A gay Catholic man in Pennsylvania has begun a lay-led ministry to reach out to LGBTQ people who, in his words “have been judged harshly and walked away.”
Maher started his LGBTQ Catholic ministerial vocation in Manhattan during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. He founded the Gay and Lesbian Catholic Ministry at Manhattan’s St. Paul the Apostle Church. At the time, Maher and some cohorts were partially responding to a decision to exclude gay Catholics from New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. In 1993, Maher was instrumental in St. Paul’s celebrating its first “Pride Mass.”
As part of his current ministry, Maher regularly lobbies his local bishop, urging him to do more for LGBTQ Catholics. Maher has a vision for ministry to LGBTQ Catholics, which he has presented to Bishop Alfred Schlert of Allentown. Maher’s plan includes programs such as public forums, school and parish LGBTQ education, Pride events at parishes, and more.
The Morning Call reported on the bishop’s reactions:
“Schlert said he finds Maher personally engaging and well-versed in church teaching and history. On one level, he said, both want the same thing — for LGBTQ people to be assured the church welcomes them, loves them and wants them to live fulfilling spiritual lives.
“‘I understand very much their desire, and I couldn’t agree more that they should be welcome in the church,’ he said. ‘I’ve been a priest for 34 years and in August I will have been a bishop for four years, and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t welcome people.'”
Yet, Schlert is hesitant to fully endorse Maher’s vision. The bishop has concerns that the programs counter church doctrine and that a lay person is leading them. He commented, “My hesitancy has always been ‘I have to promote the teachings of the church,[‘]” he said. “I have to have a level of confidence that they’ll be upheld.”
While the Diocese of Allentown did allow Maher to post an Advent reflection on its social media, he largely proceeds without hierarchical backing and feels he has the skills to minister, saying. “I’ve been at this a long time. I consider myself graced to do this and consider my voice prophetic.”
Maher is connected with another local advocate, Mel Kitchen, who has a gay son and founded a Catholic LGBTQ+ faith-sharing ministry called You Are Mine. Though Kitchen’s parish repeatedly rejected her program, she has an unyielding spirit and the program now is housed at St. Francis Center for Renewal, a ministry of the School Sisters of St. Francis.
Maher, who is completely dedicated to his vocational ministry, continuously calls the church to prioritize human nature above doctrinal obedience. He creates community and engages others in this work on his social media page, Out in the Diocese of Allenstown. No matter the resistance he encounters, Maher is in this work for the long haul. According to the article:
“Maher has no plans to stop. He said he will never lack energy for the work he is doing, because he believes it is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
“‘I’m not going anywhere,’ he said. ‘I’m in this for the long game.'”
—Beth Mueller Stewart, New Ways Ministry, May 22, 2021