Fr. Gabriel, aka Cristino Xirau, was born in Chicago, Illinois on June 27, 1935, and was raised as an adopted child in a Protestant household. When he was 12 years old he was "hired", as he put it, as a choir boy in a local Episcopal Church. It was there he was introduced to Catholicism, at least the Anglo-Catholic version of it. He was baptized sub conditione into the Roman Catholic Church when he was 18.
Cristino loved being Catholic--he was enchanted by the liturgy, the smells and bells, the vestments. the music and the whole artistic aura that was typical of the Catholic church in pre-Vatican II times. He even liked the Latin. "When I look back at the time I first entered a Catholic environment," he writes, "it was like a glimpse of heaven and I can see how great an appeal these things would have on a sensitive young gay child who would grow up to appreciate opera, ballet, Broadway shows and Hollywood musicals. Hopefully as a adult I have learned to distinguish between what is real and outer appearances. None of the superficial things listed above are important to me in my present relationship with God."
Cristino received a Bachelor of Science degree in the Humanities from Loyola University in Chicago in 1958, a Masters degree in History from New York University in 1968 and had spent a summer semester at the Universidad autónoma de México in 1954. He completed his course work for a Ph.D in History from New York University in 1975. "However," he said, "I never got around to writing a doctoral thesis so I never received a Ph.D."
Being the good Catholic that he was, Cristino became an expert at denial when it came to his sexual orientation. He got married in 1958 and three children resulted from this union, Marcos Miguel (1959), Lisa María (1960) and David Ramón (1961) "Each shot counted," he relates. He refers to this time as his "Lesbian period."
In 1960 Cristino had his first sexual experience with a man. "A great weight had been lifted off my shoulders," he recalls. "The wall of denial had been shattered and for the first time I accepted the person I really was and could stop pretending to be the person others insisted I should be." The marriage, of course, was soon over. He later writes: "Getting divorced was extremely bitter for me because it proved how badly I had failed as a man, as a husband, as a father and as a Catholic."
Coming out as a gay man and being divorced by his wife introduced a long period in Cristino's religious life in which he stopped going to Mass. Vatican II came and went and Cristino wasn't there. "I couldn't receive the Body and Blood of Christ as I wasn't in a state of grace," he said, "so, what reason could I have for going to church? At least I was honest enough to see that going to confession Saturday evening, receiving Holy Communion on Sunday morning and taking up my regular place in a gay bar Sunday evening was not something I could do. Whatever else I might have been I wasn't a hypocrite."
It was on a Sunday night around this time when Cristino met Charles Wise, in a gay bar. Charles was a Mohammed Ali look-alike from Baltimore and the two formed a relationship that was to last some 20 years. The couple shared a great love for classical music and spent a number of summers touring Europe. "If I never did anything else as a priest," Cristino said, "I am grateful that I gave Charles the last riteson the night he died. He was aware of what I was doing and when I asked him if he wanted to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, he said, 'yes.'"
Charles died from AIDS in 1984 and Cristino drank himself into a stupor 24/7 until he joined AA in 1989. "My early denial of my sexual nature prepared me for my denial of being an alcoholic," he said. "I have been sober now for 24 years and it proves to me how much God cares for me and loves me in spite of what some folk may think. If it be true, as some say, that 'God hates fags' how is it that I have been treated with so much loving care by my heavenly Father?"
It was when he was living with Charles in New York City that Cristino, through his friendship with John Noble, was introduced to the Church of the Beloved Disciple. John's lover was Fr. Robert Clement who had founded a church to serve the gay community. Cristino became active in the Beloved Disciple community and set to work to reconcile his newly-rediscovered faith with his homosexuality. When Fr. Robert became Bishop Robert in 1974 Cristino entered the Seminary of St. John there at Beloved Disciple. He was ordained as a priest, along with four other men, on October 1, 1978, and took the name Father Gabriel. As time went on other churches began to reach out to the gay community and Cristino felt a desire to be reconciled with Rome. He left the Church of the Beloved Disciple and spent the next 20 years as a parishioner of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in New York's Greenwich Village. He became a "coordinator" and instructed and assigned the altar servers and lectors for the various Masses celebrated at St. Joseph's. He is especially proud of having introduced children to serve at the 9:00AM children's Mass on Sundays. "They are our future," he said. "It is important they know they are welcomed, needed and appreciated to serve at God's altar."
