Women are still barred from taking the priesthood in the Catholic Church, but Pope Francis has made some other small tweaks to the rules he thinks the ladies are gonna be pretty excited about. Thanks to the Cool Pope’s new amendments, per the Washington Post, women will now have the right to act as readers and altar servers during mass, and even to administer Communion.
If you, like me, are confused by this news because you’re pretty sure you can recall receiving a dry wafer from a woman at church before, you’re probably not wrong. Many women have already been performing these roles during Catholic mass for years, at the discretion of local bishops or priests, the Washington Post explained. What Pope Francis’s decision does, however, is formalize these roles as a right for women within the Church, one they cannot be denied on the basis of their sex. Previously, while women in many parts of the world were permitted to serve in these positions, individual Church authorities still retained, and sometimes executed, the right to enforce male-only altar services. Thanks to the Pope’s most recent decision, that will no longer be an option.
“Francis, on one side, is merely acknowledging reality on the ground, as it is right now,” said Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. “But this is important because the [conservative] bishops have been contradicted, openly, by Pope Francis.”
Essentially, this all makes for a relatively insignificant shift in policy that falls far short of the large-scale changes needed within the Catholic Church to render its culture anything approaching progressive. While the Pope has characterized the decision as a step toward recognizing the “precious contribution” women are still capable of making to the Church despite not being men, any hope of claiming the priesthood remains distant for women of the Catholic faith.
“We’re still 100 steps behind the historic moment that we live,” said Cristina Simonelli, president of an Italian association of female theologians, who added that while Francis’s move marks a “minimal” step forward, it’s still “better than standing still.”
Anyway, congrats to the Catholic women who now have the Pope-sanctioned right to continue doing the same things they’ve been doing all along, and nothing more.
One of the things I’ve been saying a lot over the past year or so is that if you’re gay and Catholic (or in another Christian church with a relevantly-similar sexual ethic) it is good to reach a point where you are grateful to be gay. You will probably need to work to get there. Your education in the faith will not have encouraged you to think this way and will likely have discouraged you. And yet coming to a place of gratitude will almost certainly help you resist despair and trust in God’s tender love for you.
I just wrote an unnecessarily-long email to somebody who was asking me what this might look like. In order to answer her question I just listed some of my own reasons for gratitude. This is not a comprehensive list even of my own reasons, and it’s unlikely that every item will be relevant to every gay person seeking to practice our Faith. But I hope this list will help others reflect on what they’re grateful for in their experience of being gay. These are experiences in which we can see truth and beauty; they aren’t things God does to us in order to trap us or punish us or trick us into doing bad stuff.
Okay, so, an incomplete list of reasons to be grateful that I am a big ol’ lesbian, in the order that I thought of them:
# Women are beautiful! It’s always good to notice beauty and be grateful for it. I and some other gay Christians I know have found it really nourishes our faith, our trust in God, when we thank God for the beauty of other people when we notice it. He has given us the chance to see this.
# Similarly I’ll sometimes have that inexplicable chemistry where you just notice more good things about a person, where you’re attracted to her and she has a kind of special glow. This isn’t necessarily about physical beauty in an obvious way, although lol that doesn’t hurt, but even when I wouldn’t ordinarily consider a woman unusually pretty I’ve sometimes found myself sort of humming in her presence, like a struck tuning fork. And that makes me see her good qualities with an unusual intensity. I notice her in a way I don’t always notice others. And I think God wishes us to respond to one another with this awe and delight. I’m not sure I’d call this “sexual attraction,” I think sex is only one part of it or one possibility for how it’s expressed, but it is some kind of attraction and I definitely have it more with women than with men. Straight people can also have this chemistry with people of the same sex, and come up with unwieldy terms like “girl crush” or “bromance,” but I think it is more common for gay people for fairly obvious reasons.
