In the mid-nineties, I was a naive 21 y.o. young man, full of fear about my budding homosexual orientation. Coming out was not an option, given the environment I grew up in. Costa Rica is a Latin American country loaded with machismo and with a heavy religious heritage embedded in its mostly traditional and very conservative families. My family was no exception.
At the time, I hadn’t spoken to anyone about this sensitive subject. I also didn’t have any first-hand experience or know other boys who might have shared my attractions. Somehow, I found myself gravitating towards the priest in our local Youth Ministry, a youthful and compassionate man, for guidance and understanding. By that point, I’d already fulfilled the sacraments of baptism, communion and confirmation and considered myself a good practicing Catholic. The group I joined included about twenty post-adolescent boys and girls seeking guidance in a world full of challenges and obstacles, and Father Laurence seemed to be the mentor we all needed.
I found Father Laurence’s soft and masculine face attractive, but didn’t dare look at him in that way. I didn’t engage in fantasy about him, yet, I did long for his empathy, and, perhaps being over-optimistic, his understanding of my sexuality. We talked many times after mass and had very good interaction in our group meetings. I wanted to have a frank discussion with him about homosexuality and knew that couldn’t happen in a group forum. I was hoping to have a confidential discussion with him, perhaps leading to a closer friendship, than he had with the others.
Months passed and my constant questioning of the conventional viewpoints raised in our group’s conversations put me in a position of rivalry with some others in the pastoral. These fraught situations prompted me to ask Father Laurence for his advice. He never refused to see me. On the contrary, no matter how busy he was, he always made time for me. Over time, I grew more and more ready to open my heart to him. Yet, because I didn’t know how to approach the subject, I held back.
The following summer during university holidays, my angst came to a head and I felt I needed to resolve my personal questions. The other boys and girls had clear objectives that included starting their own families. I was frustrated that I had no concrete plans to proffer when I was asked about my own goals. This put me in an awkward and suspicious position. It seemed everyone except me was prepared to follow the conventional path. When the time came, I could only muster the courage to deliver a written essay to him. I titled it: “Because God is also homosexual …” I knew the title was scandalous, but my logic was that, since we were created in the image and likeness of the creator, God could not be so different from us. Beyond sexual preference, I tried hard to make Father Laurence understand my belief that identity comes from the heart. I hadn’t asked to be born homosexual; that identity had been given to me by God. How could I live according to Catholic doctrine without betraying my own essence? I needed a loving and thoughtful answer to this question to be able to envision my own path, like everyone else in our group.
A week after I had delivered my letter to the priest, I showed up to attend our regular pastoral meeting, hoping to see Father Laurence and that he’d agree to speak to me privately on the subject. But, when I arrived that Thursday afternoon, no one else was there.
The next day, I reached out to the priest’s secretary to find out what had happened. She informed me the meetings were being suspended until further notice. I waited a few more days. When I didn’t receive a call letting me know when the meetings would be resumed, I became impatient and reached out to another of our group members for information. To my complete surprise, he told me they’d continued meeting the past two weeks, though the meeting day had been switched to Wednesday. All of us had supposedly been alerted. Except, no one had informed me…
After I made numerous attempts and unsuccessful calls to speak with Father Laurence, I began to understand there was no longer room for me in Youth Ministry, much less in the Catholic Church. Naturally, I was devastated, feeling abandoned and discriminated against unjustly. The adolescent years of lonely doubt and fear I had experienced once I began to recognize my sexual orientation didn’t compare to the pain of this rejection and public shunning. I felt like a man condemned without an explanation or an opportunity to defend his very nature.
Twenty-five years have passed. I have explored and embraced new spiritual beliefs, but have followed no specific religion. I have come to understand that religion has little to do with God, but much to do with politics and its desire to tame us through guilt and shame. Father William helped me understand this quickly and however strange it may sound, I am very grateful to him. His shunning of me saved me years of confusion and fear. Meanwhile, nothing has changed with respect to the views on homosexuality of the church into which I was born. As for me, my faith is now in God, not organized religion.