Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Just Imagine . . .

Have you ever noticed that in these contemporary, relatively “gay-friendly” times, it’s rarely gay men who are open and at peace with their sexuality that are busted for “public lewdness,” but, more often than not, those who are self-hating and closeted?

Now what message should we take from this observation, I wonder?

Case in point: In a recent police sting in New York State, aimed at men who cruise for gay sex, all twenty arrested were actually married men – with the exception of the one who was a Catholic priest.

____________________________________


BEDFORD – A sting aimed at men who cruise a rest area off Interstate 684 for gay sex resulted in charges against 20 men in the past month, including a Catholic priest and a registered sex offender.

Most of the men were charged with either loitering or trespass violations or both. One was charged with forcible touching, a misdemeanor. Four were charged with exposing themselves and two with public lewdness, all violations. The 20 suspects are due in Bedford Town Court on Thursday.

Among those arrested was the Rev. Gary Mead, a Catholic priest from Millwood assigned to St. Gregory Barbarigo parish in Garnerville. Police said he fondled an undercover officer and was charged with forcible touching.

Mead, 44, was previously assigned to St. Mary’s Church in Wappingers Falls and, in the late 1990s, was parochial vicar at Holy Family parish in New Rochelle. A message left yesterday with the Archdiocese of New York was not immediately returned.

With the exception of Mead, all of those charged are married, police said.

The sting, which also netted a local Rotary Club president and a 72-year-old man, was prompted by a complaint from a man who stopped to use the rest area with his 10-year-old son, said Capt. Robert Meyer, state police commander in Westchester County.

To read the complete article, click here

____________________________________


Official elements within the Roman Catholic Church, of course, actively encourage the self-loathing and closetedness that drives some to promiscuous behavior.

How is this so?, you may well ask. Well, as Thomas Stevenson notes in his book,
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men, many gay men have been “inflicted [by the Church] with a wound of feeling unlovable around their homosexuality.”

One result of this “wounding,” continues Stevenson, is an attraction to “impersonal forms of sexual relating.” This problem, he insists, could and should be addressed by the Church as a social justice issue.

Stevenson goes on to envision the following:


Just imagine how different things might be if, for example, Catholic parishes and schools affirmed the goodness and lovability of people in their homosexuality. Not just religion and parochial education, but laws, public schools, and popular culture could all evolve – or perhaps continue to evolve, since in some respects they already have – in ways that would heal the wound of feeling unlovable and open the lives of homosexual people to more personal forms of relating. And given the naturalness, goodness, and lovability of homosexuality, it is the right of gay people to expect justice.

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Political Closet by Tom Scharbach.
Why Gay Became Queer: An Introduction by D. Stephen Heersink.
Why Gay Became Queer: The Bisexual by D. Stephen Heersink.


See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Tragedy of Homophobia
Hypocrisy, Ignorance, Promiscuity, and the “Love that is the Center of Catholic Christianity”
What Is It That Ails You?
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
A Humorous Look at Internalized Homophobia

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Local Archdiocese's Misstep Makes National News

The November 2 issue of The National Catholic Reporter has both an editorial and an article about the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis’ recent misguided decision to prohibit an 82-year-old Catholic man and his lesbian daughter from speaking at St. Francs Cabrini Catholic Church.

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
Editorial
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

Friday, October 26, 2007

Choosing to Stay

In a story in Tuesday’s Star Tribune, Dennis McGrath, Communications Director of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, declared that I had “blown out of proportion” the recent prohibiting of Robert and Carol Curoe from speaking at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church.

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.


Steve Boyle
Minneapolis


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?


Dan Lontkowski
St. Paul


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


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Banned from Speaking on Church Property

Carol Curoe and her father Robert.

Following is a statement to the media released yesterday by the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities and Syren Book Company.

___________________________________


The Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis has banned an 82-year-old “cradle Catholic” and his daughter from speaking at a Catholic parish.

Robert and Carol Curoe, co-authors of the recently released book Are There Closets in Heaven? A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Share Their Story, were to speak Monday at St. Frances Cabrini Church in an event organized by the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and Catholic Rainbow Parents.

Yet according to Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of CPCSM, the church was informed that due to “the number and intensity” of calls and e-mails received by the Archdiocese opposing the event, it could not be held on church property.

“The Archdiocese’s decision to ban the Curoes is very sad and misguided.” Bayly said.

The Curoes have been engaged in a book speaking tour of the Midwest for the last month, speaking at a range of venues and receiving overwhelmingly positive responses to their story.

Their book has been described as “a testimony to the power that faith and love can play in bringing families together.”

Retired Catholic bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit has endorsed the book, noting that father and daughter’s “willingness to share their journey will help break down many barriers of prejudice and discrimination facing the homosexual community.”

“Obviously, we’re disappointed, and we are still trying to understand it,” said Carol Curoe. “Our book, Are There Closets in Heaven? talks about an 82 year-old, life-long Catholic father trying to understand and practice his faith within his Church while also loving his daughter as he does her siblings. Neither our journey, nor writing the book, was an easy task.”

Despite the banning of the Curoes’ speaking engagement at St. Frances Cabrini, Monday’s event will still take place.

“This whole incident has reaffirmed our commitment to help build spaces of safety and respect within the Church for gay people,” says Bayly.