Cristino retired to West Palm Beach, Florida in 2008 where he is just another parishioner at the Church of Mary, Mother of the Light. Oh yes, he does read the Epistle on occasion but no one there knows him as Fr. Gabriel. He enjoys his three children, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. "Not bad for a faggot," he says.
(This biographical profile written by Mark Bowman from information provided by Fr. Gabriel Cristino Xirau. In addition, Fr. Gabriel has written the following longer account of his experiences with the Church of the Beloved Disciple.)
A PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
I first met John Noble back in '73 when we appeared together in an amateur production of Emlyn Williams' Night Must Fall. John played "Mr." Bramson and I was his boy-toy, "Dan". This was a West Side Gay Theatre production and the female roles were played by males.
John was London born and his British accent was a natural. I affected a sort of cockney that I hoped would pass for Cornish. To this day I am unsure what a real Cornish accent sounds like. Oliver Grayne in the production was played by Max E. Verga who was "utterly thrilled" when I told him what his name means in Spanish. God bless you Max wherever you are.
Until that time I had only been vaguely aware of the Church of the Beloved Disciple and the names "John Noble" and "Robert Mary Clement" meant nothing to me. Fr. Robert, an Old Catholic priest, had founded the Church of the Beloved Disciple after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 as a mission to the gay community. In my own mind I had dismissed the very idea of a church for gay people and, since the Church of the Beloved Disciple was not subject to the Holy Father in Rome I knew it couldn't possibly be "really Catholic". The One-True-Catholic Church, as every Catholic knew, was subject to the Pope and was not only truly One and Catholic but also Apostolic and Roman. This mind set serves to indicate how well I was brought up, or, perhaps, I should say brainwashed, as a Catholic. The fact that I, a "practicing homosexual", was denied the right to be a "practicing Catholic" did not cause me to reject Catholicism. I had stopped going to Mass some years before but I continued to believe that the Catholic Church had the correct answer to every conceivable question concerning faith and morals. I also continued to believe that if I couldn't conform to its dictates the fault was mine and mine alone. I was always very good and accepting my faults, another example of a proper Catholic upbringing.
Being a Catholic to me meant following every rule to the letter, accepting all blame for my misdeeds and having to fight continuously to remain in a "State of Grace" in order to receive Holy Communion.
I loved being a Catholic. I loved the liturgy, I loved the smells and bells, I loved the vestments and the Gregorian chant, I loved the stained glass, the statues, the paintings and I loved making all of the little ritual mannerisms such as genuflecting making the Sign of the Cross (complete with a rosary kiss) and bowing my head when the name Jesus Christ was mentioned. Christmas Eve was grand opera to this impressionable little kid and when we went to the Spanish church of San Francisco on Chicago's west side for the Easter Vigil I came as close to an orgasm as any pre-pubic male of the species was capable. At the intonation of the Gloria the organ would sound for the first time since Holy Thursday and the priests would be helped out of their sombre black brocades and into gold lame vestments (some with jewels) to mark the Resurrection. Bells rang out and ushers went up and down the aisles lighting the tapers we all held. All through Lent an enormous black veil had cut off the sanctuary from the nave and a portable altar was placed in front of it. At the first sound of the organ this veil would drop to the floor revealing candles, flowers, saints and other objets de kitsch that filled all of the space behind the altar from floor to ceiling. Did I mention incense? Yes, of course there was incense. Lots of incense and the language both spoken and sung was Latin, a rather strange form of Spanish.
OK. Meaningless ritual, undue importance attached to form without substance. What an action means is less important than how well it is performed - theatre for the masses/the Mass as Theatre. When I hear such criticisms I am reminded of the saying that "man does not live by bread alone". All creatures must do what they must do to provide for their daily needs. Only us featherless bipods can appreciate a sunset. For our lives to be meaningful we need a little something extra, something beyond the basics, something perhaps unnecessary but beautiful. The Catholic Church has always recognized this human trait and as a result it provides a little something extra for all five of the senses. Some might describe this as being in a State of Grace.
