This is Hard: No Joy or Love in the ‘Joy of Love’ Exhortation










These, unfortunately, are not words of non-judgmental pastoral care, as Pope Françis claimed to instruct his clerical army to provide in his most recent Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). They are, instead, all words used to describe LGBTQ people in the course of the pastoral document. I don’t know about you, but as a gay person, it’s hard not to be offended by such terms being meticulously and relentlessly applied to oneself. It pains me to say that this kind of language is essentially abuse.


The tone that Françis is trying to set in his document is admirable; the timbre and execution are not. “You must meet people where they are at,” he has been known to entreat. And yet, he has not met us there. He has failed to meet us there. To say that I have feelings of disappointment would be an understatement. And again I am at a crux moment.


It is possible that readers have been waiting for comment from me concerning this latest papal document, so ripe and relevant to the causes that I find so important as a Catholic. And, I have to admit, that I have been weighing my response and critique for this several week’s time because such all important things should take stock, take time, take into consideration the highly volatile emotions with which we often react in the heat of the moment.


But initial disappointments and offenses (yes, offenses) have not seemed to temper at all since the release of the document—it has only provided me with the time to detail better why the document is such a failure of pastoral care…and why I must ultimately leave the Catholic Church, within which I had hoped to reside and work and pray for the remainder of this earthly escapade.


I’ve put myself in this position—a position that necessitates constantly trying to defend not just myself—both within and outside of the Church—but also trying to defend the Church itself. And from the position of one of those people who has been marginalized by the Church, I must admit that the Church is indefensible, or rather continues to be indefensible in a 21st-century formalism and context. If I am continuously advocating a philosophy of empathy, the Catholic Church as an institution is not matching my code of ethics or values (nor its own codes of morals, ethics, and values)…values that in a historical and canonical context, policy towards LGBTQ persons should have been—should be—based upon. The Church has become the very Pharisees and the Scribes that Christ railed against, and it doesn’t seem realistic or valuable or relevant to follow in the path of an institution bent on breaking from the instructions of the subject and context of its movement. Jesus didn’t say “Love your neighbor as yourself…unless their sexual proclivities and things they do in private disturb your imagination.” He also didn’t say “Love your neighbor as yourself…unless he or she can’t have offspring because they don’t have the right parts that go together.” And he didn’t say, “Love your neighbor as yourself…unless the mommy and the daddy aren’t living together any more and one of them has started shacking up with someone else because they were lonely.”


Jesus didn’t say any of those things. He simply said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (period.)


There are no conditions set upon that superlative statement at all. If you want to figure out how to treat someone or how to interact with someone, think of yourself as that “other” person and interact with them exactly the way you’d like to be interacted with, or treated.


Unfortunately, Françis still puts conditions on his interaction with me. And he allows his followers to place conditions upon how they interact with me…which is of even grater distress.


And I apologize if I am being cryptic thus far in this critique, but it’s a very hard thing to process [when you’re rejected by the thing you love], so I’m free-writing my thoughts quite a bit.


The Church wonders how it is that they are losing members in droves, and why soon the majority of Americans are going to consider themselves as part of the demographic of “nones.” And the reason, despite Françis’s entreaties to welcome everyone into the fold, is that the Church does not welcome everyone into the fold. The causality of demonization has not been addressed—that LGBTQ people are classified (for no sensible reason in contemporary scientific viewpoint) as being less human than heterosexual church members. The common denominator has still not been identified—that human beings experience all kinds of circumstances and travails and hardships and emotions, and that despite our compartmentalizations of those experiences, they are all still common human experiences. The lesson of Christ is still ignored for the comfort and ease of our sensibilities—that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Rather the church seems intent on keeping the last in their lowliness, and elevating the first on their thrones and riches.


Hypocrisy, I say…hypocrisy. The rock upon which the church stands is built upon monumental, architectural, and systemic hypocrisy.