One of these spaces is a recently established center called The House of the Beloved Disciple, located at 2930 13th Ave. S., Minneapolis, in the building that is also the home of Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ. The Curoes will speak at The House of the Beloved Disciple on Monday, October 22, at 8:00 p.m. [Update: For photos and a commentary on Carol and Robert Curoe’s October 22 presentation, click here.]

“I hope this unfortunate event does not mean that CPCSM’s days of being welcomed to host educational and story sharing events in Catholic parishes are over,” said Bayly. “Though disappointing, the banning of the Curoes is not altogether surprising – especially given the climate of fear and intimidation that has steadily increased throughout the Church over the past few years.”

“CPCSM has been around for 27 years, and though it has always been a grassroots and independent organization within the local Catholic community, for most of its history it has also been the primary resource for LGBT Catholics and their families within this archdiocese and, to a lesser extent, within the rest of Minnesota as well.” Bayly said. “It’s clear that our sharing of Jesus’ message of compassion and justice is now needed more than ever within the Church.” (For an overview of CPCSM’s history and its ministry accomplishments, click here.)

_____________________________


Are There Closets in Heaven? A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Share Their Story, published by Syren Book Company is a revealing first-person dialogue between a lesbian daughter, who had always dutifully tried to please her parents, and her Catholic father, an eighty-one-year-old farmer from Iowa. Through their letters and reflections, we see how courage and love made it possible for Bob and Carol Curoe to navigate the twists and turns of such a dramatic shift in their lives.

Publication Date: October 15th, 2007, 9780929636795, Paperback Original, 196 pages, $14.95.
Syren Book Company: 5120 Cedar Lake Road, Minneapolis, MN 55416. Distributed by Itasca Books.

The Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) is a grassroots, self-supporting, and independent coalition dedicated to promoting ministry to, with, and on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons – primarily of a Roman Catholic background – and their families and friends.

CPCSM seeks to create communities that are images of justice and inclusiveness, both in the Church and in society at large; to foster safe and affirming spaces for GLBT youths, adults, families, and their friends as we help them to integrate their sexual identities with their Catholic heritage; to combat violence, abuse, injustice, and prejudice; and to cultivate a world in which all human beings are regarded as worthy of love and respect.

_____________________________________


For an October 2007 interview with Carol Curoe, click here.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Choosing to Stay
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunction Church
Voices of Parental Authority and Wisdom


Sharing Their Story

An interview with Carol Curoe, co-author of
Are There Closets in Heaven?
A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter
Share Their Story



Carol Curoe is a business consultant in Minneapolis, where she lives with her partner of twenty years, their sons, Patrick and Jonathan, and the family dog, Max. When she came out to her parents in 1990, their response was one of shock. They were from a small, conservative, Irish Catholic farming community in eastern Iowa, and were totally unprepared to deal with their daughter’s “coming out” as a lesbian.

Yet Carol and her father Bob were determined to keep the lines of communications open. What followed over the next several years was a steady stream of correspondence, both poignant and liberating in its honesty and candor. Many of these letters comprise Carol and Bob’s book, Are There Closets in Heaven? A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Share Their Story, published earlier this month by Syren Book Company. On October 22, Carol and Bob will be the keynote speakers at CPCSM’s Second Annual Bill Kummer Forum.

(NOTE: This interview was first published in the Fall 2007 issue of the
Rainbow Spirit, the journal of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM).

__________________________________


Michael Bayly: Your book documents the journey of both yourself and your father in relation to your coming out as a lesbian. Because it’s such a personal story, some may be wondering what compelled you to share it in such a public way. What do you hope to achieve from the publication of your book?

Carol Curoe: When we first started writing the book, I had two reasons for the project. First, and probably foremost, I wanted to acknowledge my parents and the incredible progress they have demonstrated on their journey. As you can tell in the book, I am quite proud of both of my parents and feel so fortunate to have them as role models in my life. How they coped with my coming out, even in the very beginning before they sorted out their initial reactions, was always respectful and caring. It’s one of many examples they gave my siblings and me on how to deal with challenges life throws at you.

Secondly, my partner Susan and I had just ended a successful real estate business partnership with my parents, and I wanted to replace that interaction with another project. Both Susan and I greatly enjoyed the years of being in business with my parents; we learned a lot from them and the business created many opportunities for us to spend time together. I knew we would miss that interaction.

Now that we have actually written the book, and have heard the positive impact it has on readers, we have broader aspirations. We hope that by telling our story, other families and friends of gays and lesbians, as well as GLBT individuals, will also tell their stories. I believe people learn through stories and as is the case with all human rights issues, learning and education are at the heart of the issue.

For me, personally, weaving in the impact of being Catholic into the story was not a high priority. For Dad, however, this was a very significant part of his story. Again, now that we have published the book, we see how incredibly timely the story is for members of the Catholic Church as well.

Carol Curoe and her father Robert.


Michael Bayly: What was the most difficult part about writing Are There Closets in Heaven? Were there some aspects of the process that were easier than others?

Carol Curoe: The most difficult part of the process was actually making time for it. Both Dad and I were very busy with other aspects of our lives, and without an actual deadline it was hard to make progress on it.

