Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Just say no to sex. Forever.

At the World Meeting of Families, celibacy was the only LGBT topic on the agenda.

Ron Belgau, a celibate gay Catholic, and his mother, Beverly Belgau, spoke to the World Meeting. (ED HILLE/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Ron Belgau, a celibate gay Catholic, and his mother, Beverly Belgau, spoke to the World Meeting. (ED HILLE/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)Read more

Belgau is down with celibacy, having found other deeply satisfying forms of love to enrich his life. He's founder of the blog Spiritual Friendship, which promotes "Christ-centered chaste friendship as a positive and fulfilling path to holiness."

I respect Belgau's choice because, hey, it's his. But as I listened to him speak to a standing-room-only audience at the convention center, all I could think was, "Really? This is the best that the church has for LGBT Catholics - the expectation that they be celibate? At this extraordinary meeting of Catholics from around the globe, why is this celibate gay man the only representation of the church's LGBT members?"

What a wasted opportunity.

How extraordinary it would've been to also hear married gay Catholics tell their stories and for sincere, honest and mutually respectful discussions to have proceeded from them.

What an eye-opener it would've been for straight Catholics who don't know any LGBT Catholics to actually speak with them, from the heart. To get - maybe for the first time - that LGBT Catholics are more than their sexual orientation just as straight Catholics are more than their own.

They, too, are husbands, wives and parents who pray and yearn for a better world for themselves and their families. Who try to discern God's will and handle life's hardships with grace. Who are flawed but trying, broken but worthy of full inclusion in the faith that sustains them.

But that wasn't going to happen at this event. This is Philly Archbishop Charles Chaput's World Meeting, after all; nothing was going on the agenda that didn't meet his approval. And Chaput does not suffer Catholics who don't toe the canon line.

Last week, for example, Jennifer O'Malley, board president of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, emailed Chaput to ask if some of her members might meet with him to discuss their call to the priesthood. The women would be in town for the World Meeting, she wrote.

Chaput responded by scolding O'Malley for her bad timing.

"Jennifer," he wrote in an email that O'Malley shared with me, "I think you already know that my time is absolutely full because of WMOF and the visit of Pope Francis. If you really wanted to meet with me I am surprised that you would not have asked at a different and more reasonable time."

Then he typed out one of his trademark, withering dismissals.

"I am confident that God is not calling you and your associates to the priesthood," he wrote, "because I have confidence in God's guidance of the Church on this matter over the centuries and the clear teaching of our recent Popes."

As if any man has the inside track on how God speaks to the hearts of his children. What a pompous ass.

The Archdiocese also put the kibosh on hospitality activities that were supposed to be held this week in the community room of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church at 13th and Ludlow streets.

Sponsored by the Catholic Parents Network - a local group of parents of gay children - the activities were meant to welcome LGBT Catholic pilgrims and/or their loved ones attending the conference. Let's just say that the Archdiocese was not pleased by the warmth, love and acceptance that was to be shown these gravely disordered souls and the foolish kin who cherish them.

So the Catholic Parents Network moved its coffee, tea, juice and sweets to the uber-welcoming Arch Street United Methodist Church at Broad and Arch streets, where pilgrims have been met with hugs and hospitality all week from people like Joe and Mary Byers of Wynnewood.

The Byerses' seven children include three gay sons, whom they respect and support. The couple remain devoutly Catholic, but say their children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren have vowed never to step inside a Catholic church because of the church's denial of full participation of LGBT Catholics.

Nonetheless, says Joe, 85, "We are a very close family. Our sons are wonderful men. We want to be there for other Catholic parents of LGBT children to let them know it is OK to be proud of their children."

Celibate or not.

After Belgau's talk, attendees lined up at two microphones to ask questions, at least one of which broke my heart: A woman wondered how she should respond to a beloved niece, a lesbian who has announced her engagement. As a Catholic, the woman didn't know if she should attend the wedding.

The Belgaus advised the woman to respond with love and, maybe, consult with her priest. I'm sorry: If you have to ask a priest whether to attend the wedding of a niece you say you love, you don't deserve to be there.

Then came Marianne Duddy-Burke, a married lesbian, mother and executive director of DignityUSA, the advocacy group that focuses on LGBT rights in the Catholic Church.

"Thank you for telling your story in such an open, vulnerable and honest manner," she told the Belgaus, to thunderous applause. "There is a lot of commonality in our beliefs and struggles. Where we part ways is in believing that being LGBT is in some way a disorder rather than a gift. I think who we are is the way God creates us to know and love God to serve the world."

As for celibacy, she said, "It is a holy and healthy and valuable choice for some people, but it is not a gift given to everyone. Most of us are ordered towards love, intimacy and to creating some kind of families of our own."

It would have been good to hear more about that, especially from attendee Deb Word of Memphis, Tenn., who with her husband takes in teens whose families have tossed them out of the house for being LGBT.

Deb, whose son is gay, says she was approached about being on the panel with Belgau but first had to answer a series of interview questions.

"It was going great," Deb told me as we left Belgau's speech together. "But then I was asked what I thought of gay marriage and I said I would love my son no matter who he married."

That ended her candidacy.

What a wasted opportunity - especially at the World Meeting, whose theme, ironically, is "Love is our mission."


On Twitter: @RonniePhilly