News, music, movies & restaurants from the editors of the Silicon Valley's #1 weekly newspaper.
Serving San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Fremont & nearby cities.

News and Features

home | metro silicon valley index | features | silicon valley | feature story


Gay Catholics
Come Out

Secretly, San Jose is the most gay-friendly diocese in the nation. And now, one parish wants the world to know.

By Jessica Fromm
Photographs by Felipe Buitrago

A BEARDED PRIEST in bright-green vestments lifts a rainbow-adorned chalice as he delivers the Eucharistic Prayer, consecrating the bread and wine for the sacrament of Communion. Surrounding him, a dozen people link hands around an altar inside a tiny, dimly lit chapel at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Parish in San Jose.

"Lift up your hearts," the priest says.

"We lift them up to the Lord," responds the congregation in unison.

"Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God."

"It is right to give him thanks and praise."

This is the Emmaus Mass, the only bishop-sanctioned gathering for gay and lesbian Catholics in the Diocese of San Jose. Held on Saturday evenings inside a small glass room, this quiet, subdued gathering of older men and women focuses on being a safe place of support for Silicon Valley's LGBT Catholic community and their families.

During his homily, the presiding priest talks about the struggle to accept oneself. He asks the parishioners to pray for those who do not understand them and encourages them to not become frustrated if they experience nonacceptance from their loved ones. Behind the priest, through floor-to-ceiling panes of glass, parishioners can look out on the rows of pews in the empty, darkened main church space.

The following Sunday morning, a different kind of mass is being held at a humble, suburban Catholic parish in south San Jose. St. Julie Billiart Parish sits at the base of the dry, rolling foothills near Santa Teresa Park, surrounded by tract homes. No grand statues or opulent stained glass adorns the slope-roofed exterior of the unobtrusive church. Inside, a large, diverse, family-oriented crowd has gathered for a much more jubilant service.

St. Julie's pastor, Rev. Jon Pedigo, leads the liturgical music at the 11:30am mass, backed by a teenage band. Singing at the top of his lungs, he pounds out songs on a grand piano while his Birkenstock-clad feet thump the instrument's pedals.

Today's gospel reading is the story of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar who called out to Jesus for pity, though the people of Jericho tried to silence him. Pacing between pews filled with seniors, children, teens, families and gay couples, Pedigo breaks down the story as he delivers his homily.

"Physical sight was Bartimaeus' issue," he says, "but the real sin was the blindness in the seeing-people around him. Seeing-people see skin color, status, age, gender, weight, orientation, education level, etc. They do not see the real you."

"Those we silence at our convenience. Have pity on me!" he prays. "Those whose life partners embarrass us in polite company. Have pity on me!"

"In my heart, I believe we are at the brink of a great awakening in our global community. I believe that as the upper echelons of ecclesial power worry themselves with the window dressings of Christian tradition and thus fade into irrelevance, there will be a renaissance of a more 'radical' or 'root' Christian faith."

The Diocese of San Jose has long been one of the most gay-friendly Roman Catholic ecclesiastical territories in the United States. Few people know this, and many in the local Catholic community would like it stay that way.

On the orders of former Bishop Roland Pierre DuMaine and current Bishop Patrick Joseph McGrath, the diocese has been able to offer ministry and support to local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholics for more than 20 years by operating under the radar.

Recently, progressive Catholic leaders and members of the San Jose religious community are working to change this tentative approach to gay Catholic ministry.

In fact, led by Pedigo, St. Julie Billiart Parish has developed a strong following among Silicon Valley's gay Catholics. Currently, the church's pastoral staff is considering a proposal to take even more open and bold steps toward the establishment of church-directed LGBT outreach, along with helping other parishes extend a hand to their own gay parishioners.

In light of President Barack Obama's speech at the Human Rights Campaign dinner last month, and with Maine's gay marriage law being repealed Nov. 3, more and more American Catholics are calling for the opening of a dialogue on the church's stance on homosexuality and marriage equality. As the outlook for gay rights in the church looks grim, a few progressive Catholic communities are making grassroots efforts to include everybody at the Lord's table, no matter their race, economic status or sexual orientation.

Still, the Vatican continues to assert that gay marriage is one of the biggest threats to morality in the modern world, and that homosexuality is a pitiable, "intrinsically disordered" condition no different from alcoholism. LGBT-identifying Catholics face a battle for acceptance even in the Bay Area, where there is perhaps more tolerance and support than anywhere.

