Sunday, November 30, 2008

Disarming the Weapons Within

On the first Sunday of Advent four years ago, I had the honor of delivering the following sermon to the community of Spirit of the Lakes United of Christ Church.


Disarming the Weapons Within
A Sermon by Michael J. Bayly
Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ
November 29, 2004

Some of you may have heard about the recent incident at the Roman Catholic cathedral in St. Paul involving an individual or group of individuals splashing oil on the exterior stone work in an attempt to re-consecrate the building after a group of gay Catholics – wearing rainbow sashes – attended Mass and received Communion.

According to cathedral staff, several thousand dollars in damage was done to the building as a result of what some have called an “anti-gay exorcism” – an event that has caused somewhat of a stir in the local media.

I wasn’t at the cathedral on November 7 when the Rainbow Sash action and subsequent “exorcism” took place. Still. As executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), I was interviewed this past week by both the Star Tribune and KARE 11 News about this incident.

As most of you know, CPCSM advocates for LGBT Catholics and their families. We’re a 25-year-old independent, grassroots coalition with no official ties to the archdiocese. For just over a year now we’ve had our office here at Spirit of the Lakes.

When I was called by Brad Woodard of KARE 11 and asked if I would be willing to talk about the so-called “exorcism” at the cathedral, I readily said I would. Riding on the Lake St. bus to Spirit of the Lakes – where we had agreed to meet for the interview – I started thinking about what exactly I would say.

Years as an activist in the anti-corporate globalization and anti-war movements have taught me that most mainstream media outlets prefer the quick sound bite. Yet I’ve also learned how important it is to go beyond knee-jerk reactions to seemingly isolated events and to attempt to identify and articulate the underlying systemic dimension of such events.

I soon realized that I couldn’t just talk about and condemn what the cathedral staff was referring to as actions of a “deluded individual.” It was bigger than that.

What happened at the cathedral was bigger than the actions of a single individual or fringe group. The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church itself could not be absolved from its own complicacy in the anti-gay incident that took place at the Cathedral of St. Paul on November 7.

Some of you present may have been raised Catholic. Along with others, you are no doubt familiar with the language that the hierarchy, the so-called leadership of the Church, uses when talking about homosexuality; when talking about the innate desire og gay and lesbian people to build loving and committed relationships. The Roman Catholic Church labels such basic human longings as “intrinsically evil” and “objectively disordered.”

In my interview with KARE 11, I declared that this type of language and the thinking behind it is part of the problem, and thus a contributing factor to the recent events at the cathedral. We should not be surprised, I said, when irresponsible language encourages irresponsible acts.

To its credit, KARE 11 did give air time to my attempt to identify and name the systemic homophobia of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy and the way that it fuels and indirectly justifies hurtful and dangerous anti-gay behavior.

Now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with the First Sunday of Advent. Well, our readings today are all about transformation – of beating swords into plowshares, of letting go and being open and vulnerable to God’s transforming love within and among us. Reflecting upon these readings I’ve come to realize that weapons not only come in the form of guns and bombs, but also in the form of words.

I’ve lifted up for you this morning the bigoted words of my own Catholic tradition in relation to the issue of homosexuality.

They are words that hurt and devastate many individuals and families.

They are words that reflect a rigid, narrow, and ultimately Spirit-denying way of speaking about God – present and active in human life.

They are words that do not reflect the lives and relationships of LGBT people open to God’s transforming love.

They are words that deny the reality that God is still speaking.

In countering such words it’s very easy to craft one’s own sharp reactions and retorts – words and arguments that could also lash out and hurt others like weapons.

In the progressive and activist circles I work within – both secular and religious – I’ve seen such weapons being employed against those who use them against us. At times I’m tempted to use them myself. Yet I’ve also seen how dangerous and useless they are as, ultimately, they sere merely to isolate, harden, and polarize people.

As peacemakers, as followers of the Prince of Peace, our words should not be used as weapons. Rather than polarize and deaden ourselves and others, our words should invite and encourage dialogue, bridge-building, and hope. I’ve often found that careful yet incisive questioning can achieve such things much more effectively than self-righteous statements – which so often can come across as smug and elitist.

There are times, of course, when our words must challenge and speak truth in the face of fear and bigotry, but they should do so in a spirit of compassion rather than in hateful condemnation or condescending preaching.

We’re living through difficult and dangerous times – with wars and rumors of war, threats of terrorism, and rising fascism at home and abroad. People – Americans in particular – are fearful. And this fear is purposely being cultivated and projected outwards to “the other” – to those who threaten a very narrow understanding of “the American way of life.”

Not surprisingly, the majority of Americans have retreated into a false sense of security – one bolstered by militarism and reactionary politics. As a result, there’s a cultural backlash against gay people and the idea of gay civil rights – as demonstrated by the recent passing of gay marriage bans in eleven U.S. states.

In light of all of this, is it any wonder that the FBI now reports that sexual orientation-based crimes are now the second highest category of reported hate offenses?

How as LGBT people, as followers of a God of peace, are we to respond to such things? What will it take for this great yet fearful nation to change course? And what words are we called to speak? What role are we called to play in the transformation that is needed?

These are some of the critical questions of our time. And like you, I grapple with such questions and with how it is that I as an individual and as a member of various communities can respond to them in truly authentic and life-affirming ways.

One thing’s for sure: before I think globally, I have to think personally. If I’m going to denounce and challenge U.S. weapons of steel and fire raining down on Iraq, I also must denounce my own weapons of negative and hurtful attitudes and words that can rage within my own heart.

In a recent article posted on, gay activist and author Jason Victor Serinus reflected on these same types of questions I’ve shared with you this morning.

In his piece entitled, “Marriage and the Electorate,” he writes: “What it will take for Americans to change course, short of another holocaust of global proportions, I do not know. But I do know that if we continue to treat ‘them’ as the ‘enemy’ – as the ‘other’ – if we continue to treat ‘them’ the way they treat ‘us’ [as gay people, then] the dichotomies will only intensify. Four more years of [George W.] Bush jokes will not a free America make.”

Serinus goes on to say: “Rather than present a phony quick fix, a magic bullet alternative to our government’s delusional promises of safety from external and internal terror, I offer a rainbow affirmation.”

“Every time we affirm the human connection that transcends gender, race, sexual orientation, and nationality; every time we nurture ourselves and our friends; every time we take responsibility for our lives and own the parts of ourselves that we dislike as well as those we like, we live the alternative that this country so deeply needs. When all is said and done, we are part of the solution. Gay, straight, or whatever, this is no time to run and hide. It is time to express love to the fullest.”

My friends, as we begin our Advent journey, let our every word and action express the challenging, transforming love of our God. Only such words and actions will light our way to the ultimate goal of our Advent pilgrimage – that being the birth of Christ, God’s Spirit of compassion and consciousness, within the brokenness of our own lives and the life of the world.

