I first became acquainted with the Catholic parish of Most Holy Redeemer (MHR), located in the predominantly “gay” neighborhood of the Castro in San Francisco, during the late-1980s, when I attended the funeral of a friend who died of AIDS. As far as I knew, he was a lapsed non-practicing Catholic and hadn’t stepped inside of a church for many years. Like many of us, he wasn’t from San Francisco, but fled there in his youth, looking for a place of refuge. There were few family members at the services to say goodbye. In those days, the mere fact that the priest at Most Holy Redeemer wanted to give this forsaken man some dignity was a great testament to the enduring mystery of charity and mercy.
Years later, well into the 1990s, I was invited to a marriage “blessing” of a same-sex male couple at MHR. By then, I had almost completely disregarded Catholicism as hopelessly conflicted and wildly inconsistent; for the most part, I thought that they officially taught one thing (about homosexuality) and then allowed something quite different in these little rebellious parishes. What was the real Catholic Church? I was beginning not to care.
Yet, at that time, a few of my friends and I were busily reading John Boswell’s enormously popular “Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe.” While some of the younger and endlessly hopeful guys touted that the Church was changing on this issue, I didn’t want to sit around for hundreds of years waiting for that to happen. However, this stubborn attitude was also okay with the middle-aged and older men at MHR that wanted to maintain some connection with the religion of their childhood, but I had no such nostalgia as I had grown up in the era of the swinging hippie-Jesus who wanted me to follow my own conscience. And, so I did. I knew what was right and what was wrong – for me; and I didn’t need some old men in Rome telling me how to live my life.
However, one day, after partaking in an especially gruesome sex act, I felt an inexplicable need to “confess” it. A priest at MHR told me to settle down with one person. But he assured me that I was in the right place (the Castro) – because, after all, I was born gay. I thought to myself: I knew all that. Afterwards, I felt curiously cheated and didn’t walk into another confessional until the end of the decade. What the priest told me, I had already heard a few times from a couple of my more cautious and discriminating “gay” friends. But, what I think I subconsciously wanted to hear from the priest was that my life I had gone out of control, that I wasn’t “gay,” and that I wasn’t where I needed to be. Although, inside, I was fighting against homosexuality, against my “gay” identity, this incident locked those things into place. Because, now, I felt like I had nowhere else to go. This was my lot in life, and, like the priest advised me, I better make the best of it. I thought less of Catholicism, and Christianity, at that point.
After burying too many young men, after too many nameless encounters with faceless strangers, after spending years trying to write my own rulebook – to only tear it up and start over every other day, after trying “gay” monogamy, again and again, and after nearing death, in 1999, I left San Francisco, and homosexuality, for good.
Over the years, I lost touch with MHR and I hadn’t thought about the parish in a long time until I noticed an article in The New York Times (4/28/02) about MHR and Patrick Mulcahey; the reporter mentioned that Mulcahey served as vice president of the MHR Parish Council; a position he would hold until 2008. Mulcahey? I remembered he was a well-known figure in the world of gay bondage and discipline and a frequent lecturer at S&M events. Since leaving the “gay” world, I had found a rather small and insular safe-space of conservative Orthodox Catholicism centering around the Latin Mass, and perhaps naively, I hoped things had changed at MHR. Apparently, they hadn’t. But MHR has a long history of radical gay-affirmation and although Mulcahey no longer serves on the parish council, he has been replaced by other “gay” men who are perhaps less controversial.
Case in point: Kevin Fisher-Paulson is a current member of the Parish Pastoral Council; according to a story posted on the New Ways Ministry web-site “Bondings 2.0,” Paulson “married” his male partner in 2008 and has two adopted sons. Of “gay marriage” and MHR, he said: “Professor John Boswell argued that 1,000 years ago, the unchanging Catholic Church recognized same-sex marriage, and I suspect some day it will again. In the meantime, my husband and I attend Most Holy Redeemer, that gay-friendly church in the Castro, so the rest of the Church can see how many people are affected by our marriage.”
