The parish of St. Frances Cabrini had previously agreed to collaborate with the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) in hosting the Bill Kummer Forum – an educational event hosted annually by CPCSM, a grassroots organization which since 1980 has been creating environments of safety and respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the Catholic Church. Since 2003, I’ve served as CPCSM’s executive coordinator.
Carol and Bob Curoe, co-authors of the recently published book, Are There Closets in Heaven? A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Share Their Story, had been invited to be the keynote speakers at the 2007 Bill Kummer Forum, scheduled to take place on the evening of October 22 at St. Frances Cabrini.
Last Thursday evening, however, I was informed by the pastor of Cabrini that as a result of a call received from the Archdiocese, the parish could not host the Curoe event. Despite this disappointing news, the Bill Kummer Forum went ahead on October 22 – at The House of the Beloved Disciple, a recently established center for progressive Catholics “dedicated to preserving Catholicism in the Spirit of Jesus.” Almost 100 people came to hear Carol and Robert Curoe share their story at The House of the Beloved Disciple.
A non-negotiable directive?
Dennis McGrath maintains that the pastors of both St. Francis Cabrini and St. Joan of Arc (I’m still not sure why this parish was dragged into the fray!) “agreed” with the Archdiocese’s “advice” that it “wasn’t a good idea” to host the Curoes, especially as Archbishop Flynn “would not approve” of a lesbian “in an actual full sexual relationship” speaking at a church.
“Nobody banned anybody,” McGrath insists, “or hit anybody over the head or threatened anybody . . .”
Perhaps from McGrath’s perspective there were no “threats,” yet given the shift to the right in the Catholic Church over the last few years, and, as a result of the appointment earlier this year of John Nienstedt as Coadjutor Archbishop, the climate of uncertainty and fear among local gay Catholics and the various “progressive” parishes that are welcoming of them, I think McGrath underestimates the significance of a call from the Archdiocese informing a priest that the powers-that-be do not approve of a gay-focused event taking place in his parish.
Besides, people I respect and trust within the communities of both Cabrini and St. Joan of Arc made it clear to me last week that the decision to not have the Curoes speak at either parish was one made by the Archdiocese. Furthermore, I was left with the distinct impression that this decision was a non-negotiable directive.
Of course, I don’t think we’ll ever really know what exactly was relayed by the Archdiocese to these parishes, primarily because of what many have experienced as the Archdiocese’s penchant for saying one thing publicly yet quite another thing behind closed doors.
For instance, when CPCSM published the findings of its Pastoral Needs Assessment Study* in 1984, Bishop Robert Carlson, the then Vicar General of the Archdiocese, privately met with those involved in conducting the study and publishing its results, and praised them and their successful venture. Yet he was also very clear that if the publication of the study generated negative publicity, resulting in media involvement, he would denounce the study and deny any knowledge of those responsible for it. Thankfully, that didn’t happen but no one involved with CPCSM at the time doubted for a moment that it could have. After all, if there’s one thing that those in positions of power and prestige fear and avoid more than anything else it’s public “scandal,” people “breaking ranks,” and any adverse (or even inquisitive) media attention.
This schizophrenic way of operating is to be expected whenever the feudally-structured institution of the Church, obsessed as it is with order, control, and a “party line” that demands unquestioning obedience, is confronted by issues that highlight its lack of accountability, transparency, and respect for diversity. Such issues – be they related to democracy in the Church, women’s ordination, or any number of gay-related topics – have the potential to call for the repudiation of former limited ways of thinking and the development of new ways of understanding that expand our awareness and appreciation of God in our lives and our world.
Without doubt, there are many working within the “institutional Church” (from “spokespeople” to bishops) who are forced to live compromised lives, who are compelled to uphold and defend positions and rules that, in good conscience, they find questionable, if not totally untenable. Yet once part of the machinery - the “monolith,” as Chuck Lofy describes the institutional Church - it is no doubt very difficult to lift one’s voice in dissent, especially when one’s livelihood and the economic security of one’s family is at stake.
Not welcomed . . .
Regardless of who called the shots, the bottom line is that the non-appearance of the Curoes at Cabrini on October 22 makes a mockery of McGrath’s contention that the Catholic Church “welcomes gays and lesbians.”
Why? Because what he actually said was that the Church welcomes gays and lesbians conditionally. To be welcomed, says McGrath, they have to “follow the rules,” which means they cannot be “sexually active.”
Well, I guess that means that Carol is out of the picture (i.e., the Church). She is, after all, a lesbian in a committed relationship.
But what about her Dad? Why was he denied the chance to simply share his story as a Catholic father of a lesbian? Why ban or (in McGrath’s words) “discourage” him from speaking?
That Carol’s father, a straight man not known to be in “violation” of the Church’s teaching on sex, wasn’t permitted to speak, clearly indicates that the underlying issue here isn’t one of morality; but rather of authority – of power and control.
