Friday, October 31, 2008

A question from a reader.

Father, that was a lovely sermon, but I feel like there's something missing. Your own illustrations suggest that the first place most of us learn love is from our parents. What are we to make then, of a spousal relationship that is, of its nature, unable to produce children?

I know that there are infertile heterosexual couples whose love is also unable to produce children.

And I know that adoptive parents love their children every bit as much as biological parents love theirs.

But I don't think that's enough of a response. I think there's a real theological question to grapple with here--namely, what is the purpose of marriage and sex? And I don't think that we can, of our own accord, forcibly divorce the procreative purpose from the unitive purpose. We would as well remove our souls from our bodies--as if those were two different things.

I don't hate gay people. My aunt and godmother is gay and I love her. And I love the child -- my cousin -- that her partner gave birth to and she adopted. He is as much my cousin as the biological children of any of my other aunts.

But I just can't see how a relationship that cannot produce children, and is not even of the sort that produces children, is a marriage. Please help me to understand your reasoning.

God bless you -- you are in my prayers.

Ben asks a very sincere and authentic question. I believe one which deserves a considered answer. First, if you were to enter the sacristy of your local parish church and access the Rite of Marriage book which is authorized by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, you would discover something interesting in the marriage rite. All references to children are contained in red parenthesis. Why? So that the bishop, priest or deacon officiating at the wedding may easily omit such references in the case of a couple which is past "child bearing years". Obviously, it would appear absurd to include such references for a couple, say in their mid sixties. The Church marries people who cannot reproduce and has done so for centuries.

Why? The answer to this is rather obvious. Not all married couples will produce children. Are their marriages any less valid? The practice of the Church clearly suggest that the answer is that their marriages are equally valid. That some couples will not reproduce does not spell the end of the human race. Don't worry, God will bless many marriages with children.

The other question which is raised here is the purpose of sex. This is a great question. Obviously, one of the purposes of sex is reproduction; however, if marriage is permitted for couples who are incapable of reproduction and the Church currently does permit such marriages then, the Church also tacitly admits that there must be some other reason for sex other than reproduction. If this were not the case then, sex for females past the age of menopause would be considered "sinful." This "other" reason is called unitive by theologians.

The unitive end of sex, as the name suggests is a bonding. A tender union of the two people. Incidentally, this gives us a new insight into sex. It is good. It is not to be feared. It is not shameful. It was designed by the Creator. Whether the sex produces physical life or not, it may contribute to a union of love and life, which is the very definition of marriage. Heterosexual couples in their "golden years" understand this so too, do same sex couples.

So, if this is all true for heterosexual couples incapable of physical reproduction then, why would it be untrue of same sex couples who are equally incapable of physical reproduction?

I want to thank Ben for his question. Remember, the traditional definition of theology, is faith seeking understanding. Since theology is the study of God, we will never fully know God but, asking honest questions is a way of coming to know God better.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What about the children!?!?

To anyone who grew up in the 1960's, we remember the violent convulsions of that period in our national history. The riots after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The water canons and the dogs loosed on people fighting for equal treatment under the law and in society. The image of Governor Wallace standing at the entrance of a school, attempting to physically block an African American from entering. To anyone who lived through that period the words: "What about the children?" are a chilling through back, the last attempt by those who want to deny equal treatment under the law.

Then, it was a cynical or, ignorant attempt to create a sense of guilt in those asking for equal treatment under the law. After all, what would the prospects be for a child of mixed race? Think of the discrimination they would have to suffer. Stop being so selfish, you should sacrifice your own personal happiness "for the children." Of course, when we think back to those days now, we see through these "arguments" as simply a last refuge for bigots or, individuals so blinded by the bigotry of their day that they fail to see the inherent injustice in such claims. We know that there are many children raised by single parents, grandparents, same sex couples. We know that what is truly important is that a child be raised with love and care. The Proponents of Prop 8 know this too, but, they choose to focus on the genitalia rather than on the hearts of parents/guardians.

Today, the proponents of Proposition 8 are guilty of the same tactics employed by bigots forty years ago. Ironically, it is they themselves who continually claim that Proposition 8 is about "marriage". No where in the wording of Prop 8 are children mentioned at all. Yet, proponents have seized upon this issue in an attempt to generate fear in voters. They try to accomplish this in two ways.

First, as my own bishop wrote in his "pastoral" letter for July "they will brainwash your children". The idea here is that somehow, gay and lesbian persons 1) can change some one's orientation and, 2) that gay and lesbian persons will be able to use the public education system to accomplish this mass "conversion".

The first point is, of course, ludicrous. Psychology informs us that orientation is not "a choice." For more detailed information on this, please visit: Most of us discover our orientation at the time we go through puberty. One of the greatest fears that young gay and lesbian adolescents have at that point in their lives is that, their orientation will cause them to be rejected by the people that they love most--their family. So, most of these adolescents try to "pass" as straight, in effect to lie. This in turn, leads to self hatred which is why 33% of adolescents with same sex orientation will seriously consider suicide. The idea that an adolescent would "choose" this is a contradiction of both science and common sense.

