Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride

Friends, let me tell you it’s quite something to sit at a booth marked “Catholic” at a Gay Pride festival!

For a substantial part of the past two days I’ve been helping staff the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) booth at the Twin Cities LGBT Pride Festival in Loring Park, situated on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. The CPCSM booth also served as “home base” for Catholic Rainbow Parents and The Progressive Catholic Voice online journal.

As you can see from the photo above, we had a large banner that read, “Inclusive Catholics: Welcoming and Affirming Catholic Parishes and Communities.” Our booth was situated in a prime spot in Loring Park, a kind of “town square” location. We really couldn’t be missed! As a result, we had a lot of visitors and experienced a range of responses.

Above: Mary Lynn Murphy, co-founder of Catholic Rainbow Parents
chats with visitors to the CPCSM booth in Loring Park
on Saturday, June 28, 2008.

Many folks did a double take when they first saw our banner.

“Inclusive Catholics? Is that even possible any more?” asked one passerby.

“Gay friendly?” inquired another. “You guys can’t be Catholic!”

In light of the Church’s treatment of its LGBT members, another visitor asked: “Shouldn’t it read, ‘Abusive Catholics’? He was only half joking, and I thought to myself: Yeah, he’s got a point.

One visibly irate visitor scoffed: “You can’t tell me there’s inclusive Catholic parishes after what the archbishop just did to St. Joan of Arc [Church].”

A young gay man also cited the recent controversy concerning St. Joan of Arc Church, noting that it was “the last place where I felt accepted, and now that’s not the case. It sucks.”

“Welcoming parishes are getting fewer and further between,” sighed another passerby, while one woman lamented: “I’m just so angry that the Church is going so backwards”; a view echoed by another passerby who declared: “The Church is moving forward into the twelfth century!”

“Over the centuries the Church has constructed a self-serving mythology,” one man said. “The Church is more concerned about maintaining this mythology than actually helping people. As long as they’ve got a group of people who buy into this mythology without thinking or questioning, then they’re happy to let the rest of us walk out the door.”

A man in his sixties declared: “I’ve been pissed off with the Catholic Church for 45 years.” When I asked him to explain why, he simply replied: “It’s just not user-friendly.”

Another man shared with me how a lot of his friends weren’t Catholic anymore. “And I can see why,” he said. “The situation is bad and it’s only getting worse. I’m really unhappy with the new archbishop. He’s so out of it.”

“He’s misinterpreting God,” another visitor said of Archbishop Nienstedt.

Yet another visitor to our booth remarked: “The archbishop has shot himself in the foot, big time, by alienating not just gays and lesbians, but women and anyone who isn’t Catholic in the same way he is.”

One man shared his nickname for Archbishop Nienstedt: “I call him ‘Dr. No,’” he said with a chuckle. Elaborating, he said, “How can you spend your life saying ‘No!’ ‘No!’ ‘No!’? What a wasted life.”

In sharing her views of those who comprise the Roman Catholic hierarchy, one elderly woman leaned toward me and said with utter conviction: “If Christ were here he would throw them out of the Temple!”

One young man confessed: “I grew up Catholic but left because of its treatment of gays.” He looked sadly at our “Inclusive Catholics” banner and said: “It would be nice to see change. Then I’d come back.”

So many eyed our banner with sad, weary smiles. “I’ve been there,” their look seemed to say, “but I just couldn’t take the spiritual and psychological abuse anymore.”

Yet although some can no longer stay, many nevertheless expressed support for the efforts of CPCSM, Catholic Rainbow Parents, and The Progressive Catholic Voice online journal to help the Church develop a more informed, compassionate, and inclusive theology of human sexuality.

“You’re doing a wonderful service of witness to a Church leadership that has lost its way,” one transgender individual told us.

“The Church is a living Church,” an elderly man reminded us. “And only the people can make it change.”

Another passerby paused, looked at our “Inclusive Catholics” banner and beamed: “It just makes me happy to see those two words together! Thank you for being here.”

Following are some more images from the
Twin Cities 2008 Gay Pride celebration . . .

Above: Some young Catholic visitors to the CPCSM booth - Sunday, June 29, 2008.

Above: What a cutie!

Above: A Native American presence at Pride. The indigenous peoples of the Americans have, of course, the tradition of Two-Spirit people.

Above: Gay rugby players! How butch.

Above: The words ‘pride’ and ‘truth’ written on the bodies of these two young men reminded me of Mark Lachapelle’s observation in his recent letter to the Star Tribune newspaper: “Growing up to discover one’s true identity is not a choice,” he writes. “The choice is whether to honor the truth of one’s identity and to act on it with dignity and grace. I view GLBT Pride as a celebration of truth, not [of a] meaningless ‘lifestyle.’”