In 2006 both of my parents had major heart surgeries, so my 2007 New Year’s resolution was to get the book published this year. We had enough of our time invested already; I wanted to make sure it was published while Mom and Dad were alive. I didn’t quite meet that goal entirely.

Mom died right as the galley books were being printed, May 22, 2007. However, she was part of all the meetings with the publisher up to that, and she participated fully in selecting a title, designing the cover and page layout as well as the editing. I know she’s watching it all play out from the best seat in the house!

Michael Bayly: Can you talk about your relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Has it changed?

Carol Curoe: The journey has been interesting. As I mentioned earlier, the Catholic Church was not originally a major focus for me in writing this book. I had reconciled with myself that Susan and I belonged to St. Joan of Arc parish, an open and affirming parish. I tried hard to ignore the fact that SJA was part of the larger Catholic Church which is NOT open and affirming.

Dad arranged for us to have breakfast with Bishop Gumbleton when he was in Minneapolis speaking. Susan and I agreed to go, but honestly, had low expectations. After all, he was one of those straight, white males who ran this huge organization that did not fully welcome my family. That breakfast had a profound impact on all of us. Meeting Bishop Gumbleton put a “real face” on the Catholic Church and opened my eyes to the challenges faced by those inside the Church. Prior to this, I had selfishly only seen the impact the Church’s position on homosexuality had on me and my family. I was inspired by the passion (and compassion) he felt for helping the Church move forward.

This book has connected us with many individuals and groups that are working to bring the Church together on the issue of accepting ALL its members. I’m not clear yet on how my relationship with the Church has changed, but I do know it is changing.

Michael Bayly: What role, if any, do you think stories such as yours and your Dad’s can play in the Church’s formulation of its understanding and teaching on human sexuality?

Carol Curoe: I hope our story can help others recognize that this issue isn’t just about the gays and lesbians trying to stay in the Church. It’s about considering the impact that policies and teachings have on family members and their friends who may view Church teachings as asking them to choose between their love of Church and their love of their son, daughter, or friend.

Michael Bayly: Given the official Church’s stance on gay people and issues, why do you continue to identify as Catholic?

Carol Curoe: For me it is more about being part of a spiritual community that knows God as a loving God and inspires me to be a better person than it is about identifying with a specific denomination. For now, we happen to have found that at St. Joan of Arc which is a Catholic Church.

Michael Bayly: Your book’s title is actually a question: “Are There Closets in Heaven?” How did you come up with this title and what’s your answer to the question it poses?

Carol Curoe: Choosing a title was much harder than I would have expected. I have a spreadsheet with probably 50-60 variations of possible titles, but none of them worked for all four of us (Mom, Dad, Susan, and me). Finally, we were coming down to the wire. The publisher needed a title by Monday and it was already Saturday. I started playing around with all the various combinations of words, and this one came out. It was kind of like those refrigerator magnets with words that you arrange into sentences.

I probably have to be careful on how I answer the second part of your question. It seems so obvious to me; but that’s exactly the kind of attitude that gets all of us in trouble. With that said, however, I have to believe that there are NOT closets in heaven. Closed-in spaces, special rooms, or designated areas are not part of what I envision as God’s kingdom. Given that, I think the real question is, “Then why are there closets here?”

Carol and Bob will be the keynote speakers at CPCSM’s Second Annual Bill Kummer Forum on October 22, 2007.

__________________________________


Note: This event was original planned to be held at St. Frances Cabrini Church, yet after receiving a number of phone calls and e-mails from Catholics opposed to Carol and Robert speaking on Catholic property, the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis informed St. Frances Cabrini that the Curoes could not speak there.

Their October 22 presentation will now take place at The House of the Beloved Disciple (2930 13th Ave. S., Minneapolis).

For the joint media release from CPCSM and Syren Book Company about the banning of the Curoes, click
here.

Update (October 26, 2007): For images and a commentary on Carol and Robert Curoe’s October 22 presentation at The House of the Beloved Disciple, click here.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Deborah Kerr (1921-2007)


Legendary stage and screen actress Deborah Kerr died on Tuesday at her home in Suffolk, England. She was 86.

Below are excerpts from an Associated Press article by Jill Lawless on the passing of this beautiful and gifted actress, followed by my reflections on The Night of the Iguana, my favorite of Deborah Kerr’s many films.

___________________________________


Deborah Kerr (pronounced Carr), who shared one of Hollywood’s most famous kisses while portraying an Army officer’s unhappy wife in From Here to Eternity, and danced with the Siamese monarch in The King and I, has died. She was 86.

Kerr, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, died Tuesday in Suffolk in eastern England, her agent, Anne Hutton, said Thursday.

For many she will be remembered best for her kiss with Burt Lancaster as waves crashed over them on a Hawaiian beach in the wartime drama From Here to Eternity.



Kerr’s roles as forceful, sometimes frustrated women pushed the limits of Hollywood’s treatment of sex on the screen during the censor-bound 1950s.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Kerr six times for best actress, but never gave her an Academy Award until it presented an honorary Oscar in 1994 for her distinguished career as an “artist of impeccable grace and beauty, a dedicated actress whose motion picture career has always stood for perfection, discipline and elegance.”

She had the reputation of a “no problem” actress.

