“Worshipping in a Hate Crime?” A Catholic Straight Ally Disagrees.

Our straight allies are invaluable, and constantly growing in number, inside the churches as well as in the secular world. Without them, we would not have seen the progress towards equality and inclusion that I am constantly pleased to report on. I have written before of some specific evangelical allies, and of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who have spoken out publicly for us. One of the most prominent and hardest working members of our team at the Soho Masses is a straight woman. Every year, she spends most of the day at London Pride manning our information table, marching alongside us, or both. She will be there again today. I am certain that other queer worshipping communities elsewhere have similar valuable allies. Usually though, the people who speak up are identified church leaders. I found the story below, from a Catholic woman speaking up for her personal  motivation, inspiring.

A Catholic Presence at Minnesota Pride, 2008

A Catholic Presence at London Pride, 2007

Michelle Somerville, writing at Huffington Post, acknowledges the hurt that the institutional Catholic Church has inflicted and continues to inflict on its LGBT members, as it does on women.She points out however, that “the church”, which is much bigger than just its designated spokesmen in the “hierarchy”, does respect all comers, and that the church is capable of healing. It is to be part of this healing that she participates in her parish’s active LGBT ministry, including a stint manning a table at Pride. Here are some extracts:

A reader of my essay “Sex and the City of God” wrote the following in the Huffington Post comment field in response to my speculation on what might happen if every gay Catholic abandoned the Church for a month:

If every gay church worker, closeted or otherwise — music directors, nuns, priests, and lay ministers — were to call in sick for a month, Or just quit the RCC and join a church that respects them.

“Devon Texas” has a point, but like many women who remain in a church governed by misogynists, many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people believe they are part of a church that that can be healed — a church that belongs as much to them as to any of its members. While it is true that the Church hierarchy does not respect homosexuals, many gay men and women know that the people of the Church — who are the Church — do, for the most part, respect them.

…..

Technically speaking, every Roman Catholic church in the world welcomes gay people to the altar, so long as they do not have sex lives. Like many Catholics who refuse to be complicit in the hierarchy’s penchant for using the Eucharist as a cudgel, GLBT Catholics often disregard doctrine on the matter of being gay.

A year ago I wrote a bit about my work in Gay Ministry in an essay called “Born Again Catholic in Brooklyn”which appeared in the New York Times online. The following remark appeared in the comment field.

Still it’s different to admire the courage of a lesbian nun, but not be one. Try being gay in the church rather than being supportive of their ministry. It’s a less comfortable and viable position. More like worshiping in a hate crime.

Not being gay, I can’t know what it is to be gay in the Church. But I am not in “their” ministry — I’m in “our” ministry. We call it a ministry for “gay Catholics and their families”; I helped to build it, and I am needed in it because heterosexuals have a role in helping this change along. Furthermore, I think women and gay men and women are linked as victims of the hierarchy’s bigotry in a way I find slightly comparable to the way “Suffragettes” were connected to Abolitionists. The two causes weren’t identical, obviously, but there was psychological, political and spiritual overlap which inspired mutual support.

Am I “worshiping in a hate crime?” I don’t believe so. But I’m never sure. I do know that each December 1st, for three years running, some guy who rarely sets foot in a church has approached me at the end of our annual World AIDS Day Interfaith Memorial Service to tell me how grateful he is for the opportunity to remember friends he lost to AIDS in a house of worship. … I don’t believe we are “worshiping in a hate crime.” I think we are worshiping next door to a hate crime, trying to improve the neighborhood.

What I am sure about, too, is that anti-gay bigotry in the secular world is fueled by anti-gay bigotry in the clerical world, and I think anyone who works to oppose homophobia in any religious setting is engaging in both secular advocacy and –pardon the pun — God’s work.

Amen to that, amen. You can read the full piece at Huffpost.

FOOTNOTE: Tracking down some pictures for this post, I came across this article by Fr Tony of the Bilerico project on the Catholic presence at New York Pride last year (2009),  for which he was a marshal. The post included this photograph of marshal training, which was held at St Vincent’s Catholic Hospital!

Training of Marshals for New York Pride – at ST Vincent’s Catholic Hospital

The speaker, Heritage of Pride’s Maurice Michaane, led us through the specifics, standing at a podium bearing the escutcheoned words “Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, a few feet from a giant flag bearing the papal coat of arms and near a wall-mounted wooden cross bearing a sculpture of the crucified Jesus.

The happy collision of gay celebration and Roman Catholic imagery was delightful, and the fact that the Roman Catholic Church would welcome the LGBT marchers and organizers into its facilities was heartening.

Heartening and significant when one considers the fact that this hospital does not offer abortion services because of the Catholic Church’s clear anti-abortion stance, and the fact that Dignity, the gay Catholic group notsponsored by the Catholic Church has in recent years been booted out of Catholic facilities that had previously housed their services. The security and receptionist staff of the hospital were well aware of the nature of our group, as in “Oh, you mean the gay pride meeting? Down the hall and up to the tenth floor. Follow the green signs.”

After the training, I asked the handsome and engaging Maurice Michaane if the hospital had donated its space for the meeting or was Heritage of Pride paying for the use of the hyper-Catholic auditorium. He said he could not disclose that information. When I assured him that I could easily get the answer, he decided to have a bit of fun with me, and responded confidently that I would never be able to discover the answer to that question. He then told me how happy he was to have our group of bloggers in the parade and that he hoped we would become a regular feature.

A single inquiry to the hospital’s public relations office got me a response from Mary Mooney who said that an elected official who is a friend of the hospital had arranged for the usage of the auditorium on behalf of Heritage of Pride at no cost to that organization. She said that the hospital often allows usage of the auditorium by community groups.

Read Fr Tony’s full post at the Bilerico Project. (Sadly, his link to the “Church of Rubber Enlightenment” does not appear to be working.)

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