There was snow in June at Saint Cecilia's Church in Boston, but the miracle was a contrived hoax.
Father John Unni, pastor of St. Cecilia's Roman Catholic Church in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, planned an "All Are Welcome" mass and announced it in the church bulletin. That mass coincided with Boston Pride. Very nice of him to do that. More pastors should do that. Homophobic Paul Revereular parishioners did the math and alarmed the archbishop, claiming that Unni was supporting gay rights. The archdiocese stepped in and cancelled ("indefinitely postponed") the mass. On Sunday, with an auxiliary bishop watching and listening, Unni preached a fiery sermon reiterating the the basic teaching of Jesus that all are loved by God. There was thunderous applause (which is rare in a Catholic church.) The smiling bishop recessed down the main aisle directly behind Unni who received the embraces and tearful thanks of parishioners gay and straight.
Everyone was joyful, but no one more than the archbishop, who can now report to the pope that he had squelched the pro-gay priest without losing face. You see, the "All are welcome" Mass is still not happening. My pal Joe Jervis is claiming that Unni defied the bishop. I am sorry to say that he didn't defy anybody. I am sorry to say that Father Unni is not our hero. He was part of a careful and successful snow job.
The only real act of defiance available to the pastor of Saint Cecilia's would have been to go ahead with the scheduled mass of inclusion. He did not do this. He knuckled under. I suspect the archbishop made it clear to him that any defiance would result in his removal from the parish. The archbishop of Boston is no fool. He does not simply swat flies. He coaxes them to sip the sweet Kool Aid and that is what happened here.
In a very clever spin, he managed to ally the pastor, the parish, the "Rainbow" group of gays, and the spokesman of the archdiocese behind a sweet but entirely bleached message of welcome and inclusion. In his sermon, Father Unni decried bigoted conservative parishioners who somehow came to the conclusion that the planned mass would be about gay rights and gay pride.
Check that pastor's heels for bruises from heroic backpedaling! I wonder if any reporter has asked Father Unni if his sermon was vetted by the archdiocese. I bet it was.
Also, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the work of auxiliary bishops, they basically ride the Confirmation circuit, delivering that sacrament at various parishes as a stand-in for the archbishop. Very rarely would an auxiliary bishop "sit in" on a pastor's Mass and listen to his sermon. With spectacular bold faced deception, the archdiocese claimed that the auxiliary bishop was simply there because of Confirmation. Sorry, he was in the sanctuary of the church to offer first-hand witness to the content of Father Unni's sermon so that he could verify its contents in his report to the archbishop. (Confirmation was scheduled for the 11am Mass but the auxiliary bishop did not deliver the usual Confirmation sermon. Fr. Unni delivered his bleached sermon under the watchful eye of the auxiliary bishop.)
It is very easy to come to the naive conclusion that the pastor of St. Cecilia's is a pro-LGBT hero. I suspect that in his heart he is pro-LGBT and I suspect that he would like to be heroic. I suspect that he is in favor of gay rights and that he would love to perform gay marriages in St. Cecilia's and that he would love to come out of the closet and that he would love all priests, bishops, cardinals and popes to come out of their closets. I suspect he would be in favor of the ordination of women and a married Catholic clergy. I can hear this in his voice, but I did not hear this in his words. He passed on the opportunity to be heroic. He remains a company man, and for this he will be rewarded.
Do we need more priests like Father Unni? No and yes. His plans for the inclusive/welcoming mass highlighted the struggle for LGBT rights in the Catholic Church and also highlighted the startling fact that most Catholics in the pews are in favor of LGBT rights. For this, I would give him props. But he lit a fire that got out of control, and rather than let it blaze, he joined the archdiocesan bucket brigade that put it out. Real heroism and real defiance demand otherwise. His actions were ultimately not in line with what I suspect his heart tells him is the real message of Jesus. He wasted his fifteen minutes.
I know it's hard not to get the impression that I am writing with bitterness because of my own experience of Catholicism. I am actually not bitter about those years. I rather enjoyed my time inside the institutional church but I saw the duplicity from the inside and at the highest levels of the hierarchy. I had to make a choice to continue soldiering for a hateful hierarchy or to leave it. Father Unni faces that choice and I think he is pushing himself toward the door but he can't quite bring himself to walk through it. My guess is that he daily decides that the good he can accomplish for his parishioners outweighs the evil that he perpetuates as part of the current gay-hating hierarchy of misguided Catholicism.
This story isn't yet over. Father Unni still has opportunities for greatness, but if he wants to be heroic and if he wants to be a true advocate for the LGBT Catholics of St. Cecilia's, and if he wants to be true to the message of Jesus, he will sooner or later be at odds with the archbishop, the auxiliary bishop and the archdiocesan spokesman. I don't much pray for anything anymore, but if I did, I'd pray for that day.