Friday, July 09, 2021

Remembering David McCaffrey, 10 Years On


I envision and work to create a Church that is open
& responsive to the needs and gifts of all its members;
a Church that is meaningful and nurturing of all,
and one that recognizes the equal status of all.

– David J. McCaffrey
1947 – 2011

Ten years ago today, my dear friend and colleague David McCaffrey died after a brief illness. He was 64.

Left: David and I at one of many planning meetings we hosted and/or attended over the years of our friendship and our shared work around LGBT-education and justice issues within the Catholic Church.

David was a tireless advocate for LGBT Catholics and an incredibly caring and generous individual. His compassion and commitment to justice and to the good news of liberation for the marginalized and oppressed were hallmarks of his life, as was his dedication to the Catholic LGBT community, his humor, and his warm and welcoming smile.

A year before his death, David was a recipient of the Adsum Award at the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s Synod of the Baptized. Adsum is a Latin word which means “I am present and listening.” Whenever the participants in Vatican II were gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica their traditional prayer was the exclamation: adsumus – “we are present and listening.” The Adsum Award recognizes those individuals who are known within the local church for having committed to being present and attentive to the Spirit. Accordingly, they have served as partners with the Spirit in re-creating the face of the church in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

David J. McCaffrey was a worthy recipient of this award. An honors graduate of the University of St. Thomas (1969, magna cum laude), David spent almost 30 years working in medical and social science research at the University of Minnesota. He was dedicated to ensuring that church teaching on gender and sexuality was informed by the findings of this important research. In 1980 he was one of six co-founders of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), an advocacy and educational non-profit that worked to create environments of respect, acceptance and safety for LGBTQI persons and their families in the Catholic Church and wider society. I served as CPCSM’s executive coordinator from 2003 until it’s disbandment in 2015. (For David’s recollections of the founding of CPCSM, click here.)

In the 1980’s, David played a crucial role in CPCSM’s groundbreaking Needs Assessment Survey of local LGBT Catholics. He was also the executive producer of CPCSM’s 1988 video, Silent Journeys of Faith, and the editor of its companion guidebook. Both resources were major components of CPCSM’s training workshops given to pastoral and social justice professionals of 25 parishes throughout the archdiocese.

In the 1990s, David played a major role in the development and implementation of CPCSM’s Safe Staff Training Initiative, which provided sensitivity training around LGBT issues to the educational leadership of the archdiocese and to administrators and faculties of eight of the high schools of the archdiocese. (This initiative culminated in the 2007 publication of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective, the book – and “courageous document” – that I authored.)

In the years before his passing, David maintained CPCSM’s extensive website (archived here). He also took an invaluable leadership role in Catholics for Marriage Equality MN and was an active member in his faith community, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in St. Paul.

Today, on the tenth anniversary of his passing, I honor David by sharing a selection of photographs taken over the period of time when I knew and worked with him (1994-2011). I also share one of David’s writings from 2008.

If, like me, you knew and loved David, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this very special commemorative post. You may even see yourself in a photo or two!

So without further ado, let’s get started . . .

Above: The cover of the September 30, 1994 issue of Gaze Magazine, featuring David with fellow CPCSM co-founder Bill Kummer (left) and Dignity Twin Cities president Brian McNeill (center).

Written by Zoé Diacou, this cover story, entitled “Crossing the Catholic Church,” examined “local GLBT Catholics’ twenty-year struggle with the hierarchy” by interviewing people associated with Dignity Twin Cities, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary that year. I’d joined Dignity within weeks of my arrival in Minnesota in January 1994, and its welcoming environment provided me my first opportunity to meet other gay Catholics. Diacou’s article included insightful comments from David and Bill, both of whom have now passed (Bill in 2006, and David in 2011).

To read Zoé Diacou’s article “Crossing the Catholic Church,” click here.

Above: My first photo with David. We’re pictured standing with Bishop Thomas Gumblton and fellow-members of our planning team for Bishop Gumbleton’s October 1994 visit to the Twin Cities.

From left: CPCSM board member Mary Burns, David, me, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, CPCSM co-founder Bill Kummer, Darlene White, Dale Korogi (who at that time was at the Basilica of St. Mary, one of the venues at which Bishop Gumbleton spoke and celebrated mass), and Joan Bednarczyk (from the Church of St. Stephen in Anoka, where Bishop Gumbleton’s talk was entitled “From Fear to Faith: A Catholic Bishop's Personal Journey with His Gay Brother”).

As I document here, it was through Dignity Twin Cities that I first became involved with the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM). Years later I would serve as the organization's executive coordinator.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1994, CPCSM worked to bring Bishop Gumbleton to the Twin Cities for a series of talks in October. I organized a speaking engagement for the bishop at the College of St. Catherine, and gave it the title, “Bridging the Gap: Reconciling the Church and Its Sexual Minority Members.” I used a picture of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the promotional material.