The second point, is simply untrue. The State Superintendent of Schools has attested to this and the California Teacher's Association has endorsed voting for NO on Prop 8. Marriage is not required to be taught by the State of California. Local school boards decide what the content of Health classes will be in California. Any parent or, legal guardian can opt to remove their child from Health class if, they object to the content of the class based on either religious or, moral grounds. Proposition 8 proponents have deliberately spread inaccurate information, citing examples from Massachusetts. They know that California's laws are not the same as Massachusetts but, they're interested in winning not in the truth. They point to a primary grade field trip, where the students attended a same sex couple's wedding ceremony. They fail to mention that EVERY student at that event had to produce a signed permission slip from their parent/legal guardian to attend that ceremony. They know the law, it is merely inconvenient for them to state the full truth so, they don't.

So, why have the proponents of Prop 8 made this such an issue? Because, fear works in elections. No matter that it is irrational, no matter that it is deceptive, no matter that it is unethical. It works. Considering that Proponents of Prop 8 claim to be acting in the name of God and morality, one has to ask: How does violating one of the ten commandments of God accomplish that? How does using children as a prop to deceive people advance morality? I guess they've decided that the end justifies the means.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A wedding sermon.

Since Proposition 8 is intended to take away the right of same sex couples to marriage, it is important to consider exactly what marriage involves. I've decided to post a typical wedding homily which contains the matrimonial instruction required by the Church.

Francis and Lee, you've come here this afternoon in the company of your family, your relatives and friends to say what are arguably the most solemn and important words which you will ever speak. They are among the most solemn because, in a few moments, you will make vows to God. When such vows are made in true freedom and with full knowledge and consent, they touch our very souls and affect our eternal destiny. You are also about to exchange a series of promises with each other which will place your two lives on a parallel trajectory throughout the remainder of your lives.

Now, all of these people who know you, some of them from the time you were small children, could scratch their heads in wonder and ask: Why would anyone do that?!? Why would anyone make such vows to God or, make such life changing promises to another person?!? The answer that comes immediately to mind is, of course, love. The reason why someone would be so willing to make such a life commitment is love. But, what exactly is love? You find that word in the lyrics of almost every song, in great works of literature and popular novels. It is found in every culture, language and in every age of history. But, exactly what is love?

In our society, the most common understanding of love, is that it is a very deep and powerful feeling. The difficulty of this understanding of love, is that no one chooses their feelings. No one wakes up in the morning and decides: Today I'll be sad. Feelings are like the tide, that enters and recedes without any one's permission. And so, to predicate one's whole life based on a "feeling" would be crazy. Who is to say I'll feel that way in four months or five years?

It is true, there are very powerful feelings deeply intertwined with love; however, love is far more than merely a "feeling". Love is a choice. A choice made in freedom. To place another human being and his/her needs on par with your own and perhaps, even above your own. A beautiful example of this can be found in the persons of your parents who are here with you today. There were many times, during your infancy, when one of them got up out of a warm bed in the middle of the night to take care of your needs. There were countless times, when the alarm clock sounded and they got up out of bed and went to work so, that you'd have a plate at the table, a roof over your head and clothes on your back. That's love. Nothing fancy. Just ordinary people who chose to be there with and for each other. To help shoulder the burdens of life and, to share its joys and laughter. In the first letter of John (4:16) it states: God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them. In the book of Genesis (1:26) it states that God made us in his image. When we chose to love, it is at precisely that moment, that we most perfectly reflect the image of God in our world. It is at that very moment when we are at our best, our most noble. It is no small thing that causes you to speak these words here today and to enter into marriage.

Just as there exist misconceptions regarding the nature of love in our society, so too, there exist misconceptions regarding the nature of marriage. One of the most common is that marriage is a partnership, a fifty/fifty deal. The absurdity of this concept can be seen when it is applied to other human relationships. Friendships, for example, are rarely a 50/50 relationship. There are times in a friendship when our friend needs our help. Sometimes that means an understanding ear. Sometimes it means a pickup truck and a day's work to move them. Sometimes it means money. The beauty of a friendship is, that when we are in need, our friends are there for us as well. If this is true of friendship, then how could it not be untrue of marriage, which is the most intimate relationship that two people enjoy in this life?

Your marriage will seldom, if ever be a 50/50 deal. There will be times and periods in your life where it may be 70/30. There may be a time when it is 100/0 if, you doubt that take a drive to a nearby hospital and realize that for every patient in that hospital, their other half is at home holding down the fort and paying the bills. There may come a time in your marriage, when you believe that more is being demanded of you than you can possibly deliver. If that moment should come, pause and take some time in prayer to God, to the one to whom you make these vows this day. In that time of spiritual communion, God will remind you of the words that Our Lord said in the Gospel (John 15:16): "It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you to go forth and bear fruit." As people of faith we believe that about marriage. That God has called you Francis for Lee and you Lee for Francis. That as spouses you have a responsibility to each other and to God. To help each other achieve their potential in this life and in eternity. This means building each other up. It also will mean, at times, challenging each other with love and prudence. So that 25 or 50 years from now, when you look back at all of the trials and hardships of the years, they will evaporate like the dew before the glory of the morning sun and you will realize that you enjoy the greatest happiness that Divine mercy has bestowed upon us in this lifetime.

