Tag Archive | "LGBT"

Homosexual Catholics Find Sanctuary with Dignity

by Ines Novacic

The legalization of gay marriage in New York last June reignited the age-old struggle between faith and sexuality in the Catholic community. While figureheads such as Archbishop Timothy Dolan promote an increasingly conservative outlook on homosexuality in Catholicism, a small group of mostly Irish-American Catholics continues to provide a weekly place of worship for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

“We are Catholics in exile,“ joked Brendan Fay, 50, an active member of the organization Dignity, a Catholic non-profit organization for homosexual and trans-gender persons.

“Most people are surprised that LGBT people care about being Catholic at all,” said Fay, “probably because Irish-American Catholics often get stereotyped as conservative.”

Each Sunday evening, roughly 100 Dignity members transform the Episcopal Church St John in Greenwich Village into an unusual Catholic sanctuary.

Eight openly gay priests volunteer to rotate through Dignity’s weekly mass, and once every month or so, a female pastor delivers the sermon. Last Sunday, a congregation of 60 joined the Rev. Jim Morris, an Irish-American priest, in singing the inaugural hymn “Halleluja”.

Dignity priests sanctioned same-sex marriages even before the Marriage Equality Act was passed.  Fay met his spouse at a Dignity service, and a Dignity priest officiated their March 2008 wedding.

Dignity New York, one of the organizations 50 chapters, was established in 1972 by John MacNeill, an Irish-American Jesuit priest. MacNeill’s book “The Church and the Homosexual” is still considered ‘the bible’ on religion and sexuality. MacNeill, now 86, said that several passages in the Gospels contradict traditional anti-homosexual interpretations of the Roman Catholic Church.

“I think it’s very clear in the scripture that the Church should open its doors to all that are sexually different. Certain Biblical passages are ignored by the Vatican,” said MacNeill in a recent phone interview. “I believe that the Holy Spirit is leading the hierarchy into homophobia in order to ruin their reputation”.

“I feel sorry for the hierarchy,” added MacNeill. “The Catholic faithful do not pay attention to them anymore. I’ve read in several places that 80 percent of Catholics support gay marriage.”

In 2005, the Vatican reaffirmed their position on homosexuality, publishing in a report that the sacred scripture presents homosexuals as “grave sinners.”

Two authoritative Catholic voices in New York, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, and Bill Donahue, head of the Catholic League, a conservative Catholic civil rights organization, both espouse traditional religious teaching. Donohue referred to homosexuals as “disqualified by nature” from marriage, since they cannot have children, on the June 28 broadcast of PIX 11 Morning News.

According to Dignity, homosexuality as an expression of love is consistent with Christ’s teaching.

“For most, ‘coming out’ means leaving the Church,” said Fay. “Thank God for Dignity. It challenges certain aspects of the Catholic tradition it comes from.”

Dignity’s unconventional theology opposes the conservative tradition embodied by Irish Americans like Dolan or Donohue. Dignity priests including Morris consider progressive preaching on a variety of social issues a necessity, since the Roman Catholic Church has grown increasingly conservative under the guidance of Pope John Paul II, and the current Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI.

The Archdiocese of New York last published Church statistics in 2009. That year, 2.6 million Catholics were registered, roughly 45 percent of the total population of the area. Many lay Catholics in New York support same-sex marriage, yet Diginity membership is at an all-time low, with young people particularly under-represented.

“Although we’ve diminished in weekly attendance at Dignity over the last 30 years, our message has gotten out more and more,” said Morris. “Lay Catholics are way ahead of the Church in accepting LGBT persons.”

On Sept. 20, Archbishop Dolan, in his capacity as the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a letter to President Obama, urging him to dissuade his administration from discounting the Defense of Marriage Act. The Act was enacted in 1996 and defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. Dolan wrote that the Department of Justice’s decision to disregard this piece of legislation last February would “precipitate conflict between the Church and state, to the detriment of both institutions.”  Fay attended a conference on marriage chaired by Dolan in Poughkeepsie last September. “I sat for hours listening to people use their intelligence and power to denounce our families, our humanity,” recounted Fay. “The Pope welcomes conservatives. I would love to see him welcoming the gifts of progressive Catholics.”

On a recent Sunday evening, Morris stood in the small hall of St. John’s, and addressed his fiercely close-knit congregation. The focus of the service was solidarity, and Morris reflected on Dolan’s anti-gay message.

“The Archbishop could have written to President Obama about the hundreds starving in New York, the children in third world countries dying every day, or even the plight of those Americans unemployed in these tough economic times,” said Morris, arms outstretched and his unusual off-white habit hanging down from them. “Instead he chose to complain about homosexual love.”

For Dignity members, weekly mass is more than a refuge from traditional Catholic dogma. Lay homilists are routinely encouraged to participate, and the ritual mid-service greetings are taken a step further; as the congregation respectfully comes to a pause so that individual members may say prayers for loved ones, the sick, the poor, or anyone on their minds.

“In Dignity, we are fully able to support who we are,” said Dignity communications officer Jeff Stone, 56, whose family comes from Galway. “We are part of the broader fight for gay rights.”

