With so much recent attention on the extravagance of Germany’s Bishop of Bling, the second reading from this mornings office has a particular relevance, with its stress on the extent of world poverty, and the Christian obligation to share our wealth. Below is a short extract, that should be especially embarrassing for bishops indulging in luxurious lifestyles.
As we reflect on the tragedy that was 9/11, and as we as LGBT Catholics face the fierce resistance by Catholic bishops to marriage equality, let us recall eleven years later, that the first victim carried out of the ruins of the World Trade Centre was – a gay Catholic priest, Mychal Judge. He was not one of the unfortunate victims trapped inside the building at the time of the attack with no time to escape, but the chaplain to the New York fire department, who had entered the building after the attack, together with the firefighters, to render what assistance he could. In his story, are many lessons relevant to those of us who struggle with the challenge of living authentically as both Catholic, and queer.
In the immediate aftermath of the carnage, when it emerged that the popular Catholic chaplain had voluntarily entered the collapsing building to support the firefighters, there were many prominent Catholics calling for his bravery and highly regarded ministry to be marked by canonization – calls that rapidly subsided once it emerged that within his circle of friends and colleagues, it was well known that Mychal Judge was widely known to be gay.
The story of his death is well – known, and available from many on- line sources (for examples, see the links below). It is his life that I want to explore.
“Walking to the subway station after an AA meeting in Manhattan, Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest fully attired in his hooded brown monk’s habit , turned to a young man he had met at the meeting and exclaimed “Isn’t God wonderful!” When the young man asked the priest why, Father Mychal responded “Look at all the beautiful men out on a Friday night”.
What may sound like the introduction to another sordid story about the secret sexual lives of priests is anything but, for this is the tale of a man who took his vow of celibacy very seriously, yet still celebrated his sexuality openly. A man of God, but still just a man”.
The late 1980’s was a time when AIDS was taking a toll on the lives of countless gay American men. Later in his article, Sapienza describes how it was this that brought him into contact with Fr Mychal, soon after he had himself decided to commit to life in a religious community:
At a time when the Church should have come roaring into action – for this is where Jesus would surely have been with the outcasts and the sick – church leaders, instead, chose judgement over love. This was especially true in New York City, one of the places hardest hit with the virus, where Cardinal John O’Connor became the face of hate to the gay community.
While most Catholic clergy members kept their distance, Father Mychal took it upon himself to address the needs of the gay community at this time of crisis. He formed Saint Francis AIDS Ministry, one of the first Catholic AIDS organizations in the country. He, along with myself and three other professed religious men, began to minister to people with AIDS in area hospitals…
But in addition to his total commitment to service, through his AIDS ministry, or working with Dignity New York for gay Catholics, or through his regular employment as chaplain to New York’s fire fighters, he was also able to simply enjoy life – appreciating the male beauty around him, or in socializing with people from a wide range of backgrounds.
Whether sitting on a cot talking to a destitute man in a homeless shelter, shooting the breeze with a bunch of macho firefighters at a New York City firehouse, or shmoozing with some rich society matrons at a swanky benefit, Mychal had the amazing ability to socialize and empathize with everyone he met.
Sounds to me an awful lot like one Jesus of Nazareth!
There is important symbolism here – as a Catholic priest, openly gay within a limited circle, he was very far from unique. It is now widely accepted that a substantial proportion of Catholic priests are gay: many estimates put the number between a third and one half. Many are deeply closeted, a tiny number are fully out and open, and some, like Fr Mychal, are open to friends and colleagues, and even to bishops. This number is probably increasing, putting the bishops on “a steep learning curve”, as James Alison once put it to me, based on his discussions with them, in a range of localities. Publicly however, they seldom discuss the implications, or even acknowledge the phenomenon, just as there has been little serious attempt to engage fully and honestly with the idea that gay men, lesbians, or other queer people in loving and committed relationships can be good and faithful Catholics.
Just as the case for heterosexual priests, some of these gay priests are sexually active – but Mychal Judge, like others, was not, honouring his vow of celibacy. In this, he reminds us that outside the matter of orientation, gay priests are much like any others – and many loving same – sex couples have much in common with conventionally married ones.
But the most important symbol in his story, and the reason for his celebration as a saint of 9/11, is in the powerful example of authentic Catholicism that he displayed, in his life, and in his death – an example of unswerving commitment to service to others, in the name of the Lord, as reflected in his prayer:
Lord, take me where You want me to go,
let me meet who You want me to meet,
tell me what You want me to say,
and keep me out of Your way.
