Fiction Jeremiah Bartram Literature

Null

Jeremiah Bartram

 

The little room was full of shadows. Monsignor Pedro Lopez-Gallo, a tiny figure immaculate in black, directed me to an armless wooden chair before a spotless desk. I was a petitioner, seeking the annulment of my long-dead marriage and he was head of the Marriage Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. A Rolex watch flashed gold on his left wrist.

I sat.

When he himself sat down all but his head and shoulders seemed to disappear. His long, putty-colored face hung over the empty surface, like a melancholy Punch in a solitary puppet show.

“Do you have a divorce?” he asked. “We do not proceed without a divorce.”

I had.

“And why do you seek this annulment? You are well known in this Archdiocese. You were the editor of its respected weekly paper.”

Unprepared for this most basic question, I fumbled around with words: I was gay, homosexual, that was the grounds of the annulment; I had a spiritual director back in Ottawa and together we were asking the question—discerning—whether perhaps I might have, well—a vocation—as a priest or a monk. So that’s why I was here.

“You think you have a vocation,” he murmured. “As a priest. We see.”

I said that I understood how problematic the case might be, because of the passage of time. But I had spoken to several witnesses. My former wife was cooperative. It was she who had divorced me.

“Ah. So she wishes to remarry?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you. You wish to be a priest.”

“If God wants me.”

“Although you have homosexual inclinations.”

“Yes.”

“Ah.”

He stroked his long chin. I looked out the window at the dying afternoon. Saint Jean Vianney, patron of priests, pray for me. You who had so many obstacles to your vocation, pray for me.

Monsignor spoke.

“Tonight at your hotel, I wish you to write your libellus. In your own words, explain why you believe the marriage to have been invalid, and why you now seek to nullify it. Bring that to me in the morning. And I will arrange an interview with Father Pankhurst, while you are still here. You are here tomorrow? He will take your testimony.”

“So – you will take the case?”

“Perhaps, perhaps; we will see.”

He rose and extended a limp hand.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Thank you,” I found myself repeating. “Thank you, Monsignor. I’ll be here tomorrow.”

I obeyed his instructions and a letter followed me home to Ottawa, saying that the Tribunal had determined to take the case. So that was the beginning.

◊ ◊ ◊

I reported the matter to the pastor of my parish, Jean-Guy LeMarier, a French Oblate of Mary Immaculate and a distinguished moral theologian, former head of a local college. He was about sixty-five, with owlish eyes in a round flushed face. We met in his overheated office, crammed with books and hideous memorabilia.

He was surprised and impressed. He told me something that he had not shared before: how a friend of his had gone all the way to Belgium on a similar errand, and had been refused by a court, with better evidence than mine.

Surely, this was a sign?

Of course it was a sign!

◊ ◊ ◊

I had lost my marriage and my kids and my home when I came out as a gay man three years before. I was glad to lose the marriage, that went without saying. And the home? Well, I’d start again, I’d get another. But the kids?

That was a loss indeed.

And then came something wholly unexpected: a touch of God.

The first fleeting and surprising touch came as I watched my wife (whom I’ll call Bev in this account) drive away in fine rain, having, at her own insistence, ferried me from our house in North Vancouver to my tiny West End sublet with my clothes and a couple of boxes. She waited while I dropped those things off, and then drove me to my office.

“May I kiss you goodbye?” I offered, with a hopeful uptick, as I stood at her car window, and bent toward her averted cheek.

“Of course!” she said, looking only at the wet road ahead.

And then, as I watched her drive off in what was once my, now her, white Volvo station wagon, a Swedish ghost in the silver light, I felt a moment of lightness in my chest, as if I wasn’t alone: a kind of tender blessing.

How strange, I reflected. I was violating every fundamental value that I knew. I was leaving my marriage and abandoning my kids. I hadn’t prayed in years.

And you touch me now?

Then I lost my job. I was offered another in Ottawa, three thousand miles away. I took it, imagining that my wife might calm down if I got the body—namely me—out of the room. I also imagined that I could maintain a close relationship with my kids by writing every week, and calling, and visiting several times a year, and bringing them to Ontario each summer to spend time with me and my ailing parents.

I was wrong on both counts.

