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Michael Bernard Kelly,  Seduced by Grace: Contemporary Spirituality, Gay experience and Christian faith (2007);  Michael Kirby, A Private Life: fragments, memories, friends (2011); Mychal Judge http://saintmychaljudge.blogspot.com.au/ (accessed 9 March 2012).

These three Michaels – professional gay men with integrity – incarnate different ways of relating to their legalistic/unjust churches.

Justice Michael Kirby is an Anglican. Anglicans are supposed to pride themselves on their inclusiveness, and a via media approach to matters controversial. [1] More about him later…

The other two – Michael Kelly and Mychal Judge – relate to a different beast, the Roman Catholic Church, which, writes Kelly, has ‘a much more authoritarian – some might even say a more draconian – structure’ [2].

Michael Kelly and Mychal Judge are both ‘saints’. Noisy saints are called ‘prophets’ and Michael Kelly is nothing if not prophetic, with his constant harping on ‘justice’ and ‘love’ (two concepts which were the key relational values for Jesus but which, Michael could have told us, appear in hardly any of the church’s major creeds or Statements of Faith until the mid-20th century). [3] Kelly, many will remember, was the ‘point man’ for the dignified ‘rainbow sash’ protests where gays and lesbians (and their families/supporters) were refused communion. (Leunig’s cartoon in The Age after the first episode: Priest to communicant with rainbow sash: ‘Are you a practising homosexual?’ ‘I don’t have to practise’ the man responded, ‘I have a natural genius for it’).

Mychal Judge reminds me of the compassionate Jesus. He was – until his death in the 9/11 collapse of the Twin Towers – arguably one of New York’s ‘finest’: a pastor extraordinaire who will probably be canonized within two or three generations…

Here’s Michael Kelly’s (twice iterated) version of an amazing story:

‘Father Mychal Judge, Catholic chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, died in the lobby of the North Tower after being hit by falling debris. Some say he had taken off his helmet as he gave the Last Rites to a fallen fire-fighter. His body was carried out… and laid on the corner of Church and Vesey Streets. One of the policemen was crying out “Can somebody get this man a priest!” A young officer… ran into nearby St Peter’s Church calling for a priest. Inside there was a woman ripping up church linens to use as masks so that people could breathe in the dust and devastation. She told him there was no priest there, then said, “Are you a Catholic?” When he said he was, she told him that in an emergency he could give the Last Rites… So in the midst of all the chaos and horror, two cops knelt in the street. As people ran screaming all around them, they laid hands on the dead priest’s body, said the Lord’s Prayer and paused for a moment of silence. They then stood, hugged each other and ran back into the burning buildings.’

Stories about this priest then flooded into print and online (put aside a few days and read some of Google’s 163,000 entries). Sample: ‘A man dying of AIDs whispered “Do you think God is angry with me?” Mychal responded by taking the man in his arms… rocking him against his chest, then kissing him… Mychal Judge, you see, was gay’… ‘“He embodied the ideal blend of spirituality and public service,” said Mayor Rudy Giuliani.’ [4].

Now, speaking of priests who are gay: Michael Kelly tells us that in 1999 Father Donald Cozzens’ book The Changing Face of the Priesthood rocked the Catholic Church in the US. He quoted studies which showed that from 23% to 58% of priests and 55% of seminarians are gay. Respected researcher (and ex-monk) Richard Sipe estimated that 30% of priests were gay. Tens of thousands of priests ‘have left, often to marry, and among those who remain roughly 50% of homosexually oriented priests are celibate just as are the heterosexually oriented’ [5].

You are entitled to be enraged by the awful hypocrisies here. Consider these, sprinkled throughout Kelly’s book:

* Catholics currently number a billion members worldwide. It’s the oldest and largest and most highly organized multi-national organization on earth… Australia’s largest employer is the Catholic Church, an organization which demands, and gets, exemption from all anti-discrimination legislation. If a gay/lesbian person ‘comes out’ they can be sacked from jobs like gardening or truck-driving or school-teaching.

* Much of the persecution against gays in the Catholic church is committed by closeted gay priests, bishops, cardinals – and, yes, Popes!

* Teenagers from religious homes are over-represented in youth suicide statistics. Gay-related suicides account for 30% of youth suicides: gay youth are between 2.5 and five times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. A large proportion of homeless youth are gay or lesbian.

* The Catholic Church has a worldwide ban on education in using condoms for safer sex. [6]

* At Catholic communion services gays can be asked about their private sexual behaviours but unmarried heterosexual communicants aren’t.

* So much of what passes for religion is about reciting doctrinal formulas and following rules that make us feel safe, righteous and good.

* But at least ‘more recent Church documents teach that homosexual orientation is “innate” – or inborn – for many, that it is not chosen, that it is generally irreversible and that it may have a biological basis’ (but celibacy is still compulsory). [7] And heterosexual sex in marriage is now OK if for various reasons procreation is out of the question.

A Warning: Heteros (like me) had better know that some of Kelly’s chapters will create turbulence. Like the one asking ‘Was Jesus gay?’ (His answer: maybe. Mine: we don’t know but it would be a very special gift to all marginalized people if we discovered he was. When I once suggested this to a group of young Evangelical (married) professionals, one of the guys went white). Another chapter which will provide an interesting experience for homophobic people is about a workshop on erotic anal sex… But we won’t go there!