The courts and protection of minority rights.

In a public comment, bishop Steinbock stated: “Proposition 8 is not about homosexuals and their rights.” I had to read that twice, that is EXACTLY what Proposition 8 is about. Proposition 8 if approved by California voters would take away the civil right to marry from same sex couples. In his actual “pastoral” letter for July, the bishop referenced the State Supreme Court decision and compared the court to the Nazi and Communist regimes. We have also heard the courts derided by others in our society. “Activist Judges” is a derisive term often employed by people in positions of power who are displeased the courts act as a curb to their power. Ironically, when our own State Assembly passed a bill authorizing same sex marriage, the governor refused to sign it and stated that it was an issue best resolved by the courts. Our own bishop, in his “pastoral” stated that it was by a slim margin that the court made this decision. I don’t recall him once complaining when the courts ruled in favor of the Church in civil cases, even if it was by a slim margin.

The judicial branch of government is there to protect everyone's rights. An independent judiciary is essential to safe guard minority rights from the tyranny of majority power. If it were not for our judiciary, African Americans and Hispanics would not enjoy employment protection laws, equal housing laws and other rights which were non-existent and would have been thought impossible just two generations ago. Inter-racial marriage would still be illegal in California. In the 1960’s had these issues been decided by popular vote instead of by the courts, these minority groups would not have been given their civil rights and the human dignity that was denied them by society at the time.

The bishop stated, in his letter of suspension: “Your statement contradicted the teaching of the Catholic Church and has brought scandal to your parish community as well as the whole Church.” A scandal is not created by speaking the truth. The real "scandal" is placing impossibly heavy burdens on the faithful, faulting them for an act of the Creator in having created them with same sex orientation and then, not lifting a finger to help them. The traditional definition of theology is: “faith seeking understanding.” The idea that theology is a “done deal” is absurd. In the area of bioethics alone, theologians and the Church can’t even keep up with new developments in science. Psychology and neurology also have offered us considerable new insights into same sex orientation in the last generation. The Church itself has officially stated, that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” This begs additional commentary by the Church and ultimately these new understandings should be translated into pastoral practices. We are required to teach and guide those entrusted to our care by God. Jesus himself stated: I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:12-13).

My “sin” was not to hold the position, which I hold, nor, was it even to voice it. What I stated represents current thought on this issue by many theologians, pastors and some bishops. My sin was to voice it publicly. Why is that such a big deal? Because, it represents a “crack in the dam” if, one lowly pastor in Fresno can state something contrary to the official party line today then, tomorrow it could be several priests or, God forbid, even a bishop or, two. Privately, in the ballot box on Election Day, most priests, most nuns and several bishops will vote NO on Proposition 8. Most of these people involved in pastoral ministry will do this because, like me, they know it is the right thing to do. Perhaps, fifty years from now, the “official” churchmen will.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Someday, people will disbelieve that we had to fight for simple human rights!

Well, I must admit its been a busy week.

On Tuesday, as you may know, I had the privilege of attending the Woman's Empowerment Conference. I still smile as I think of the moment when I had the privilege of meeting our Governor, who incidentally is opposed to Prop 8. along with a host of notable persons who, I never in my wildest dreams thought that I'd ever be introduced to. Why is this important? Well, because all of them are in our corner, all of them understand that Prop 8 is essentially about bigotry. They know that Prop 8 is wrong and that we should vote NO on Prop 8.

Forty years ago, the people who were opposed to white people marrying black people used the very same oppressive arguments that are being used today by the "yes" on Prop 8 side: "What about the children?". The irony, of course, is that the child of a mixed race marriage, Barack Obama, will probably be the next President of the United States! The "yes" on 8 people, like their racist predecessors, realize that their arguments are both morally and intellectually bankrupt and so, they resort to emotionalism and an irrational fear which represent the most base within each of us. These very same people who invoke morality are not above deception in order to secure an immoral victory. They themselves offend God by manipulating children in advertisements to violate one of the 10 Commandments of God to not bear false witness against your neighbor.

On Friday night, I took part in a live debate on Fox 11.

You can watch it here:

And on Sunday, I was interviewed by Steve Lopez of the LA Times.

You can check it out here

And Please, Donate to No on Prop 8 if you can. Large amounts of money are being poured into California from all over the United States of America. Fundamentalists, the leaderships of the LDS (Mormons), the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic Organization) and millions of others, are using funds. Funds which should be used to help feed the hungry, house the homeless and give a future to orphans. These funds have been appropriated to perpetuate bigotry and oppress a minority in the name of an all compassionate God. In this, they add insult to injury. They Blaspheme the very God who they falsely claim to serve. They become servants of evil in the name of good. They drive people away from God and preach hatred in the name of God, who is love.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A cell phone call before breakfast.

