a priest's musings on the journey

Monday, April 21, 2008

Letters to Pope Benedict XVI From 2 Gay Catholics

Gregory Maguire
Presentation for "A Few Minutes with the Pope: Lesbian/Gay Catholics Speak About
Their Church" -- a press conference sponsored by New Ways Ministry
National Press Club, Washington, DC
April 10, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI

Your Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, and ladies and gentlemen:

It may seem artificial to address Your Holiness this morning when I know you won't be in attendance at this press conference. Yet I write as an act of the imagination as well as a exercise of hope that your news bureau might signal to you this message of welcome.

I come from a family of writers. I am a professional novelist. I joke that anyone who publishes novels with titles like WICKED and CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY
STEPSISTER and LOST must be, by definition, a Catholic novelist, and indeed, I am.
All my fictions are essentially about lost individuals in search of a home. An act of the imagination, an act of sympathy, can be the beginning of understanding.

My family taught me to pray as well as to write. My father and mother, now both
deceased, and the aging stepmother who raised me from infancy, and my six siblings—
they remind me that all will be well if I compose these remarks with courage and caritas.

I write in respect for the traditions of the Church, which is my home and my family as solidly as my biological and adoptive parents are, and as my husband and my adopted children are.

I present three things to you today: a blessing, a hope, an invitation.

I bless you for your work in the troubled world, your work for reconciliation among
troubled peoples, and for reconciliation within the hearts of troubled souls. Such work takes courage and caritas.

I name this hope for you: That you will be inspired by your visit to the United States. We Americans hardly invented the human failings of greed, solipsism, and hedonism, nor do we own exclusive rights to the virtues of generosity and sympathy that we sometimes practice. Still, our moment in history does make us visible exemplars of virtues and also of their counterparts.

Pope Benedict, my husband and I, married under the laws of the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts, are Catholics. We have three children adopted from overseas, ages 10, 8, and 6. They have all been baptized and the middle child will make his First Communion in ten days. We do this in the full and adult belief in the statements of the Creed, especially in the lines "we believe in one holy Catholic Church, in the communion of saints, in the forgiveness of sins." So doing, we struggle with certain statements from the Vatican that suggest as two married men raising orphans from overseas we are doing the equivalent of grave damage to our children. I won't air the details of my children's initial years to suggest what their lives might have been like had we not come along to adopt these children and bring them home. But an act of the imagination can well picture what those horrific realities. "Grave damage" doesn't begin to cover it. Infants are capable of suffering.

All three of our children were abandoned by their parents, who lived in situations of poverty, illness, and want of every sort. We have taken these children to our hearts, to our home, and to the baptismal font for the blessings that may follow.

But perhaps you shouldn't be asked to accept on faith my rosy portrayal of our family life. I am a storyteller, after all, and any schoolchild can tell you that another definition of a storyteller is a professional liar. Once, teaching writing to a group of seven year olds, I asked the students if they understood what was meant, in the outline of a story, by the 2 term "crisis." A second grade boy raised his hand and said, "It's when things get so bad that you have to say 'Christ!'"

The boy may have been parroting his parents' questionable language choices, or he may have understood somehow, deeply, one of the enduring prompts to prayer. When times get so bad, sometimes you have to speak to name of the eternal: Christ. Christ.

So my third message to you is an invitation. I am known for being almost criminally
earnest, but mind, now, I do mean what I write. My husband, Andy Newman, and I invite you to visit us in our home in Massachusetts. We invite you to spend a day, a meal, a weekend with us. We make the promise that, other than wearing slightly cleaner clothes, we won't put on a special Catholic show for you. We will live life with you as we live it ordinarily. Our children will say grace with you. Luke will race through it, mumbling, and Helen will declaim it with theatrical piety, and Alex will mime it through his stuffed monkey. It will be grace nonetheless. The children will recite their evening prayers at their bedsides. They will go to church on Sunday and try to remember during the homily not to do breaststroke competitions in two adjacent pews. We don't want to serve as a poster-family for gay Catholics, nor could we possibly manage it. We will just be ourselves, in all our confusion, aspiration, need, and joy. Remembering to attempt some measure of the corporal works of mercy among the obligations of homework, soccer, ballet, bath-time, piano, reading, and religious instruction. Andy, who was raised in Europe, speaks excellent French and his Italian is pretty good, too. We have room for an interpreter, an assistant or two. Our dining room table sits twelve. You will not need a taster.

