Why Do You Stay

I no longer ask why I stay, but why it is the Church keeps moving further and further away from me.

John Winslow, School of Theology and Ministry, Boston College, MDiv,’19

Throughout most of my faith journey, living at the intersection of queerness and Catholicism has meant embracing paradox and nuance. And yet, over the last several years as I have completed my M. Div., discerned a calling to ministry, and moved into a career as a hospital chaplain, I have been forced to wrestle with a different set of questions: in light of my commitments to integrity, honesty, and fidelity to the movements of the Holy Spirit in my life, what does it mean to be an openly gay, partnered, Catholic minister and chaplain? 

The institutional homophobia in the Church had worked itself into my psyche so deeply that it wasn’t until I really stopped and interrogated my own limitations that I realized that I could only answer this question by doing it, by living into it through engaging in the dual activities of action and contemplation. I applied to a Catholic divinity school with an ecclesiastical faculty and got in; I spent two days writing and then orally defending my comprehensive synthesis exams; I ministered for a summer in a hospital as a lay Catholic chaplain intern; I applied for a chaplain residency, got in, and spent a year as a chaplain resident; I currently work as a Catholic chaplain in two different healthcare settings; I am currently in the process of seeking certification and endorsement as a chaplain from a Catholic body, and no one has stopped me… yet. 

And I have done all of these things as an openly gay man.

Part of what has always frustrated me the most about the question often posed to LGBTQ Catholics – “Why do you stay?” – is that it places the burden of dismantling and defending the Church’s institutional homophobia onto us. As I lean more deeply into my life as a chaplain, I no longer why I stay, but why it is the Church keeps moving further and further away from me. 

I am not naïve about the reality that there may come a day when I do not leave the Church, but the Church leaves me. The day may come when I learn that I have not been given endorsement, or am forced to collaborate with a priest who does not support my ministry. As someone who has been denied the sacraments due to my sexual orientation, I know firsthand how painful this denial and rejection is, how traumatizing. 

But that day hasn’t come yet, and until it does, I’ll be here, doing my best to follow in the footsteps of Christ as best as I know how.

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