It is this embodiment, this incarnation of consciousness and compassion, to which we are called. The striving to daily embody this consciousness and compassion, this Christic state of being, is our highest and noblest calling as human beings – or, as some have named us, human becomings.

So let us become Advent people – this Advent season and at all times of the year. Let us journey together as we grow in awareness and compassion. And let us ensure that our words and actions do not serve as hurtful and divisive weapons, but as vessels by which we carry and share with one another our God’s transforming love.


Michael Bayly
November 29, 2004

For other homilies I’ve delivered, see the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany
Praying for George W. Bush
On the Road with Punk Rockers and Homeless Mothers
Something We Dare Call Hope
Soul Deep
The Harvest Within the Heart
Somewhere in Between
Dispatches from the Periphery

See also the related Wild Reed post:
My Advent Prayer for the Church

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Garry Wills: All "Poped Out"

In the latest issue of the National Catholic Reporter, John Allen, Jr. has a fascinating profile of historian and journalist Garry Wills (pictured at right), whom Allen describes as “perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years.”

Wills, of course, is the author of a number of acclaimed books, including 2000’s Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, a “blistering, best-selling polemic against what [Will’s] described as systemic papal dishonesty and inflated papal power.”

Allen begins his piece on Wills by noting that during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the U.S. last April, Wills “spurned requests for comment from every major TV network, as well as The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.”

Wills, writes Allen, “offers a simple motive for his reticence: ‘I’m poped out. I’ve had my say, and I have no desire to say more. . . . Popes don’t interest me very much.’”

Following are excerpts from those parts of Allen’s interview with Wills that focus on Wills’ theological journey and the impact of his book Papal Sin.


Excerpts from
“Poped Out” Wills Seeks
Broader Horizons

By John L. Allen, Jr.
National Catholic Reporter
November 28, 2008

. . . In the wake of Papal Sin, fans and critics alike tended to style Wills as a new guru of the Catholic left, a sort of Noam Chomsky for the Call to Action set. In truth, he is both less and more. Less, in that Wills has no interest in leading a reform campaign in Catholicism, since doing so would imply investment in an institution he regards as irrelevant and dull; more, in that Wills is hardly just a “Catholic writer,” but one of America’s most distinguished nonfiction writers, period, whose horizons are far broader than the church.

Wills’ remarkable life and career thus reflect several realities of U.S. Catholic life: the emancipation of American Catholics from their pre-Vatican II ghetto into the full light of secular accomplishment and acclaim; the post-Vatican II option of many liberal Catholics for political and social crusades rather than internal church concerns; and the consequent quandary of the Catholic left, which is that its best and brightest often don’t care enough about the institutional church to stand and fight.

. . . There’s never been any doubt about his erudition. Wills is the kind of guy who, as a young man, when asked if he was a conservative, would reply, “No, I’m a distributist.” (To save traffic on the Wikipedia Web site, distributism is a political theory associated with the English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton and 19th-century papal social teaching. It posits that ownership of the means of production should be widely distributed among the population, rather than controlled by the state, as in communism, or by financial elites, as in capitalism. Its model is the medieval guild system. Not coincidentally, Wills’ first book was on Chesterton, and he remains for Wills an enormous influence.)

Today Wills is regarded as America’s premier presidential historian, with acclaimed studies of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, Kennedy and Nixon. His Pulitzer Prize came for the 1992 book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, which is routinely assigned at major American universities as mandatory reading for incoming freshmen.

Wills is also an accomplished expert on antiquity. His doctorate from Yale was in the classics, and in 1999 he published a powerful biography of St. Augustine. This fall, he’s bringing out a new translation of the Latin epigrams of Martial – typically, it’s a project he pursued largely as a way to unwind. He’s also set to publish a small book, based on a lecture at the Smithsonian, entirely devoted to one fairly obscure 19th-century American painting: Thomas Eakins’ “William Rush Carving the Allegory of the Schuylkill River.”

Yet this consummate intellectual is also one of the country’s most acclaimed reporters, with a keen eye for detail and a knack for being where the action is.

Wills’ 1969 tour de force Nixon Agonistes, for example, managed to blend deep questions of political theory with on-the-spot color from Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, much of which rivals the best of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s later account of Nixon’s ’72 re-election bid, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, for both insight and comic relief.

Wills famously began his journalistic career as a right-wing protégé of fellow Yalie William F. Buckley Jr. at the National Review. During a subsequent stint as a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter in the paper’s early years, he was considered the “token conservative” on the opinion page. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, however, Wills moved steadily to the left, driven by the experience of covering the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam War protests.

No matter where Wills stood on the ideological spectrum, his writing in venues such as Esquire, The Saturday Evening Post and New York magazine always turned heads. Over time, he entered that select circle of journalists who are almost as much a celebrity as the people they cover.

In Catholic terms, Wills is a classic case of a local boy who made good. He emerged from the cocoon of preconciliar ghetto Catholicism in the United States, and took the secular world by storm.

He was born in Atlanta in 1934, but spent most of his youth in Adrian, Mich., where he attended schools run by the famed Adrian Dominican sisters. He recalls inscribing “JMJ” on his schoolwork, saying “Hail Marys” before free throws, and cultivating devotion to the Infant of Prague. Looking back from the perspective of the early 1970s, Wills would write: “It was a ghetto, but not a bad ghetto to grow up in.”

The experience obviously left its mark. To this day, Wills says he has never seriously questioned his Catholic faith. He is a weekly Mass-goer at the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University, and prays the rosary every day. (“I haven’t got that many ways to pray that I can afford to lose the one that comes most easily,” he said with a laugh.) Although he parts company with church teaching on papal infallibility, abortion and transubstantiation, he’s perfectly comfortable with the Nicene Creed: “I stick with the basics,” Wills said.

. . . [W]hen he turned to Papal Sin, it was not a book he particularly wanted to write. Instead, he said, it came out of a feeling of obligation.

“I had known very intelligent, conscientious priests who had a big influence on me, and I felt that their views were not being reflected in the general discussion of the church,” Wills said.

“That was true of a lot of people I knew. I have friends who are ex-seminarians, as I am, and a number of them have drifted away from the church. The Sheil Center, where I go to Mass, is full of people who are totally disaffected from the hierarchy, but who still believe and still go to church.”

One measure of a book’s impact is the level of vituperation it arouses, and by that standard, few Catholic titles in recent memory have proved quite as provocative as Papal Sin. Writing in First Things, Jesuit critic Edwin Oakes termed Wills a tiresome “suburban Poverello,” in need of a course in elementary logic. Not to be outdone, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus accused Wills of being a “cultural Erastian,” meaning, roughly, that whenever there’s a tension between liberal democracy and Roman Catholicism, in Wills’ mind it’s always liberal democracy that should prevail.

