Gay Jesuit Priest Calls for Church to Recognize LGBTQ+ Saints

Fr. Jim McDermott, an openly gay Jesuit priest and pop culture writer, has penned an essay in America arguing for the importance of canonizing LGBTQ+ saints.

While McDermott was in Los Angeles, admiring the tapestries at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, he realized:

“. . . . not a single one of these people has been identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, though undoubtedly some of them were. In fact, the Catholic Church has yet to recognize a single L.G.B.T. saint.”

McDermott acknowledges that the stigma associated with queerness in the church still impacts him, and that some Catholics will view calls for LGBTQ+ saints as ludicrous, despite the work of Pope Francis and LGBTQ-positive clergy in recent years. The priest admitted:

“Honestly, I instinctively feel that way myself, and I’m gay. No matter how much work Pope Francis, various bishops, clergy and others have done to try and normalize the place of L.G.B.T. people in the church, the fact is, for many Catholics of a certain age, being L.G.B.T. still seems wrong or disobedient.”

A confined vision of who should and should not be saints does not reflect the teaching of the church that every human being is a reflection of God, he pointed out. It should not be considered subversive to promote the canonization of openly queer saints:

“The fact is, as Catholics we believe that each of us is born in the image and likeness of God. Not just straight people, white people or men—everyone. There is no asterisk in the Catechism on this point. This is the teaching of the church, even if some Catholics discuss or treat us in ways that suggest otherwise.”

While advocating for queer saints spotlights the importance of respect and dignity for LGBTQ+ people within the church, the importance of openly queer saints goes beyond the validating queer Catholics:

“To say that God created us or that we are made in God’s image is to say that we offer a glimpse of who God is, that we are each a means by which other people can know that they, too, are an image of God, seen and loved by Him. It’s an incredible statement, to think that any of us could be such a gift, a way by which others may come to know God and themselves better. And yet we believe that to be true of all human beings.”

McDermott offered two potential LGBTQ+ candidates for canonization, both of whom are inspiring figures in the modern history of the Church.

Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, was a chaplain for the New York City Fire Department who perished during the September 11th attacks while aiding first responders. He ministered to unhoused New Yorkers, to those suffering from HIV and AIDS, and to people struggling with substance abuse. Grassroots calls for his canonization are widespread.

Fr. Henri Nouwen was a Dutch theologian who dedicated his life to spiritual writing and service to disabled adults. While he never publicly came out during his life, due to concerns that his work would not be received well because of his orientation, Nouwen was an exemplary theologian who grappled with what his sexuality meant for his spiritual life.

In addition to the canonization of new saints, McDermott called for the recognition of saints who lived in an era which did not recognize LGBTQ+ identities, but who were likely queer:

“As we look at church history, we might reconsider the stories of St. Brigid and Sister Darlughdach, who resided together, worked together and shared a bed; of St. John Henry Newman and Father Ambrose St. John, who lived together for 32 years and shared a grave, or of the Venerable Juana Inés de la Cruz, who believed that God had changed her gender in the womb and imagined Jesus could be mother or father, wife or husband, depending on the needs of those who search for [God].”

He concluded his piece by underscoring that queer people have always been important contributors to the church, and it is time that their impact is recognized through the canonization process:

“When L.G.B.T. people look at the communion of the saints, we should be able to see someone who looks like us. And it is not because of who we are, but because of who those individuals were and what they did.”

McDermott’s words are a strong call for greater inclusion within the institutional church through valuing queer spiritual narratives in the Catholic imagination. His inspiring work as an openly gay cleric advocating for a church which recognizes the indispensability of LGBTQ+ people to the mission is a source of empowerment and of hope for the future.

Who are your LGBTQ+ saints?  Perhaps they are LGBTQ+ people who have not yet been recognized as saints.  Perhaps they are canonized saints who strongly appear to have been LGBTQ+.  Share your saints’ names and any description of them with other readers in the “Comments” section of this blog post.

