DI voice | Forgive me, Father, for I have not sinned

On September 6, 2019, I desperately desired God’s direction as I entered the chapel at the Newman Catholic Center in St. John’s. While waiting to confess, I knelt on a bench, praying for guidance. After confessing half an hour later, I left the chapel and walked down Armory Avenue in a state of guilt. As I squeezed through the Quad to my apartment, I felt I had failed with God.

Growing up in Elmhurst, Illinois, many people, including me, were Catholics. I was serving as a choir at a local church and loved every second. My connection with God was so strong that I even hoped to become a priesthood someday.

As I approached adolescence, however, a rift between me and the Church began to widen. My beliefs clashed more and more with Catholic teachings. The struggles with my sanity made me wonder if God was really with me. Soon after, I realized I was queer – it was the last nail in the coffin of my faith.

Most of the Catholics I knew had a negative opinion of homosexuals. I couldn’t be a Catholic while being true to myself.

Many homosexual Catholics and ex-Catholics have similar experiences – we share the impact of the hatred and alienation we have faced, which still ring in our ears today like the bells of a church. When the time for Confirmation came, I decided not to do it and stopped attending mass.

In 2019, after moving to CU for college, I wanted to regain the sense of community that Catholicism had given me. I attended Mass at the Newman Catholic Center in Saint John – it was my first Mass in over five years.

Reading the Gospel this Sunday was the parable of the prodigal son – the meaning of which has not escaped me, for it seemed to me to be a return message. Despite this poetic return, the inconsistency between my sexuality and Catholic doctrine gnawed at me. Although I wondered if talking to a priest would help, I had to walk to the chapel during the late summer heat to find out.

Rising from the bench, I walked anxiously towards the confessional and knelt in front of the lattice which separated me from the priest. I began my confession as any Catholic would: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. After a first exchange, I explained that I was homosexual and that I was not sure of my place in the Church.

He compared it to his own struggle – he was attracted to women but had to stay celibate. He faced temptations every day, but swore not to act on them. I explained that I had acted on my temptations before, but he reassured me that it was not too late to stop sinning. Too crushed to challenge him, I accepted my penance for fear that God would reject me if I “lived in sin”.

It might have been foolish to think that a priest would preach an inclusive gospel, but we are all fools when we want to fit in. I was a trans woman. Since then, I have found a lot of people who will support me no matter who I am.

Hopefully, future generations of queer and trans people will not find similar obstacles in their places of worship. Rather than convincing us to be straight or cisgender, the clergy and parishioners of Newman Church could do as the father of the prodigal son and welcome back their queer and trans siblings. I wait patiently for this reunion so that we can rejoice together again.

Judith is a first year student at LAS.

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