4.03.2005

The Pope and my friend Cliff

There has been a great deal of wonderful things being said about the Pope and his leadership. In the tradition of this world, people are saying exceptional things about this man and he did do some wonderful things, but as a gay man, a person who lost a partner to HIV and someone deeply concerned with the rising HIV rates in the third world, I have some grave thoughts of this Pope.

I cannot bring myself to accept this person was great. He ensured the Catholic Church would not accept homosexuality, that contraception would remain banned and under his leadership the Church actually fought efforts to encourage people in third world to use condoms to prevent HIV.

This Pope returned to the ideals of past. How many people have been beaten up, bashed and even killed because of the church's "war" on homosexuals? This war even led to a recent case where a Catholic Church refused to hold a funeral for a man that died with AIDS. They apologized too late, the harm was done.

In 1985 I had a very dear friend, aboriginal and Catholic in Williams Lake. He left town when he was old enough and went to Vancouver, became a hairdresser and in his 30's returned to Williams Lake.

We remained good buddies for years and then he stopped communicating with me. It was two years before I heard of him again. His sister called me to say he was in St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, a Catholic hospital. She said he was dying and could I come see him.

I got there three days later and found him in a sterile room, all alone. He looked nothing like the man I knew. He was dying due to the AIDS virus. He had not shaved for days as he had no strength, the nurses would not help him with this task, as it was "unsafe". They all approached him with masks and gloves.

I stayed with him for the weekend, we talked about nothing and everything. He loved the touch of my hand on his face, I sat behind him and held him close. Intimacy in a sterile ward.

I asked him if the Catholic Church would give him a funeral and he said they would. I wanted to know if he was comfortable with a Catholic funeral. His response was wise. "The funeral is not for me, it is for my family, the church will say I was one of god's children."

"Even if they know you are gay?" I asked. "They won't mention that," he said, "they won't say I was a good person."
I shaved him twice that weekend once when after I arrived and just before I left on the Sunday to catch my plane home. We must have had thirty cups of tea, I wheeled him out to the hospital garden, he had not been outside in eight weeks. We would sit out there, him wrapped head to toe in blankets often saying nothing, drinking our tea. I would have to hold the tea up for him, gently tipping it to his mouth.

Before I left I told him I would be back in two weeks, he asked if I could write him, "tell me about the guys you meet, about the people you talk to, remind me what life is."

I made several trips to Vancouver from Williams Lake before he came home having recovered enough to walk short distances. He lived at his Grandmother's place, a small but cozy house on the edge of town. We talked about his place with god. He was a believer and felt that the Catholic Church would still send him to god.

We had more tea, I helped with his garden. We enjoyed the petunias and the rose bush he had planted many years before. We had long conversations, some silently, not a word spoken.
He never lashed out against the church or the Pope for condemning his homosexuality. "They will change, it takes time." He then asked me to remember him, remember the person he was, "I know you will be there for many like me, I know you will change laws, but remember you can't just change the laws, you need love and patience to succeed, it takes time, tell them at my funeral who I was."
He died four months after returning to Williams Lake. I attended his funeral, many others did, he had a big family. The service was my first in a Catholic church that I could remember. It was a closed casket, which I thought odd given most aboriginal catholic funerals I had heard were open.

The priest did as my friend had said he would. There were prayers, some bible readings and they said he died of cancer and sent him off to god. The priest asked if anyone had anything to say, I knew I had to say something, I was scared and sat back. There was a long silence, I was willing someone else to stand up first, it seemed like a long time. When I stood I knew that many there would not want hear what I had to say.
No one spoke, no one got up. It was unpleasant space. The Priest started "seeing as no one..." I jumped up, my stomach in my mouth, shouting way too loud, "I have something to say!"
The priest nodded and it took me a minute to get going. I had practiced this before hand. I was open about being gay but not many really knew. I would be outing myself in the middle of "God's house" the people that condemn me, Cliff, us.

