As a person who cares deeply about ending poverty and its systemic causes, as well as reversing the disastrous consequences of climate change, I know I should remain silent.
I should tuck my personal feelings into my vest pocket, keep a low-profile, and roundly support the lovefest that has been unfolding here in the United States for Pope Francis during his visit.
But I’m conflicted.
And I’m tired.
I really would love this to be an historic moment in which our civic leaders actually hear the words of a prophet shaming their political paralysis on the greatest threats to our world today—spoken eloquently on behalf of those without voices. And I do love to hear a strong ethical and moral argument raised within such a coterie stuck in their own return on investment.
I think Francis is using his position profoundly on these issues, and I support that.
I also respect his admonition to his own Catholic bishops to stop using divisive language, and instead to be prophetically loving and accepting, and to put disagreements aside in favor of hope and reconciliation.
But then the family circus began: the jarring insertions near the end of his address to congress, the removal of guests like retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson from the White House guest list, the almost Reverend-Sun-Myung-Moon-like marriage festival at the world meeting of families in Philly.
When it comes to marriage equality and adoption by gay parents, the Pope has had no problem using divisive language of his own about those of us whom he perceives as a “threat to the family.” He was covert about its meaning during his visit to the US, but he has used those very words even more caustically in the past to refer explicitly to gay marriage and adoption.
Make no mistake. Pope Francis’ overly publicized and misconstrued “who am I to judge” remark, when asked about gay priests, came packed with qualifiers that the media overlooked. He’s quite happy not to judge any gay or lesbian person, priest or otherwise, as long as he or she stays obediently celibate and silent about it. If we open our mouths, if we legally marry our partners, if we live our lives honestly and unapologetically, expect to be judged as harshly as always by this Pope, and the rest of the Curia, according to the church’s official stance on homosexuality.
Having been a closeted gay Catholic youth in the 1960s and ’70s, and a closeted gay Jesuit seminarian and priest in the 1970s and ’80s, I still feel that quiet sadness and loss when a prophetic voice speaks as eloquently and strongly as Francis has on topics that are dear to my heart—even as he, at the same time, carefully, quietly extends an ecclesial slipper from beneath the back of his white robes to push the door shut on me.
I feel like an otherwise beloved adopted half-breed, or a trusted servant who grew up alongside my master, who knows, as I have known my whole life, to go quietly to my room whenever guests arrive.
I know many Catholic women have had similar experiences. I may be projecting, but when I see the religious women along the Papal route, collecting souvenir rosaries and taking photos of Pope Francis stopping to embrace a child in a wheelchair, I wonder about what they think and feel when they return home and rest those souvenirs on the desk in their convent rooms. Do they feel their high spirits being dragged back down by an institution whose hierarchy depends upon the systemic marginalization of women? Do they wonder how long they will have to wait to be full citizens?
In my final years as a Jesuit, when I chose to leave the Catholic clergy and start a life with Bob, my beloved partner of 26 years, I knew all too well of the personal, inner sacrifices my Catholic LGBT heroes were making (and still make) to remain supporting members of that institution—and it often breaks my heart.
But, the many years since spent away from Catholicism have also taught me that there are plenty of morally profound religious and nonreligious communities where I am not expected to sit in the waiting room until I am called in. Where I am invited to walk in openly and honestly. Where the community’s moral or politically challenging messages are not marred by contradicting or inconsistent treatment of their own members.
You may ask if I expected anything different from this Pope on matters of homosexuality. I expected only this: that a Pope with such a strong message of care for the marginalized would have at least stayed quiet on such topics, so as not to harm his message or to push anyone else to the margins in the process. Just that much would have helped.