On Wednesday morning, as I was driving to the Woman's Empowerment Conference in Long Beach, California; my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the telephone number which was displayed but, that's not all that unusual for me these days. So, I answered the phone and to my surprise, it was Bishop Gene Robinson.

Bishop Robinson for those of you who may be unfamiliar with his story, enjoys the singular distinction of being the first openly gay man to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church. Not unlike the story of the first violinist at the New York Philharmonic Orchestra who took ill and the post was given to a guest violinist. The guest violinist was apprehensive about her new responsibility. Turning to the second violinist she asked, "When do I start playing?" The second violinist answered reassuringly, "Don't worry, just don't be the first."
Being first, is always disconcerting, if not outright frightening, because there is no precedent. You are breaking new ground; you are breaking the established norms and rules. Many people will take exception to what you've done, and will throw everything at you to discredit you. They will vilify you and make an example of you to serve as a warning to others. If you manage to pull it off, to break through, to open a new door; you will be a trail blazer, a pioneer, and a visionary. 

Bishop Gene took all of those risks. His family and his partner stood with him in the sanctuary on the day of his consecration. They heard the hurtful, hateful things said by some during his consecration liturgy. Bishop Gene opened a brave new door for gay and lesbian people that day. He continues to weather attacks and insults from members of his world wide communion. With the sustaining love of his family and his partner he continues to serve both God, the Church and humanity in the face of bigotry, opposition and hatred. Through his courage, fifty years from now, others will not have to suffer what he has suffered. The Church will have healed and grown because of Bishop Gene's self-sacrifice. Bishop Gene is a hero for me and a living testament of the human spirit's strength to overcome fear, and the hatred it generates, through the power of love. 

My wristwatch informed me that it was a long conversation with Gene Robinson; but to me, it brief . We spoke of the difficulties facing both the world-wide Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church. Both faiths, are international in character and both have the majority of their membership residing in the Third World. While these Third World societies are culturally vibrant, they suffer economic poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa has been socially and economically devastated by the AIDS epidemic. Inter-tribal wars have claimed countless lives and economic colonialism has kept many of these newly created nations impoverished. In addition, these societies tend to lack basic social infrastructures such as adequate health care, social services, and education. As a result of their exploitation, they are suspicious of any new social insights introduced by foreign sources. 

When fighting to survive, innovation is a gamble you cannot afford to lose. The fruit of this colonial legacy is that the indigenous bishops are resistant to any new ideas that come from these former colonial powers, which have a history of subjugating them.  It is the Anglican bishops of these nations that have so vociferously protested Bishop Gene's consecration. The "idea" of an openly gay bishop with a partner is unacceptable because it adds another stress to a society that already finds itself at the breaking point. Of course, these same bishops take exception to women being ordained as deacons and priests (let alone consecrated bishops) for the very same reason. 

This presents a moral quandary for the universal Church. Which course do you take?  Do you risk losing members from more developed societies, or from developing societies? Do you ask for continued, perhaps lifetime, sacrifices from some to calm the fears and apprehensions of others? What is just, what is sensible, what is the best way to proceed?

What does begin to emerge from all of these questions is that the argument against both the ordination of women and the acceptance of those with same sex orientation is far more sociological than theological in its nature. Perhaps, this why the late Pope John Paul II forbade the subject of the ordination of women from being discussed in universities. While such repression may temporarily delay discussion and debate, it does not resolve the underlying issues and simply contributes to a future cataclysmic confrontation and possible schism. 

All of this took place on a cell phone conversation on a drive to an event before breakfast with a most extraordinary person who is a personal hero and inspiration to me: Bishop Gene Robinson. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We are not alone! We are fighting for our rights and those of future generations.

I had the pleasure today of attending the Women's Empowerment Conference in Long Beach, California. I found myself munching on some food, looked up and saw Madeleine Albright at the table next to me. I stood next to an environmental vehicle display and found myself shaking hands with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is opposed to a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. I walked with Bobby Shriver, heard about his wonderful work with Red, a product line that helps AIDS patients. He was also very supportive of NO on Prop. 8. I had the honor of sitting next to Maria Shriver, our State's First Lady and hearing of her personal support for NO on Proposition 8. I met with the Benedictine Nun, Sr. Joan Chittister and heard of her support for NO on Proposition 8. I met with the famous feminist, Gloria Steinem and heard of her support of NO on Proposition 8. I was interviewed by the Washington and then, appeared on the Peter B. Collins Radio show with Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church to discuss NO on Proposition 8. 