“I have never had a fight with any director, good or bad,” she said toward the end of her career. “There is a way around everything if you are smart enough.”

. . . [In the 1950s] tired of being typecast in ladylike roles, she rebelled to win a release from her MGM contract and get the role of Karen Holmes in From Here to Eternity.

Playing the Army officer’s alcoholic, sex-starved wife in a fling with Lancaster’s Sgt. Warden opened up new possibilities for Kerr.

She played virtually every part imaginable from murderer to princess to a Roman Christian slave to a nun.

In The King and I, with her singing voice dubbed by Marni Nixon, she was Anna Leonowens, who takes her son to Siam so that she can teach the children of the king, played by Yul Brynner.

Her best-actress nominations were for Edward, My Son (1949), From Here to Eternity (1953), The King and I (1956), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), Separate Tables (1958), and The Sundowners (1960).

Among her other movies is An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant.

Other notable roles were in Beloved Infidel, The Innocents (an adaptation of the Henry James novella Turn of the Screw), The Night of the Iguana with Richard Burton, and The Arrangement with Kirk Douglas.

After The Arrangement in 1968, she took what she called a leave of absence from acting, saying she felt she was “either too young or too old” for any role she was offered.

Kerr told The Associated Press that she turned down a number of scripts, either for being too explicit or because of excessive violence.

__________________________________


As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my favorite film of Deborah Kerr’s is
The Night of the Iguana, in which she plays itinerant painter Hannah Jelkes, a woman “pushing forty” and traveling around the world with her ailing grandfather, Nonno, “the world’s oldest living and practicing poet.”

The film’s tag line, “One man . . . three women . . . one night,” was quite risqué - even by mid-1960s standards. Although Kerr’s character is one of the “three women” provocatively mentioned, the image used of her in the movie’s poster is totally unflattering. She looks like a Howler Monkey in full-howl!


The film itself, adapted from the play by Tennessee Williams, is a turbulent masterpiece, and one of my all-time favorites. It tells the story of the “Reverend” T. Lawrence Shannon (played by Richard Burton), a defrocked clergyman-turned-tour-guide who takes a bus load of pious Texan church ladies to an Eden-like spot along the coast of Mexico, where he battles their suspicions about his past, his own demons, and a young girl (the first of the “three women”!) whose amorous advances could destroy him.

As one critic has noted: “Tennessee Williams has rarely fared well in the transfer from stage to screen, but Night of the Iguana is evidence that his work makes for powerful viewing. Stark visuals play against the subtle script and performances – with Ava Gardner giving perhaps her finest performance as the over-sexed, hard-bitten hotel owner, Maxine, who conceals a loving heart and honest nature behind an “I don’t give a damn” mask. [Yes, she’s the second of the “three women”]. Burton has rarely been seen to such an effect, and Deborah Kerr as Hannah – yet another lost soul who ends up at Maxine’s run-down hotel seeking some form of salvation – is excellent. The film provides an unforgettable glimpse into the complexity and ambiguity of human nature.”

Following is the original theatrical trailer for The Night of the Iguana.





At one point in Tennessee William’s play (and John Houston’s film adaptation), Shannon observes: “The whole world, God’s world, has been the range of my travels. I haven’t struck to the schedules of the brochures and I’ve always allowed the ones that were willing to see . . . to see the underworlds of all places, and if they had hearts to be touched, feelings to feel with, I gave them a priceless chance to feel and be touched. And none will ever forget it, none of them, ever, never!”

Of the relationship between Shannon and Hannah, John McClain of the New York Journal-American has observed: “There is a strange and immediate rapport between the discredited cleric and the lonely artist. The play’s [and film’s] most poignant moments - scenes of enormous compassion - grow out of the understanding of these two people, their mutual need for companionship and roots, their final moments of nobility in small gestures of unselfishness to aid one another.”


As a character of both wisdom and compassion, Hannah Jelkes has some memorable lines. I’ve even incorporated a particular quote of hers in more than one paper written over the course of my years of theological study!

For instance, when writing about the process of “coming out” as a spiritual journey for my thesis in 1996, I observed the following (though note how what I wrote is applicable to other experiences and areas of human/spiritual growth apart from “coming out” as gay):

Experiences of isolation and regret [hallmarks of the first stage of coming out], as painful as they may be, can nevertheless be seen as gateways to the second passage of the coming out journey - coming out to others.

For such a momentous step to be psychologically and spiritually affirming, however, a strong basis of self-awareness is required. Paradoxically, such grounding is often gained through experiences of loss and regret - experiences that propel one to journey further inwards, to undertake what Hannah Jelkes in “The Night of the Iguana” calls “subterranean travels - the travels that the spooked and bedeviled people are forced to take through the unlighted sides of their natures.”

They are travels unlit by sources of outside approval, but which, in time, can be illuminated by the indwelling presence of the Sacred. It is by this holy light, this “light within,” that we come to recognize, define, and name ourselves more clearly, more truthfully, and learn to trustingly immerse ourselves in the sacred currents and streams that infuse and shape our story.