If you look for us to be perfect Catholics, you will have to look elsewhere. If you look for us to be practicing Catholics, you will recognize us. We practice a lot.

A few weeks ago, I took my family to my original parish in upstate New York. My
stepmother is 91 this spring, and sickly, so we decided to attend as much of the Triduum as we could while visiting her for Easter. At the Good Friday service, the sacristans had gathered the chairs in a loose circle around the center of the room. There, the rude heavy Cross, no image of the suffering Jesus upon it, was raised to be venerated. From where we sat we could see people streaming from four corners of the room in turn, as if from all four corners of the world. It was like a stage set as organized by Caravaggio. Now the evening light fell now on someone's brow, now on this bowed back, now on a baby's forehead, now on a bent and greying head. When the frail came forward, acolytes lifted the Cross down to them since they couldn't lift themselves up. All comers to the Cross are welcome; we know this.

As the Cross stood in the half-light, and we contemplated it. I thought to myself: At the age of 53, dare I pray for a new level of understanding of Christ's suffering?

I tried to picture Jesus's holy form on the Cross, but I couldn't. My anticipation of the resurrection serves as a kind of inoculation, a stay against the apprehension of His true human suffering.

So I tried for a moment to imagine that someone else I knew was strung up on the Cross. My stepmother. My parish priest. My husband. My sister. One of my friends. Or
someone I was aware only distantly. Someone I'd never seen. One of those prisoners-of- war in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. A resident in the Concord penitentiary a mile from my home. Anyone alive today. Anyone. Any single person. Even one of my own

The horror of the image was almost too much to bear. I thought: Christ. For an instant I Christ. For an instant I knew the feeling of wanting to throw myself up as a shield against the next aiming spear. I would clamor to take the lash, if I could spare my daughter or my sons.

That imaginative moment was a devotional exercise, a prayer that I might receive the
blessing of more courage, more caritas, for when it is most sorely needed: and a prayer of gratitude for Christ, who shared in the suffering of humans through His own trials.

Dear Pope Benedict XVI, I ask you to venture imaginatively into the suffering of your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ. I ask you to contemplate the burden of those who feel chastised by the Church for a human condition they have neither requested nor, because they accept themselves as God has made them, rejected. I know this suffering is not of the same order as torture on the Cross, death on a battlefield, incarceration in a prison, dread in a hospital ICU ward, or abandonment by a sickly or impoverished mother. Nevertheless, it is a real suffering. I ask you and I ask the Church to enter imaginatively in understanding the needs and gifts of the faithful, to find out what we require for sustenance and to accept what we give to the Church and its people in return.

I believe this can happen, and I live in faith.

To imagine something is to approach understanding—well, it is one of the ways. To
experience it is another. So come to dinner. As Christ sat with the suffering, come sit with us. Chicken or fish? Red wine or white? Simple bread and local cheese. Courage and caritas. We'll wash the napkins. You are welcome any time, and you can take us as you find us, though a little advance notice would allow us to clear the bikes out of the driveway and tidy up the living room. We will try to help you feel at home.


Gregory Maguire and Andy Newman
Luke, Alex, and Helen Maguire Newman

Heather Mizeur
Presentation for "A Few Minutes with the Pope: Lesbian/Gay Catholics Speak About
Their Church" -- a press conference sponsored by New Ways Ministry
National Press Club, Washington, DC
April 10, 2008

If I were fortunate enough to meet with the Pope during his visit to the United States, I would use it as an opportunity to explain why I love Christ so deeply; why I love the Catholic Church so deeply; and why I love my wife so deeply. And how, with his help, this trinity of love can and should be encouraged, recognized, and valued.

From a very early age, I was blessed with an awareness of many things about myself –
what my professional, spiritual, and emotional callings were. I knew I wanted to be a public servant through elected politics to use government and community service as a vehicle for improving lives. I knew that my passion for helping others was connected to my love for Christ and the social justice teachings of my Church. And I knew that if I were to be honest about who I would want to share my life with, it would be another girl.

A politician. A Catholic. A lesbian.

That was a lot to shoulder in elementary school. I knew there were some people that
hated each one of those things. Some people hated them all.

So I chose first to focus on the thing I already was practicing: Catholicism. I figured if I got to know Jesus real good, I would be better guided on how to deal with other two.

It's probably worth mentioning at this point how "organic" my connection to Christ was at that time in my life. My family was not particularly religious. My parents believed in God but certainly never subscribed to the notion that one must go to Church to know God or be a good person. My father is Catholic. My mother converted prior to their marriage. We attended church as a family until I was in elementary school. Then, like many families, the burdens of holding everything together meant that some things slipped.

