My writing career at The Advocate, which I cherish, began in August of 2018 when I submitted a column about my experience with one of the abusive Catholic priests named in the Pennsylvania state grand jury investigation that summer. The deceitful Father Dave not only screwed up my life, but he also warped my faith.
Since that initial column, I’ve written over 100, and some of them have been about faith. I wrote about the priest, Angelo, who rekindled my faith and changed my life. More recently, I wrote about how God would and did dominate the run-up to and hearings for Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. She and the pious Catholic senators on the committee are the antithesis of what I think good Catholic people represent.
They are loud about their faith, see God as the ultimate justice who renders harsh verdicts, intolerant, anti-abortion, antiwomen, antigay and anti-you — if you are not like them. My dear Father Angelo had a term for them. I won’t write it here, but you can be sure he thought they were sanctimonious sinners.
There was also a column about the whacked-out “My Pillow” guy who decided to preach about God giving us Trump (God help us for three more months) in the White House Rose Garden during the height of the pandemic. God knows why he was even there. And then I scribed about Trump’s despicable use of the Bible as a prop in front of a boarded-up church. It seems obvious now why the church was boarded up, not to keep out protesters, but to keep out Trump. Who could forget the piece about the self-described “religious zealot,” famous for his advocacy of conversion therapy, who came out of the closet — like they all should do. So many of these preachers and so-called converters are living a lie, and isn’t a lie a sin?
What was sinful were the clergy who, during the pandemic crisis, defied the stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations and ordinances and held their crowded services, God be damned, not for God but for adulation and money for themselves. I ended that column talking about something meaningful. The actions of one clergy member. It was the image of Pope Francis delivering a special message about the coronavirus pandemic, by himself, in the middle of a rainy, dark, and lonely St. Peter’s Square. That filled me with hope.
Metaphorically, you could say that the Catholic Church has been a rainy, dark and lonely environment for the LGBTQ+ community for centuries. We have been too often ostracized, fired from Catholic teaching jobs, denied communion, condemned to hell, excommunicated, pointed at as sinners, shunned by our Catholic families, abused and preyed — not prayed — upon by Catholic priests, paddled by nuns who called us sissies, written about derogatorily in encyclicals by past pontiffs, denounced as sodomizers, and of course refused all the rites of the church, including marriage, because of who they think we are, which seems pretty hypocritical. Isn’t judging another person a sin?
And then, in his quiet, understated, humble, “Who am I to judge?” way, Pope Francis shone a light on us. “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” Francis said in an interview for the film Francesco, according to the Associated Press. “They are children of God.” Of course, he stopped short of advocating that the church sanctify same-sex marriages. He has to, because he’s the pope. But still, what he said, endorsing civil unions, made me stop in my tracks.
Pope Francis in his heart, I am sure, sees us for who we really are, quite a contradiction from being seen as who righteous Catholics have always thought we were. And because he knows us and appreciates us and does his best within his bounds to support us, Pope Francis is more of a divine person, more of a tolerant human, more of an empathetic soul, and more Catholic than someone like Amy Coney Barrett. She must be knelt over with her rosary praying for Francis to keep his mouth shut and asking God to doom him.
I wonder what God thinks of her? I wonder what Francis thinks of her? My wish is that they shake their heads, consider her judgmental, pray their rosaries that by some miracle she doesn’t reach the high court. But the reality is we can’t speak for God. No one can. But Francis comes close to someone who might. Therefore, he probably keeps to himself and doesn’t say or do anything unkind. And that’s the beauty of Francis. He exudes the kindness of God in an era when there is so much unkindness, so much judgment, so much hatred, and so much vitriol. And at a time when it seems so many people feel that they can speak for God and show contempt for us.
Our community has been at the center of this disdain in the Catholic religion for so long that it is really hard to feel welcomed in a church. You can sit through mass, in a suburb for example, look around and see straight married couples with kids, and feel so isolated. Like you just don’t belong. And that’s so wrong.
For most of my life, I went to morning mass after an early workout, never going to communion, sitting in the back, and not necessarily praying, but using it as an opportunity to talk to my dad in heaven. And when I would go back to my hometown of Pittsburgh and went to mass, I felt … well, like a gay man in a white, straight, homogenous space. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get that feeling out of my mind. Paranoid to a fault that everyone was staring at me, wishing that I would simply not be sitting there.
Now, because of what Francis said, I might go back to mass and see if I feel better about sitting in that pew. What he said was not a home run for us; it was more like a triple. But it was a hit nonetheless at anyone who dares to judge us again, and any clergy who dare make us feel unwelcome in God’s house.
Pope Francis has cracked the holy door for us. He’s letting us go beyond the vestibule and making us a part of the sanctuary. And that’s reassuring, because the church should be a sanctuary for us or anyone else in the LGBTQ+ community who values their faith, loves their God, but doubts if that faith or God values them. Pope Francis wants us there. He wants us to sing. To take communion. To pray. And he wants us to shake his hand or hug him on the way out. And he wants us to come back.
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.