(On this score, Wills is happy to concede: “I like liberal democracy, there’s no doubt about that,” he said, arguing that so does Catholic tradition. In the councils of the early church, Wills insists, matters were settled on a “one man, one vote” basis.)

Some eight years after Papal Sin first appeared, conservatives still seem to be smarting, though they usually strike a note of regret rather than rage.

“He seems to live in a world that’s ‘forever 1968,’ and that means he’s missed a lot of what’s been evangelically exciting and fresh about the last 40 years, including the greatness of John Paul II,” George Weigel told NCR. “That’s a sadness, both for the U.S. Catholic debate and for American culture.”

In the wake of the book, Wills said he found that Catholic colleges are no longer as eager to offer him honorary degrees as they once were. Beyond that, Wills said, officialdom has precious little other leverage to employ, since he is neither a priest nor an employee of a Catholic institution.

If he had it to do over again, Wills said he might be more sensitive to Papal Sin’s argumentative tone. In the main, however, he’s been gratified by how Catholics responded.

“It comforted a lot of people who think the same things I think, and who worried that maybe they’re not a good Catholic after all,” Wills said. “I gave them encouragement, which is the nicest thing that came out of those two books,” referring to Papal Sin and his 2002 follow-up, Why I Am a Catholic.

. . . When Papal Sin appeared, many Catholic liberals thought they had found their Moses, a long-sought progressive alternative to a perceived conservative monopoly on Catholic “spin.” In a February 2003 piece in Commentary, British journalist Daniel Johnson even supplied the appropriate taxonomy, suggesting that American Catholicism can be divided into “Weigel Catholics” and “Wills Catholics.”

What those reactions failed to appreciate, however, is that Wills never saw himself that way.

“I never meant to try to bring about change [in the church], because that’s not my business,” Wills said. “I’m Catholic, always have been, but I’m not running for any particular Catholic status. I just practice my faith.”

If pressed, Wills expresses basic confidence that the church will eventually move in the direction he’s outlined: “After all, more people agree with my position than with the pope’s on a lot of these things,” he said. He scoffs at suggestions that Pope John Paul II revitalized institutional Catholicism: “If he were all that popular, wouldn’t more young men want to be like him? Wouldn’t there be no priest shortage?”

Yet Wills has no ambition to be the one who moves things along. Wills is emphatic that he has no inclination – “none, zero” – to serve as a spokesperson for dissidents in the church. Aside, perhaps, from a study of the Book of Revelation to complement his titles on the Gospels and on St. Paul, Wills said he has no intention of writing anything more on Catholic topics. Even the prospect of a study of St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, holds no appeal.

When asked if he would be tempted to accept should Pope Benedict XVI himself offer to sit down for an exclusive, no-holds-barred interview, Wills doesn’t hesitate to say no. Yet if opera singer Natalie Dessay were to dangle the same invitation, Wills said, “I’d do it in a shot.”

So it goes with Wills, whose mastery of the Catholic past at times seems rivaled only by his disinterest in its present.

To read John Allen Jr’s profile on Garry Wills in its entirety, click here.

For more of Garry Wills at The Wild Reed, see the previous posts:
The Loyal Catholic in Changing Times
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
What It Means to Be Catholic
Beyond Papalism
The “Underground Church”
To Whom the Future of the Catholic Church Belongs
Our Progressive Catholic Youth
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Who Gets to Called Catholic – and Why?

Image: Associated Press photo/Charles Rex Arbogast.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Angela Bonavoglia on the Church’s “Continued Demonization of Women”

Award-winning journalist and author Angela Bonavoglia (pictured at right) recently wrote a powerful commentary for the Womens Media Center. It was subsequently reprinted by The Huffington Post, and I’m taking the liberty of reprinting today at The Wild Reed.

I found Bonavoglia’s reflection well worth reading.
Perhaps you will too.


Voices Carry

Lay Catholics and Priests Challenge Bishops
on Abortion and Ordination

By Angela Bonavoglia

For a long time now, long enough for the [Roman] Catholic Church to shrink more than any other denomination in the United States, the targets of its greatest condemnation have been women and the men who support them. While losing 30 million followers in recent years, the church has saved its most incendiary rhetoric and most extreme acts of censure for those who are pro-choice or pro-ordination.

It is no accident that in the Catholic Church today, the greatest, most horrific, most horrendous sin a human being can commit is a woman’s sin. Men do not present their bodies for abortions; women do. I felt the impact of that judgment as I’d never felt it before when I sat in St. Peter’s Cathedral in my hometown diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in October listening to the letter written by Bishop Joseph Martino. Intended to intimidate Catholics who were thinking they might vote for Barack Obama for president, regardless of his pro-choice views, the letter was required reading by every priest in the diocese, in place of a homily. While careful not to single out the woman who has an abortion, except to chastise her for her “selfishness,” the letter came across as a virulent anti-woman screed.

The reading, which lasted over half an hour, said that abortion is “so heinous, so horribly evil, and so absolutely opposite to the law of Almighty God that [it] must take precedence over every other issue.” The letter likened the justification for condemning abortion to the justification for denouncing “Nazi officials who murdered mentally ill people.” It argued that abortion was actually a graver moral ill than waging a bloody, unprovoked “unjust” war. It likened pro-choice supporters to Cain who murdered his brother Abel – Cain who knew that in time “everyone that findeth me the murderer shall slay me (Genesis 4:13-14).” It declared pro-choice candidates to be “supporters of homicide.”

Sitting there listening to that vitriol, I shuddered. Where is the line, I wondered, between denouncing abortion, and by extension the women who have abortions, and taking up arms – or torches – against them?

The Catholic Church’s commitment to excommunicating anyone who dares to even express support for the ordination of women is yet another manifestation of the church’s continued demonization of women. The church maintains that this is God’s law, not its own. And it does this despite the archaeological and Biblical evidence of women priests, deacons and bishops; the conclusion of the Vatican’s own Pontifical Biblical Commission that there are no Biblical or Scriptural grounds forbidding women’s ordination; and the simple fact that Jesus never ordained anybody.

These two issues have not accidentally come together. Indeed, the church hierarchy’s increasingly hysterical opposition to abortion (and the whole range of women’s reproductive health issues) and to women’s ordination grows from a fundamental tenet of all patriarchal religions: that women cannot represent the Divine because women’s bodies are the locus for humanity’s greatest sins. Empowered women are dangerous.

What’s new in this new millennium is that an increasing number of Catholics are fighting back. Despite the excoriations of bishops like Martino, the majority of Catholics, 54 percent, voted for Obama for president. So did a whopping 67 percent of Hispanics – the fastest growing group of Catholics in America.

