Does a Catholic play belong at The Stonewall Inn?

Images: Wikimedia Commons/Unsplash

Growing up, I attended a lovely Catholic grade school named for the man called “Hitler’s pope.” To be fair not all—or even most—historians refer to the controversial pontiff Pius XII by this provocative moniker. But it is telling that in the sacred bubble of my school I had no idea its namesake was reviled by anyone.

For some, Pius is hailed as the hero who secretly saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. For others, he is the cowardly politician who failed to speak out due to fear. In many ways, Eugenio Pacelli embodies the tension I feel about my Catholic faith. It is both the saving grace and the greatest challenge of my life. It is this constant internal tension that led me to write “The Chalice.”

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I wrote this play because I was—I am—struggling with my faith.

“The Chalice” is the story of Alex, a formerly Catholic gay man, and his deeply religious sister, Angela, who inherit a relic of Pope Pius XII. Because of their contrasting relationships with the church and their vastly different interpretations of Pius’s legacy, they are thrown into a struggle over the object’s fate. Should the chalice be enshrined in a place of honor or should it be discarded and sold? Ultimately, Angela and Alex have to decide if and how they can heal their fractured relationship. And they have to decide what role, if any, their religion will play in that healing.

I wrote this play because I was—I am—struggling with my faith. The question is not whether I ought to be Catholic but rather: How ought I to be Catholic? What kind of Catholic am I to be? How can I continue to nurture my relationship with God, a relationship anchored in the church, but also acknowledge that I want change?

This is what I planned to write about: what happens when we, as Catholics, isolate, shame and abuse our L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters.

This friction created a spark, and that spark was art.

I do not wish to delve into an analysis of the church’s teaching on homosexuality. Suffice it to say that I have witnessed the pain of my gay and lesbian loved ones, and it troubles me deeply. I have also seen the trauma caused to gays by individual Catholics who have misunderstood the language of the catechism—who have taken it to read that gays and lesbians are defective. Many parishes do little to clarify the true meaning of the church’s teaching, allowing blatant homophobia to persist.

This is what I planned to write about: what happens when we, as Catholics, isolate, shame and abuse our L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters. I thought this, combined with the complex history of Pope Pius, was enough material for a play.

Apparently, God thought differently. An image came to me after I finished the first draft: a woman, prostrate on the ground, licking wine off the floor. I knew in an instant that the wine must be sacred. More important, I knew who the woman was: a close family friend and mother figure who also happened to be profoundly deaf. I wrote her into the play as Alex and Angela’s aunt, Janice. Suddenly, there was a new type of isolation being explored: that of a devoutly Catholic deaf woman.

If we want to heal the division between the church and the gay community, we have to meet them, humbly, where they are.

Then, during casting for the original production at The New School for Drama, we cast an African-American man as Alex. In a play where the characters consistently reference the Holocaust, race was not something I wanted to ignore. With the guidance of the actor, I rewrote the role of Alex specifically for a black actor. Once again, new dimensions of isolation and judgment seeped into the play. The issues of faith, race, sexuality and ability are intimately connected in ways that I barely understood at the beginning of this journey.

As a person of faith, I know that all of my accomplishments ought to be attributed to God. The irony is that most of my accomplishments are in some way a critique of God’s church. What I learned from this process is that God can handle this. God wants to be in the world. Catholic plays need not be performed in churches.

In this case, we have brought a play about God and Catholicism to The Stonewall Inn. This place, considered the historical birthplace of the gay rights movement, is a sacred space for the gay community. It is a sort of Mecca: a place you must see once. By producing the play here, in collaboration with their incredible staff, we are having the kind of dialogue the church ought to be having. If we want to heal the division between the church and the gay community, we have to meet them, humbly, where they are. We have to acknowledge our sins and ask for forgiveness. We have to listen and love.

The Catholic Church, as the name indicates, is diverse. So, too, is the world.

