Monday, August 24, 2009

Reflections on an interview

Thursday afternoon Irish journalists interviewed me. I have to say, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Irish, and I guess it is because Irish Dominican sisters educated me. The Irish have a wonderful dry wit and a humor, which is down to earth and can cut to the bone. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the journalist and the camera crew.

During the interview, the journalist asked me about my salary. He assumed that the Church was still paying me a salary, or at least a small stipend. When I informed him that both my salary and health insurance were suspended within less than thirty days of my having made a public statement against Prop 8 the journalist was visibly shocked. The journalist said, you would have been better off financially, if you had committed pedophilia. Yes, a priest accused of pedophilia would be placed on paid suspension. After twenty-three years of service, I was pushed out the door with no help whatsoever.

Still, I am glad of it, I added. If Bishop Steinbock had complied with Canon [Church] law and offered me financial support and health insurance, I would have felt beholden to him and would not have felt that I could speak as freely as I have. The journalist nodded his head in agreement. The bishop’s comment that “we will provide only that which civil law requires” is actually a very elegant argument for full marriage equality under civil law. All we have is civil law; the hierarchy does whatever it wishes as has been painfully illustrated in the pedophilia scandals.

Recently, the Pope apologized to victims of pedophile priests. That was all well, good and necessary; however, the Pope failed to address the role of bishops and religious superiors who knowingly transferred pedophiles from assignment to assignment. There will always be pedophiles in all professions, especially those that have access to children. In the case of the Church, that bishops seemed more concerned with “avoiding public scandal” and with preserving material assets, than with protecting the children in their care is the real scandal.

The interview then turned to Dr. Nicolosi a local Catholic psychologist. The journalist asked me if I knew him. I was surprised since, Dr. Nicolosi worked with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Saint John’s Seminary when I was an undergraduate in 1978. Yes, I answered, I believe that he advocates “Reparative Therapy.” Reparative Therapy is an attempt to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. The American Psychological Association has stated in a resolution that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. It seems that Dr. Nicolosi has a quarrel with the APA and his colleagues.

As far as faith is concerned, the Church stated in 1975 that for some people homosexuality is innate. This means God made some people to be homosexual. The bishops do not like to talk about that statement. They try to sweep it under the carpet, because it has a series of logical consequences that are at odds with current theologies and practices promoted by the current 82 year old Pope.

The interview ended cordially, but to my surprise, it had triggered something in me that I did not fully grasp until the next morning. As I was going through my morning routine, I reflected upon the journalist’s incredulity at the bishop’s failure to provide financial support, even if only for a transitional period. Then it hit me. I recalled a passage from a book I have been reading “In Mao’s Shadow” a commentary on Communist China and its Cultural Revolution.

Relatives of dissidents received an abrupt knock on the door along with a curt demand from a state official to pay for the cost of the bullets used in their loved one’s execution. This is how people were “notified” of the death of a loved one during the Cultural Revolution. The official would repeatedly voice the demand for payment. It was an insignificant amount of money, a few pennies actually, but the roughness of the treatment of someone who had suffered such a loss was inhumane.

Frankly, I could care less about the loss of the paltry “salary” which I was paid as a priest. What is truly offensive were the decades of mental manipulation I bore in my naiveté that began from childhood. This goes back to my time in grammar school when the Church told me that somehow I was disordered. A Jesuit who is a Latinist later explained to me that in the original document (which is written in Latin and then translated to the various languages) “disordered” means, “not ordered to reproduction.” Like elderly heterosexuals who are permitted to marry, homosexual marriages do not generate new physical life. I grew up falsely led to believe that I could never fall in love, have a home, and share a life with someone whom I loved.

It was a criminal and gross injustice to do this to me, especially when I was a child. This same injustice continues to be visited upon another generation of innocent young people. All of this done in the name of the God who the Church proclaims made me this way. This is nothing less than blasphemous. As in sexual abuse, the latent effects of emotional and psychological abuse can last a lifetime. Telling children that they are disordered, that they must live their lives as solitary beings, that they should not speak of this to others (except to therapists like Dr. Nicolosi who hold the Church’s position) is an evil that needs to stop. It needs to stop now and I hope that my efforts in plainly speaking the truth will spare someone else from suffering this abuse.

Before going to bed tonight, I read this headline. It made me smile. Progress is happening. I'd like to share it with you and hope that it encourages you to continue to work for change.

Mainline Christian Denomination Opens Doors to Gay and Lesbian Ministers in Committed Relationships

August 21, 2009 4:54PM
Sharon Groves

In a historic decision, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA) 4.7 million member denomination has lifted its ban on noncelibate gay and lesbian pastors and has thus opened the door for lesbian and gay pastors who are in committed same-sex relationships to serve as ministers. Passing 559-541 at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, Minn., this vote followed on the heels of a 2/3 majority vote on Wednesday August 19, to approve a social statement on human sexuality to acknowledge without judgment the wide variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion. This document, which was 8 years in the making, recognizes and supports congregations which conduct blessings of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriages where such marriages are legal.


