Living Gospel Equality Now: Loving in the Heart of God: Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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.