Father Tony

The Saint of 9/11

Filed By Father Tony | September 07, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: 9/11, Catholic church, gay priests, Mychal Judge, Twin Towers

The body of Mychal Judge was tagged with the designation "Victim 0001", as the first official casualty of 9/11. mychaljudgebyshannonstapleton.jpgIn the famous Shannon Stapleton/Reuters photo, he is being carried out of the lobby of the North Tower where he had been killed by debris from the collapsing South Tower. He was a Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor assigned to the monastery at the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in Manhattan on West 31st Street. He was also a chaplain with the NYFD and one of the first responders to the attack on the twin towers. He was a recovered alcoholic and he was gay.

Now called the "Saint of 9/11", Father Judge had earned a reputation for kindness and compassion that infused his ministry to the poor, addicts and persons living with AIDS.

He clearly defined his personal vocation and mission, helping the neediest, the downtrodden and alienated LGBT Catholics. With little time left to rail against church leaders guided by hypocrisy and homophobia, Father Judge simply offered mercy where it was in short supply. It is said that the harshest criticism he may have spoken was "Is there so much love in this world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?"

Many people who worked with Father Judge knew he was gay but did not define him primarily by that descriptive. Instead, they defined him by his work, and they came to a greater acceptance of LGBT equality because of their respect and admiration for his ministry. I recently asked well known author and co-founder of the gay Catholic group Dignity New York, Father John McNeill, about Father Judge.

He said, "I was Mychal's spiritual advisor. He was so full of joy and mirth and his heart just reached out to the people in his care. He seemed to feel the pain of people in pain, and he entered into their private hell, and as soon as he did, it was no longer hell. That is how powerful he was as a comforter. Mychal showed such love, especially for people dying from AIDS. He would walk into their hospital room with his holy oils to do the sacrament of 'anointing of the sick' and he would throw aside the bed clothes and massage their feet with the holy ointments."

Among the victims and heroes of 9/11 were many other gay people who have been claimed and memorialized and honored by their families, friends and communities. Although a documentary film has been made about the extraordinary priesthood of Father Judge, and a section of West 31st Street has been renamed for him, The Roman Catholic Church has turned its back on all requests to initiate the process of making him an official saint of the church. A gay priest who ministers to gay people and is not heavy handed about gay sex is an inconvenience and a source of anxiety for the Catholic hierarchy who have redesigned their scrutiny of candidates for the priesthood to discourage and weed out men like Mychal Judge.

I have asked the spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York for information about any plans New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan may have to honor or reference Father Judge on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and I will update this post should I receive a response.

(A version of this article appears on the cover of 10thousandCouples.com.)


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In San Francisco the rainbow flag that usually flies above the Castro on Sunday, September 11 will be flying at half staff in honor of Mark Bingham, Father Mychal Judge and others who died on September 11, 2001. At 1 pm we will have a remembrance ceremony that begin with the reading of a letter from Mark's mother and will include an open microphone opportunity for people to share their memories.

Tony, you and I rarely agree on much, but on the subject of this man, I fully agree with everything you said hear. Each time I see anything about Father Judge, it brings tears to my eyes. He was a wonderful man. Thank you for reminding us about him.

On Towleroad, http://www.towleroad.com/2011/09/hoagland.html, they talk about the other gay hero, Mark Bingham, who was on Flight 93.

Thank you Father Tony. My partner is a pastor who gave up being an elder with the Methodists so we could build a life. I have been a praise band worship leader. We know we are together for a reason. Father Judge is a major source of inspiration. I felt convicted for how little I do watching him. How many so called Christians do more than maybe go to church and write a check?
We feel called to Merida, Mexico where there is a large gay and expat population, and a wonderful culture. We are not clear yet what we will be doing, but we sold our home and are moving. Perhaps the GLBT community needs a home in that Catholic dominated land? Some expats have expressed a need, too. Life is full of possibilty and Father Judge shows us what we can all be. BTW, this film is available thru Netflix, and it's great.

We showed this film at Reel Pride Michigan a few years back. It's a great documentary that I encourage anyone who follows 9/11 or LGBT history to watch! Have some tissues ready as you will cry.

My dear Fr Tony;
I attended his funeral, with a friend from FDNY. What a wonderful man he was.