On June 26, 2015, the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision in the Supreme Court, which legalized “gay marriage” in all 50 States, Paulson posted to his Twitter account this message:
“Married at last! Married at last! Thank God almighty I’m married at last.”
In a book he wrote entitled “A Song for Lost Angels: How Daddy and Papa Fought to Save Their Family,” wherein he explores the question: “What makes a family?” Paulson also said this about first attending Most Holy Redeemer:
“…we walked into Most Holy Redeemer Church, in the Castro District. It had a big banner over the entrance that read ‘God’s INCLUSIVE Love,’ and pictures of the parish serving meals to the homeless, and working with persons with AIDS, and even marching in the Gay Pride Parade…We got knee-deep in the parish, baking pies for the Wednesday night supper for the homeless and singing with the choir on Sundays. The great thing about Most Holy Redeemer was that no one put much emphasis on faith.”
Current “Parish Manager” Michael Poma is a “gay” partnered man. According to his LinkedIn page, Poma has been “Parish Manger” since 2012. Furthermore, according to his Facebook “Life Events” section, in 2014, Poma is “In a Relationship” with another male. An active member of Facebook, Poma often congratulates same-sex couples on their relationships and their marriages, as well as posting remarks on the appearance of various shirtless men. To a newly married Facebook “Friend,” who announced his same-sex nuptials, Poma wrote: “Love Wins! Congratulations!” Later, commenting on the nearly-naked picture of a jock-strap wearing male model (also one of Poma’s Facebook “Friends”), Poma wrote: “Wow! Hubba Hubba!” In the photograph, the young man was in the midst of doing a video-shoot for TIMGEAR which is owned by the gay pornographic film company Treasure Island Media. Treasure Island specializes in bareback films with probably their most controversial feature being a movie in which a crucifix is inserted into the rectum of a man.
The same year (2012) Poma started at MHR, also saw the arrival of a new Pastor, Fr. Brian Costello, after two highly gay-affirmative priests, Fr. Anthony McGuire and Fr. Zachary Shore, held the Pastorship of the parish for most of the 1980s and into the -00s. In his authoritative history of Most Holy Redeemer, Donal Godfrey SJ, who is also involved with parish’s “Young Adults of Most Holy Redeemer,” wrote this about McGuire and Shore:
“Shore’s laissez-faire management style allowed parishioners to take certain initiatives McGuire might have stalled…There were times when McGuire judged the time was wrong for some gesture his gay parishioners wanted to make – the incident of the lector announcing a gay couple’s anniversary, for instance. McGuire felt the time was not yet right for such public acknowledgements of gay relationships, even though they were de facto acknowledged by him and everyone else in the parish. Under Shore as pastor, however, gay partnerships were almost routinely acknowledged. The entire congregation applauded when among the announcements before mass on Sunday was congratulations on the thirtieth anniversary of Ken Dunphy and his partner Richard. I doubt Shore was responsible for the announcement, but he didn’t object to it. Father Shore did not compel: he allowed.”
According to Godfrey, in 2000, Shore spoke out publicly, reading a statement from the pulpit, against “The Knight Initiative,” which defined marriage between a man and woman in the State of California. Although a major contention for Shore was also that the California Catholic Conference had donated money to pass the initiative. Again, from Godfrey’s book: “When Father Shore read from the pulpit his anguished letter to the Archbishop protesting the gift of money to such a cause, he was met with the most thunderous ovation in memory…”
During an interview from 2015, Godfrey said:
“As a church we need to accept that family goes beyond traditional lines. I don’t expect the teachings to jump to acceptance in one day, it will take decades. In the meantime we need to accept people pastorally as they are and where they are. For now, this would be sufficient. Later the teachings will catch up and evolve.”
Soon after arriving at Most Holy Redeemer, Fr. Costello was embroiled in his first public controversy, when he requested that drag performances, which the previous pastors allowed, no longer take place in the parish hall. According to news reports, at the time, Poma asked Costello to reconsider; in an interview, about the incident, Poma said: “I told him, this is just dinner. It’s not a strip show…I told him it was going to be a powder keg.” He continued: “We have to give [Costello] a break…He’s got a boss, you know. And he’s never been immersed in gay culture in his life. He’s learning.”