And I am sorry to say that I cannot pretend to be a part of it any longer… I cannot close my eyes to the injustices swaggeringly flung and upheld in an institution that I participate in, by my silence and vows of obedience and stability, that I allow to rage on and continue unchallenged. So I am doing the only thing that I am minimally, and unfortunately just as ineffectually, capable of—I am leaving the Church. At the risk of disappointing so many, not least of all myself, this act is simply the most Christian act that I am capable of, to say that the institution of the Catholic Church is not an institution of Christ’s teaching, that I extricate myself from its vices, that I renounce and denounce it with all my meaning.


And I really don’t mean to sound dramatic…even though it does sound dramatic. And it is dramatic…for me. But only in my own tiny little part of the grander story. And the world truly doesn’t think it’s all that…which is alright. I am ineffectual to the world’s condition. A microscopic flea in the grand universal epic.


The reaction from the world is unimportant. There will be those already disassociated from the Church who will think that it must be the easiest decision to have ever been made in the world—that such a decision is already obsolete in a world that germinates towards capitalist secularism. And there will be those who remain in the Church who will feel like I am not strong enough as an individual to accept my burdens, or who will try to evince that there is still some redeeming facet of the institution that I cannot see and that the answer lies still within its ridiculous doctrines and ceremonies while a population suffers, rejected by those same doctrines and ceremonies.


And all I can say is, that from my perspective within the institution, neither of those reactions are reflective of my impression or perspective. And that the lessons and instructions of the Christ are not redeemable inside of a stone building only on Sundays, nor within some promises or rituals conditioned to a calendar year after year after year. The instructions of the Christ are a valuable tool for living in community and in right relationship with the world. But, a false church is not necessary in order to follow or live by them.


I have the opportunity to “spin” the words of the Exhortation in any way that I wish—just like both conservative and liberal factions of Catholics have been doing since the release of the document. But I don’t wish to do any spinning; I wish to be plain and forthright, I wish to extract the true import of what the words of this document mean for the congregation of faithful…and to me personally.


In one of my last conversations with a fellow brother at the priory, the indication was made that we don’t have to agree with the precepts of the hierarchy or of the Curia. Just like how with our government leaders, we have the right to vociferously disagree. Which I think is true…to a certain extent. A hierarchical monarchy, however, is not quite the same as a [supposedly] democratic republic. And psychologically “fighting” with the paradigm laws of the hierarchical monarchy becomes exhausting, and defeating, and disheartening, and life-deteriorating. Not necessarily because of what the Church does to me personally, but because of what the Church does to its people and constituency altogether. I can’t abide by the conditions and values of life that the Church provides for a segment of my fellow constituents.


If the Church is dying,… let. it. die.


Storm clouds 1


I started to create a response to the Exhortation line-by-line. Let me give you some example of what I mean…


In paragraph 11 of the Exhortation, Pope Françis states, “fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life.” …My response to which is a feeling that such a statement is rather presumptuous, especially if in fact Françis has also made the admission that we cannot even know “the full mystery of Christ.” (See Joshua McElwee’s article “Francis’ exhortation a radical shift to see grace in imperfection, without fearing moral confusion.” National Catholic Reporter, April 8, 2016.) To presume to be able to interpret “the inner life of God” in all of God’s plurality seems rather… disingenuous and presumptuous, if not blasphemous. Further, the very use of the term “fruitful” is a coded word, disingenuously applied to segregate couples capable of distinctly and exclusively male-female biological procreation, apart from their same-sex counterparts. However, the language is meant to disparage and demean (and discriminate and degrade) the possibility of any semblance of “real” love in a same-sex relationship. The term does not take into account the entirely feasible biological possibilities of artificial insemination, lab-assisted conception, or adoptive options that obviously—entirely—are capable of fulfilling a definition of a “fruitful” loving family…to speak nothing of the entirely viable fruitful love between same-sex couples even without the presence of children.


