Some studies suggest that as many as 58% of our Catholic priest are gay – but it’s difficult to know for certain. The difficulty stems from an atmosphere of “silence and shame” which I speak about in my book; “Hidden Voices, Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest.” This atmosphere is created by a hierarchy that has consistently fired gay employees and some priests. In addition, the hierarchy teaches that homosexuality is intrinsically evil, disordered, defective, or diseased. All this creates an atmosphere that keeps gay priests in the closet. To come out as a gay priest means you must be willing to risk everything - income, housing, health and retirement benefits, just to name a few.
At the same time in our church, over 70% of Catholics support LGBTQ equality! That’s incredible! Over 70% - of those in the pews – support LGBTQ equality! The people in the ‘pews’ are doing what those in the ‘pulpit’ have not been willing to do. They are supporting and affirming the equality of all people regardless of who they love.
Imagine for a moment what the Catholic church might look like if 70% of the congregation visibly expressed their support of the LGBT community. Imagine the atmosphere of love and support this would create for LGBT individuals and their families.
The fact is – we need visible faith allies! The more visible they become - the more we can change the current atmosphere of ‘silence and shame’ into an atmosphere of love and acceptance.
I have spent a lot of energy over the years promoting visible faith allies. For example, I have handed out “Faith Ally” stickers and buttons during Pride weekends for the past several years.
In addition, I have photographed hundreds of people holding signs that read, “I Believe in the dignity and equality of all people regardless of who they love.” These efforts and more have been made visible through a 501c3 nonprofit organization named Rising Voices.
Finally, over a year ago, I began corresponding with Barbra and Jerry from Illinois. Our communications resulted in what Barbra and Jerry call the “4th Day Initiative” which seeks to promote visible faith allies by encouraging church goers to wear white strips to mass which are symbolic of the burial linens that Lazarus was wearing when Jesus tells the community to “Unbind him and let him go.” (John 11:1-14)
Here’s an adaptation and summary of what they wrote: The church has many faith allies and perhaps they get their inspiration in the biblical account of the raising of Lazarus, found in the Gospel according to St. John 11:1-44. According to the story, Jesus begins his miracle by turning to those mourning the death of Lazarus, and telling them, “Take away the stone.” When Lazarus rises from the dead at Jesus’ command and comes out of the cave still bound in his burial linens, Jesus again turns to the mourners and bids them, “Unbind him and let him go.”
Lazarus, beloved friend of Jesus and brother of Mary and Martha, represents every one of our gay clergy, trapped and bound by denial and concealment.
The central action of wearing white strips declares the readiness of people in the pews to support our gay clergy and church employees in their emergence from the tomb of hollow holiness.
The mourners in the Lazarus story stand in for Catholics in the pews who experience turmoil, grief and anger in response to the rejection, devaluing, shaming, bullying and firing of gay clergy and personnel. These mourners include gay priests’ parents, brothers and sisters, friends, parishioners, brother priests, co-workers and allies from the broader community.
The wearing of white strips of material is a powerful visual statement of solidarity with their priests and church employees. This public witness, expressing acknowledgement, respect, support and gratitude for our gay clergy and their ministry among us, will be a powerful gift to them.
The white strips of material will assure gay personnel that the wearers have taken the first step, following Jesus’ directive to take away the stone, and also stand ready to unbind them and let them go, when gay priests and others feel ready to come out and step into a new life.
To put it simply – we need visible faith allies!