Along with her reference to the “subterranean travels” of the “spooked and bedeviled,” the character of Hannah Jelkes, brought so beautifully and convincingly to life by Deborah Kerr, has a number of other great lines:

“I respect a person that has had to fight and howl for his decency and his bit of goodness, much more than I respect the lucky ones that just had theirs handed out to them at birth and never afterwards snatched away from them.”

“I’m a human being and when a member of that fantastic species builds a nest in the heart of another, the question of permanence isn’t the first or even the last thing that’s considered.”

“Nothing human disgusts me unless it’s unkind or violent.”

“This [iguana] is tied by its throat, it can’t bite its own head off to escape from the end of the rope, Mr. Shannon. Can you look at me and tell me, truthfully, that you don’t know it's able to feel pain and panic? . . . Its situation seems very human and so does its desperation. So, Mr. Shannon, will you please cut it loose, set it free? Because if you don’t, I will.”


Recommended Off-site Links:
Deborah Kerr Dies at 86 – Associated Press.
On the Beach with Deborah Kerr: A Kiss, and an Actress, for Eternity - An appreciation by Stephen Hunter.
A review of The Night of the Iguana - Glenn Erickson.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Must-See Film

If you’re in the Twin Cities area and haven’t yet seen the new documentary film, For the Bible Tells Me So, then be warned: you only have until Thursday evening to get yourself to the Lagoon Cinema and catch this must-see film! (Update: Good news! The film’s run has been extended through to Thursday, November 1.)

Directed and co-written by Daniel Karslake, For the Bible Tells Me So is an incredibly powerful film. (And not only because my friends, the inspiring Phil and Randi Reitan, and their equally inspiring son Jacob, feature prominently!)


Of course, for Catholics, it’s not the Bible so much as doctrine that’s trundled out to dismiss and deny the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Still, biblical or doctrinal, fundamentalism is fundamentalism. Accordingly, For the Bible Tells Me So is an invaluable testimony and resource to the confronting of this particular “stumbling block” in all its forms. As I said, it’s a must see film!


Following are excerpts from Heidi Fellner’s October 12 review in Lavender magazine.

_________________________________________


Throwing the Book at Homophobia
By Heidi Fellner
Lavender
October 12-25, 2007



That right-wing Christians selectively interpret “anti-gay” scripture by overlooking historical and literary context to the detriment of gay people and their families – is not news to anyone in the LGBT community.

But therein lies the rub. One watches a documentary in order to gain knowledge, perspective, and greater understanding. I feared that the filmmakers [of For the Bible Tells Me So] would simply preach last week’s sermon to the already converted.

I needn’t have worried. The film resists the impulse to declare religion and religious people the problem, depicting homophobic parents as the church’s mindless minions. Instead, it embraces a broad message of love and tolerance, employing Christian and Jewish texts to do so.

For the most part, the narrative focuses on the stories of Bishop Gene Robinson, Chrissy Gephardt, and the Reitan and Poteat families. Their stories are told with a heartfelt honesty that helps guide the film through sections that could have easily become melodramatic.

Not to slight those personal accounts, but supplemental interviews with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Reverend Peter Gomes, Rabbi Steven Greenberg, and Reverend Jimmy Creech were among the most valuable parts of the film. . . .

In the end, the final question the film attempts to answer is the most daring: “Why?” Why, of all the sins listed in Leviticus, including the consumption of shrimp, does homosexuality retain its title as chief “abomination”? Why, if homophobes claim they are simply adhering to literal scripture, do they not also advocate the selling of women into slavery and the punishment of trivial offenses by torture and death? . . .

Thankfully, For the Bible Tells Me So moves beyond the old saw about the necessity of having someone to hate, and tries to explain why the LGBT community is that someone. According to some in the film, it’s that darned patriarchy again and its right hand, the subjugation of women. Blurring male and female roles threatens that übermacho status quo. . . .

All in all, this is a remarkable documentary – well shot, well edited, and graced with a superb soundtrack.

Heidi Fellner
Lavender
October 12, 2007


The Sacred Heart: "Mystical Symbol of Love"


Tomorrow being the Feast Day of Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque, I thought it would be appropriate to share some excerpts from Clarence Thomson’s recent review of David Richo’s book The Sacred Heart of the World: Restoring Mystical Devotion to Our Spiritual Life.

Thomson begins his review by noting historian Jay Dolan’s assertion that for a hundred year period, 1860 to 1960, Roman Catholics were culturally defined by their devotion, not their theology. Catholics, observes Thomson, “named their churches after their devotions: Holy Rosary, Sacred Heart, Precious Blood, and Christ the King,” to name just a few. Yet the Second Vatican Council was “hard on the devotional life of Catholics,” with attention being put on reforming the liturgy and restoring the Eucharist as the center of piety.

Yet, notes Thomsen, in the book The Sacred Heart of the World, theologian and practicing therapist Dr. David Richo “makes a valiant effort to restore one of the devotions that fell on lean years: the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

Following are excerpts from Thomson’s review of Richo’s book.

_____________________________________________


A Therapist’s View of the Sacred Heart
Excerpts from a review by Clarence Thomson of David Richo’s book,
The Sacred Heart of the World: Restoring Mystical Devotion
to Our Spiritual Life

National Catholic Reporter
October 12, 2007



Drawing on the sound psychological principles of asceticism, our rich mystical tradition, and the support of some Eastern mystics, [Dr. David Richo] carefully explains what the real devotion to the Sacred Heart entails.