Had any ONE of these things happened today, I would have considered today exceptional. However, all of these things happened in one day and it seemed totally unreal. The fact that so many remarkable and extraordinary individuals are supportive of Equality, Fairness, and Human Rights is both uplifting and hope inspiring. As Melissa Etheridge said at a concert last night which raised nearly 4 million dollars for NO on Prop. 8, one day in the future people will look back at this time and find it hard to believe that some groups attempted to deny same sex couples the right to marry. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Someone recently asked me: "Domestic partnerships are almost the same as marriage, why the need for marriage?"

Under California State law, a heterosexual couple may also enter into a Domestic Partnership. So, try this: Inform your girlfriend that you've decided you'd like to enter into a Domestic Partnership with her, instead of marriage. I am certain that she will be able to explain the HUGE difference between the two realities in a far more forceful and colorful way than, I would ever be able to accomplish.

Just one friendly word of advice from someone who used to play hockey in High School, you should put on an athletic supporter with a protective cup before having the aforementioned conversation with your girlfriend. 

Monday, October 20, 2008

How does taking away the right to marry from same sex couples protect marriage?

Well, it doesn't. Proponents of Proposition 8 are spending more than 28 million dollars to take away the right from same sex couples to marry. They believe that doing this will protect marriage. What would actually protect marriage? 

I recall a conversation I had with a realtor several years ago. She told me that "if it were as difficult to get a marriage license as it is to qualify for a home loan, there would be a heck of a lot less divorces." In light of the current home loan crisis, perhaps lending practices also need to be reconsidered. However, she did make a good point. Having processed countless annulment cases over the years, I and many other priests have been surprised at the lack of due consideration that many couples give to entering marriage. Because of this collective experience, the Catholic Church in the USA has come up with several common sense requirements of couples prior to marriage. In my Diocese some of these include:

1) a minimum four (4) month waiting period after a couple requests marriage before the wedding can take place.

2) during that waiting period the Church requires a minimum of eight (8) hours prenuptial instruction. This usually means attending a weekend seminar (Engaged Encounter) where the couple hear presentations on finance, communication skills, sexuality, family life (including relationships with in-laws), etc. The couples then, are given several reflection questions. They write down their thoughts and feelings in a journal and then, privately exchange those answers with each other. 
At the Newman Center, we also required the couple to have a session with a marriage counselor prior to their wedding.

Now, if that were required by Proposition 8 THEN, they could sincerely claim that it was about "Protecting" or "Restoring" marriage. As written, Prop 8 does nothing, ZERO, to actually help any marriages. It merely takes away the right of same sex couples to marriage and in effect promotes promiscuity in society by unfairly taking marriage away from same sex couples as a real world option. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reflections at the end of a long day.

I would like to post more frequently; however, I've been very busy giving interviews, writing for newspapers and doing radio shows. Can you imagine trying to convince other people why racism is wrong? That was the battle fifty years ago. Or, trying to convince folks that women should receive equal pay for equal work? That was the battle forty years ago. Yes, I know, those battles are still being fought but, overall society acknowledges that racism and sexism are wrong.

A friend of mine, who is also a priest, recently heard a mother say of her gay son: I'd rather that he be dead than, that he be gay! Where did that woman get that idea? So much more work still needs to be done. We have to fight hard to keep civil rights. Psychologists suggest that some people would happily subjugate and oppress others, in order to feel powerful in their own lives which they view as impotent. One of the best definitions I've heard for evil came from a psychologist who spoke with the Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg trials. He concluded that evil, is a lack of empathy for others and the scapegoating of innocent people.

Together we can preserve civil rights and make the world a more loving place.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hero or, an antichrist?

Its not everyday that you are referred to as both a hero and an Antichrist. I am comforted by the statement of Jesus: How I wish that you were hot or cold. I don't particularly feel like a hero, especially after I read the various comments which have been forwarded to me from literally, six continents

I believe the real heroes are the millions of brave men and women who's lives have been trampled upon, who have suffered emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical abuse. Having had the privilege of listening to countless people over the years, I have always been amazed at the capacity that the human heart has to endure suffering. Not merely for a day, a week, a month or a year, but, for decades and in some cases for an entire lifetime. I have had the sad duty of officiating at funeral services for many who found the suffering to be--too much. I have sat with grieving parents, brothers and sisters, children of those who have lost someone they loved. These are the real heroes, the men and women and adolescents who against staggering odds wake up and face each day. Who try to carve out a little niche of love in a sometimes harsh world. Who form communities of acceptance and love in the face of ignorance and hate. 

And the Antichrist? He's the one that convinces people to hate in the name of God.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

LA press conference held on Tuesday 14 October 2008

The following is a statement which I delivered at a Press Conference in Los Angeles at noon today. 

You can be a good and faithful Catholic and vote NO on Proposition 8.

Many priests, nuns  and ordinary Catholics will vote NO on Proposition 8 because they believe that taking away civil rights from same sex couples is wrong and strips them not only of civil rights but, also of basic human dignity. I know this because they have expressed this to me directly.  Many pastors simply refuse to say anything at all on the subject publicly.  Most of my brother priests try to help Catholic same sex couples in the same fashion that they help Catholic heterosexual couples who use contraception or, who have divorced and remarried.  We try to assist these souls in the confessional and in counseling sessions.  We attempt to humanize what can otherwise be impossibly rigid doctrines that crush people or drive them away from the community of faith. 