Françis continues in that same passage to quote Saint Pope John Paul II: “Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family.” But no…not only was John Paul II speaking in a highly political context (in an attempt to assuage American Catholics from the temptation of Ratzinger’s diabolically-described [if cryptic] condition of “relativism”), but frankly, God is ALL THINGS, including solitude. A family is merely ONE SYMBOL of an infinite number of symbols which can represent God. Further, such a statement is in complete contradiction to the practices of not only the desert fathers, the early desert hermits, but even of contemporary contemplative and monastic orders whose members reside in solitude and silence (not to mention the Catholic Church’s own army of soldier-bachelors of the priestly order). There is no precedent for symbols of God, only poetry.


In the next paragraph (12), Françis offers descriptions of the “other” and of love offered between partners from biblical passages, including this line from Sirach 36:24… “… ‘thou,’ who reflects God’s own love and is man’s best possession, a helper fit for him and a pillar of support.” …The irony, of course, is that it is not necessary to picture this passage as detailing a man and a woman in order to have meaning; the passage is just as viable if one places the lovers in the image of a man and another man, or a woman and another woman… The love described is no less valid between a homosexual couple than between a heterosexual couple, nor are the feelings any different between homosexual and heterosexual couples during the encounter of love. It’s so easy to create a differential for something with which one is not familiar, and Pope Françis apparently is not immune from this prejudice. While the document is intended to be pastoral, it is instead patristically patronizing.


…But you can see where this is going, and after a very short while the exercise of contradiction, and debate becomes extremely tedious and starts to feel petty. In essence, the language used by his Excellency, the pope, is that of someone who simply has not had the ears to listen from an empathetic viewpoint. The pope has obviously not allowed himself to be educated sufficiently by the hardships of gay and lesbian people. This is curious considering that we know Pope Françis is intimately acquainted with gay people, and that he has held personal audience with a transgendered individual (presumably to hear and try to understand better the plight of transgendered people). And perhaps those things have had a profound influence on the pope. Perhaps the politics of the Curia and of worldwide prejudices are too great to be overcome by a single monarch.


Françis makes excuses for himself: There are “no easy recipes” that exist, he says, (quoting Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI), and as a result, neither the synod nor the Exhortation “could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases.”


…WHICH IS BULLSHIT. …OF COURSE there are new general rules that could be dictated to address the plight of populations of the marginalized. “Don’t discriminate.” PERIOD. “Don’t disenfranchise.” PERIOD. Don’t exclude.” PERIOD. Franiçis’s excuses are simply politics. But we don’t have to accept the politics. People are somehow afraid of revolution. The papacy is afraid of it; our government leaders are afraid of it. But the truly prophetic know that revolution is necessary when power is corrupt. Jesus knew it. The forefathers of the United States knew it. And they were not afraid of it. It’s time for revolution.


My revolution is to say “enough.”


Storm clouds 2


Amoris Laetitia basically advocates for tolerance for the “sins” of LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, the “sin” still holds true in the ultimate view of the Church and within its doctrine, and the level of tolerance and the dispensation of mercy was left to the discretion of independent dioceses and bishops, thus continuing the factionalizing of sides and opinions, gerrymandering dioceses amongst welcoming and condemning districts and parishes and continents, and in essence complicitly condoning the exclusionary practices of some bishops and countries based on “local cultural precedent.”


While the specific (and abhorrent) documented term “objectively disordered” was not used in this exhortation, countless other pejoratives were used in its stead to insinuate and reference the LGBTQ community and people. Some of those phrases and terms included: “those in irregular situations,” those “in the midst of [their] limit[tations],” those in “complicated situations.” Further, the subject of LGBTQ people was globally classified under a section heading entitled “Crises, Worries, and Difficulties.” Not only are these terms offensive, and demeaning, but the effect of their usage is to continue to systemically marginalize LGBTQ people and to endorse the “otherness” that inspires the dismissal, violence against, and even xenophobia towards LGBTQ people by conservatives of a more judgmental disposition.


