Finding community in Mercy as Catholic and LGBTQ+

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By Carolyn Shalhoub, Mercy Associate

This story is the third in a series about the Sisters of Mercy’s journey with the LGBTQ+ community.

In 2017, at a direction-setting international meeting, the Sisters of Mercy committed to educationand engaged dialogue on gender identity and sexual orientation. How farsighted it was for the sisters to set out on this particular journey. Catherine McAuley would be proud. The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity workgroup (SOGI) grew out of this meeting. It was revolutionary for the Community, as well as for the individuals who came forward to tell their stories in panels at the various SOGI sessions conducted since 2019, including myself.

Several sisters stepped forward to tell their stories in a book, Love Tenderly: Sacred Stories of Lesbian and Queer Religious, edited by Grace Surdovel, IHM, New Ways Ministry, 2020. Many sisters whose stories were included in the book gave interviews and presentations. I believe it was an occasion for them to be publicly supported and held up. I know that the presentation I gave in a panel for a regional meeting of the Sisters of Mercy a few years ago in Farmington, Michigan, was a turning point for me. It was my official “coming out.” I was also on a panel at one of the SOGI gatherings, which, due to COVID, was held on Zoom. Each time I felt more at home with who I was.

SOGI programs continued via Zoom, and the video recordings of these sessions, available on the resource-rich SOGI page of the Sisters of Mercy website, kept the topic front of mind. The workgroup worked tirelessly to continue on the path of education and dialogue, each session advancing other aspects. For me, the various panels and presentations enhanced my personal knowledge as a lesbian Catholic woman and, as of 2019, Mercy Associate. I found “church” here.

I am the vice president of the DignityUSA chapter in Detroit. It came at an incredibly important time for me, as the Archdiocese of Detroit had taken several public steps to ban Dignity from Catholic space and had forbidden priests from presiding at liturgy with us. I feel like I am no longer part of the institutional church structure, yet I have people in the Dignity chapter to pastor. As COVID has eased, we celebrate Mass twice a month with a few brave priests. We identify as both Catholic and LGBTQ+.

Recently in Michigan some local bishops issued guidelines about transgender or gay students in the Catholic schools. Bishop John Doerfler of the Diocese of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula published the document “Created in the Image and Likeness of God: An Instruction on Some Aspects of the Pastoral Care of Persons with Same-Sex Attraction and Gender Dysphoria” on the diocese website. National groups like DignityUSA and Families with Dignity have responded to Bishop Doerfler and other inaccurate pronouncements, but church officials seemingly hold all the cards. Fortunately, this is not the case in every diocese.

In addition to continued education and dialogue, the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Associates, and Companions in Mercy, might next consider specific action, in light of each of the Critical Concerns, committed to addressing the treatment of LGBTQ+ persons by the church and society.

I don’t rely on the local church structure for my faith, though I studied at the local seminary and was an active volunteer for years in a vibrant local parish. My faith is nurtured as part of the Mercy community. I am grateful to the people I have met in person and via Zoom, especially the sisters who formerly lived at the McAuley Center in Farmington, Michigan, and my Michigan and national Mercy Associate friends. I don’t know exactly where this path will lead, but I trust my companions on this journey.