PHILADELPHIA — The set is simple; nine people sit in chairs across the stage. One by one, they come forward and speak.
But their stories are anything but simple. They are stories of confusion, persecution and the work of reconciling two identities often at odds — being both Roman Catholic and LGBT.
“If they knew about me, there’s no way they’d want me here,” a character called Jennifer said of her job as a parochial school teacher.
“I knew very well where the church stood, and I knew if I came out at school, I would be fired,” she added. “They were good people too. These were not bad or mean or evil people. Those are the rules of the church and that is how it is.”
Jennifer’s story is part of “Full of Grace: Journeys of LGBT Catholics,” a documentary-style play based on interviews with LGBT Catholics across the nation. The play was created two years ago by Robert Choiniere and Scott Barrow, two New Yorkers, at the request of a late bishop they knew. It has been staged only in New York and has now come to Philadelphia in advance of Pope Francis’ visit here Saturday (Sept. 26).
“It was very purposeful for us to come here,” Choiniere said, on the set of the play, which is being staged at Christ Church Neighborhood House. “It seemed like this was a time when all of these issues are coming to the fore.”
But the topic of homosexuality and the church was not in the forefront at the World Meeting of Families, the four-day Catholic conference being held a brisk walk from the theater where the play is being shown on each night of the conference. The production is not affiliated with the conference.
Only one session at the conference dealt with homosexuality and featured a gay, celibate man.
The 90-minute play is composed entirely of interviews gleaned from 30 individuals, including clergy. The characters range in age from 19 to 85.
“To be a part of this moment in history and this debate is so important,” Barrow said. “To provide a little dialogue on this subject is really why we are here and what this play is about.”
Seven years ago, Choiniere and Barrow created a play about immigration. Choiniere, who is a Catholic, sees this play as a way to dialogue about a difficult subject.
He said the goal isn’t to pick one side, but to understand the middle ground that many walk.
“There’s this faith and deep love for the church that comes through these voices,” Choiniere said. “Even though they don’t know where to go and they’re oppressed, they still love the church.”
Choiniere believes this play provides the space for conversations about faith and being in the LGBT community, and that conversation has the power to move the Catholic Church forward.
“I really believe that those who are in the margins of the church have a prophetic voice that can transform the entire church,” Choiniere said, “if we can listen to these voices speak in integrity and authenticity about how God has moved in their lives.”
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