Fr. Bryan Massingale is a leading voice in the mission of dismantling homophobic and racist elements of the institutional Catholic Church.
Massingale, who is the James and Nancy Buckman Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University, is a Black Catholic priest who has publicly come out as gay. He was ordained in 1983 at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, which devastated the queer and Black communities. Massingale told the Associated Press that one of his first funerals as a newly ordained priest was of a “gay man whose family wanted no mention of his sexuality or the disease.”
“They should have been able to turn to their church in their time of grief,” he added. “Yet they couldn’t because that stigma existed in great measure because of how many ministers were speaking about homosexuality and AIDS as being a punishment for sin.”
Massingale, who is also a Senior Ethics Fellow in Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education, teaches classes on sexuality, race, and ethics. AP reported:
“Massingale teaches a class on homosexuality and Christian ethics, using biblical texts to challenge church teaching on same-sex relations. He said he came to terms with his own sexuality at 22, upon reflecting on the book of Isaiah.
“‘I realized that no matter what the church said, God loved me and accepted me as a Black gay man,’ he said.”
The fight for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Catholics intersects with the fight for the full inclusion of Black Catholics. Massingale “decries the scourge of racial inequality” in the U.S. church.
He shared another story of when he celebrated his first Mass at a predominantly white Church. “The first parishioner to greet me at the door said to me: ‘Father, you being here is the worst mistake the archbishop could have made. People will never accept you.’”
The homophobia and racism in Massingale’s experiences are justifiable reasons to leave the Catholic Church. However, given the choice, he stayed:
“‘I’m not going to let the church’s racism rob me of my relationship with God. . .I see it as my mission to make the church what it says it is: more universal and the institution that I believe Jesus wants it to be.'”
Massingale’s message is aligned with Pope Francis’ call for “compassionate pastoral care for LGBTQ Catholics.” However, Massingale seeks to push further. He envisions a church where “Catholics enjoy the same privileges regardless of sexual orientation.” He also supports the ordination of women and optional celibacy for Catholic clergy.
“I think that one can express one’s sexuality in a way that is responsible, committed, life giving and an experience of joy,” he said.
Massingale also shared that coming out “has come at a cost.”
“I have lost some priest friends who find it difficult to be too closely associated with me because if they’re friends with me, ‘what will people say about them?’” he said.
Massingale still holds hope for change in the Catholic Church, as gradual as it is. “My dream wedding would be either two men or two women standing before the church; marrying each other as an act of faith and I can be there as the official witness to say: ‘Yes, this is of God,'” he said after a recent class at Fordham. “If they were Black, that would be wonderful.”
I am humbled and empowered by Fr. Massingale and those who share in the vision of a new church. They have opened a path for me and other emerging queer theologians to live our faith as whole persons. I am an average Masters of Divinity student who questions their faith constantly. Yet I still have that naïve enthusiasm to go out there and “change the world.” However, if I am truly going to live what I learned in the classroom, then I must stop and listen. Do I hear the cries of the suffering, marginalized, and the poor? God hears them, then so must I. Black Catholics are not only shouting in lament to God but they are also shouting to the world. LGBTQ Catholics must do better in listening to Black Catholic communities, fully supporting and serving them in the fight for equity, and joining them in saying Black Lives Matter.
—Elise Dubravec (she/her), New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2022