Another Lesbian Parent: Authentic Catholicism

Yesterday, I referred to a lengthy piece at dot Commonweal, in which a lesbian mother describes her positive experience of having her sons accepted in a Catholic school.  The full piece however is about far more than just the school: rather, it goes to the very heart of what it is to be gay and Catholic, and to the issue of gay adoption, which is so strenuously opposed by both the institutional Catholic Church, and by other religious conservatives. Their arguments that adoption by gay or lesbian parents is somehow contrary to the interests of the child have been widely discredited by professionals with expertise in child psychology or child welfare, while many adoption agencies actively seek gay or lesbian adoptive parents, on the grounds that for some children, they may even be more suitable than straight applicants – or because they may be willing to take on difficult children that other parents shy away from.

But this story tackles church opposition from a different angle:  she describes how she was led to the decision to adopt children not in spite of her Catholicism, but very much because of it. She tells of how her upbringing as a Catholic, with an education steeped in religious teaching :

The fact of the matter is, I am you. More than many of you seem to realize. I went to Catholic grade school with you, was perhaps even more pious than you, unless you also rode your bike to daily Mass in the summertime and got a ride with the neighbor lady to Friday evening Stations of the Cross during Lent. Unlike you, who never had uncles who worked for Jesse Helms, I had the opportunity to kiss Senator Helms on the cheek when I was eight. (People intent on finding an explanation for my orientation may wish to ponder that fact.) Each week I brought the Baltimore Catechism to my mother to demonstrate my mastery of another chapter.

In Catholic high school I aced all my classes, as had my brothers and sisters before me. At home, I scanned the reading material at hand—the National Review, the Moral Majority newsletter, and the Hillsdale College newsletter—and watched Firing Line with my father. I attended a Reagan campaign rally on the picturesque green of my New England hometown. In our home, Reagan, Buckley, and Falwell enjoyed a kind of trinitarian status. Wanting to attend a Catholic college or university, as had three of my four older siblings, I set my sights on the University of Notre Dame, applying there and only there.

At Notre Dame I majored in theology and held an office in the campus prolife group. As a student there I had my world expanded exponentially, albeit still within the Catholic bubble.

This, and later formal theology, gave her a firm belief in the importance of reaching out to the underprivileged, and particularly to children.  If the insists on the right to life and opposes abortion, it then has a corresponding obligation to take care of the children coming into the world whose biological parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. As a member of the church, she believes strongly that she shares in that obligation. And so arose her desire to adopt. In total contrast to Mike Huckabee’s assertion that gay parents’ desire to adopt arises from some form of selfishness, she asserts the opposite. Her motivation came from a very Catholic selflessness, putting the clear needs of others (in this case, the children) ahead of her own comfort.

Those of you who attended Catholic grade school in the 1970s may have enjoyed, as I did, repeated viewings of a documentary film about the DeBolt family: a husband and wife and their nineteen kids, fourteen of them adopted. Their home life was a smorgasbord of races, personalities, abilities, disabilities, newspaper routes, doctors’ appointments, chores, spills, laundry, laughter…you get the picture. I was enthralled. Adoption, I thought, was definitely something I wanted to do. “Each one take one” was, it seemed to me at the time, a great plan for meeting the needs of orphaned children the world over. I wondered why it wasn’t more common. I was sure I would adopt, knowing that the only obstacle would be an unwilling spouse. In my teens and twenties my conviction never wavered, and I wondered why every self-respecting couple who identified as prolife didn’t at the very least strongly consider adopting. When at last I came to terms with being gay, I never for a moment felt that I should stop saying what I’d been saying inside for decades: “I’ll take one!” Being gay seemed to me quite beside the point.

This will sound hopelessly lefty, but the truth of the matter is that at the age of thirty-three I sat one Sunday morning reading the New York Times in a coffee shop a block away from the Newman Center where I had just been to Mass. The Magazine cover piece was “What Will Become of Africa’s AIDS Orphans?” Alone at my table, I murmured, “I could take one.” I read the piece through until the end and had the feeling that I was living the first day of the rest of my life. My partner and I had dated and maintained separate households for four years, but were set to begin our committed life together in a few months, and we had talked enough about adoption for me to know that she was open to it. We fished out the Times article from my files nearly two years later, contacted the agency mentioned in the piece, and—after much soul-searching and research and home studies and whatnot—we eventually welcomed two small boys to our family.

I may be as selfish as the next person in many unlovely areas of my personality and life, but I can say without crossing my fingers that adopting my sons was the most unselfish thing I have ever done and likely will ever do.

 

And yet, as she points out, she and other aspirant gay parents are criticized by the Church for doing precisely what other aspirants are praised for – wishing to reach out in love to offer a home to young orphans.

In earlier posts on “What is a gay Catholic to do?”, my main emphasis has been on how does a gay or lesbian Catholic resolve the tensions between Catholic teaching on sexuality and one’s own internal knowledge.  This thoughtful post shows how the issues to be resolved go much deeper:  how do we as gay and lesbian Catholics interpret wider Church teaching, applicable to all Catholics, in our particular circumstances?

 

 

 

(Read the full story from Dot Commonweal)

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