Like an industrious ant, I set about building a new life, a gay one, and a couple of years passed. My son looked at me with fear, and my daughter, whom I’ll call Lucy in this account, barely spoke to me. So, when her seventeenth birthday arrived, hoping to repair our relationship, I offered to take her to the country of her choice during spring break. She agreed to go, and chose Spain.

We found our way around Andalucía in a little car, with poor maps and not much of a plan, apart from visiting the Royal Equestrian Academy in Jerez de la Frontiera—Lucy’s chosen destination. That was prompted by her mother, who taught riding and was interested in Andalusian horses. The academy at Jerez has links to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna; their horses are famous for their fiery temperaments and ballet-like movements, the result of years of training, both of horse and rider. So we spent five days in that unpretentious small city in the west of Spain, not far from the Atlantic Ocean and the port of Cadiz.

Whatever the tourist literature says, there isn’t much to see and do in Jerez, apart from the equestrian shows on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. But as we toured the stalls on a non-show day we met one of the riders—a dark-haired, loose-limbed guy in his late twenties, who spoke English. I’ve forgotten his name, so I’ll call him Alejandro in this account. The next day, there he was, astride a grey stallion, splendid in what they called a “working costume” of pale grey formal jacket, black broad brimmed hat, black pants and high black boots. He caught Lucy’s eye and nodded as he passed, and she blushed.

Afterwards Alejandro invited us to go out into the country with him to visit a bull farm, where he supplemented his income twice a week by schooling big German warmbloods in a pen surrounded by grassland. We went, Lucy up front in his little Fiat, me in the cramped back seat. The land was hilly, a mix of pasture and vineyard—Jerez, as its name suggests, is the centre of sherry country. The pastures were lush in early spring, but the chalky earth beneath the hills of vines was an uncanny grey-white, like bones; its palor contrasted strangely with the long thin lines of green traced by the vines.

We drove from pasture to pasture and he explained that the bulls were bred and reared for the bull ring, with as little human contact as possible. An old man dropped supplies of food for them from a truck, and the horses that Alejandro schooled were ridden by ranch hands every month or so, to move them from pasture to pasture. But humans almost never touched the bulls or spoke to them and certainly never haltered them and led them around, like cattle. They were, he explained, “virgins.”

We could see a group of eight or so in the distance: huge, sleek, black, magnificent, uncurious. They were captive and yet wild. They could not know that one day, when they reached their prime, they’d be loaded onto a truck and released into a vast ring where, in blinding sun, before a thousand roaring spectators, they’d face further horses along with goading lances and, standing alone on the pale ground, a glittering human male with a red cape—who would be their death.

Alejandro offered a second excursion, when Lucy could ride one of the warmbloods with him.

“You don’t have to come,” he told me.

“Do you want me to come along?” I asked her, that night at dinner.

Long silence. I was used to silence.

“Well, OK,” she said.

If Alejandro was disappointed the next day to find both Lucy and the old man waiting at the hotel door, he didn’t show it. We drove out again into the lush fields and strangely palid hills, and Lucy briefly rode one of the warmbloods. That’s a northern European breed, tall and heavily muscled, much used nowadays for dressage. They’re descended from work horses—a total contrast to the small, quick, light Andalusians of the school. I don’t think she’d ever ridden such a big animal before. I hoped that it was the highlight of her trip—but if it was, she didn’t say.

After Jerez we drove along the coast, past Gibraltar, and then inland on tortuous mountain roads to the town of Ronda, site of a Civil War massacre that Hemingway memorializes in For Whom the Bell Tolls, a copy of which I had with me. I tried unsuccessfully to imagine the scene in the town square. I hope I didn’t inflict it on my daughter.

We stayed in a decayed, once British, hotel on the edge of the gorge on which the town is built. After dinner we wandered again. Teenagers were picking oranges from the trees that lined the steep main street, and bowling them down the hill, laughing in the soft night. After Lucy went to bed, I went out to the garden, which overlooked the gorge. Rilke wrote the Duino Elegies in that hotel, and there was a statue of him there. I lay on a bench looking up at the moon and the star-filled sky, trying to discover some literary feeling, but neither Rilke, nor Hemingway had anything to tell me.

