The Catholic Church: A Family's Divide

How does a Catholic family with three gay kids come to terms with the Pope's comments about same-sex marriage?

Editor’s Note: Mary Buckheit is the youngest of six children raised by staunch Catholic parents. Her siblings attended parochial school and she graduated from Siena College, an independent Catholic liberal arts college in New York founded in the Franciscan tradition. Mary continues to practice the faith today, though not without deliberation.

My parents had six kids who are spread out over 15 years and four states, sprinkled across this country from Connecticut to California. We see each other as often as possible but conduct most of our family chatter through E-mail. A message sent out to the whole gang usually regards holiday travel plans, mom’s birthday reminder, or best, a photo attachment of some combination of my nine nieces and nephews in this week’s Little League playoff or first communion.

Although my family is incredibly tight-knit, our geographic disparity doesn’t allow for as many sibling heart-to-hearts as I’d like. But that’s just because I’m the youngest by eight years and insistently eager to hear their accounts of Mom and Dad, and growing up in New York (while I was still wearing onesies). When all six of us are in the same room together we are as strikingly similar as incomparably different; but we always have something to talk about.

One family fun fact to consider is that three out of six of this knee-sock-smothered, collared-shirt-crested clan are openly gay. I have an out brother and an out sister. That said, our E-mail chains aren’t only for tracking down grandma’s pound cake recipe. Occasionally, they get pretty juicy.

Today’s topic of conversation began with an E-mail from my sister, Carol. I'm turning the correspondence into my column for the week because our back-and-forth best encapsulates the schizophrenic struggle that so many Catholics (gay and straight, alike) endure while trying to justify their faith in the teachings of Christ despite the high crimes repeatedly committed by Church leaders.

Some of my brothers and sisters have left the Catholic Church and have found joy and vibrant spirituality elsewhere. Although I have not left the Church, it feels increasingly as if the Church is leaving me.

Decades of intolerance, egregious lapses in judgment, failure of compassion, and mandated intolerance fuel my mistrust in a hierarchy fraught with fatal flaws. Still, that does not temper my faith in God or extinguish the light of Christ's love, humility and liberal compassion. While I have no answers, it is my hope that we, the faithful, can offer up our anger and empower a movement of reform, responsibility and progress from within.

If this subject is of interest to you, or, if you take nothing else from the exchange below, The New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof (link at bottom of page) is required reading.

-------------------------Original Message------------------------------
Sent: Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:01 AM
To: The Siblings
Subject: Why I am not a Catholic

Hey Gang, Here's today’s rant from me. I’m just so burning mad I had to send it (and it is so hard not to send this story to Mom’s account!)

AP News Story - Pope decries abortion, same-sex marriage at Fatima

FATIMA, Portugal (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday called abortion and same-sex marriage some of the most "insidious and dangerous" threats facing the world today, asserting key church teachings as he tried to move beyond the clerical abuse scandal.

"Dangerous"? Give me a break.

-------------------------Original Message------------------------------
From: Mary;
Sent: Thursday, May 13, 2010 4:32 PM
To: The Siblings
Subject: RE: Why I am not a Catholic

Thanks for opening this topic.

While it is not often that we sibs get to sit around and talk about where we are on our faith journeys, it goes without saying that every day is a struggle to try and make sense of it all. For me, anyway. As if the abuse scandal discrediting the highest officials wasn't enough to make me question the church I continue to identify with, the constant belittling and vilification of my loving relationship cuts deep.

The gross conceit which is fueling the Magisterium's denial and its pathetic blame game is indefensible, HOWEVER, I will say that, for me personally, the remarks made by Benedict today -- in the grand scheme of things -- don't burn as badly. As badly as offenses like say, organizing second collections in houses of worship to keep human beings like you and me (created in the image and likeness of God, lest we forget!) in California and Maine from the protection of basic civil rights.

So, I'm not defending the Pope today. I am incapable of defending this papacy. I too am infuriated by divisive remarks made by Church officials who continue to laud the isolation of an entire people and encourage blatant hostility towards their LGBT brothers and sisters. My defensiveness comes as I try to juxtapose and rationalize the fulfilling experience I have at a Catholic church every Sunday with the same Church (capital C) officials who continue to make statements which so often make me feel like a waste of life.

