Even the Vatican has marked singer David Bowie’s passing, praising the artist whose life and career perpetually challenged sexual and gender norms, and who, at varying points in his life, identified as gay and bisexual..
“Ground Control to Major Tom/Commencing countdown, engines on/Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (David Bowie)”
L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, published an obituary complimenting Bowie. The New York Times reported:
“The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has eulogized David Bowie as a singular musician, ‘never banal,’ who grew artistically over five decades thanks to his interest in art, film and theater.
“The paper, which frequently weighs in on pop culture, noted the ‘ambiguous image’ Bowie cultivated early on in his career and blamed it on his aim to attract media attention.
“But it said that aside from such ‘excesses,’ Bowie’s legacy ‘is one of a sort of personal sobriety, expressed even in his dry, almost thread-like body.’ “
This is kind, if unexpected, praise from the Vatican for Bowie, who challenged gender norms. Zack Ford of Think Progress explained:
“This confusion was apparent in his own sexuality, which never seemed to fit neatly into any particular label. First he was gay. Then he was bisexual. Then coming out as bisexual was the ‘biggest mistake I ever made,’ because he didn’t ever feel that he was a ‘real bisexual.’ He admitted to having same-sex sexual interactions, ‘but frankly, it wasn’t enjoyable.’ In terms of sex and relationships, his own description of himself as ‘promiscuous’ may have been the most accurate of them all, but it reflected, as in the other aspects of his life and career, defiance of convention.”
Commenting further on Bowie’s significance for LGBT communities, a columnist with The Daily Beast wrote:
“In his refusal to label himself, there didn’t appear to be a cowardice, but rather an honesty and maturity around how unfixed, at least for him, the notion of sexuality was. That proved to be its own liberation, or at least freeing, moment for so many of every kind of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The Vatican’s praise for David Bowie has generated global headlines, fueled by the dissonance created in bringing together rigid Catholic officials and the unconfined seeker that was David Bowie. That the Vatican’s newspaper was so affirming is a positive sign for LGBT issues in the church, likely another outcome from Pope Francis’ improved engagement with the world and demand for all people to be respected and valued.
I think Cardinal Ravasi and those behind the L’Osservatore Romano article are touching a deeper truth that connects Pope Francis, David Bowie, and all of us in between: the path to holiness is the journey towards authenticity. To paraphrase the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, “To be a saint is to be yourself.”
The world benefited from Bowie’s art, just as Catholics benefits from the many LGBT people who, in their own journeys to authenticity, help break down harmful gender and sexual norms in the church. We are all richer for the carefully tended fruits which then emerge.
David Gibson of Religion News Service headlined a column, “Saint David Bowie?” Perhaps we can just remove the question mark and simply say, “Saint David Bowie.”
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry