The problem with being “caught in the middle”, and writing about it, is that it is all too easy to get caught up in the seriousness, the difficulties of it all. Fortunately, there are people who clearly recognise not only the problems and dilemmas, but also the ironies, and help us to laugh at ourselves. One such example is Scott Pomfret, who joyously and hilariously shares his story in “Since my Last Confession”
In this book Pomfret lays bare the multiple ironies of his own life in Boston 1994, at the height of the Catholic hierarchy’s campaign (unsuccessful) to overturn the recognition of gay marriage in that state. On the one hand, he is a lawyer and gay activist, married to an atheist husband with whom he share a part-time business writing and publishing soft porn gay romance novels. On the other, he is a regular worhipper at his local Catholic church (after deliberately rejecting the explicitly gay congregations available), where he has been a lector for several years. When invited to take a leadership role, joing the Lay Ministers Committee, Scott feels compelled to explain that
“there were things Father Francis should know before he formally made the offer to bring me aboard……In a rush of words, I confessed that I was gay and had a public role in the same sex marriage debate. “
But the response surprised him:
“The friars here at St Anthony’s are opposed to the Church’s teaching. We think it is inhumane……we think that the grace of marriage comes from the commitment, not from who the persons entering the marriage are.”
So here is the first irony: in a church which is officially clearly opposed to homosexual relationships, and especially to their recognition in marriage, clergy and local parishioners are very often accepting, even supportive.
Another irony comes from his atheist husband (also called Scott), and husband’s family – especially the grandmother, “Gram”, who is evangelical and “worried that we were all going straight to hell”- but loves the two in her own life. More, she loves (author) Scott’s naked chest. On the occasion of Scott’s first visit to Gram, at her lakeside camp in rural Maine,
“I emerged from the bedroom in my swim trunks, shirtless, with a towel slung over my shoulder. Gram darted toward me with surprising alacrity for an octogenarian. I dodged, but she thrust her face against my chest and nuzzled my chest hair.
” Gram!’ Scott scolded. ‘Men have been killed for less than that. Get away from my fur!’
Gram released me, chuckling uproariously, not the least embarrassed. She had the same taste in men as her grandson.”
One of the many delights of the book is the occasional camp explanation for those unfamiliar with the Catholic Mass, of the liturgy, vestments and assorted paraphernalia. The Mass is the liturgical re-enactment of the Last Supper, a meal, so it should not be a surprise that the whole procedure and personnel can be likened to a restaurant:
“Think of the church as a cloth-napkin restaurant. The priest is the chef. The acolyte is the holy busboy. The Eucharistic minister is the one who says, ‘I’m Wand, and I’ll be your servver today’. The usher is the maitre d’. The lector is the guy with a violin who serenades your table so you can’t get a word in edge-ways.”
and “what you’ll find at a properly set Eucharistic table:
- Ciborium: Soup bowl used to carry wafers for the consecration and distribution.
- Paten: Dinner plate that carries the presider’s portion. Since bread is all there is for dinner, there’s no need for a separate bread plate.
- Chalice: Wine glass.
- Cruets: just like those for salad dressing, but these hold water and wine respectively.
- Purificators: A napkin used to wipe holy schmutz off the edge of the chalice between recipients. ”
But there is also a serious side to the book. The narrative heart traces Scott’s lengthy and determined efforts to meet up with his arch-enemy, Cardinal O’Malley, the leader of Boston’s Catholics, and of the fight against gay marriage. Along the way, he finds himself in a near terminal marital row with his husband, and for a time starts to question his own place in the church. While uproariously, laugh out loud funny, it is also tender and sometimes heartbreaking. Along with the witty and camp observations about the Church, are hidden some profound truths:
From the Catechism:
Q. How do you know the Pope is infallible?
A. Because he said so. In 1870.
Still, (as the author says in his introductory note, “This is not an attack on the Church. It’s an invitation to laugh”.
Too bad, then that the institutional church has no sense of humour. Some time after the very successful publication of this book, Scott Pomfret was asked to stand down from this role as lector at St Anthony’s.
For more, including other reviews, and an opportunity to purchase, see Sergius & Bacchus Books, Since My Last Confession