Same-Sex-Attracted Catholics Decry Papal Comments on Same-Sex Unions

Three men who are striving to live out the Church’s authentic teachings on sexuality explain why the controversy is so damaging for them.

Pope Francis appearing in the documentary "Francesco" with original subtitles.
Pope Francis appearing in the documentary "Francesco" with original subtitles. (photo: Screenshot / Francesco)

More than a week has passed since Pope Francis’s comments seemingly calling for civil unions for homosexuals debuted in the film Francesco.

While the news of his remarks was praised in some quarters, many Catholics have been left confused since the Pope’s words appeared to be at odds with Catholic teaching as stated in a 2003 document published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. One group that has particularly been affected by the Popes’ comments are those who live with same-sex attraction (SSA) but choose to live the virtue of chastity, in conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Scripture and Tradition.

For them, the news was jarring at best and devastating at worst.


Reaction to the News

“When I heard the news, I had just left my house and was walking to the train station. I read the news on my cellphone. My heart immediately began to race,” said Rafael Fernandez, an executive with an American company in New York City who requested that his actual name be withheld. Fernandez left an active homosexual lifestyle one year ago and found peace and fulfillment in a life of chastity, centered on Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church.

“I felt like I was going down into a spiral and I was filled with all kinds of confused emotions. It was horrible. I thought to myself, ‘My God, I have worked so hard to leave the world of homosexuality, to change and serve God.’ I truly felt anguished and that the world was ending,” he said.

Paul Darrow was also upset about the news. Darrow went from living a jet-set life as an international fashion model, gay man and activist — to discovering God’s voice one day through Mother Angelica’s program on EWTN. He eventually left the gay lifestyle to live as a devout Catholic. He is a sought-after Catholic speaker, who has spoken all over the U.S., in France and at the Angelicum in Rome. Darrow is one of the subjects in the award-winning film Desire of the Everlasting Hills.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh no.’ Defenders of the Pope are saying that his comment was lost in translation and taken out of context. But the headlines in the media throughout the world seemed to scream, ‘The Pope endorses civil unions,’” said Darrow. “If this was the first time he caused such confusion with his statements about homosexuality, they would not have had the same impact on me, and on others, as they do now. But the latest re-surfacing of Pope Francis’ statements about civil unions has created confusion on top of confusion. The words ‘civil unions’ by themselves can cause confusion.” 

Particularly troubling for Darrow has been the silence at the Vatican, where the Holy See Press Office has refused to answer any requests for clarification from journalists accredited to the Holy See from around the world.

“Pope Francis has had seven days to clarify his statements and hasn’t,” said Darrow.

At the time of this article’s publication, the Holy Father had not provided any clarification regarding is remarks, nor had the Vatican provided any specific statement about the matter. However, it was reported that the Vatican Secretariat has circulated a letter to papal nuncios contextualizing the remarks as pertaining to the provisions of civil law, not to Church doctrine about the nature of marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

Richard Evans has a mixed reaction to Pope Francis’ comments. Evans was born and raised as a Catholic but left the Church when he was 15. After having lived as a Protestant and as an active homosexual, he came back into full communion with the Catholic Church as an adult. He currently blogs for Catholic Stand and The Public Discourse.

“On one hand, I respect the pontiff and his office,” said Evans. “I think sometimes, he makes off-the-cuff comments and when he does this, he is not making a pronunciation on doctrine. What is good is the welcoming sense he gives towards people with SSA. But what concerns me is that these comments lead people to believe that there may be a change (in Church teaching). The effect is that it will cause people to think that this lifestyle is okay and same-sex marriage is coming — but that is not in Scripture or Tradition.”


An Unappreciated Sacrifice?

For those who left an addiction to sexual sin, the papal comments feel like a rejection of their return to the Catholic teachings on chastity.

“I have worked so hard to change myself and become a different person from what I was,” said Fernandez. “I worked hard to change my values. All of a sudden, I felt like the Church was saying, ‘No, that’s okay. It’s fine. You could have stayed as you were.’ I felt totally lost and had flashbacks to all the things I used to do. But I also had flashbacks to all of the praying I had done, and all the spiritual things I had done in the last year. Was all that I did for nothing?”

For Darrow, the papal comments seem to lack any recognition of his and others’ struggles.

“Pope Francis should understand the huge sacrifice that my brothers and sisters (with same-sex attraction who are living chastity) are making for God,” said Darrow. “When we have conferences for the Courage apostolate, some of the wonderful speakers look out on us and say, ‘You are the last wall that hasn’t caved in. You are making an amazing sacrifice to be chaste.’ Pope Francis’ comments seem to imply that our sacrifice is for no reason at all. It seems that no one cares to reach out to us and even most Catholics don’t get it.”

The confusion that the papal comments have created are what bothers Evans the most.

“The press has gone nuts with this,” said Evans. “They are reporting this as though a very strong move has been made by the Church and implying that the next step will be same-sex marriage. Catholic teachings on this (the prohibition on same-sex marriage and civil unions) cannot be reversed. But reporters do not understand this, and it has bothered me.”