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For Gay Sephardic Jews, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a Policy for Life

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The Jewish community recently observed Yom Kippur. It’s a time to atone, reflect, and pray. But for one group of Orthodox Jews, it’s also a time to face a difficult challenge. Gay Sephardic Jews, from Middle Eastern and North African communities, must reconcile being true both to their faith and to themselves. Salim Essaid reports.


Salim Essaid: Joseph is forty-three, Lebanese, and a member of the Sephardic Jewish community in New York. He says the answer to whether you can be gay and practice Judaism is in the Torah. That answer is no.

Joseph: “With another man thou shall not lie, it’s an abomination. There’s no getting around it. you can try to twist the words any way you can. No is no.”

Essaid: You might be surprised to know that Joseph is gay. He lives in Brooklyn, home of the largest Sephardic Jewish community in the U-S. That’s why he doesn’t give his real name.  Joseph is straight in the eyes of fellow members at the Shaare Zion synagogue. He says he has to live in two worlds because there is no way he can combine his two identities.

Joseph: “You have to try to make sense out of the fact that you believe one thing or are told to believe one thing and yet inside your head, your body, your soul if you will, you’re feeling a whole different thing. They’re at odds, there’s just no way to square them off.”

Essaid: Rabbi Elie Abadie leads the Edmond J. Safra Congregation, a Lebanese Sephardic synagogue in Manhattan. He explains that Orthodox Judaism views homosexuality as unnatural but just like any other inner demon.

Rabbi Elie Abadie: “We believe philosophically and religiously that every human being is born with a tendency and his existence on this world is really to overcome that tendency. Um and to in a sense perfect oneself and that goes for kleptomaniacs, for people who are much more desirous of aggressive behavior and things like that.”

Essaid: Abadie says everyone is allowed to pray and commune with God at the synagogue. Though gay Sephardic congregates are expected to follow a code similar to the military’s former don’t-ask don’t-tell policy.

Abadie: “As long as that is not a public issue, as long as that is not a public acceptance or public sanctioning of what religion really prohibits then in their private life that’s between them and god.”

Essaid: Some, like Danny, find this difficult to do.  Danny is a Syrian jeweler in his forties. Like Joseph he uses a false name to hide his identity. Danny follows the don’t-ask don’t-tell policy but doesn’t know how long he can continue hiding his boyfriend of three years.

Danny: “I’m afraid that if they find out they will say you’re not allowed to come pray anymore, or you’re not allowed to come participate in these things anymore.  That’s what I’m afraid of. I always think about it.”

Essaid: The recent bill passed in June allowing gay New Yorkers to marry has done nothing to change this way of life.  For now, in silence is the way that gay members of the Sephardic Jewish community practice their religion and live their lives. Salim Essaid, Columbia Radio News.

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A Catholic LGBT Community Finds a Home

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Gay marriage agitated the age-old struggle between faith and sexuality in New York’s Catholic community. As Church conservatives become more guarded, a small group of mostly Irish-American Catholics continue to bless everyone under God’s colorful rainbow. Ines Novacic reports.


Ines Novacic: The Episcopal Church of St John stands unassuming in a line of Greenwich Village buildings. The crowd that files in is also seemingly ordinary. But once inside, everything about the service resists normalcy. This is a Catholic mass in a Protestant Church, led by an openly gay priest. This is a gathering of the religious LGBT community called “DIGNITY”.

Ambience: Church Music, Prayer

Father Jim Morris: Whatever one’s sexual orientation I think needs to be a part of one’s faith.

Novacic: That’s Father Jim Morris. He’s an Irish-American clergyman who’s been in a same-sex relationship for almost 10 years. Morris says he left his diocese in Brooklyn because he longed to be surrounded by people who share his experiences.

Morris: Being a Roman Catholic priest and being a celibate male and not being part of one’s community I found difficult to do.

Novacic: Morris joined Dignity New York in 1993, almost 20 years after it was established by John MacNeill. MacNeill is Irish-American and a gay Jesuit priest. His book entitled ‘The Church and the Homosexual’ spearheaded homosexual theology. Brendan Fay is a member of Dignity who made a documentary film about MacNeill’s work. Fay says that sexuality within religion is a life and death issue.

Brendan Fay: This is not just a conversation about theological documents or religious ideas. People are hurt by the denouncements, by the use of religion in this way.

Novacic: Fay describes DIGNITY as a group of Catholics in exile. This September, he attended a conference about marriage and the family chaired by Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Like most New York Archbishops, Dolan is both conservative and ethnically Irish. Fays says he sat for hours listening to Dolan denounce his community.  Dolan summarized his traditional view on marriage in an August interview on the show 60 Minutes.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan on 60 Minutes: Marriage by definition is a man and a woman, for life, giving children.

Novacic: Other Irish-American conservative Catholics have taken to blaming homosexuals for recent Church molestation controversies. As Father Morris closes the Dignity service, the community looks to the beginning of October and the Feast of St Francis. But Fay is among those who wonder why the Church can bless people’s pets, but not homosexual love. Ines Novacic, Columbia Radio News.

Ambience: Morris closes service, Prayer, Church Music

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