Ron Belgau’s life is a testament to the fact that one can be both gay and committed to the Catholic Church’s sexual teaching. He elaborated on his belief that the Church’s teachings on sexual morality both are rooted firmly in the Bible and encouraged a life of great joy despite hardships in his October 22 talk, “My Alternative Lifestyle: On Being Gay and Catholic” at Jordan Auditorium in Mendoza College.
Drawing from his struggle to reconcile his sexual orientation with his Catholic faith, Belgau emphasized “the inadequacy of the world’s answers” to questions of fulfillment, and the great importance of friendship.
Our culture is incredibly shaped by “second hand Freudism,” argued Belgau, a Ph.D. candidate from St. Louis University. According to our society, he said, “the most important thing is that people be sexually fulfilled.” Instead, he argued that while sex plays a role in relationships, relationships cannot be reduced merely to sex: “We need to have a moral imagination. We obviously can’t choose anything we haven’t thought of. Sex is not the only way to have love and connection with other people.”
When he was 15 he found himself daydreaming about other men, but did not find it to be a problem:
“When I connected that the feeling I was having toward another male was what caused people to shout nasty insults, I marveled at how stupid people were,” he remembered. They didn’t realize that there is much more to love than sex, he said.
“I thought about having a life with a male. I didn’t actually see a problem with this. Yes, I had struggles with sex – everyone does. In fact, the other 15-year-olds around me were even more sexually adventurous than I was. ”
More than this, though, Belgau stated that he “had a desire to love and be loved. I wanted someone to love me more than anyone else in the world and vice versa. Someone who understood what I had gone through, the long loneliness…I wanted to grow old together.”
Belgau stated that Christians are deeply inconsistent in how they view homosexuality compared to their opinions on divorce, premarital sex, and other similar topics. Some Christian denominations have experienced major shifts over recent years in how they discuss contraception, premarital sex, and divorce.
“Now people put prior beliefs down to guilt and shame and are anxious to distance themselves from that puritan past,” Belgau noted. “I grew up with Protestants condemning homosexuality but ignoring these other things.”
He described an important moment in his reconciliation with Church teaching:
“The sexual revolution may be easier than Catholic teaching, but does it make people happier?” he asked. He considered the broken families around him, the drama of his high school friends, and the AIDS patients with whom his mom worked. “I thought that the Church’s teachings might actually protect me from an enormous amount of hurt,” he recalled.
Belgau’s conversion was unique in that “sola scriptura…[led] to Catholicism.” He perceived that the Bible – for example in 1 Corinthians 6, Ephesians 5, and Romans 1 – clearly advocated homosexual celibacy and he believed the Church’s teachings on sexuality more generally. But he found little support from Catholic friends or other Christians as he sought to figure out what he believed.
When he finally realized he agreed with the Church, his decision was sudden. He recalled his moment of epiphany, when he realized that “…a sexual relationship with another man would conflict with God’s will. It just happened. This suddenness I think is true of any big conversion. So this is just where I ended up.”
A further step toward acceptance of Church teachings resulted from a talk with a close friend who asked whether or not Belgau would consider serving as a missionary: “for the first time I thought I could serve Christ in vocation. Not having gay sex is not a vocation. Vocation can’t just be a no, but [must be] a much more fundamental yes.”
This did not mark the end of his struggle, however: “I still wrestle with the Church’s teaching on celibacy; it is not just something I decided and embrace always. But every time I come back and realize what’s at stake – profound participation in the life of God.”
In an interview with The Irish Rover following his talk, Belgau spoke about the incredible importance of friendship in his continued struggle.
“What I have found to be much more helpful than a support group model is simply developing a solid group of friends…friends who share my struggles…It’s sometimes easier not to be self-conscious when talking to others who know what I’ve been through.”
He said that his talk here at Notre Dame enabled “some students who have been faithfully following the Church’s teaching in isolation [to meet] others who shared both their struggles and their commitment to chastity.”
Belgau wrote a beautiful award winning piece about his personal journey in Notre Dame Magazine’s Summer 2004 issue, entitled: “My Alternative lifestyle: It’s a love that has wings, a counter-cultural calling that turns restraint into liberation.” It can be accessed online at magazine.nd.edu in the archives.
The Orestes Brownson Council, The Gender Relations Center, The Institute for Church Life, and the Knights of Columbus co-sponsored Belgau’s visit to Notre Dame.
Madeline Gillen is a junior history major in Welsh Family Hall. She wants to revisit the “Breaking the Mold” exhibit at the Snite. Email her if you’d like to join at firstname.lastname@example.org