As an elderly Pastor once told me: “We are not technicians, we work with human lives”.  People are not statistics, they are not a political issue, they are human beings.  Initially, I too simply decided to remain silent. But then, more and more people came to me and asked for guidance on this issue.  At the same time, the Diocese became more and more vocal in its support for Proposition 8 and began to organize lay people to vote yes on 8. 

When I was asked to promote my congregation to vote yes on Proposition 8 I was placed in a position of having to choose between my position and the spiritual and emotional well being of those who I was called to serve.   Theologians such as, St. Thomas Aquinas have taught of the primacy of one’s personal conscience because on the day that you die it will be your conscience that either acquits or condemns you before God. 


In good conscience, I cannot place an impossibly heavy load on the backs of those entrusted to my pastoral care and leave them to fend for themselves as best they can.  The cost of this would be abandonment of faith, possibly of God.  It would probably contribute to isolation, depression and possible despair or, worse (especially for young people). I gave them the advice that most of them would receive privately from most priests, I simply did it openly at the end of Sunday Mass from the pulpit.   


Monday, October 13, 2008

How we do and don't speak of this issue in our seminaries

This following E-mail illustrates the types of discussions which take place in seminaries regarding this issue. The way in which the discussion is handled is as important as the discussion itself.

Scott said...
What you said in your Homily is verbatim to what we learned at Saint Patrick's Seminary from the professor who taught the Second Year Moral Theology course, "Human Sexuality". When I took Jerry's course, I too ran into a conflict. When I voiced what I saw as an obvious inconsistancy, Jerry told me that if I had a problem with Church teaching, that I should come see him in his office. He was Rector at the time. I apologized and stayed silent. I ended up with an "A" in the course because as was said by Scott Ritchey at the time, "Be beige when it comes to expressing your opionion." My "collar is off" to you my friend, a prophet who chose not to be "beige".
October 11, 2008 10:46 AM

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I received this E-mail today. It left me speechless.

John I. said...
Fr. Geoff,Your words resonate far beyond California. My family and I spent Saturday afternoon at the grave side of our gay son and brother. Yesterday would have been his 27th birthday. His Church turned on him viciously, abandoned him; and he ended up taking his own life last year. What a tragic waste of so much talent and promise. You are the kind of priest our seminarian son could have become. He is why what you (and so many other courageous people) do is so important. Be strong and uplifted by many loving hearts! +new Episcopalian in the heartland
October 12, 2008 5:32 AM

Friday, October 10, 2008

An open letter to my parish community.

Dear Friends,

In a letter which I wrote to our bishop early this week. I explained that I intended to take a private retreat and then, unless I heard otherwise from him, resume my duties at St. Paul's this weekend. Today, I heard from the bishop that I have been suspended as a priest and removed as pastor of the Newman Center. In all candor, I had anticipated that response which is why, I had removed my personal property from the parish house and offices. I bear no personal animosity to the bishop for his decision.

Many of you may be asking why I decided to make this public statement. The answer is simply that I had been asked to do so. Just two weeks ago this was asked of me at a Faith, Family & Friends planning session. I offered to do so at that meeting as a post communion statement to be read at the end of Mass. This is precisely what I did last Sunday on October 5 at the end of the 11:00 AM liturgy. Some have raised an objection that the local media was invited to be present. I knew beforehand, that given the content of this statement, it could only be made once. The media's coverage made it possible for the whole parish to hear the message as well as others in our city.

Some have characterized my statement as a "personal" statement. The simple fact that it has taken on such far reaching interest, is evidence that this is not merely my "personal" opinion but rather, a very wide ranging issue in our state, our nation and indeed, internationally. I have received E-mails from the United Kingdom, Holland, Sweden, Germany and even Rome. This is not a "personal" opinion, it is one person expressing something very wide spread in our nation and in our international communion. Why? Because, almost every family has a lesbian or gay person as one of its members.

I felt the need to speak, not for myself but, on behalf of those who have no one to speak for them in this matter in our Church. Personally, my life has been rather difficult since I made this statement as I knew it would be. I have no regrets since, it was my hope that this statement would lead to greater discussion of the treatment of gay and lesbian people in and by the Church. Also, it is my earnest hope that in some small way, this helps to preserve the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons which are currently under attack by the proponents of Proposition 8.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Waiting for the phone to ring.

I'd like to begin by thanking the many of you who have written to me and who have been so kind and affirmative in your comments. I have tried to answer each comment; however, the sheer number make this practically impossible. I promise, I will try to do my best with this.  I also apologize for not posting all the comments. Frankly, I'm new to this whole blogging reality. I thank my dear friend Jeff at for being so gracious and kind. It was because of his help that this site was established. As I said, I'm new at this and didn't even realize you could post comments. My apologies to those of you who sent comments, I'll try and post new ones. 

