As regular readers of Bondings 2.0 may be aware, New Ways Ministry has launched a campaign to find people who knew Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, the New York City Fire Department Chaplain who died in the World Trade Center Attacks on 9/11. The purpose is finding such people is to assist a Vatican researcher who is exploring the canonization of this Franciscan priest who ministered to many marginalized communities, including LGBT Catholics.
This campaign hit a little bump in the road last month when National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters claimed that New Ways Ministry was pushing for this canonization because Mychal Judge was gay, and that such promotion by our organization would hurt, not help, Judge’s canonization as a saint. In a column entitled, “Focus on Mychal Judge as a ‘gay saint’ is problematic,” Winters wrote:
“I don’t think it is news to anyone that there are some in the Vatican Curia who will consider the fact that Judge was gay a negative factor in evaluating his cause, not a positive. And there are others who would be prepared to see the mere fact of his being gay as a matter of indifference to his cause, but who worry about the propaganda purposes to which his canonization would be put by people who have no love for the church or who deny the church’s teaching on homosexuality.
New Ways Ministry is glad to assist the Vatican in this investigation for many reasons, including Judge’s ministry to the LGBT community. His faith, spirituality, heroism, and lifetime of service to many marginalized groups mark him as saintly. As for his ministry to the LGBT community, that dimension has so far played a minimal role in the research. Of the close to 50 people who have responded to offer testimony, so far only one has declared knowing Judge because of his LGBT outreach. The people who responded have mentioned knowing him through the New York City Fire Department, his parish ministry in New Jersey, his work with people in 12-steps programs, and his support of people who had HIV/AIDS or who were experiencing homelessness.
So, Winters’ claim that the primary interest in canonizing Judge is because he may have been gay is not accurate. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, to quote Seinfeld.
Winters’ claim seems to have been based on a Slate article about the canonization of Fr. Mychal Judge, which did prominently feature Mychal Judge as a possible gay saint. The article was entitled “Could Father Mychal Judge Be the First Gay Saint?” My disagreement with Winters was that he was not accurate about describing New Ways Ministry’s involvement with the canonization cause.
The little controversy does raise the important question: Would an LGBT identity prevent a person from being canonized a saint by the Catholic Church? Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 ran a post about the existence of saints whose life stories indicated a likely LGBT identity, even though awareness of such identities did not exist at their historical times. Though the post mentioned only four such people, research shows that actually many of our canonized saints had characteristics of LGBT identities.
But the historical question is different from the contemporary one. Now that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity are becoming much more public knowledge, even for those who religiously identified, the question arises that would knowledge of these characteristics eliminate a person from canonization. There would be no theological reason for preventing canonization, but, as history has shown, canonization is often a process thick with “politics,” meaning that the Church’s recognition is often granted or withheld depending on what types of people church authorities want to promote at a given moment.
I would like to hope that sexual orientation and gender identity would not be bars to canonization. Winters sees a double-hurdle for such candidates:
I don’t think it is news to anyone that there are some in the Vatican Curia who will consider the fact that Judge was gay a negative factor in evaluating his cause, not a positive. And there are others who would be prepared to see the mere fact of his being gay as a matter of indifference to his cause, but who worry about the propaganda purposes to which his canonization would be put by people who have no love for the church or who deny the church’s teaching on homosexuality.
What would be different about LGBT people expressing pride that one of their own was made a saint than when specific groups applaud when someone from a particular national or ethnic group, or from a specific professional category, or from a religious order. I’m old enough to remember the hoopla that surrounded Mother Elizabeth Seton’s canonization in 1976 as the first U.S.-born saint.
I recognize that Winters’ assessment of the church’s leaders’ perception may be accurate. What I am disagreeing with here is not his assessment, but with the mindset of church leaders who would prevent a holy person from being canonized simply because they are afraid that others will misinterpret the designation.
Just as we all must work for full equality and LGBT people in the Catholic Church, even though that seems like an impossible dream, we must also work for the canonization of people whose lives and actions are holy, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or what church leaders may think of these two characteristics.
For information about how you can help with the research surrounding the possible canonization of Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, please click here.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, November 3, 2017