In 2013, another incident took place following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI from the Papacy; according to Fr. Costello:
“Two weeks ago, after Pope Benedict XVI had announced to the world that he would be resigning the office of Peter as of February 28th, I put the Pope’s picture, that usually hangs in the rectory, in the church. A handful of people told me that they would rather it not be there. They explained that the feeling was while he was Pope, as well as his time as a Cardinal, Pope Benedict had made hurtful and hateful statements regarding the LGBT Community and thus, his picture should not be placed on the altar of MHR. I was also warned, many parishioners would walk out of Sunday Mass if the picture was not removed. I spoke with a close priest friend of mine, and even though both of us were saddened by this, the wisest course, I felt, was to remove the Pope’s picture…..”
The only possible “hateful statements” those at MHR could be referring to is the inclusion of the term “intrinsically disordered” in the 1986 “Letter to the Catholic Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals.” In gay-affirmative Catholic ministries and parishes, the term “disordered” remains particularly contentious. From the February 2012 issue of “The New Wine Press,” the official Newsletter published by The Missionaries of the Precious Blood, in an article titled “A Place at the Table: Just Say the Words” by David Matz, C.PP.S., Matz wrote:
“Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered. You can’t believe how powerful a message is sent when people just say these words. In just speaking these words we validate these persons’ realities and the one who hears these words who is LGBT validates their inner most being.”
Following on this celebration of self-identification as “gay,” which in their words, will validate “their inner most being,” Matz continues:
“In ‘saying the words,’ we begin the journey of faith and healing – from stereotypes and prejudices to welcoming and hospitality. We begin the journey from being ‘objectively disordered’ to created in the image of God.”
In a September 1, 2016 Facebook post, MHR stated the following:
Our congregation is 65 – 75% LGBTQ. Many of our parishioners are married to their same-sex partners and have adopted children which are baptized at our parish. BTW, none of the parishioners feel that we are “intrinsically disordered” and we have told that to the Archbishop.
In 2014, Costello requested a transfer. Concerning his departure, he said: “It just didn’t work out. I did the best I could. My best was just not good enough for a lot of people here. There are real challenges here…”
Subsequently, Fr. Jack McClure and Fr. Matthew Link C.PP.S. were brought in from the highly gay-affirmative Missionaries of the Precious Blood. The Missionaries, according to their web-page for the Kansas City Province, one of their main apostolates is to the LGBT community. It states: “We bring a radical love to the world through service that affirms LGBT people and works for changes in institutions that cause oppression.”
The Missionaries have also praised dissident Jesuit priest John J. McNeill:
Through the lenses of scriptural interpretation and psychological insight, McNeill argues that, in justice, the Church needs to abandon its traditional opposition to committed, sexually active lesbian or gay relationships. He proposes, “The same moral norms should be applied in judging the sexual behavior of a true homosexual as we ordinarily apply to heterosexual activity.”
In his writings, McNeill expounded the most scurrilous of theories, including what he interpreted as the miraculous healing of the Centurion’s “gay” lover by Christ, that Mary Magdalene and Martha were actually lesbians and that Lazarus was a “gay” man; and, finally that Christ Himself and the Apostle John were lovers: “Any one of you who have a gay sensibility will be keenly aware of the special nature of the relationship of love that reunites Jesus and John.”
In McNeill’s “Sex as God Intended”, the epilogue heavily criticized the Vatican “Instruction” barring openly “gay” men from the priesthood, but McNeill also used the opportunity to blast the entire Catholic teaching on homosexuality:
The Instruction is so out of touch with reality that it is obvious that the authors consulted only so-called experts who agreed with its dogmatic premises that homosexual orientation is an orientation to evil. By limiting themselves to such prejudiced consultants the Vatican cut itself off from the reality of gay life. Every major psychological association has concluded from empirical evidence that homosexuality as such does not imply psychological disorder. The Vatican has an important role in the human search for truth, but it certainly does not have the right to invent the truth concerning homosexuality. The Vatican is right, I believe, in claiming that we are dealing with an “objective disorder”. But that objective disorder has nothing to do with homosexuality but with the Vatican itself.