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Robert Lewis
1 year 10 months ago

"Cry to heaven" may mean "cry to heaven for rectification," and "rectification" may come in many forms--such as "rectification" by being alleviated through the Church's public embrace of the same-sex-attracted. I've just explained to you, in the thread above, how the Church once DID normalize, i.e. "rectified," the situation of the same-sex-attracted through "sworn brotherhood" sanctified by an oath during reception of the Eucharist. And the Church has MANY TIMES altered her teachings on moral theology and Church discipline, e.g. priestly celibacy, slavery, capital punishment, just war--and the list goes on and on, and it's all JUSTIFIED by the Petrine Commission, "to bind and to loose." It's high time to "loose" the Church's blanket condemnation of expressions of same-sex-love that are chaste. Many physical expressions considered "sodomitical" in the past, just aren't and should not be proscribed. You are a legalist, Mr. O'Leary, and Christ condemned the legalists of his time. You want to turn the Biblical injunctions, which are part of a LIVING DOCUMENT into a dead letter. That's not what orthodox Christianity is about, and, if you think it should be, there is a Protestant Fundamentalist church in your neighborhood that'll welcome you.

Tim O'Leary
1 year 10 months ago

Mr. Lewis - You argue by appealing to phantom traditions and the Petrine Commission and then say I am a legalist for relying on Church tradition, written and oral. But, what need of appealing to precedent when you ridicule it by saying the Church is forever altering her teachings? You ignore or defame the Catechism of the Catholic Church and then claim I am a Protestant. You come up with Masonic-like "sworn brotherhood" gay ceremonies and claim you are defending orthodox Christianity. You ideas are completely goofy. I know of no Church or Temple (not sure about the Masons) who preaches your strange doctrine. Nobody in the LGBT community could even like your theories.

Robert Lewis
1 year 10 months ago

It is of no concern to me whatever if nobody in the LGBT community likes my theological musings; they are mine and mine alone. The "sworn brotherhood" ceremonies and monuments are extremely well documented; they're just unpopular with Biblical fundamentalists who detest gay folk, like you.

Tim O'Leary
1 year 10 months ago

It is only calumny that would make you say I detest "gay folk", particularly people I hope to be saved, who are already loved by God much more than any human can. You are a very sad fellow, mired in your own fundamentalist judgmentalism.

Richard Bell
1 year 10 months ago

Homosexual desire is abnormal and defective, but it is not a sin. Homoerotic acts may be sins just as heteroerotic acts may be sins. Acts that are full expressions of sexual desire -- homosexual desire or heterosexual desire -- are sins if the parties to these acts are not married to each other. (They are sins also if a party has not consented, etc.)
There is no good reason for the Church's refusal to celebrate homosexual marriage of Christians on the same terms and conditions that it celebrates heterosexual marriage of Christians.

Robert Lewis
1 year 10 months ago

EDITORS; please allow THIS so that, pace Mr. O'Leary, folks will understand that Alan Bray's scholarship is not "goofy."

john abrahams
1 year 10 months ago

Pius Xll now appearing at The Stonewall Inn. Is this stretching it a bit?
Are you making fun? Mel Brooks presents. Who was it said: With best intentions Catholics go over the mark only to miss the mark altogether. An example: Some years ago small number of Carmelite Nuns expressed interest in founding a small convent on the site or very near a German Concentration Camp. Rankling the Jews as well politics, the request was immediately refused. Why I am associating their 'Bo-Bo of Holy Desire' with this Catholic play featuring Pius Xll at the Stonewall, I can't express any better than my respectful comment here.

john abrahams
1 year 10 months ago

I see that my comment of yesterday was found improper for posting.
I expect this entry will likewise not see the light of posting. Notwithstanding, I do write again basically to cast a vigorous and negative vote against bringing Pius Xll to Stonewall. Why? Doing so is over-reaching for attention, embarrassing, in bad taste, sadly funny.
I write this in charity as well as with common sense. I was at the Stonewall that summer of '69. Let it alone have the courtesy.

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