# I do think both being gay and being celibate have led me to put more effort into my friendships, and I have really strong and sustaining friendships as a result. This is especially true of friendships with women, but also just friendships in general; since I know that friendship will likely be the kind of relationship with others that I experience most deeply, I’ve really tried to learn how to be a good friend, and friendships have been, I think, “sanctifying” for me in much the same way that people say marriage can be.
# I’ve really loved like 95% of the people I’ve met because of being publicly gay and Christian. You get to meet other gay Christians, and they are great!
# Nowadays being gay in the Church is a marginalizing experience. I don’t think it needs to be this way, but since it is this way now, I can be grateful for the chance to see the Church from the margins, where Jesus is always present in a special way. And I think to some extent it has helped me have solidarity and compassion for others who really struggle or are mistreated in the Church. Respectability is often bad for the soul.
# Similarly, if people know you’re gay and therefore in their minds “weird,” they often share their own stories of feeling out of place in the Church, and that’s a great blessing. I ended up editing an anthology of writing about staying Catholic after being harmed in the Church, even though my own experience has been really gentle, just because so many people would come up to me and share such painful experiences and such heartbreaking testimonies of faith in God in spite of suffering. Being a trustworthy recipient of those stories is priceless.
# You’re kind of forced to discover aspects of the Catholic faith which are now neglected. I’ve been amazed to learn about the way same-sex love and friendship are honored in Scripture, which nobody taught me when I was becoming Catholic! I’ve been able to discover that friendship used to be much more central to people’s ordinary lives than it is today, when we feel like the only “real” form of love between adults is marriage. I’ve learned about alternative forms of kinship and communal life, from super traditional stuff like godparenthood as kinship to newer things like intentional community. And I doubt I would have even tried learning about celibacy if I didn’t have to, whereas now I see celibacy as countercultural (always good, lol) and a way of life which can offer deep intimacy with God.
# Nowadays I mostly think about being gay as offering opportunities for love rather than temptation to sin, but even the aspects of temptation can be offered to God and used by Him to make us more humble. Any temptation, no matter how we end up responding to it, can remind us of our total dependence on God. And it can equally remind us that He loves us in our weakness. We don’t need to be somehow temptation-free or perfect for Him to cherish us.
# Celibacy is a pointed reminder that all our sexual longings are in some way preparations for or images of our longing for God. He is the complete fulfillment of a longing which even the best marriage fulfills only incompletely. (This may be why there’s no marriage in Heaven, although lol I don’t pretend to know exactly why God does things.)
# Celibacy almost always involves an element of sacrifice and suffering. I’m intentionally placing this last because I agree with those who say Catholics often put way too much emphasis on being gay as essentially, primarily “a cross” to be patiently borne. Again I think it just does not have to be as hard for gay people in the Church as it is, and I don’t want to romanticize our suffering or act like suffering is the best way to understand our sexuality. But we can be grateful for our suffering or sacrifices, by uniting them to Christ on the Cross and/or “offering them up” for other gay people, for those who persecute us, or for anybody we like. For some people this approach makes sense, for others it’s frustrating or depressing, but really none of the items in this list will make sense for every single gay Christian, so hey.
I think I have more stuff but this list is already too long! Your capacity for love is good, even if you struggle to find ways to express it. The fact that you share something important in common with other people, many of whom feel marginalized in the Church, is good even if it’s also complicated. If you were straight, or if you had no sexual desires at all, of course God would still make a way for you to serve Him and His people, but you’d be missing some experiences and possibilities which are open to you now. You’d gain certain things but lose others. The things you learn through being gay in the Church can help you be a good friend, a good Catholic, a good child of God.
“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
The pop of pepper ball pellets echoed in the night as police converged on demonstrators who gathered in front of a church to protest the death of Daniel Prude.
“Sanctuary!” an activist filming the protest shouted to his peers. “Go inside!”