Eventually McNeill left the priesthood and married his same-sex lover. Later, McNeill said “I always knew I was gay. I tried to be closeted, but that didn’t succeed…The message is that God loves gay lovers and approves of them.” McNeill died in 2015 at age 90.
Despite the questionable theories extolled by The Missionaries of the Precious Blood, they were handed over control of MHR. And early on, McClure made his intentions well-known, when he stated: “We didn’t come here to change anybody.” McClure, after he stepped down as Pastor and became parochial vicar, was sanctioned in 2015 when he showed up at a women’s ordination conference.
In October of 2015, Donal Godfrey headed a retreat for the “Young Adults of Most Holy Redeemer.” In his book “Gays and Grays: The Story of the Gay Community at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church:” Godfrey wrote:
“If God must become Asian or African, then God is also in some sense queer…Is it less appropriate for gays to imagine Jesus as gay than for African Christians to picture him as black, Asian Christians as Asian?”
At a recent “Young Adults of Most Holy Redeemer” Halloween party, held at the parish hall, a young man in high-heels, fishnet stockings, and a feather-boa was pictured overseeing the festivities.
A participant in the “Young Adults of Most Holy Redeemer” is Ish Ruiz, a Religious Studies Instructor at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco. According to his profile at the dissident group “Call to Action:”
Ruiz has offered workshops to high school faculty and staff on the care for LGBTQ+ students in Catholic schools and is a member of the Marianist LGBT Initiative Team, which published a resource titled Addressing LGBT Issues with Youth: A Resource for Educators. He is also a leading member of the Young Adults group at Most Holy Redeemer parish in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, which is known for its integration of LGBTQ+ Catholics into the life of the Church.
In 2006, the Prefect for the Congregation for Bishops, Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re, wrote to then Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz concerning Call to Action, stating: “…to be a member of this association or to support it is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith.”
Regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage, Ruiz wrote:
“The Church has always taught that the Holy Spirit speaks through the laity as well as the hierarchy. I hope the decision from the Supreme court, combined with polls that show that the majority of Catholics support same-sex marriage, encourages the hierarchy to be more in touch with the people, the sense of the faithful.”
Unfortunately, the problems at MHR goes beyond the presence of grossly confused clerics and lay leaders with complicated and incompatible personal lives who often make statements that are clearly in opposition to Church teaching, but also includes a pervasive and stubborn entrenched disregard for Catholic teachings on homosexuality.
Just this past year (2016), MHR hosted two highly problematic speakers:
In February, the Rev. Vincent Pizzuto, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies at the University of San Francisco, Godfrey’s employer, and Episcopal priest, spoke at MHR. Pizzutto once said, incidentally at MHR:
“On this at least (homosexuality) the teaching authority of the Church is given no credence by so many gay men and lesbians because it does not demonstrate its own credibility. To the contrary, its teachings on homosexuality are so disengaged from reality as to render them utterly ridiculous.”
He has also written that:
We must, therefore, never allow any Church teaching to reduce gay relationships to matters of sexuality apart from the context of love. It is not sex, but love that most centrally defines the Christian homosexual union.
In October, Fr. Tony Ryan spoke at MHR. Fr. Ryan has also been explicit about his questioning of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality as well as giving support for “gay” marriage. Ryan is a member of The Paulist Fathers, a religious order that has a prodigious track-record for dissidence on the issue of homosexuality. Centered at their parish in New York City, Saint Paul the Apostle, The Paulist Fathers showcase their “gay” pastoral approach with the LGBT ministry “Out at St Paul.” A recent Out at St Paul Facebook post asked readers to name their “favorite queer saint.” In 2015, Out at St Paul released the short documentary film “Owning Our Faith.” The film features interviews with several men and women who disagree with various aspects of the Church’s teachings on homosexuality; they include: a self-professed Catholic lesbian, a “married” gay male couple, and a transsexual.