Andru Zodrow (he/him), New Ways Ministry, June 9, 2022

7 replies
  1. Bob Nee
    Bob Nee says:

    Joan of Arc, trans person pray for us
    John, the beloved apostle resting on the breast of Jesus, pray for us
    Aelred of Rievaulx, encouraging of particular friendships, pray for us

    Reply
  2. Fr. Joseph Spina, OSF
    Fr. Joseph Spina, OSF says:

    Very thoughtful and appropriate column. Maybe we should all ask the question:
    What would happen to ALL spiritual groupings if the LGBTQ clergy did not show
    up for Sabbath services? These various communities could not function.
    We are all one in God, who does not make any junk!

    Reply
  3. Paul K. Thomas
    Paul K. Thomas says:

    Here is another website, though from 1997, with a calendar of LGBTQ+ saints:
    http://www.otkenyer.hu/halsall/lgbh-gaysts.html.

    Here are some of my comments on the website.

    Under December 24 Mr. Halsall lists Orthodox Calendars as the source for SS. Protus and Hyacinth. However, the two saints are also honored, and this time together, in calendars of the Roman Catholic Church, but under September 11. See such sources as the Roman Martyrology, pre-Vatican II calendars/missals, The Catholic Encyclopedia (pub. early 1900’s), vol.12, p. 504, and The New Catholic Encyclopedia (pub.1967), vol.11, p. 911, and Frederick Holweck’s A Biographical Dictionary of the Saints (St. Louis and London: B. Herder Book Co., 1924)

    Under “feast days as yet undetermined,” Halsall lists St. Peter Ordinski of Rostov. However, note that, in Holweck’s book (page 797), the orthodox feast date is given as June 29. Holweck states that “he was a nephew of the Tartar Khan Berkai…He died…in 1290.” John Boswell, in listing 1257-66 (as Halsall notes) as St. Peter’s dates, may have been giving his (uncle’s?) dates as Khan. In several books on rulers I have not yet found Peter’s name listed as Khan. His uncle’s name, variously spelled as Baraka (Encyclopedia of World History) and Birkai (Kings, Rulers, and Statesmen), is listed as having ruled from 1256/7 to 1266 or 1267. Berkai/Baraka/Birkai had a brother named Orda, presumably the father of St. Peter Ordinski. Incidentally, Berkai and Orda were grandsons of the famous Genghis Khan. Berkai was Khan of the Golden Horde and Orda apparently leader of the White Horde. I think I can state with some certainty that, despite John Boswell’s assertion to the contrary, Peter was never a Khan of the Tatars. He is not listed as a Khan in such books as Clifford Bosworth’s The Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual, Stanley Lane-Poole’s The Mohammadan Dynasties: Chronological and Genealogical Tables, John Boyle’s translation of Successors of Genghis Khan (from Persian, with copious footnotes), E. de Zambaur’s Manuel de Genealogie et de Chronologie pour Histoire de l’Islam, Bertold Spuler’s Die Goldene Holde, David Morgan’s The Mongols, and Eustace Phillips The Mongols (all of which have genealogical tables). I also checked several encyclopedias of Islam, where there were entries for Peter’s uncle Berke but none for Peter himself.

    POSSIBLE ADDITIONS TO THE CALENDAR

    January 2 – St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen. Details of their lives can be found, of course, in multiple sources. Gregory preached about his association with Basil: “We became everything to each other… We shared the same desires, the same goal… We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit…” (PG 36: 514-523), used as the second reading of The Liturgy of the Hours on their feast day.

    January 31 – SS. Cyrus and John. See such sources as The Roman Martyrology, Holweck’s book, etc. These martyr companions are invoked in prayers for same-sex unions, as noted in John Boswell’s Rediscovering Gay History (page 21), a small 1982 pamphlet (of a Boswell talk) from England’s Gay Christian Movement. Some references can be found in footnote 96, page 181, of Boswell’s Same-Sex Unions.