One question which many have asked is: What's happening to you now, what are your immediate plans? Frankly, I am still waiting to hear from the bishop as to what my status currently is with my parish and the Diocese of Fresno. I mailed a certified letter to him this week in which I said that if I did not hear to the contrary from him, I would resume my duties as pastor of St. Paul's Newman Center this weekend. 

All of the priests of our diocese were attending their annual retreat this week from Monday through Thursday.  For obvious reasons, I thought that my presence at this retreat would be disruptive and I thought it more prudent to take a private retreat instead. Friday is my usual day off and so, my tentative plans are to return to my parish this weekend and resume my pastoral work. Unless, of course, the bishop informs me otherwise. I can tell you frankly, that my family is not very thrilled at the idea of my returning to Fresno. Both they and others have expressed fears for my personal safety and even for my life. 

I had expected to be suspended as a priest immediately, which is why, I took my personal belongings with me when I left the parish for retreat. Since this has not happened, and I am still a priest in good standing, and as far as I know, still the pastor of St. Paul's. So, here I am waiting for the phone to ring. 

I am however, making good use of my time. I am speaking with various groups and individuals who are working very hard for the "NO on Proposition 8" campaign. I have to tell you, this is a fight for all of us, not just for people in the state of California. If the yes on prop. 8 party wins, they won't stop with robbing gay and lesbian people in California of their right to marry. They will then, move on to weaker states and go after domestic partnership laws, adoption laws, and employment protection laws. Essentially, they would like gay and lesbian people to have no rights at all and simply to not exist. 

What can you do? If you live in California, vote NO on Prop 8 and, try to persuade as many people as you know to also, vote NO on Prop 8. Give money to the NO on Proposition 8 campaign. It cost large amounts of money to buy air time on major media here in California. People who want to take away civil rights from gays and lesbians are spending HUGE amounts of money to buy air time. Lorri L. Jean from the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center  ( )spoke at a fund raiser this last week in LA and said that the Yes on 8 machine has raised 20 MILLION dollars to strip us of our rights. We are 5% points behind in the polls right now. We need to catch up, to do that we need to be heard. To be heard we need to buy air time. To buy air time we need cash and we need it NOW. Please, contribute to the No on Proposition 8 campaign. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How It All began

Sunday, October 4, 11AM:

As most of you know, I was appointed pastor here at the Newman Center on April 15th of this year. When I arrived, I set out to address a series of various projects to repair our facilities. To date, most of these deferred maintenance items have been addressed. In the middle of dealing with contractors, the parish finance committee, the building department of the diocese, neighbors, etc., I received a FAX from the bishop’s office on the 30th of June. It was the bishop’s pastoral letter for the month of July.

This single FAX threw my whole summer, and in fact, my whole life into a turmoil. Recently, I was speaking with some of our parishioners who advocate for the ordination of women. In the course of our conversation, a question arose which has haunted me: “At what point do you cease to be an agent for healing and growth and become an accomplice of injustice?” By asking all of the pastors of the Diocese of Fresno to promote Catholics to vote “Yes” on Proposition 8, the bishop has placed me in a moral predicament.

In his “Pastoral,” the bishop states: “Marriage is much more than simply two persons loving each other. Marriage is naturally, socially, and biologically, directed to bringing forth life.”

Actually, there are TWO ends to marriage: 1) Unitive and 2) Procreative. The unitive end of marriage is simply a union of love and life. The Procreative end is, of course, to create new life. It is important to understand that the unitive end of marriage is sufficient for a valid marriage. The Church sanctions, and considers a sacrament, the marriage of elderly heterosexual couples who are biologically incapable of reproduction. So, if two people of different genders who are incapable of reproduction can enter into a valid marriage, then why is it that two people of the same gender, who are incapable of reproduction, cannot enter into a valid marriage?

The objections which are raised at this point are taken from Sacred Scripture. Scripture scholars reveal the problematic nature of attempting to use passages from the Hebrew Scriptures as an argument against same gender relationships. Essentially, these scriptures are addressing the cultic practices in which sex with temple prostitutes was part of an act of worshiping Pagan gods. With regard to the Pauline epistles, John J. McNeill, in his book: “The Church and the Homosexual,” makes the following point: “The persons referred to in Romans 1:26 are probably not homosexuals that is, those who are psychologically inclined toward their own sex—since they are portrayed as ‘abandoning their natural customs.’” The Pauline epistles do not explicitly treat the question of homosexual activity between two persons who share a homosexual orientation, and as such cannot be read as explicitly condemning such behavior. Therefore, same gender sex by two individuals with same sex orientation is not “abandoning their natural custom.”

