As noted in an earlier post, 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 annual educational event of 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 of the 2007 Bill Kummer Forum, scheduled to take place on the evening of October 22 at St. Frances Cabrini.
Four days before the event, however, I was informed by the pastor of Cabrini that as a result of a call received from the Archdiocese, the parish would no longer be hosting the Curoes. Despite this disappointing news, the Bill Kummer Forum did go 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. (For pictures of the Curoes’ October 22 talk at The House of the Beloved Disciple, click here.)
Following are both pieces from the November 2 issue of The National Catholic Reporter about the Archdiocese’s treatment of the Curoes .
Closing the Door on Ourselves
National Catholic Reporter
November 2, 2007
When the musical Fiddler on the Roof first opened on Broadway back in 1964, few could have predicted that this tale of a Jewish father struggling to preserve tradition and at the same time to love his five tradition-breaking daughters would become a metaphor for families coping through the 1960s and ’70s with shattering social and religious change.
Recently another father and daughter struggling to resolve differences – a lesbian lifestyle that challenged his Catholic beliefs – were barred by archdiocesan pressure from telling their story at a welcoming Catholic parish in Minneapolis. Besides generating publicity for the book that recounts the painful father-daughter exchange, the official decision raises again some equally painful questions about the relationship between struggling Catholics and their church.
Church leaders, of course, have boxed themselves in with tortuous logic on homosexuality that strains to reconcile loving the sinner, hating the sin, accepting those with the orientation (albeit “intrinsically disordered”), and then inviting them to make peace with their church – once they have renounced their need for sexual intimacy.
The church once viewed itself as a home for everyone and its children as works in progress. The church once had room for all who were a day late and a dollar short of the ideal, whose private lives were compromised by infidelity, racism, addictions, larceny and deception. Sunday Mass was the gathering place for the seven capital sinners, dressed up, mixed up, and trying their best, it was assumed, to navigate life’s contradictions.
Tevye comes to mind again. What guided him in his quandary over his daughters was the image of the village fiddler on his precarious rooftop perch, playing away as the father soliloquized “on the one hand” to “on the other hand,” finally resolving that, whatever his daughters did, they would always be his children, always be loved.
Unfortunately, today’s Catholic leaders, in pursuit of “Catholic identity,” are increasingly less likely to view the church as a gathering place for the faithful-but-flawed. As episcopally fueled battles heat up over who can approach the altar, and who will sort out the sinners from the worthy at Communion time, the locus of exclusion has widened to include not only the altar, but “church property.” Any parish, Catholic high school, college or university, retreat center or medical center had better think twice about hosting controversy, frank discussion, perceived criticism of church policy, prayer services for unapproved themes or any ecumenical event that attracts vituperative e-mails or faxes from those who see scandal and blasphemy everywhere.
In 1997, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Marriage and the Family – in the best of Catholic tradition – issued a pastoral letter for Catholic families dealing with homosexuality. They called it “Always Our Children.” Its concluding paragraph, addressed to Catholic homosexuals, says:
Though at times you may feel discouraged, hurt, or angry, do not walk away from your families, from the Christian community, from all those who love you. In you God’s love is revealed. You are always our children.
The text would make a wonderful note taped to the church door for returning gays and lesbians trying to resolve their sexual orientation and their faith in stable, productive lives. Except that in an increasing number of cases, they find the church doors locked.
So where then, when our lives get complicated, when our children turn out different from what we thought they would, when controversy invades our homes, do we go? If Catholics can’t turn to their churches as the most appropriate place for hearing one another’s stories and, through them, finding balance and compassion, where will we do the work of reconciliation that makes us church?
Parish Cancels Talk by Father and Lesbian Daughter
By Kris Berggren
National Catholic Reporter
November 2, 2007
At the urging of an archdiocesan official, the pastor of a Minneapolis Catholic parish canceled a scheduled talk by a Catholic man and his daughter about how the family coped with the daughter’s coming out as a lesbian.
Robert Curoe and his daughter, Carol Curoe, were to speak Oct. 22 at St. Frances Cabrini Church, Minneapolis, about their recently published book, Are There Closets in Heaven? A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Share Their Story. The book details the story of Carol’s coming out and her conservative, rural Iowa parents’ journey from denial to acceptance and support of their daughter.
But Oct. 18, Dennis McGrath, communications director for the archdiocese, contacted Fr. Leo Tibesar, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini, to tell the priest that “news of this would likely not be acceptable to the bishops.”
Archbishop Harry Flynn, his coadjutor John Nienstadt and Auxiliary Bishop Richard Pates were away from archdiocesan offices the week before the scheduled event, but McGrath told NCR, he “had to investigate” it after receiving “a fair number” of e-mail messages and phone calls about it.
The talk was sponsored by the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities and Catholic Rainbow Parents, two Minneapolis nonprofit organizations not affiliated with the archdiocese.
McGrath said he told Tibesar, “I do not speak for the archbishops and do not want to represent their authority, but this talk does not seem to be in keeping with archdiocesan rules and policies or Vatican rules and policies.”
Hosting the event on church property, he said, would imply the church’s approval of Carol Curoe’s relationship with her partner of 20 years, with whom she is raising two sons.
When Flynn returned to the office, he affirmed the communications director’s actions, McGrath said.
Michael Bayly, executive director of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, expressed dismay at the archdiocese’s stance and blamed conservative watchdogs for the campaign to get the talk banned from church property. One California blog, A Faithful Rebel, called the book event “a very scandalous lecture” and urged readers to contact the archdiocese and the Vatican in protest.
The talk was held at [The House of the Beloved Disciple] in Minneapolis with about 100 people attending. The Curoes said that they hope their book and speaking engagements will help educate and inspire other families dealing with similar issues.
Carol Curoe said she was “surprised and we’re disappointed,” by the change in venue. “I think it’s a result of some good lobbying efforts. I don’t know if the people making the decisions have read the book or talked to anyone who has heard our presentation. We do not in any way attack the Catholic church.”
The book is endorsed by retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, advocates for ministry to and inclusion of sexual minorities in Catholic life.
McGrath acknowledged he did not read the book or know the content of the Curoes’ talk before asking Tibesar to cancel the event. “It is probably a nice story that [Robert Curoe] was able to accept it. But by the same token, the subject matter itself was not appropriate for a church setting.”
Bayly said that his group’s hope is that presenting “stories of the heart” such as the Curoes’ will generate the “power to transform individuals and institutions.”
Kris Berggren is a Minneapolis freelance writer and longtime contributor to NCR.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Sharing Their Stories
Choosing To Stay