Queer and Catholic: Finding a place in the church

Christopher Browner is a practicing Catholic who also identifies as queer. So how does he square being queer and Catholic?

"I think it's a work in progress," Browner said.

He joined St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church on the Upper West Side because he and many others in the LGBTQ community feel welcome there. There's even a group called OSP — Out at St. Paul — that worships at the 5 o'clock mass on Sunday. 

Browner never questions his faith but sometimes struggles with its rules. The Catholic Church only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman.

"Sex and relationships are a core tenet of marriage and children — these are very important to the Catholic Church so that clearly comes into conflict with one's sexuality," Browner said. "I think it's something I'm working on — and work on all the time." 

Father Rick Walsh is the pastor at St. Paul the Apostle. 

"I think we are missing so much when we say 'no' because of what you're doing in your bedroom — it's just a shame," Walsh said. "We've always been sensitive to anybody who's different — our patron is St. Paul." 

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However, some in the LGBTQ community have not felt welcome in the Catholic Church. While progressives have applauded Pope Francis for calling on priests to welcome gay men and women with respect and sensitivity, the Vatican is firmly against priests blessing same-sex unions. These mixed messages raise concerns in Father Rick's congregation. 

"If the Vatican is not saying something publically that it's OK to be a gay person, to be a lesbian person, then what good is it for Father Rick Walsh says it's OK? Well, it is OK," Walsh said. "It really comes down to where are you fed spiritually? And we say come here and you will be fed." 

For Browner, a lifelong Catholic, leaving the church or rejecting his Catholic faith is simply not an option.

"I love my faith and I think that is a beautiful thing and it is so important to me," he said. "I don't want to leave."

So he stays, putting his faith in the divine ahead of his own desires.

St. Paul the Apostle Roman Catholic Church | 405 West 59th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019 | stpaultheapostle.org