Do you have any idea what it was like for an impressionable Catholic boy, an adolescent no less, when the hormones are screaming their loudest, to remain in the State of Grace long enough to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion? For years my confessions were repetitious lists of "impure thoughts and desires" coupled with the number of times "I abused myself". A week would go by, two at the most and then it happened - the mortal Sin of Self-Abuse. I'll never forget the first time I "abused" myself. It was a scientific experiment and I promised myself I was only going to do it once just to see what it was like and to find out if it was as good as some of my schoolmates said it was. I did it standing over the toilet and, as I watched the wasted semen swirling around and around before disappearing down the drain I thought, "Oh my God. I flushed a baby down the toilet." I started to laugh at this absurdity and then I caught myself. I had committed a Mortal Sin. If I should die at this moment I would go immediately to Hell where I would remain throughout all eternity. This was a recurring problem for me until the day I married and - guess what - the "self-abuse" continued even after that.
No priest ever asked me what my "impure thoughts and desires" were and I never told him. This was another problem for this Catholic adolescent. I didn't always feel that I was telling the whole truth when I made my confessions. I assumed the priests thought that my impure thoughts and desires were about the girl next door. Wrong! They were about her brother. I suspect that today's adolescents have no idea of what I am talking about. Such terms as "impure thoughts and desires' are meaningless and the term "self-abuse" when used to refer to masturbation is just plain ridiculous.
This not-so- merry-go-round of going in and out of the State of Grace went on until I married at the age of 23. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if some nice man had helped me explore my sexuality before those wedding bells pealed. As I look back on it now I marvel at the power of denial. "Me? Gay? Never—no way!" I do regret, however, the damage I did to an unsuspecting blushing bride who certainly deserved something more than what she got. Somehow this "marriage" lasted four years and produced three children, two boys and a girl. Each shot counted let me tell you. I call this the lesbian period of my life.
Getting divorced was extremely bitter for me because it proved how badly I had failed as a man, as a husband, as a father and as a Catholic. When my wife was in the hospital giving birth to our second child I had my first acknowledged "gay" experience. That is, I entered into it knowingly and admitting to myself that I was gay and that I wanted to experience man-on-man sex. When the deed was done I felt no shame and I had no regrets. For the first time in my life I had stopped fighting who I was and it was as if a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. This was no meaningless adolescent fumbling that happens among growing boys at play, this was acceptance of who I am and a rejection of what others expected me to be.
And then it hit me - I am a married man - I am a father - I am a Catholic.
I did not then, or ever, feel a pang of conscience when I performed a homosexual act. Consequently I could never confess to participating in a homosexual experience. My entrance into the gay life went on apace and my marriage went down the drain. How could it not? That led to a very bad divorce experience as I had stopped having relations with my wife (except the one time our third child was conceived). I also stopped going to Mass. Why go to Mass? I couldn't receive the Body and blood of my Lord because I wasn't in a State of Grace. I give myself credit for at least being honest enough to realize that Confession on Saturday night, Communion on Sunday morning and taking up my regular spot in a gay bar Sunday night was not something I could live with. I felt no guilt for having gay sex and there was no way I could promise to stop having gay sex. For some reason, rightly or wrongly, I felt that if I couldn't receive Communion there was no reason to attend Mass. Years later someone pointed out to me that I didn't leave the Church. The Church had left me.
Time to fast-forward—separation, divorce, child support payments, meeting Charles and loving Charles until he died some 20 years later. My children grew up in Puerto Rico and I seldom saw them. I did see them from time to time, however. I'll never forget when my youngest son visited Charles and me asked me if I slept with, Charles. "Of course I do", I replied. "On cold winter nights it's nice to have someone to snuggle up to." That seemed to be an adequate answer for a 10 year old and, I figured that when puberty hits he'll figure it out for himself. (He did.) I must say that my wife, God bless her, never spoke ill of me to the children, never prevented me from seeing them and neither she nor I ever lied to them about my "condition". I am also happy to report that my ex-wife and I become good friends and remained so until she died. I'll never forget her sitting on the sofa next to Charles, both of them comparing notes on what I was like when they first met me and how gray my hair had become. I have enjoyed good relationships with my children as well. I can truthfully say I never stopped loving my wife and, I believe, she never stopped loving me. It was the "sex thing" that ended the marriage but it didn't end the friendship.
My relationship with the Catholic Church, however, was something else . Years passed, Vatican II came and went, the old Tridentine Mass was no more. The man in my life didn't go to church and neither did I.