I don't recall all that I said, I know I said Cliff was a good person, he helped others. I do recall the end, shaking so bad I was holding onto my seat I concluded, " Cliff was a friend, he was a gay man like me, he did not die of just cancer, he had AIDS." The church got very cold for me at that last moment. I could feel people thoughts hammering me to sit down.
“Cliff was gay and I want to thank you for sending him to god. He knew god and you should know many gay people know god.” I sat down, shaking much worse.
That was the beginning of my serious efforts to bring change, I did go onto contribute to changing the laws and I remembered Cliff's words. "You can't just change laws, you must have love and patience."
The patience is hard, being charitable to those in power that condemn you is not easy and sometimes not possible. Too many gay people are being hurt by religion. Many have died due to the Church’s teaching. Many have been denied their soul.

I cannot speak of the Pope today as a great man. To me he was the CEO of a big business. As any CEO does he did some things I thought good. In the end it comes to the reality faced by gay people everywhere. The Pope condemned us, rallied people like Bishop Henry to fight against gay rights, to say our relationships are unworthy of recognition.

I know Cliff we likely frown a bit when he reads this, he will understand though.

23 comments:

HDcanuck said...

Thank you Rick. Some balance on this story that is so needed. However, I do not hold out the same hope as Cliff on the church changing with time ... John Paul resurrected the Inquisition within the Church during his tenure to deal with "liberals"; they were summoned, read their "sins", given the chance to recant, and excommunicated. They were not able to see the charges against them, not able to have a defense. It was Trial By Ordeal all over again, without the burning (that just wouldn't go over too well today). The Church won't change because it is fundamentally about non-change.

Rick Barnes said...

Dear Jim

I agree with your wrap up.

Rick Barnes said...

Dear Jim

I agree with your wrap up. Still many gay people hold out hope the church will change, though I want to share their optimisim, I can't.

Reality has proven otherwise. Many of my gay friends have or are struggling with this.

Rob Cottingham said...

I wish I could look back in my past and see an instance of that kind of courage, Rick. I'm inspired by the story of your speech at Cliff's funeral, and I'll remember it for a long time.

Re-awakened Shaman said...

thanks Rick...

Our friend ,Nick, had the same type of service. Although it was United Church because of my affilliation. The family were Roman Catholic and Italian and foremost in their minds was protecting his mother from "the truth."

In Memory of Nick Agostino

paul said...

Thank you for sharing your touching story Rick. You are the true definition of a good friend indeed. The world needs more people like you!
I was baptized Catholic and I am watching all of the Pope drama on TV. When will it end? I left the church years ago due to its hate it continues to show to gay people and women etc. The church will not change and I suspect in the end it will die because of a lack of truth. I am not expecting for this to happen in my lifetime, but I continue to be hopeful that the truth will ultimately find its way to the forefront. paulholzapfel@yahoo.com

Rick Barnes said...

Dear Paul

Thanks for your comments. I have met so many Gay men hurt by religion and some that find peace with religion.

I support people in their choices. I do feel that religions have been let off the hook as they spread their venom with immunity.

Rick Barnes said...

re awakened Shaman

I knew Nick Agostino. WOW. My partner Steven was a friend of Nick's many years ago. Steven passed away June 9, 2002.

Here is a link to a bit I wrote last year about Steven and I. It needs editing, but wrote it the day before World AIDS Day last year and was a little emotional.

Will re-write the story this summer sometime.
Salut

Rick

buff said...

Rick, that remembrance of Cliff was very touching. Yes, you were right to remind the church goers during Cliff's funeral mass that Cliff was man who happened to be gay and who died from AIDS. Hiding this fact serves no one any good.
Cliff,as you described, was a good man,and not less of a man, because of being gay.
Thanks for sharing and thanks for posting your thoughts about this to my blog. Yes the Church has a very long way to go.

Patrick Cardwell said...

Dear All,

As a funeral director, who just happens to be gay, for over 35 years, I must tell you it is not just the Catholic Church that condemns us.

I live in the Bible Belt, which of course is run by the Religious Reich. I conducted the funeral of a friend who too died of the horrors of AIDS. The minister stood at the podium and pronounced that "Rick was gay and a sinner and has gone to hell ...." There was a gasp, not from the family, but from the representatives of the gay community who promptly stood and walked out. Not in protest, but in the shame that man had placed on my friend.