Protesters streamed into Spiritus Christi Church, a congregation led by the Rev. Myra Brown, one of Rochester’s most vocal advocates for racial justice. That night, she stepped into a new, unofficial role, trying to bridge the divide between a growing group of Rochester residents fed up with city leadership and the officials still struggling to handle a city in crisis
Video of Prude’s March encounter with Rochester police shows him naked, handcuffed and hooded; he died a week later. The images, which were not released until September, sparked days of protest. Prude’s name — along with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other Black Americans killed by police this year — is now invoked in the nationwide racial justice movement.
It also galvanized Rochester, an industrial city on Lake Ontario where residents have, for decades, pushed for police reform and fought against racism
A respected community leader whose golden singing voice fills the church, Brown has the ear of both the city’s leadership and its grass-roots advocates. A former nurse whose ministry is as tied to racial justice as it is to God, she emerged as a key channel of reason and understanding as tensions between police and protesters escalated, helping change the trajectory of the protests.
She was at home when she got the call that the church, home to a breakaway Catholic congregation, was being hit by pepper balls and the injured were taking refuge inside.
“I need you to get your officers to stand down,” Brown told then-Police Chief La’Ron Singletary. After some haggling with the top police official — who has since been fired amid revelations that he may have tried to minimize the department’s role in Prude’s death — a line of officers surrounding the building receded and those taking refuge inside began to leave.
The following day, Brown brokered a deal with Mayor Lovely Warren: the police would pull back and activists could march freely. Brown and 100 “elders” from the community and area churches served as a buffer between protesters and police that night.
The protests stayed peaceful. Brown was later thanked by city officials and painted as a partner in their efforts — a role she said she did not play.
She said she felt “used” by the city. Brown believed she was “negotiating a better path and a better response for the community” in her talks with Warren and Singletary, a goal she was easily behind.
The message, she said, should not have been, “Reverend Myra partnering to save the system.”
‘We like to deny’
Brown believes Rochester has not recognized how that system, along with historical wrongs and discriminatory policies that include putting Black children in substandard schools, have contributed to systemic racism in a city that is 40 percent Black.
“We like to shift the narrative here,” Brown said. “We like to deny.”
Raised in Rochester by parents who were farmworkers in the South, Brown, 55, saw the difference up close when she and other members of a racial justice convoy spent a week in 2017 touring six cities that have significance to their mission. Stops included Selma and Montgomery, Ala. They went to Cleveland, where a police officer in 2014 shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old playing with a toy gun.
On the trip, the complicated nature of American racism revealed itself through a candid conversation with a parole officer in Ohio who admitted to feeling like “every Black youth is equally dangerous,” Brown recalled
The officer, who was Black, was worn down by the system and was repeatedly troubled by “the boys he was working with,” Brown said.
Brown, in an essay about the trip, said the group learned that they “must work tirelessly to end racism where we live.”
“To become our best selves,” she wrote, “we must humbly hold ourselves accountable and be open to being held to account when we yield to our worst selves.”
For years, Brown has been working to change Rochester from the pulpit of Spiritus Christi. She spent years worshiping and serving in various positions with the Rev. James Callan, a Catholic priest who violated strict Vatican guidelines by blessing same-sex couples and allowing women to perform the functions of priests. The Vatican forced Callan, who made civil rights the centerpiece of his ministry, from his church.
Callan’s ousting and final Mass was front-page news in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: “Huge goodbye to Callan,” the headline read. The mayor at the time told Callan, “Wherever they send you, Jim, give ‘em hell
In 1999, Callan helped found Spiritus Christi, where he is now the associate pastor. Brown was ordained a priest in 2017 and started leading the congregation two years ago. Women are not allowed to be Catholic priests, but Spiritus Christi is not recognized by the Vatican
Brown delivers sermons, wearing a stole with “Black Lives Matter” etched in gold, that highlight a moral obligation to address racial injustices. At a Sunday this fall, a White congregant with a long gray beard showed up to church in a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. Equality is Spiritus Christi’s mission.
The church is working on building an outdoor museum in Rochester’s Baden Park — a site of unrest in the 1960s — to raise awareness for the area’s history of housing and employment inequality, and what Brown said was Black community’s mistreatment by police.