At one point I had become involved with the West Side Discussion Group. When the West Side Theatre was established I was first in line to try out for a part. I didn't do badly and, in fact, in 1973 I won the Best Actor Award for my role inThe Palmer Way. It was here, of course, where I met John Noble and through him Fr. Robert and learned of the Church of the Beloved Disciple. Out of curiosity I attended my very first Mass at the Church of the Beloved Disciple on the second Sunday after they had moved to their very own building on West 14th Street. (The Church had been founded in 1969 and until that time held services in other church buildings.)
I attended for several Sundays but I was still apprehensive about being in a church that welcomed gays. I knew something about Old Catholicism and I knew that Fr. Robert's Orders were "valid but illicit" according to Vatican terminology. Consequently I was able to accept Beloved Disciple as being a "Catholic" Church even though it did not have Vatican approval. But, then, I didn't have Vatican approval either.
One of the first things that struck me was that all kinds of people were going up to that altar rail. Some of them I knew to be non-Catholic but none of them were zapped by a disapproving deity for disobeying "his rules" regarding a State of Grace. One Sunday I took a chance and went up to that altar rail myself. This prodigal son found himself back home. It was from that time on that I began to understand that being in a State of Grace was irrelevant as far as receiving the Blessed Sacrament is concerned. In fact, I would say that it is when a soul is at its lowest that the reception of the Precious Body and Blood of Christ is most needed as a spiritual food to revive and sustain that soul on a path to wholeness and communion with God.
This was the beginning of my pilgrimage from a state of disgrace to a State of Grace and I owe this happiness to the Church of the Beloved Disciple. Among other things I was to learn that if I couldn't love myself I could never truly loveanyone else. Since I am a gay man neither by choice or by some kind of appointment I take that to mean I may love the gay part of me the same as any other part of me and I do. My Catholic faith was not disintegrating or falling away it was opening up into something truly universal. something truly catholic. It is with the benefit of hind sight that I make these assertions. This pilgrim's progress has been slow but productive and is still going on.
I enjoyed being a parishioner at BD (as we sometimes called the church) and I rejoiced (a word I seldom use) at my new-found, or shall I say, recovered faith as a Catholic. I met many new friends who further enriched my life and I took a serious interest in liturgy, a pursuit I follow to this day.
I had brought with me to Beloved Disciple all of the Biblical and theological anti-homosexual baggage I had been taught since my life began. Here was a church, however, that enabled me to investigate these preconceptions and, if possible, to come to not only accept myself but to justify myself as a certified practicing homosexual. This part of my pilgrimage was not an easy passage and took some time to accomplish. I am reminded of the old saw "the slave learns to love his chains". In other words, once we become accustomed to the evil we know today we become afraid of what may be even a worse evil tomorrow.
My experience at the Church of the Beloved Disciple began in 1973 and lasted until May of 1979. On 6 October 1974 Fr. Robert was consecrated a bishop by Archbishop Richard A. Marchenna of the Old Roman Catholic Church. Once becoming a bishop I suppose a bishop starts looking around for something only a bishop can do. This resulted in the establishment of the Seminary of St. John accompanied by a search for recruits to the priesthood. I joined, not because I wanted to be a priest, but because I wanted to find out all I could about what Scripture and theology had to say about homosexuality.
One day a soon to be controversial Jesuit priest named John McNeil visited the church and I was asked to show him around. He told me he had attended a few of Fr. Robert's Masses in the early 70's and it was from this experience that the conception of Dignity for Roman Catholic gays and lesbians came to him. His book, The Church and the Homosexual, first published in 1976, has become a seminal work in the field of homosexuality and religion. I have had occasion to Meet John several times since then and once I served as thurifer at a Holy Union liturgy he celebrated for a gay couple.
My own literary pretensions led me to complete a rather simple essay on the Bible and Homosexuality. I then began collecting material on the subject with the intent of writing a definitive tome on the Bible and Homosexuality (something no doubt I shall never finish.) The publication of John Boswell's epic study, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality in 1980 is the definitive work on this subject as far as I am concerned. Boswell's book was followed by a number of publications on the Church and gays by Daniel Helminiak and others. In any case I no longer had a need to convince myself that God doesn't hate fags. I had become familiar enough with Scripture to know that the Bible has very little to say on the topic and offers precious little evidence to indicate godly disapproval. The seemingly anti-gay Levitical passages, for example, appear to be an injunction against forcibly raping male prisoners of war and are not an injunction against homosexuality as we understand it today. The folk tale of Sodom and Gomorrah has long been understood by biblical scholars as a reference to the sin of the lack of hospitality and not as an anti-gay diatribe and the story of David and Jonathan is as beautiful a love story of gay passion as anyone could hope for. In any case we Christians, according to St. Paul, are under no obligation to obey Jewish Law. Did he not tell the Galatians that "in Jesus Christ we are free"? (Some folk believe that St. Paul might have been gay himself.)
