I left the church at age 18, but it took me decades to shake the shame of being a lesbian.
I grew up with Pope Francis — that's what we called my father who shares the same first name. Born the only girl in an uber Irish Catholic family, we celebrated many Irish and Catholic traditions that made no sense to me, until I read Frank McCourt's book, Angela's Ashes. Then, everything about my childhood and my father, the pope, finally made sense.
My father's parents emigrated from Ireland in the early 1900s. So, of course, the Irish Catholic traditions in the family included worshipping the priesthood, alcoholism, and sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. My uncles were priests — and yes, they both molested children and were never held accountable — my aunts were nuns, and we often had visiting priests and cardinals staying at our house.
Other traditions in my family included Catholic schooling, going to Mass every Holy Day, and everyone being subservient to an overbearing, cold and controlling father who was an alcoholic. My role as the only girl in the family was to act as the maid to my four brothers. Yes, I had to cook, clean and do laundry for ALL of them ...
Until I finally revolted during my senior year in high school.
We also had a very unique family business named Christ the King Gift Shop. We were the supply house for the Catholic Church in New England and sold everything you needed to be Catholic, and I mean everything. Back in the '50s and '60s, you needed a lot of stuff to be Catholic — holy water, lacy veils, scapulas, missiles (not rockets, but the prayer book for a mass), and on and on.
Our store was stuffed with statues of Mary, the baby Jesus, and all the saints, crucifixes, rosaries, unblessed hosts (those little wafers that Catholics consider the body of Jesus when blessed by a priest), altars, pews, chalices and whatever else a Catholic church needed.
My brothers and I spent years working in the family business. As a young girl, one of my favorites things was my father sending me to the back storage room to retrieve things for him. (He kept the room locked because he stored his Playboy collection in there.)
It took me until I was in my 40s to come out as a lesbian.
A controlling father, my deep need to feel loved by him, and my indoctrination into the church's lessons of punishment and hell scared me to death for years and kept me from coming out. Instead, I did all the good Catholic girl things — I got married to someone my father approved of and stayed married for years, even though I always knew I was attracted to women.
I broke from the Catholic Church when I left home at 18. I broke from religion and its judgments about hell and lesbians in my early 40s. Realizing no one could love me unless I loved myself only became apparent after I walked away from religion.
I've watched our latest pope from an emotional distance. I don't expect him to take an innovative and radical approach to gays and lesbians. If you think that, you're missing the obvious. Pope Francis continues to oppose same-sex marriage and gay adoption, even in the face of seeing his own country, Argentina, embrace and legalize them both.
I've yet to understand how one can be gay or lesbian and still practice Catholicism. Perhaps I don't need to understand what motivates someone to stay in a church that preaches "you are going to hell because of who you love."
Ultimately, I believe we are all here to grow in our understanding and experience of love.
God is love; every religion will tell you this. Maybe the Catholic church still exists today because it is creating a demarcation for what is love and what is not love.
I am lesbian; God created me lesbian; everything God does is good; God cannot do anything evil, bad or wrong; therefore, I am good. Being lesbian is good; the pope is wrong; God made Pope Francis; the pope is good, too; God is not Catholic or lesbian; therefore; all is good in my world. What about yours?