He situates the revelations to Sr. Margaret Mary Alacoque in their historical context and purges a few of her emotional excesses, especially pruning and reframing some of the understandings of reparation. But he preserves the essence of her understanding and the mystical tradition she represents along with the theology of Karl Rahner, Teilhard de Chardin, and John of the Cross.

Dr. Richo presents the Sacred Heart as an intuitive mystical symbol of love. Theology is about understanding, but piety incorporates emotion. The heat and light generated about whether or not to have Communion rails or altar girls betrays the emotional bedrock of our worship, public or private.

Because of this emotional charge, Dr. Richo’s work is important. He brings the sobriety of a trained psychologist and theologian to the exuberant emotional richness of the heart as a symbol of divine love. He embraces the devotion enthusiastically like a gardener lavishing affection on loveliness. In the process, he weeds out a few excesses and distortions that keep educated Catholics from approaching or appreciating how nurturing this piety can be. He is especially helpful in understanding the importance and precision of the popular image of the Sacred Heart.

Clarence Thomson
National Catholic Reporter
October 12, 2007


Image 1: Joseph Fanelli (1994)
Image 2: Michael Bayly

Recommended Off-site Links:
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Prayers to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Heart to Heart
St. Margaret Mary and The X-Files


Monday, October 15, 2007

What Is It That Ails You?


Recently, I was asked what I thought of the poster used to advertise this year’s Folsom Street Fair, an S&M event held annually in San Francisco. Truth be told, I would not have heard about this fair, let alone its controversial poster, if it wasn’t for the Catholic League. How strange is that?

The poster, depicting S&M-clad men and women reenacting the Last Supper as depicted by Leonardo Da Vinci, has clearly got on the Catholic League’s proverbial goat. Yet I’d take the League’s foot stamping much more seriously if it wasn’t so blatantly selective in its outrage.

I mean, check this out: over at slog.com, Dan Savage has collected a number of parodies of Da Vinci’s famous painting. It’s truly a bizarre collection, and leaves one to wonder: Where’s the outrage from the Catholic League over all of these other depictions of the Last Supper? Aren’t they just as “blasphemous” as the one that comprises the Folsom Street Fair poster? Did Catholic League president Bill Donahue rage against The Simpson’s take on the Last Supper (both of them!), the zombie Last Supper, Marilyn Monroe’s Last Supper, or Big Bird’s Last Supper? Why are gays – or those perceived to be gay – singled out by Donahue for his special brand of spluttering indignation and wrathful fury?


S&M “perverts”: Products of the Church?

Dan Savage has an interesting theory related to this whole controversy, one that ups the ante (and no doubt threatens to break the back of the Catholic League’s poor goat!) by daring to make a link between Catholicism and S&M.

It’s a link that has already been made on these pages by “Gay Species,” in response to
this previous Wild Reed post. It was also recently confirmed by a friend who, knowing someone in the S&M scene, assured me that, “Yes, Michael, there really are a lot of former seminarians and priests into S&M.” (Quick! Fetch the smelling salts!)

Savage, who grew up Roman Catholic, articulated his perspective on the whole Folsom Street Fair poster controversy after he declined an invitation by Fox News to debate Donahue. However, he shared his thoughts on Slog.com on what he would have liked to have said to the Catholic League president.

Here’s part of what he wrote:

A lot of folks are kinky not to annoy Catholics, but because they’re Catholics. We worship a man that was tortured to death two thousand years ago. And what do we call that grisly execution again? Oh, right: The Passion. Catholic children are herded into Churches where we kneel in front of life-sized representations—some more realistic than others—of a hot dude in a diaper nailed to a cross. Catholic teachings are full of stories about gruesomely martyred saints. I was told as a child that suffering was noble, that it brought you closer to God. Nuns told me that Jesus hung on the cross for three hours, that he suffered and died for my sins (the sins of a seven year-old!), and that I should “offer up to the Lord” whatever momentary discomfort I was experiencing.

Catholic children are also told over and over again that our Father in Heaven loves us—but that he’s also designed this place called Hell where we’ll be sent if we’re naughty and where we’ll be subjected to unspeakable physical torments for all eternity. If we’re only sorta bad our loving Father will send us to purgatory where we’ll be subjected to somewhat milder physical torments for a few dozen centuries—just long enough to cleanse us of our sins. Because pain and suffering can do that—it can make things right, it can purify you.

Oh, and what are the biggest sins? They all seem to be sexual ones. Pre-marital sex. Homosexuality. Adultery. Masturbation. God created us horny but God hates sex. Really hates it. Gee, it’s almost like God was setting us up for failure… it’s almost like God was looking for an excuse to punish us…

Confession, contrition, pain, torture, torment, sexual hang-ups—hello, Bill? S&M perverts aren’t born, they’re made. And your church pumps them out by the hundreds of thousands. (1)

Yes, to be sure, Savage’s style is intentionally confrontative and annoyingly flippant, but do you know what? I think he’s definitely on to something.

The Roman Catholic Church is deeply dysfunctional when it comes to its understanding of human sexuality. In fact, I totally agree with former Catholic priest and author Eugene Kennedy when he says that this dysfunction is the Church’s “unhealed wound.”