Some quotes from “Owning Our Faith:”
“If we leave it, if we abandon the Church then it’s never going to change.”
“I think what’s interesting is that the Catholic Church probably thinks that it is accepting of gay people, because its message is ‘gay people exist and we should love them and not discriminate against them. But because the Church also tells gay people essentially that they need to be celibate, what the Church is saying is ‘you cannot live fully. You can be gay but you can’t live that life.’ And so that inherently is discriminatory.”
MHR repeatedly recommended the film.
A prodigious blogger, Ryan has often commented on the Church and homosexuality:
Seems my church is becoming more pastoral and accepting of gay and lesbian people without giving “scandal” by saying it approves…A lot more damage is done by selfish, greedy moneymakers than by two people living together who are of the same sexual inclination.
He also added:
The Catholic hierarchy thinks that gay sex is wrong. This is where the stand against gay marriage begins.
Ryan is also not enthusiastic about the chastity option for those with same-sex attraction; he writes of a “gay” man who settled down with a same-sex partner:
…isn’t someone who cannot have a partner, a lifelong love, left with loneliness as the option? I quote one gay person that might make you think. He said, “I believed that aloneness was my nature as a gay person.” Then he met someone. It brought him out of isolation. He said, “By giving my heart to one, I could give my heart to others.” His relationship helped him become a more loving person to the larger world.
Much of what Ryan extolls was also previously expounded by various parishioners at MHR and by a correspondent from “The National Catholic Reporter,” who profiled the parish in a series of articles. Here are two excerpts eerily similar to Ryan:
The institutional church professes that all expressions of sexual intimacy must be limited to marriage and must always be open to procreation. These teachings eliminate gays and lesbians from having any licit intimate relations. The Catholic hierarchy has routinely rebuffed efforts by Catholic theologians to introduce a more pastoral moral theology.
When applied to religious or clerical life, the virtue of chastity is viewed as a gift given to a relative few — those who enter religious communities or become priests. When applied to LGBT people, there is no talk about chastity as a ‘gift.’ Rather, the institutional church teaches, it is a demand, an obligation, across the board, for all. LGBT people, the church teaches, must refrain from all sexual intimacy. This seemingly impossible demand and concomitant threat of serious sin has sent countless young LGBT Catholics into confusion and self-loathing and even to suicide.
In other words, it is the hierarchy, or the largely irrelevant bureaucracy of the Church, which prohibits same-sex activity and unions – not God. For this reason, the vitriol against Pope Benedict, as witnessed in the incident involving Fr. Costello, suddenly makes complete sense. But, more importantly, this mentality sets up a situation in which a single parish becomes a Church within itself.
The church which MHR built has influenced other gay-affirmative ministries and LGBT parishes. In 2009, Fr. Jon Pedigo of the Diocese of San Jose sought assistance in order to better serve a growing number of “gay” Catholics at his own parish so, according to a news report: “he decided to consult the established gay Catholic community at the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in San Francisco’s Castro District.” In a 2015 homily, Pedigo said:
When I hear from the people from the LGBT Catholic community I am struck by their faith and resilience. They believe that there is no such thing as a “disorder” in their lives. They do not see any “grave evil” in their love. In fact, if there is any “disorder” it is the disorder of the lack of self-acceptance. The LGBT Catholic community has a story to tell and their story affirms for us what we should experience within our own lives: that God made us and what God made is good.
While my initial memories of MHR will always include the great compassion shown to a now largely forgotten friend who died too young of AIDS, I will also remember a pastoral approach that was subtly patronizing and unfairly judged male homosexuals who, at best, could only be expected to couple-up with another “gay” man. The actual Truth of what the Catholic Church taught, they either ignored or just completely neglected to share with me. Either way – they did not let me make the decision for myself. They made it for me. In order to finally discover the Truth, I had to leave the Castro and MHR.