Despite decrees of excommunication – which bar a Catholic from receiving the Eucharist, a Catholic burial, all of the sacraments – scores of women have been ordained priests through the provocative and burgeoning Roman Catholic Womenpriests Movement. And they’ve done so with the support of a growing number of Roman Catholics, including priests – most recently, the legendary and beloved anti-war activist, Father Roy Bourgeois.

A Maryknoll priest for 36 years, Bourgeois is a giant in the peace movement, a Vietnam vet, a Purple heart recipient, and founder of the School of the Americas Watch. SOA Watch is devoted to ending U.S. training of Latin American military at what is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, military personnel who in the past have committed grave atrocities.

Following in the footsteps of Father James Callan – who participated in the pioneering public ordination of pastoral minister Mary Ramerman in Rochester, New York, in 2001, before 3,000 ebullient supporters, after which both were excommunicated – Bourgeois co-presided and gave the homily at the ordination ceremony of his long-time peace activist friend Janice Sevre-Duszynska. Because Sevre-Duszynska is a member of what has become a very high profile international women’s ordination movement, Bourgeois’ participation did not go unnoticed.

In response to the Vatican’s letter demanding that he recant his support for women’s ordination or be excommunicated, Bourgeios issued his own excoriation. “Women in our church are telling us that God is calling them to the priesthood,” he wrote. “Who are we, as men, to say to women, ‘Our call is valid, but yours is not.’”

Equating his support for women’s ordination with the whole of the social justice agenda, he went on: “Eight years ago, while in Rome for a conference on peace and justice, I was invited to speak about the SOA on Vatican Radio. During the interview, I stated that I could not address the injustice of the SOA and remain silent about injustice in my church. I ended the interview by saying, ‘There will never be justice in the Catholic Church until women can be ordained.’ I remain committed to this belief today.”

Crediting his faith in the church’s sacred concept of conscience, the final barometer of what is right and wrong, Bourgeois refused to recant his “belief and public statements that support the ordination of women in our church.” He warned his fellow priests against being the “voice of complicity” and urged them to “break our silence.”

Father Roy’s excommunication is all but certain. But so it seems is a growing Catholic rejection of the all-male hierarchy’s self-serving positions on issues that deeply affect women. The fevered pitch of ecclesiastical rhetoric is living proof of the power of those voices, which are now coming from the pews – and from the altar.

NOTE: This piece was originally written for the Women’s Media Center website. The WMC is a non-profit organization founded by Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Robin Morgan, dedicated to making women “visible and powerful in the media.”

What says about the author: Angela Bonavoglia is an award-winning journalist and author. Her latest book, Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church (Harper Collins), spotlights the crucial of role of women—from nuns to lay women, theologians to activists, ministers to newly ordained women priests—in all areas of progressive Church reform. Bonavoglia interviewed women who are re-thinking Catholic theology and changing the face of ministry; resurrecting the lost lives of female Church leaders and boldly moving ahead with women's ordination; challenging the Church’s sexual repression, defending the victims of clergy sex abuse, campaigning for optional celibacy, and calling the Church to openness and accountability.

Since the Papal transition in 2005, Bonavoglia has been a guest on more than 60 television and radio shows speaking about women and Church reform. Bonavoglia also has written extensively about reproductive health. She authored The Choices We Made: 25 Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion, an oral history spanning seven decades, from the 1920s through the 1980s, which includes Catholic women’s special struggles with abortion (Random House 1991; Four Walls Eight Windows 2001). With a foreword by Gloria Steinem, the book features Bonavoglia’s interviews with such notables as Whoopi Goldberg, Rita Moreno, Grace Paley, Kathy Najimy, Linda Ellerbee, Jill Clayburgh, Anne Archer, and Polly Bergen.

In addition to her journalism, Bonavoglia has held key administrative positions with, and served as a communications and development consultant to, major foundations, public agencies and nonprofit organizations. She holds an MSW from New York University.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Fr. Roy Bourgeois: “We Need Women Priests for the Church to Be Healthy and Complete”
Fr. Roy Bourgeois Threatened with Excommunication
Mary of Magdala
Revealing a Hidden History
Reflections on The Da Vinci Code Controversy
Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code
Roman Catholic Womenpriests Ordained in Minneapolis
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit of which the Prophet Joel Speaks
Could Christ Have Been a Woman?
Responding to Excommunication
The Discussion Continues
Crisis? What Crisis?
“We Are All the Rock” – An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest, Judith McKloskey

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just Now and Then

We need to hold each other
in silence now and then;
language can be misleading
and two-edged words cause wounds
even though used in jesting,
jousting thrust and parry.

But I would wrap you round
with tenderness,
lay aside swords and arrows,
raise the visor, drop the shield,
hold and be held and let
the gift and need of love
encircle us in silence –

now and then.

Helene McLeod

– From Courage to Love: Liturgies for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community by Geoffrey Duncan (ed.), Pilgrim Press, 2002.

Image: “Tony and Clint, Together as One” by Dylan Rosser.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Lover Of Us All
Grounded Angel
And Love is Lord of All
Making Love, Giving Life
In the Footsteps of Spring: Introduction
In the Footsteps of Spring: Part 1 - The Light Within
In the Footsteps of Spring: Part 2 - Shards of Summer
In the Footsteps of Spring: Part 3 - Intimate Soliloquies
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Song of Songs: The Bible’s Gay Love Poem
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality

Monday, November 24, 2008

Homosexuality and the Priesthood

“Jesus Before the Priests”
(from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision)
by Doug Blanchard.

In what’s now rather old
news the Vatican has released a set of “new guidelines” for the “psychological” testing of seminarians – all in an effort to prevent gay men from becoming priests.

The new Vatican document seems to build upon a 2005 one that said men with “deep seated homosexual tendencies” shouldn’t be ordained, but those with a “transitory problem” could become priests if they had overcome their homosexual “tendencies” for three years. The new guidelines stress that if a future priest shows “deep seated homosexual tendencies,” his seminary training “would have to be interrupted.”

I must admit I’ve been putting off writing about this latest Vatican document because I find it so offensive.

Let me explain further by drawing your attention to the image that opens this post, Doug Blanchard’s painting “Jesus Before the Priests.” In commenting on this particular artwork, Kittredge Cherry writes: “The priests look like so many I have known. They stand by, wringing their hands while they let injustice and violence happen. . . . Blanchard has got that churchly smug indifference down cold.”

Hmm, Cherry must not have known many Catholic priests! After all, within Roman Catholicism the majority of bishops and priests don’t just “stand by, wringing their hands.” No, as this latest document from the Vatican demonstrates, high ranking clerics within the Church are actively involved in the spiritual abuse of gay people. It’s way beyond “smug indifference.”