One advantage of being Catholic is that we don't think of the Bible as being either inerrant or infallible so I feel no need to argue one way or another when someone starts quoting scripture to me. When homophobes drag up Leviticus, Paul's Letter to the Romans and other pseudo anti-gay gems my favorite response is "the devil often quotes scripture to his purpose". Then I smile as they thumb through their little Bibles trying to find the source for the quote.
Getting back on topic. I was ordained to the Sacred Priesthood by Bishop Robert on 1 October 1978 and I have a certification from him to prove it. The bishop had ordained five men to the sacred priesthood on that day. They were: Fr. Mark (Robert Bradley); Fr. Paul (Robert Scheel); Fr. Victor (Victor Tuomino); Fr. Philip (Philip Vasiento); and Fr. Gabriel (Cristino Xirau).
My life in the priesthood began with the best of intentions and even today I know I am a priest and I feel I am a priest although I have no faculties to serve as a priest. I have a document from the Vatican certifying that I have been "reconciled" to Holy Mother Church but am forbidden to exercise any priestly function. To me this suggests that the Vatican, too, recognizes me as a priest - I just can't give anyone a priestly blessing, say Mass or do any of those other goodies a priest can do. (Licitly, of course.)
Today the Vatican recognizes homosexuality as being a "normal" condition. It is called a "disordered condition" and we gays aren't supposed to do any of the normal things gays do. I take that to mean, as one wit remarked, "it's OK to be a dog as long as you don't bark".
As a priest on the staff of the Church of the Beloved Disciple I suggested that since Beloved Disciple was "staffed" by five new priests there was no reason not to celebrate Mass seven days a week. This was done. As a priest I suggested we publish a newsletter and become more of an item in the news than we were. After all, there were a lot of people out there who might have needs we could serve. If practice gets you to Carnegie Hall outreach is what brings in more sheep to the fold. After many attempts this suggestion failed, quite frankly, by inaction on the part of the bishop who insisted that nothing could be published without his imprimatur. Scripts were sent to him that he never returned and plans to publish weekly became plans to publish monthly and, finally, plans to publish quarterly. Nothing came of it at all. (One wonders what kind of influence the Church of the Beloved Disciple might have had in a world of computers and the Internet.)
Plans to "open" new churches never developed. The priestly five of us, with the exception of celebrating Mass, pretty much remained doing the same duties we performed as seminarians. After a few counseling sessions with parishioners and others I chose to become celibate. I deliberately chose this course because the last thing I wanted was to have sex get in the way of my relationship with people coming to me for help. It is a little disconcerting to counsel someone when one's eyes keep moving down to the basket area. As it was one gentleman I counseled propositioned me and ended up chasing me around my desk. I successfully defended my honor. Apparently I had convinced him that acting upon his gay inclinations was not a sin. Quite frankly, I found celibacy to be a big help when concentrating on my more priestly duties. I'm afraid I wasn't celibate long enough to suffer from its demands for abstinence and when I left Beloved Disciple I left celibacy behind as well. I wonder sometimes if straight male counselors have similar distractions when they counsel women.
In a very short time personality problems arose among the clerical staff at Beloved Disciple and petty jealousies raised their ugly heads. An incident occurred in which, quite frankly, I was led to suspect that Bishop Robert didn't trust me. He asked me to turn around as he was opening the safe as if I could read and remember the numbers he used to open the safe. I was faintly amused at the time but now I realize this was not a healthy relationship between a bishop and his priest.
And then it happened. The proverbial straw landed on the camel's back. Bishop Robert and Fr. John had been a couple for years. Fr. Victor and a young man named Glenn were also a couple. One Sunday after Mass we were called into the Bishop's living quarters and it was announced that henceforth the bishop and Glenn were a couple and Fr. John and Fr. Victor were a couple. "Love is so great" the bishop said, "that it cannot be contained. Therefore it can include more than one partner at a time. I thought very carefully what this might do for the church".
