These words came from Eileen Casey-Campbell, our intern, in her sermon on October 1st:
We got a new priest when I was in the eighth grade. I went to the Catholic school in my little hometown, and he came to work for the school and its associated parish. Let’s call him Father Matt. He was one of those young, post-Vatican II priests who was so hip, he went by–not just his first name–but a nickname. He was a Cool Priest. Capital C. Capital P. And I thought he really was pretty cool. He was from Seattle. He cared about social justice, and tried to get our congregation to care about it too. He started a community support center for teen moms. He talked about LGBT people as people, with our youth group.
He spoke Spanish, and he convinced the parishioners that we needed a Spanish-language mass. Some people argued that we had no Spanish-speaking congregants, so mass in Spanish should be unnecessary. He calmly pointed out that perhaps we had no Spanish-speaking congregants because we had no Spanish-language services. The first Spanish mass was packed, mostly with migrant workers from local farms. They built relationships with Father Matt and with the members of the church.
I need to impress upon those lifetime or long-time Unitarian Universalists among us how incredibly rare and radical this all felt. As the child of a progressive (second wave feminist, civil rights marcher, reproductive rights defender, LGBT-friendly) Catholic who was raising me to be hopeful about the direction of the church, it’s easy to see how Father Matt became a hero of mine, quickly.
Here’s the trouble with heroes, though: Ostensibly, they are figures we look up to, people we want to become more like. In reality, we tend to create our heroes, and sometimes our gods, in our own image. Father Matt was the perfect storm of that force in me. He wasn’t someone who showed me my own potential or helped me, through the power and love of community, to transform. He didn’t really know me at all. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t really know him. He looked, to me, like a shallow incarnation of someone I had already myself imagined becoming.
Every morning, in the cafeteria-slash-auditorium-slash-gymnasium of my little Catholic school, Father Matt led us in a prayer for “God to call priests to the church.” The Catholic Church then, and now, has had the experience of a mass exodus of people wanting to join the priesthood. To my middle-school mind, Father Matt’s prayer was one of many little steps on the inevitable road to opening the doors of ordination to female-identifying people, to married people, to openly queer people.
And then a Catholic congregation in Western New York took it upon themselves to ordain several women. And Father Matt preached a sermon that went, more or less, like this: There is a place for women in the church and among the clergy is not. it. The duty of women is to learn their place (I swear to you, those words were spoken) and accept it.
I can’t tell you what else he said, because in that moment, I walked out of the congregation that had married my parents, baptized me, and educated me and never went back.
Read the rest of this sermon here