It is this, not slavish adherence to a sexual book or rules, that makes one a true Catholic.
The former archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said the Roman Catholic Church was “200 years out of date” in his final interview before his death, published Saturday.
Cardinal Martini, once favored by Vatican progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II and a prominent voice in the church until his death at 85 on Friday, gave his view of the church as a pompous and bureaucratic institution failing to move with the times.
“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,” Cardinal Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.
“The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops,” he said in the interview. “The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.”
Cardinal Martini, famous for comments that the use of condoms could be acceptable in some cases, told interviewers the church should open up to new kinds of families or risk losing its flock.
“A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children.” he said. “A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off, but also her children.”
Andrew Sullivan is an author and journalist who regularly appears on national television and whose commentary is featured in major national publications. He is a leading advocate of same-sex marriage.
“The most successful marriages, gay or straight, even if they begin in romantic love, often become friendships. It’s the ones that become the friendships that last.”
Andrew Sullivan was born in South Godstone, a small town in southern England, in 1963. After earning a B.A. in modern history from Oxford University he received a fellowship to study at Harvard University, where he earned a masters degree in public administration and a Ph.D. in government.
In 1986, he began at The New Republic (TNR) and in 1991, he was named the magazine’s editor, the youngest in its history. In the five years Sullivan was at the helm, the magazine’s circulation grew and advertising revenues increased. Sullivan expanded TNR’s sphere beyond politics to cover such cultural topics as same-sex marriage and affirmative action. He created a stir by publishing excerpts from the controversial study on race and IQ, The Bell Curve.
In the 1990’s Sullivan became known for his writing on gay issues. His article “The Politics of Homosexuality” has been called the most influential article of the decade in gay rights. Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality was the first book to advocate civil marriage rights for gay couples. Sullivan also publishedLove Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival and edited a reader,Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con.
As a practicing Catholic, Sullivan has challenged the Roman Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality. In Virtually Normal he takes the position that the Bible forbids homosexuality only when it is linked to prostitution or pagan ritual.
Sullivan started his blog, The Daily Dish, in 2000. His articles have appeared in The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Postand Esquire. He is a regular guest on The Chris Matthews Show, Charlie Rose, Anderson Cooper 360°, Meet The Press, Face the Nation, Nightline, NPR’s Fresh Airand Larry King Live.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino defeated a former world boxing champion and leaders of the Catholic Church yesterday as lawmakers chose to advance 14-year- old legislation to fund free family planning.
The House of Representatives voted to end debate on a bill that would provide free contraceptives to stem unwanted pregnancies in a country where population growth is twice the Asian average. Bishops and world welterweight boxing champion Manny Pacquiao led criticism of the proposal on religious grounds, testing the political clout of church leaders who helped Aquino’s late mother rise to power in 1986.
“This has been a longstanding battle for a Philippine church which has, for most of its history, been dominated by the more conservative faction among its clerics,” said Julius Bautista, a visiting fellow at the National University of Singapore. “The passage of this bill would be the latest setback in a larger political landscape in which the church is losing the ability to influence policy.”
Endorsement of the bill, which still requires a final House vote and Senate approval, would mark a victory for Aquino, whose approval rating among the Philippines’s 104 million people remains at about 70 percent after two years in office. The United Nations has said it will help reduce poverty among the 20 million people living in slum conditions as the country becomes wealthier with annual economic growth of more than 5 percent.
Pope Sixtus IV appoints Platina as Prefect of the Library, by Melozzo da Forlì
Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484), born Francesco della Rovere, was notable enough to have the Sistine Chapel named after him. Like Julius III with Innocenzo, Sixtus made his lover Petro Riario – who was also his nephew – a cardinal. According to Crompton, this time writing in his monumental history Homosexuality and Civilization, Sixtus was labeled a “sodomite” in the dispatches of the Venetian ambassador and the diaries of Vatican insiders Stefano Infessura and Johann Burchard. Another nephew, Giuliano della Rovere, later achieved infamy as the “terrible pope” Julius II (1503-1513), Sixtus IV (1414-1482), is remembered for his art patronage, which included the erection and first decorations of the Sistine chapel. Among the artists most prominent in his reign was the Florentine homosexual Botticelli.This pope favored his scheming nephews, one of whom himself became pope under the name of Julius II. However, Sixtus was most devoted to another nephew, Raffaele Riario, whom he made papal chamberlain and bishop of Ostia. He elevated to the cardinalate a number of other handsome young men.