Why They Left the Church and Came Back

What keeps these men and women grounded is their faith in Jesus Christ and the Church he founded in the Catholic Church. All of them remember why they left and the peace they felt when they returned.

“I left Ecuador several years ago to come to the U.S. and have a better life,” said Fernandez. “But I fell into drugs, the gay lifestyle and excess. When you live the gay lifestyle in NY, many doors open to you. But, at the end, all you have is nothing. It is not real happiness. You lose your dignity. I got involved in very serious drugs — crystal meth — and 100% promiscuity. I was even offered a job to work in the field of pornography.”

None of this filled Fernandez and ultimately, he came to the conclusion that none of it had anything to do with love. 

“The gay lifestyle was about being a slave and being used by others. It hurts. I call my testimony ‘the darkness behind the rainbow’,” said Fernandez.

One year ago, Fernandez prayed to God to get him out of the lifestyle, which he came to believe was destroying him.

“And God began to work. Now, I work as an executive for a prestigious business. I don’t need psychotherapy. All I needed was Jesus. And He makes me happy. Now I don’t call myself gay or heterosexual. I call myself a child of God,” said Fernandez.

Darrow left the Church at 15 because life became centered on feeling good and enjoying worldly pleasures.

“Not long after graduating college, I went from loving the Catholic Church to hating it. My motto was live fast and die young,” said Darrow. “Seeking validation from others, especially handsome men, I became an international fashion model and hung out with rich, famous and beautiful people. I was sexually intimate with an embarrassingly huge number of men whom I met on five continents. Most of my friends had died from AIDS by the early 1990s. Living through the AIDS epidemic was like being a ninety-year old, watching all of his elderly friends passing away.”

During these years, Darrow also became a gay activist. 

“My friends and I used to make fun of heterosexual marriage. We called them ‘breeders.’ We’d also make fun of marriage and marriage certificates and say, ‘It’s just a piece of paper. Why do we need that?’”

But the call to come back to the Church for Darrow, came from an unexpected source: a nun he saw on TV who looked like a pirate.

“It started when I was on vacation in Palm Springs with my lover,” said Darrow. “I had just come back from a hard night of partying. I turned on the TV and was channel surfing when I suddenly saw an image of a nun with a patch over one eye. It was Mother Angelica on EWTN. I called my lover into the room and we started making fun of a stroke victim. When I was about to change the channel, I heard her say something so moving and so profound that it practically knocked me over. Mother Angelica had said something about God’s incomparable mercy and love.”

Over the next few week, Mother Angelica’s face kept popping up on the TV in Darrow’s house. 

“Little by little, I realized that I did not disagree with a single thing I heard her say,” said Darrow. “Before I knew it, I began to watch her in private because I was too embarrassed that someone would see me watching an elderly nun. It took a long time for me to get to the understanding I have today of the Church’s teachings — especially on chastity. It is because of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness that kept knocking on my heart, and because of the truth that I learned through Mother Angelica.”

Evans was gone from the Church for 35 years. He became an evangelical Protestant minister and was married for 12 years. 

“At a certain point, I began to reread the Bible to see what it said about homosexuality,” said Evans. “In the Protestant world — even though nobody was, at that time, saying that homosexuality is okay — but it does say that I can interpret the Bible according to my own understanding. So, it is not hard to interpret parts of the Bible to justify what you want. I eventually left my marriage.”

Evans lived as a homosexual and for 15 years was an activist for LGBT causes. The turning point for him happened at a rally in the state capital of Minnesota promoting same-sex civil marriage when a speaker began to berate the Bible. The speaker also asked all clergy to stand up.

“At that point, I just left. I felt that I loved my LGBT friends and Jesus. I wanted both. But I never wanted to not be serving God, so I prayed, ‘If I am choosing this and it is wrong, please show me,’ said Evans.

Evans ended up finding a book called Beyond Gay by David Morrison. In the book, Evans discovered that Morrison’s life had paralleled his: Morrison was a homosexual Christian involved in a Protestant church (the Anglican Church), who eventually converts to Catholicism. 

“He said something in his book which I had never heard before. He said that same-sex attraction is something that you have, it is not something that you are,” said Evans.

Evens went back to Church and started RCIA to receive the sacrament of confirmation. He was able to find a parish that was welcoming to him while not deviating from the teachings of the Catholic Church on homosexuality. 


The Courage Approach

For men and women with same-sex attraction, the apostolate known as Courage has been an anchor and a place of growth, where Catholic teaching is clear and compassionate.

“Courage is a Catholic Apostolate that ministers to men and woman with same-sex attraction who desire in their hearts to move beyond their homosexual identity to a more complete one in Christ,” said Darrow. “It uses a Catholic spiritual approach to growth in virtue, helping people with SSA grow in their faith and in their desire to embrace chastity, both physically and spiritually. I see it as ministry for sinners who, thanks to the Holy Spirit, now strive to be saints.”