Why a Same-Sex-Attracted Catholic Spoke Out Against ‘Pride Mass’ and in Defense of Church Teaching
Anna Katherine Howell, a convert from the Episcopal Church, took a public stand.
Catholic convert Anna Katherine Howell’s viral tweet asking Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington to cancel a parish “Pride Mass” highlighted the struggles of same-sex-attracted Christians who live in accordance with the teachings of the Church.
Howell, a 31-year-old convert from the Episcopal Church, talked to CNA about the path that led her to take a public stand on the Pride Mass celebrated June 14 at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown.
The graduate theology student at Franciscan University of Steubenville has experienced same-sex attraction her entire life but has embraced God’s forgiveness, converted to Catholicism, and chosen to live in accord with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
“I lived a horribly sinful life, including a great deal of promiscuity, an addiction to pornography, and a same-sex ‘marriage’ at age 26,” Howell wrote to Cardinal Gregory. “I am not proud of any of this, nor do I celebrate it. What I celebrate is my repentance, conversion, and sincere amendment of life through the grace of Our Lord.”
“I am asking you with all my heart as your sister in Christ to please put a stop to the Pride Mass,” she said, warning that the Pride Mass “will do no good and a great deal of harm.”
“People will be confused or misled about what we teach and believe in a time when it has never been more important to be clear about what we teach and believe,” she wrote to Cardinal Gregory.
In an interview with CNA, Howell explained why she thinks celebrating LGBT “Pride” is harmful.
“When the Church is involved in ‘pride,’ scandal is unavoidable,” she said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense” (2284).
By embracing LGBTQ+ ideology and labeling people as “gay,” “bisexual” or “transgender,” Howell said Catholics reduce one another to their sins rather than truly seeing others as God does.
“We’ve got to quit using their terminology; we’ve got to quit conflating people with their sin,” Howell asserted.
“I don’t want to be called by my sin. I don’t think any sinner wants to be called by their sin,” she said. “The devil knows our name but calls us by our sins. God knows our sins but calls us by our name.”
Though the overwhelming reaction she has received online has been positive and supportive, Howell said she has also received much more hatred than she expected.
“[I’ve been told] that I’m very evil and hateful and genocidal,” Howell shared. “But ‘blessed are you when others hate you because of me.’ What can I say? It’s part of the cross; it’s part of what I’m being called to do.”
“I’m not anti-anyone,” Howell continued. “We use the word ‘love’ in a very disordered way nowadays, and the word ‘good’ as well. ‘Love’ means affirmation, and ‘good’ means getting my way. Whereas, in reality, love means to will someone’s good, and good means ultimate flourishing.”
“We cannot be unclear or mushy about the fact that homosexual acts are inherently gravely sinful,” Howell said.
“But from that love, we must then be exceptionally clear about God’s call to same-sex-attracted people, which is chastity. Just like his call to everyone, which is chastity, which is holiness, which is a life as a Catholic where we’re devoted to God, ordered toward flourishing, and ultimately ordered toward a full experience of God in the Beatific Vision.”
Howell entered a civil marriage with another woman and did not separate from her until the summer of 2019.
Though her thinking was still very much in line with LGBTQ+ ideology, Howell started studying theology at Belmont Abbey in January 2020 to start the process of becoming an Episcopal priest.
It was during this time that her academic adviser began inviting her to join his family on Sundays for Mass and lunch. She always felt loved and welcomed by her adviser’s family, even though they were Catholic and knew she was same-sex-attracted.
Finally, Howell asked her adviser to explain the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexual marriage and was surprised by his logical response.
“He talked very logically and rationally without attacking or disrespecting,” Howell said. “It was uncomfortable in that I was being challenged and that is never comfortable, but he wasn’t unkind at any point. He was also not unclear at any point. At no point did he leave me doubting what the Church taught.”
At the end of it, Howell said she started to cry. Her adviser was concerned he had been too harsh, to which Howell said she responded: “No, I think I’m wrong.’”
“I started to see what I now call ‘the grid,’” Howell said. “With Catholicism there’s a whole kind of underlying logical framework and every belief and every position fits into that framework and kind of interlocks.”
She began attending daily Mass and started RCIA to join the Church. She selected her Italian professor, who was also a devout Catholic but single like her, to be her godmother (Howell received a conditional baptism due to issues with documentation of her baptism in a non-Catholic church).
The night before her first confession, Howell said she felt suddenly enveloped by a deep sense of darkness and despair.
“I don’t know if it was a demonic attack or a panic attack or some combination of both, but I just fell into this intense despair,” Howell said.
She began hearing voices in her head saying: “This is too much,” “You can’t be forgiven,” and “You’re too bad; you’ve run too far from God.”
Howell shared: “I remember crying out to God that night and saying, ‘God, if you really can deliver me, if you really can set me free, if I really can leave everything on this list in the confessional tomorrow and be made new, I will never, ever stop talking about it. I will never stop telling people what you set me free from.’”
After finishing her first confession, Howell said she had an “incredible feeling of lightness, calm and peace.”
“I just knew that God had come through on his end of the bargain,” Howell added.
Howell believes that from bishops to individual parishes, the Church needs to clearly “talk about these issues and help people understand what the Church teaches.”
“I would love to see ministries like Courage expanded,” she added.
Though she has never been a part of the Courage ministry for same-sex-attracted Catholics, Howell believes it does a good job at focusing on embracing chastity and true Catholic teaching.
“I’d love for there to be a [Courage] chapter in every parish or at least in every town,” she said. “And I’d like it to be more known who they are and what they do, so that more people have access to that kind of support if they need it.”
“I honestly think it’s hard for single adults generally in the Catholic Church, whatever your disposition,” she added, noting how society’s concept of chastity, love and goodness have all become warped.