Even the few clergy members who acknowledge the gay Catholic community feel that they have to keep their ministry on the down low. Many fear retaliation by conservative Catholic factions if they upset the apple cart, particularly those who supported Proposition 8 last year, like Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, who helped spearhead the initiative. Just last week, the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., announced its intention to withdraw all church-funded social services should the D.C. City Council legalize same-sex marriage.

Another obstacle to acceptance comes this Nov. 16, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathers in Baltimore to review its new pastoral statement titled "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan." If approved, this official statement will be the final nail in the coffin for gay marriage in the eyes of the Catholic Church, establishing it as the most anti-LGBT religious institution in the United States.


MINISTER OF MUSUIC Rev. Jon Pedigo leads the liturgical band during the St. Julie's parish 11:30am Sunday mass, on Oct. 25, 2009.

The Sinners
And the Sin

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' official teaching on homosexuality is that same-sex orientation in itself is not a sin, because it is not subject to one's free will. However, the bishops state that being gay is an "intrinsically disordered" condition, and that people who choose to act on their homosexual inclinations are engaging in sin.

"While the Church teaches that homosexual acts are immoral, she does distinguish between engaging in homosexual acts and having a homosexual inclination" says the USCCB's official statement "Ministry to Persons With a Homosexual Inclination," released in 2006. "While the former is always objectively sinful, the latter is not. Although one would be morally culpable if one were voluntarily to entertain homosexual temptations or to choose to act on them, simply having the tendency is not a sin."

The statement goes on to lay out how gay men and lesbians should always choose lives of celibacy. In the church's view, the only reason that people should ever act on their sexuality is for the direct purpose of procreation. Church leaders have concluded that the sole aim of homosexual relationships is narcissistic genital sexual gratification, which is a sin.

"Always Our Children," a USCCB pastoral statement published in 1997, has become the go-to guide for how Catholic parishes, like St. Julie Billiart, are supposed to treat gay individuals. It encourages families to accept and love their gay sons and lesbian daughters when they come out, while at the same time encouraging them to completely abstain from sex.

"You can help a homosexual person in two general ways," says Always Our Children. "First encourage him or her to cooperate with God's grace to live a chaste life. Second, concentrate on the person, not on the homosexual orientation itself. ... All in all, it is essential to recall one basic truth. God loves every person as a unique individual."

Rev. Jim Schexnayder, a retired priest and co-founder of the Catholic Association for Lesbian & Gay Ministry (CALGM) in Berkeley, says that Always Our Children is not based in reality. However, he says, the fact that it even offers support to LGBT Catholics was groundbreaking when it was released.

"It's been the most positive pastoral statement that has come out of our church in this regard, and it's effectively helped to start most [LGBT] ministries around the country," says Schexnayder. "In the last 10 years, it's really been the impetus for many ministries to develop support on the diocesan and parish level. It's been a resource for education."

Schexnayder says that although the church apposes gay marriage and gay sexual relationships, he is encouraged by the fact that Always Our Children says that gay parishioners should continue to be part of Catholic communities.

"It depends on the person and how they receive it," he says. "It has a lot to do with being in support of parents in a compassionate and loving way, and being in support of gay and lesbian people. It says that you are a child of God created for a purpose in God's design. That's a very positive statement for many people, that you're not a mistake. You're not the enemy."

James B. Nickoloff, a Catholic theologian and a fellow at Santa Clara University, says that the Catholic Church's view of homosexuality is that gay people are afflicted with a grave disorder.

"The official teachings see it as something which is not the responsibility of the person who has it. They shouldn't be blamed for it, like you shouldn't blame an alcoholic for being an alcoholic," says Nickoloff. "If the person acts on their condition of being an alcoholic, in other words, if they go to a bar and drink, then the outcome of that is always going to be damaging to the person themselves, to the people around them and to society. Because, they're going to get into their car, they are going to be drunk and they are going to kill somebody. That's how the church sees homosexuality."

Last May, Nickoloff published a paper titled "Intrinsically Disordered: Gay People and the Holiness of the Church," while serving as a resident professor at the Santa Clara University Religious Studies Department. A devout Catholic, Nickoloff is also a self-affirming gay man who is legally married in the state of Massachusetts. He taught four courses on the relationship between homosexuality and the church while doing his research.

"My question to the official teachers of the church, the clergy and especially the bishops, is: Where are the studies that demonstrate that when a person acts on a homosexual orientation, it's harmful? In fact, most studies show that homosexual people, who enter into loving, permanent relationships with other people, are happier and more productive. So, that's where the bind is, because the teaching doesn't make sense," says Nickoloff.


