Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"A Nuclear Bomb Inside the Vatican" By Jennifer Finney Boylan, New York Times

Inside the Sistine Chapel, in Vatican City.CreditCreditSpencer Platt/Getty Images

I am not a Catholic, but the Holy City filled me with awe. I wonder what its leader thinks of me, though.
“What do you think?” I asked my wife, as I looked in the mirror. We were on our way to the Vatican. “Does this outfit make the right statement?”
I was wearing white jeans and a sleeveless silk top. “What statement is that?” Deedie asked.
“You know,” I said. “The perfect balance between reverence and contempt.”
We were in Italy to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary — 12 years as husband and wife and, after my coming out as trans in 2000, 18 as wife and wife. Over the course of two weeks, we had hiked the Cinque Terre, taken a boat to Portofino and swum in the Mediterranean off a crag in the harbor of Santa Margherita Ligure.
Each day was a precious gift. I often thought of Evelyn Waugh’s description of two other lovers lost in Italy: “The fortnight in Venice passed quickly and sweetly — perhaps too sweetly; I was drowning in honey, stingless.”
The occasion of our visit also overlapped with a crisis for Pope Francis, although trying to get one’s mind around the minutiae of the brouhaha is almost as difficult as trying to describe the Trinity itself. For now, let’s just say that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò — no liberal theologian, he — had released a letter he hoped would embarrass the pope, so that our man Francis might be ousted and replaced with someone more conservative, someone who, among other things, would be more hostile to people like me.
Not that Francis has been all who-am-I-to-judge about transgender people. In 2015, he compared people like me to nuclear bombs.
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My wife and I, who have raised two children and worked for three decades as teachers and social workers, are surely imperfect souls. But I would humbly suggest that our marriage, and our family, has brought more good into the world than harm and that on the whole our little family does not deserve to be compared to the device that killed nearly 200,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There hasn’t been a Catholic in my branch of the family since my father left the church in 1940. But I’ve carried my faith with me, in fits and starts, over the years, and several years ago I became a member of the Riverside Church in New York. It’s not Pope Francis’ church, to be sure. But like his, at the center of everything is a hard-won belief in the transformative powers of love and forgiveness.
And so it was with equal measures reverence and contempt that we made our way over to the Vatican and joined the line that would lead us inside its walls.

That was when the street vendor approached me, selling a shawl for 10 euros. “You will not be allowed inside,” he said, “with the bare arms.”
I cursed my stupidity. Of course. I’d been to the Vatican before, and I remembered all too well the requirement that women cover their shoulders in the Sistine Chapel. I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten something so obvious.
So I bought the shawl (having first haggled him down to six euros) and eventually the doors opened, and we went inside. For three hours we wound through the long corridors of the Vatican Museum and gazed in wonder at its treasures: the gallery of maps; the “Apollo Belvedere”; Raphael’s painting of the School of Athens; the “Laocoön and His Sons” sculpture of the three Trojans losing a battle with a sea serpent.
Still, as we walked along, I felt myself growing crabbier and crabbier. I understood full well the virtue of humility before God. But surely my bare shoulders were minor offenses in the grand scale of things. Surely there have been greater offenses against him.

Like: the hundreds of priests who had raped, groped and abused thousands of children in my home state of Pennsylvania; like the condemnation of over 30,000 women to Magdalene laundries in Ireland for the crime of being pregnant, some of them at the hands of their priests; like the centuries of the pursuit of sheer power and wealth at the expense of questing souls who surely, surely deserved a better church than this.
I remembered a line from the climax of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”: “You want to know if I’m moral enough to join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages — after being a litterbug?”
That was when the doors opened and we were ushered into the Sistine Chapel at last, a vast space crammed with people, including some very determined guards whose only job was, every two minutes or so, to tell everyone to stop talking and instead to gaze upon the ceiling with the reverence of silence.
I stood there in the crush of humanity, gazing upward. There were Adam and Eve, in Paradise, reaching for an apple. I held the hand of the woman I love.
For just a moment, everyone was looking up, in silence. We knew that this was one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit, a reflection of the majesty of God’s love.
But it was so far overhead, so distant. It was hard to see. Tears shimmered in my eyes, and I wondered, for a moment, if any of this grace could possibly be real.
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