Kelly writes passionately: ‘The glory of God is the human person fully alive’. ‘The Body of Christ is sick. It is diseased with abusive patterns of power, with misogyny, homophobia, hypocrisy, hatred of the erotic… If this Body is ever to be healed, gay and lesbian people will be one of the most potent and profound sources and sacraments of that healing… Perhaps one day a Pope will light a candle in Rome on Ash Wednesday and ask forgiveness for the Church’s sins and crimes against God’s gay and lesbian people. Perhaps’ [8].

What is Kelly asking of his Church? In summary: ‘The hierarchy should give a guarantee that all priests, religious, teachers and Church workers can publicly reveal their sexual orientation without being sacked, suspended or having their careers derailed. Like unmarried heterosexual Church employees they would not be able to discuss their sexual lives… [Re ‘I’m only obeying orders’]: “Sins of omission” [involve] refusing to do that which is demanded by love and justice’. ‘We can [encourage] the Church to listen before it speaks’. And we can follow our radical master and Lord, Jesus, who taught that God’s feast gives pride of place to the poor, the disenfranchised, prostitutes, and the ritually unclean [9].

(Class, discuss: why is all that so difficult?).

Now, back to Michael Kirby: As an outstanding judge and arbitrator, he demonstrates marvellous (but uncompromising) diplomacy and grace, especially in his discussions with Zambian judicial leaders, who come to issues like homosexuality from very different cultural backgrounds than those of post-Enlightenment/ postmodern Westerners. One in six Zambian adults – more women than men – were HIV positive when he was there.

I love the story of his visit to address students and staff at St Ignatius (Riverview) College in Sydney: he was careful to provide in advance notes of his talk, and when the inevitable ruckus exploded after the event from the Catholic hierarchy and in the media, the principal offered this bit of pedagogical wisdom: ‘The school [does] not necessarily agree or disagree with the viewpoints expressed by visiting speakers!’

And finally some Michael Kirby quotes which ‘gave me pause’:

* ‘Senator Bill Heffernan… falsely attacked my reputation in the Senate of the Australian Parliament. My basic offence, it seems, was that I was not sufficiently ashamed of myself and of my sexuality’. [10]

* ‘[My schoolteacher] Mr Gibbons taught me something: the sense of injustice that endures when decisions are made affecting others without giving them the opportunity to be heard’. [11]

* Bishop Desmond Tutu: ‘Penalising someone for their sexual orientation is the same as penalising someone for something they can do nothing about, like ethnicity or race’. [12]

* ‘The Quakers have always been the least homophobic of all major religious groups… Having suffered discrimination, the Quakers do not dish it out’. [13]

* ‘A wife of a single day could receive a full partner’s pension. So would a husband. So would a de facto spouse of the opposite sex. But not for [my faithful, loved partner] Johan of nearly four decades’. [14]

* ‘The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Edward Clancy… said the Church recognised that there may be no responsibility on the part of homosexuals for their “homosexual condition”… [but] they are, he believed, called to a life without sex. The Anglican Archbishop… endorsed the cardinal’s statement’. [15]

Two books, and a website, well worth ‘reading/marking/learning/and inwardly digesting’. We in the churches – and elsewhere of course – are currently experiencing a significant paradigm shift, as we have done on other issues – especially, and most recently, in the areas of slavery, race, and gender. Our children’s children will look back on these discussions too and wonder what all the fuss was about.


[1] See eg. Morris, Jeremy N. (Fall 2003). “Newman and Maurice on the Via Media of the Anglican Church: Contrasts and Affinities”. Anglican Theological Review.

[2] Kelly pp. 226-7

[3] Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42. See Rowland Croucher, Recent Trends Among Evangelicals, 1986/1995, http://jmm.org.au/articles/12125 et seq. Franciscan Fr Richard Rohr writes: ‘Jesus tells his followers: “Set your heart on God’s kingdom and God’s justice first…” Any of you who are involved in church work know that the kiss of death to any lecture series or parish program is to put the word justice in the title. You can be assured of a very small attendance and the program will often have to be cancelled for lack of interest’ [A Lever and a Place to Stand, 2011, pp. 46-7].

[4] Kelly 188 ff. In January 2000 US research uncovered at least 400 known deaths of priests from AIDs. Kelly 130.

[5] Kelly 126 ff

[6] See eg. The Lesser Evil: The Catholic Church and the AIDS Epidemic –  http://www.condoms4life.org/facts/lesserEvil.htm

[7] Kelly, 208-9, 213

[8] Kelly, 22

[9] Kelly, 25, 96, 123

[10] Kirby, xiii, 185

[11] Kirby, 21

[12] Kirby, 39

[13] Kirby, 62

[14] Kirby, 89

[15] Kirby, 97

Note 1: Justice Michael Kirby and I have not yet met. We were, roughly, contemporaries at the University of Sydney in the 1950s. He’s a patron and I’m a chaplain of Freedom2B – assisting LGBTI people from Christian backgrounds on their journey to reconciling their faith, sexuality and gender identity.

Note 2: My own position on some of these issues may be found here: http://jmm.org.au/articles/28630.htm

(Rev. Dr. ) Rowland Croucher

March 11, 2012


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