Above: David in November 2004, pictured with me and my friend Raphael, who was visiting from Australia at that time.

Above: David with my parents, Gordon and Margaret Bayly, during their visit to the Twin Cities from Australia in the summer of 2005.

Above: With David and Catholic feminist theologian Mary Hunt – February 2006.

CPCSM had partnered with St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church to bring Mary to Minneapolis for a symposium entitled “Exploring Contemporary Issues Within the Catholic Church.” For the text of Mary’s talk, “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: An Ecclesia for Our Children and Ourselves,” click here.

Above: CPCSM's inaugural Bill Kummer Forum on April 28-29, 2006, featured renowned theologian and author Daniel Helminiak, who offered a two-part presentation entitled “Gay Body, Gay Soul: A Catholic LGBTI Perspective on Sexuality, Spirituality and Marriage.” Pictured from left: Rev. Paul Tucker (then-pastor of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church), Daniel, Paul Fleege (CPCSM treasurer), and David and I.

For my 2006 Rainbow Spirit interview with Daniel, click here.

Above: On the evening of Friday, April 27, 2007, members and friends of CPCSM attended the inaugural Minnesota GLBTA Campus Alliance Spring Dinner at the University of St. Thomas.

Clockwise from front left: Mary Lynn Murphy (then-CPCSM president and Catholic Rainbow Parents coordinator); Tom Murr; Gretchen Murr (then-president of P-Flag/Twin Cities); David and his partner Michael; Paul Fleege (then-treasurer of CPCSM); Kathleen Olson; and Cheryl Maloney (then-executive director of Twin Cities Pride).

For more images and commentary on this event, click here.

Above: From left: David’s partner Michael, David, Aimee, me, and Mary Lynn at Twin Cities Gay Pride 2007.

Above: A meeting of The Progressive Catholic Voice planning team – August 2007. From left: Beverly Barrett , Mary Lynn Murphy, Paul Fleege, Gerry Sell, Susan Kramp, Mary Beckfeld, David, Rick Notch, and Paula Ruddy.

Above: David with longtime CPCSM supporter Theresa O’Brien – January 26, 2008.

Above: David with Mary Beckfeld, the recipient of CPCSM’s 2008 Father Henry F. LeMay Pastoral Ministry Award – June 23, 2008.

Above: David and his partner Michael were among a number of friends who gathered at my home in St. Paul on Saturday, August 2, 2008, to meet and welcome my older brother and his family who were visiting the U.S. at that time. From left: My nephew, Brendan; Tom White; Rick Notch; Sue Ann Martinson; David and Michael; me; my nephew, Mitchell; Rita McDonald, CSJ; and Kate McDonald, CSJ.

Above: David and his partner Michael – December 2009.

Above: David with Kathleen Olsen, leading the singing of “We Shall Overcome” at the Cathedral of St. Paul – October 31, 2010. Approximately 150 people gathered at the Cathedral that day in loving opposition to the MN bishops’ campaign of intolerance and discrimination against the LGBT citizens of Minnesota. For more images and commentary, click here.

Above: With David and our friend Paul – December 2010.

Above: David with (from left) Sheila Nelson, CALGM president, and Myrna Ohmann, Catholic Rainbow Parents co-founder – February 26, 2011.

Above: Standing at left with (from left) attorney Jeff Anderson, journalist and author Jason Berry, psychologist and Walk-In Counseling Center executive director Gary Schoener, and David – June 16, 2011.

Berry, well-known for his meticulous reporting on sexual abuse by Catholic priests, was visiting St. Paul as part of his national book tour for Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money In the Catholic Church.

Above: The last photo of David, taken at Twin Cities Gay Pride 2011 – Sunday, June 26, 2011.

From left: Rick, David, Paul and me.

In Zoé Diacou’s 1994 article, “Crossing the Catholic Church,” it’s noted that David felt unable to worship regularly at any parish, "primarily as a result of personal and spiritual burnout and betrayal." Thankfully, by the time of his death, David had for many years found a welcoming and supportive spiritual home at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in St. Paul. Indeed, at his funeral mass on July 15, 2011, a beautiful portrait of David and his partner of 13-and-a-half years, Michael, adorned the sanctuary (above), the same sacred space from which Michael delivered a heartfelt eulogy for David. To read this eulogy and for images of the mass, click here.


I close by sharing an article that David wrote for The Progressive Catholic Voice in 2008. It’s actually a response to a commentary in the Star Tribune newspaper by University of St. Thomas professor Stephen Heaney. In this commentary, Heaney – who at that time sat on the board of the Archdiocese’s Faith in Action (a.k.a Courage) program – attempts to defend statements on homosexuality by then-Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt.

As I’m sure you’ll agree, David’s well-researched and reasoned response methodically and effectively demolishes Heaney’s argument. It also exposes the archbishop’s statements and, by extension, the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, as being both intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt. As I said earlier in this post, David's was dedicated to doing whatever he could to ensure that church teaching on gender and sexuality was informed by the latest medical and social science research. It was his passion, and we were so fortunate to be gifted by it. Thank you, David!