Sebastian said...

The Church loves her priests just as long as the priests are compliant yes men. The minute a priest steps away from the party line in any area, or becomes the focus of "negative" attention, the Church has all the compassion of an insecure and psychologically unbalanced person. It lashes out, it engages in petty insults and manipulations, it blames the priest and it attempts to destroy his reputation.

Priests are among the most vulnerable workers in America. We have no retirement and no safety net that cannot be taken away. We can be ordered out of our homes on an hour's notice. This has literally happened with priests accused of abuse of money or persons. They are thrown out within an hour of hearing that an accusation has been made.

Why do we stay?

Kevin said...

WOW! WOW! WOW! All I can say is how timely this is. Fr. Geoff, you have no idea how much you help. Being told you are objectively disordered and believeing it deep down does nothing but set of a chain of less than ideal sexual activity. Not out of hatred toward God, but out of a deep wound that the church inflicts by the words they use. I am on the verge of looking into another church, maybe All Saints in Pasadena so the healing can begin. I know it takes a while, but I can't go on much longer continuing in the catholic faith when I honestly don't agree with some of its teachings on morals, not faith, just morals. Please keep me in your prayers..

Kevin :)

Kevin said...

Prayers please. Tomorrow night I will be meeting my pastor to discuss some stuff with him. I hope and pray that I am able to be honest, at least with myself about confession, some sins that the church insists are so serious, are to me ridiculus and most of all the church's stance on homosexuality! I'm at a cross roads I believe!

Birdie said...

I share in your joy at the ELCA decision to show the radical love of Christ to all. Rev. David Eck, an anonymous blogger for the past year and a half, was able to put his name to his posts for the first time this past Saturday. Read here about what it feels like to be out to the world as a gay, partnered pastor.

Mareczku said...

Another excellent reflection, Father Geoff. I think it is so important that young gay Catholics be given support. There are so many gay priests that could help these young people if they were allowed to be open. These kids need to be nurtured and the priests are there to help them. Can they do this? I consider myself lucky because in 12 years of Catholic school I never heard one word against gay people and was never told that gay people were disordered or less than others.

Mareczku said...

It is upsetting to me that some in the Church push that Dr Nicolosi. I think the Church should distance itself from him. He is something of a quack and his "reparative therapy" views are not backed by reputable people in the field. I realize that some bishops who have a deep dislike for gay people back this "doctor" but I don't think this is right.

Marky's MADWORLD said...

Father Geoff, as always thank you for your insight & speaking the truth. I was so torn about my own feelings of continuing as a catholic after prop 8, when people were told to vote yes, there was no explanation, just do it and post a sign in your yard. So many, especially Hispanics, knew not what they were voting for. It was then I chose to leave, I am now attending a Methodist church here in Fresno where I am accepted as a gay man.

Keep on speaking the truth and being a leader to so many who need one. You are truly a light in this time of darkness. God be with you and your fine example.

Cassandra said...

Hello, Fr. Geoff--as a queer person I find that it's not just the church telling us we're wrong and God says so; it's the whole culture--when you're a kid and you watch a romantic movie or Sesame street or a sitcom, you never see yourself--you're just not represented.

Some more on this over at Andrew Sullivan's blog:

Anonymous said...

Not only did the APA remove homosexuality as a mental disorder many decades ago, it recently stated that there's insufficient evidence that one's sexual orientation can be changed by "reparative therapy."

Matthew said...

Just discovered your wonderful blog. I had heard about you during prop 8 but did not realize you had a blog. I had no idea all of the stuff that happened to you.
I was raised in a church denomination that became part of the ELCA lutheran church. The recent news makes me very proud to be a lutheran (even tho as a gay man I've been hanging out in Episcopal churches for some years too).

Little Rainbow Comics said...

This last part of this blog really touched on one of the main focuses of my comic - trying to educate young gay people that it's all right to be who you are. The extensive psychological damage that can happen when the only message gay kids hear from adults is 'God hates gays', 'homosexuality is evil', ...constant negative messages like that promote depression, low self esteem,suicidal tendancies, misplaced anger...if things like that were not so rampant would Matthew Shepard (and every other gay person to be victimized for who they were) have been the subject of violence?

If someone believes gays are going to hell - that's their business - but don't broadcast that - hateful messages cause more harm and don't deter homosexuality in the least esp in young, fragile psyche.

We weren't born gay adults. We started out as gay children and for many young gays its hard to let go of the 'hate label' once its instilled.

And if we are going to hell, let God send us there eventually and all the haters can leave us alone to live in peace.

But I belive God has a more open mind than most of His followers.

Thanks Father Geoff!