HUMANITARIAN ANGLE: Bob Rucker, a St. Julie's parishioner and professor at San Jose State University, teaches a class in Dwight Bentel Hall. Rucker is leading St. Julie's outreach to the LGBT Catholic community.

Bishops Say 'No'

One of the broad goals the USCCB has set for itself for 2010 is the "defense of marriage effort," which will be a top item for discussion at its general assembly this week. The development of "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan" is part of a broader initiative to promote and strengthen marriage in an era where more than half of heterosexual marriages are destined to fail.

A draft of the statement was leaked to the web last month. The official document states that same sex unions are one of the most troubling developments in contemporary culture.

"[Same sex marriage] harms both the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the common good of society," reads the draft statement, which will be debated and voted on by the bishops this week. "The legal recognition of same-sex unions poses a multifaceted threat to the very fabric of society, striking at the source from which society and culture come and which they are meant to serve."

The statement continues by asserting that same-sex marriage has nothing to do with civil rights.

"Today, advocacy for the legal recognition of various same sex relationships is often equated with nondiscrimination, fairness, equality and civil rights. However, it is not unjust to oppose legal recognition of same-sex unions, because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it."

When voters in Maine revoked their state law allowing same-sex marriage on Nov. 3, the USCCB immediately released a letter applauding the repeal, an effort the church strongly supported.

"Protecting marriage between a man and a woman has nothing to do with denying basic rights to anyone, though it is often framed in such terms," said Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz in the Nov. 4 statement. After praising Maine's voters for denying gay men and women the right to marry, he went on to underscore the fact that the church "stands for the basic rights of all people, including homosexual persons" and "decries any unjust discrimination against persons who experience same-sex attraction."

Many gay Catholics believe that the reason that this contradiction in the church exists is due to a lack of communication. There is a huge moat between those laying down the religious law—the bishops and the Vatican—and the realities of contemporary culture that parish priests face every day.

"I think the bishops are seriously separated from the culture in general, and gay and lesbian people in particular," Nickoloff says. "Who are they listening to? Where are they getting their information? In the Catholic Church, there are no women writing documents, and there are no openly gay people writing documents either. So, that's one of the reasons why the bishops are so distant. They are sort of making it harder and harder, in recent years, for themselves to hear the stories of real gay people."

Bill Welch, a longtime member of the Emmaus Community and the former head of the San Jose chapter of DignityUSA, the national organization for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Catholics, says that many in the local gay Catholic community are not looking forward to the outcome of this week's vote.

"People are getting tired of the words 'intrinsically evil' and 'objectively disordered.' They are saying, 'I don't want to hear that anymore. Throw that out. Get rid of it.'

"When they were doing Prop. 8, nobody interviewed any gay or lesbian Catholics, so nobody had any idea of where and what position these people are coming from. The same with this pastoral letter."

Catholics by Choice

The front page of the weekly bulletin at St. Julie Billiart says "All Are Welcome," specifically pointing out that it is a community of "people who are straight, gay and lesbian." It is a rare statement for a Catholic parish bulletin, written by Pedigo, the church's pastor.

Unlike many who enter the priesthood, Pedigo did not grow up Roman Catholic. He says, half-joking, that's why he is not saddled with traditional Catholic guilt.

Pedigo was raised in Pacifica, the son of a Buddhist mother of Japanese decent who grew up in the sugar cane plantation camps of Hawaii. His father is a Caucasian Protestant and a former union organizer.

"I really didn't have those shame issues," Pedigo says. "My perceptions of God came from a more Asian perspective, that God exists for unity and love. It's a different way of dealing with it that's not so much the punishment piece."

Though his family was not Catholic, Pedigo says he had a desire to attend church from a young age. He says he enjoyed the music, as well as the free donuts. He says he became aware of his spiritual side while attending college in the late 1970s, majoring in music and performance at San Francisco State University. While he focused on mastering the clarinet, he also became involved with political and social justice issues.

"It was at that point that I started looking into this integration of poetry, music, spirituality and political activism. I just saw all of those pieces coming together, and always had the reference point of the Catholic church," he says. Pedigo insists that his coming of age in San Francisco was like any other young adult.

"I went on dates, I had fun. I was a music major, so I'd go out with a lot of people partying and stuff like that," he recalls. "I guess the difference was that there was a part of me that is just like anybody else, but there was also a part of me that is more introspective. That's the part that began to dominate my life. When everybody around me was pushing the limits and pushing the envelope in terms of the excesses of the 1970s and '80s, I actually did the opposite."