That said, my problem with the story that is all over the wires today is lazy journalism. Every newspaper in America, Reuters, even NPR -- they're all running that AP story you sent which in my opinion is a piece of junk. The headline of that news story and the lead is "Pope Benedict decries abortion and same-sex marriage as some of the most insidious and dangerous threats facing the world today." OK, you have my attention, and maybe that's exactly what the writer was trying to do, but as a lesbian woman, practicing Catholic and ardent supporter of marriage equality, I had reason to do my research. And I did.

Here is a link to the complete transcript from Benedict's speech in Fatima:

My question to you is: If you were a journalist -- an AP Reporter whose job it is to report the story, NOT editorialize -- would you, in good conscious, have put same-sex marriage in your first breath? To me, after reading the whole speech and putting his remark back in context, I feel like I could just have easily have interpreted "the family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman" as a condemnation of divorce and rampant extramarital relations.

Is the Pope doing anything to foster respect for LGBT human beings? Absolutely not. Is he furthering the marginalization and humiliation of same-sex relationships? Absolutely. But in the context of old boys dogma (which is the only context to put the Pope and the Vatican), I don't expect anything outside of the hard-lined stance on the sacrament of marriage. We're not talking about civil marriage. We're not there yet.

To me, it's substandard journalism and skittish insecurity to report that just because the Pope called for permanent marriage between a man and a woman, we should reduce his whole speech to "decrying same-sex marriage as insidious and dangerous."

Again, to be clear, I don't disagree with you. Statements like this, no matter how subtle, effectively shame me personally and my committed relationship. Statements like this undermine the self-worth of an entire community of human beings. Still, my beef is that Thursday's speech begins and ends with sentiments of building a civilization of love. It evokes the example of the Good Samaritan, hammers on "above all" compassion to the poor, and highlights the new commandment; "God is love."

Benedict, in fact, spends over 1,000 words -- none of which were "same-sex" or "gay" or "lesbian" -- in a speech largely focused on the importance of Christian charity, but the headline goes straight to the hot-button. The headline is what the world sees (admittedly the only thing I would have seen had you not brought it up and caused me to dig deeper). That's the impression that is left on the world and that's why people can't understand why anyone like me would continue defending the faith and practicing Catholicism. All they walk away with is that the Pope decries same-sex marriage.

So my rant today isn't aimed at the Church (tomorrow's a new day). Today, I'm most troubled by the AP reporter and/or the managing editor who indulgently slapped on the headline. Sure it worked -- I clicked on it and so did you -- but an Associated Press reporter and her story should be held accountable to journalistic standards. She's not a columnist, she is responsible for delivering an accurate and objective representation of the news. I don't think I'm being naive when I say that this report on the speech wasn't entirely accurate, or at best, without bias.

Again, the link above is to the actual text of the speech in its entirety. If the reporter or the Associated Press wanted some credibility they would have included it in their original story. -Mary

-------------------------Original Message------------------------------
Sent: Thursday, May 13, 2010 6:09 PM
To: The Siblings
Subject: RE: Why I am not a Catholic

Hi Mary,

I honestly wish it was just lazy journalism. Really, I do. But, sadly, it's been a pattern of outright hostility towards gay people for generations, not just by this pope but by scores of popes and bishops and priests on down. I could fill a book with all of it -- from spending millions of dollars to defeat gay marriage in CA, to the recent story of the preschooler in CO who was kicked out of school because he had two moms.

The only thing that made today's speech noteworthy was that the Pope had the audacity to describe as "dangerous and insidious threats" a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body and marriage between two people of the same sex and actually not mention the REAL dangers to the church and society -- the molestation of thousands of kids by priests and the church's cover-up of it (for starters).

I'm so tired of it. I really am.

Thank goodness there are people in the pews like you guys who don't reflect the church's hierarchy. You guys are the soul of the church that Nicholas Kristof wrote so eloquently about last week in this article in the NY Times about the Catholic Church:

I hope you all read it and know that it's just the leadership I'm ranting about, not the best of the best (my Catholic sibs).

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Mary Buckheit can be reached at