Why Remain Catholic?

Andy Buechel, December 2017

For Catholics who disagree with the magisterium on matters pertaining to LGBTQ persons, an important question will inevitably arise from time to time: “Why am I still Catholic, then?” This is a question that is addressed to us by others, and it’s a question that we ask ourselves. It can make us feel defensive: “Do I really have to prove to people (and myself?) that I really belong here?” It can make us feel dishonest: “Maybe they’re right. If I disagree with something in the Catechism, does that make me a false Catholic?” It can make us defiant: “No one will force me from the Church I love over this!” It can make us feel complicit: “Am I harming my LGBTQ brothers and sisters by remaining loyal to an institution that so many feel is homophobic?” The feelings generated by the question are multiple, as are the answers that have been given. These answers range from staying in the Church to help in its transformation to leaving it as too spiritually toxic. . .not to mention all the responses that lie in-between.

I have been asked to write briefly about my answer to this question. As a Catholic gay man, I have wrestled with this question a great deal personally, and I have been asked it—in tones spanning from curiosity to outrage—by others. Frankly I have many responses, but the primary one is this: Baptism.

For Catholics, baptism is where we are sacramentally plunged into the mystery of God’s Triune love, made manifest in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is God’s action that brings us into Christ’s body through our baptisms: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. . .” (John 15:16). Jesus spoke these words to his disciples at the Last Supper, but speaks them anew to all of us at our baptisms. And when we are chosen by God, we are not simply baptized into a vague spiritual reality, but a real community of other believers. To be baptized into God’s life is to be baptized into the Church. And, in my case, the particular manifestation of the Church that God chose me to be a part of is Roman Catholicism. In short, I remain Catholic because this is where God has joined me.

As I write this, the Church celebrates the great season of Easter. At the masses commemorating Jesus’ resurrection, I and every other Catholic renewed the promises made at baptism. I reaffirmed my opposition to evil in all its forms; I pledged belief and fidelity to the Triune God and the transformation God is working—individually, collectively, and cosmically—through Jesus Christ. These are not simply propositions to which I give intellectual assent, but rather statements of trust in the mysteries into which I was brought through baptism: The mysteries of God, creation, Incarnation, redemption, forgiveness, resurrection. These are, as we say at every Eucharist, “the mysteries of faith.” This is what God has brought me into through Catholicism, and the only reason I could see leaving the Catholic Church would be that it becomes so personally toxic that I could not honor these baptismal promises without joining another Christian group. Fortunately, with the support of many fellow Catholics and organizations like Fortunate Families, I am confident that will not occur, though I understand and cast no judgment at all upon those who have made that hard decision themselves.

But notice what I did not promise—and was not asked to promise—by the Church when I renewed my baptismal promises. “Do you profess absolute adherence to everything ever set forth in a document from Rome?” “Do you accept that lesbian and gay relationships are contrary to God’s plan?” “Do you accept that the current Church teaching on gender is the definitive and last word on the matter?” I promised nothing on these topics and was not asked to, for these matters are only decisive in so far as they can be rooted and anchored in those deep and abiding mysteries into which I was baptized. They are, at best, secondary. This is not to argue that Church teachings that are not part of the baptismal rite are unimportant or false or simply optional. But it does mean that they are only as binding as they help us participate more deeply in the Triune Life of Love that God calls us to in baptism. I have made a conscientious determination that they are not so connected, and that they may actually contradict these same mysteries. But the faith—and the Church—into which God called me at my baptism remains.

God, through the Church, invited me to enter into Christ’s body—not a mere human institution—with and through my fellow believers. In grace, I accepted, and what I accepted I still affirm. No disagreement with a handful of lower-order teachings can remove me from that body, for it was God who joined me to it. What Jesus spoke of marriage must be meant even more for baptism: “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:9). Despite the many hardships and difficulties that this entails, I also have known grace and love and deep support within Catholicism. I have seen the mysteries professed at baptism become flesh in community, liturgy, good works, and friendship. I remain Catholic because this is where God has seen fit to put me and because I can profess, and try by God’s grace to live ever more deeply, those realities the Church asked me to affirm when I was plunged into water and Spirit.