Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Priests, Queers, and Bridges

Last week, as I stewed in a sticky, stinking, sad hospital bed at St. Vincent's Hospital, a priest appeared and broke through my morphine haze.

"Would you like to receive the sacraments of communion or healing?" the priest asked.

"No honey, I'm gay."

"I can still offer you an anointment for healing."

"No, thanks."

"I will keep your health and recovery in my prayers," he said, pityingly, then checked a box on his clipboard and retreated to the nurses' station.

A few moments later I began to bawl uncontrollably.  Alone, afraid, and abject, to me it seemed the massive weight of history had descended on our simple exchange, fixing in antagonism the words of two otherwise gentle, loving people.  In Greenwich Village, on the isle of Manhattan, in the heart of one of the most sophisticated cities on the planet, could we not overcome a few silly obstacles and get to the seriously important business of human compassion?

Of course I'm melodramatic.  The priest probably deals with a variety of more hostile responses, every day.  No doubt he has also held and comforted any number of queer people at the hospital.  My hospital stay, while terrible in many ways, was not a brush with death.  The titans of modern sexual philosophy did not clash in that little beige room on the 15th floor.

Yet I suspect that the devil is in the details, in the quiet moments when people are just living their lives and doing their jobs.  I doubt the priest has any problem at all with queers--in fact he may well be one--and I imagine he felt called to the priesthood at least in part because he enjoys helping others.  I certainly have no problem with taking comfort in centuries-old religious rituals, regardless of my otherwise agnostic views.

Getting ready for work this morning, I listened to another story on NPR about the embattled Pope and the ever-inflating Roman Catholic child molestation scandals.  Without minimizing the suffering of the abuse victims, I must say that I tire of the church bashing.  The perpetrators of such crimes and the willing accomplices who protected the guilty should be brought to justice.  Then, I sincerely hope, the Catholic church--and all churches--can turn their energy toward finding a way to bridge the everyday gap between those who want to help and those who need it, regardless of where our hearts find love.

We are so much more alike than different.