On Tuesday, July 11, I boarded a train at Sydney’s Central Station and travelled south to the rural city of Wagga Wagga.
Here I stayed with the McGowan family. My friend Mike McGowan had been the principal of Sts. Peter and Paul Primary School in Gouburn, where, from 1988 until my relocation to the US in January 1994, I spent six very happy years teaching (and learning).
Like so many others from my years in Goulburn, I consider each member of the McGowan family to be a very special gift in my life. It was great, therefore, to catch up with Mike, his wife, Bernie, and five of their seven children in Wagga.
I actually taught the two eldest McGowan children when I was living and teaching in Goulburn. Both are now grown-up, with Jeremiah now studying veterinarian science in Townsville, and Tess, a gifted musician, studying teaching in Sydney.
Their brother, Raphael, has the distinction of being the first person from my life in Australia to visit me in the US. He stayed with me in St. Paul, Minnesota for four months in 2004.
After travelling throughout many parts of the world, Raph’s now back in Wagga Wagga and, among other things, is learning both Spanish and the guitar as he prepares to study at university next year.
Ignatius (Ig) is a champion kick-boxer and works in nearby Canberra.
Miriam (Mim) is manager of a small business in Wagga, while her two younger sisters, Dominica (Dom) and Collette continue their high school studies.
It had been over three years since I was last in Wagga Wagga, so it was great to spend time with the McGowans, sharing meals, movies, laughs, stories, hopes, and dreams.
In talking to Mike and Bernie I was reminded again of how Australian Catholics – more so than I’d say American Catholics – have the ability to tune-out the dysfunctional rhetoric of the Church hierarchy and focus instead on Jesus' message of compassion and inclusiveness at the core of our Catholic faith.
Yes, Catholics in Australia hear the stern admonitions from the pulpit, but my observations are that the vast majority of them simply smile, nod, and then go off and quietly do their own thing – be it family planning, telling their children that, yes, their little Hindu friend will also go to Heaven, or loving and supporting their gay uncle and his partner.
In particular, my sense is that the majority of Australian Catholics (like those elsewhere in the world) recognize that there is an urgent need for change in “official” church teaching on sexuality. Though some may not be able to articulate it in the jargon of theology, an increasing number of Catholics intuitively sense that church teaching has become tragically alienated from the lived experience of everyday people, and thus the voice of the Spirit.
Catholic scholar Luke Timothy-Johnson has noted that “lay Catholics [ . . . ] are way ahead of the hierarchy in embracing an ecumenical vision of the church.” I would argue that the laity is likewise ahead of the hierarchy in understanding and embracing a sexual theology that reflects an openness to the Spirit - an openness sadly lacking in the institutional church. Such openness has ensured a grassroots theology on matters sexual, a lived theology that is informed by and reflects common sense, compassion, and an acceptance of the diversity of human sexuality.
It’s not that change will come, but rather that change is already taking place, and in the most important places of all – in the loving homes of Catholic families like the McGowans.
NEXT: Travelin' South (Part III).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts: Travelin’ South (Part I), Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents, Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth, My Rainbow Sash Experience, The Non-negotiables of Human Sex, and What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men.