Brown tells congregants and community members that the political system was established generations ago by the White, male, elite and was built to serve its creators. She says that modern-day policing is derived from Southern slave patrols. The diversity we see now in government and the private sector is “because people pushed their way in,” Brown said.
Brown, who greets both strangers and friends with her inviting smile, believes Rochester is no exception. Yet she has faith she can help enlighten hearts and minds through education, kindness and respect. It will be no easy task.
“We haven’t done anything to change the structure, we’ve simply moved the pieces around,” she said. “That is why you have what happened to Daniel Prude.”
Brown finds herself working within the confines of what she believes is a broken system, and hoping for the best. She spent four hours facilitating a discussion on race in September with 18 guests, mostly candidates for local office.
The group covered, with her guidance, how the legacy of slavery and broader systems of racism in this country applies to issues they face in their lives and work
New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D) said Brown is able to convey the history that informs structural racism because she is willing to listen to others and treats all with respect.
“Even if they don’t agree with her, they’re open to having those conversations,” he said
Bronson, who is White, said he left with a deeper understanding of White guilt and White fragility, as well as how to recognize racism. Candidates also discussed structural, cultural and institutional racism in society.
“Those kind of thoughts and ideas are going to be beneficial as I continue to develop policy,” Bronson said.
Demond Meeks, a Rochester organizer recently elected to the state assembly, said Brown earns trust by showing respect while facilitating judgment-free conversations about difficult issues.
“She’s someone that can speak to both sides and try to get people to come to a consensus of sorts,” Meeks said
Meeks said community relations with the police have been fractured for years. Many protesters are still haunted by the 2002 fatal police shooting of 14-year-Craig Heard. The eighth-grader was allegedly driving a stolen car. According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, police alleged the boy was trying to run an officer over.
“People are quick to speak about George Floyd and other situations that have happened throughout the country,” Meeks said. “But we have a history of these things happening right here in Rochester.”
Warren said it is “no secret” that Rochester — along with every other city in the country — has issues with systemic racism and police brutality.
“The problems of the past cannot be changed or erased, but we can learn from them,” she said in a statement.
A ‘pathway forward,’ despite a broken system
Days after the video of Prude being detained by police was made public, Brown was among the throngs of protesters gathered in front of Rochester’s Public Safety building — a facility that, to many, represented systemic injustice. The group had been blocked from getting close to the building on previous nights, fueling discontent.
Earlier in the day, Brown brokered a deal with Warren to get the police to pull back its roving detail and allow the activists to march freely. She also pushed for the ability to intervene on site, giving her time to try to diffuse a problem before police responded with force.
On the ground, she and about 100 other elders from the community and area churches were serving as a buffer between the police and protesters. It was tense at times, but the tactic worked: That night was the first of many relatively peaceful ones to come.
Throughout the night, Brown fielded calls from Singletary, who believed some in the crowd were getting out of hand. She convinced Singletary and Warren to give her “at least five minutes” to diffuse situations before officers “start to get trigger-happy and nervous,” she said. The officials agreed to work with Brown.
Brown said her goal was to create a “pathway forward to make sure the community was safe to grieve,” that they “were not attacked by police and not re-traumatized.”
Elders, she reasoned, could provide the life experience and patience that some of the young people needed. They should also be willing to listen.
That night, a young Black man she encountered was visibly hurting, his voice shrill and intense. As others fell silent, he continued to chant by himself in a way that was “coming out sideways,” she said.
Hi sweetie, how you doing?” Brown asked the young man. She saw an opportunity to show him love and see that his hurt did not get the best of him, leading to conflict. She said she asked him in her “softest and gentlest voice” to please lower his volume so she could hear the speaker on the megaphone.
The young man said he was sorry.
“You don’t need to apologize,” Brown said. “I hear the pain in your voice, and I know its real for you, and I’m sorry about whatever you have gone through.”