But, lest you think that I am harboring on the semantics of politically incorrect language, there are definitive declarations solidifying the Church’s doctrinal persecution and exclusion of LGBTQ people, most specifically in paragraph 52:


“There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life. We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.”


And in paragraph 56, Françis basically disempowers all transgender and gender-queer persons and ways of being:


“This ideology [of gender] leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time… It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.”


These are antiquated debate points with no factual grounding, and which are easily dispelled. No one (including the pope) believes that a heterosexual union in which the couple is infertile, and therefore “closed to the transmission of life” should be condemned as invalid, illogical, or a vice of human communion. Neither does anyone think it of elderly couples who marry for companionship, yet are past the age of being able to conceive. Love is the only element of requirement or necessity (and frankly, throughout history, not even heterosexual couples were necessarily afforded the luxury of love when one considers that most marriages and unions were arranged affairs).


And with respect to an “ideology of gender”…we are only restricted to polarities and differentiation by the social constructs of gender that we ourselves have invented and been conditioned to believe exist, and not by those that posit that nature divides us into irreconcilable teams. Again, life is not so simple. Such arguments perpetuate polarity rather than acknowledge that a spectrum exists, or even that natural biological inter-sex cases occur (genetic hermaphroditism occurs approximately in 1 of every 2 million births—not so very undocumented on a planet inhabited with nearly 8 billon people and on which another 8 billion have already lived and died). While I applaud Pope Françis for having agreed to meet and hold audience with a transgender individual, I feel he obviously did not use the opportunity to bother to gain an understanding of gender identification issues important to those suffering or being persecuted under the rigidity of social constructs.


And if Pope Françis is trying to set an example by meeting with the disenfranchised and marginalized, many of his charges are not following his example. LGBTQ people were not allowed to participate in the synodal sessions. No one heard the stories of LGBTQ people as reflected in their experience within Church community or in conflict with Church doctrine. LGBTQ people and groups petitioned to be allowed to participate and to present material, but were rejected. Because they were beside the point, irrelevant, irredeemable, problematic. You see, LGBTQ people already have a designation within Church dogma, and to upset that dogmatic paradigm, or explore another viewpoint outside of it, would disrupt the status quo. Heaven forbid that the Holy Spirit should present an alternative way of seeing the world, or offer a different way of loving one another, or of embracing all facets of humanity as equal creations in the eyes of God.


The web blog Bondings 2.0 recently presented the reactions of two young theology students—not reacting directly to the Exhortation itself—but in response to the excess of analysis and criticism of the Exhortation that has thus far been published online. These students posit (rightly so) that there has been a tendency for liberal critiques to dismiss or ignore the continued discrimination and degradation of queer relationships within the document as a casualty of the hopeful (and projectively presumed) progressivism towards which Pope Françis is steering the Church. People who are otherwise supportive of LGBTQ issues allow the discriminatory dogma and shaming of LGBTQ people to pass unchallenged due to some obtuse sense that progression is a delicate matter that demands sacrifices. For the most part, online pundits and analyses have not quoted the passages that I quoted above (paragraphs 52 and 56), those passages which continue to directly marginalize and demonize same-sex relationships and queer people in general. This is a problem. This is a crisis. Revolution cannot occur without deconstructing its catalysts and reasons. No amount of “spin” can cure injustice.


And as if anyone needed proof that the language in Amoris Laetitia was harmful in a real-world setting, as if anyone needed clarification that “coded” language has a real effect on human lives, as if anyone needed hard facts and examples of how ignoring discriminatory semantics can result in violence and hatred…let me provide some examples for you…


