To every story there is a backdrop. And often that backdrop is in the form of a human being. In researching for this article, I found out that the organizer of the recent Sunday “Vigil” at St Patrick’s Cathedral, one Joseph Amodeo, did not do so in a vacuum, but rather after some very real and painful frustration that has been within him for far longer than this last weekend. No matter what one thinks of the event, and as you will see below my feelings are quite mixed on it, and before you vilify our very precious and valuable brother in Christ and the Church I would humbly ask you to read the blurb below about him and his own “Church history.” You might be quite surprised. Links just below:
Now, having read these, next read his account of what happened Sunday–again you do not need to agree. Nor is my purpose in suggesting that you do. Just “hear” his very real sorrow with your heart…for it is mine as well. And yours.
It is clear to me that this post is going to ruffle some feathers, perhaps even on both sides of the issue of Sunday’s “Vigil” at St Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC. Whether you call it a vigil, protest, a bunch of “whiney people wanting publicity,” or a few very courageous men and women who stood up to the established Church in the face of near arrest, you would be right on all counts–at least in part. I say that because there were likely some of each camp in the group who gathered to both publicize and condemn remarks by Cardinal Timothy Dolan a few weeks ago regarding the LGBT community and “dirty hands.”
To gain proper context on this, first I will share those remarks in full, because without them it is impossible to begin understanding the aftermath. Here they are, directly from Dolan’s website:
Personally I do not find the remarks offensive. He is attempting to walk the fine line between standing with official Church teaching and at least attempting to cause those with SSA (same-sex attractions) or who are actively LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) to know that they are welcome members of Christ’s body, while at the same time suggesting that they, or should I say we (since I am SSA), are called to follow after the traditional understanding of sexuality as the Church has understood it historically.
I cannot fault him for that. Nor do I. Having said that, I do not think that most people understand how deep the pain and fear reside within those of us from those backgrounds, whether celibate or not. Even after returning to the Church in 2005, 35 years away and 15 of those as an LGBT activist, I had shed many tears over the unthinking remarks of my brothers and sisters in the Faith who have, in one breath, told me how much they “admired” me for my attempt to follow Church teaching as a celibate male, and then who in the next pushed me away when I reached out for their friendship.
I wonder too if people can understand how close to a physical pain it becomes when, while attempting authentic obedience to the Lord, we (I speak in general terms but these examples are things I personally have faced) are told over and over that our very desires are evil, something that the Church never once teaches and which Dolan to his credit clarifies in his post, and/or are said to have the “SSA disorder,” making it sound as if we are somehow pathologically unsound, or who would dare invite us to their homes but not to then give us a hug as a brother in Christ? The worst part, at least for me, is not in those things occurring, but that nagging question of “why?” which follows and haunts.
Perhaps, such as in the above, those who did not hug me just are not the “hugging types”—while I happen to be. And if so that is okay. But I do not know if that is the reason or if there is another more subtly brutal one, one that says “You, Richard, are welcome in my home, but not with those dirty hands!!!” The person who asserts that I have the SSA “disorder” may be genuinely trying to use proper Church language and nevertheless confuses what St Thomas Aquinas, (nearly 1000 years ago and a scientific galaxy away from today), calls “disordered” desires (and I might add the list he presents is rather long and not too many of us from all backgrounds are not on it somewhere) with what modern psychologists now call “disorders,” referring to mental instabilities of one kind or another. The use of the word is not the same in both cases, nor is it meant to be. But the modern mind hearing it equates one with the other very easily. And if someone flippantly says to me “Richard you have my prayers as you struggle with this disorder,” I don’t honestly know whether to hug them or slug them. Part of me says yes, that person is attempting to accept me, and I genuinely appreciate it, and the other part says, he or she is putting themselves above me by saying “you are disordered and I am not,” and that evokes a very different response within me. For the record I have not slugged anyone who has said such a thing to me, but I have, more than one time, winced as though I had been slugged myself. The pain is real, never goes away, and does not “get better.” Basic survival teaches us to live with it however.
And live we do—except for those who can no longer stand it and eventually take their own lives. The suicide rate is exceptionally high among those within the LGBT subculture if you are not aware. I am not sure what it is among those of us who live celibately but the pain of feeling alone and not being fully accepted by either side is at times horrendous. That I can tell you first-hand. So I am guessing it is likely higher than average there as well. And just perhaps, as pro-life Catholic Christians, of which I am one, suicide prevention needs to be on our lucid list of concerns too. I think so anyway.
Take the person who “unfriended” me on Face Book because he wanted no more “drama” from me. We had a definite disagreement, but it was based upon a very felt perceived hurt I had about a totally separate situation–or was it? I admittedly complained to this “friend” because I felt he no longer was interested in me as a human or a person. He ignored my posts and never, or at least very seldom, responded to mine on his page. Now with FB anything can happen, and often does. It is very possible that his seeming ignoring of me was because he was merely overly busy, or having a hard time in his personal life, or a dozen other possible reasons.
