Fr Mychal Judge, the Saint of 9/11, and his enduring message of compassion

From the midst of hate, war, and violence, Father Mychal Judge’s message points us to another possible path for us as human beings.

Dr. Tom Moulton and his spouse Brendan Fay flank Father Mychal Judge in a favorite photo.

By Brendan Fay

We stood by Father Mychal Judge’s grave in the Franciscan plot in the cemetery in Totowa, New Jersey. The sky was as blue on that September 11 morning 20 years ago. We prayed and sang the prayer of St. Francis. Make me a channel of your peace. 

Me, Frank, and Sam, each of us touched and brought together by Father Mychal Judge. We prayed, we sang, we told our 9/11 stories to each other, and gave thanks for the gift of Father Mychal.

Mychal Judge had a heart as big as New York. There was room for us all. To each he met, from the streets of New York to the White House, he was a man of tender compassion.

From Flight 800 to the AIDS crisis, from firefighters recovering from severe burns or families in grief at funerals, Mychal was a source of hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and national tragedy.

On September 10, 2001, at the rededication blessing of Engine 73 Ladder 42 in the Bronx, he spoke his final homily: “You do what God has called you to do. You show up, you put one foot in front of another, you get on that rig, you go out to do the job, which is a mystery and a surprise. You have no idea when you get on that rig, no matter how big the call, no matter how small, you have no idea what God’s calling you to, but he needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us.”

The world came to know Father Mychal Judge from his death at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. That was a day of profound darkness for the human family, a day of terror and fear, injustice and death.

Yet out of the pit of death and darkness, a light beamed in the iconic image of Father Mychal being carried by firefighters and rescuers. Identified as victim 0001, FDNY Chaplain Mychal Judge became a face of courage, sacrifice, profound hope, of compassion.

On 9/11, he embodied the prayer of his father St. Francis. “Where there is sadness let me sow hope, where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is darkness only light.”

On 9/11, as most New Yorkers fled the World Trade Center, Father Mychal rushed towards the site with other first responders the brave men and women of the FDNY, EMS, NYPD. This was his calling as Franciscan, FDNY chaplain, to go to the place of human tragedy, pain, suffering, and anguish and be present with comfort and healing.

Father Mychal Judge. (Getty Images)
Father Mychal Judge.

Father Mychal was well known in New York for his ministry with the homeless, recovering alcoholics, people with AIDS, immigrants, the LGBT community, and others marginalized by society. He was a compassionate witness for peace and non-violence in Belfast and in Jerusalem.

While filming for a documentary about Mychal, I visited Stormont just outside Belfast. I sat with Patricia Lewsley, former commissioner for children and young people in Northern Ireland, who recalled her meetings and conversations about conflict resolution and reconciliation with Mychal and NYPD Detective Steven McDonald during their peace pilgrimage to Belfast in 1999.

For the Irish, he was one of our own. And how he loved the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums. When he was declared Irishman of the Year he called us. “Brendan I want you and Tom there and be sure to get on the dance floor.”

That’s who he was, a bridge person helping people cross divides and distance and bringing us together to celebrate the good of life.

He was a familiar face in New York AA meetings and counseled many like himself struggling with addictions. He was 23 years sober when he was buried. At retreats together, after evening prayers, we would sit up till all hours with Mychal leading the session of folk songs and Clancy Brothers Irish ballads.

For the Catholic LGBT community, he was one with us as well as our priest providing sacraments. We called on him during the darkness of the AIDS crisis. When exiled and excluded by society and the institutional church, he provided compassion and sacraments in our living rooms and community centers.

Father Mychal on the march with his AIDS ministry.
Father Mychal on the march with his AIDS ministry.

It wasn’t long after I arrived from Ireland to study at St. John’s that I met Mychal as he was one of the priests who presided at the weekly Mass for Dignity NY, a group for LGBT Catholics.

This was the middle of the AIDS crisis. I reached out to Mychal when asked for help by a family needing a priest to lead funeral prayers for two brothers who died from AIDS.