We looped back toward Cordoba and got lost, finishing in a village mentioned in no guidebook, whose name I’ve now forgotten, where we sat with other guests sipping drinks on a terrace beside an incongruously empty swimming pool. After dinner, families emerged from their houses to socialize in the square, while children played. I loved that intimate feature of small-town Spanish life. What Lucy saw or felt I did not know.

I had been reading the poetry of John of the Cross, before we came. I wanted to visit his shrine—but it was in a completely different part of the country. As I figured out how to return to Madrid, I read about a different shrine, an ancient one at Guadalupe, in the hill country of the Estramadura. It had been a pilgrim destination since medieval times, thanks to the miraculous arrival of a statue of the Virgin, supposedly carved by the many-faceted Saint Luke—evangelist, physician, companion of Paul, painter and now sculptor as well. The shrine had been greatly enriched in the sixteenth century by returning conquistadors, many of whom came from that poverty-stricken region. Columbus himself had once visited with a North American slave. I proposed a detour. We went.

I was getting sicker and sicker as we found our way to the village on a rough, narrow, hilly road. Maybe it was a form of food poisoning—although we’d eaten in a high-class restaurant the night before. Maybe it was a form of spiritual sickness, a resistance of the body to the exalted purpose of this part of the trip. I preferred the latter explanation.

We found the place, and it was lovely enough: knotted streets in a hillside town leading inevitably past the basilica that was its shrine. Close by was the hotel where we planned to stay—a parador in what was once a hospital. I was fighting waves of nausea by this time, and my main goal was to get Lucy safely settled and pay at least a brief visit to the shrine before I collapsed. The wide corridors of the parador smelled sweet like some precious oil, or like incense; there were blinds on long windows and when we opened them we found a small terrace that overlooked a lush garden, and beyond the garden a gorge and distant mountains and brilliant Spanish sky. It was a wonderful room in an enchanted palace, the best place we’d stayed, and if I hurried I could get into the church before it closed for the long lunch and siesta. Leaving Lucy there in safety, I found my way through those hushed shadowy corridors, out into the street, and to the church.

It was just a church, dim, open, with a richly gilded coffered flat ceiling far overhead and an elaborate grille on the other side of which I could see, high on a complicated Spanish reredos, a little doll clothed in a fancy dress, no doubt the treasured Virgin of the place. I was quite sick. Cold sweat was trickling down my face and back. I took in these impressions passively, hastily: I was there to complete a project; I was there to be there, to register a presence and fulfill a commitment, not to study or admire.
And then, suddenly, I began to cry. I couldn’t stop. There was no reason for tears. I just cried.
Mindful of my responsibility for my daughter, and the imminent closing of the church, and the fact that lunch would soon be served at the parador, I mastered my tears and left. That was the heart of the experience.

Or was it? I took Lucy down to lunch, but could eat nothing myself, so I left her in the dining room and spent some time vomiting in our magical room. I passed out for a while, and then slept fitfully all afternoon. In the early evening I revisited the church. The tears did not return. I could eat nothing, but all night I felt great joy, sleeping and waking in the soft dark, hearing dogs across the gorge and roosters at dawn, surrounded by hills, valleys, dwellings, creatures all unknown to me and strange in an immense silence that was filled with the unseen. I felt the joy of the presence of God. It was like that faint caress that day in the rain when I watched Bev drive away, but it was deeper and stronger: a joy I had been lacking for a long, long time.

That happiness—and with it, deep peace—endured the following day, when, much recovered, I drove our little car on to Madrid. That was it. It was as simple as that.

◊ ◊ ◊

I was forty-four, in the prime of life. I had many talents, and the habit of success, at least in the business side of life. I had accepted my sexual orientation—in theory. But the gay world turned out to be a lonely place, and I couldn’t find a partner. God, I felt, was calling me to something. What did he want?

Maybe—could it be that I was a monk or a priest?

Well, why not? Look at Saint Augustine. He lived for years in a common-law relationship and fathered a son. But after his conversion he’d put the relationship aside, moved to Africa with the son, and become not just a priest, but a bishop, founder of a religious community, and a father of the church.