It was after attending graduate school for his master's in music education at Indiana University, Bloomington, that Pedigo decided to start seriously exploring theology.

"Everything began to come together, so my whole life has been a series of integrating various strands and weaving them into one common thread of social change," he says. "When converting, I had the question 'Should I or shouldn't I pursue this and live it as a full-time job.' The answer was yeah, this is really what I want to do. It makes me feel that I'm doing the right thing. It feels natural to me."

However, while exploring the possibility of converting to Catholicism, he learned fast that the norms that he grew up with in the liberal Bay Area and the world of academia did not fly in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

A self-described "bad seminarian," Pedigo says he frequently clashed with his superiors after entering St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park in 1984. He later earned his Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

"I'm a better priest then I was a seminarian," he says. "I talked way too much and I said too many controversial things. Seminarians are supposed to be quiet and complacent, and I tended to have opinions, and they weren't always received well. My thought was, I want them to know and let them see what they are ordaining."

In addition to friction at the seminary, he faced opposition at home. When he finally made the decision to join the priesthood, Pedigo says, his parents practically disowned him because they viewed the Roman Catholic Church as a self-serving institution.

"My parents were very upset," he says. "They were really set on having grandkids, my mother especially, and that just wasn't part of the gig.

"In one of her fits of consternation, we were sitting eating, and my father was in the next room watching TV. She stopped eating and we looked at each other and she said, 'You mean to tell me that you're going to listen to some man 10,000 miles away from here, and you don't even listen to the man in the next room?"

Pedigo's parents were not present at his ordainment ceremony in 1991. He says his mother and father eventually came to terms with his chosen lifestyle when he started taking more of an activist role at his first parish, St. Catherine of Alexandria in Morgan Hill.

That's also where he received his first hate mail, after he began getting involved in farm rights in South County.

Ask and Tell

Though it is a small, 1,000-household suburban church, St. Julie Billiart Parish has a substantial number of gay and lesbian parishioners, dating back to its start in the mid-1970s. St. Julie's founder, Rev. Matthew Sullivan, and second pastor Rev. Richard Fry, were both strong believers in the liberal reforms of Pope John XXIII's Vatican II.

Pedigo joined St. Julie's community in July 2001, after Fry retired.

He says it was already a liberal-leaning Catholic community when he became pastor, and that it was important for him to establish strong involvement and leadership within the lay ministry and staff.

With the help of Pedigo, St. Julie's also formed a pastoral council that came to consensus early on that they wanted to make a point by addressing and acknowledging all types of people who called St. Julie's their parish.

"There are gay and lesbian people in every Catholic parish," Pedigo says. "Even in the most conservative parishes there are gay and lesbian parishioners present. Certainly the parents and friends of gay and lesbian persons are in the pews at any time.

"Our thing is we simply acknowledge the fact that they are there. So it's not like we're a dysfunctional family where there is this pink elephant in the room and nobody's talking about the pink elephant."

Pedigo said that as he started to notice the growing LGBT Catholic community that was coming to St. Julie's, he decided to consult the established gay Catholic community at the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in San Francisco's Castro District.

"I said, 'Look, I'm a server in San Jose, and I have all these gay and lesbian people coming for baptism and wanting their babies to be baptized and raising their kids and their families Catholic. And we've got kids in the youth group who are sexual.' I asked, 'What do you guys do about this? What have you done?'"

"They said that your primary concern is to be open to them and hear their stories and minister to them just as you would anybody else, and not to see it as a special side ministry, but to see it as part and parcel to parish life."

From that time forward, Pedigo has freely acknowledged and supported the gay and lesbian Catholics who flock to St. Julie's. He publicly opposed Prop. 8, going so far as to post video interviews with gay Catholic families on his blog (

Pedigo says that when dealing with his gay parishioners, and especially with the teen group, he tries to emphasize that the process of coming out is not a big deal.

"With the kids, if you take away the elements of fear and shame, then they can be in a place to make a better psychological decision to choose a relationship that's healthy, that's not exploitive, that's deep and meaningful, rather then just sex," he says. "Then, your parishioner is a much healthier individual that will be able to exercise intelligent choices."

Pedigo makes it very clear that it is not his or St. Julie's agenda to stand up and challenge the official teaching of the Catholic Church, but that his flock is his first priority.

"What we do here is consistent with the history of the Diocese of San Jose," he says. "They are very well aware of what we are doing, in terms of our welcoming and openness.

