From a recent article which appeared in “Catholic San Francisco” about Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish in the Castro:
“We didn’t come here to change anybody,” said Father McClure who sat with Father Link near the parish’s memorial fountain where the founders of the parish’s 30-year-old AIDS Support Group ministry are honored, including ninth pastor Father Anthony McGuire. Behind them on a stone wall are the words of Corinthians 1: 13:13: “But now faith, hope, and love remain – of these three, the greatest of these is love.”
Yet, as someone who lived through the horror of the AIDS epidemics of the 1980s and 90s, things are clearly not well in the Castro; and, to you Fr. McClure, they clearly need to change. A bit about myself: I dropped into San Francisco as a rather naive and impressionable young man in 1988; death was literally everywhere, but I had grown up tortured, teased, and alienated and I knew that I belonged in the gay community; there – I thought I would find comfort and understanding. What I did find were hundreds of older gay men willing to be a surrogate father, willing to take me home and have sex with me, but not very willing to offer anything else. At first, that was enough, and I thought I was happy. Suddenly, all of my friends, who were essentially doing the same things as I, began to die. A few were buried out of Most Holy Redeemer. But, despite the pointless suffering and agonizing deaths of those I loved, I never once wavered in my allegiance to the gay experiment; after all, I had nowhere else to go. As many of us who made the trek to San Francisco, oftentimes from other parts of the country and the world, we had given up much: said goodbye to our often disapproving families, left our childhood homes behind, and made our way to the West Coast in the hope of discovering comradery and peace. Even with the threat of AIDS constantly lurking as an everyday reality; we were prepared to give everything up. It was a leap of faith, but also an act of desperation. Growing up Catholic, I never once, during the 12 years I spent in parochial school heard the word gay or homosexual – though, on the playground, I often heard the word “fag” shouted right at me. For the most part, the silence from Catholicism I took, not as a condemnation, but that the Church didn’t really care about me; that I wasn’t important enough to even mention; that I didn’t belong.
In San Francisco, we came searching for a new family and a new home. For myself, it seemed to work for a while; then, I could no longer tolerate the endless and meaningless hook-ups, the sense of emptiness that never went away, and the mindless plague that was all around me. I started to think that something needed to change. Then, for some strange reason, I went to talk to a Catholic priest; I knew little about him, but I quickly surmised that he found nothing that was objectionable in the gay lifestyle. He told me to me to stay put, that I was who I was, and to try to settle down with one guy. In hindsight, he could have been sending me back to my death, but I never contracted HIV and I survived. For a while, I earnestly tried to avoid the one-sided relationships I had been repeatedly trapped in, but I found it difficult as the first question from everyone I met was usually: “…are you a top or a bottom?” Sex was compulsory; I think immediately think of something said by one of the characters in Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking novel “Faggots” when he stated it crudely, but perfectly: “…why do faggots have to f**k so f**king much?!…it’s as if we have nothing else to do.” That was the nightmare I couldn’t get out of. The more I reached out, the more self-centered and desperate I became; those I met could do little to help as they were similarly stuck in a cycle of co-dependency and eventual loneliness. At one point, I needed someone so badly, someone who I perceived as stable, that I entered into a relationship with caring, but HIV+ older man. I was still willing to risk it all.
Eventually, I burned out from my repeated attempts at happiness; with many of my friends dead – my family scooped up my body and brought me home. Instinctively, I knew that everything from that point onward would be different. Figuring that I had nothing to lose, I went back to the Church: I received absolution and reassurance that I was making the right decision from a kindly and humble priest. Yet, right away, I wondered what future there was for me – after all, I am gay; Aren’t I? Where am I to go? What am I to do? I felt lost, as I belonged nowhere. Then, one night, while looking for any ray of hope – I scanned the internet and found out about Courage. I attended my first meeting in San Francisco, a city that I didn’t want to return to, but again I needed friends and male companionship. For a time, it was an oasis: everyone there shared my new found realization that homosexuality was a literal dead-end and that we needed something else- namely God. At the same time, I read: books by Fr. John Harvey and Dr. Joseph Nicolosi. Surprisingly, I wasn’t alone – there were thousands of men who similarly found the gay lifestyle shallow, empty, and ultimately self-destructive. I learned that: “Males who are homosexuals tend to be neglected emotionally by their fathers and receive less affection than their heterosexual counterparts.” I began to wonder: what if I had known? Would I have stayed so long? Did my friends have to die? I remembered that priest: did he even attempt get to know me? Why didn’t he ask if I had been molested? Or if I had been abused or neglected? But, he sent a damaged boy back to a life that was clearly out of control. Didn’t I deserve to know the Truth? That I did have choice.
When Fr. McClure first arrived at Most Holy Redeemer, I contacted both him and Fr. Link; I had a proposal: a short presentation about my experiences and about Courage; I assured them, I was not there to judge or to tell anyone that their lifestyle was wrong or evil; that’s their decision to make – not mine. I simply wanted to present an alternative; that they did not have to live this way. I was turned down.
Dear Fr. McClure: you state that you didn’t come to Most Holy Redeemer to “change” anyone, but things need to change. According to the San Francisco AIDS Foundation: “Almost one in four gay or bisexual men in San Francisco is living with HIV and 86% of new HIV diagnoses are among gay and bisexual men…In 2013, there were 359 newly diagnosed HIV cases…Of those newly diagnosed with HIV in 2013, nine in 10 (91%) identified as male, 86 percent were men who have sex with other men, a majority (54%) were between 30-49 years old.” How many have to become infected? And how many have to die before you realize that the status-quo is no longer sustainable? You rightly heralded the history of charity and Christian generosity at Most Holy Redeemer, as I stated some of my friends were given funerals at MHR when no one else would do it, but when are we going to stop burying people? When is enough enough? It needs to change and it needs to change now. Unlike what happened to me, these men should be given the choice: allow Courage at Most Holy Redeemer.
Your friend in Christ: Joseph Sciambra