Mychal was selectively open about being gay with friars and friends he could trust and people whom he could help by coming out such as parents supporting their child in a world of ignorance and prejudice. In his diary, he wrote, “I thought of my gay self and how the people I meet never get to know me fully.”

He would become a huge supporter of groups working for change. He wrote the checks to AIDS Interfaith NY, to the Parents group PFLAG, to St. Pats for All.

On Skillman Avenue, at that first parade in March 2000, he showed up in his Franciscan. He said a prayer of thanks for the blessings of the day and the welcome for all especially the Irish LGBT group Lavender and Green Alliance. He then walked with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center contingent. He also spent time saying hello with Mary Somoza and her daughter Anastasia.

While proud of being Irish and a much-beloved Catholic priest, he was disheartened by anti-gay prejudice in the church and Irish community, which he called “high levels of madness.”

While researching Father Mychal’s story, people sent me copies of his letters and notes. He was a great letter writer. He would stay up till all hours of the night writing notes and cards – to say thank you, to send a word of comfort, of encouragement in sobriety, to celebrate a new job, the arrival of a new baby, the new home, newfound love.

People remember Mychal’s love, his big-heartedness, and his sense of humor if you got too serious. That was our Mychal Judge.

On this 9/11 20th anniversary, Father Mychal Judge, even in his death, sends a message. From the midst of hate, war, and violence, he points us to another possible path for us as human beings.

Like him and all who gave their lives that day, we too can choose the path of compassion and tenderness. Mychal challenges us to shun the path of violence and engage in the hard work of peacemaking, finding friendship and new ways to live well our brief lives together.

Complete Article HERE!

Cork priest in call for conversation to be held in church on pastoral outreach to gay Catholics

Fr Tim Hazelwood, who is the parish priest of Killeagh, is one of four signatories to a letter sent by the Association of Catholic Priests.

By Ann Murphy

A CORK priest has written to Bishops asking that a conversation be held in the Irish Catholic Church about a sensitive and pastoral outreach to gay Catholics.

Fr Tim Hazelwood, who is the parish priest of Killeagh, is one of four signatories to the letter sent by the Association of Catholic Priests.

It follows the publication of a document in March by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which said Catholic clergy cannot bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”

Letter to bishops

In the letter, the priests said the need for the conversation “has been underlined recently by the insensitive and unnecessary intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) that has brought such pain and distress to gay women and men, to their families and friends.”

It said that “the content, language and judgemental tone of the CDF’s statement reflect an increasingly out of touch and uncaring Church and exactly the kind of attitude that provokes more and more Catholics into walking away from our Church.

“Messages we have received from gay people and family members spoke of the hurt and anger they are made to feel and they write of the struggle they have remaining part of the church. Only one Irish Bishop had the courage to respond to the CDF statement and his words were deeply appreciated.”

The letter continued: “More worryingly, the CDF intervention runs counter to ‘the synodal path’ that Francis has told us is God’s way of being Church in the future and which the Irish Bishops have recently endorsed through their commitment to move the Irish Church along that pathway in preparation for a national synodal event within the next five years.”

‘A conversation that needs to take place’

In pointing out that times are changing, the priests said that a recent ACP webinar on the pastoral care of members of the LGBTQ+ community as memorable, continuing: “There were many heartfelt contributions from people who continue to feel hurt and shame. Stories that could be replicated in every parish but sadly are often unwelcome or unheard.”

The letter added: “Why are we so cold and uncaring in the Church around this topic? Why the lack of knowledge and understanding that still informs inappropriate sermons and comments? Why are we afraid to welcome gay Catholics? Why are we afraid to listen to their stories?

“There is a listening and a conversation that need to take place in our Church and we respectfully request the Irish bishops to facilitate it and to participate in it. A refusal to engage runs counter to the synodal pathway.”

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Priests Defy Rome to Offer Blessings to Gay Couples

More than 100 Roman Catholic parishes in Germany held services to bless gay couples, in defiance of the Vatican’s refusal to recognize same-sex unions.

The Rev. Wolfgang Rothe blesses Christine Walter and Almut Muenster during a service at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church on Sunday in Munich.

By

More than 100 Roman Catholic parishes in Germany offered blessings to gay couples on Monday in defiance of church teaching and their own bishops.

The call for nationwide blessings came in response to a decree issued by the Vatican on March 15, reinforcing the church’s prohibition of priests asking for God’s benevolence for gay couples, stating that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

A group of 16 German priests and volunteers organized a petition that within days collected more than 2,000 signatures. Encouraged by the response, they decided to take their action one step further and declare May 10 — chosen because of its association with Noah, who in the Bible is recognized by God with a rainbow, a symbol that has more recently been adopted by the L.G.B.T.Q. community — as a day to hold blessing ceremonies for any and all couples, but especially those in same-sex unions.

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship,” the group said in a statement. “We will not refuse a blessing ceremony.”

The Vatican had no comment on Monday, but the head of the conference of Roman Catholic bishops in Germany, Georg Bätzing, who is also the bishop of Limburg, rejected using public blessing ceremonies as what he called “instruments for symbolic actions on church policy or for protests.”

“It is part of the pastoral ministry of the church to treat all of these people fairly in their respective concrete situations on their life’s journey and to accompany them pastorally,” Bishop Bätzing said in a statement, speaking for the country’s bishops. “In this context, however, I do not consider public actions such as those planned for 10 May to be helpful or a way forward.”

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, because that is God’s plan for the creation of life. Church doctrine says that while gay people must be treated with dignity, homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” Pope Francis has not changed this teaching, but has occasionally raised the hopes of gay Catholics by speaking of the need to love and welcome gay and transgender people.

The German church is among the most powerful and liberal in the world, and Roman Catholics everywhere were watching the response to the blessings for signals of how the church might respond to attempts at reform from those in the pews and from the priests who are often among those most active in finding ways to include gay men and lesbians in the church.

“There has been this incredible discussion in Germany about same-sex couples specifically that has not taken place anywhere else,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, which represents gay and lesbian Catholics in the United States. “No other group has done something like that.”

A few German parishes held blessing services on Sunday and dozens more took place Monday, many of them in churches in the heavily Roman Catholic western regions of the country, home to many of Germany’s most liberal Catholics. Some were streamed live, while others offered virtual blessings over social media, “whenever and wherever you want.”

By contrast, only a few parishes in the heavily Roman Catholic southern state of Bavaria, the more deeply conservative region where Pope Benedict XVI grew up, held services.

Churches that were not offering ceremonies were encouraged to fly a rainbow flag or other banners recognizing and celebrating love in all of its forms as worthy of God’s graces.

The Rev. Bernd Mönkebüscher, pastor in the Church of St. Agnes in the western town of Hamm and one of the initiators of the campaign, said that every Valentine’s Day, his parish holds blessings for all couples, including those from same-sex unions and those who remarried after a divorce.

“We held a blessing service this Valentine’s Day, but it was important to us in view of this story from Rome to send a clear signal that the church must recognize, honor and appreciate life in all of its many colors,” said Father Mönkebüscher, who identifies as gay. “It is an important gesture toward those people who the church for years, if not decades, has viewed as second-class citizens.”

At least 30 couples had registered to take part in the ceremony in his parish on Monday, he said, adding that the number of participants was limited because of restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “We are fully booked out,” he said.

During the ceremony, Father Mönkebüscher walked around the nave, approaching couples who sat in pairs, socially distanced and masked. They rose as he placed a hand on their shoulders and spoke a blessing as they bowed their heads. After one lesbian couple had received their blessing, they dropped their masks and shared a kiss, wiping away tears.

Not everyone has been receptive of the initiative. One parish in Bavaria received threats from members of an arch-conservative Roman Catholic group and had to call the police to ensure the safety of participants at their ceremony.