Being the director, I unfortunately could not join them. However, on the way to the cemetery, this minister and I had a conversation I thought I would never have with such a bigoted man.

Several weeks later, I received a phone call from this minister. Dreading the call, I did take it. On the other end was a totally different person who began by saying how sorry he was for what he had done to the family.

I told him it wasn't just the family he hurt, but a whole community of good, loving people ... God's creation just like him.

The next week in the local paper there was a letter to the editor from this preacher man ... a letter of apology not only to the family, but to the gay community for judging and passing sentence.

I almost left organized religion over this and other experiences here in the Belt. However, I found Holy Cross MCC. It feels so good to know you are among those who love and accept you for who you are ... who understand the truth of what the Bible says. MCC is not perfect nor are the people who attend. But there was only one perfect person ... and they hung him on a cross.

The Catholic Church will change along with a lot of the other denominations. Time and a lot of caring and loving with be needed on both sides, but I do believe it will happen.

Love to all,
Patrick Cardwell

Patrick Cardwell said...

Dear All,

As a funeral director, who just happens to be gay, for over 35 years, I must tell you it is not just the Catholic Church that condemns us.

I live in the Bible Belt, which of course is run by the Religious Reich. I conducted the funeral of a friend who too died of the horrors of AIDS. The minister stood at the podium and pronounced that "Rick was gay and a sinner and has gone to hell ...." There was a gasp, not from the family, but from the representatives of the gay community who promptly stood and walked out. Not in protest, but in the shame that man had placed on my friend.

Being the director, I unfortunately could not join them. However, on the way to the cemetery, this minister and I had a conversation I thought I would never have with such a bigoted man.

Several weeks later, I received a phone call from this minister. Dreading the call, I did take it. On the other end was a totally different person who began by saying how sorry he was for what he had done to the family.

I told him it wasn't just the family he hurt, but a whole community of good, loving people ... God's creation just like him.

The next week in the local paper there was a letter to the editor from this preacher man ... a letter of apology not only to the family, but to the gay community for judging and passing sentence.

I almost left organized religion over this and other experiences here in the Belt. However, I found Holy Cross MCC. It feels so good to know you are among those who love and accept you for who you are ... who understand the truth of what the Bible says. MCC is not perfect nor are the people who attend. But there was only one perfect person ... and they hung him on a cross.

The Catholic Church will change along with a lot of the other denominations. Time and a lot of caring and loving with be needed on both sides, but I do believe it will happen.

Love to all,
Patrick Cardwell

Rick Barnes said...

Dear Patrick,

Thanks for posting your comment and story! There can be hope for some. As to religion changing, yes it can, it will take a long time.

Just so you know, I am not holding my breath waiting for the Catholic Church or the evangelical crusaders to change.

It's good there are places and or groups like MCC, United Church of Canada, Dignity, Wiccas, and Unitarians to mention a few, for those seeking spirituality within an organized "religion".

Anonymous said...

I am a Roman Catholic and I don't blame you if you feel uneased due to the way the Catholic Church acts towards gays. Maybe someday the church will accept them but the problem is that it believes that the body is a gift of God and we must accept the way we are created physically outside.

I don't mind gays in society. But I think the Pope had a kind of mentality regarding gays and people who use cotraceptives too which in the years he lived in, people did not accept either.

On the other hand, I think this Pope had done a lot within the Roman Catholic church which other religions would not appreciate as much. He helped in defeating communism here is Europe (like the Fall of the Berlin Wall), an enemy of the Catholic church and people who suffered from it and he also aided people fighting the war. He honored many people who had done for their people by giving entitling them as Saints, visited many people in need and gave aid to them.

One thing I admired is how he also loved the youths and how he carried out his job. While in his death bed, he wanted to see the people gathered outside but he couldn't due to parkinsons so he thanked and prayed for them. Before he died he appointed new bishops as his last papal task. When people asked him to stop from doing his duties and rest he replied by saying that Jesus had carried the cross and died on it till the very end of his suffering, I will do also. There are many other things which he has to be remembered for.