Of course, this shouldn’t be in the least bit surprising given the “blood-soaked thread” that runs through the history of Roman Catholicism’s “official” understanding and treatment of gays. It’s still disheartening though.

And, as a gay man, I find it difficult to fathom how any religious organization that claims to follow the path of consciousness and compassion embodied by Jesus could be so ignorant and abusive. Put another way: How can they not see that by coldly and systematically beating up on their gay brothers they’re also abusing Christ present within us all?

That’s all I really want to say.

I will, however, take this opportunity to share excerpts from some powerful and insightful commentaries written by two Catholic priests – priests who courageously challenge the Church’s dysfunction and cruelty on this issue.

First, here’s what Geoff Farrow, the Roman Catholic priest who bravely spoke out against Proposition 8, has to say:

What [the new guidelines] reveal is the strategy of the hierarchy, at least those in the Vatican, to play a sort of “shell game” with the pedophilia sex scandal. They begin by announcing new psychological screening guidelines for seminarians. Sounds good, so far. Then they speak about “psychopathic disturbances.” OK, most everyone would agree that pedophilia falls in this category, it is listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. But then, the guidelines suddenly switch gears and introduce the issue of homosexuality.

Pedophilia is a mental disorder. It has ZERO to do with the gender or the sexual orientation of the pedophile. What it has to do with is that an adult suffers from an impulsive mental disorder in which he/she engages in sexual relationships with minors. There are both male and female pedophiles, there are both heterosexual and homosexual pedophiles. The issue is pedophilia not gender or orientation. So, why mix the two subjects in these new guidelines?

Certainly, the Vatican officials who created these new guidelines are aware of these psychological distinctions. . . . The church sex scandal was not about the fact that some pedophiles made it into the ranks of the priesthood and abused children. It was about the fact that bishops who became aware of these pedophiles covered up their crimes and moved them around in an attempt to protect the institution from scandal and lawsuits.

. . . A pedophile is . . . an adult who seeks out and has sexual liaisons with minors. When you look at the educational system used by the church to train priests, a disturbing specter begins to emerge from the mist: Minor seminaries. Young adolescents were enrolled into minor seminaries starting their studies for the priesthood at 13 and 14 years of age. They were inserted into an all male environment, not permitted to date and effectively stunted in their psycho-sexual development. [These seminaries] became, though never intended as such, pedophile factories. The irony is, that most of these high school seminaries had closed by the time that the sex scandal exploded.

Needless to say, this is a huge embarrassment to the hierarchy and also constitutes a question of legal liability [that], as they state, [has] “trigger[ed] lawsuits that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements.” So, introducing the question of homosexuality into [these new] guidelines [for seminarians] seems very suspect indeed. There is no psychological basis for doing so, and it seems to be but a diversion of responsibility from the hierarchy to a scapegoat minority group.

Fr. Joseph S. O’Leary has also recently offered his usual erudite reflections on the Vatican’s new “guidelines”:

[In discussing the guidelines, Cardinal Grocholewski] says that deep-seated heterosexual tendencies are OK, which contradicts the idea that deep-seated tendencies mean something other than basic sexual orientation. [He also] distinguishes the deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which he sees as a variety of psychological immaturity, from transitory ones, which are not a bar to priesthood if one has outgrown them. In the 2005 interview he said: “As an example of transitory tendency our document lists the case of incomplete adolescence. But there can also be other cases. For example the case of those who have performed homosexual acts in a state of drunkenness, or of those who did so as a result of determined circumstances, such as having spent many years in prison. Or of those who have done so out of obedience to a superior or to earn money. In these cases, however, for the sake of prudence, to check that it is a matter of a truly transitory tendency, it is well that a fitting period of time be allowed to pass, which the document establishes as three years, before proceeding to ordination as deacon.”

This excludes the idea that a gay person who has not been sexually active for three years would be welcome in a seminary – a very wilful misconstrual of the document, which nonetheless has circulated widely!

The situation is something like that of the Motu Proprio restoring the Tridentine Mass and Cardinal Grocholewski is placed in the position that Cardinal Castrillon Hojos or the hapless Archbishop Ranjith hold on the liturgical front. It seems to me that Cardinal Grocholewski is desperately trying to suppress the interpretation that disables his 2005 document. It is ironic to see [individuals such as John Heard] embrace Grocholewski as his ally, and we may expect the superiors of religious orders and the bishops to follow suit as in 2005. The acrobatics to which the novel Catholic hermeneutics of reception, first practiced in the episcopal responses to Humanae Vitae (1968), has had recourse are now so well-developed that they can take in their stride the most acute contradictions. This is a measure of the distance between Vatican edicts and what is credible and practicable at ground level. But it is a curious way of dealing with truth. (See here.)

It seems to me that the Cardinal’s attitude is abusive and that, if implemented, it would be very damaging to the young men subjected to the psychological testing he advocates. In addition there is the wider abuse of a teaching that confirms ancient homophobic attitudes of the Catholic Church. Unless we have the clarity to name an abuse for what it is, we become ourselves perpetrators of abuse.

Another abusive aspect of the situation is the top-down style of communication adopted by the Vatican. In the USA this style of communication has met its Waterloo, as millions of Catholics simply ignored the shrill, authoritarian utterances of their bishops. President-elect Obama, in contrast, created grass roots understanding and consensus, something the Vatican and its bishops no longer even attempt.

There seems to be a new tightening of the rather sinister logic about sexuality and priesthood in these latest utterances. It was discerned in the 1990s that women could not be priests, for ontological reasons. Now it seems that gay men similarly are ontologically incapable of priesthood – a point stressed to the degree that some are wondering if homosexually oriented priests are validly ordained at all! Well, bad logic often leads to weird results.

Commentary from gay and non-gay Catholics has been for the most part in the vein of angry reaction, which is quite justified. Yet it is vital that we shift Catholic gay discourse from the register of reacting to Vatican provocations to that of building a solid corpus of wisdom. (See here.) Note that the behaviors listed by the Cardinal as reflective of “transitory” tendencies are indeed immature behavior, whereas he makes a serious category mistake when he equates sexual orientation with immaturity.

It is also a mistake to refer to orientation, both heterosexual and homosexual, as a deep-seated tendency. The word “tendency” is a weird denial of the reality of sexual orientation. John Heard [and others, notably those associated with the Courage apostolate] similarly reduces homosexual orientation to sporadic same-sex attraction, in another tactic of denial.

