Although I can walk from my kitchen into Central Park before my morning mug of coffee cools, I did not bother to enter the lottery for the one of the 80,000 tickets needed to get close to Pope Francis when he leads a procession there on Sept. 25.
I was troubled by my own lack of interest in the visit of the rock star pope who has given hope to many who grew up Catholic and have been ostracized by their religion because of their sexuality, their failed marriages, their reproductive choices and their disgust with the misogyny and abuse of its patriarchy. I wish I felt otherwise. Cynicism is not a becoming garment, and it took a while for me to understand what was at the root of my disdain. This pope is not my friend. He is not even an imaginary friend, as is the Jesus in whom, from an early age, we are instructed by priests and nuns to confide.
Francis is an actor pretending to be a shepherd who loves his flock, and wants to save the lost sheep. Would his portrayal as a compassionate shepherd win an Emmy on Broadway? Probably not. He is less the shepherd tending his flock than he is the CEO of a livestock conglomerate releasing statements about the merits of organic feed, humane slaughter, fair pricing, decent wages for farmhands and careful breeding of the flock according to the rules of natural law.
He takes no notice of men like me who are his black sheep. His deputies – the cardinals and bishops – have changed their style, but they are still the same wolves in sheep’s clothing who would prefer that I stop being gay and pretend, as do they, to be something I am not.
Two years have passed since Pope Francis gave us heart when he said, “Who am I to judge?” while speaking of gay priests. Now we are disheartened because he has done nothing to bolster those words. Seminaries are still instructed to weed out or bar any man with homosexual tendencies, same-sex marriage is still anathema, women are still treated as second class Catholics, and those abused by priests still meet with resistance in their search for peace. Abortion and divorce make the hierarchy anxious not because they feel like changing the rules of the church in those areas but because they look at the empty pews and collection baskets and wonder how they will support their fancy infrastructure if Catholics continue to turn away from a church that condemns them.
I go to Central Park often. It’s my backyard. It’s where I toss the Frisbee with my husband. It’s where we consider the lilies, more radiant in their simplicity than any passing papal spectacle. It’s where I have presided over the marriages of many same-sex couples who have made good on their promises to love, cherish, help and honor each other.
For me, Central Park is hallowed ground because of them. More than 80,000 ticketed fans cheering for Pope Francis may trample a few of those lilies, but they will not weaken the vows of the loving same-sex couples I have joined in marriage in Central Park. Rather than walk across the street, I’ll watch his visit on TV, wishing that he had become a better friend and a true shepherd.