New York’s gay Irish keep mass attendance alive
Dignity group seeks to fill spiritual need for Catholics
The legalization of gay marriage in New York last June reignited the age-old struggle between faith and sexuality in the Catholic community. While figureheads such as Archbishop Timothy Dolan promote an increasingly conservative outlook on homosexuality in Catholicism, a small group of mostly Irish-American Catholics continues to provide a weekly place of worship for all, regardless of sexual orientation.
“We are Catholics in exile,“ joked Brendan Fay, 50, an active member of the organization Dignity, a Catholic non-profit organization for homosexual and trans-gender persons.
“Most people are surprised that LGBT people care about being Catholic at all,” said Fay, “probably because Irish-American Catholics often get stereotyped as conservative.”
Each Sunday evening, roughly 100 Dignity members transform the Episcopal Church St John in Greenwich Village into an unusual Catholic sanctuary.
Eight openly gay priests volunteer to rotate through Dignity’s weekly mass, and once every month or so, a female pastor delivers the sermon. Last Sunday, a congregation of 60 joined the Rev. Jim Morris, an Irish-American priest, in singing the inaugural hymn “Halleluja”.
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Dignity priests sanctioned same-sex marriages even before the Marriage Equality Act was passed. Fay met his spouse at a Dignity service, and a Dignity priest officiated their March 2008 wedding.
Dignity New York, one of the organizations 50 chapters, was established in 1972 by John MacNeill, an Irish-American Jesuit priest. MacNeill’s book “The Church and the Homosexual” is still considered ‘the bible’ on religion and sexuality. MacNeill, now 86, said that several passages in the Gospels contradict traditional anti-homosexual interpretations of the Roman Catholic Church.
“I think it’s very clear in the scripture that the Church should open its doors to all that are sexually different. Certain Biblical passages are ignored by the Vatican,” said MacNeill in a recent phone interview. “I believe that the Holy Spirit is leading the hierarchy into homophobia in order to ruin their reputation”.
“I feel sorry for the hierarchy,” added MacNeill. “The Catholic faithful do not pay attention to them anymore. I’ve read in several places that 80 percent of Catholics support gay marriage.”
In 2005, the Vatican reaffirmed their position on homosexuality, publishing in a report that the sacred scripture presents homosexuals as “grave sinners.”
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