The phrase “same-sex attracted” is supposed to be a neutral term, but the motive for its invention is to avoid giving any positive identity or valorization to homosexual orientation, as the word “gay” does. It is an ideologically motivated term, directed against gay identity politics. On the phenomenological plane “same-sex attracted” is as gauche and clunky and wooden a phrase as “other-sex attracted” would be to describe heterosexuals. The vilification of the phrase “sexual orientation” feeds into the lies of “Christianists” who want to characterize sexual orientation either as a sinful “choice” or as an “affliction” from which grace and the sect’s love-bombing can magically redeem the afflicted one or again as an “objective disorder” (since “orientation” is a word that does not suggest a disorder but rather a natural variant of sexuality). These little linguistic battles are an effort to see the phenomena plain after two millennia of mystification.

Such psychological mistakes are in fact ideologically motivated. One might even find a resemblance to the Stalinist use of psychology as a tool of ideological conformity. The Catholic Church can do without such methods.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal & Reform
It’s a Great Time to Be Catholic . . .
What Is It That Ails You?

Image: “Jesus Before the Priests” (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision)
by Douglas Blanchard.

Interiors II

Images: Michael J. Bayly and LeMonte Graham.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Rainy October Afternoon

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Young Person's Perspective on the Election of Barack Obama

My young friend Joey recently shared with me the “Election 2008 Reflection” he wrote for a school project.

I find much hope in the words of this 12-year-old who is so aware and articulate. Perhaps you will too.


I think it is so amazing and so wonderful that Obama won the presidency. It’s just that all throughout history in America we have never elected a black president or anyone for that matter who is not in the category of white men who have been oppressing so many people throughout history through slavery and racism. I just can’t believe that it has taken people so long to realize that no matter what color, no matter what gender, no matter what religion, straight or gay, it doesn’t matter. We are all people, aren’t we? But last night I saw on the television that Barack Obama had won the spot of the 44th President of the United States of America, and I just thought to myself: this is change; that we as the people of America can change. And that we will change from this awful past we have had. I just hope this is a milestone for America and for the world, that there can be people from more different races elected for president and for senate.

See also the previous Wild Reed post:
“Change Has Come to America”
The Challenge for Progressives with an Obama Presidency

NOTE: Regular readers may remember that in August I accompanied Joey and his Mum on a road trip to St. Louis (an adventure that is documented in a series of Wild Reed posts starting here.) Also, in March of this year I accompanied Joey and his classmates on their school’s annual sixth grade Environmental Studies trip to Camp Widjiwagan, situated on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northeastern Minnesota. (Images from this great experience in the Northwoods can be viewed here.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fr. Roy Bourgeois: "We Need Women Priests in Our Church For It to Be Healthy and Complete"

As I noted in a previous Wild Reed post, Maryknoll priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois (pictured at left) has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican if he fails to recant his support of female ordination.

This past Thursday, Fr. Roy was
interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! program. What he shared was very powerful – poignantly so at times.

Also, like so many speaking out for justice for women within the Roman Catholic Church, Roy Bourgeois speaks prophetic words in a spirit of love and hope.

Following are excerpts from Democracy Now!’s interview with Fr. Roy Bourgeois.


Amy Goodman: It’s good to have you with us. I know you’re preparing for this mass protest outside what used to be called the School of the Americas, but let’s talk about what is also immediately at hand, this excommunication. Please explain.

Roy Bourgeois: Yes. Let me put it this way, Amy. For eighteen years, I have been speaking out against the injustice of the School of the Americas, and for many years I’ve been speaking out against the injustice of the war in Iraq. As a Catholic priest for thirty-six years, in conscience, I cannot remain silent about injustice in my Church. I and many have come to the conclusion that the exclusion of women in the Catholic Church is a grave injustice, and I simply must — I cannot, in conscience, accept the Vatican’s demand that I recant my belief and my public statements in support of women’s ordination. This is simply wrong.

Juan Gonzalez: Well, Father Bourgeois, the letter came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What is that organization within the Vatican?

Roy Bourgeois: Well, you know, it’s the Church hierarchy in the Vatican that deals with Church teaching, Church doctrine. And they, of course — the Catholic Church has for years taught — for centuries, actually, now — that women cannot be priests. But to be very honest, you know, a growing number, the majority of the Catholics and so many priests and bishops now realize that this is not theologically sound. There is nothing in the Scriptures to justify this.

As Catholics, you know, we profess that the call, that invitation from God to priesthood, to the ministry of priesthood, comes from God. That call is very sacred. When I was in the military years ago as a young man, I felt God was calling me to the priesthood. I was in Vietnam at the time. And I entered the Maryknoll community. I was ordained in 1972 and assigned to work in Bolivia, later El Salvador. And during my thirty-six years of ministry, I met many priests who, like me, felt God was calling them to the priesthood. And I must say, I have come to the conclusion that to say to women that our call is valid, but yours is not, is simply a grave injustice. We are tampering with the sacred here.

Amy Goodman: In your letter, Father Roy Bourgeois, you write that having an all-male clergy implies that men are worthy to be Catholic priests, but women are not. You say, “According to USA Today, in the United States alone, nearly 5,000 Catholic priests have sexually abused more than 12,000 children.” What does that have to do with your support of women priests?

Roy Bourgeois: Well, you know, it was very difficult for me to add that in my letter, but it must be said. You know, I’m sad to say that the Vatican, our Church leaders, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, took many years to respond to the crimes of thousands of priests who sexually abused over 12,000 children. That was first reported in 1988. It wasn’t until eleven or twelve years later that they began to intervene and investigate and really, you know, demand that priests step down from the priesthood.

You know, less than three months after I attended the ordination of a woman in Lexington, Kentucky, less than three months, I received a letter from the Vatican demanding that I recant within thirty days or I will be excommunicated. The severity, the swiftness of the Vatican’s letter, I think it calls into question, you know, just what’s going on here. What really is the problem? I do believe that I did not commit a crime. I am following my conscience. Women—you know, it’s amazing, the thousands of priests and the many bishops were aware of these crimes of their priests, they remained silent. These priests committing the crimes and the bishops who remained silent have NOT BEEN EXCOMMUNICATED. Yet, the many women who have been ordained to the priesthood and the priests and bishops who support their ordination ARE EXCOMMUNICATED. I do believe that there is a problem here. This is also a grave injustice.

Juan Gonzalez: Father Bourgeois, your order, the Maryknolls, like the Jesuits, are known as more independent orders within the Church. Have the higher echelons of your order attempted to intercede in one way or another in your defense on this?

Roy Boureois: I’ve been with the community for thirty-six years, and it’s our work overseas, especially in Latin America, and seeing firsthand the brutality of the military that leads us to say what we’re saying, to be critics of US foreign policy. Over the years, they have been very, very supportive, of course, of my work with the School of the Americas. And they, as a religious order, joined the thousands who are calling for the closing of this school — it should not exist — and will join their voices with the many coming here this weekend to call for the closing of this school of assassins. They did say to me they will do everything they can to keep me as a member of the community.