"We recognize that the church that we're a part of does not recognize aspects of the gay and lesbian or transgender experience, including ordination and marriage. But LGBT members and their families are still identifying with the Catholic Church."

Bob Rucker, a St. Julie's parishioner and a founding member of the pastoral council who is leading the church's outreach effort to the LGBT Catholic community, explains why he thinks Pedigo is such a great leader.

"He's one of those rare finds who combine a wonderful, inviting, charismatic personality with an incredible intelligence. I've never known a Catholic priest who was able to inspire more and get more out of college kids, high school kids and grammar school kids then Jon Pedigo. He just connects with them. He also has the ability to use the collar effectively with those of us over the age of 30 or 40 or 50, who think we know it all.

"He has a wonderful calming effect that's based on intellect and respect for people. He's very clear that he is very loyal to the church, but he takes a pragmatic view. Why not help people find a way to deal with what they are facing? Instead of saying, 'Well, just deny that part of you, just don't do it, live this way and you will be saved.'"

Pedigo says that, over the years, the hardest thing about being a priest for him has been working within the Roman Catholic Church's institutional limitations.

"You have this thousands-of-years-old institution, with its hierarchy and institutional culture," he says. "And then you have the demands of real life. Sometimes, the institution's time frame is not adequate to deal with the realities that are put in front of you. I tend to identify with what's in front of me, because that's my job, to be in the field, in the mix.

"When you're listening to people's pain, a lot of that is not going to be in line with what somebody in a higher office with a pointy hat says. My job is not to be a PR person for the church. My job is to guide my flock.

"It's about truly raising the dead. If somebody's spirit has been slaughtered, it doesn't matter the person's lifestyle or his or her life choices or what things have happened in their life. If you're a person who's really listening, you'll go to deal with that pain. You'll work with it to move it towards a level of healing, instead of saying, 'Oh well, I have a ready-made answer from the institution that's going to fit you just perfectly.' That just doesn't work."

Beyond Tolerance

San Jose Bishop Patrick Joseph McGrath was one of the first Catholic Church leaders in the country to establish a Pastoral Resource Committee to support LGBT-identifying Catholics. Information and resources for gay and lesbian Catholics are freely displayed on the San Jose Diocese website. Even the Diocese of San Francisco, which has one of the largest gay and lesbian populations in the nation, has yet to establish a Diocesan-sanctioned ministry to the LGBT community.

McGrath became bishop of San Jose in 1998, and has spoken many times with leaders of the LGBT Catholic community. In 2005, the diocese went so far as to host the 12th annual conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries at the downtown San Jose Hilton Hotel. The bishop was the opening session speaker at the event, which included three days of workshops, worship and networking.

And yet the diocese does not publicly speak to the gay and lesbian Catholic community about its stance or ministry. McGrath declined to be interviewed or give any comment for this story.

Bob Rucker says that he was personally invited to attended an LGBT Catholic community outreach meeting organized by Bishop McGrath last June. He said that 40-some members of the local clergy leadership were also present.

"I saw a very positive example there of how the leadership of the Catholic diocese, the priests, were being schooled on the humanitarian angle on this outreach," Rucker says. "But, I have to be fair. I also noticed that though there were a good number of priests there who wanted to bring this up and figure out a way to approach it, there were also priests who were not very attentive, who obviously seemed put off by the notion of ruffling the feathers.

"I have to give the bishop credit, he articulates beautifully, eloquently, lovingly, on what Catholic priests should be doing as leaders of their parishes," he says. "My only problem with him is the same problem we have with our president of the United States. It's wonderful to speak eloquently, but what exactly are you doing to push that agenda through as leader of a diocese?"

Bob Welch, who has been involved in the gay Catholic community in the South Bay since the late 1970s, says that Dignity San Jose used to have an active outreach in the late '80s and early '90s that included staffing a booth at the San Jose Gay Pride Festival. The DignityUSA San Jose chapter dissolved about four years ago.

For the latter part of the group's existence, there was a large amount of conflict about how visible they should be. Welch says many were scared that if they were too upfront about their outreach, they would be shut down. He says they had multiple incidents where conservative Catholics came to their events with recorders, later using them to write protests to newspapers and the Vatican.

Still, he says, priests and parishioners who minister at and attend the St. Martin of Tours mass are fearful of retaliation. "There are a number of people here who are taking an underground position," he says. "We do have people, and a lot of priests, who are very anxious about their jobs."

