ROME – In the context of a perceived pastoral opening to LGBT Catholics, spurred by Pope Francis’s unscripted remarks to a Chilean sex abuse victim promoting a welcoming and judgement-free attitude, a gay Catholic author and speaker on Wednesday promoted “another way.”
“I never understand why people are Catholic and reject the Catholic Church’s teaching,” said Daniel C. Mattson, author of the book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay, which he presented Wednesday in its Italian translation at Opus Dei’s Holy Cross University in Rome.
“Those people who want to change the Church’s teaching, let me show you the truth!” he added.
In the book, Mattson presents his own experience of when he realized he was gay and his struggle toward abstinence in his life. He rejects blanket mercy statements in favor of “compassion guided by the truth,” which, he said, called him back to the Church.
Mattson looks with a certain degree of skepticism at the off-the-cuff comments made by Francis regarding gay couples, including the recent revelation by a sex abuse victim from Chile alleging the pope told him in private that God made him gay and loves him just as he is.
“One thing I have always appreciated about the pope when he talks about this is that he says, ‘I am a son of the Church, and I believe what the Church teaches.’ Those have been on record,” Mattson told a small group of reporters upon exiting the conference.
The author pointed to the fact that Francis’s remarks in official situations have been very clear in reflecting official Catholic doctrine, rejecting the possibility of gay marriages, and stressing the virtue of chastity.
“I think what happened is that the press manipulates what he says to serve its own agenda,” Mattson said. “We have to come to defend the pope from the manipulations of what he has said. People have used him and his off-the-cuff remarks in an unfortunate way.”
He also stated that he would love the opportunity to see the pope personally and present his experience and how Church teaching has inspired and guided him in his life.
“When I was a young boy and I discovered that I was attracted to other young boys, I never thought that God would want me to write a book about my experience,” Mattson said as he began to recount his personal experience to the room full of priests, laity and media.
One of four children, Mattson was raised in what was an essentially Protestant family. He said that his first experience of same-sex attraction was the captain of the soccer team, who embodied the masculine and virile qualities that he felt he was lacking.
“I remember looking for ways to touch the muscles on his arm,” he said, adding that still he believed in God and His plan for his happiness, all the while being bullied and teased at school.
“I felt outside the brotherhood of boys,” Mattson explained. “In 5th grade I constantly compared myself to other boys, I’d imitate them because I didn’t think I knew how to do that.”
In adolescence, he said, “that desire to imitate became sexualized.” He became attracted to very athletic men and developed an addiction to pornography. He was still attracted to girls, he added, and planned to be married one day and have a family just like his parents.
But dating was hard for Mattson in high school, and he looked for refuge in music. He became skilled at playing the trombone and even became class president. “I wanted everybody to like me,” he said.
An adolescent growing up in Michigan, Mattson didn’t even know what “gay” meant until he was 16. He said he would cling to a quote from Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
He used his influence as class president to have a mural painted with this quote, visible just behind the athletes playing soccer in the school’s gymnasium.
When he left for college he took a summer job as a musician, and finally dated a girl. The relationship was brief and ended when she left him for another woman.
“This confirmed all my fears. That I was so unworthy that a woman would prefer another woman over me,” Mattson said. “I really hated myself.”
This signaled a breaking point for the young musician, who began to question whether God indeed had a plan for him. At 32, he said, he had his first homosexual experience.
“We always want the forbidden fruit even though we have been given the entire garden by God. But after eating the forbidden fruit, all we feel is guilt and emptiness,” he said.
Mattson had a year-long relationship with a man, which he ended once the desires of his youth for a married life resurfaced. When this too failed, he came out to his family, who at that time had converted to Catholicism and was actively involved in the Courage initiative, a global Catholic apostolate for gay people.
Mattson is today part of the Courage initiative and is featured in a documentary detailing the lives of homosexuals who live chastely.
His conversion to Catholicism, he said, happened during Mass with his family. He told attendees at the book presentation that the beauty of the incense, liturgy and ritual of the Catholic Mass overshadowed his experiences in the Protestant megachurches of his youth.
“The Church’s teaching has you identified as a beloved son of God, that’s who you are and that’s liberating for me,” he said. His book, he said, was written “for those who think you can ignore the teachings of the Church” and aims at presenting an alternative lifestyle for gay people, which he lives every day in his own skin.
“I’m still attracted to men, I think I will be until I’m dead. The question is what we do with these attractions,” he said.