Again, we are known for our work in peace and justice for the — you know, walking in solidarity with the victims of violence and injustice. And what they and so many of us see, of course — and we join our voices with the women of the Catholic Church, who are oppressed, who are being treated unjustly. We join our voices with the women, who are saying, “We want to be treated with equality.” Our God, we believe, has created men and women of equal stature and dignity. And again, there is no reason why women cannot be full members of the community and ordained as Catholic priests.

Any institution, organization that’s controlled where the power is in the hands of any particular group, whether they be men or women, is not healthy. Our Church, the Catholic Church, is going through a real crisis. There are thousands of churches that are being shut down because there is a lack of priests. The sexual abuse crisis has really rocked the Church to its roots. I am convinced, of course, that if we had women priests and women bishops, that sexual abuse and the silence during those years would not have been possible. Women simply would not have been silent. I’m also convinced, if we had women priests and women bishops, there would not be such silence about this war in Iraq. I’m convinced, too, that there would be, if we had women priests and women bishops, they would have called for the closing of this School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. We need women priests in our Church for it to be healthy, for it to be complete.

Amy Goodman: Father Roy Bourgeois, why do you think the Church hierarchy is coming after you now? You’ve held these beliefs for a long time.

Roy Bourgeois: Well, Amy, I have poked . . . a number of beehives in my life. This is the biggest beehive I have ever poked. I’ve poked the beehive of the patriarchy. I think I and others, priests and women and bishops — I’m not alone in this — who call for the ordination of women, I think what we’re threatening at its very core is the power, is power, privilege. I mean, let’s face it, this is an all-boys’ club. And we are card — I and many others are card-carrying members. Again, in conscience, I felt I had to break my silence. I’ve broken that silence many times over the years, and I’m calling on my fellow priests and Catholics and Church leaders to break their silence.

But what we have here, at its very core, is the sin of sexism. And like racism, no matter how hard we try to justify it or bring in, you know, God to bless discrimination, in the end it is always immoral.

But again, at its very core, we’re dealing with power, those in power who have had that power and control for centuries, who simply don’t want to give it up. But I have to say, they must give it up. They will be, in a way, forced to give it up. There are many similarities about, you know, what’s going on in Latin America. We’ve learned that all of these repressive militaries that have held onto their power for so long were not going to give up that power and the abuse of their power through the goodness of their heart. And I’m sad to say that the patriarchy of faith communities, like the Catholic Church and other faith traditions, they will have to give up their power because of the grassroots movement from the bottom up organizing, like in Latin America, so many saying, “Basta! We will simply not allow you to repress us as you have been doing for so long.”

Juan Gonzalez: And, Father Bourgeois, if the Church does move forward with this excommunication, what is the — is there an appeals process that you can follow through to be heard on this issue, or is that the end of it?

Roy Bourgeois: Well, needless to say, I will not be silent. I will be going to Rome. A number of fellow priests have already asked me, said they would like to join me, along with a bishop friend. We will be going to Rome to appeal this. I would want to have, and I think I have a right to — and it’s reasonable to request, after thirty-six years as a priest, a short meeting with Pope Benedict and other leaders in the Church to appeal my case, to simply appeal to them personally and say what I said in my letter to them that this cannot be justified.

And so, let me say, I feel very, very much at peace with my decision. My biggest concern, when I got that letter from Rome, I must say I was nauseous. I knew it could be possible, but I thought it was remote. Excommunication is very serious in the Catholic Church. My biggest concern was my family, a close-knit family in Louisiana, Catholic. My father, ninety-five years old, a devout Catholic, goes to church every day. And after mailing that letter, putting a lot of time in my response, I drove to Louisiana and met with my brother, two sisters and my father and gave them the letter. And I really was concerned about how they would take this. My brother said that I would be breaking my father’s heart, and that hurt me.

But at that meeting — we all had the family meeting — my father first spoke, and he simply said, “Look” — he said to my siblings, my brother and sisters, his children — he said, “Look, God brought Roy back from the war in Vietnam. God took care of Roy in his mission work in Bolivia and El Salvador and brought him home safely. And God is going to take care of Roy now. He’s doing the right thing, and I support him.” When he said that, I wept. I was so at peace. I was so joyful. And to see now my brother and sisters join my dad in supporting what I’m doing, it takes a great burden off of me, it makes the struggle a lot easier. And there is nothing — let me just say that there’s nothing that the Vatican can do to me to take away that inner peace and serenity that I feel now. I know there are some rough times ahead, but like in our SOA Watch movement, we will move ahead with hope, with hope.

To listen to and/or read the full transcript of Democracy Now!’s interview with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Fr. Roy Bourgeois Threatened with Excommunication
Mary of Magdala
Revealing a Hidden History
Reflections on The Da Vinci Code Controversy
Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code
Roman Catholic Womenpriests Ordained in Minneapolis
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit of which the Prophet Joel Speaks
Could Christ Have Been a Woman?
Responding to Excommunication
The Discussion Continues
Crisis? What Crisis?
“We Are All the Rock” – An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest, Judith McKloskey

Image: Fr. Roy Boureois photographed in October 2000 by Michael Bayly (from Gallery 6: Closing the SOA of Faces of Resistance).

Friday, November 21, 2008

Out Gay Actor Neil Patrick Harris: “I’m Striving to Be An Example of Normalcy”

To be perfectly honest I’ve never seen any of the TV series or films that actor Neil Patrick Harris is famous for. I can recall Doogie Howser, M.D. being shown on Australian TV in the years prior to my relocation to the U.S., but because the premise of the show failed to interest me, I never watched it.

So why a post on this particular actor? Well, I’m always interested and encouraged when a popular entertainer comes out as gay. Actually, I like hearing about anyone’s coming out; about how their life has changed for the better, how they have flourished, as a result of their often difficult journey to that holy ground from which truth, integrity, and self-acceptance springs.

Such stories have the power to change hearts and minds, and thus to help facilitate social change. And of course as well as being inspiring, they’re often just plain entertaining - reflecting, as they do, the myth of the Hero’s Journey (see my comment at the end of
this post).

I’ve previously shared at The Wild Reed my own coming out journey (see here, here, and here) as well as the experiences of British actor Ian McKellen and Australian singer/songwriter Darren Hayes.

Regular readers of The Wild Reed may also recall that just over two years ago in a post entitled
“Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay,” I referred to a Miami Herald commentary in which Leonard Pitts Jr. contrasted the coming out of Neil Patrick Harris with the ignoble goings-on of disgraced Christian evangelist Ted Haggard.

Here’s what I wrote:

Pitts notes that Harris, in talking about his homosexuality, has declared: “I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest.” Pitts also notes that for some people, such calm acknowledgement amounts to “flaunting” one’s homosexuality.