Ashley Gantt, one of the main organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement in Rochester, said Brown has a reputation for doing good in the area.
“She’s like a mentor, slash activist, slash spiritual counselor,” she said. “And she can sing.”
Activists in Rochester have paused protest activity as coronavirus infection rates rise. They have turned their attention to advocating for a law that would remove police officers from mental health crisis calls like Prude’s, mirroring similar efforts around the country, Gantt said.
Brown’s negotiation with Singletary and Warren resulted in a news conference where she was thanked for her role. In public statements after the meeting, she was painted as a “partner” of those in power, a role she did not agree with. There was also confusion over Brown’s role in bringing elders to the protest; Gantt said others deserve credit for organizing their presence.
“Myra just let the mayor know what was happening, and then the mayor co-opted it,” Gantt said.
Brown was also unhappy with the city’s portrayal of her role as one that denoted a community partnership, which was not her intention.
“I felt used in that,” Brown said. “I never want to be framed as somebody working with the system that’s oppressive for people
In a statement, Warren said those considered to be elders are the most trusted and respected voices in the community and have been “instrumental in bringing together opposing sides.
“The presence of our city’s elders during recent protests and periods of unrest has been vital to the well-being of the Rochester community,” Warren said.
Brown told a Rochester television station that she was ultimately happy to have helped secure “a pathway forward” for the city, and acknowledged it would not have happened without Warren pushing Singletary to stand down.
“I can establish relationships with people without being tied to the oppression,” Brown said.
A lesbian professor at a Catholic university was targeted by a man who handed out photos of her family on campus in an attempt to get her fired.
The man was protesting the employment of Dr. Kelly Wilson, a professor in the theology department at the University of St. Thomas, a private, Roman Catholic university in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn.
The photos distributed by the man, who hasn’t been identified, showed Wilson with her family and children.
But his plan backfired after the university rallied behind Wilson and said it rejected the man’s “hateful message,” KARE 11 reports.
Wilson said that in seven years her sexuality had never “come up” while working at St. Thomas.
“This isn’t new to me that I would get some pushback from some people I just never know or knew it would include a picture of my kids as evidence of why I should be fired,” Wilson said.
She learned of the protest after campus security called her to report the man adding that security was
concerned that “this was the first time he has targeted an individual and used a picture of their family.”
Wilson said that she received support from across the campus, including students, faculty, and leaders.
In a statement, the University of St. Thomas affirmed its support of Wilson and said that the man was banned from the school’s campus.
“This man has a history of criticizing St. Thomas employees. He is not allowed on campus, but we are limited in how we can respond to him when he is on public property. When we found out about this latest incident, we reached out to offer our full support to Dr. Wilson,” they said.
“We also sent a university-wide communication rejecting this man’s hateful message and reaffirming our commitment to an inclusive environment for our LGBTQA+ community members. This is consistent with Catholic teaching, which calls on us to love and care for every person. As Pope Francis reminds us, ‘God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity.’”
In addition to support from colleagues, Wilson used publicity from the man’s protest to raise funds for Dignity Twin Cities, an LGBTQ Catholic organization.
“I just thought the best way to respond to someone like this is to support those systems that he’s trying to break down,” she said.
Wilson added: “You don’t have pick being gay or Catholic, it’s not either or moments or decisions what it is I believe I am being my authentic self, I believe that is what my church asks me to do what the scriptures ask me to do and what God expects of me, and this is my home is the Catholic Church.”
As well as raising funds. Wilson and a colleague also extended an invitation to Father James Martin — a Jesuit priest, New York Times bestselling author, and advocate for greater LGBTQ outreach by the Church — to come and speak to LGBTQ Catholics at St. Thomas.
Martin accepted, telling KARE 11 that the Church “teaches that LGBT people are to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
He also slammed the man who protested Wilson’s employment at a Catholic university, calling it “cruel” to have passed out images of Wilson’s children.
