Remembering Fr. Howard Hall, Pioneer of Catholic LGBT Ministry

From a personal recollection by Francis DeBernardo, of New Ways Ministry:

Father Howard Hall, one of the pioneers of LGBT ministry in the Catholic church, has passed away from pancreatic cancer.  Fr. Hall was instrumental in developing diocesan ministry to LGBT people in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he was involved in the work of so many of the national Catholic organizations that work for justice and equality for LGBT people:  Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, New Ways Ministry, Fortunate Families, and Dignity.

I had the pleasure of meeting Howard on several occasions over the years, and he was always a gentle and joy-filled presence.  My greatest memory of him comes from the summer of 2000 when I spent two weeks doing New Ways Ministry workshops in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Howard was instrumental in helping us set up and promote the workshop I conducted in his hometown of Baton Rouge.  It is a testimony to the great groundwork that he did there that this workshop was one of the best attended that I have conducted in 18 years of this ministry.

Like many people, I will remember Howard for his great kindness and generosity.  While I was planning that trip to the Gulf Coast, Howard realized that it would be a grueling schedule for me, as I spent each day traveling and doing a program for almost two weeks straight.  To alleviate the stress, Howard offered me use of his small cabin in the countryside not far from Baton Rouge for two days of solitude and silence.  It was a modest, cozy place, and I’ll never forget the peace that I experienced there or the generosity of the priest who provided it.

via   Bondings 2.0.

Even today, it is extremely difficult for a gay priest to come out to more than a few close friends – and even that is not easy. It is even more difficult for those working in parish ministry, and outside a supportive religious order. Yet, it is striking in Father Hall’s story, that as a parish priest, he began reaching out to gay and lesbian parishioners as long ago as the early ’70’s, some forty years ago, and in 1973 launched one of the first Dignity chapters, based in his Baton Rouge parish. He has also worked extensively in LGBT ministry with other organizations, such as New Ways, CALGM, Fortunate Families, and PFLAG.

There is still a long, long way to go on the path to full inclusion for queer Catholics, but we have come a long way already, from the dark days when “gay Catholic” was simply assumed to be an impossible oxymoron. Today, we have widespread acceptance by ordinary Catholics in the pews, who believe that homosexuality is simply not a matter of morality, recognition by many professional moral theologians that official teaching needs a drastic overhaul, and a shift in emphasis by many bishops from the Catechism prohibition on “homosexual acts”, to the accompanying Catechism inistence on “dignity, compassion and respect”.

This shift over the last half century would not have been possible without the brave work of the early pioneers – like Fr Howard Hall.

(For more extensive biographical information, see his profile on the LGBT Religious Archives Network.)

Related Books:

Arpin, Robert L:  Wonderfully, Fearfully Made: Letters on Living With Hope, Teaching Understanding, And Ministering With Love, from a Gay Catholic Priest With AIDS

McNeill, John:  Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair 

McGinley, DuganActs of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Texts 

Murray, PaulLife in Paradox: The Story of a Gay Catholic Priest 

Stuart, Elisabeth: Chosen: Gay Catholic Priests Tell Their Stories

 Wagner, Richard: Secrecy, Sophistry and Gay Sex In The Catholic Church: The Systematic Destruction of an Oblate Priest

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