No one is perfect, everyone has a defect but compared to his defects, this pope had done a lot more than any other person with his power would have done.

I admire your courage Rick. I don't know if I would have done the same but I never witnessed a similar experience. I hope a Pope in the future will try to change some things regarding this matter although it will be really hard. Also, I am not the only person in my country that believes gays should be accepted within our religion.

Rick Barnes said...

I don't disagree the Pope did some good things. I can only hope all the young people he recruited to the Catholioc Church will challenge the Church on its views on gays and women.

See why I can never look at the Pope or the Organized Catholic church as being good...
Pope no Friend of Queer Communities

They have caused many gay youth and many men in middle age to live in doubt, fear and often enough, take their own lives.

In the process whole families can and are destroyed.

John the Mad said...

The story is moving and your courage and kindness to your friend Cliff is admirable.
Again, if I may, a few points. John Paul II merely reaffirmed Church teaching. It is not the pope's place to rewrite that teaching. He does not come to office with a theological tabla rasa.
In Africa, as I undstand it, the only countries to achieve success in slowing the rate of spread are those emphasizing abstinence and fidelity, e.g., Uganda, where rates have fallen dramatically since the government stopped relying solely on the condom solution.
How many people are beaten up bashed and even killed because of the church's war on homosexuals? There is no war. The Church does not condone violence against gay people and to suggest that it establishes the climate under which the thugs operate is to invoke a spurious relationship in my view.
I am unaware of the Church refusing a funeral to a person who died of AIDS, so without details I cannot comment.
"He [Cliff] was a believer and felt that the Catholic Church would still send him to god." The Church does not "send" people to God, or to the Devil. I expect Cliff is with God. He sounds like a gentle man of good will.
Circa 1985 my sister was a psychiatic nurse. One day a patient with AIDS was admitted to the ward. My sister was the only nurse who would treat the patient and give him injections. She happens to be Catholic. Others were not lacking compassion, just afraid for their lives, as the nature of the disease was unknown. "Gowning" was prudent in those days.
As for the silence at the funeral, you were right to break it and tell them who Cliff was and from what he died.

Martin Martinez said...

Will I can say that these stories were enlightening at best. As a gay Catholic I have never run into the kind of "hell & damnation" these stories describe. I guess it depends on where one lives and how accepted or tolerated homosexuality is in that given area. I have a sister who is a high ranking "superior provencial" who I was sure would approach my homosexuality with sharp criticism. In fact I didn't tell my family or admit until much later when I could no longer deal or chose to deal with who I was. When I told her about myself she just said, "God made you as you are and he loves you". "He does not make mistakes, He made you for us to see that we are all the same regardless of orientation. God would never destroy something that he has created".
My two brothers said basically the same thing. My other sisters did not care either way...they were just relieved that I was finally "out" and that part of my life was not open to discussion ever again...they knew who and what I am and accept it.
...As for the Pope...I would be more concerned about the protestant clergy than any Catholic Pope. In all my years I have never heard our late Pope slam homosexuality. On the contrary he had grown to accept that homosexuality was here to stay and that no amount of condemnation would change who we are. Our new Pope is one that I am leary about...he tends to stick with the orthodoxical views of the church. His dogmatic prospectives disturb me quite a bit...but as I understand he has also modified his views on many topics and is now attempting to preach more tolerance than hatred.
In closing I must say that it has not been my experience that the Church condemns homosexuality...it may not agree with our way of life but I have not seen or been in a situation where I have been osctricized for being gay.

the soup girl said...

