Not being a New Yorker, I had never heard of Christine Quinn before catching a recent interview with her on NPR. I was listening to Weekend Edition Sunday while diligently riding my exercise bike, but my pace slowed when she was asked about the difficulty of being Catholic and lesbian. The interviewer wondered if the tension between those two realities of her life had ever made her contemplate leaving the faith.
Here is a bit of Ms. Quinn’s response: “How can you leave a faith? Faith is who you are. It’s what’s inside of you. It’s how you see the world . . . It’s what uplifts you in the dark days . . . Why should I leave the church? It’s my church.”
And I thought (with apologies to both Catholics and lesbians), “Damn straight!”
How can you leave a faith? This has been the question hanging like fog over my life for the past several years, as my lesbian daughter has taken a beloved wife, as my husband has found safe harbor in the Episcopalian church, as the façade of my perfect Catholic world has crumbled. I love my family deeply, but I go to Mass alone. I used to be a pillar of my parish. Now I am not.
I was surprised when Ms. Quinn said that no one has ever suggested to her that she leave the church. I’m happy that she has been accepted for who she is. My experience has been different. As a columnist for a secular newspaper who has written in support of civil rights for our gay and lesbian children, and as a founding member of the local PFLAG chapter in a conservative town, I live on shaky Catholic ground. I have been encouraged by some people in my church to leave, to move on, to figure out where I should worship, because I am no longer a good Catholic fit. I have been removed from ministries I love. I can rarely get my work published in the Catholic press anymore.
Yet I’m still here. I am Catholic. Catholicism is in my cells. It is what sustains me. I am in love with the Eucharist, and there is, oddly, strength in the struggle. Ms. Quinn’s snappy response has made me believe that maybe I can stop apologizing for staying in my own home. I may be one of the anonymous people in the back pews, but I do not feel called by God to leave. Besides, as Ms. Quinn noted, “If I leave, it’s as if they won.”
How can you leave a faith? It’s a question both rhetorical and impossible. How can you leave your identity, your self, your soul?