by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.
Benjamin: Unlike my siblings, I did not attend Catholic grammar and middle school. I attended public school, so my early Catholic formation took place in catechism class at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, Valley Stream, New York. I also went to Church every Sunday and during every religious holiday.
Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.
Benjamin: During high school I taught CCD to children with special needs, and also classes during the week. I joyed in selecting St. Anthony of Padua as my confirmation saint. I went on a few weekend retreats with the Diocese of Long Island. I grew a prayer life, and embedded myself in life with a God who loved me into creation. I developed a devotion to Mary, and to counseling me peers who had no faith, encouraging them that God loved them and that God’s love is everywhere.
Dr. Knight: You went to college and joined the seminary. How did you make that decision?
Benjamin: It took years of prayer and waiting and finally discerning to join the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits in 2005. During that time, I ruled out joining some conservative religious orders and the Diocese of Long Island because they could never accept me as an openly gay seminarian. I refused to hide my sexuality, knowing of God’s love of me, that God created me in his image and likeness, and I was also aware of the harm caused by the Church’s anti-gay theology, even today the Church refuses to bless same-sex unions. Ultimately, I had to be certain, as much as one could be, that the Jesuits were not going to force me back into the closet. It took much risk, but it was worth because I lived as a Jesuit for nearly 10 years.
Dr. Knight: You were called by God to be of service to him in an unique way. What is the significance of your call to be a follower of Christ as a writer?
Benjamin: As I was departing the Jesuits I remembered my discernment, that the order was supportive of me entering their formation program as a gay Jesuit. Over time, it became increasingly clear that the order was disingenuous with me, that they had led me to believe that they fully accepted me as a gay Jesuit, but only if I was quiet, remained closeted, and did nothing to raise awareness about how the Church’s anti-gay rhetoric contributes to LGBTQ youth homelessness in the USA and around the world.
When I left, I asked where were my gay Jesuit brothers, where was their support, their love? It was nowhere to be found, they abandoned their community, perhaps because of internalized homophobia. It was other lay people, especially the writer Robert Waldon who encouraged me be a voice for Christ’s voiceless, the LGBTQ community, to write and to speak truth to power. I took that material to prayer, contemplated it, meditated on it, like any son of St. Ignatius of Loyola might. The grace: be like Christ, and write to encourage the Roman Catholic Church to fully accept and to fully welcome LGBTQ people, no questions asked. That was 2014.
Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally as you realized the importance of attending to your uniqueness at a LGBTQ person?
Benjamin: I knew I was gay from early adolescence. I knew God created me in God’s image and likeness, what I did not know was that the Jesuits were going to refuse to let me come out as a gay Jesuit, to publicly support the LGBTQ as an openly gay priest. I wanted to confront the firing of lesbian and gay employees and volunteers, social sins like those in Uganda, Russia and elsewhere, systemic evils that thwarted the flourishing of LGBTQ people, that forced them to the margins despite the words-only tonal shifts of Pope Francis. There remains a chasm between those empty words, no promises, no action.
Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts?
Benjamin: My life is a mosaic of the gifts God has given me, those realized by and in and with my relationship with God’s son, Jesus.
Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being a LGBTQ person?
Benjamin: I offer people the hope that they do not need to remain in or think they belong to the Roman Catholic Church, that it’s not the Church that gives them faith, but rather God, who made them, it is they who are Gods and with God, and through prayer, and their Baptism, that they can discern like me to leave a Church and to find a new home that is fully welcoming, though as equally imperfect.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church? How are we doing on inclusion?
Benjamin: To grow, to evolve, the Church needs to spend time with Critical Race Theory and the Black Lives Matter Movement. I left the Roman Catholic Church because there is no inclusivity. What will happen when Pope Francis resigns or dies in office? He has done nothing to change the dogma, or doctrine, he has over-focused on issues of environment, yes those are important, but aren’t matters of the reception of communion or same-sex sacramental marriage pressing?
In 2020-2021, Pope Francis punted issues of same-sex unions to the State’s – Poland is anti-gay, and a Catholic country – how will they resolve this complex theological issue. It is sad that a Church that has made a case for transubstantiation, cannot investigate homosexuality theologically, there is no interest in resolving this matter, or rewriting the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is troubling that priests can bless guns, boats and water but not same-sex unions.
Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a person understanding who he is and what he needs to do?
Benjamin: The joys are that life can continue well and beyond the pews of Roman Catholic Churches, that as an Episcopalian I can purse right relationships with God, self and others. When an Episcopal Deacon married me and my husband Willian, I knew my discernment was of God.
Dr. Knight: As a LGBTQ person what are some of the tasks that you perform/pray?
Benjamin: I pray, attend mass, do works of mercy and work as a social worker in the Lord’s vineyard. I completed my dissertation at Teacher’s College, Columbia University on the development of a public school program of character formation based on the pedagogical philosophy of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
Thank you so much for offering us this interview and letting us see all the good works that the LGBTQ do for us all.