Accordingly, this whole brouhaha is not simply about an out lesbian speaking on Catholic property, but also (and perhaps more importantly) about a loving father and daughter sharing the story of a journey - a journey that led them and their family and friends to a greater understanding and acceptance of homosexuality, an issue that the Church, as an institution, is yet to deal with honestly and thus credibly.
Sharing the wisdom and compassion gained from such journeys has the power to change minds and hearts; to transform individuals and institutions. I believe this is ultimately why the Archdiocese chose to prevent an 82-year-old man and his lesbian daughter from speaking at a Catholic Church. Robert and Carol Curoe offer a much truer embodiment of the liberating life and message of Jesus than do the Church’s teachings (i.e., “rules”) on homosexuality. This should not be surprising, given that these teachings are woefully uninformed by the findings of modern science and the experiences of gay people. In short, stories such as the Curoes’ threaten to weaken the oppressive, life-denying stranglehold that the institutional Church has on the lives of LGBT people.
It is this “stranglehold” that the Church should be seeking to eradicate, not the opportunities to hear the life-giving stories of folks like the Curoes.
. . . but still needed
Given all of this, I’d like to suggest the following as the Archdiocese’s next communiqué to families like the Curoes:
“Although we do our best to make you feel unwelcome, deep down we know that we need you. Your journeys of courage and integrity banish ignorance and fear, and liberate us from an impoverished understanding of sexuality that prevents us from perceiving and celebrating God’s transforming love in the lives and relationships of all. Please ignore our unChrist-like words and actions, and forgive us for the unnecessary burdens we place upon you with our ill-informed and arrogant teachings. Please hear God’s call to stay and help us become more Christ-like, even when we chose not to hear this call ourselves but rather to drown it out with our cries of condemnation and prohibition.”
At this point in my life I choose to stay in the Church, identifying as a gay Catholic man, sharing my experience of God’s liberating power in my life, and seeking to embody God’s love in all my actions of body, speech, and mind.
This is my response to God’s call to help make the Church more Christlike with regards to its understanding and treatment of LGBT persons.
I am heartened by the knowledge that I am not alone in responding in this way. I stand in solidarity with good people like Carol and Robert Curoe, the folks at CPCSM, Catholic Rainbow Parents, Dignity, and many others - gay and straight.
Elements within the Church may not welcome us, but this surely is a sign that our voices, experiences, and insights are indeed needed in the ongoing renewal and healing of the Church.
* CPCSM’s Needs Assessment Survey Project was the group’s primary focus in the first four years of its existence. This groundbreaking project involved 250 gay and lesbian Catholics and 85 family members sharing their thoughts and experiences via a specially prepared survey. Many poignant responses were shared as the result of this survey’s numerous open-ended questions. In May 1984, the study’s 125-page report was published and its findings presented at CPCSM’s Annual Community Meeting. As the first of its kind, the report was subsequently sold to hundreds of pastoral ministers and ministry groups locally, nationally, and internationally.
The message to the Church from the survey respondents was simple: first, they asked that the Church break its conspiracy of silence and acknowledge their existence.
Second, they requested that the Church treat them on an equal basis with all other Church members.
Finally, they asked that they be allowed to share their many talents with the Church and to engage the Church in a mutual ministry process. It was the respondents’ hope that as the pastoral workers of the Church ministered to LGBT persons, these workers would also be open to the various ways that LGBT persons could educate and minister to them and other members of the Church.
In the twenty-plus years since the publication of the Needs Assessment Report, CPCSM has been actively engaged in implementing its recommendations through a wide range of programs and activities.
Update: Following are excerpts from two letters-to-the-editor published in today’s Star Tribune. The first is by my friend Steve Boyle (pictured above at right).
A Journey Shared
It was a joy to hear the loving account of how Carol Curoe and her father, Robert, dealt with her coming out and living as a lesbian woman . . . I sat in the audience, with tear-filled eyes and a sense of hope, as I listened to how these two people journeyed with honesty, love and respect to come to grips with the issue of homosexuality as a lesbian daughter and a devoted traditional Catholic father.
My feelings Monday evening were in direct contrast to the anger and sadness I felt over the weekend when I learned that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had forbidden these two to share their story in a Catholic Church.
In the Star Tribune article Monday, Dennis McGrath, spokesperson for the archdiocese, suggested that reaction to the banning was blowing the situation out of proportion, implying that it was no big deal.
May I suggest to McGrath that each time the Catholic Church, in its institutional, man-made rulings, negates the right of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to be affirmed as legitimate creations of a loving God entitled to the Church’s full embrace, it is a big deal.
Banning two Catholic people from sharing their story in a Catholic Church is, in my mind, something that a loving Christ would not do.
The Pulpit Got Bigger
By zealously imposing an equation of faith to “the rules,” Dennis McGrath has taken the quiet testimony of a lesbian and her father, which would have been heard on Monday by, at best, 100 people, and splashed it all over the Tuesday morning headlines for the edification of thousands more. Does God love irony, or what?
Following are more photos of some of the attendees at Carol and Robert Curoe’s October 22 presentation at The House of the Beloved Disciple.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sharing Their Story
Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Banned from Speaking on Church Property