chose to be baptized at a Chinese Baptist church in Los Angeles. By then I was already married for seven years and had a daughter. Prior to that, I was unable to convict myself fully of my sin and finally surrender to Jesus Christ. I had surrendered my religious fate to the smiling, “welcoming” priests I met in liberal Catholic circles, thinking that was enough. The church as I encountered it failed to bring me into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Prior to my adult baptism, my religious practice convinced me that everything I was doing was okay. I went to confession. No priest responded to my description of graphic gay sex with anonymous partners by saying, “Stop doing that.” Many people I met at church encouraged it. Priests told me to say a certain number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys and I would be clean until next week. The pastor in my home church raised no serious objections to my gay promiscuity.
Several post-Vatican II factions pushed for just the brand of Catholicism that licensed my self-destructive lifestyle. Particularly among some Latin Americans, you saw a mid-century enthusiasm for Christianized Marxism. Along with this came a rejection of old (2,000 year) Catholic insistence on chastity. There were some who felt that homosexuality was not even that great of a concern. Homosexual intercourse did not cause pregnancy. Maybe it could be tolerated without weakening the Church’s famous stand on birth control. As I said, the church I met traded in moral confusion, of the sort Fr. Martin is doing nothing to solve.
Some of my strange Catholic experience finds its reflection in Nilda.This is a novel set in the 1940s by Puerto Rican author Nicholasa Mohr. The main character feels torn between the pious Catholic women in her family and her angry stepfather who says this: “… filling her head with that phony stuff. Fairy tales in order to oppress the masses. …Bunch of impotent faggots oppressing the people.”
Nilda presents the complex views Puerto Ricans had toward Catholics and sexuality. We often assumed that because Catholic priests were peaceful and nonviolent, sometimes even effeminate, that they were homosexuals. This myth fed into the anti-clericalism of Nilda’s stepfather, who dismissed the clergy as a homosexual elite. It led others, like the people in my family, to assume that homosexuals were naturally more Christ-like and to trust them all the more.
Maybe that’s why mother saw little contradiction in being Catholic and gay. These were the messages I got from mentors like Prof. John Boswell, a proud homosexual at Yale who presented himself as a pious Catholic. There are no Catholic rules against homosexuality, really. Everyone knows most priests are gay. It is no big deal. Or so we were led to believe.
My dignity was no big deal. The lives of my friends were no big deal. The plentiful passages in the Bible devoted to chastity, which I never read in its entirety until I was twenty-eight, were no big deal. I bear a grudge against the liberal Catholics who formed me. I admit it.
But ironies abound. Fast-forward to 2012, when I was forty-one years old and recently discharged from the Army. I was trying to distance myself from all my gay friends, most of my family, and any gay man who might take an interest in me. So I never wanted to hear anything about gays or Catholics ever again. I consciously gained a huge amount of weight because I thought that as a fat man I would be invisible to gays; that way I could move forward in peace. But then Ryan Anderson, a Catholic protégé of Princeton professor Robert George, asked me to write an essay about being raised by lesbians. I believe sincerely that if people with faith like theirs, good priests or sisters, had been around in my childhood, they would have led me to a godly life from the beginning. Maybe I’d still be Catholic.
Approaching middle age, suddenly I found myself surrounded by gay debates again, this time because homosexuals around the world wanted to kill me. I was also surrounded by serious Catholics, since in 2012 they were the ones working the hardest to defend marriage against the LGBT juggernaut. The five years that followed “Growing Up with Two Moms” have been an emotional roller-coaster.
The Catholic scholars and activists who have promoted my work have helped me realize how much I share with them. And how much they have to lose if Catholic leaders decide to follow Fr. Martin off the deep end.
I’m a Baptist now, Father Martin. In fact, I teach at a seminary. I’m a happily married father. So maybe I’m not the audience that interests you. But if you don’t want more Catholics like me to wander in spiritual deserts, and emerge (if at all) as Protestants, then you’ll stop sowing confusion. Go back to the faith of St. Ignatius, of Jesus, of Moses. You know what it really teaches. Stop being coy. No one is fooled.