In a week when Pope Francis cloaked his Church’s continued condemnation of homosexuality and transgenderism with supposed pastoral concern, a small and unusual — but potent — mix of LGBT Catholics and their allies marched through Central Park on Sunday, October 2 led by Phil Donahue, who has arguably done more than anyone to educate Americans about the truth of LGBT lives. The procession went from outside his Manhattan home on Fifth Avenue — with wife Marlo Thomas waving from their balcony — to a rally in Columbus Circle on their way to a Mass at St. Paul the Apostle, a Catholic Church with an LGBT group.
The march was billed as a Pilgrimage of Mercy by people shut out of any serious dialogue with Catholic hierarchs on LGBT issues who are seeking mercy in their Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy. The assemblage simultaneously offered mercy to homophobic bishops despite the fact that none of them are seeking forgiveness for what Donahue used to refer to on his talk show as “the sin of homophobia.”
Just the day before, the pope, speaking to priests in Tbilisi in the republic of Georgia, declared, “Today, there is a global war on marriage” — that despite gay people devoting considerable resources to augmenting the ranks of the married, not to destroying the institution.
On his way home, Francis renewed his comments on LGBT people by telling reporters, “I have accompanied people with homosexual tendencies and also with homosexual practices. I have accompanied them, helped them get closer to the Lord. Some could not, but I accompanied them and never abandoned anyone. People must be accompanied, as Jesus accompanied. When a person who has this situation comes before Jesus, Jesus will surely not say: ‘Go away because you’re homosexual.’”
But all this “accompaniment” is, for the pope, an opportunity to bring gay people around to his Church’s rigid doctrine on sexuality that holds it is intended and justified only for procreation within marriage.
In a similar vein, Francis told the press of his meeting with a transgender man from Spain.
“She is a young woman who suffered much because she felt like a young man,” the pope said. “She felt like a young man, but she was physically a young woman. He wrote me a letter saying that, for him, it would be a consolation to come [see me] with his wife. He that was her but is he.”
Francis said the transgender man was told by his new young pastor, “You will go to Hell,” but that his 80-year-old former pastor would ask him, “Come and confess so you can have Communion.”
“Do you understand?” the pope told the press on his plane. “Life is life and you must take things as they come. We must be attentive, not saying all are the same. Every case: Welcome it, accompany it, study it, discerning and integrating.”
However kindly Francis was trying to sound, he was then said to “joke,” “Please don’t write that the pope will sanctify transsexuals!”
Francis said that he had counseled a French father of a 10-year-old boy transitioning to female.
“In their schoolbooks gender theory was being taught,” the pope said. “This is against natural things. It is one thing for a person who has this tendency... and also changes their sex. It is another thing to teach in schools along this line. Changing the mentality: I call this ideological colonization” — something his Church was famous for in the Crusades and the Inquisition, not to mention its modern missionary work.
The pope’s war on “gender ideology” may gain traction in places like Catholic Colombia, where part of the rejection of the government’s peace treaty with the rebels last week in a referendum was attributed to conservative protest against the country’s now former education minister, Gina Parody, an out lesbian, and a draft teacher’s handbook she had proposed that included the sentence, “One isn’t born a man or a woman, but rather learns to be one according to the society and age in which they grew up.” That passage inflamed the traditional values crowd against Parody, who stepped down to run the Yes vote campaign on the peace agreement.
Francis DeBernardo, the leader of the New Ways Ministry, said in a written release that Francis “does not see the real problems harming marriage are social, economic, religious, and personal ones.” DeBernardo emphasized that calling transgender identity “a moral problem” ignores the fact that the “true moral solution is to allow such persons the freedom to choose whatever avenues they determine will be the ones that will integrate themselves psychologically, relationally, and spiritually, as God would want.”
In Manhattan, the 20 or so Pilgrims — who didn’t focus on any Catholic institutional locations on their march or at their rally — included representatives of the Notre Dame LGBT alumni group of which Donahue is a member; New Ways Ministry, which has long advocated for acceptance of LGBT people in the Church; the Kentucky Fairness Campaign, which held its fifth such pilgrimage in March in Louisville, which has a particularly anti-LGBT archbishop, Joseph Kurtz; Fortunate Families, which celebrates LGBT children in Catholic families; and Father Warren Hall, an out out Catholic priest recently suspended by Newark Archbishop John Myers for standing up for LGBT people.
Donahue recalled that when he started having gay people on his talk show in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, “Mothers thought their children could catch it.” He recalled, “The real lesson for me that I got much too late was that I began to see how brave these [gay] people were. They challenged me to see what I was so anxious about.” Donahue said he was warned that people would think he was gay because he was sympathetic and “there was no hope for my career.”
Donahue favorably quoted the pope’s cryptic, “Who am I to judge?” statement on gay people and called on “our own schools and our alumni to get on board here. Anti-gay feelings can be lethal… We are too late in welcoming all of you.”
Michael De Leon and Greg Bourke, married in Ontario in 2004, successfully sued Kentucky to recognize their marriage in 2014 — one of the cases that were combined before the Supreme Court the following year and resulted in the end of all state bans on same-sex marriage. The couple are also active members of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Louisville, despite Archbishop Kurtz barring Bourke from being a scout leader for his son’s troop that is sponsored by the parish. Though the men feel embraced by their congregation, they did not even consider asking for their wedding to be performed there.
“We ask our Church to eliminate all barriers for LGBT Catholics,” Bourke said.
“If we leave, they win,” De Leon said.
New York gay Catholic activist Brendan Fay noted that at this time of year, Catholic churches celebrate the October 4 Feast of St. Francis of Assisi and “welcome all to the blessing of animals. I work for the day when Catholic parishes will post notices of welcome for LGBT persons and offer equal blessings for same-sex couples.”