The Rev. Bryan Massingale, who speaks at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Harlem, follows in the footsteps of two historic Martin Luthers in his preaching; the Baptist Civil Rights icon and the rebellious 16th-century German priest banished from the Catholic Church.
Massingale, like King, denounces the evils of racism and injustice in America, leading by example as a teaching African American religious approaches to ethics at Fordham University.
As a gay man, Massingale does not agree with the church’s historically homophobic position on same-sex relationships. He has made it his mission to advocate for the Catholic church, pushing for acceptance and inclusivity of the LGBTQ inside the church.
According to a mealy-mouthed statement to dispel claims of homophobia, the Vatican released a statement, saying on one hand that gays and lesbians should be treated with dignity and respect. However, at the same time, they also argued gay sex is evil and “intrinsically disordered.” (Whatever the hell that means.)
Massingale, who came out in 2019, envisions a society “where the dignity of every individual is acknowledged and protected, where everyone is cherished. ” He shared this sentiment in a recent Sunday sermon.
However, he noted, the message of equality and tolerance is “resisted even within our own religion household.” In answer, a worshiper exclaimed, “Preach!”
Massingale was born in Milwaukee in 1957. Bigotry is something of which he’s grown quite accustomed in that city. He recalls racism was so rampant in Wisconsin African Americans were barred from joining the carpenters’ union, and he witnessed his father unable to work as a carpenter.
When the Massingales moved to the outskirts of Milwaukee and joined a predominantly white parish, they faced bigotry as well.
He recalls the parish priest remarking, “This would not be a very comfortable parish for you to be a part of.” The family took that as a warning and went instead to a predominantly African-American Catholic church.
In adulthood, after celebrating his first Mass at a primarily white parish as a freshly ordained priest, Massingale recalled another event in which bigotry once again reared its head.
‘Father, you coming here is the biggest mistake the archbishop could have made,’ said the first parishioner who greeted me at the door. ‘No one will ever accept you,’
Such incidents with racism in the Catholic Church and now homophobia would make one ask why Massingale stays and subjects himself to such blatant prejudice?
“I’m not going to allow the church’s racism to rob me of my relationship with God.” I regard it as my responsibility to make the church more global and the institution that I believe Jesus intended it to be,” he says.
While I do admire Massingale for his effort, for me, there comes the point where I will waste no more time trying to belong where I’m not wanted. The Catholic church has made it abundantly clear how it feels about consenting adults in same-sex relationships. Too bad it doesn’t delve deeper into its own internally perversion-plagued institutions and scandals of priests in sex abuse claims, illicit drug-fueled sex orgies, and global lawsuits filed against priests accused of pedophilia.
Despite all that, Massingale remains deeply rooted in his faith with a distinct vision of the church, one in which all Catholics, regardless of sexual orientation, are accepted and can enjoy the same benefits. He optimistically shares with ABC news,
“I believe that one can express one’s sexuality in a responsible, devoted, life-giving, and joyful way.”
I admire Massingale for his hopeful future vision where the Catholic church will embrace the LGBT fully, but as I see it, for now, he’ll be waiting for a long time.
Let’s just hope he has the patience of a saint. He’ll need it.