“That is certainly something not part of Catholic teaching, not part of the Christian world and not what Jesus asked us to do,” he said. “Sometimes I like to say that these people are so Catholic, these protestors, that they forget about being Christian.”
The paradoxical reality of the American Catholic Church is that it is has gay priests, gay followers, and followers in support of same-sex marriage,yet it continues to teach that homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage, and civil unions are sins against God’s plan.
The queer and Catholic dilemma feels like a never-ending standstill between equality and Catholic law, and until the Church can offer more than kind words, it may always remain as such.
“What we have to create is a civil union law,” Francis said in the documentary according to the New York Times. “That way they are legally covered … They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”
The Pope’s comments contradict those of his predecessor, not to mention official Catholic doctrine, who referred to homosexuality as an “intrinsic moral evil.” In 2003, the Congregation of the Faith took a clear stance against same-sex marriage and civil unions.
“Homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon,” the Congregation stated. “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
The doctrine’s strong opposition to same-sex civil unions may have contributed to the Vatican’s original attempt to censor Pope Francis’ comment, which was recently revealed to have been cut from a 2019 interview with Televisa, only to resurface in the documentary. According to the New York Times, “Almost everyone involved declined to comment or evaded questions of how the footage emerged.” Clearly the Church feels these comments were something to hide.
Some members of the church have clarified the Pope’s commentary, arguing that the Pope was not actually voicing support for same-sex civil unions but simply reiterating that LGBTQIA+ people should be “loved, cherished, and respected in whatever way they live,” according to Fr. Marcin Szymanski, assistant director of the Newman Center, a Catholic ministry that serves the UW community.
“He is saying you should not disown, kick out, or disrespect any member of your family because of homosexual preference,” Szymanski said.
The confusion stems from nuances in translation from the interview, which was conducted in Spanish. The Pope used the phrase “convivencia civil,” which some have argued translates to “civil coexistence,” not civil union.
UW Spanish professor Ana M. Gómez-Bravo disagrees.
“The Pope was clearly speaking in favor of civil unions,” Gómez-Bravo said. “The second half of his statement erases any ambiguity.”
Despite confusion around the Pope’s verbiage, his comments were highly encouraging to an anonymous UW student who is bisexual and Catholic.
“I would like to hear more on what he has to say from an official standpoint but as it is, it’s a hint to something that is really positive for me,” the student said.
But for many LGBTQIA+ people, myself included, this doesn’t exactly feel like a major step forward. Rather, it feels like an empty declaration disguising the Church’s inaction on LGBTQIA+ issues.
Even if the Pope is in favor of same-sex civil unions, this legal separation is still unequal treatment. A civil union is a legally recognized partnership created to preserve the iron-clad walls around the institution of marriage, ensuring that same-sex couples remain excluded from the right to marry. A rose by any other name does not smell as sweet, and with U.S. Christianity in rapid decline (while the number of religiously unaffiliated U.S. adults is rising), it seems the Church is paying the price for it.
The Catholic Church exists in contradiction when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. The same document that claims that “homosexual inclination is ‘objectively disordered’” also claims that LGBTQIA+ people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and “unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
We tend to think of Catholicism as a solidified entity that derives its power from its permanence. But the reality is that the Church has reversed its ideology a handful of times throughout history, changing its mind on Jews, usury, and slavery, to name a few.
A full-hearted acceptance of same-sex couples is long overdue, and yet it comes at a cost the Church can’t seem to pay. This change would require a radical rewrite of some of the Church’s essential teachings, rooted in Catholic beliefs that marital and sexual relationships must be procreative. This reasoning makes it nearly “impossible” for the Church to ever change their position on same-sex relationships, according to Fr. Syzmanski.
The Bible tells us that faith without action is dead. There’s a hidden repercussion in the Pope’s words: By appearing in favor of same-sex relationships, the Church saves itself from having to address its own hypocrisy and homophobia.
We need something the Church can’t offer: change, now.