“Don’t be so sensitive, Richard!” tends to be the unsolicited advice which more than one has told me in such situations. The problem is, I also knew his general attitude towards gays and lesbians, and he knew of my orientation/inclination towards those of my own gender. So that added layer of uncharted fear provided grounds for me to wonder, whether logically or not, why he was ignoring me, and I dared to ask him. I thought I was doing so with charity, but I also did it quite directly, as I have learned over the years that “beating around the bush” simply adds, not eliminates, drama, at least usually. But his response was, in his words, that he had “no interest whatsoever” in having a friend who carried on such as I did, and I have wondered then and since if he would have responded in that particular way to his wife, to a member of his parish on a face-to-face basis, or the like. And I will most likely never know.
So how does this connect to “dirty hands” and Cardinal Dolan? Both more simply and with more complexity than ever meets the eye. When I as a person with SSA hear the words ”you are welcome” in our Church, I rejoice and say, “finally.” When I hear “but wash your hands first” I begin to despair a bit. Our Lord Jesus always invited people as they were–Simon Peter, who was to later become the first Pope and leader of the Church after our Lord’s Ascension, actually argued with Him in response to His invitation and told Him to “depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man.” St Peter did not do so because he actually wanted Jesus to leave him alone. Not at all. He was desperately crying out and saying, “Jesus, do you realize how unfit I am, how I curse and swear, how I am capable of denying your Name and one day will do so, right when you need me most, how I will limp along as I follow because my foot is generally in my mouth or in other people’s lower cavities? Have you heard the filth I think and occasionally say when the fishing does not go well? And have I mentioned that I get very tired of that sissified John and his brother James who never do their share of the work?”
Yet that was the very Peter who Jesus invited. One who maybe–at least maybe–said or thought those very things, although Sacred Scripture spares us of most of it. But Jesus called him anyway. And I might add that fishermen in those days (or ours) are not noted for “clean hands.” Jesus called him and then cleaned him up. But we want it the other way around. We want people to “toe the line” or to quit “calling themselves Catholics.” Or to just leave and go somewhere else before they get our hands dirty by their continued presence in complicating our lives.
Someone I also knew on FB, a young Catholic man who I finally ultimately unfriended because of post after ignorant post about the immorality of homosexuals, just celebrated his first wedding anniversary. His baby is at least 6-8 months old, and by my math his zipper did not remain intact before his wedding night. I do not condemn him for that and never have. And never would I. But he has no problem attacking “faggots” such as me, and yet again in the same fleeting mouthful of typewritten air plainly told me that he respected my following the Church in spite of my background and attractions.
But I felt absolutely bodily filthy, and not just in my hands, after going to his page time after time and reading sometimes 6-8 posts in one day about the slimy, grimy dirt of homosexuality. It obsessed him very obviously. I could easily say that he had, or perhaps still has, the OSA (opposite-sex attraction) “disorder.” Because certainly if my behavior has been disordered at times, and still is, so was and is his in his illicit sexual recent past. Has he been to Reconciliation and forgiven by our Lord? I know that he has. But how does he know who else has or hasn’t been there in the confessional line along with him, gay or straight, or who they did with what person the night before? Quite simply he doesn’t.
Does this mean I have turned soft on sin, or am suggesting that Cardinal Dolan need pretend he believes “gay is okay?” No. It does not. But it does mean I “get” how much it hurts to hear what is, rightly or wrongly, filtered freely towards those of us with SSA as a result of some of the statements and seeming lacks of compassionate action discussed above. And those are the tip of the iceberg within our Church and Christianity in general, very sadly.
On the other hand, I can sincerely understand St Patrick’s Cathedral not allowing in for Mass a group of people who deliberately charcoaled their hands and attempted to not call it a “protest.” Just from a practical level, in a huge world-renowned Cathedral with many items of great monetary and esthetic value, everything from hymnals to holy water could have been quickly rendered useless or at least contaminated by their actions within very short minutes. I think that there are quite likely better ways to have protested or “vigiled,” and using other people’s prayer times to do so goes against my grain personally as well. Also when you go to Mass with the express purpose of creating a news story and deliberately embarrassing the Cardinal, who, like it or not, is indeed the wielder of Catholic Christian authority in the “city that never sleeps,” it is rather safe to say that you can expect the NYPD Blues to be called in. Disturbing the worship and peace of others is not perhaps the best way of calling attention to your concerns, even if they carry some or even much validity.
I think that the same can be said about the Rainbow Sash movement, who in a very real way sabotage themselves, at least in my view, in the way that they protest each Pentecost Sunday (and sometimes in between times) at Cathedrals all over the country. Here in MN where I live, they have been invited to receive Holy Communion, but to first “remove their sashes,” and when they do not, they afterwards have publicly complained about being refused Communion. And that seems to be the only part of the story which hits the news most years. I wrote separately on this issue awhile back, and will be revisiting that post in conjunction with this one in the near future. So, the short answer is, no I do not think that these are the most valid ways to attempt dialogue with the Church on issues of contention. But…
Neither do I think that the Church as a whole can go scot-free here. History has shown us that, even by direct ecclesial Church authority over the centuries at times, homosexual people have been literally murdered within her ranks–and yet she has oft-times looked the other way when priests and bishops have had their own “gay subcultures” within seminaries or same-gender relationships in semi-secret.