    February 4 – St. Rabanus (also spelled Rhabanus). See such sources as Butler’s four-volume Lives of the Saints, Holweck’s book, etc. Butler’s Lives states, for example, that Rabanus “was sent, with his friend Hatto, to study … under … [Blessed] Alcuin [who] was much attracted to him.” And later, “he resigned his office [as abbot of Fulda] to his friend Hatto…” (volume 1, page 250). Brian Patrick McGuire, in Friendship and Community (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1988), mentions “focuses of affection” and “alcuinian attachments” on the part of Rabanus towards others such as Grimald, Eigil, and Samuel (page 127). McGuire has published extensively on St. Aelred’s same-sex loves.

    February 21 – St. Peter Damian. Details of life in multiple sources, needless to say. A. W. Richard Sipe, in Sex, Priests, and Power (New York: Brunner-Mazel, 1995), feels that this saint may have been homosexual (page 95). If so, the man’s same-sex feelings were highly repressed, and – like many others who fall into such a category – he was very severely anti-homosexual, as demonstrated (for example) in Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. Sipe does not cite any sources for his statement about Peter Damian. Yet Sipe is accurate in naming others in previous paragraphs as being homosexual.

    May 12 – SS. Nereus and Achilleus. See Roman Martyrology and even present-day church calendars, etc. Once considered to have been eunuchs in late 6th century “acts”. Martyr companions and paired saints, like Polyeuctus/Nearchus, Sergius/Bacchus, Protus/Hyacinth, John/Cyrus.

    July 26 – St. Moses the Hungarian (brother of George the Hungarian, the lover of St. Boris of Kiev). See Simon Karlinsky’s article in Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, volume 2, pages 1133-1134. Also see his article in Gay Roots, volume 1, a reprint of his article from the periodical Gay Sunshine, no. 29/30 (Summer/Fall 1976).

    August 19 – St. Louis of Toulouse. See Roman Martyrology, Holweck’s book, etc. Noel Garde [pseudonym of Edgar Leoni], in Jonathan to Gide (Hollywood: Vantage Press, 1964; New York: Nos Books, 1969), states that Jacques Duese, who later was elected Pope John XXII, became intimate with Louis, through whose influence Duese became a bishop. If both the saint and the pope were indeed homosexual, then we seem to have here an interesting and perhaps unique case of one homosexual man canonizing another homosexual man, with whom he certainly had an intimate emotional relationship! The canonization took place only 20 years after the saint’s death and was the first of John’s pontificate in 1317 during the calendar year after his election. John later canonized only St. Thomas of Cantelupe in 1320 and St. Thomas Aquinas in 1323.

    September 21 – St. Michael of Chernigov and St. Theodore. See Butler’s Lives of the Saints (volume 3, page 611), etc. No specific source as to same-sex attachment. However, as with so many other “pairs” of saints, I wish we had more details which are simply omitted even by liberal biographers. For instance, why did the one nobleman Theodore choose to die with his duke Michael unlike the rest of his friends? What of Michael’s original cowardice? This St. Michael, by the way, is a direct ancestor of all the present ruling families of Europe.

    SOME OTHER THOUGHTS

    Somewhere perhaps there could be mentioned St. Thomas of Canterbury with regard to his close friendship with King Henry II of England.

    St. Jerome also had a close association with another man, named Heliodorus. See Letter XIV in Select Letters of St. Jerome (Cambridge: Harvard Press, 1963).

    Also possibly mentioned: St. Tarsicius, a boy saint (who may have died in a soldier’s embrace), honored especially by English homosexual men, often converts to Catholicism, around the late 1800’s. See especially the poem Tarcissus (sic) by Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo.

    The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence “canonized” the gay British film maker Derek Jarman before he died from AIDS in 1994, in their quest to “expiate all stigmatic guilt and promulgate universal joy.” The canonization is briefly covered in a 15-minute film, 21st Century Nuns. Jarman himself directed Sebastiane, in Latin with English subtitles, about St. Sebastian, and also The Garden, about two male lovers who like Christ are taunted, arrested, tortured, and crucified for their beliefs.

    Reply

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