"Send it right down the drain," said I under my breath.
Not long after and with the exception of Fr. Philip, the four remaining priests ordained by Bishop Robert left the Church of the Beloved Disciple, never to return. We each have our own story to tell but as I look back on this period I think it was inevitable that we left. Speaking for myself I see the beginning of the end for the Church of the Beloved Disciple when Fr. Robert became Bishop Robert. Many of the parishioners who attended Beloved Disciple were not Catholic but the "high church" services didn't seem to turn them off. But, once there was a bishop!—mitres, croziers and all the hoopla of a little Vatican seemed to take over. What was one to call the bishop? Does one kiss his ring? The Old Catholic roots behind the formation of the Church of the Beloved Disciple began to infringe on its basic service to the gay community. Such seems to be the nature of Old Catholicism where there are more Indian Chiefs than there are Indians and questions of Apostolic Succession, personal jealousies, the scramble for ever more ecclesiastical titles, fancier copes, chasubles and pectoral crosses become more important than serving a community of faith. The Church of the Beloved Disciple had served its purpose and there was no need for it to continue.
I suppose this might seem like a failure to some but I prefer to think of it as the successful completion of an accomplishment well done. The Church of the Beloved Disciple had done what it had started out to do; it fulfilled a need not being met. By now many other churches and synagogues, either out of shame or because of example have opened their hearts and their doors to God's gay and lesbian children. Although there is still work to be done there was no further need for the "gay" Church of the Beloved Disciple. Robert Mary Clement, along with Troy Perry and his Metropolitan Community church had laid the groundwork for Dignity, Integrity, Lutherans Concerned, Maranatha, Simchat Torah and other groups that paved the way for the acceptance of God's gay and lesbian children into the larger established church bodies. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, notwithstanding, there is, now, no going back and the LGBT Community has been welcomed home into the churches that for so long had ignored or excluded it.
Since leaving the Church of the Beloved Disciple in May of 1979, I at first found refuge and comfort with Frs. Mark (Bob Bradley) and Paul (Robert Scheel). We hoped to continue our work with the gay community by first forming the Gerard Society, named for a young gay man who was abused by the police and committed suicide, and then with the Community of St. Jude. St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes and, as it turned out, we had chosen our saintly patron quite appropriately. If ours wasn't a lost cause nothing is. A small coterie of "parishioners) met with us every Sunday in my apartment where we celebrated Mass. We made plans to expand and publicized a Christmas Eve Mass to be celebrated at a friendly Quaker Church in farthest Queens close to the border of Nassau County (next door to the North Side Sauna as it turned out) It was a bust and cost us money we could ill afford. It was a lovely Mass and one of the Quaker attendees remarked that he found it remarkable to attend a religious service read out of a book. Alas, our work was not a better mousetrap, nobody was beating a path to our door.
After a few more attempts to become a viable religious order we gave up. We realized that three priests taking turns saying Mass in my apartment for each other and a few hangers on was more like playing church than being church. Besides celebrating Mass and a few other things there was really nothing we do as priests that we couldn't do just as well as lay persons. The Community broke up in 1984 and we went our separate ways.
As already mentioned, Fr. Philip remained at the Church of the Beloved Disciple until it closed in 1986. Father Victor remained at BD until the week Fr. John was consecrated bishop. He was accepted into a Benedictine Monastery in Montreal but later left, I believe, because of illness. Father Philip died from aids in 1991 followed by Fr. Victor two weeks later. Fr. Paul worked with the Gay Men's Alliance, visiting aids patients until he died from a heart attack in May of 2003. He had served in World War II and was given a military funeral. Father Mark and I, both retired and living in Florida, have remained close. Fr. Mark and his partner, Luis Ramirez, were married in Canada and recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. Fr. Mark had a twin brother named Tom. A movie starring John Lithgow called My Brother's Keeper was made about them in 2005. Tom had AIDS and it was thought that a bone marrow transplant from Mark to Tom might have cured him. The insurance company refused to pay for this operation but by the time the identical twins had won their case in court it was too late and Tom died.