In 1973, as a result of a greater understanding of human psychology, the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness. In 1975, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the Church’s watchdog for orthodoxy) produced a document entitled: “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics.” In this document, they made the most remarkable statement. They stated that there are “homosexuals who are such because of some kind of innate instinct.” While these statements are hardly glowing affirmations of gay and lesbian persons, they represent a watershed in human perception and understanding of gay and lesbian people.

These new insights have occurred as a result of the birth and development of the science of psychology and understanding of brain development in the 19th and 20th centuries. The California Supreme Court cited and quoted an amicus brief filed by the APA in the Court’s opinion issued on May 15, 2008 that struck down California’s ban on same sex marriage. Specifically, the court relied on the APA’s brief in concluding that the very nature of sexual orientation is related to the gender of partners to whom one is attracted, so that prohibiting same sex marriage discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, rather than just imposing disparate burdens on gay people.

In directing the faithful to vote “Yes” on Proposition 8, the California Bishops are not merely entering the political arena, they are ignoring the advances and insights of neurology, psychology and the very statements made by the Church itself that homosexuality is innate (i.e. orientation). In doing this, they are making a statement which has a direct, and damaging, effect on some of the people who may be sitting in the pews next to you today. The statement made by the bishop reaffirms the feelings of exclusion and alienation that are suffered by individuals and their loved ones who have left the Church over this very issue. Imagine what hearing such damaging words at Mass does to an adolescent who has just discovered that he/she is gay/lesbian? What is the hierarchy saying to him/her? What are they demanding from that individual? What would it have meant to you personally to hear from the pulpit at church that you could never date? Never fall in love, never kiss or hold hands with another person? Never be able to marry? How would you view yourself? How would others hearing those same words be directed to view you? How would you view your life and your future? How would you feel when you saw a car with a “Yes on 8” bumper sticker? When you overheard someone in a public place use the word “faggot?”

I remember the first time I heard that word, faggot, I was hanging out with my cousins. They all played on the football team of the Catholic high school in our town. One of them spat out the word in the form of a curse. I was just a kid in the 5th grade, I’d never heard the word before, and so I asked: “What’s a faggot?” A faggot is a guy who likes other guys, was the curt reply. Now pause. Think. What would those words mean to someone in junior high school who discovers that he/she is attracted to people of their same gender? The greatest fear that he/she would have is that they would be rejected by the people they love the most—their family. So, their solution is to try to pass as straight, deceive, and in effect—lie. Of course, this leads ultimately to self loathing. It should come as little surprise that gay teenagers have elevated suicide rates. According to the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (1999), 33% of gay youth will attempt suicide.

The bishop states: “The Church has spoken out constantly that those with a homosexual orientation must be respected with the dignity of every child of God. Every individual is created in the image and likeness of God and should never be subjected to prejudice or hatred.” A pious thought uttered by a cleric, robbed of any substantive meaning, as the executioner begins his work. Only a few select people actually read those documents. What most Catholics hear about being gay or lesbian at their parish church is--silence. A numbing silence, which slowly and insidiously tells them, “You don’t belong here, this is not for you, and you are not welcome.” It is not the crude overt vulgarity of some churches. But rather, it is the coldness of a maitre d’ who simply won’t seat you, or the club which has put you on a waiting list with no intention of allowing you to join. And simply asks you to wait in polite almost, apologetic tones.

In effect, the bishops are asking gay and lesbian people to live their lives alone. Why? Who does this benefit? How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage? How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives? What is accomplished by this? Worse still, is to intimidate a gay or lesbian person into a heterosexual marriage, which is doomed from its inception, and makes two victims instead of one by this hurtful “theology.” This “theology,” which is parroted by clerics in polished tones from pulpits, produces the very prejudice and hatred in our society which they claim to abhor.

When the hierarchy prohibited artificial birth control, most of the faithful in the United States, Canada and Europe scratched their heads in wonderment and proceeded to ignore them. There is an expression in theology: “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” If your son or daughter is gay/lesbian let them know that you love them unconditionally. Let them know that you are not ashamed or embarrassed by them. Guide them as you would your other children to finding true and abiding love. Let them know that marriage is a union of love and life and is possible for them too.

I do not presume to tell you how to vote but I do ask that you pray to the Creator of us all. Think and consider the effects of your vote on others, especially minorities in our society who are sitting next to you in church, and at work. The act of casting a vote takes you a few minutes but it can cause other human beings untold happiness or sorrow for a lifetime. It can grant them hope and acceptance, or it can cause them to lose civil rights. It can be a rebuff to bigotry and hatred, or it can encourage bigotry and hatred. Personally, I am morally compelled to vote “NO” on Proposition 8. It is my hope that the people of California will join with those others around the world such as Canada, Europe and South Africa who welcome their gay and lesbian family members fully into society by granting them the civil right to marry.

I know these words of truth will cost me dearly. But to withhold them, would be far more costly and I would become an accomplice to a moral evil that strips gay and lesbian people not only of their civil rights but of their human dignity as well. Jesus said, “The truth will set you free.” He didn't promise that it would be easy or without personal cost to speak that truth.