If Augustine, why not me? The Holy Spirit was full of surprises. And sure, I was gay. Big deal. The issue wasn’t sexual orientation, the issue was chastity. Because the church taught that being gay was merely part of my nature; it was something I couldn’t help. What mattered was what I did with that sexual orientation. Look around! Lots and lots of gay men were priests.

So when I got home from Spain I went to see Jean-Guy LeMarier. He encouraged me. I began seeing him every month for spiritual direction, and together we decided that I would take the first and necessary step in discerning whether or not I had a vocation: I would seek an annulment to my marriage—since a married man could not be a priest.

◊ ◊ ◊

In Catholic teaching, a marriage is a contract between two baptized Christians that is indissoluble by its nature. However, that mutual contract could be invalid, because of the interior dispositions of one or both parties. The marriage could be legal in a civil sense; there could be children; but if it could be proven that, despite appearances, the fundamental preconditions for the contract were lacking, that would mean that the sacramental bond never took place, and the marriage was null.

I was gay. Therefore, I lacked the capacity to enter into such a marriage union with a woman, however well-intentioned I might be, however outwardly faithful I might be to the marriage, however hard I tried.

So, by definition, there were grounds for an annulment.

However, it was not sufficient to demonstrate my current homosexuality. There had to be evidentiary proof that, at the time of the marriage vow, I was incapable of forming that bond.

Were there documents? Were there witnesses?

I now marvel that I had the gall to locate and call people I hadn’t seen in twenty years and ask them to be interviewed by a Tribunal official respecting my sexual conduct and proclivities before my marriage. But I did. I tracked down my best man; reluctantly, he agreed. I spoke to my former sister-in-law. She agreed. Likewise my best friend from college. Oh, I was thorough. I called a couple of priest friends who had often visited the house in the early days of the marriage, asking if they had noticed issues with the marriage and, if so, whether they’d be willing to testify. They all agreed.

The church handles such far-flung interviews through cooperative arrangements across Tribunals: Vancouver sends the questions, and a local official does the interview. Interviews are taped, transcribed, and sent to Vancouver. On the basis of those transcripts, a Vancouver-appointed advocate prepares an argument to show why the marriage was null; a court-appointed “defender of the marriage bond” prepares contrary arguments to show why the marriage was valid; and ultimately Monsignor Gallo, along with two other judges, determines the case and drafts the decision.

◊ ◊ ◊

A few months went by. In March 1992, the Vancouver Tribunal wrote to say that all evidence had been gathered, and if I wished to review the “acts” of the case, as the materials were called, a copy would be forwarded to the office of my local Tribunal, where I could arrange to read them.

I so wished and a month later, I was left alone in a room with the collection of documents. I was allowed to take notes.

Bev’s testimony was heart-wrenchingly sad. She was a victim: brave, faithful, deeply wounded, but still loving. Yes, she had been aware of my homosexuality; indeed, early in our relationship, I had taunted her with it, had gone out of my way to describe my gay amours. But I had assured her that because of my newfound Catholic faith, homosexuality was a thing of the past. She had trusted me. She had believed me. And I had been a good provider. I had been an affectionate, if distant, father. When I announced that I could no longer resist my gay predilections and wanted to end the marriage, she had reacted with disbelief; she was shocked, too shocked to speak. We had sought counseling, but in vain. It had taken me two years to leave, and those years were very difficult for the family. The children suffered.

Some of these statements were true. Yes, I had been open about having sex with men, before we married, and yes, newly converted to the Catholic faith—a story in itself—I told her that I was finished with all that. I was sincere, at the time, and I also believed that I loved her. And yes, oh yes, the children suffered.

But was she really the victim that she imagined herself to be? And in the months and years leading up to the separation, was she really so blind?

In the 1980s I learned to write plays, in conjunction with The New Play Centre—a Vancouver company that worked with emerging playwrights at that time. I’d dropped out of Catholic practice by then. Bev felt that my writing was a direct attack on her. She was convinced that the men and women I met when I attended workshops and courses were a sexual threat; especially the men—although I was always dutifully faithful to her.

The unspoken fact of our relationship was my homosexuality. It was one of the huge elephants in our common room. She used to make jokes about “going down Davey Street with a flame-thrower to get the queers”—in front of both her approving father, and me. I got the message, and, steeped in the school of passive anger, I said nothing. But I wrote plays.

