Gay Catholics Act Up

Confronting the Bishops From Within the Church

One well-known group is New Ways Ministry, whose executive director, Francis DeBernardo, was teaching a workshop for Catholic gays and their families and ministers when "Considerations" appeared. "People said they felt 'slapped in the face' by the document," DeBernardo recalls. But he also notes a new "resilience, a truer sense of identity," sloughing off the insult.

A frequent response to church homophobia has been to simply walk out to another faith, usually Episcopal. But even that church's recent ordination of an openly gay bishop doesn't seem to be spurring mass defections among gay Catholics (although Sabatino and Voorheis, the banished choir members, are said to be exploring other denominations). "Gay Catholics who couldn't handle things like this [document] have made up their minds and left the church," a New York City priest explains. "A lot of others are staying, and are determined to stay."

Challenges to the church's authority are making it harder for Catholic homophobes to operate. "Look," continues the New York priest, who counsels gay parishioners, "everybody has a gay cousin or nephew or grandson now. Nobody in the church can afford to say 'Just fuck 'em' to gays anymore!"

Activist Joe Murray: "I see the workings of the Holy Spirit in this."
photo: Wayne Cable
Activist Joe Murray: "I see the workings of the Holy Spirit in this."

Does all this mean a gay liberation of the faithful is on the way? Probably not. "If anyone has the expectation that Catholic teaching on homosexuality is likely to change sometime soon—say, under a new pope—they are likely to be disappointed," cautions John L. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. And not everyone is speaking truth to power. "People are still being hit hard," by church homophobia, insists Brendan Fay, one of the first Catholic gays from New York to marry in Canada and the first to wear the Rainbow Sash at St. Patrick's Cathedral. "There's still lots of blood and tears to be shed over this."

Catholic radicals like Dorothy Day and the Berrigan brothers taught a generation that activism is an instrument of (and a saving) grace. And so the convergence of religious devotion and social activism that is as much a part of American Catholicism as St. Patrick's Day parades continues, led by a part of that church emerging and acting for the first time. "This is going to take a long time," Murray admits, "but like other people, I see the workings of the Holy Spirit in this, and seeing that makes it easier to stand up for what I believe."

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