BY SUSAN RYAN-VOLLMAR
I didnít think Iíd get worked up about it. When I read reports last week that the Catholic Churchís four bishops in Massachusetts were directing parish priests to issue a call to arms against same-sex marriage from the altar this past weekend, I wasnít so much angry as flabbergasted. What were these bishops thinking? Who were they to give moral advice to families? The Church has yet to come to terms with its failure to protect children from pedophilic priests. Now itís going to go after homosexuals ó on whom it tried (and failed) to blame the clergy sex-abuse scandal?
But then I went to Mass on Sunday. And I became furious. The Catholic Church is not protecting families by urging parishioners to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage in Massachusetts as something that can take place only between a man and a woman. No, the Catholic Church is assaulting families. Mine, in particular.
I need to make something clear. I was raised Catholic. But I donít feel ó as many gay Catholics do ó as if the Church has somehow betrayed me. I left the Catholic Church when I was still a teenager. About 14, to be exact. Thatís when my parish priest counseled me to forgive my mother ó who divorced my father when I was 12 years old ó for not keeping her marriage together. My father, at the time, was mentally ill with schizophrenia. To manage the disease, he drank copious amounts of Schlitz and Budweiser ó which transformed him into an exceedingly unpleasant person. My parish priest knew this. Still, in his eyes, my motherís decision to divorce my father ó a family-preserving act if ever there was one ó was something that needed to be forgiven.
Itís safe to say that Iíve expected little of the Catholic Church ever since. Still, I was filled with curiosity about how, exactly, the bishopsí message could be worked into a Mass. So I decided to see for myself and attended the 10 a.m. Mass at Holy Trinity in the South End on Sunday. Holy Trinity is where my motherís parents worshiped. My great-grandfather crafted some of the stained-glass windows that line both sides of the church. On Sunday, in place of a sermon, Father Hugh H. OíRegan, who presided over my grandfatherís funeral Mass in April, simply read the three-page statement from the bishops, prefacing it with: " Now, I have a mandate. I have to read something to you. "
The most offensive bits of Father OíReganís " sermon " were culled from a " Statement on Same-Sex Marriage " issued by US Catholic bishops in 1996. Some highlights: " The institution of marriage has a very important relationship to the continuation of the human race ... " ó as if gay and lesbian people cannot have children. Of course, we can ó and do. The statement also asserts, " No same-sex union can realize the unique and full potential which the marital relationship expresses. " Think about the absurdity of (presumably) celibate men whoíve never known the joy of a lifelong partnership based on friendship, devotion, and, yes, sexual attraction making such an assessment. Itís ridiculous.
But it wasnít the content of the statement that so angered me. It was the certainty with which it was delivered. Itís simply taken for granted that allowing same-sex couples, like my partner and me, to marry is a threat to " the well-being of children and families. " Actually, itís a threat to my daughterís well-being that both her parents are, in essence, legal strangers to each other.
The only comfort I gleaned from the experience was seeing clearly where the Churchís decision to assault families from the pulpit ó which is what happened this past weekend ó will get it. Further down the road to irrelevancy that its stubborn adherence to celibacy for priests, banning birth control for families, and blocking women from the priesthood has gotten it.
Holy Trinity is a majestic church. Four pews fit across the cathedral; they go 26 deep from the altar. At full capacity, it can hold 500. When I was a child and attended Mass with my grandparents, if you didnít get to church early enough, youíd end up standing in the aisles. It boggles my mind to consider that just 21 people (including me) attended last Sundayís 10 a.m. Mass.
I didnít expect to get so angry listening to Father OíRegan read the bishopsí statement. But when I think about it, it makes sense: you can react much differently as a 38-year-old whoís been lectured by a priest about the state of your family than you can as a 14-year-old. Happily, though, my anger didnít last long: 24 years ago people actually listened to priests. They donít today.
Issue Date: June 6 - 12, 2003
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