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Late AGLO leader remembered for faith, dedication, service
by Chuck Colbert
2014-06-11

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Gay Catholics in Chicago are mourning the death of—and remembering—a gay man who played a pivotal role in trying to bridge a gap between hierarchical harshness and doctrinal hostility to LGBTs among the faithful and a Church instinct for pastoral respect, compassion, and sensitivity in ministry with them.

News of Jerry McEnany's passing on Good Friday, April 18, came in a Facebook posting, which announced a memorial Mass for him, held at 10:00 am Thursday, May 15, at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, with the Rev. Patrick J. Lee presiding.

"Jerry believed that LGBT Roman Catholics had a rightful place in the Church, and he worked to ensure that AGLO could welcome everyone who gathered for Mass every Sunday evening," read the Facebook posting.

The acronym AGLO stands for Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, a decades-long ministry with local LGBTs. It is a formally "recognized ministry" of the Chicago archdiocese.

According to AGLO's mission statement, the group seeks, "as people of God," to "create a sense of community for those who wish to reconcile their sexual orientation with their faith; provide an accepting and affirming atmosphere in which to worship in the Catholic tradition; provide opportunities for integration of personal experience through spiritual growth; share our distinctive gifts with each other and the Church at large, and witness our Catholic faith to the gay and lesbian community."

McEnany was one of a small group of original members who worked with the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin to establish the AGLO ministry in 1988.

AGLO is believed to be one of its kind on the American Catholic landscape—an official ministry for gays that while toeing the Vatican line on mandatory, lifelong celibacy for LGBTs, celebrates a weekly liturgy and delivers social support and spiritual services, including prayer groups, retreats, service projects, and days of reflection, much like those provided within a parish community.

McEnany served on AGLO's executive board for 23 years in a variety of roles, including co-director, secretary and treasurer; he also mentored and groomed others for organizational leadership.

In remembering McEnany, several local gay Catholics spoke fondly of him, recalling his faith and dedication.

"Jerry was a remarkable man, reserved and mild mannered; and he exemplified the idea of silent service," said Joe Vitek, AGLO's director of community outreach, also an organizational spokesperson, who attended the memorial liturgy. "He always stepped forward to do the things no one else wanted to do, but which needed to be done."

Vitek continued, "During Father Pat Lee's homily, he told the story of the first time he met Jerry in 1986. Jerry had asked Father. Pat to visit and anoint a friend who was dying from AIDS, even though at the time no one knew the name of this disease. He learned that Jerry was the only person caring for the young man. Father Pat went on to say that each and every time he made a visit to someone in the community to bring them the sacraments of the Church, Jerry was there to greet him. Jerry was caring for each one in some way or another. No one else wanted to do this, but it needed to be done."

"Jerry was constant presence in the leadership of the organization," Vitek explained. "His advice has inspired AGLO to maintain a strong level of charitable works and donations within the LGBT community and working to maintain awareness within the Catholic Church."

Two years ago, McEnany left formal leadership of the organization due to illness, said Vitek. But AGLO community members responded by forming a Ministers of Care program. To date, 12 volunteers have been formally trained to provide for spiritual needs of people who are hospitalized, homebound or in care homes, he said.

McEnany's family, Vitek said, is from Wisconsin. A Web search found no obituary or other biographical information.

Attempts to reach Father Lee were unsuccessful. Lee was one of several North Side pastors who helped with the formation and guidance of AGLO when it was founded in 1988. Lee has been AGLO's moderator since. Last July, he was named pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which is AGLO's host parish.

Early on, formation of AGLO was not without controversy. For years, the only visible gay Catholic presence in town was Dignity/Chicago.

In 1986, the Vatican issued a document, "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," that not only condemned homosexual acts as "evil," but also warned against pressure groups, seeking to change church doctrine.

In the wake of the Vatican's document, U.S. bishops began expelling Dignity chapters from church properties nationwide insofar as Dignity is an LGBT-positive Catholic advocacy organization.

A 1992 version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to "homosexual acts" as "acts of grave depravity." In 2003, a Vatican document said gay parents do "violence" to their children.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Bernardin took a slightly different approach, establishing a ministry with gay and lesbian Catholics, based at St. Sebastian. The initiative included regularly scheduled liturgies and outreach at other parishes, namely Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Clement, St. Teresa of Avila, Immaculate Conception, and Holy Name Cathedral.

However, in establishing an archdiocesan-sponsored ministry with LGBTs, Bernadin told Dignity that it would no longer be permitted to use St. Sebastian for its weekly Mass.

A series of meetings were held between officials of the Chicago archdiocese and Dignity, which ultimately resulted in a rift—or "split"—among Dignity's membership.

Gay-rights activist and lay Catholic Rick Garcia recalled the time and McEnany's leadership.

