Monday, February 20, 2012

Michael Bayly: Changing the Church from Within


By Bryna Godar

NOTE: Bryna Godar is a media studies student at the University of Minnesota. A class assignment last December involved her writing a profile of a public figure. Although I'm not really sure if I count as a "public figure," I was nevertheless honored when Bryna contacted me and asked if I'd be willing to be the subject of her assignment. Recently Bryna shared with me her finished profile and gave me permission to publish it at The Wild Reed. So here it is . . . with special thanks to my friends Philip Jacquet-Morrison, Joan Demeules, Paula Ruddy, Mary Bednarowski and Mary Lynn Murphy for saying such nice things about me!

“I think I always knew, even from the time I was a young child, that I was different,” Michael Bayly said. “But then the first time I matched up that feeling of differentness with the word or the idea of homosexuality, I was about maybe 14, it was just terrifying, because I didn’t want to be that.”

Bayly, now 46, grew up Catholic in the small farming community of Gunnedah in Australia. “I was 17 or 18 when I said to myself: Okay, I’m gay.” Once he got to college, Bayly realized, “You know what? I can define what that means, what gay means. It doesn’t mean that you have to fall into these pre-designed or pre-ordained ways of being. You can still be you.”

Now, Bayly is working in Minneapolis as executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities to defeat the marriage amendment on the ballot in November 2012. In May 2011, the Minnesota House passed a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, placing the issue on voter ballots. This spurred CPCSM, a progressive Catholic group, to start Catholics for Marriage Equality MN (C4ME-MN), a group striving to advance marriage equality through advocacy and education. Bayly is at the forefront of this group.

“Lots of people haven’t thought about it, so that’s our task now, to get people to think about this issue and make up their minds to vote against [the amendment] in November 2012,” said Paula Ruddy, a colleague of Bayly’s at the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.

C4ME most recently produced a DVD consisting of five clips of people talking about faith, family, and marriage. The speakers include Sen. Scott Dibble and his husband, a lesbian couple, two sets of parents with a gay or lesbian child, and a straight male ally.

“They all come from a slightly different angle, but they all really speak from the heart. The whole point of the DVD is to generate discussion and to hopefully change hearts and minds about this issue,” Bayly said. C4ME is organizing small groups of Catholics all over Minnesota to get together to watch the videos and discuss them.

Joan Demeules, a friend of Bayly’s, said the film “epitomizes [Michael’s] approach of love, one-to-one interaction, and sharing people's stories to really help change hearts.”

On their website, the group has a Catholic statement of support for marriage equality that supporters can sign. The group plans to take out ads in the major state papers with the statement of support printed and a cut-off pledge readers can mail in.

The group is focused on civil marriage. “We’re not expecting the Church to start marrying people in parishes,” Bayly said. “But we feel that the hierarchy’s understanding of marriage shouldn’t be imposed on civil society.”

In September, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Minnesota Catholic Conference issued a joint statement about Catholics for Marriage Equality MN. In the statement, the Archdiocese asks that Catholics avoid associating themselves with the group, and not be “deceived by its messages, which are in conflict with the fundamental teachings of the Church.” The Archdiocese and the MCC declined to comment further.

Catholic Background

Bayly continues to identify with the Catholic tradition, striving to change the Church from within. “I just think the Church is bigger than the hierarchy, bigger than the Vatican. And the Church’s own teachings support this. I think we’re living through a time in church history when the church has been hijacked, in a sense, by a very narrow, reactionary element,” he said. “This needs to be resisted and challenged, and somehow by staying in, I think your voice is more credible than if you’re outside.”

Bayly was born and raised Catholic and has studied theology extensively. He taught at a Catholic elementary school in Australia from 1988 to 1993 and moved to Minnesota in 1994 to study at St. Catherine’s College in St. Paul. He graduated in 1996 with a Master of Arts in Theology. In 2003 he received another Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus on film and theology.

Mary Bednarowski, one of Bayly’s professors at United Theological Seminary, said, “He was theologically articulate. He knew his tradition, the Roman Catholic tradition, and he was good at interpreting social contexts and the world around us in terms of the tradition.”

“He has a different understanding of what it means to be Catholic,” said Bayly’s friend and neighbor, Phil Jacquet-Morrison. “I think he has an understanding that Catholicism is not about an institution; Catholicism is not about the Vatican; it’s not about the man in Rome. It’s about trying to emulate the spirit of Christ. I think that’s why he was able to remain, to retain that identity.”

Bayly said, “I’ve always been interested in the way people talk about their experiences of God in their lives, and I was curious to reflect on and articulate my experience of God in my life as a gay person.” He wrote his thesis on the coming out process as a spiritual journey, examining the stages of coming out first to himself and God, and later to others.

Coming Out

“I was closeted in Australia,” Bayly said. “When you’re closeted, everything is so distorted; your fears sort of distort everything.”

As a teacher in a Catholic school, Bayly did not tell anyone he was gay. “It was a very happy and creative period of my life, but on another level it was pretty isolating cause you just weren’t out to anyone, I wasn’t really.”