For years, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez, has led a homophobic tirade against U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster, using homophobic slurs (including “a married wife,” “faggot,” “and “sissy”) and encouraging his congregation to ban Brewster from the premises of their homes and institutions. Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez has claimed “religious freedom” and freedom of speech to continue blatantly slandering and gay-bashing the U.S. ambassador, claiming that, “not allowing ‘an old man to express himself like an old man’ would violate his rights.” (So basically he’s claiming to be an old dog who can’t learn new tricks.) Besides acting as a roadblock to active U.S.-Puerto Rican relations, Cardinal Lopez Rodriquez is actively advocating the derogatory discrimination of gay and lesbian people among the Dominican Republic’s populace, a low-brow pandering to incite ignorant violence against harmless individuals. What’s more insidious is that Lopez Rodriguez has quoted Pope Françis’s own words and terms including “ideological colonization” to defend his right to objectively slander the ambassador, as well as citing Amoris Laetitia by claiming that the ambassador is, by simple fact of his innate homosexuality, acting as a gay activist promoting cultural customs that the country disavows.


As a leadership figure of the Church in a country that is 88% Catholic and where bishops heavily influence public opinion, Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez’s continued slurs against gay and lesbian people gives license to his congregation and the people of the Caribbean nation to discriminate against LGBTQ people as a less human species,…which directly contradicts other directives from the exhortation Amoris Laetitia, such as paragraph 250:


“We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.”


Cardinal Lopez Rodriguez’s slander can hardly be considered the “respectful pastoral guidance” advocated in the very document he cites to support his discrimination.


Another example: In the states of Queensland and South Australia in Australia, it is perfectly acceptable and legal for someone to get away with murder by claiming that “gay panic” in response to someone’s homosexual advances led to defensive murder…even if there happen to be multiple killers against a single individual gay person. Several years ago a man was murdered on the grounds of a church in Brisbane, Australia. The man’s killers were acquitted of murder (downgraded to manslaughter) because they used “gay panic” as a defense. What’s to say that the same defensive reasoning can’t be used against the advances of women who are deemed too slutty? Or for women to defend themselves against men who won’t stop trying to buy them a drink in bars? Those correlative examples sound ridiculous and profane, but there really isn’t any difference. The “gay panic” laws exist solely as a means to legally discriminate and perpetuate violence against gay people.


Semantics matter. Words can hurt or even kill when they are used to incite mob mentality. This is the problem with Amoris Laetitia; the pope, himself, uses language that can—and is—interpreted by Catholic followers as justification for their continued discrimination and their continued violence against LGBTQ people in a coded, methodical attempt to eradicate homosexuality from the world. The problem is that the hetero-normative community doesn’t believe—or consciously chooses not to believe—that such discrimination exists or is possible. But it does exist; and it is possible and happening right now.


I have used two examples of egregious abuse of words in foreign countries, but if you think that the exact same thing doesn’t happen right here in the United States of America, you are sadly mistaken. Every time someone uses the term “religious liberties” or “religious objection” or “conscientious objection”—terms that even Pope Françis has been using himself—those people are reserving their right to be able to discriminate against something or someone they themselves have not yet comes to terms with. The problem is, the rest of society—and minorities in particular—shouldn’t have to wait for the stubbornness of a few, or the immaturity of a few to refuse to learn what true justice looks like. Many of those abused have been waiting for justice for lifetimes.


Pope Françis became famous as the pope who asked, “Who am I to judge?” in response to the commitment of LGBTQ people towards their Church and their God. It was one of the reasons I found hope in the future of the Church and my aspirations for contemplative life…


But Franiçis has proved himself a disappointment—rigidly adhering to irrational doctrine couched in a rhetorical façade of “mercifulness.” There is no mercy in false compassion and illogical and contradictory catechisms.


Storm lighting_3


I have to admit to NOT spending the mental energy to have read any of the “comment” sections on most of those online reports and analyses of Amoris Laetitia…mostly out of fear of the horrific and epic vitriol that is undoubtedly unleashed therein. Somewhere, however, I caught a short span example of those comments… Whereby, in response to someone’s reminder that we are actively in the Year of Mercy, one commenter retorted, “The best form of mercy is to confront and condemn gay people with the error of their disgusting sinfulness, so that they might beg for forgiveness and find salvation.” …Which just goes to show that people still irrationally think being gay is somehow wrong or abnormal, and that there’s something to be afraid about it. And all I can think is…after so much public debate, and so many years of positive visible examples of gay and lesbian public figures participating in society, HOW CAN ANYONE STILL THINK THAT GAY PEOPLE COULD POSSIBLY BE ANY KIND OF THREAT TO ANYONE OR ANY INSTITUTION?