I attended St. Joseph's Catholic Church in New York's Greenwich Village for some 20 years. I was very active and became a coordinator of the church's altar ministers and lectors, both training and assigning them to their various posts. A great source of pleasure for me was to train children to serve at the children's Mass at 9:00 Sunday morning. This was something new at St. Joseph's.
I remain alone but have a wonderful relationship with my three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I continue to be active in my Florida parish and, as was mentioned earlier, I was recently awarded a Certificate of Reconciliation from the Vatican. I requested this reconciliation to please a former Florida pastor who was somewhat troubled having a schismatic priest among his parishioners. Frankly, I think an apology from the Vatican, not only to me, but to all gay Catholics would have been more apropos.
On 18 August 2003, I wrote the following to John Noble who was dying of Diabetes in Vista, California:
Dear Bishop John:
Father Leo has told us what has transpired and it goes without saying, you are in my prayers and in my thoughts. It has been a long time since you and I "starred" in Night Must Fall and there are still times when I think I might have made some kind of a life for myself in the theatre. However, life itself is theatre enough if we care to approach it that way. I have always wanted to tell you how big a role you played in the "Gabriel Show" and I suspect you have never realized how big a role it was and how important you were in my life.
When we first met I had not seen the inside of a church for several years. Over time I had come to accept myself as a gay man and to understand that I wasn't emotionally stunted, mentally disturbed or suffering from, (what is it they call it now? some kind of "intrinsic disorder.") Nevertheless, the God-thing was still a stumbling block; somehow I felt unworthy, undeserving and "morally challenged." The Church told me so (and the Church was always right). Not wishing to go where I was neither welcomed nor wanted I stopped going to church.
The problem was that I missed going to church and I wanted to worship.
Thanks to you I learned that being gay was no impediment to loving God and being loved by God in return. You introduced me to Fr. Robert and to the Church of the Beloved Disciple; thanks to your example, your kindness, understanding and acceptance I came to experience a complete liberation and acceptance of myself as one of God's gay children. Thanks to you the God-thing was no longer a stumbling block.
On 26 September 2003, I wrote to the Most Rev. Robert M. Clement in Vista, California, as follows:
Dear Bishop Robert:
Fr. Leo called me last night and told me about the passing of Bishop John. I want you to know that you are both in my prayers and that, if there is anything you would like me to do, please don't hesitate to ask.
Fr. John (that is how I knew him best) was a major inspiration in my life and i treasure his words and example. If it were not for him I don't know if I would ever have tried to "rebuild" my relationship to God; a relationship that had been stunted and abused by those who, by claiming to speak for our loving Father, consigned me to an eternity without Him. I will forever be grateful to Fr. John—and to you—for the renewal of my faith.
You have made me a priest forever. I am conscious of that gift every day of my life and, although I no longer preside at the altar and no one calls me "father", I try to be a priest to everyone I meet. I am not always successful but I have learned to accept a life-pilgrimage of progress and I leave perfection to those better able to attain it (if such be possible). In any case I know that when my time comes Fr. John will be there to welcome me and he will say, "Good morning, Father. We've been expecting you.
On 28 October 2011 I wrote to Archbishop Robert bringing him up to date on the fate of his priestly creations.
Dear Archbishop Robert:
I remember you telling us at one time that throughout the history of the Church certain Christians would see an unfulfilled need which prompted them to form a community to fulfill this need. Thus it was that orders were founded for the care of the sick, the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the redemption of slaves, the education of the ignorant and, of course, bringing the Gospel to the heathen. Sometimes these orders were embraced by the Church (the Dominicans, the Franciscans, etc.) and sometimes they were not (the Mariavites). In any case it was the desire to serve God according to his will that was the operating force and the Church of the Beloved Disciple was one of the results. I believe that the advances made by the LGBT Community in today's churches are the direct result of the need you met to serve God's gay and lesbian children - children who had been previously despised if not simply ignored as if they didn't exist. Quite frankly, you shamed the "churches" into doing the right thing and also, quite frankly, I don't think you have been given adequate recognition or credit for your work.
