Over the weekend Dennis Hevesi of the New York Times wrote about the death of a pioneer, Rev. Robert Carter, who was one of the first Roman Catholic priests in the country to state publicly that he was gay. He later went on to found the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Hevesi writes that after Father Carter came out, he was visited by a subprovincial of the Jesuit order. “It seems that they were afraid I had had a psychotic break or something,” he wrote in an unpublished memoir.
Although there were calls for his expulsion by irate “Jesuits, parents and alumni of our schools,” Father Carter continued, he was not disciplined.
Back then, before the Catholic Church could blame gay men for rampant pedophilia, the church and the Jesuits were more accepting of gay people.
In those days, the church and the Jesuit order were somewhat more accepting of gay people. Only a few years ago the Vatican issued a document saying the church would not admit to a seminary or ordain “those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ ”
Father Carter helped found the New York chapter of DignityUSA, a support group for gay Catholics. In 1972, with the Rev. John McNeill, he hosted the first meeting of the chapter at the Jesuit chapel on West 98th Street in Manhattan. Because the Catholic Church wouldn’t allow meetings of Dignity on its property, Father Carter held mass in apartments around New York City.
He urged gay people, including those in Dignity, to march with him in gay pride parades. He was also a vocal supporter of gay rights at a time when such support was quite risky.
When the Catholic authorities said Dignity could not meet on church property, Father Carter celebrated Mass in apartments all around Manhattan. He led blessing ceremonies for gay couples. He testified in support of the gay rights law proposed by Mayor Edward I. Koch before it was passed by the City Council in 1986. He urged Dignity to march in gay pride parades and marched himself, in his clerical collar. He also dedicated much of his time caring for and counseling AIDS patients.
Father Carter was 82.