By Sara Kelley
After I returned to the US following our trip to World Youth Day, many of my friends and family had such positive things to say to me. Members of my church and other progressive Catholic friends were so excited to talk to me about my experience, and share how they felt while following along with our journey online. In fact, I received 100% positive responses from friends and family.
There was one story, however, that a friend from my church in Baltimore told me, that gave me pause. Being very excited and supportive of the trip herself, she told me she had passed on one of the stories that was written about us to her neighbor, who is an older man in his 80s, and who is a gay Catholic. She told me that his response was one of anger. He asked what kind of church she attended that would support this kind of thing, quoted to her the Church’s stance on homosexuality, and told her that we were going against the Catholic Church by doing what we were doing at World Youth Day. My friend was surprised at this response from her neighbor, thinking that he would have been especially supportive, as a gay man himself.
That response is by far angrier than any conversation I had during the actual event. I didn’t receive any more details about this man and his life, but I had to speculate: Has he lived his whole life as a celibate Catholic? Is he angry because we’re now saying that no, you don’t have to follow the Church’s teaching on homosexuality to live a whole life? I want to be respectful of this man and his decisions, as well as any queer Catholic that decides to live his/her life as a celibate person, but that is the sort of story I hear that makes me know we have to keep working on the hierarchy, even if the people are far ahead.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church wields a power that they may not realize they have. While many younger people take what the bishops have to say with a grain of salt (or two), there are many people still out there, young and old, who pay a great deal of attention to what the hierarchy has to say. That’s why it is still important that we’re working on the hierarchy as well as the people. Don’t get me wrong: I think it speaks volumes that the vast majority of our conversations at World Youth Day were very positive, but getting the hierarchy on board with equality will be a huge part in changing the direction of the Church, because some people follow exactly what the hierarchy has to say.
So what’s next? We’ve got to keep asking bishops questions like our brave pilgrim Ellen did, and we’ve got to get all those people who were so supportive of us to ask their bishops questions as well. I don’t know my friend’s neighbor. I don’t know if he’s had a happy life or one full of frustration and sadness. Either way, he’s been lied to by a Church that has told him that he can’t be Catholic and gay, and not celibate; let’s keep proving this wrong until the hierarchy recognizes that it is.