The “unhealed wound”

According to Kennedy, the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, in their support and promulgation of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, unconsciously reenact the myth of the “Grail King” Anfortas, who, in his seeking of the Holy Grail, kills the eastern Knight who is symbolic of nature. Yet in the course of this battle, Anfortas (who serves as a symbol of “the spirit”) is inflicted with a great and terrible wound, one that is incapable of healing until someone asks the simple question: “What is it that ails you?”

The meaning of this popular myth, says Kennedy, is quite simple:

When, for whatever hope or creed, we slay Nature, that is, everything that is natural and healthy about us, including our sexuality, we injure ourselves grievously, inflicting a wound that, remembered in many legends, is always sexual. In slaying Nature, as many strive mightily to do in seeking the illusionary Grail of spiritual perfection, by divinizing the spirit and demonizing the body, we not only wound ourselves sexually but salt the wound so that it does not easily heal. The French say that the person “who tries to be an angel ends up a beast.” It is just another way of describing how we commit sacrilege against ourselves when, in the name of whatever extrinsic spiritual ambition, we plunder, by force or fasting, the wholeness of human personality. (2)

For Kennedy, the “most obvious display of the unhealed wound in the Church as Institution is found in the attitudes and statements about homosexuality.” (3) Contrary to the findings of both science and human experience, this natural variant of the God-given gift of human sexuality is described by the Vatican as being “against natural law,” while homosexuals themselves are said to harbor an “intrinsic disorder.”

Ironically, such negative teaching comes from an institution whose priesthood is filled with a disproportionate number of gay men – men instructed to despise and repress their sexuality and the sexuality of others like them.

There may well be a dysfunctional and damaging “homosexual subculture” within some seminaries and even the wider Church, as some so-called traditionalists like to claim. But any dysfunction and damage stems not from the homosexual orientation per se, but from the Church’s persistent demonizing of this orientation, this aspect of nature.

Whereas it’s acceptable for straight seminarians and priests to talk about their struggles and issues as sexual beings, many gay seminarians and priests feel unable to talk about their sexual issues in a similarly upfront and healthy way. Many harbor a legitimate fear of being hounded out of the ministry to which they feel called. There’s also the fear of being stereotyped, to the extent of even being accused of pedophilia. And, of course, there’s a limit to how often one can stomach hearing one’s sexuality being described as an “intrinsic disorder.”

Furthermore, the Church encourages and rewards secrecy and repression on the part of its gay seminarians and priests. And when the consequences of such unhealthy repression surface in dysfunctional behavior of one form or another, it’s the homosexual orientation that’s to blame, not the culture of secrecy, denial, and repression. It’s all very sad and pathetic, as this recent news story documents.


Two opposing extremes

Of course, while ever it’s mired in its own dysfunction, the Church will be incapable of being a credible moral witness for either its members or for the wider world. And, to be sure, in a world where sex is shamelessly commodified and trivialized, a credible moral witness is sorely needed.

Yet as far as I can see, the current teaching on sexuality by the Vatican, and the S&M antics that take place on Folsom Street, represent two opposing extremes, two desperate responses to that same “unhealed wound” brought about by western Christianity’s arrogant attempt to separate the Creator from creation. For as Eugene Kennedy reminds us, in promulgating the false notion of a divided universe, the Church, to this day, is “defining itself over against the world, and opening a rift between intellect and emotion, as well as body and spirit, from which it has not yet recovered. Nor have we. The Church lives in anguish because its wound is unhealed, as is the wound it transferred to the universe.” (4)

Kennedy is adamant that “the racks of pornographic magazines [and, I’d add, the S&M posters and street fairs that many find offensive] are not the bold standards of Satan as much as . . . the white flags of people worn out, rather than renewed, by the sexual revolution; people desperately and almost pitiably unsure of their sexual knowingness or personality integration.” (5)


Unasked questions and missed opportunities

In light of such profound insights, my initial reaction to the Folsom Street Fair poster was not one of knee-jerk condemnation. Rather, this particular depiction of Jesus’ last meal with his friends raised a number of questions for me: Who came up with the idea of the “Last Supper” theme for the Folsom Street Fair poster? What drew this person to choose this particular image and theme? After all, I really don’t think the primary reason was to piss off the Catholic League!

Another intriguing question: In this particular image of the Last Supper, reenacted as it is by people who find and experience a sense of connection and community through S&M, can a longing be discerned for that broader sense of community, that universal welcome, acceptance, and healing embodied in the original Last Supper scene and, moreover, in the life and message of Jesus?

And what of the sex toys and other S&M paraphernalia? What is being conveyed by their inclusion into the Folsom Street Fair depiction of the Last Supper? Is such inclusion suggesting that connection and intimacy – with one self, another, and even the sacred – can be experienced through sexual relationships focused, not on biological procreation, but on playfulness and pleasure?

Yes, the outfits and devices featured in the Folsom Street Fair poster are extreme, as is an understanding of human sexuality that focuses so much on playfulness and pleasure that those involved are themselves reduced to sex toys, to narrow roles and mere objects. Yet is not such a narrow expression of sexuality reflective of one extreme end of a spectrum?

