After the funeral service for Father Mychal Judge, the fire chaplain who perished ministering to a dying fireman at the World Trade Center, I tried to ask Egan, "Given Father Mychal's many contributions to the gay community and all you've just heard about how loving and loved he was, does it make you want to rethink your condemnation of homosexuality?" When Egan heard the word "gay," he didn't wait for the question. "Oh, COME ON!," he thundered as he abruptly turned away. Purple with rage, he literally ran to his car.
Egan's response explains Mychal Judge's decision not to be a more outspoken gay activist-- something that he debated with me, host of a gay news show on TV that he said he enjoyed, and others over the years. Cardinals John O'Connor or Egan would certainly have put an end to his ability to function as a priest in this Archdiocese, a role that allowed him to roam the city in his brown Franciscan habit giving solace and strength to countless New Yorkers. It might also have meant the loss of his chaplaincy serving his beloved fire fighters, even though he enjoyed the support of the Fire Commissioner, Mayor, and virtually all the rank and file.
At his wake and funeral, Mychal Judge, 68, was mourned and celebrated by his two sisters, brother Franciscans, elderly nuns who were his grade school teachers, powerful friends, diverse parishioners, the homeless and others he served, and scores of fire fighters, some covered with dust from the catastrophe downtown. But evidence of Judge's involvement with the gay community-- and his wary relationship with the church hierarchy-- was hiding in plain sight.
At the wake, Mayor Giuliani himself said, "Father Mychal is now up in heaven with Cardinal O'Connor-- and O'Connor is letting him say mass," referring to the rivalry these two priests had, especially over funerals of fallen fire fighters. It was a grim day in a devastating week, but the mourners roared with knowing laughter.
Eulogizing him at the funeral, Father Michael Duffy broke up the crowd and humanized his friend by noting that when Judge got the word to dash downtown to the stricken Trade Center, "he did take time to comb and spray his hair!" Public Advocate Mark Green spoke of how he served people of "every orientation."
The night before, his 23 years in Alcoholics Anonymous were invoked, but not that Judge went mostly to gay AA meetings. His gay brothers from the program were all over the church.
Present in the pews were Judge's close friends, gay couple Brendan Fay and Tom Moulton. Judge had openly supported (and surreptitiously funded) Fay's Queens St. Patrick's Parade that welcomed gay groups, the only Catholic priest to do so. (The next one, on March 3, is dedicated to Judge's memory.) And when the Emerald Society of the Fire Department honored Father Mychal, he had Brendan and Tom as his guests and the couple danced together at the banquet. He was always building bridges, especially between the conservative and progressive worlds he was equally at home in.
Hillary Clinton inelegantly spoke of the "AIDS victims" Judge helped. She did not note how that ministry came about. When Cardinal O'Connor expelled Dignity, the gay Catholic organization, from St. Francis Xavier Church in the mid-1980s, Judge provided a home for the group's AIDS ministry, led by the Rev. Bernard Lynch, an outspoken gay priest. Judge later made that outreach St. Francis of Assisi's own. Several gay men came at the funeral told me how Judge had buried their partners and gotten them through their grief.
In 1988, Lynch was falsely accused of molesting a teen-age student at a Bronx school he once served. Lynch said that without being asked, Judge "flew to Ireland to meet with my provincial superior to tell him that the charges were politically motivated because I had stood up against the Cardinal in 1986 on the gay rights bill." This, Lynch said, convinced Father Con Murphy, his superior, to hire high-powered lawyer Michael Kennedy to defend Lynch. Judge made a side trip to a small Irish town to reassure Lynch's father about his son. Lynch returned to the Bronx and the flimsy case evaporated in court, with Judge Burton Roberts angrily declaring the priest not just "not guilty," but innocent of all charges.
The Archdiocese denies any involvement in bringing the charges, but they never answered letters from Kennedy seeking their files on Lynch nor pleas from religious leaders asking the Cardinal to help him. While O'Connor did speak out for his friend the Rev. Bruce Ritter when he was charged (accurately) with abusing boys at Covenant House, he was silent while Lynch twisted in the wind. Now the Archdiocese can know that their church's hero, Mychal Judge, helped undermine the case meant to destroy Lynch.
Judge kept a high profile, from comforting the kin of those who died on Flight 800 and meeting with Presidents to his poignant martyrdom on Bloody Tuesday. But in other ways, he was like the underground priests in Ireland, homeland of his parents, who defied the 18th century anti-Catholic Penal Laws, saying mass on the sly and always on the run. Working on gay issues, however, he was hiding from his own Cardinal Archbishop, who proclaimed him a saint at his funeral and refused to hear that Judge was the kind of person his church has condemned as "intrinsically disordered."
For Mychal (nee Emmet) Judge, an Irish American kid from Brooklyn, gayness was one of his many gifts, but it was the one that gave him his most personal experience of being an outsider, blessing him with the empathy that gave him such a tremendous ability to connect to and heal so many broken people.
© 2001 White Crane Journal