Only, after leaving San Francisco, my own journey towards the Truth was not an easy one. Repeatedly, I met misguided, albeit outwardly kind, priests who didn’t feel that my homosexuality was the problem, but in how I went about expressing, or integrating, that sexuality into my life and spirituality. Again, they thought it best that I find a single partner. Instinctively, I knew they were wrong about one thing, settling down with a guy, but I was also increasingly convinced that I was indeed simply born this way. For a while, I avoided the Church and stayed home with The Bible and “The Catechism.”
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my increasingly wayward path crossed with that of brave, and what I initially perceived as an overly blunt, Catholic priest who nonetheless recognized me as a struggling lost soul. Somehow, I knew that he was going to tell me the Truth. And, I started going to Confession with him.
Although I was chaste, I was still dealing with a persistent sense of longing for the acceptance and camaraderie which I always found extremely plentiful in my old life. He cautioned me about an attachment to thoughts, places, and above all people connected with homosexuality. But, I told him that I believed God made me “gay,” that I did not choose, nor could I change my orientation. He inexplicably asked me what version of “The Catechism” I had been reading. I didn’t know. “Does it matter?” He said: “It mattered.”
He explained to me that a rather significant modification in both wording and meaning occurred between the First and Second Editions of “The Catechism,” as evidenced in the change between these two sentences:
First Edition: “[Homosexual persons] do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial.”
Second Edition: “This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.”
In less than an hour, Father explained to me why there was such a vast difference between these two statements. He took the time to do this, because he wanted me to know the Truth. He thought I deserved that much. In a sense, he did accompany me on this short journey, for the three short paragraphs in “The Catechism” dealing with homosexuality are specific: of course homosexual activity goes against natural law and is therefore disordered – the activity must stop; the inclination, or the orientation itself, is also disordered – therefore God did not make us this way, He did not make us disordered; lastly, God gave us His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and by uniting our cross with His, we can approach Christian perfection; Christ died that we may achieve inner freedom; He assuredly did not sacrifice His life so we could be born, and we could die as “gay” men.
MHR is a cradle to the grave “gay” Catholic parish. While they fully embrace the born gay and God made me gay narrative, they subsequently must reject definitive teachings in “The Catechism” that explicitly state that the homosexual inclination is disordered. Because, although they deceive themselves and others, they are honest enough to realize that only a hate-filled and vengeful god would purposefully create someone disordered. Therefore, they must throw out “The Catechism” – and the Truth along with it. In its stead, they have created their own theology. But at what cost?
While I understand that my accompaniment by a courageous and forthright priest was perhaps not as protracted as what others may require, but at what point does accompaniment become facilitating? I realize now that the situation of my life, and the desperation I experienced, somewhat opened my heart to hearing, and accepting the Truth. Others have possibly become comfortable in old modes of thinking, in relationships, now codified into law, made more complex with the addition of children, and they feel no such need to change or to consider a different way of seeing themselves. In these circumstances, where many have become dug-in, is it advisable to even slightly give the impression that continued disobedience is a good thing?
Lastly, many “gay” affirmative parishes and “ministries” have a sincere interest in social justice, for instance MHR regularly feeds the homeless and the hungry in San Francisco; and these selfless acts have rightly drawn the admiration of local priests and the Bishop. While I believe that charity indeed covers a multitude of sins, it however cannot excuse a deliberate denial and overt manipulation of the Truth.
In February, the LGBT committee of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood offered a daylong workshop on LGBT issues headed by Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry. After a lengthy Vatican investigation, in 1999, the following “Notification” was published; not only is this an indictment against Gramick, as well as her co-founder of New Ways Ministry Robert Nugent, who passed away in 2014, but a dire admonition to those who wish to confuse and deceive those Catholics with same-sex attraction:
Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have often stated that they seek, in keeping with the Church’s teaching, to treat homosexual persons “with respect, compassion and sensitivity”. However, the promotion of errors and ambiguities is not consistent with a Christian attitude of true respect and compassion: persons who are struggling with homosexuality no less than any others have the right to receive the authentic teaching of the Church from those who minister to them. The ambiguities and errors of the approach of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the Church. For these reasons, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS, are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons…