When I walked into church for mass last Sunday, I wondered if anyone noticed me holding my head a little higher or carrying myself with a little more confidence. (I hope my mask didn’t mask it.) Many who know me might think I have never been lacking in the confidence department but I can assure you, it wasn’t that long ago when I worried about people’s response to my presence at mass and the ministries I performed as a lector and choir member.
The more publicly I came out as a proud and queer lesbian Catholic, often with columns in our local newspaper or as an LGBTQ2 activist in TV or radio interviews, the more I worried a day might come when I was refused welcome at the door or holy communion at the front of the church. This was particularly heightened during the federal debates over equal marriage in 2005. NDP MP Charlie Angus, a former Catholic school trustee and member of his parish choir, was publicly threatened with denial of communion by his parish priest for voting in favour of same-sex marriage. Bishop Fred Henry said he would deny the Eucharist to the prime minister of the day, Paul Martin, for the same reason, should he ever stand before him, hands cupped in receptive pose.
That day never came for me, even after I publicly married my partner in an Anglican cathedral with a United Church minister to oversee the vows, and my choir from St. Joseph’s leading in song. I showed up for mass the next week and nothing bad happened. Now with Pope Francis’s words making headlines, hopefully around the world, I won’t have to worry about anything like that for a while. Even if it did, I now have quotes in my back pocket from the Bishop of Rome, to use in defence.
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“The Pope says,” I can hear myself starting, “we are children of God and have a right to be in a family. Nobody should be thrown out of the family or made miserable over this.” Hard to argue with that!
I would likely go on to the next part of the quote, taken from the movie, Francesco, released just last week at the Rome film festival. “What we have to make is a law of civil coexistence, for they (same-sex partners) have the right to be legally covered. I stood up for that.”
This is where the conversation could take a turn for the worst. The Pope has stood up for gay and lesbian people to marry civilly and to be cared for like anyone else in a family and in a pastoral setting. However, there is far more for which the Pope must stand.
Now he must ensure his words and the thinking behind them are aligned with the catechism where “objectively ordered” still stands untouched as a description of “homosexual tendencies.” There’s another word to cut – homosexuality – still heard as a diagnosis to the leaders of at least 72 countries where same-sex relationships are criminalized – 44 explicitly identify lesbians and bisexual women – and 11 of those could impose the death penalty for engaging in sexual activity with the same sex.
Francis seems to speak his truth in airplanes and on film, but it is imperative for those words to be pronounced officially and translated into church documents. Otherwise, the ramifications and power of those words will not have the impact we need in the places where we live and interact, such as schools, where outdated curricula rule the day and diminish the lives of 2S and LGBTQ+ students.
The Pope appointed 15 new cardinals this week. They know where he stands on gay and lesbian unions and families. I hope they can turn his stance into a fast-paced sprint toward dignity and inclusion for same-sex couples and all LGBTQ+ people. The God I know stands for that.
Deirdre Pike is a newspaper columnist based in Hamilton. She works for the Anglican Diocese of Niagara in justice and outreach and worships with the RC Catholic Diocese of Hamilton.
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