By the time Frs. Mark, Paul and myself left your jurisdiction other churches were already beginning to follow your example. There was Dignity, Integrity, Lutherans Concerned, Maranatha and so on. We also tried to serve but, isolated as we were - priests without faculties, priests without a bishop - our situation was not only foolish it was doomed to failure from the beginning. We were reconciled with Fr. Victor and, of course we always remained in contact with Father Philip, the only one among us who remained faithfully under your care. We found ourselves without anyone with a need they wanted us to fulfill. A few people did meet with us on Sundays but Masses around the kitchen table became more like playing church than serving God. Our "coming out" on Christmas Eve at the Quaker Meeting House was a total fiasco. We not only lost money it turned out the only people who bothered to attend were curious Quakers, one of whom, remarked that he found it intriguing that our service was "written in a book."
A glimmer (of something) occurred when we were introduced to Mar Nazarin who claimed to be a bishop of the Syro-Chaldean Church whose Patriarch was Mar Paul Cheiko, resident in Bagdad and in union with Rome. A number of Chaldeans had settled in Detroit and in Turlock, California. These immigrant Chaldeans were bearing and raising American children. Was there a need here that we could fulfill?
Thanks to Mar Nazarin (who visited us in New York, by the way and was a delightful guest) we were introduced to the Liturgy of Addai and Mari. I, at least, was in my element. A decent English translation of Addai and Mari was needed if the Chaldean Church was to prosper in its American setting (or, so we thought). Fr. Mark and I took lessons in Aramaic and we mastered (or at least thought we had mastered) the intricacies of celebrating the Liturgy of Addai and Mar. I have always had a love for liturgy and I do not regret the time and effort I spent in embracing Addai and Mari. Looking back on it now, however, I am embarrassed to think we had any right to tell the Chaldeans how to celebrate their own liturgy. (Ouch!)
Alas, Mar Nazarin turned out to be a fraud, his papers were forged and the Chaldean Patriarch in Bagdad had never heard of him. (Michael Itkin did know him however. I believe Mar Nazarin received his orders from Michael.) By means of Fr. Theodore (a Chaldean priest in Washington State and a friend of Fr. Leo) we learned of Mar Ibrahim Ibrahim, the legitimate Chaldean Exarch under Mar Paul Cheiko. We wrote to the Exarch, went to Southfield, Michigan, to meet him, were well received by him and (naively) thought we would be accepted by him as his priests. Later we were advised that the Papal Nuncio in Washington DC had advised Mar Ibrahim that he could not accept American priests under his jurisdiction. In hindsight the whole affair can be seen as an exercise in futility. Eastern courtesy went into play here - no one was going to come out and say that fag priests were not welcome. We should have known, and, in fact, we did which is why—with the exception of Fr. Victor—none of us attempted to approach the Roman Catholic Archdiocese for acceptance.
Reality hit and we did the sensible thing. Three priests taking turns celebrating Mass for each other was absurd. We ended the "Community of St. Jude" and became ordinary members of St. Joseph's Church in Greenwich Village. In my own mind I decided that there was nothing I couldn't do to serve God (other than administering the Sacraments) that I couldn't do as any other Christian might do. I am a priest forever - you took care of that) but I accepted that I would never again perform any "priestly duties". My gorgeous gold lame vestments ended up in St. Joseph's sacristy and I was to enjoy seeing the cope being worn by the priest who sang the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil one year.
Fr. Mark and I are the only ones left. Paul, Victor and Philip have all gone on to the other side. Fr Paul and I were close to Fr. Philip before he died. He was faithful to you to the end and was buried in his clerical shirt and collar. Frs. Victor and Philip both had AIDS. Fr. Victor had lived as a monk for awhile in a Benedictine monastery in Montreal. I don't recall precisely why he left - perhaps it was illness. He is buried in the Little Church Around the Corner. Paul had died from a heart attack and was found in his apartment a week or so after he died. He had served in World War II and had a military funeral. Fr. Leo came from California to officiate at the funeral. Fr. Mark and Luis Ramirez, his companion for over 30 years, were legally married in Canada. We are neighbors in Palm Beach County, Florida. (Five years in Florida and I have never gone to the beach!)
Well, that's about it. I thought you might like to know what happened to your wayward clerical flock. I used to go to daily Mass but now I only go on Sundays. Catholics in Florida seem to be living in the Middle Ages. Sometime I feel like I'm back in the closet. Perhaps it is time for a new Church of the Beloved Disciple.
Cristino Xirau (Fr. Gabriel)
780 S. Sapodilla Avenue, apt. 201
West Palm Beach, FL 33401