One day when I was home with flu, I wrote a coming-out play about a desperate, lonely man who lived in an imaginary wood in the basement of his house and was trying to get up his courage to tell his wife that he was gay. I wrote the play in a rush, in a matter of hours. I imagined that I was writing it for her; that it was my way of opening a conversation about how starved and dead and sad I felt. Not that I wanted to leave. I loved my kids, I loved the house, and despite our deep reservoirs of secret rage, I loved her. But I wanted to be able to write about my truth, and I wanted to be understood, and I wanted to be loved, even though I had this identity, this gay identity, that she feared and despised.

I called the play The Secret Wood, and for a long time I lacked the courage to show it to her. But I did share it with the artistic director of The New Play Centre, and she workshopped it with professional actors. That workshop gave me the confidence to show it to Bev.

I had witnessed many scenes during that marriage, but I’ve blanked this one out; only the gist of her words remains. She had been faithful, she had done everything she was supposed to do, and I had lied to her, I had betrayed her, I had promised, I had promised, oh, I had promised, and I’d never loved her, and what would her father say, he’d blame her, he’d say it was all her fault, I had ruined her life.

There was another scene. We went to a performance at that theatre. We sat in uneasy silence, waiting for the play to start. I glanced through the program, and there on the back page was the list of plays under consideration for next year’s season—including The Secret Wood. That should have been good news, but what would Bev say? I watched as she looked around at the audience, with distaste, as if her husband’s secret sex partners lurked in every row. Cold sweat trickled down my back and under my arms. I had to get out, but we were trapped in the middle of a middle row in a two hundred seat theatre. I couldn’t snatch the program out of her hands. Oh, for a torrent of silly words, anything, anything to distract her, but no words came. All I could do was watch and sweat and wait for the slow-ticking bomb to explode. She re-read the front of the program. She opened it and read the blurb on the play and the cast. She looked around again at the audience, and almost put the program aside. And then she turned to the back page.

No, no, please no.

“What’s this?” she said, suddenly focusing on the list. “The Secret Wood by Jerry Bartram, in which a middle-aged man tries to come to terms with his gay identity and his marriage.”

“Yeah, well, I guess they’re considering my play, you know, the play I showed you—”

Just then the lights went down.

Suppress the fucking play,” she shouted in the car on the way home.

The theatre made that decision for me, by not choosing The Secret Wood. But the following year they mounted a different, less openly autobiographical one called The Wolf Within, about a gay priest leaving the priesthood because of his sexual identity. It won a Jesse Richardson award for best original play in 1989. It also ended our marriage.

◊ ◊ ◊

The scenes always began at night in the dining room, where I would be sitting doing office work, or trying to write a play. I kept a journal during that time—the first in my life, so sometimes I’d be writing in that.

October 7:
“But you have to earn a living.”
“It’s unfair. Why should everything change for me because you decide that you want to be free?
“I’m sorry.”
“I’m not going to work at Eaton’s.”
“I’m not talking about working at Eaton’s. You’re talented. You can do a lot of things.”
“It’s too late. I’m forty-two.”
“Look at me. Seven years ago I had a shit job. And I succeeded.”
“You have a Ph.D.”
“You have an MA. Come on, honey, it’s not such a big deal to earn a living.”
“You just have to be Teflon, Jerry, don’t you? You can’t let anything stick to you. Nothing.”
The tears begin. She leaves. Then she’s sobbing hysterically. Loudly, heaving. She goes into the bathroom and slams the door, probably waking the children. She shouts through the door: “Some way to treat the mother of your children!”

October 20:
“The kids can hear.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m saying?”
She starts to cry. Lucy stamps into the kitchen. Makes a sandwich. We are both silent. Finally, she’s done. She hangs around, glances at me, turns away, drums her fingers on the counter.
“You know, dad, you are such a fucking asshole.”
Bev starts to cry. “Oh, Lucy!”
“You are such an asshole,” she repeats, turning away. “I wish you’d get out of my life.”

And little Tom. He was a charming and sensitive boy of twelve, young for his age. A couple of weeks before I left his home forever, he called out in the night:

“Dad! Dad!”

