— Cape Cod gay men react to Catholic blessing of same-sex couples
Michael Dubour had two immediate reactions to a declaration released Dec. 18 by the Vatican that Catholic priests could bless same-sex couples. The first was elation. Then he wondered what the catch was.
The 53-year-old Provincetown resident had been baptized, made his first communion and was confirmed in the Roman Catholic church. He grew up with the rituals and traditions of a faith that helped form his identity.
But he knew the breadth of anti-gay preaching in the church. The conflict between his sexuality and spirituality eventually caused Dubour to step away from the church for a while.
“Organized religion has caused so much hurt and pain for a lot of us that there’s not a lot of trust there,” he said.
While living in New York City, he realized that there was room for everyone. He started attending St. Francis Xavier in Greenwich Village, a church in the Jesuit tradition that had ministries to gay men and lesbians.
When he moved to Provincetown, he helped form a gay men’s spirituality group at St. Peter the Apostle Church.
The Provincetown church is part of the Diocese of Fall River. The diocese includes Bristol, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket counties, and the towns of Mattapoisett, Marion and Wareham in Plymouth County, totaling about 265,000 Catholics, according to the diocese.
Dubour said the spirituality group in Provincetown talks about what it means to be Catholic and gay.
“It’s about overcoming the conflict of what the church tells us how we have to be versus who we really are, and how we can still celebrate and feel Christ in us,” Dubour said. “No one has the right to take that away.”
‘Major step forward for the church’
The Rev. James Martin, calls the declaration — issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and approved by Pope Francis — historic. Martin, 63, is an American Jesuit priest who runs Outreach, an LGBTQ Catholic resource. He is the editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America and author of several books. In 2019 he met with Pope Francis to discuss his ministry with LBGTQ Catholics.
“It’s a sign of the church’s understanding that these couples desire God’s presence in their lives and that the church wants to accompany them,” Martin said. “It’s a major step forward for the church in its relationship with LGBTQ Catholics.”
But the declaration changes nothing about church teaching, Martin said. The blessings cannot be part of a civil union ceremony, nor can they be performed “with any clothing, gestures or words that are proper to a wedding,” according to the Vatican.
Still, Martin calls the declaration supportive of gay people because it recognizes that gay couples desire God’s blessing and God’s presence in their lives.
“It’s a big step forward and misunderstood on both sides of the matter,” Martin said. “Some people say it’s sinful, heretical, disgusting. There are other people saying it’s gone too far, others saying it’s not going far enough. As usual the truth is in the middle.”
A relationship with God, sacraments and tradition
For Don Murray, of Provincetown and Florida, the announcement came as welcome news. The 61-year-old calls himself a “cradle Catholic,” and considers the church a vehicle to God. But it’s his relationship to God that is what’s most important, he said.
Murray and his partner have been together for 32 years. In 2003 they adopted a son. The boy was raised in the Catholic faith, learning about the sacraments and living the traditions of the church. It was their son who asked them to get married, he said. They did in 2015.
Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia had legalized same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Constitution guarantees it throughout the country, according to Pew Research Center.
In Massachusetts, on Nov. 18, 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it was unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage. By May 2004, same-sex couples were able to apply for marriage licenses in Massachusetts, making it the first state in the country to legally recognized same-sex marriages.
“People ask how I can be Catholic and gay,” Murray said. “I believe in God, the traditions and values.”
Murray was always able to find a Catholic church that was supportive of the gay community, he said. He is a co-leader of two gay ministries — one at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tampa and the other at St. Peter’s in Provincetown. It doesn’t bother him that the announcement only pertains to blessings of same-sex couples.
“I’m with Father Jim,” Murray said. The step forward for blessing same-sex couples is small but important, especially because in some countries it’s outlawed to be gay and that’s where the church is growing, he said.
A slow evolution
Brian Michaelan, also a member of the Provincetown gay men’s spirituality group, came to the realization that he was gay after a marriage that brought two children into the world. He was, and still is, a practicing Catholic. He brought his children up Catholic because he wanted them to continue practicing the faith into their adulthood
He was in his 40s when he and his wife divorced. It was then that he began to explore the confluence of his faith and sexuality. His journey took him from Boston to Harwich to Provincetown, from St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Orleans to St. Peter’s in Provincetown, where he found welcome in the church and community at large.
Ten years ago, he decided it was time to let his family and friends know about his sexuality. Everybody was fine with it, he said. Five years ago, he joined the gay spirituality ministry at St. Peter’s.
“The realization of my homosexuality evolved slowly,” he said. “I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of what I do, and if someone doesn’t like it, it’s their problem.”
The universal church
There are 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide, according to the Vatican. Of 64 countries that have laws criminalizing homosexuality, more than 30 are in Africa where the Catholic church is growing the fastest, according to the Pew Research Center.
“What seems in Sandwich, Yarmouth and even Provincetown to be not a big deal is a huge deal in Kampala and Nairobi,” Martin said. “It is a universal church. That’s something a lot of people forget about.”
Closer to home, the Fall River Diocese posted a notice on its website acknowledging the news of the blessings. Diocese Communications Director John Kearns said the St. Peter the Apostle gay spirituality ministry in Provincetown was the only one he knew of in the diocese.
The Bishop of the Fall River Diocese, the Most Rev. Edgar Moreira da Cunha, S.D.V., was away from the diocese and unable to comment according to Kearns.
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