Mary Anne Hennessey, a Gay Catholic, Leaves the Catholic Church

Young, Gay and Single Among the Nuns and Widows Who Left the Faith, a new book by University of Rochester historian Stephen Neill looks at the reasons why religious women leave active religious life for more secular forms of Christianity.

“For a while I felt as if I’d fallen into a trap,” recalls Mary Anne Hennessey, a librarian and mother of two from North Carolina.

In late 2012 and early 2013, Hennessey watched as her church-going mother became an Episcopalian. She was a devout Catholic as a child who, as a young adult, considered becoming a nun.

Then, within two years of making the decision to leave the Catholic Church, Hennessey, her children and even her dog became active members of the Christian denomination’s Episcopal congregation.

She admits her reasons were primarily intellectual. During her tenure as librarian at a nearby college, Hennessey read everything she could on the subject of religion. She came across the work of historians Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Laura M. Miller. She began to see how the Catholic-turned-Episcopalian faith was not only different from others, but also more of a complete package.

“I liked it so much better when I saw it that way,” says Hennessey, whose three-year tenure as a liberal Catholic priest ended in 2009 with her coming out as a gay woman of color.

Hennessey says she had to “rethink” her faith when she came to terms with the fact that she was no longer a Catholic. “I grew up as a Catholic, but I grew up as a gay person.”

In the decades since, gay and lesbian Catholics who have left the church in large numbers have emerged in the last few decades as a major issue in the church, while many other Catholics who have left religion for similar reasons have remained inside.

This chapter of the American religious landscape has emerged in the

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