Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mychal Judge, The Saint of 9/11

Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

(This is a crosspost from

The body of Mychal Judge was tagged with the designation “Victim 0001”, as the first official casualty of 9/11. In the famous Shannon Stapleton/Reuters photo, he is being carried out of the lobby of the North Tower where he had been killed by debris from the collapsing South Tower. He was a Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor assigned to the monastery at the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in Manhattan on West 31st Street. He was also a chaplain with the NYFD and one of the first responders to the attack on the twin towers. He was a recovered alcoholic and he was gay.

Now called the “Saint of 9/11”, Father Judge had earned a reputation for kindness and compassion that infused his ministry to the poor, addicts and persons living with AIDS.

He clearly defined his personal vocation and mission, helping the neediest, the downtrodden and alienated LGBT Catholics.  With little time left to rail against church leaders guided by hypocrisy and homophobia, Father Judge simply offered mercy where it was in short supply. It is said that the harshest criticism he may have spoken was “Is there so much love in this world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?”

Many people who worked with Father Judge knew he was gay but did not define him primarily by that descriptive. Instead, they defined him by his work, and they came to a greater acceptance of LGBT equality because of their respect and admiration for his ministry. I recently asked well known author and co-founder of the gay Catholic group Dignity New York, Father John McNeill, about Father Judge. He said “I was Mychal’s spiritual advisor. He was so full of joy and mirth and his heart just reached out to the people in his care. He seemed to feel the pain of people in pain, and he entered into their private hell, and as soon as he did, it was no longer hell. That is how powerful he was as a comforter. Mychal showed such love, especially for people dying from AIDS. He would walk into their hospital room with his holy oils to do the sacrament of “anointing of the sick” and he would throw aside the bed clothes and massage their feet with the holy ointments.”
Among the victims and heroes of 9/11 were many other gay people who have been claimed and memorialized and honored by their families, friends and communities. Although a documentary film has been made about the extraordinary priesthood of Father Judge, and a section of West 31st Street has been renamed for him, The Roman Catholic Church has turned its back on all requests to initiate the process of making him an official saint of the church. A gay priest who ministers to gay people and is not heavy handed about gay sex is an inconvenience and a source of anxiety for the Catholic hierarchy who have redesigned their scrutiny of candidates for the priesthood to discourage and weed out men like Mychal Judge.

I have asked the spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York for information about any plans New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan may have to honor or reference Father Judge on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and I will update this post should I receive a response.

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