“God’s Tricksters” at New York Pride.
St Francis Xavier church in New York ranks alongside the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in San Francisco as one of the world’s best known parishes with an explicitly welcoming and inclusive ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. New York’s annual Pride Parade is the oldest and best known. It is entirely appropriate that for the past dozen years, parishioners from St Francis have joined the parade, with a banner proudly proclaiming the name of the church. This year, they marched as before – but the banner was blank.
This year, as for the past 12 years or more, parishioners from St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church have marched under their church banner in New York’s colorful Gay Pride parade.
But this year, there was a difference.
Their banner was blank, missing the name of the church.
New York’s Archbishop Timothy Dolan asked the church’s pastor to keep St. Francis’ name out of the picture.
The parish was told that the archdiocese’s spiritual leader was concerned the church might be seen as endorsing some elements of the gay pride march that may advocate a promiscuous lifestyle
This argument, that participation in the parade somehow endorses the “promiscuity” of some other participants, is entirely spurious, as anybody who has ever participated in a Pride march will recognize. The whole point of Pride is a celebration of diversity. To suggest that Catholics who participate are endorsing promiscuity is as absurd as suggesting that the leather dykes, near naked disco dancers and drag queens are endorsing the religious observance of the Catholics. Instead, participation announces that there is another path for LGBT Catholics, that the overtly in your face lifestyles that the bishops find so objectionable, is not the only way to be gay. In London, we at the Soho Masses have found that marching in the London Pride parade is the most effective means we have to reach out to disengaged Catholics of our community who have drifted away from the church. Every year, we find some people attending our Masses after Pride who have not been inside a Catholic church for years, even for decades.
What the bishop is really concerned about here is not the unlikely link to alleged promiscuity, but to the simple fact of honesty as gay Catholics. This is all of a piece with the case of the Canadian altar server, whose case was “settled” with a sermon by the bishop on the need for “tolerance” – but who is still not permitted to serve at Mass, purely because he is gay. It is of a piece with the issue discussed last week by Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage, of the supposed welcome of gay and lesbian staff at Catholic colleges and universities – as long as they are strictly closeted. It is of a piece with the objections to administering communion to wearers of the Rainbow Sash, who are told that they are welcome to receive communion – as long as they do not openly identify as gay.
Vatican doctrine insists that the Church is not opposed to “homosexual persons” (who must be treated with dignity, respect and compassion), but only to “homosexual acts”, and to the “condition”, which is somehow “disordered”. The problem is, that these are impossible distinctions. The attempt to make them assumes that the only “homosexual acts” are genital – quite overlooking that other acts by homosexual persons, such as attending Mass at St Frances, are also “homosexual acts”. It also ignores the simple fact that insisting it is in order to “be” homosexual, but not to “do” homosexual, makes as much sense as insisting that it is in order to be left-handed – but not to write left -handed.
The real problem here concerns honesty. Many queer Catholics know from personal experience that they can find acceptance. welcome and understanding in many parishes, and from many priests and bishops – as long as they remain “discreet” and unobtrusive: closeted. But to live a life of secrecy, we know from psychology, is bad for one’s mental health, while bad psychology, John McNeill constantly reminds us (eg, in Taking a Chance on God), is bad theology.
18. The Lord Jesus promised, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (Jn. 8:32). Scripture bids us speak the truth in love (cf. Eph. 4:15). The God who is at once truth and love calls the Church to minister to every man, woman and child with the pastoral solicitude of our compassionate Lord. It is in this spirit that we have addressed this Letter to the Bishops of the Church, with the hope that it will be of some help as they care for those whose suffering can only be intensified by error and lightened by truth.
Yet “the truth” on the subject is precisely what the document notoriously fails to do, and what the Vatican and bishops resolutely do not allow gay and Catholics to speak about themselves and their own lives. Fortunately however, the Catholic Church is far bigger than the Vatican and the bishops, and many ordinary Catholics take seriously the the Scriptural injunctions to “speak the truth in love”, and to preach the Gospels to all, even in the face of opposition from some bishops.
Here in London, the Soho Masses were presented with an impossible challenge when the Cardinal Archbishop authorised our move from our previous base in an Anglican church building into a Catholic parish: to present Catholic teaching “in full”, but “without ambiguity” (impossible, because church teaching “in full” includes many internal contradictions and ambiguities), and to ensure that the Masses are strictly “pastoral”, not “campaigning” – but these overlap, and cannot be simply separated. For Pride, we get around this by ensuring that as a formal group, the Masses have nothing to do with the parade march, and simply man an information stall at Trafalgar Square, the main focus of the Pride celebration. Two other organisations for gay Catholics, which have no ties at all to the diocese or the institutional Church, march instead with banners proclaiming their identity as gay/ lesbian /trans Catholics. As it happens, the bulk of the people marching in this group, as individuals, just happen to be active members of the Soho Masses congregation.
St Francis has likewise found a way around Archbishop Dolan’s request. As noted above, they marched this year with their usual banner – but left it blank. Instead, they wore t-shirts with the St Francis name and logo, and distributed leaflets to the crowd, thus complying with the letter of the request, but still fulfilling their obligation to evangelise.
Virginia Mollenkott calls the strategy “God’s Tricksters“.
- Shifting the Focus to the Real Issues . . . Live on Fox News! (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- “Communion” and Catholics for Equality (queering-the-church.com)
- Continued Silence of U.S. Catholic Leaders: Conversation about Gay Teen Suicide (and Lack of Moral Leadership) in American Catholicism (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- A “Culture of Life” and Ferment in the UK Church. (opentabernacle.wordpress.com)
- Denial of Communion in Minnesota: In Conflict with Church Teachiung. (queering-the-church.com)