This article is of interest to me primarily because it will help keep the Catholic Church from burying this man's story. I am not surprised that the Bishop of Fresno would say something like "You're suspended and stop talking about this on the internet" (I haven't seen the bishop's letter to Geoff whose call I missed last night, but I hope he'll read me that laughable section when we talk later today.)
The article is also of interest because it leans more heavily on the comments of irate parishioners who disapprove of what Father Geoff has done and/or how he did it. It leans less heavily on the comments of supportive parishioners. If you read the comments on Geoff's blog, you will be moved by the compassionate words from many of his parishioners and from clergy and religious folk from around the globe. All the same, the LA Times writers would be inclined to highlight the disapproving mob (despite the fact that its size may be eclipsed by that of the cheerful side of the street) because this is a war story needing opposing camps and one hero and some colorful villains. The bishop who seems to be insufficiently colorful is enhanced by the parish deacon, a man known only to me by his actions and words in this matter. But I've seen this type before. Clerical-wannabes who trumpet the party-line and are always jumping up to fall on their toy swords whenever anyone says a word against the bishop or the pope. When Geoff made his first announcement on Sunday in his church, this gung-ho deacon rushed to the altar before the congregation dispersed to assure everyone that Father Geoff would certainly be replaced by a new pastor. If anyone should have been fired for his words, it is this over-stepping deacon who, a week later, dosed the same congregation with a church history lesson concluding with a reminder to vote yes on Prop 8. A sufficiently colorful and idiotic villain, at least the way he has been drawn by the reporters.
There is also in this war story a third army. That vast and impotent legion of gay priests who are afraid to come out of their rectory closets. Newspaper reporters have difficulty depicting them because they will not speak and they will not be seen and they will not come to the defense of a man who has lost everything including his health insurance because he has spoken his conscience. How do you include them in a fair and unbiased report when they fearfully refuse to be counted?
When I ceased functioning as a priest, I received no support and certainly no expression of concern from my bishop. I did receive immediate notification from the Chancellor that my health coverage had been terminated and that I would now be responsible for the repayment of my student loans which up until then had been handled by the diocese. When I received that letter, I thought "So. They do know where I live. They do have my address. If they were worried about me, they could have reached out to me." More than anything else in my life, that moment, standing at my mailbox and reading that letter, helped me realize the truth about the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. They are at heart a terrifically unchristian lot. I suddenly knew where I stood with them but I also knew where I stood with Jesus Christ whom I rather believed to be sympathetic with my new life of extreme poverty and integrity.
I made a hand-written response to the Chancellor apologizing for the fact that I no longer had access to a typewriter, and I explained to him that he had not seen me lately at the health club/spa to which we both held memberships because I could no longer afford it. I reminded him of the fact that when I was a seminarian, the Archdiocese had promised to repay the loans upon my ordination. Because the diocese had instructed the lender to pursue me for payment, I was now receiving threatening demands for money I did not have. I told the Chancellor that I thought this was unfair, and I made a very clear and explicit threat to go to the local media with the story of my situation. I received a very swift and curt response stating that the diocese would resume repayment of my student loans.
I did not have health coverage or dental coverage for a couple of years, but I was young and had rarely used it while I had it. I did not miss it at the time. Only with hindsight can I realize the importance of what the bishop was doing when he cut me off financially. This will certainly be more of a hardship for the fifty year old Father Geoff.
Father Geoff's story obviously awakens unpleasant personal memories some of which are too painful for me to recount. I hope his survival instincts are as strong as were mine. Also, with unrealistic optimism, I hope that when he returns from the desert into which he has been cast, he will find that third army ready to march.