Monday, October 06, 2008

A Priest's Courageous Act

Fortunate Families recently alerted its mailing list to the courageous actions of Geoffrey Farrow, a Roman Catholic priest in Fresno, California.

Following are excerpts from the transcript of KFSN’s news story about this event, with a few of my own thoughts added, along with some relevant links. (To view the video of this news story, click here.)


10/5/2008 Fresno, CA, USA (KFSN) - Father Geoffrey Farrow of the Saint Paul Newman Center in northeast Fresno shocked parishioners Sunday morning when he came out against Proposition 8, an initiative that would eliminate the right for same sex couples to marry in California.

After 23 years as an ordained Catholic priest, Father Geoffrey Farrow has likely given his final mass. Sunday morning he invited us to hear his message, a message that shocked many parishioners.

Eleven o’clock mass began as usual Sunday. Father Geoff led parishioners through prayer and communion.

The homily taught of acceptance, love and rejection. But it was his closing remarks that left some parishioners stunned.

Fr. Geoff says that after numerous inquiries from parishioners asking for direction on Proposition 8, which if passed would ban gay marriage, he must go against the Bishops recommendation and instead go with what he feels is right.

“In directing the faithful to vote yes on Proposition 8, the California Bishops are not only entering the political arena, they are ignoring the advances and insights of neurology, psychology and the very statements by the church itself that homosexuality is innate,” says Fr. Geoff.

The priest acknowledges his controversial comments will have consequences. “I know that these words of truth will cost me dearly. But to withhold them would be far more costly and I would become an accomplice to a moral evil that strips gay and lesbian couples, not only of their civil rights but of their human dignity as well.” [Whoa! I can’t tell you I long I’ve waited for a priest to have the courage to speak such words of truth. Actually, I have heard many priests express similar sentiments, just never publicly. And that’s the problem: a lack of courage. Hopefully Fr. Farrow’s example will inspire and encourage his brother priests to take a public stand for the rights of gay people.]

We sat down with Father Geoff before mass, and he answered the question many are probably wondering ... Is he gay?

“It’s a secondary issue,” he says, “but yes, I am. And when I was a boy I asked God please make me normal and the prayer never got answered and I realized why. Because God would’ve made somebody else, he wouldn’t have made me.” [This guy has been on quite a journey. Yet, without doubt, he’s at a point of being at one with his Creator, and it’s a powerful and beautiful thing to witness.]

Sunday mass ended with about half the congregation giving a standing ovation. Outside parishioners had mixed reaction about the priest’s remarks.

Esmeralda Gonzalez, parishioner, said: “My reaction was extremely shocking. I believe that as the body of Christ and as being Catholics we are made to follow by commandments. And God made it to be Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.” [I agree: Her reaction is extremely shocking . . . not to mention moronic! As Dr. Simon Rosser notes in this interview: “The ultra-conservatives are fond of saying that ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.’ Well that’s not reality. Based on science’s current understanding of the origins and stability of sexual orientation, God made Adam, Eve, and Steve; and until we have a theology that can deal with that complexity the Church is neither healthy nor living in reality.”]

Joshua De La Cerda, another parishioner, said: “This is something Jesus would have done . . . spoke out for the truth.” [Amen, brother.]

Fr. Geoff said after months of struggling with what to do, said in the end he followed his heart.

“In any event regardless of what I or anyone else does in their life, one day you die, and on that day were you true to your conscience, were you true to what you believe. And I think that’s the question each of us has to answer. If the answer is no, hell already began before you died.”

The parish is clearly divided over this controversy. A few parishioners left in tears. [I wish the reporter had interviewed some of these parishioners and ascertained what exactly they were crying about.]

We contacted Bishop John Steinbock, the head of the Diocese of Fresno this afternoon. He said he has not talked to Father Geoff Farrow, only has heard rumors about what happened today. He told us Proposition 8 is not a homosexuality issue rather about the institution of marriage which is the basis of our society.” [Implied in the bishop’s statement is that “the institution of marriage” has always been what it is today. Not so, as Stephanie Coontz and others have documented. Also, the bishop is making no distinction between civil marriage and sacramental marriage. The civil right for gay people to marry does not and will not force any religious organization to perform gay marriages. So what really is the bishop’s problem? Finally, I actually consider the “basis of our society” to be individuals and units of individuals (be they couples, families or communities) who live and operate from a basis of compassion and conscience.]

To read the full text of Fr. Farrow’s homily, click here.

To read the 2005 letter that Catholic Rainbow Parents sent to the priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis concerning the chancery's support of a constitutional amendment that, if passed, would have banned “gay marriage and all legal equivalents in Minnesota, see the second half of this previous post.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Father Geoffrey Farrow, My Hat is Off to You - Fr. Tony (
The Bilerico Project, October 8, 2008).
Father Geoff Farrow’s Blog

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Reflections on the Primacy of Conscience
The Question of an “Informed” Catholic Conscience
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 1)
A Catholic Understanding of Faithful Dissent (Part 2)
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Church Fires “Openly” Gay Music Director
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
The Real Gay Agenda
Just Love
Is Anyone in the Least Bit Surprised By This?
Love is Love
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality


kevin57 said...

I applaud Fr. Farrow's courage of convictions. Many, many priests would concur with his sentiments. I am a bit perplexed, though, as to why this would be his "final mass."

Could there be repercussions in terms of advancement up the diocesan pecking order? You bet. But he's done nothing to merit being tossed out of the priesthood. Gay marriage is not defined "de fide." If his bishop tried to punish him, Father could tie him up in Vatican courts for years to come...assuming he gets a good canon lawyer.

pepperwolf said...

Thank you Michael for bringing to our attention Father Geoffrey Farrow's interview and homily. We need more people like him, willing to take a risk and speak out. Stories like this inspire me (and others) to have the courage to act.
"Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics." Jane Addams
PS I love your blog.

michael said...

Obviously there is a lot that is missing from this story. There are many such priests & men in orders who dissent from the Church's various positions. I know of many priests and religious who self ientify as homosexual or gay. That generally doesn't warrant their superiors to boot them out of their houses. Why is this priest vacating the premises? I applaud the courage of his convictions, regardless of whether I agree or not, but he seems to be anxious to cut and run. Is he coming out as a partnered gay priest or something?

Clayton said...

I am a bit perplexed, though, as to why this would be his "final mass."

Looks like self-sabotage. He never spoke with his bishop about it, but instead invited the television media to interview him before Mass (and before telling the congregation). Either the media misrepresented him, or he made the decision himself that it would be his last Mass...

He said he had received the fax about his bishop's support for Prop 8 more than three months earlier, but he hadn't even spoken with his bishop yet.

It doesn't look like this priest chose an assertive, mature way of dealing with his concerns.

Clayton said...

Here's the press release from the bishop of Fresno, following up on the incident.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, Clayton, for providing this link.