And at the other end of this spectrum do we not find the rigidly uncompromising teachings of the Vatican? These teachings, after all, narrowly insist that the only sex act that is morally acceptable is that which takes place within the context of heterosexual marriage, and which is always open to biological procreation. Here, too, are not people in danger of being reduced to narrowly defined roles and objects - the end and sole product of which is reproduction?

Are these two extreme (and thus limiting) positions on the spectrum of human sexuality offered by Folsom Street and the Vatican our only options as sexual beings?


And then there’s the presence of women in the Folsom Street Fair’s depiction of the Last Supper, not to mention a black (and bare-chested) Jesus! What part do they play, I wonder, in fueling the Catholic League’s moral outrage?

These are the questions that are raised for me as a result of the controversy generated by the Folsom Street Fair poster. I see this controversy as an opportunity, not to pontificate and condemn, but to examine and explore our notions and understanding of human sexuality as Catholic Christians.

I also see it providing an opportunity to ask each another that simple yet powerful question: “What is it that ails you?”

I’d ask this question not only of the attendees at the Folsom Street Fair, but of the blustering Bill Donahue, and of the glib Dan Savage.

And I’d ask it of myself, aware as I am, of the conflicting emotions, needs, and desires stirred within me by the Folsom Street Fair poster, and thus the issues and questions this provocative image has the potential of raising for all who take seriously the complexity of human sexuality.


What if . . . ?

Towards the end of his book, The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality, Eugene Kennedy ponders: “Were the Institution, through its enormous pastoral capacity, to lower its voice and ask, ‘What is it that ails you?’ would the response be one of relief or rebellion?” (6)

Kennedy goes on to suggest that if this question was posed, “the tension that now exists between the Institution and these countless number of humans struggling to understand and integrate their sexuality might not disappear, but it would lessen markedly. What would the Institution lose if, instead of issuing statements, such as those about the ‘objective disorder’ of homosexuality, it sat, as a good pastor might, and willingly listened to the world and its sexual woes? The impulse of millions to set themselves against the authoritarianism of the Institution would be softened because the organization would be dropping its controlling stance so that the defensiveness it generates would be greatly reduced. What might the Church as Institution learn from the experience, confused and contradictory as it always emerges, of ordinary human beings who seek healing for their own sexual wounds? Healing, perhaps not with the completeness of a biblical miracle, but healing nonetheless, would follow in both the Institution and in the People who would know it now as a Mystery of understanding and reconciliation.” (7)

And what if part of this understanding and reconciliation involved taking to heart Sobonfu Somé’s observation on the “intimate connection” between sex and the sacred? Writes Somé: “People who are desperately drawn to sexual activity are, in many ways, men and women desperately trying to break into the spirit world. Their desire indicates a deeply rooted belief that something greater exists . . . [If one] looks beyond the obvious sexual craving [what is revealed is] the need to reconnect with a force that can heal.” (8)

Of course, due to its own deep dysfunction, its “unhealed wound,” the Roman Catholic Church (not to mention the hysteroid Catholic League) is incapable of facilitating such “reconnection.”

This important work of reconnection is being done, however, within the Catholic tradition – just not by those invested (and thus mired) in what Eugene Kennedy terms “the Institution of the Church,” that part of the Church that is yet to fully acknowledge the extent of its own “unhealed wound.”

No, the healing work of reconnection with the sacred is being carried out, not by those within the hierarchy, but by those at the grassroots, by individuals and organizations open to the transforming love of God within all types of human contexts and relationships. They are people and organizations who are prepared to listen and learn, prepared to gently and lovingly ask that crucial question, “What is it that ails you?” And we’re prepared to ask it not only of those who frequent events like the Folsom Street Fair, but of ourselves and of the exalted leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.

Without doubt, the seeping sexual wound of both the Church and the world cries out to be healed. And healing is possible. Yet it won’t come through angry admonitions and holier-than-thou condemnations. It won’t come from an institution that, in its woundedness, suffers delusions of grandeur, declaring, for instance, that it has, here and now, all the answers we need.

No, authentic healing requires a commitment to the embodiment of a truly loving and pastoral response to that which ails each one of us; it requires gentleness and humility, an awareness that we are still very much on a pilgrimage of discovery, and that God’s loving call to integration and wholeness is present and discernable throughout the vast and varied realm of human sexuality.

Let the listening and the healing begin!


1. Savage, D. That Folsom Street Fair Poster. Slog.com, September 26, 2007.
2. Kennedy, E. The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001, p. 24.
3. Ibid., p. 204.
4. Ibid., p. 36.
5. Ibid., p. 205.
6-7. Ibid., p. 206.
8. Somé, S. The Spirit of Intimacy.

Image 1: Folsom Street Fair Web Site
Image 2: FredAlert

Recommended Off-site Link:
Queering the Last Supper by Kittredge Cherry.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Catholic League’s New Poster Boy?
What’s a Conscientious Faggot to Do?
The Non-negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
The Blood-soaked Thread
Hyprocisy, Ignorance, Promiscuity – and “the Love that is the Center of Catholic Christianity”
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Keeping the Spark Alive: An Interview with Chuck Lofy
The Many Forms of Courage
St. Francis of Assisi and Human Sexuality
The Sexuality of Jesus