Departing friend shares insight into pope’s commentsRobin Washington column: The best thing for me about the pope’s off-the-cuff comments last week concerning gay priests — or was he talking about gay people in general? — was that I got to say goodbye to a friend who’s leaving Duluth.
By: Robin Washington, Duluth News Tribune
The best thing for me about the pope’s off-the-cuff comments last week concerning gay priests — or was he talking about gay people in general? — was that I got to say goodbye to a friend who’s leaving Duluth.
“I’m going to St. John’s (University) for a year. I’m going to be a fellow at the Collegeville Ecumenical and Cultural Institute,”
Father William C. Graham told me on the phone after I’d e-mailed him asking about the pope’s remarks.
“I’m writing a book about the culture of Catholic education. I don’t know what I’m going to do after that. I’m working hard not to make a
Born at St. Mary’s Hospital and living most of his life, he says, within five miles of that edifice, Graham, 63, is the outgoing director of Catholic Studies at the College of St. Scholastica and begins his new job tomorrow. A Duluth Diocese priest, he formerly pastored at
St. Margaret Mary in Morgan Park and St. Michael’s in Lakeside, among other parishes.
He’s also one of the smartest theologians I know, which is why I thought Graham could
explain who exactly Pope Francis was referring to when he said “If they
accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?”
reports of Francis’ unprecedented 80-minute conversation with reporters on the papal plane Monday were contradictory: Some, such as the Washington Post, reported “they” as gay people in general. Others, including an Associated Press
account that ran in the News Tribune, said the pontiff was speaking of gay priests.
Both are extraordinary reversals from statements by his predecessors, but particularly so if the discussion was about priests. Because of the church’s celibacy requirement, the only issue regarding gay priests would be orientation, not actual sex — though the pope touched on that, too. The AP article noted he differentiated between a priest accused of consensual adult sex, which he called an issue of sin that could be cleansed through forgiveness,
versus the criminal act of sexual abuse of a child.
So if the pope is saying a priest’s orientation is none of anyone’s business, what’s left to discuss?
“John Allen (of the National Catholic Reporter) was on the plane with Pope Francis,” Graham said. “I think his take is the most accurate.”
Allen quoted the pope saying “The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the
problem ... they’re our brothers.”
So maybe he did mean priests, or maybe he was talking about clergy in part of the conversation and gay people in general in another.
Regardless, Graham says, his choice of words was notable.
“One is that he used the word ‘gay.’ A lot of bishops don’t do that,” Graham said, citing more typical church pronouncements referring to homosexuality as a “disorder.”
Also, he said, “Two words he used the most were ‘joy’ and ‘mercy’ “; terms not normally employed by bishops who view gay people as too different to have a constructive conversation about.
“He’s saying, ‘Let’s begin with mercy instead of judgment,’ “ Graham said, going on to localize the world news by noting its coincidence with legalized same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
With a playful quip at “Pastor John Goldfine” performing the stroke-of-midnight marriages in Duluth on Thursday, Graham noted that one of the first-day weddings was of the postmaster at the College of St. Scholastica; a very good man, he said, and “a very good postmaster.”
Who will no longer be handling mail for Father Graham, except to forward it — though of course you can still pick up the phone and reach him just as easily in Collegeville the next time you have a question about what the pope said. He isn’t going far, or for that matter, forever.
“I expect to return to Duluth at some point,” he said. “This place is home to me.”
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.