I understand the battle between the church and homosexuality. It can be like two dogs trying to dominate the other. Not a win-win situation.I am a spirit-filled, tongue-talking,born-again Christian and I have a gay brother, who also happens to be a gay rights activist. I have been taught many things in church, some things that are in the bible and others that were not. We are trying to preserve a way of life. We want to be good servants, though in our efforts we tend to fall short of being that good servant, I add that there are many, many great men and women who are good servants in the church. There are others too, who find refuge who are the same judgemental people they were before,who now use the church as a forum to spew their personal venom on whoever is near.
The problem is not the Church,just the imperfect people in it. Aren't gay communities filled with judgemental and imperfect people too?
Jesus loves everyone, no exclusions. He died for each and everyone of us, even those that hate him. He is my kind of leader.
He has shown my how my judgements have proven unjust. He told me to be compassionate, to love others. I chose to judge anyone who veered from the path.
My brother and I would exchange greetings at family gatherings, but our lives were lost to each other, he did not understand me, and I was afraid that he would try to drag me back to the life I was caught in many years ago. I love being a believer in Christ, and I will never tolerate gay bashing, I have been vocal about this. I also will not tolerate christian bashing. You have your beliefs and I have mine. My brother and I now try to find common ground where we can be family again. Maybe that is what we all need to do,find some common ground. My brother and I both like Jimmy Carter and the Quakers. It is a start.

Rick Barnes said...

the soup girl


good start is right. I expect you may get some responses with what you have said. Still you will find many here that see the teachings of the christian right cause of much that is a problem today.

Perhaps it is because of imperfect churches, I know many Christians that support gays, and they teach something different than the phnony love the sinner, hate the sin coming out of Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Tristian Emmanuel.

Bart said...

Yours is a truly beautiful story of friendship , human love at its best and loyalty to the end. I knew the church well at one time , when it was progressing for a short period of time. Catholicism can change but it usually takes scientific findings to whack it updside the head . The church sees time as being on its side and arrogantly marginalizes horrendous errors of the past. A good , though not often cited ; is the history of the popes. One could make a series of horror movies from the appalling antics of those men claiming infallibility , including one pope who canonized himself and another who dug up his predecessor and put him on trial - twice ! I've often thought we should offer to remove all traces of homosexuality from the Vatican , which would eliminate most of the artistic masterpieces .....the statue of David would look great in my living room ...LOL .

Monique said...

As a Catholic, reading all the comments and the things that gay people have to say, it looks as though practising Christians and practising homosexuals will never stand on common ground. You know that Christians cannot accept the actions and you feel you can love in no other way.

Arguments or debates make no effect, so personally I am sorry for any bitterness the Church has made you feel towards it. However, please, please, understand that in regards to our teachings we also cannot change because whether or not a Christian is a terrible Christian and disgraces Jesus' name, Jesus' teachings will never change, but neither will His love and mercy change for each one of you.

Yours in Jesus Christ,
Monique

For those who just may be interested http://couragerc.net/

dragonefly said...

i was also raised catholic..alter boy..and was being prepared for the priesthood till puberty hit and i realized what i was...it was the sunday a front page story broke about the clubbath raids in toronto..their was a picture on the cover of mustached men and drag queens protesting in toronto..i got to the paper first and tore out the pic and ditched the paper...i had the artical in my pocket on the alter as i was being lectured about the evils of homosexuality..just before i was supposed to serve up the body of christ!YIKES.....i grew up idolizing the pope....ive decided my percpective on the pope is that he new exactly what he was doing...driving the church into the ground...any movement on homosexuality or womans issues would give true god seeking chatholics hope...as it stands..many will jump ship in the next decades...the church cannot servive cause its the furthist thing from a journy to "god"and the snake in the tree is just a search button away!....the popes last words of insperation was..."be not affraid".....of what is about to happin to the catholic church..............and another thing....this davincy kerfuful...be very careful...from what i see their turnin jesus into a hetro and intoducing blood lines to try and save the male dominated religion............my friend leroy died of aids...i admired him my for his proud gay male disposition....he had the same chip on his shoulder as i do and we spent many hours cabizing about the evils of Catholisism....i drove up do 1oo mile to see him before he died...he had sliped into dementia..and the local catholic soul collector came in and converted him and got him all set up for heavin...my last visit with him invovled him trying to save me before it was to late....this was a very sad day

nancy said...

looking for old friend in gay community of toronto need help in finding him to notify of friend who died of aids complications on dec 1 anyone help me?

root said...

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