For what I am about to say in this paragraph and the next, I wish to make it clear that I am not in any way suggesting disobedience to the Magisterium but simply sharing a personal opinion regarding a discipline, not a teaching or dogma, which was instituted shortly after I returned to the Church in late 2005. Since that time, Rome has officially barred those who have actively practiced or been involved in homosexuality in the past from entering the priesthood, even if currently celibate, unless their past involvement has been considered very “minimal,” (which is quite subjective in its interpretation even within the Vatican document dealing with this issue) and yet it has been estimated by some sources that possibly up to 1/3 of our current priests are same-sex attracted, and barring other issues they remain in place as active clergy. Note too that, even if that statistic is inflated, and it very well may be, it is still a significantly higher percentage than within the general population. And some of those are the very best priests and bishops, and yes Cardinals, out there.
Such a ban does not, in my opinion, help the situation but rather confuses it further, particularly since this direction from the Vatican was primarily in response to the child abuse crisis which was not and is not based upon one’s sexual orientation in the first place. And it causes men such as me to feel at times as though my “hands are too dirty” to do anything significant for the Church. I try not to listen to that voice of anger, rage and rejection anymore, but it definitely exists within me at times, and I would boldly suggest it is hidden inside every person with SSA, celibate or not, who has chosen to stay with Rome. To this lay person that type of prohibition therefore seem at very least inconsistent and additionally creates a hurtful and unneeded barrier to service for potential priests and religious, which are sorely needed whether with SSA or not. It also reflects sorely outdated thinking.
So what am I actually saying here? I am pleading to be understood, both as an individual and a group. I am not saying “Rome must change her doctrine,” because I do not believe that is a realistic option nor must it be. But she, our Church, our Mother, can and must at least give us the tools to “wash our hands” instead of just telling us to do so. And to be sure, some of those tools exist already and are vastly underutilized. Confession, the Eucharist, daily Mass and/or Sacred Scripture reading, the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, Liturgy of the Hours–these are indeed effective and needed weapons of warfare in an unfriendly world. But when we who are SSA are doing those things consistently–and in many cases far and beyond those who post hateful post after post about the “gay agenda,” then genuinely respect us for it. And not from some safe distance either.
In a word, honor those who are attempting to honor Christ with their lives, whatever their background may happen to be. And do so even if you disagree with them theologically. And share a towel and basin with them if needed. You must still have one somewhere–your hands too were once dirty after all.
As a postscript, and in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to add that I received a very lovely email from Joseph Amodeo, the organizer of this event, who was kind enough to read my article above, and he gently pointed out to me that it was planned all along, even in the printed instructions handed out to those in vigil last Sunday, to be sure and wash their hands before receiving the Eucharist that day. There was absolutely no intent to damage or diminish any of the beauty of St Patrick’s. I then verified this and am providing the instructions as handed out directly below. It would appear to me that St Patrick’s at very least hugely overreacted to this entire situation, and I am sad for my brother in Christ and his brave group. One may agree or disagree with the Vigil itself but it was not done maliciously in my opinion. At all. I think then a very real injustice was done in how this was both handled and, in some cases, reported. Thanks, Joseph, for bringing this to my attention.
First, with his permission, Joseph’s email to me:
Thank you for sharing your blog and for your statement of support. I found your post to be very interesting and I appreciate many of the points you raise.
One thing I am beginning to notice is that many commentators are failing to realize that we were all planning to wash our hands before receiving the Eucharist. In fact, as the organizers, we even posted these directions on the Facebook page for the gathering and distributed a hard copy of guidelines the morning of, I only point this out, because in our hearts, we truly sought to attend the Mass to be with Christ.
Even today. I’m saddened by the church’s response to our presence at the Cathedral.
Again, thank you for your post and for your message.
Richard Gerard Evans
May I add your letter as a comment on the post? I obviously missed that point as well. In any
case I will add something about it. But it would be nice coming from you. God bless you so very
These instructions were clearly given before the actual Vigil event. Whatever you may think of the actual Vigil itself, I think in fairness it cannot be denied that those participating and leading this event were doing so with kindness, humility, and a spirit of love for Jesus in the Eucharist as well as in each other. We can all learn from this. I definitely did.
Tomorrow is the day. Please see the event description for additional information about where we are meeting at 9am.
Also, I wanted to respond to a few concerns that have been shared with me regarding tomorrow’s silent presence at St. Patrick’s Cathedral: … Respect for the sacred nature of the Eucharist is of the utmost concern of the organizers. In light of this, we are encouraging those who are participating and who wish to receive the Eucharist to wash their hands using a supplied “handi-wipe” as they prepare to receive the Eucharist or receive such on their tongue. Upon returning to their pew, they will be able to re-darken their hands. This action will not only maintain respect and reverence for the Eucharist, but will also hold a symbolic meaning — we are all clean before Christ even if some members of the Church’s hierarchy view us has having dirty hands.
As a reminder, this will be a silent vigil.
For those who are unable to attend Mass, please join us at 11:20AM outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a silent vigil/presence. We will meet on the sidewalk across the street from St. Patrick’s main doors.
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