Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Father Geoff is My Hero

Not many (any?) priests are willing to stand up and speak out against Roman Catholic Church policy in public. The Church is not a democracy but an authoritarian institution ruled from the top (currently Pope Benendict XVI) on down. But Father Geoff stood up in his pulpit at St. Paul Newman Center in Fresno, California, on Oct. 5 and told his parishioners that the California Bishops' support of Proposition 8, a state ballot measure that would make it unconstitutional for gays to marry, was morally wrong. And, he added in an interview with local media, I'm a gay man.

In his Sunday homily, Father Geoff said the hierarchy's instruction to vote yes on Proposition 8
has placed me in a moral predicament...At what point do you cease to be an agent for healing and growth and become an accomplice of injustice?...The statement made by the bishops reaffirms the feelings of exclusion and alienation that are suffered by individuals and their loved ones who have left the church over this very issue...How exactly is society helped by singling out a minority and excluding them from the union of love and life, which is marriage?...This ‘theology,’ which is parroted by clerics in polished tones from pulpits, produces the very prejudice and hatred in our society which they claim to abhor.
"How is marriage protected by intimidating gay and lesbian people into loveless and lonely lives?" he asked his listeners. "I am morally compelled to vote no on Proposition 8." He ended his sermon by telling the congregation: "I know these words of truth will cost me dearly. But to withhold them...I would become an accomplice to a moral evil that strips gay and lesbian people not only of their civil rights but of their human dignity as well."

Five days later he received a letter from Fresno Bishop John T. Steinbock firing him as pastor for the center which primarily serves students and faculty at Cal State Fresno. "Your statement contradicted the teaching of the Catholic Church," the bishop wrote Father Geoff, "and has brought scandal to your parish community as well as the whole Church."

Father Geoff told the Los Angeles Times that he became a priest 23 years ago, working in parishes in Visalia, Merced, Bakersfield and the nearby town of Arvin. He also served as a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve at Edwards Air Force Base near Palmdale in the early 1990s. In an interview with LA Times columnist Steve Lopez, the 50-year-old priest, who had lived in Cuba until the age of 4 and grew up Catholic in Florida, said that he knew as a teenager he was gay. He dated girls "to keep up appearances" but was miserable about it, and he began questioning his faith. When his family moved from Florida to Redondo Beach in the 1970s, Farrow, still in the closet, joined St. John's Seminary in Camarillo where he prayed to God to "please make me normal, please make me normal." Asked by Lopez why he stayed in the Church, Father Geoff said, "I'm not happy with the current administration, but I haven't shredded my passport."

I've come late to this issue, since I no longer live in California. But my attention was caught by the story I saw on Google News about Father Geoff's heroic defiance of Church authority . Since then I've learned that polls show the vote will be close. More money, over $60 million, has been raised and spent on both sides than for any other ballot proposition in America this election season. The biggest donor is the Catholic fraternal order, Knights of Columbus. And they're definitely in favor of making it impossible for gays to marry. There is some question of whether the constitutional amendment can be applied retroactively, which means that the many same-sex marriages already celebrated in California since last spring will remain legal even if Prop 8 passes. Good old liberal Attorney General Jerry Brown got the proposition titled "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry," which upset the hell out of the religious fundamentalists who wanted it called the "California Marriage Protection Act."

Besides the Catholics, the Mormons, a gaggle of fundamentalist denominations and some orthodox Jews, Prop 8 is supported by John McCain. Opponents include Obama and Biden, both California senators, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, several liberal Jewish organizations and all six Episcopal bishops, not to mention Gov. Schwarzenegger. All of the state's major newspapers have editorialized for a no vote. The latest poll I saw has 52% against, 44% in favor of the measure, with 4% undecided.

In his interview with Father Geoff, Lopez mentioned those who quote the Bible to condemn homosexuality and gay marriage. "The Bible is not a book, it's a library written over 15 centuries," the priest told him, suggesting that Christianity has and should continue to evolve. "People who approach scripture in a literal fashion are attempting to manipulate God himself."

It's the Grand Inquisitor all over again, murdering Jesus to preserve the institutional church.

For more from Father Geoff, take a look at his web site.

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