The initiative is the latest strain between the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in Germany. Many parishioners in Germany have left the church, including those frustrated with what they see as an outdated approach to sexual morality and a failure to punish priests accused of abusing children.

According to official statistics, 272,771 people formally quit the Church in 2019, a record number that helped to galvanize efforts among the bishops to discuss with the church a series of issues they believe were contributing to the loss of members. Among them were the role of women in the church, its teachings on sexual morality, priestly celibacy and clerical power structures.

In 2019, they began a series of talks on these topics, discussions of which would be off-limits for the church in many other countries. The talks were to take place among the faithful and church leaders over the course of two years but were extended because of restrictions on gatherings that were introduced last year at the outbreak of the pandemic. They are now to continue into February 2022.

Among those leaving the Church in Germany are many same-sex couples, who are tired of feeling they are not accepted for who they are, said the Rev. Reinhard Kleinewiese, who held a blessing at the Church of St. Mary in the western town of Ahlen on Sunday evening. Ten couples attend, all of them heterosexuals.

“We can’t ignore the fact that a lot of homosexual couples have already left the church. There are many who don’t come anymore,” Father Kleinewiese said. “Nevertheless, it is good and important for this situation and beyond that we make clear that we are not in agreement with Rome on certain issues and prohibitions.”

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Priests Defy Pope Francis with Public Blessings of Same-Sex Couples

Priests across Germany will publicly bless same-sex partnerships on Monday, May 10

By Ashley Boucher

A group of German Catholic priests will publicly bless same-sex couples across the country on Monday in defiance of the Vatican’s decree in March that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex marriages.

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship,” the statement says. “We do not refuse a blessing ceremony. We do this in our responsibility as pastors, who promise people at important moments in their lives the blessings that God alone gives. We respect and value their love, and we also believe that God’s blessings are on them.”

Pope Francis leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad
Pope Francis leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad

“Theological arguments and knowledge gained are sufficiently exchanged,” the statement continues. “We do not accept that an exclusive and outdated sexual morality is carried out on the back of people and undermines our work in pastoral care.”

The priests have also organized several church services, including live-streamed blessings of same-sex couples, to take place on May 10 across the country.

One of the organizers, Klaus Nelissen, told the Wall Street Journal that a Monday was chosen because that is traditionally a priest’s day off: “No bishop can tell them not to do it, since they are doing it on their own time,” he said.

The correlating events on Monday are making public what has been a quiet defiance over the last several years.

“It always has been a little bit kind of a secret,” Rev. Christian Olding told the Wall Street Journal of German priests’ blessings of same-sex couples. “This is the first time that we are going this way in society, to do it visibly for everyone.”

In March, the Vatican said in a statement approved by Pope Francis that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions because God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

While the community should welcome gay people with “respect and sensitivity,” their unions would not receive the same embrace, as under Catholic teachings, marriages as per “God’s plan” should be between a man and a woman to create new life, said the statement, which was a formal response to a question regarding the Church’s power to bless same-sex marriages.

“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage, as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” the statement said.

In October, he said he would support a civil union law, saying in a documentary that gay people are “children of God and have a right to a family.” And he famously said in 2013: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Complete Article HERE!

After Vatican said ‘God cannot bless sin,’ some LGBTQ people leave Catholic identity behind

By Alejandra Molina

For the past three years, Eder Díaz Santillan has hosted a podcast on which he interviews LGBTQ people on how they’ve coped with their gender and sexual identities while being raised in traditional Catholic upbringings. He also openly discusses his own identity as a Latino and gay Catholic man.

To Santillan, being gay and Catholic has meant reconciling with the reality the church has never fully accepted his LGBTQ identity. However, he’s recognized there’s a difference between his own relationship with God and the priests who have condemned homosexuality from the altar. It took years, but Santillan realized he could maintain his faith and his LGBTQ identity.

That’s why it may have been a surprise to his listeners when he announced in mid-March he would no longer identify as Catholic. The announcement came just days after the Vatican’s decree it wouldn’t allow priests to bless same-sex unions, saying “God cannot bless sin.”

