In this compelling and deeply affecting memoir, Greg Bourke recounts growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, and living as a gay Catholic. Gay, Catholic, and American describes Bourke’s early struggles for acceptance as an out gay man living in the South during the 1980s and ’90s, his unplanned transformation into an outspoken gay rights activist after being dismissed as a troop leader from the Boy Scouts of America in 2012, and his historic role as one of the named defendants in the landmark United States Supreme Court decision Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. Bourke is unapologetically Catholic, and his faith provides the framework for this inspiring story of how the Bourke De Leon family struggled to overcome antigay discrimination by both the BSA and the Catholic Church and fought to legalize same-sex marriage across the country.
From Chapter 39: Reconciliation
We were never sit-up-front churchgoers, but when Mom and Dad started going to church with us, we’d sit in the front pew so they wouldn’t have to walk down the aisle to the altar to receive Holy Communion. Over those years, my parents became de facto parishioners at Lourdes because everyone grew accustomed to seeing us there with them in the first pew. On Saturday morning each week I’d check in with Mom and Dad and ask if they wanted to go to Mass and dinner that evening. As their health further declined and the weeks and months passed, often they decided to skip church, so I would just take them dinner and Michael and I would go to Mass without them.
It’s difficult to watch those you love decline and face their inevitable future, but that caused me to reflect on where I was in life and what unfinished business I might have left if suddenly taken from this existence. My thoughts turned to the resentment I harbored toward those who had ousted me from scouting and kept me from returning. Specifically I was still upset toward those people at the Archdiocese of Louisville who had mobilized to marginalize my family from full inclusive participation in our Church. As a Christian I knew that resentment was not healthy or sustainable. Jesus called each of us to live without passing judgement on others and to strive to both give and receive forgiveness and reconciliation. My prayer and reflection allowed me to resolve the bitterness I’d been experiencing with the Archdiocese and occasionally with Archbishop Kurtz. Over the following months I sent a few cards and letters to our Archbishop. I took the most conciliatory tone I could, considering our history of friction. To my pleasant surprise, Archbishop Kurtz responded in like tenor.
Later that year, a longtime member of our parish, Joanne Golden, the wife of Deacon Tim Golden, passed away and the funeral was scheduled at Lourdes. Michael and I knew the Goldens and wanted to pay our respects by attending the funeral. By this point Michael was singing regularly in the Resurrection Choir that performed at Lourdes funerals. On that day, November 3, 2016, Michael had already entered the church, so we arrived separately for the funeral. Below is a Facebook post I made later. My social media followers were a bit astonished.
This morning I attended the funeral Mass of a fellow parishioner at Lourdes. As I entered the gathering space, I noticed there was a large group of deacons and priests congregating that included Archbishop Kurtz. We saw each other across the space, and Archbishop walked over and extended his hand and said ‘Greg, thank you for your card.’ I replied ’Thank you for your leadership Archbishop.’ As we shook hands and went on about our respective business.
Last week I sent Archbishop a card letting him know that I was praying for him often, and that I appreciated his service to our Church.
As we prayed the Lord’s Prayer during Mass, it struck me that Archbishop and I have so much more in common than our sometimes-public differences. Archbishop Kurtz has an incredibly difficult job, and I would encourage anyone so inclined to join me in praying for and supporting him.
This was a real turning point not only for my relationship with the Archbishop and the Archdiocese but a great personal growth moment for me as well. What good does it do to hold on to resentment? Jesus taught us to forgive. He died so we could be free from sin and live our lives in his love and free from such baggage. From that day on I have been at peace. My sometimes-contentious relationship with the Archbishop and the Archdiocese is behind me. What good had squabbling done us? None. I decided to call a truce at least from my side of the aisle and instead try prayer and reconciliation. Realizing we have so much more in common in our faith and the great traditions of our Church, we had no choice but to move forward together. The Church was not going anywhere. Neither were Michael and I.