Both within Catholic and Protestant circles, there were widely spread rumors about the homosexual liaisons of Sixtus IV (Francesco Della Rovere, 1414-84; reigned 1471-84); many of these were recorded by the chronicler Stefano Infessura (c. 1440-1500). Among the young men whom Sixtus is supposed to have favored is Giovanni Sclafenato (d. 1497), whom he appointed Cardinal and bishop of Parma. The inscription on Sclafenato’s tomb in Parma Cathedral–declaring that he was appointed Cardinal because of “his loyalty, industry, and other gifts of the spirit and the body”–lends support to allegations that his physical endowments helped to inspired the favors that the Pope extended to him.
Despite the scandalous rumors spread about his personal conduct, Sixtus was an effective leader, and he succeeded both in strengthening the temporal power of the Catholic Church and in halting temporarily the advances of Protestantism. He is responsible for establishing as dogma several fundamental aspects of Catholic belief, including the sanctity of Christ before the Resurrection.
Today, he is perhaps best remembered as an outstanding patron of the arts; he was responsible for initiating the physical rehabilitation of the city of Rome, which was continued by pontiffs in the early sixteenth century. He undertook the construction of the Sistine Chapel (1471-80) and the decoration of its walls (1481-2) with frescoes of biblical scenes by leading artists of the day, including Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Cosimo Rosselli.
Sixtus IV has been accused of having had male lovers, the basis of this being the diary records of Stefano Infessura who recorded documented episodes, but also unsubstantiated rumours. He was accused of awarding benefices and bishoprics in return for sexual favours, and nominated a number of young men as cardinals, some of whom were celebrated for their looks. While it is indisputable that Sixtus favoured his relatives in the hope of having faithful executors of policy; there is less evidence of direct corruption or favouritism. The exception may perhaps be Giovanni Sclafenato, who was created a cardinal according to the papal epitaph on his tomb for “ingenuousness, loyalty and his others gifts of soul and body”. The English theologian John Bale attributed to Sixtus “the authorisation to practice sodomy during periods of warm weather”. However, such accusations by Protestant polemicists can be dismissed as attempts at anti-Catholic propaganda.
More than 70 Catholic priests and deacons gathered at a London church yesterday to pray, share concerns, and discuss the future of the Church.
The meeting at St John’s Anglican Church, Waterloo, was called following a letter in the Tablet (2 June 2012) by seven priests, speaking of the ‘universal call to holiness in Christ’ for all the baptised made by the bishops at their November 2011 conference, and their desire to promote ‘a culture of vocation’ within the corporate identity of the Catholic Church, ‘marked by a confident Catholic faith’. The authors called for a more active encouragement of lay people in the work of the Church, and expressed concern that the call for collegiality made by Vatican II has not been realised.
After an opening prayer, the assembly sang Veni Sancte Spiritus and there was a short period of silence.
Fr Joe Ryan, north London parish priest and chair of Westminster Justice and Peace said he was glad to be part of the process of “building up the body of Christ” by attending the meeting. Fr Paul Saunders from Southwark Diocese said he saw it was “part of our stewardship” to pass on and develop the teachings of Vatican II.
Fr Patrick McLaughlin who spent years in peace and reconciliation at Corrymeela in Northern Ireland quoted Antony Di Mello who spoke of the need to “combine loyalty and obedience with creativity and confrontation”. At Corrymeela, he said, they had endeavoured to work collaboratively with people from different communities – “opening up spaces where people could be listened to with respect and gentleness”. The result, he pointed out, was that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness eventually came to work together.
In a brief presentation, theologian Mary Gray spoke of her overwhelming sense of priests with a deep love of the Church but with great concerns for the future, with an ageing priesthood, declining vocations and loss of young people. There had a been euphoria after Vatican II, she said, but this had been followed by a great sense of disappointment.
“We could not have expected the failure to implement the teachings of Vatican II and the backlash that has followed”, she said. “People are confused. They see married former Anglican priests with families being ordained but Catholic seminarians cannot marry and there is no discussion about this.”
Underlying all this, she said, was the fact that people are afraid to speak, or be seen as critical in any way, for fear of very serious censure.
She advised: “As St Ignatius said: ‘go where the energy is good’. And that is – the monasteries, convents, and organisations like CAFOD”. She also advised people to express their views. Quoting Catherine of Siena she said: ‘I see that the world is destroyed through silence.’