(To read Lachapelle’s letter in its entirety, see the postscript to the previous Wild Reed post, Star Tribune’s Coverage of Catholic LGBT Pride Service).

Images: Michael Bayly and Paul Fleege.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Inclusive Catholics Celebrate Gay Pride (2007)
Worldwide Gay Pride - 2008
Worldwide Gay Pride - 2007
Our Catholic “Stonewall Moment”


Personof+ said...

I always find this thing about the Church hating guy people hard to swallow. Where I grew up it was not like that. We regularly had transexuals going to Mass, and no one batted an eye lid. Everyone thought that gay sex was a sin, but sex in general was sin, and everyone in church was doing it anyway. It was not like the evangelical churches around that made a point about about saying "God hates gays". My out, gay brother did leave the Church though. After a family meeting in which he told members of my family who were evading taxes that it was immoral. They then said to him who was he to tell them that they were immoral when they went to Mass regularly and he did not. I do think in general there is that feeling that gay people are inferior but it is not a hatred in the evangelical sense. Either way it's not nice.

CDE said...

In a similar vein, I have always found this thing about gay people hating the Church hard to swallow.

I'm not saying the Church could not do more to provide same-sex attracted men and women an idea of the "yes" they are called to (beyond the "no" of what they -- like all unmarried people -- are called to).

But I don't understand exactly how "gay" Catholics justify the vitriol they direct at the Church, or what good they hope to achieve by it. "Only love is creative," Saint Maximilian Kolbe once said.

Anonymous said...

A great day, Michael. All those comments about the Church -- I've been hearing them too, all my life.

A letter to the Tablet recently said that the problem is basically the gerontocratic structure of church authority. Not all gerontes are bad -- Cardinal Martini springs to mind -- but the ones who run the Catholic Church are chosen on the worst principles -- they are the bullied, who in power are negative, passive aggressive types.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

I'm curious: What are some examples of "the vitriol" directed at the Church by gay people? And when you say "the Church" what exactly do you mean?

It's possible that some can interpret justifiable criticism and calls for reform as "vitriol," I suppose - even when such criticism and calls are grounded in awareness and love.

I wouldn't say the comments I heard at Gay Pride from LGBT Catholics reflected hatred, but rather anger, frustration and/or disappointment.

Many felt let down, belittled, ignored, and marginalized by the institutional church. In short, their experiences and insights as LGBT people have been at an "official" level deemed worthless with regards illuminating God's transforming presence in human life. I think that's a great tragedy. And I also think that the institutional church has a lot to answer for in its refusal to listen, its refusal to grow.

As someone at the CPCSM booth said this past weekend: this institutional aspect of the Church is "more concerned about maintaining [its own self-serving] mythology than actually helping people." And as Australian Catholic bishop Geoffrey Robinson has noted, this "mythology" is very much tied-up with power and control.

Clearly, we have much work to do to lovingly challenge and reform aspects of our Church.



CDE said...

What are some examples of "the vitriol" directed at the Church by gay people?

In the past two months, I have read passages on your blog by yourself and others accusing Nienstedt and other church leaders of "unchristian tactics of stonewalling", "misusing the scriptures," embracing an "impoverished sexual theology," and of being "intellectually dishonest."

Most recently, Mr. McCaffrey went on record with the press describing the Archdiocesan decision re: the GLBT prayer service as "another volley of dehumanizing spiritual violence" and he spoke of "Archbishop Nienstedt's reign of homophobic hatred."

These sorts of comments overstep the bounds of constructive criticism and represent the launch of an offensive against the Church's pastors and her perennial teaching. These comments misrepresent the people spoken of and impute bad motives.

when you say "the Church" what exactly do you mean?

I am referring to the community established by Christ which extends through the ages, whose guarantor of unity is Peter and his successors. It includes an institutional element. It also includes the saints... all those who have lived within the communion of the faith, professing and witnessing to the faith.

I also think that the institutional church has a lot to answer for in its refusal to listen, its refusal to grow.

What about the GLBT activist community: does it stand in no need of listening or growing?

this institutional aspect of the Church is "more concerned about maintaining [its own self-serving] mythology than actually helping people."

Could not the same critique be leveled against the GLBT movement?

My point is not to avoid the difficult questions, but to illustrate that I don't think the GLBT movement has been sufficiently self-critical and operates on a discernment that has little, if anything, in common with what has been traditionally understood as Christian principles of discernment. Obedience, humility, and conformity with the Gospel are trivialized as dysfunctional attitudes. Always looking for solutions to problems "out there" by fault-finding with the institutional Church misses the insight of Saint Francis and the other great reformers in the Church -- that reform begins within, not without. A Gospel passage about splinters and beams comes to mind...

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for sharing but I find myself disagreeing with much of what you say and imply.

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.