"Jerry played a significant role in the founding of AGLO… believ[ing] that the Church has a responsibility to provide authentic and official outreach and ministry to sexual minorities and their families," Garcia said. "At the time of AGLO's founding, Cardinal Bernardin, along with as other Catholic bishops, was under great pressure from Rome to get rid of Dignity chapters on church property. Jerry and the board of directors of Dignity were meeting with the archdiocese to find a way to have it both ways—Mass on Church property for gay people and the archdiocese wanting to alleviate pressure from Rome and right-wing Catholics.

"Jerry and the board thought at the time that having the archdiocese sponsor the Mass, which Dignity members would be invited to, would satisfy everyone.

"The exact opposite happened. Long-time members of Dignity had a fit and were concerned what influence the archdiocese would have on these 'gay Masses.' They questioned, 'Would this ministry be anti-gay? Would it be modeled on Courage, an anti-gay Catholic outreach?' The reaction was not anything Jerry and the others anticipated."

In all, Garcia explained, "Jerry was at the helm at this time and he was getting hell from all sides. He navigated his way through the huge controversy and worked hard to make sure that AGLO would be authentic and not a vehicle for the anti-gay sentiments of some in the archdiocese. He largely succeeded in doing that."

The rub between the local Dignity chapter and the Chicago archdiocese resulted largely from a 1987 change that Dignity/USA made in its Statement of Position and Purpose. New language at the organization's national convention affirmed that LGBT "sexual relationships were loving, life-giving, and life-affirming."

In May 1989, when the archdiocese formally established AGLO, The Chicago Tribune reported on a "memo of understanding," which officially expanded the local church's pastoral ministry in Cook and Lake counties.

At that time, The Tribune quoted McEnany, a former Dignity/Chicago leader, who said, the local Church's formal recognition of AGLO "exceeds the expectations we had as we began working with the archdiocese a year and a half ago" insofar as the memo offers the "same consideration" to AGLO as other archdiocesan organizations.

A year earlier, Dignity voted overwhelmingly to relocate its liturgy to a Lutheran church after the archdiocese said it would take charge of a weekly Dignity Mass, which the organization had sponsored for a decade and half at St. Sebastian.

The Chicago archdiocese subsequently closed the financially struggling St. Sebastian in June of 1990.

Coincidentally, just three days after McEnany's memorial liturgy, Dignity/Chicago celebrated its 42nd anniversary. Past president Martin Grochala offered his thoughts McEnany, who also served in a leadership role at Dignity.

"I did not know Mr. McEnany, but do know that the creation of AGLO was a time of great conflict for all involved, "said Grochala.

"Over the years, that animosity has faded and each organization has forged its own path of service in the Catholic LGBT community," he added. "For the years since AGLO was created and Dignity declined Cardinal Bernadin's proposal for a diocesan ministry, we have been faithful to the belief that our sexuality is loving, life-giving and life affirming."

For his part, Joe Murray, executive director of the pro-LGBT Catholic advocacy group Rainbow Sash Movement, said of McEnany, "He was a proud Catholic gay man," who "did not buy into the hypocritical idea that celibacy was the answer to the gay problem in the Church."

Murray also recalled the origins of AGLO and subsequent rift in the local Dignity chapter. "First and foremost the late Cardinal Bernadin was the organizer of the AGLO outreach," said Murray. "He kicked Dignity out of the Church, which caused a split in Dignity."

"As I recall Jerry was not happy about the division, nor was he happy about Dignity being kicked of St. Sebastian," explained Murray. "While I agree Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, St. Clement, St. Teresa of Avila, and Immaculate Conception were welcoming parishes, none of them had a Mass for the LGBT community, and to claim that Holy Name Cathedral was a welcoming parish is both misleading and untrue."

For all of McEnany's service and dedication to the local Church in Chicago—and to AGLO and to Dignity—he was also a political force for civil rights for gays.

"During the effort to pass the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance and in the years that followed, Jerry played a significant behind-the-scenes role in trying to undermine and minimize archdiocesan opposition to any kind of gay civil-rights legislation," said activist Garcia. "[McEnany] had a strong working relationship with the pastors of five North Side parishes and often times out of the public eye these priests took forceful stands against the cardinal's opposition."

The Chicago City Council passed the gay-rights ordinance on Dec. 21, 1988.

At the time, Garcia was a member of Dignity but no longer is. Now, he attends AGLO liturgies frequently and periodically worships with Dignity, Garcia said.

AGLO celebrates weekly Mass on Sunday at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel at 7 p.m. The organization marked its 25th anniversary last year. On occasion, Francis Cardinal George has celebrated Mass for AGLO.

Dignity/Chicago holds its liturgical celebration every Sunday at Broadway United Methodist Church, located in the city's Lakeview neighborhood, at 5 pm.

An affiliate of Dignity/USA, the local chapter shares in the national organization's mission "to work for respect and justice for all" LGBT "persons in the Catholic Church and the world."

©Copyright. Chuck Colbert. All rights reserved.


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