“I think most people in their twenties channel a certain amount of energy into exploring relationships and who they are sexually and all that. But I just diverted and channeled it into my teaching career. It meant I had a wonderful classroom environment, very colorful and creative, but there was a price to pay for that. I think the reason I was so good was because I didn’t have much of a life anywhere else.”

“I kept thinking, ‘Okay, I’m gonna meet someone, we’re gonna fall in love, and that will give me the reason and the strength to come out.’ In time I realized you can’t always depend on other people or on that type of relationship to be honest about yourself; sometimes you just have to do it alone.”

Bayly moved to the U.S. in 1994 in order to come out and to study theology. “It felt difficult to come out [in Australia] and take on the straight persona that I’d created in order to maintain my teaching career,” he said.

About a year and a half after moving to the U.S., Bayly came out to his parents in a letter that he sent on St. Valentine’s Day. “I thought, what better gift of love can you give to someone than just sharing with them who you really are?”


Bayly faces opposition through many channels, including direct confrontations, official statements, and online comments. The Vatican sent a letter to high schools denouncing a book he wrote in 2007 entitled, Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective. Bayly secured a copy and framed the letter.

A friend of Bayly’s, Joan Demeules, recounted a direct confrontation: “He was at a booth talking about the issue of GLBT people and their challenges, and a woman came up to him and said to him that all gay men wanted to do was to have sex. He sat for, I bet you, 45 minutes with that woman, and talked with her and challenged her. And at the end, when she did leave, she did so with a converted heart and wanted to give him a hug.”

Mary Lynn Murphy, a colleague from CPCSM, said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen an incident when he demeaned the other side in any way. He never thinks of rabbit-punching somebody or hitting below the belt or pulling out an argument just because it might make the other side look bad.”

“He recognizes that people have rights to think whatever they want, they’re entitled to their own opinions,” said his friend, Jacquet-Morrison.

Bayly has become somewhat disillusioned with his goals to change the Catholic Church. “Even if the Church were to change tomorrow on this issue, there’s so many other issues I just don’t agree with,” he said.

“I just think that spiritually, maybe I’ve evolved beyond any one tradition.” he said. “Maybe humanity as a whole is at a state of some sort of collective evolution where institutional religions are a thing of the past. Maybe we’re called to a new level of consciousness where those types of divisions don’t have a role, don’t have a part.”

“For now,” he said, “I’m obviously committed to doing what I can as a self-identified Catholic to defeat the marriage amendment and bring about some sort of reform within the church around the issue of sexuality, but I don’t see myself doing this forever.”

Bayly said that after November 2012, and hopefully the amendment’s defeat, he might move back to Australia to be closer to his family. “I think I’ve probably had enough of taking on the church hierarchy,” he said. “This could be the last hurrah; it would be a wonderful way to go out.”

Image: David Joles, November 2009. (Note: The image on the wall behind me is of St. Sergius and Bacchus).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Knowing What to Do, Knowing Why to Stay
Trusting God's Generous Invitation
Choosing to Stay
Thanks, Mum!
One of These Boys . . .
Soul Deep
Somewhere In Between


John said...

A nice article. I so admire your courage and dedication, Michael. You are a unique man and your work on these tough issues is appreciated by LGBT folk, Catholic & non-Catholic alike.

Anonymous said...

Michael you are always so interesting to listen to & I admire your work.

Mareczku said...

I am somewhat emotional after reading this. You are such a magnificent person. The Catholic Church is blessed by your presence. Thank you so much for hanging in there. You are an inspiration. Keep up the good fight. God bless you always.

Mary Lynn Murphy said...

Godar's article is excellent -- well written and appropriately complimentary. Considering your whole history here in the U.S., Michael, you have had quite a run. Time has flown hasn't it?

One of my early meetings with you was at one of the Uptown peace marches way back when. You looked terrific with your hair pulled back in a pony tail. And I discovered that you were as good as you were good-looking!

I was especially taken with some of your comments in the last four paragraphs of the Godar article. Interesting to hear your evolving perspective of things. It was actually very moving for me to read.

I figured that with your parents aging, and the future uncertain, a move back to Australia would be under consideration. Whatever you decide to do (and you will be terribly missed if you do go!), you have made a huge contribution here, Michael. You have made your mark, so to speak. You will be remembered around here as a true "mover and shaker," despite the fact that you were never appropriately rewarded (financially!) for your work. Sometimes those who give the most are rewarded the least.

I know the abrupt move from 1812, on top of other simultaneous life changes, must be very difficult. We will all miss our time at 1812 (and David!) and we won't forget any of it. Lots of wonderful relationships flourished there.I just can't believe it all went by so fast. But for sure, another year looms, and who knows what lies in store ...

Thanks for staying on to fight this last fight against the amendment. I will pass the word about the Lenten Vigil. It is a great idea.

Your parents must be so proud of you! I know I am.

Anonymous said...

so much of what you write mirrors my own life, it is truly amazing: you have described in better words than I my own realisation of being gay, my own hiding in the closet, my own struggle with the Church's teaching, my own inability to mature sexually and emotionally so long i was in hiding and cut off from my own self, my own coming out of the closet to family and friends, my own eventual self-acceptance, and my own (though on a much smaller scale) engagement in defending gay people. Thank you very much. Albertus