The format of “Living True” is a familiar one in religious publishing, a collection of meditations and remembrances on a common theme, aimed at others treading similar paths who might benefit from them.
The authors and potential audience of this volume, edited by St. Louisans Margaret O’Gorman and Anne Peper Perkins, is an unusual one: Roman Catholic lesbians. They are a subset of subsets, a minority within a minority.
The Roman Catholic Church is a denomination in which the higher ministries remain closed to women, and in which, officially, lesbians, like other homosexuals, are considered “intrinsically disordered.” The hierarchy has sometimes seemed more concerned with protecting priestly predators than with the pain of parishioners.
In 21 entries, bracketed by O’Gorman’s reflections as a nun (she’s a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary), writers recount their lives and explore their spirituality. They’ve been called “a disgrace to God,” rejected by both church and their families. They’ve considered suicide, tried to sublimate their true natures in conventional marriages or by taking religious vows. They’ve explored other Christian denominations and other forms of spirituality, from American Indian traditions to Buddhism to more recent creations. They all continue to identify with their Roman Catholic origins; the fortunate ones have found priests and parishes that accept them as themselves.
The project started in St. Louis, but the editors cast their net for authors from around the country. Perhaps the most touching of these stories comes at the very end of the book, Wisconsin-born sociologist Sheila Nelson’s “Catholic to the Core: On Refusing to Leave Home.” She entered a convent at the age of 14, began a new journey at 31, and made a smooth transition to a new life as a laywoman within her church.
“So, no, I’m not leaving my church,” she writes. “I certainly understand my brothers and sisters who need to go because of the intensity of the hurt, the reality of the abuse, the absence of the nourishment they so desperately need. But I feel God’s call to stay right where I am, to sink my roots ever deeper, to renew my commitment daily. … As for me, this is where I am finding my God. This is who I am. How could I ever go anywhere else?”
“Living True” should provide spiritual sustenance for other gay Roman Catholic women seeking their own paths to God.
‘Living True: Lesbian Women Share Stories of Faith’
Edited by Margaret O’Gorman and Anne Peper Perkins
Published by PenUltimate Press, 184 pages, $17.95