“It took me this long to recognize that I can let go of anything that hurts me,” said Santillan, 35, on Instagram.

Pope Francis’ rejection of proposals that would allow priests to bless same-sex couples has left many LGBTQ Catholics feeling disappointed and demoralized by an institution they felt recently represented a softening toward LGBTQ marriages within the church. As a result, some have decided to leave their Catholic identities behind, while others remain hopeful the church will eventually become more accepting. Though some have said Francis later distanced himself from that decision, some, like Santillan, say “that’s not enough.”

After the Vatican’s statement, Santillan felt an urgent need to break from his Catholic identity. He realized he could no longer “normalize being Catholic and gay to my audience,” adding that he had become accustomed to the church’s “condemning narrative.”

The fact the church would not bless same-sex unions was nothing new to Santillan, but what struck him was the Vatican felt the need to “be so explicit” about it.

It was shocking,” he said.

To Santillan, the church’s stance is more than just an opinion of what is right and wrong; it fuels faith-based conversion therapy and the backing of laws that discriminate and criminalize LGBTQ people in Latin American countries. It has repercussions, he said. The Vatican’s “God cannot bless sin” statement took him back to his childhood, when he considered himself a sin due to the church’s rhetoric. He feared he was going to hell.

While Santillan figures out what it means to no longer identify as a Catholic, he said, he will always work to help those “who like me have to live with the trauma of the Catholic Church.”

Since the Vatican’s declaration over same-sex unions, the Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, said he’s heard from a number of LGBTQ Catholics whose reactions have “ranged from anger to hurt to frustration to disgust to despair.”

He said about a dozen have explicitly told him they were leaving the church as a result.

“Among that group the general response was, ‘I’m done.’ Or ‘This was the last straw,’” Martin told Religion News Service via email.

“The main reason that LGBTQ people felt hurt was not simply that priests were forbidden from blessing same-sex unions, a decision that many people may have expected, but that the statement went beyond that and talked about their love as ‘sin,’” said Martin, an advocate of the LGBTQ community.

As he listens to LGBTQ Catholics, Martin said he reminds them “they are, by virtue of the sacrament of baptism, as much a part of the church as their pastor, their bishop or the Pope.”

He also invites LGBTQ people to see the church “in its totality,” noting Francis’ appointment of Juan Carlos Cruz, an openly gay man, to a papal commission, as well as the number of European bishops who criticized the Vatican’s language.

“I invite them to see themselves as full members of the church, even a church that seems not to know how to welcome them,” Martin said.

For queer Catholics like Xorje Olivares, 32, it’s about making individual choices around what their Catholicism looks like. Spirituality, he said, doesn’t need to be a “one size fits all.”

“Everybody’s journey toward their acceptance of the Catholic faith or the role of the Catholic Church in their lives is their own, very much like everyone’s journey to their queerness is their own,” Olivares said.

Olivares, a former altar boy, hosts the podcast  “Queer I am, Lord,” where he talks with LGBTQ Catholics about why they’ve stayed in or left the church.

While Olivares said many queer Catholics grew up conditioned to fear God and to believe they are going to hell, “we’ve gone past that.” Meanwhile, he also acknowledged many still find it difficult figuring out “what to believe, when they have a church saying one thing and their bodies telling them another.”

“I sympathize with their struggles because those are very real,” he said.

Olivares often thinks about the kind of message they would send to the Catholic institution if every single LGBTQ person decided to leave the church, but he remains grounded by the Bible verse “knock and the door shall be open to you.”

“Here I am, me and all my queer friends. We’ve been knocking on the door over, and over, and over again, and I would be so upset with myself if the door finally opens and the church becomes a little more welcoming, and I’m not there because I decided to walk away,” he said.

“I don’t know if the church will be the safe space that I need it to be, or if it ever will be, but I know that I still find some joy referring to myself as a Catholic,” Olivares said.

Complete Article HERE!