When I Was Growing Up

For most of my life I was a slumbering Catholic – I lived out my life participating in the liturgical and community life of my parish, without really giving much thought to WHY I was doing so. It was just the way life was. Dare I suggest I was like the vast majority of ordinary, everyday Catholics? The revelation of the scandalous mishandlings of the sex abuse crisis in the Murphy Report was the first thing that pulled the comfortable rug from under my feet and set me on the path to being what I now describe myself as being, a “Revolting” Catholic.

I agonised over continuing to participate in shoring up the dysfunctional Institutional Church by continuing to give of my time and talent to the Church, and, for a time, felt I had to walk away. I could not collude.

But I couldn’t stay away. My grief at being separated from my Spiritual home and family was just unbearable. I desperately wanted to find a way back. After about two years of soul-searching, during which I continued to participate in various reform groups (as an observer rather than an activist usually), I decided I could come back into the fold with all my heart and all my soul, provided I sought out every opportunity available to me to bring about change. Never being under any illusion that a very ordinary person like me could achieve much, I knew I wasn’t going to cause a seismic shift or anything, but I could not use that as an excuse to do nothing. Even the least of us can put our shoulder to the wheel.

Believing as I do, that God’s Spirit is always there ready to point the way and guide us, I was led into becoming involved in my Parish Pastoral Council. As well as being active in the on-going welfare and development of our parish, I find that the passion that drives me these days is to open Catholic hearts and minds here locally into a welcoming acceptance of our LGBT brothers and sisters. I honestly have to describe it as being “I find that it drives me, I never consciously chose it! God knows there are many other aspects of the Institutional Church that I revolt against too.

So I’ve been trying to understand why I feel so strongly about reaching out to the LGBT community, and here’s what I came up with.

When I was growing up, homosexuality was seen as a perversion, an intrinsic disorder. That is what society and our Church taught us and we accepted it as reality. While I never knowingly hurt, offended or insulted a gay person, I DID see them as people to be avoided and kept away from. If I became aware that someone was gay, it totally changed my perception of them- and not in a positive way.

With developing understanding of the human condition down the years, society has come to realise that homosexuality is NOT a perversion or a disorder. For a certain percentage of the population it is their nature – as much a part of them as the colour of their eyes or hair.

Like so many others, I have changed in my personal understanding to realise and accept that sexual attraction to one’s own sex is a perfectly natural state for part of the human race.

I now carry a certain amount of shame over how I viewed gays in the past – there was something sordid and “dirty” about them. I feel so sad for the many, many gay people who also felt there was something sordid and dirty about their feelings and who lived lives trying to hide and deny their true, God-given nature.

That is why I feel so strongly about changing things.

I am part of the Catholic Church – Catholicism is in my blood and my DNA. I want, with all my heart, to stay in my Catholic family. But I cannot, in all conscience, stay within it and accept the way it still doesn’t offer a warm, open, acceptance of our LGBT brothers and sisters. I have to work with all my strength to help bring about change.

There IS a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” welcome now in most Catholic communities. But I believe that that simply reinforces the idea that there’s something wrong in the “condition” here, but we’ll overlook the problem and show you compassion because we believe in showing compassion towards the afflicted.

Gay people do not want, or need, compassion. They are not afflicted. Their homosexuality is not a “condition”. It is who they are and they have every right to live according to their nature. That means forming life-enriching relationships which they can live in an open, visible way.

Because it was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness when I was growing up, I must confess I still feel a bit of discomfort when I see two guys holding hands or other such evidence of “gayness”, but I know that it is MY problem.  I actually applaud those young couples because I WANT to get to the stage where I don’t pass any more notice of that than I do of heterosexual couples.

I understand totally the people of my age and older who find it incredibly difficult to get past the notion that homosexuality is a perversion. Concepts and attitudes that have been formed at such a deep level are very, very hard to change.

But I feel that we owe it to all those people whose lives were so blighted by living in an age where they had to either deny their nature, or live according to it and be shunned by society, to make the effort to change those attitudes now.

When Jesus walked the earth, he did not stay within the confines of the existing structures and strictures of the society in which he moved. He openly spent time with people who had been shunned by society. He didn’t adopt a quiet, secret “Don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude.

Surely, we can have no better model for our behaviour?

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  1. Michael Maginn says:


    when archaeologists
    unearthed those skeletons
    complete and perfectly intact,
    they could not tell:

    gay from straight,
    rich from poor,
    black from white,
    slave from free,
    male from female,
    knave from fool,
    believer from unbeliever,

    (and somebody whispered
    lines from the poem
    by James Shirley):

    Death lays his icy hand on kings:
    Sceptre and Crown
    must tumble down,
    for in the dust are equal made
    by the crooked scythe and spade.
    Michael Maginn
    Craigavon, Co Armagh

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    What Jo has said here resonates very much with me. I am also a “revolting” Catholic. Better to revolt than resign oneself to a life of passive acquiescence. By revolt I mean challenging the unfair practices, the discrimination, the lack of accountability and transparency that need changing. Change comes slowly in this Church of slow learners but change is happening little by little, thank God.
    This image of Pope Francis gave my spirts a lift the other day. We are still learning about transgender issues and I think it shows how far we have come. There is a huge level of hypocrisy in the RCC about homosexuality and any psychology student would recognise a great number of examples of projection in some of the most outspoken critics of gays.
    On the topic of sex, which our Church seems to be obsessed with, can I point out that Breda O’ Brien’s fair and balanced article suggesting Mary McAleese should issue a simple apology has been posted on both the ACI website and Facebook pages.
    Fair play to you, Jo. Your searing honesty is a tonic and I hope you can manage to hang on in there. Your parish needs you. Your Church needs you. WE need you!
    Pope shows “concern” for lesbian Christian survivor of gay ‘conversion therapy’ – Novena

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