Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Goodbye, St. Eugene: Marriage Equality & the Archdioceses of Chicago

When asked about my upbringing as a young gay student in a Catholic grade school parish (choir nerd, altar server, student council, band geek, goodie goodie, etc.), I always defended how St. Eugene Parish and Church made me feel. My reply, based on my experience there in the mid-to-late-'90's, has always been, 'It never came up.' It was more of a non-issue than a hot-button issue, so I never felt any Church-enforced shame from pastor Fr. O'Brien (emeritus), the late Sister Joan B.V.M., or any of the parish priests or higher-ups whom I worked along side while singing in choir, altar serving, or working on the parish musicals - an outlet with the most important impact on my personal and professional life.

I was comfortably content in knowing something about me was uncomfortably different, but my Church on the northwest side of Chicago never made me feel ashamed. Classmates did, but the powers-that-be did not. 

Yet, when WGN television ran this package about the letter Francis Cardinal George recently wrote to all Archdiocese of Chicago parishes about the finally realized Illinois state law legalizing same-sex marriage, I was very curious if St. Eugene ran it in its Sunday, November 17, 2013 bulletin, The Voice.

They did.

In the 'Pastor's Corner' portion of the weekly newsletter - aptly named as corners, historically, are where non-action occurs - the following brief introduction from current pastor George Koeune ran:

"Below is a letter we received from Francis Cardinal George O.M.I. Yours in Christ, Fr. George"

Cardinal George's letter followed:

 A full easier-to-read copy can be found here.

As many are unclear about or unfamiliar with Senate Bill 0010, I feel the need to include its Amendment #2 which includes how religion and religious buildings come into play to clear any misnomers:
Provides that nothing in the Act is intended to abrogate, limit, or expand the ability of a religious denomination to exercise First Amendment rights protected by the United States Constitution or the Illinois Constitution nor is it intended to abrogate, limit, or expand the Illinois Human Rights Act or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Makes corresponding changes in other portions of the Act. Provides that no church, mosque, synagogue, temple, nondenominational ministry, interdenominational or ecumenical organization, mission organization, or other organization whose principal purpose is the study, practice, or advancement of religion is required to provide religious facilities for the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony of a marriage if the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony is in violation of its religious beliefs. Provides that the named entities shall be immune from any civil, administrative, criminal penalty, claim, or cause of action based on its refusal to provide religious facilities for the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony of a marriage if the solemnization ceremony or celebration associated with the solemnization ceremony is in violation of its religious beliefs. Defines "religious facilities" as sanctuaries, parish halls, fellowship halls, and similar facilities and excluding facilities such as businesses, health care facilities, educational facilities, or social service agencies.
From 1990 to 1999 when I was a student, St. Eugene never gave me a reason to feel anything but supported and held - but it terrifies me to think of gay 5th graders today picking up St. Eugene's bulletin and seeing Francis George's letter two weeks following Illinois' vote. Because I was that confused gay boy sitting in Sister Joan's 5th grade religion class and Mrs. Sulkin's science class wondering if I was bad. If I was wrong.

We were the boys and girls who, thanks to television and the news and Catholic teachings omnes mundi, thought we were somehow innately bad or wrong because we were so vastly different. Yet, within St. Eugene's "It never came up" philosophy, being gay meant nothing more than being slurred on the basketball court.

I am now on the brink of turning 29 and church-going is a distance memory, but there are kids who have no choice on where they're schooled or where they spend their Sunday mornings. They are the kids being told they are lesser than their straight classmates, living under a new "bad law" which hopes to "further the dissolution of marriage and family life." These kids do not need more reasons to feel isolated or ashamed. 

Religion, faith, and I have not seen eye-to-eye since high school. And since college, even my C/E Catholicism status has waned. What kept me scarcely coming back to the building at Canfield and Foster the past few late December evenings was the tradition of song and friendship. Singing songs with men and women - gay and straight - who I consider extended family. Singing carols and lighting candles alongside friends I've had since 5th grade. Traditions not based in a love for Catholicism, religious ritual, wine, bread, or stories about a man who did nice things, but based in a love for artistic expression. 

I will not be visiting that building again. No more "Carol of the Bells" or "Stille Nacht" in that building in late December on the northwest side of Chicago.

This is a sad realization, but one which comes out of growing into the man I am today in a state which finally allows same-sex marriage. For the sake of acceptance and support of gay boys and girls in the Archdiocese of Chicago, across Illinois, and throughout the country - safely figuring out what is going on inside them and loving them needs to be the primary focus, not shame. Never shame. Or inequality. 

We do not need men in red robes or weekly pamphlets scaring children into thinking they're anything less than completely and utterly fabulous. Nope, let's sing where ever we want.

St. Eugene was a building which taught me how to sing and, more importantly, allowed a creative outlet for a seemingly alone, awkward, confused, and chubby gay boy with one too many Hot Lunch spaghetti stains on his white turtleneck and chapped lips - humming the title number from Brigadoon.

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