With all of my friends trying to win the minds of their friends militantly posting political views on Facebook. I thought I’d share a story about how my friend and hero Chris Dawson convinced a Catholic priest to not only accept but embrace gay marriage.
Two weeks ago Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church and Christians should seek forgiveness from gays and others whom they may have offended.
Two years before Pope Francis’ proclamation, my friend Father Lou went on his own gay apology tour seeking forgiveness from gay Catholics he may have alienated from the Church.
Father Lou died last week and his funeral was the day before the Pope’s comments. I find the coincidence . . . satisfying.
By his 84th or 85th birthday, Father Louis Evangelisto, a retired chaplain fervently believed in gay couples should marry and have families.
Prior to that point in his life, he did not feel that way.
There are plenty of justifications that would make Father Lou’s ignorance about gay families socially acceptable. He was born in 1931. He was Catholic. He was an officer in the Army at a time before “don’t ask don’t tell.” The Army’s policy was “Don’t.” Being homosexual was a crime. Throughout his life, Father Lou never met a gay person in a long term committed relationship.
He loved his gay parishioners. Around 1996, I remember an openly gay communications professor, Matthew Garland saying that Father Lou was one of the few priests who was welcomed him to the church community even though he knew he was gay.
Father Lou’s stance on gay politics took a dark turn after I graduated in 1998. In the early 2000s, the fight for the right for gays to adopt was intensifying. The fight for gay couples to marry was picking up momentum. Lou’s homilies evoked messages of traditional family values. Every family needs a man and a woman. He probably went so far as to say God loves gay men and women but that the act of homosexuality was a sin.
He came to his pro-gay family views came from his experiences with a student named Chris Dawson.
Chris was athletic, kind spirited and gentle. Chris was everything a dreamy Christian should be. The only thing not textbook Christian about him was that he was gay.
When Chris came out, Father Lou still loved him. When Chris found the love of his life Ron, he asked Father Lou to officiate at their wedding.
Father Lou said no.
He asked Father Lou to attend as a guest. Lou refused. Lou felt his presence would be construed as a blessing from the Church.
Despite this very personal rejection, Chris maintained his friendship with the elderly priest. He gently shared details of his married life. Father Lou met Chris’s husband Ron on a trip to Halifax, Canada and then again on a trip to New York.
Chris and Ron, both beautiful and athletic men, taught Father Lou that men can be manly and still get married. The wheels started turning in Father Lou’s head.
It wasn’t until 2013 when Chris and Ron brought their adopted son Quentin to New York to stay as a guest at Father Lou’s house when things started to click. Quentin was in the foster care system. Chris and Ron were doing everything they could to give him a stable home.
It was on this visit when Father Lou saw #SameLove with his own eyes.
He talked about Chris, Ron, and Quentin as if he was the first person to ever meet a thriving family with gay parents. Judging by his enthusiasm, you would have thought Father Lou had just discovered the new world or . . . kale.
He was like a gleeful Paul Revere telling anyone who would listen that gay marriage was coming.
It wasn’t long after that visit that Chris and Ron’s picture was placed with honor on Father Lou’s wedding wall which featured framed photos of married friends. Chris and Ron were the only same sex couple on the wall.
The high from his discovery didn’t last too long. While sharing a story about Chris and Ron’s new love, one of Father Lou’s friends had told him that in the 2000s, his anti-gay family views had alienated several gay parishioners from the Church.
Father Lou was retired without a pulpit on which to preach. Whenever a friend would call, Father Lou spoke of gay marriage with wonder and enthusiasm.
Father Lou wanted to apologize to every gay person he may have alienated from the institution of the Church and the message of Jesus Christ.
He had me use Facebook to track down a few men. One in particular, Larry. Father Lou apologized to “Larry” by phone.
Larry, now an openly gay man in his 30s, returned the gesture with the gift of forgiveness.
Father Lou’s final year on Earth evoked the #SameLove message of a Macklemore concert. He apologized, sometimes awkwardly, to anyone he could; even some straight men he thought was gay.
Without a Church he left his homily on the matter on his outgoing answering machine message: “Make sure you love the one that loves you. Be honest about it. Cherish it. Guard it with your life.”
The moral of the story? Father Lou’s opinions on gay marriage changed 180 degrees. They didn’t change because of a large protest. They didn’t change because of a Facebook post or a ribbon tied to his tree.
Father Lou’s views evolved from Catholic doctorine to a more open form of love because of a gentle and more educated friend. This gentle friend braved rejection time and time again. He shared his views and over a LONG PERIOD OF TIME and got a Catholic priest to not only accept the union of two men marrying as marriage . . . but to reconsider his words of the past and apologize to those who he may have alienated from the church.
I wish upon all of you the same spirit of patience and love when trying to win over the hearts and minds of your brothers, sisters and fellow Americans.