We often spent Saturdays doing fun family outings like packing picnics in the park,
wading and skipping rocks in the local river, going fishing, and riding on bails of hay in the back of the truck.

Sundays were spent meeting all of our relatives at Grandma's house for dinner and family time. Going to church regularly became one of those "optional" time sucks that my parents just couldn't seem to swing any longer – mostly because the time we spent in silence in our pews didn't seem as valuable to them as the time we were spending together in other activity.

The Church experience was something entirely different for me, though. I NEEDED to
be there. I hungered for the Eucharist – the physical presence of Christ. And my parents respected that. At my initial begging, my father would get up on Sundays to continue taking me to church. I would encourage my little sister to come with us. In that phase of our life, my father's presence at the mass was more as a chauffeur, less as a congregant.

When I turned sixteen, I was able to relieve him of that duty by driving myself and my sister. We attended mass by ourselves. Though only a teen, I was respected as an adult by other elders at the church because it was clear that I was choosing to be there of my own accord (many of my peers were still being dragged unwillingly to mass by their parents). I was given leadership roles as a Eucharistic minister and lector; chair of the Alter and Rosary Society; and a member of the Parish Council. My personal commitment to my faith and to my God grew deeply during those years.

I carried that commitment to college, where I attended daily mass and served on
Koinonia retreat leadership teams and was the Catholic confirmation course instructor at the Newman Center at the University of Illinois.

Faith wasn't the only thing I further explored in college. It was fairly easy to deny my lesbianism to myself and everyone else I knew while I was in high school. I spent all of my time and energy on academics and athletics. Being the high school valedictorian and MVP on the basketball team was more important to me at that time than dealing with my sexual orientation. That would have been too complicated in small town, rural Illinois. Rather, I had determined to spend my life giving of myself to others through community service and/or elected politics and to embrace a celibate life.

Of course, my faith was also tangled up in that decision. But in college, I began to try to figure out how the two could co-exist peacefully: how could I be a good Catholic lesbian?

The more time I spent in discernment, the more I realized I needed to let Jesus' voice on this issue come through to me, and not the Church's voice attempting to speak on His behalf. I put to work my own knowledge of theology and began to particularly appreciate our doctrine that supports the primacy of one's own conscience.

The Catholic Catechism, Part III, Chapter One, Article 6, is about the moral conscience: "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. "He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters."

Over the course of years of discernment and prayer, I realized that my conscience has been bee telling me this: That being a lesbian is just who I am; who God created me to be. It is how I am to love and be loved. It is God's intention. It is but one strand in the entire web of my complex humanity, and everything in that circle of creation is meant to be glorified and honored.

With that realization, I determined to no longer deny a part of me to myself or the world.

Therefore, dear Pope, I ask that you, too, no longer deny me or my relationship the honor and respect it deserves.

Three years ago, my spouse, Deborah, and I exchanged eternal vows at a large public
ceremony with our closest family and friends. Our marriage is made of the stuff you
dream of when counseling young couples during Pre-Cana classes: our relationship is
humble, loving, caring, honest, and kind; it is built on mutual respect, admiration, and
fidelity; weekly church goers, we are keepers of the faith through regular prayer, fasting,
abstinence, and alms giving.

Pope Benedict, I would challenge you to get to know us and our love for each other; for
our Lord; and for our Church – and compare our relationship against any other you
consider as a role model. Honest reflection could lead you to only one conclusion: ours
is a marriage blessed by God.

And while we seek no Papal blessing or formal recognition for our own sake, we do
believe an improved progressive outlook on the Church's teachings regarding
homosexuality would be a welcomed change for others.

The Church has given us many reasons to want to leave, but Deborah and I believe in
working for change within an institution. There would never be any catalyst for change within the Church if all of us who sometimes disagree with Her were to leave.

For us, love of our faith is stronger than the hate we sometimes encounter. But,
unfortunately, that is not true for everyone. We have hemorrhaged many of our GLBT
brothers and sisters. They call themselves, "recovering Catholics." There is much you can do as our Pope to bring them home.

Let us refocus our time, talent, and energy on building a Church based on love, peace, and economic and social justice. A Church with open doors, not folded arms. A Church that is as enlightened as its Creator. A Church whose greatest commandment is to love thy neighbor as thyself.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 7:19 AM


I didn't you were back blogging. Hooray. I will add you to my roll.
Blogger toujoursdan, at 5:57 AM  

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