• • • • • • • • • • • •

Far from “Innocuous”
A response to Stephen’s Heaney’s defense
of Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt’s
“innocuous” statements on homosexuality

By David J. McCaffrey
The Progressive Catholic Voice
January 2008

In his December 29, 2007 commentary in the Star Tribune, University of Minnesota professor Stephen J. Heaney implied that there are a small number of people who oppose the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, as recently articulated by Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt in his column in The Catholic Spirit. Furthermore, Heaney asserts that Nienstedt’s column about homosexuality, far from being of concern or controversy, is in fact “innocuous.” That particular column includes the following “innocuous” statement of the archbishop’s:

Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest.

I assert that Heaney is wrong on both accounts. Not a small number of people oppose the type of anti-gay speech from religious leaders like Archbishop Nienstedt, and such speech is far from “innocuous.”

For example, as for Heaney’s implication that there is a small number opposing Nienstedt’s articulation of the Church's teaching on homosexuality, in a Fall 2007 Harris Study of heterosexual Americans, 56 % of all those surveyed – and 60 % of those aged 18 to 44 – said people should be more supportive of equal rights for gay people. Further, according to the poll’s findings, a majority of Americans (71 %) said they have spoken out against anti-gay comments, saying they felt it was “the right thing to do.”

Also, according to the September 2007 study among young people in the U.S., aged 16 to 29, by Christian pollster George Barna, 91% of non-Christians and 80% of churchgoers say present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” And that “they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.” Such research results do not represent small numbers of people, as Professor Heaney would have us believe.

Refuting Heaney’s assertion that Nienstedt’s column is “innocuous” is a 2003 national survey of adults by the prestigious Pew Research Center for The People & The Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. This study found that “people who hear clergy talk [negatively] about homosexuality are more likely to have highly unfavorable views of gays and lesbians.” If that is true, then statements such as Nienstedt’s, from a religious leader, are far from “innocuous.”

How many local Catholics, including families with LGBT members, have been encouraged to hold negative views toward their loved ones after reading or hearing Nienstedt’s statements? How many more coworkers, neighbors, and even family members will now feel more self-righteous permission to further discriminate against members of sexual minorities who are trying to live honest and self-actualized lives?

Beyond the significance and the impact of Nienstedt’s recent statement on homosexuality, we need to seriously consider both this statement’s substance – that those who encourage and support gay people are cooperating in a grave evil and thereby are guilty of mortal sin; and its foundation – that persons who are innately homosexual and attempt to live honest, self-actualized lives, as their consciences dictate, are “intrinsically disordered.” I assert, as does virtually every reputable medical and mental health professional organization, that homosexuality is innate and not based on choice and that it cannot and should not be changed through unsafe and unethical methods known as “reparative” or “conversion" therapy.

Therefore, the Church’s teaching that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered” and that those who find themselves to be constitutively homosexual must maintain life-long sexual abstinence is clearly based on outdated science and must go the same way as the Church’s past teachings on the solar system, slavery, the dynamics of human reproduction, and the status of women – all of which were also based upon outdated science.

For any academic institution to be relevant and credible, its curriculum must remain consonant with the findings of today’s human sciences. In the case of a Catholic academic institution like the University of St. Thomas, its curriculum should also be open to theological developments that are informed by the sciences and the lived experience of the faithful. In this way, such academic institutions will continue to grow with society and with the living faith of the people of God.

The recent decision by St. Thomas’ board of trustees to proactively democratize its board structure by making the chairman and vice-chairman positions electable represents one such change to ensure the University’s relevance and credibility. Traditionally, both board positions had been held ex-officio by the Archbishop and the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, respectively. However, based upon advice from the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities following a review of St. Thomas’ board structure, the University’s trustees voted in October to make the board’s by-law changes.

Another clear sign of such progress would be for the University administration and faculty to cease clinging to concepts about human nature, and especially human sexuality, that are based upon medieval notions seriously out of sync with today’s mainstream science and the authentic life experiences of gay people of faith. Such a change would greatly assist these students as they follow their conscience in seeking honest and fulfilling lives that are true to how God created them while enabling them to utilize their many talents to the fullest in responding to the multiple needs of today’s world.

– David J. McCaffrey
The Progressive Catholic Voice
January 2008

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
David McCaffrey Looks Back at the History of CPCSM
David McCaffrey: “History Matters”
CPCSM Co-Founder David McCaffrey Responds to “Not Catholic” Assertion
David McCaffrey on the Honoring MN State Representative Karen Clark at the 2004 CPCSM Annual Meeting
20 Years Stateside
Sad News
“I Have Never Felt Closer to Anyone in My Entire Life Than to David”
God Is in the Roses
Remembering David McCaffrey, One Year On

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