Our Church Too

On Oct. 19, St. Julie's Parish pastoral council met to discuss the establishment of an LGBT outreach effort. Rucker led the meeting. He presented a 10-page document to the committee, outlining the goals of the new ministry as well as clarifications of diocesan and church policy regarding ministry to homosexuals. He says the pastoral council's reception was very positive.

"We just want to step up and do more, so we are fully welcomed as human beings with family, not just as gay people," he says.

Rucker believes that taking a more public approach is essential, because even at St. Julie's there is an air of holding back. "I just met a couple two days ago at Father Jon's 11:30am mass. Two guys together is always kind of an indicator. I walked up to those guys and said, 'Hey, how are you? My name is Bob, I'm the lector today at church. My partner's name is Ben."

"Their eyes lit up. They begin to tell me, 'Yeah, we got married last year, and we have a family, and we like coming here. Wow, you actually just told us here in church,' and I said, 'Yeah, it's confession of the truth. Isn't it cool?'

"We have to convince the church that confession of the truth won't hurt the priests, or the institution, or the parishioners." "Do I come into the church yelling to everybody 'I'm gay, I'm gay, I'm gaaaay!' No, I don't, but I don't miss an opportunity to talk about my family, including my partner. I'm not going to dishonor him by not talking about him.

"Gay and lesbian people have been told for so long, 'Drop the pronouns, don't talk about it in church and you'll be welcome.' And now we're saying, 'Use the pronouns. Be truthful.'"

Though Rucker has attended the Emmaus Mass at St. Martin of Tours several times with his partner, he said that he does not think that the diocese-sponsored effort is doing enough to address the issues of gay and lesbian Catholics.

"As an African American gay person, I saw the Emmaus Mass as a blatant example of separate but equal," he says. "It's the same nonsense we had to go through as black people. You could have equal opportunities as white people, but at different locations. That is totally un-Christ-like."

Rucker says his partner disagrees with him on this point. Many of their gay and lesbian friends embrace the Emmaus Mass as at least an opportunity to stay connected with their Catholic faith.

"But, for me, growing up in a family where my father marched with Martin Luther King, I think my parents and Martin Luther King would be appalled that the Catholic Church would throw such crumbs at us and say, 'This will cover you.' No, it doesn't."

Rucker sees St. Julie's is the best place in the Bay Area to start public outreach to the LGBT Catholic community. Though the ministry is still in its formative stages, Rucker is confident that now is the time to get the ball rolling and start a conversation.

"I'm not under any delusions that this is going to be a quick fix. I might not live long enough to see it. But last Nov. 4, just before she died, my 95-year-old mother got to see the election of the first black president of the United States. We both cried because we never thought it would happen.

"There is a God, and all things are possible through him. You have to try."

Freedom From Hate

Having worked for gay and lesbian Catholic rights in Silicon Valley for over 30 years, Welch says that the fact that more people are taking an active role in parishes helps him hold onto hope.

"I have seen changes that I have never thought would have happened in my lifetime. I have a strong personal belief that if change is going to come, it's got to come from within," he says. "If we sit back and wait for the change to come from outside, from the Vatican and the bishops, we're never going to see it."

In light of the USCCB's probable stance against gay marriage in Maryland this week, many gay Catholics say that church leaders need to stop avoiding their responsibilities as shepherds of Christ, and step up to facilitate communication and dialogue.

For Rucker, this means an end to the lethargy on the part of many parish priests and church leaders who expect gay and lesbian Catholics to soldier on with their lives in a pitiable state of mute self-loathing.

For him, the conversation needs to start with the priests of every single parish and diocese in the country having a meeting with their congregation to talk about gay and lesbian issues, whether they find discomfort in it or not.

"You'd expect a church that is founded by Jesus to have more courage, more guts, more willingness to take the nails of words and criticism. Such hypocrisy is not Christ-like.

"We've waited long enough for the Catholic Church to realize we have flesh and bones, we have immortal souls."

For Pedigo, his approach to gay and lesbian ministry comes down to the original teachings of Jesus Christ.

"What is Christ's original teaching? Who did he relate to? He didn't relate to the central power in Jerusalem. His primary audience are the people on the margins of society. He was meeting with people who were socially marginalized. So, in a sense, who does the table belong to? Jesus' vision belongs to the most discriminated, the most broken. The people who live in the most narrow space. The people who live in the most oppressive situation. Those who live in that narrow space, that is confining and limiting. This is who liberation is for."

Send a letter to the editor about this story.