…It simply doesn’t make any sense that people feel threatened by homosexuality. The only reason that a certain population perpetuates such ideas and recapitulates “otherness” is so that they don’t lose the right to continue hating someone. …So disheartening.


This is the very basis behind all the recent “religious liberties” laws enacted. It’s just a bunch of hate mongers digging-in their heels and demanding their right to hate people and discriminate against them… So ironically irreligious and exhausting. And isn’t it even ridiculous that I am having to discuss and write about such things in 2016… in the United States.


Obviously, as the perpetrator of such xenophobia, the Catholic Church is culpable, and as much as I want to help the Church be an agent of change, I could never hope to be obedient to an ultimate doctrine with which I am in utter disagreement. The manic distress of having to constantly defend myself as a gay person, as well as the irrational scribal doctrine of the Church would never allow me the possibility of succeeding at a vow of stability… In fact, I would be setting myself up for failure, because now it has been confirmed (again) that my “being” and the Church’s scribal doctrine are diametrically opposed to one another.


What I believe now, even under the guidance of gentle Françis, is that the Church has lost its way. I say again with chagrin, but no cynicism, and no joy that the Catholic Church has become the very Pharisees and Scribes that Jesus so warned his disciples about… A harsh but true statement.


So what happens now?


Well, I have, out of necessity of my opposition to Church doctrine and my inability to fulfill my vows, abandoned my monastic community and plans for contemplative life.


I am again tossed to the wind, without a country, without a community, without sustaining work, without much self-esteem, and certainly filled with shame, regret, and embarrassment… thrown back into the Capitalist-economic-meritocracy that I quite loath. I have lost a family of brothers to whom I am much enamored. I am rather at the point of the Tower, with nowhere to fall but down. The lightening bolt has struck. You’ll forgive me if I flounder on the rocks just a bit.


Sunrise or Sunset?

Is this a sunset?… or a sunrise? Maybe it’s both…


There is a great irony in the whole of this predicament; it has to do with timing. At one time, the Church would have been the one place in the world where people like me had the opportunity to survive in a world prejudiced against them, where the marginalized could find succor, and belonging, and a way to thrive in company and companionship, and have an outlet for creativity. It was a kind of island of misfit toys, a nation unto itself, a place where the compassion of Jesus could be realized.


…Until history defined homosexuality differently, until homosexuality was given a name—because it didn’t really have one until a couple of centuries ago—and until people started to fear and reject that thing that became more and more identifiable. And…I’m not saying that visibility and honesty are bad things—they are things that I fought for as a human rights activist my whole life. It is just and right that LGBTQ people should have visibility and an identity. It’s just…interesting…to be at this crux in time and recognize how change can reap so much turmoil and affect so many lives. I’m speaking in macroscopic terms here, and I have no intention of delving into a long deconstruction of the history of homosexuality and the Church…even though perhaps someone should… It’s one of those stories in which everyone is complicit in ignoring the obvious, in order to try to avoid change and ritual niceties and the status quo…


…Guess what?


…too late.





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  1. I don’t know what to say besides a recognition of the difficulty of the position you are in and the disappointment you must feel in this institution. Thank you, as always, for your words. Know that my thoughts are with you during this time and I hope for a quick transition into the Star energy of the next arcana of your path.

  2. What an absolutely beautiful and wonderful sentiment, Shannon. Thank you for your well-wishes. You are, of course, so right on target to invoke the Star arcana of the tarot—quite wise and apropos at this juncture. Blessings to you.

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