In comparing Haggard and Harris, Pitt’s commentary does an excellent job at exposing the destructiveness wrought to self and others by living a lie as opposed to accepting and integrating one’s homosexuality, and thus getting on with happily living life to the fullest – even if such living is considered by some as “flaunting it”.

“Wouldn’t you much rather be Neil Patrick Harris than Ted Haggard?” asks Pitts. “In other words, wouldn’t you rather be a content gay man living life to the fullest, than a closeted gay hypocrite living lies to the fullest?”

Given all of this, I was happy to see Neil Patrick Harris on the cover of the September 2008 issue of Out magazine, and to read an insightful interview with the actor within its pages.

Following are excerpts from this interview. Enjoy!


OUT: How would you say the [entertainment] business has changed for gay actors in the past 20 years?

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s all uniquely so personal to each person. I can’t say that the business is any different now than it was then, because I wasn’t 30 years old then and in a position to stand tall and say something. I think the fears that enveloped me then would be the same fears that would envelop people that are 15, 16, 17 now.

OUT: So your advice to a gay actor who is 16 now is no different than it would have been when you were 16?

Neil Patrick Harris: Oh, no. Clearly there’s way more exposure and a much larger gray area with sexuality and the public’s opinion towards it – on almost every level – professionally, artistically, legally. What made it more unique 20 years ago was that there were less examples – so that made it a shock. And I think the shock value has kind of worn off.

OUT: But is Hollywood still underestimating the American public’s acceptance level of homosexuality? The stigma still seems to be a reality in that business more than many others.

Neil Patrick Harris: People in the business are equally as terrified now – but I really find it a personal thing. And maybe I’m at the end of that era. I wouldn’t even want to stereotype today’s generation. But the majority of the casting departments are gay, and a lot of the executives are. I think it’s a matter of your abilities and how you carry yourself – I don’t behave any differently toward you right now than when I am with David [Burtka, his boyfriend] in our apartment, watching American Idol. OK, So You Think You Can Dance. [Laughs] I can see why an agent wouldn’t want to sign on a real overtly effeminate male actor – not because I have an aversion to them but because agents might know it limits their job opportunities.

OUT: . . . You were playing gay roles long before you came out.

Neil Patrick Harris: Yeah. That was tricky for me.

OUT: Was that a game you were playing? You seemed to be pursuing those roles – the gay friend in The Next Best Thing, the emcee in Cabaret, an “ex-gay” on Will & Grace

Neil Patrick Harris: No game. I thought it was clever. But internally. I figured if I kept working, it was an inevitability that someone would make that a story. I didn’t know how it would happen. So I thought when I got the job for The Next Best Thing – the Madonna movie with Rupert Everett – I thought, That’s kind of clever. I got to be on Will & Grace where I was an “ex-gay” with Sean Hayes, and I thought that was kind of clever too. When you look back you see there are some steps that I took.

OUT: Did growing up in Hollywood make it easier or harder for you to come out?

Neil Patrick Harris: I think it was harder. Actually, I think it was easier for me, because I was around a lot of people who were gay and I was around a lot of people who were very confident. I was surrounded by people I could talk to freely about anything, and they were very successful emotionally and otherwise.

OUT: And yet . . .

Neil Patrick Harris: And yet, part of the coming-out process is figuring out who you like and what that means and how to act upon it. Being an actor reduced my level of anonymity. I couldn’t just go to some bar and walk in and ask someone out on a date, because there was too much awareness of me. So it made it more difficult in that sense. I couldn’t be, like, “Maybe I like this kind of guy” or “Maybe I’m into this” – I couldn’t really experiment. I sort of had to narrow my gaze from afar. If I had any regret, it would be that strange lack of anonymity that created panic within myself that I would be found out. But I think that’s everyone’s big fear.

OUT: You don’t regret that you didn’t get out ahead of Perez Hilton forcing your hand in your coming-out process?

Neil Patrick Harris: Hmm. I’m just glad it wasn’t based on scandal. I didn’t want there to be some “we got footage” story where I have to make some sort of statement about some event that happened. But I’m not that scandalous . . . I don’t have a lot of random sex . . . I’ve never done cocaine. I’m not a crazy partyer. I don’t stay up and rent private jets and go on yachts and whoop it up in Miami. I found a guy that I’m head over heels for and we have similar interests and we spend our time together.

Above: Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka.

OUT: You and David have been together for 4½ years. When you first started dating you were out personally but not professionally, right? Did that create some early relationship tension?

Neil Patrick Harris: No. If anything, it probably gave us more exclusive time together because we weren’t out in public places. We’d have dinner and then hang out. But he has had lots of interesting chapters as well. His first boyfriend – they had twins together. So they were involved in the whole surrogate/making babies/two dads-with-babies-in-strollers thing, so he’s lived with scrutiny in many ways that I haven’t.

OUT: But dating someone whose every trip to the airport is now covered on blogs must have some distinct challenges.

Neil Patrick Harris: Well, there has been one other negative element about being out publicly as a couple. He and I are both actors, and I’ve been trying to be protective of him so that his identity wasn’t linked so much to mine so that he could succeed on his own. But by being so, it creates its own strange dynamic. Because if we walk hand in hand down the red carpet together, then he’s known as being linked to me. But if I walk down the red carpet and he goes ahead of me, then it looks like we’re not proud of being with each other. So that’s been tricky. It requires a lot of communication between us.

OUT: Are you thinking about marriage?

Neil Patrick Harris: Well, I think if and when we do, we’d probably announce it after the fact as opposed to making the big announcement that it was going to happen.

OUT: But it’s important to you?

Neil Patrick Harris: Yeah. We both wear rings, and I’m giddy when I see all the pictures of people so happy standing there, confirming the love they wish they could have expressed for a long time.

OUT: Like the 75-year-old couples –

Neil Patrick Harris: It’s unbelievable. I think that speaks way more than the “God Hates Fags” signs.

OUT: . . . [Y]ou realize that you’re a role model whether you like it or not.

Neil Patrick Harris: I’m striving to be an example of normalcy. Because I’m noticed as an actor, people are aware of what’s happening in my life, and that I can’t change, and if I tried to, it’d be an uphill battle. I’d be angry and bitter. I’m a big proponent of monogamous relationships regardless of sexuality, and I’m proud of how the nation is steering toward that. Then you can look around and say, “I really deeply feel like I’m in love with this person, there are people who feel the same thing, and those models are normal.” The “normal” couples were sort of in the shadows for the past 15 or 20 years because you sort of needed other people to come forward and speak out.

To read Out magazine’s interview with Neil Patrick Harris in its entirety, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Coming Out: An Act of Holiness
Darren Hayes, Coming Out, . . . Oh, and Time Travel!
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Be Not Afraid, You Can Be Happy and Gay
Real Holiness
In the Footsteps of Spring