This black gay priest from New York is working to change Catholicism from within

Conversely, Catholic schools were among the first to desegregate, and some government officials who opposed racial integration were excommunicated.

In 2018, the U.S. bishops issued a pastoral letter denouncing “the continuing evil of racism,” but Massingale was disappointed.

“The term ‘white nationalism’ is not mentioned in this document; it does not talk about the Black Lives Matter movement,” he said. “The problem with church teachings on racism is that they are written in a way that is calculated not to upset white people.”

At Fordham, a Jesuit college, Massingale teaches a course on homosexuality and Christian ethics, using biblical texts to challenge church teaching on same-sex relationships. He said he came to terms with his own sexuality at 22, after reflecting on the book of Isaiah.

“I realized that no matter what the church said, God loved me and accepted me as a black gay man,” he said.

His ordination in 1983 came in the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic which disproportionately affected gay and black Americans. Among his first funerals as a priest was that of a gay man whose family wanted no mention of his sexuality or illness.

“They should have been able to turn to their church in their time of mourning,” Massingale said. “Yet they couldn’t because that stigma existed to a large extent because of the number of ministers who talked about homosexuality and AIDS being a punishment for sin.”

Pope Francis has called for compassionate pastoral care for LGBTQ Catholics. However, he described homosexuality among the clergy as worrying, and Vatican law remains clear: same-sex unions cannot be blessed within the church. Some dioceses have openly fired LGBTQ employees.

Massingale has a different vision of the church: one where Catholics enjoy the same privileges regardless of their sexual orientation.

“I think one can express one’s sexuality in a way that is responsible, engaged, uplifting and an experience of joy,” he said.

Massingale has been recognized for his advocacy by like-minded organizations such as FutureChurch, which say priests should be allowed to marry and women should have more leadership roles in the church.

“He is one of the most prophetic, compelling, inspiring and transformative leaders in the Catholic Church,” said Deborah Rose-Milavec, co-director of the organization. “When he speaks, you know a very deep truth is being spoken.”

Besides his many admirers, Massingale has vocal critics, such as the conservative Catholic newspaper Church Militant, which describes his LGBTQ advocacy as a sin.

At Fordham, Massingale is highly respected by his colleagues and has been honored by the university with a prestigious endowed chair. To the extent that he has critics among Fordham professors, they tend to keep their apprehensions out of the public sphere.

He says he receives many messages of hope and support, but going public about his sexuality comes at a cost.

“I have lost priest friends who find it difficult to be too closely associated with me because if they are friends with me, ‘what will people say about them?’” he said. he declares.

Massingale remains optimistic about gradual change in the Catholic Church because of Pope Francis and recent signals from bishops across Europe who have expressed a desire for change, including the blessing of same-sex unions.

“My dream wedding would be either two men or two women standing in front of the church; marry as a leap of faith and I can be there as an official witness to say, ‘Yes, this is from God,’ he said after a recent class at Fordham. “If they were black, that would be wonderful.”


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