William’s story

William di Canzio

A week ago Saturday the abbot of Daylesford Abbey, a Norbertine community near Philadelphia, emailed me requesting a meeting; he said he would rather not disclose its purpose. A few days later we met for coffee. Abbot Richard Antonucci started our conversation by saying that he’d heard that Jim Anderson and I had been legally married. “I want you to believe this,” he said: “I sincerely wish you many, many years of happiness together.”

Then he passed me a copy of a directive from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia stating that members of same-sex couples should “not hold positions of responsibility in a parish, nor should they carry out any liturgical ministry or function.” Richard said he intended to enforce the directive.

Our talk was frank but friendly. I reminded him that the abbey is not a parish and nor is Chaput his superior. True enough, but, Richard tells me, all Catholic laypeople in the archdiocese are subject to Chaput’s authority.

I argued that I knew of local pastors choosing not to enforce the directive because of its injustice. Richard said he was unwilling to take the risk.

“You’re the spiritual leader of the place I’ve been part of for thirty-five years,” I said. “How do you counsel me?”

Richard said that he hoped I might find it in my heart to remain in the abbey community.

The pain of this decision can only be felt where there is love. Here’s why it hurts: when I first came to Daylesford Abbey in 1981, I had just undergone what I later learned is called a conversion. Raised Catholic, educated in a parish school and at Jesuit prep school, I’d become disaffected with the church in college. Then, at 30, I got knocked off my horse and struck blind, so to speak, and returned to a church much different from the one I’d known as a kid. My discovery of Daylesford Abbey, with its refined architecture, enlightened preaching and ravishing liturgy, was a revelation within the revelation. Though I’d never seen the place before, when I entered its church for the first time, I had the uncanny feeling that I’d come home.

In those early days, the abbey’s liturgical director befriended me and put me to work immediately on special projects: revising a hymnal with an eye to amending sexist language; arranging a psalter and canticles to be used in the Daylesford Rite of the Hours. We likewise collaborated on liturgical events—the consecration of the Abbey’s Church of the Assumption, a children’s mass for Christmas morning, and the Good Friday Veneration of the Cross, a service that has since become Daylesford’s signature. From the beginning, even before lectoring, mine has been a ministry of words.

Even during the many years I lived in New Haven, I kept close to the Abbey. I was commissioned to write a three-year cycle of penitential rites for its Sunday mass based on the scriptural readings for the day. In 1988 I became an Affiliate (one considering entering the order); in 2001, an Associate (a layperson with an especially active role in the abbey’s life). During the declining years of my parents (who loved the place), the Abbey was a source of solace to me as caregiver. Two Norbertines celebrated my father’s funeral.

Lectoring has been a particular passion for me. On my conversion, I was drawn to the lectern because of the beauty of what I heard and my desire to know it better. A writer myself, I prepare my assignments as if I had written them, so that I can present them to the assembly with understanding and conviction.

Forgive me if this sounds like a resume. My point is Charles Chaput knows none of this about me. Richard himself, who came to Daylesford in 2000, did not know how very long is my history there. Neither of these men knows that Jim decided to be confirmed a Catholic after attending Pentecost mass at Daylesford, though Richard remembered fondly Jim’s magnificent chanting of the Passion narratives, solo, from the Abbey pulpit on three consecutive Palm Sundays and Good Fridays.

My meeting with the abbot on October 20 was not my first encounter with the episcopal directive. I’d read about it in the news some months before. Of course it made me angry: it’s very offensive. Chaput asserts that same-sex couples “offer a serious counter-witness to Catholic belief, which can only produce moral confusion in the community. Such a relationship cannot be accepted into the life of the parish without undermining the faith of the
community, most notably the children.”

This strikes me as hypocritical, perhaps even cynical, especially the phrase concerning children: we remember that Benedict XVI appointed Chaput to Philadelphia in the midst of the legal consequences of disclosures of the history of clerical pedophilia in the archdiocese.

In his administration, Chaput has crossed a line into alienating the laity whom he was entrusted to serve. He has advocated, even lobbied, against extending the Pennsylvania commonwealth’s statute of limitation on crimes of sexual predation. Perhaps alienation is a deliberate strategy: like the failed pope who appointed him, the archbishop has spoken publically about the advantages of a “smaller, lighter” church.

Since my meeting with Richard, I’ve gone through several phases of grief: betrayal, anger, self-pity, sorrow, and worst, I realize now, was a sense of shame and disgrace. These latter emotions are what victims of abuse are made to feel in its aftermath, but they’re also familiar to gay men of my age. And I thought I was done with those—years and years ago.

Originally published on New Ways Ministry’s Bondings 2.0.