Central PA's LGBT News Source
Although I normally do not put too much energy into my own birthdays, I recently turned the “big 65” and for some reason it turned into a meaningful day. (My spiritual director once told me that we should especially celebrate the “0” and “5” birthdays.)
Spending some time that day in prayer reflecting back on the past six decades, I began to think about my personal journey: from where I came to where I am now, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.
I was raised in the boroughs of New York City in an Italian (Roman) Catholic home. Although my parents were strict in their faith, they were very open, loving and accepting of everyone. I had friends of all races and religions (my best friend was Jewish). Although I didn’t know it at the time, I had gay relatives who would come to holiday dinners with (as my mother would describe them) their “special friends.” No one made any negative comments or wisecracks: everybody just enjoyed each other’s company: there was a great deal of love and laughter (probably due to the homemade Italian wine made by my grandfather in the basement).
My parents instilled in me a strong Catholic identity and I remained a faithful Catholic throughout my life. For a time, I even seriously considered a vocation to the priesthood, but I discovered girls in high school, and I knew that a vow of celibacy was not a vow that I could embrace.
As I grew older, I began a career in the radio broadcasting industry. During that period of my life, I met and worked with people from all walks of life in many cities around the country. Gay, straight, black, white, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists…it didn’t matter. They were all my friends.
I eventually married and raised three children. Sadly, my wife met someone she liked better and my marriage ended.
During a time of post-divorce discernment, the idea of a vocation to the priesthood began to stir in my heart. I prayed long and hard about this, but I knew that I could not, in good conscience, uphold the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. Although I was (and still am) staunchly pro-life, issues such as birth control, divorce and remarriage, same-sex relationships/gay marriage, were issues that had touched the lives of so many of my close and dear friends. If I pursued the priesthood in a Church whose doctrines did not match my own personal beliefs, then I would be a fake and phony priest, and I could not do that.
During a blizzard many years ago when I was confined to my home for three days, I got caught up on my reading. In a middle-of-the road leaning publication (“The National Catholic Reporter”) I discovered an article about The Old Catholic Church and was captivated by its inclusivity and acceptance of all. I read everything about The Old Catholic Church I could put my hands on. I was shocked to find that I had actually found a Catholic Church which welcomed everyone without regard to their prior denominational affiliation (or lack thereof), marital status, orientation, etc. This was a Church that elevated women to ordained positions of priest and bishop. There were openly gay individuals ministering to the people of God. I thought: “This is my kind of Catholic Church!”
I immediately contacted The Old Catholic Church, was received into their seminary program, and was ordained a priest at the age of 40. (The Church was growing and needed bishops to oversee dioceses, so I was called to the episcopacy of the Church a few years later.)
The past 25 years have been filled with many joys and many challenges. Although we were never a particularly large congregation here in the Harrisburg area, the number of regular congregants has declined over the past ten years. This is typical of so many mainline denominations. We no longer live in a society in which religion is a priority in people’s lives. And yet my fellow bishops, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams and religious leaders from various traditions keep going. We continue to work hard to bring the “Good News” of our “Good Books” to a world which needs to hear the message of peace and forgiveness for all.
In a world filled with divides, I’m proud to be part of organizations such as the Mayor’s Inter-Faith Advisory Council and the Inter-Religious Forum with so many good friends from all faith traditions working closely together to bring some sense of joy to our Central PA community.
I look back on these past 25 years with gratitude, as I give thanks to the Holy One for allowing me to work in the vineyard.
And I look forward to the next 25 years with a heart filled with hope!