I went into his room. Moonlight through open curtains. I could see his white t-shirt, blurry in the half dark. He was sitting up, then lying down.

“Tom. Tom. You OK?”

“What is it?” he asked.

“You had a dream.”

“You’re not doing it?”

I understood. I touched his head.

“You’re OK,” I said.

“You’re not doing it?”

And then he went back to sleep.

◊ ◊ ◊

Monsignor Gallo conducted the interview with Bev himself—the only one that he did.

“And now he wants to become a priest,” he said.

“Yes,” said Bev.

“Do you think he can master his inclinations and live a life of celibacy?”

“Well (a laugh) I guess if he did that for eighteen years, when he was married to me, well I guess, yes.”

And then came the key exchange.

Monsignor Gallo began a new and unprovoked line of questioning.

“Jerry had many friends among the clergy,” he suggested.

She agreed.

“And you never had any doubt or suspicion regarding your husband’s relationships with some of these priests?”

The transcript noted a “long pause,” and then Bev said: “Uh. I don’t know what you know.”

“Do you think that Jerry kept secret from you certain adventures that he was having so as not to disturb your mind?”

“Are you asking whether he kept certain secrets from me so I wouldn’t be upset?”

“Yes.”

“Well, of course he would know that I would be upset.”

“You never found letters or things that might have suggested to you that there was a serious problem?”

She had not.

“That he had a secret life?”

She had not.

“Secret from you,” he persisted.

“I don’t know what you know,” she said, once again.

Monsignor Gallo was leading the witness. But it was much worse than that. He was planting in her mind a suspicion that previously she had never entertained. And she, for her part, did more than fall for it: she grabbed it. In a heartbeat, this woman who had shared my life for eighteen years had leaped to the conclusion that her husband was fucking around behind her back, with family friends who visited the house, ate at our table, who had blessed us and our children, fine men vowed to chastity. She had lived with me for eighteen years, and in the space of three seconds, without any evidence, she had not just doubted, but had jumped to the conclusion that I was a philanderer, a liar and a sham.

As part of the documentary protocol, the person who conducts one of these interviews always adds a few private words of his own at the end of the transcript, concerning the reliability of the interviewee.
Surely, I thought, surely, given the glaring discrepancy between my own testimony and this interview, surely this wise man, this Monsignor who had, against all odds, taken on my case, who surely understood the essential purity of my motivation, himself called by God, himself consecrated, surely this just man would doubt the reliability of a woman who was so demonstrably suggestible?

I flipped to the end of the transcript.

“Beverly seems to be a very nice person and I have no reason to doubt the truth of her testimony,” Monsignor had written.

◊ ◊ ◊

Months passed. In December I visited Vancouver, and Monsignor Gallo asked to see me. He told me that he had had a further meeting with Bev. For her part, she told me that he had taken her to lunch, picking her up “in his red Jaguar.” They did not say what they had discussed.

He also gave me a copy of one of his own sermons, delivered to his Parish of Saint Pius X, on the subject of homosexuality. In the sermon, he argued against what he termed “gay rights,” and he compared the homosexual inclination to kleptomania.

The comparison was ignorant and insulting. And even if he himself believed such a thing, why would he give the sermon to me? Didn’t he understand that I had given up sex for God?

A month later, in a result that must have been obvious to anyone but me, the Vancouver Tribunal delivered its judgment “in favor of the marriage bond,” by which it meant that the annulment was denied.

A month after that, I read the text at my local tribunal. Monsignor Gallo was its author. The court accepted my evidence of open and repeated gay behavior before and after the marriage; and it acknowledged Bev’s full awareness of that orientation and those behaviors on my part, along with the awareness of her family. But it distinguished between “genuine homosexuality” and “pseudo-homosexuality.”

“The pseudo-homosexual is one who may engage in homosexual behavior due to the lack of opposite-sex partners for the discharge of one’s libido; for example, those who are confined to same-sex groups for a long period of time (i.e., jail). Once the pseudo-homosexual is no longer confined to the same-sex environment, he or she will resume his/her preferred sexual activity: heterosexual relations. Even Napoleon was aware of pseudo-homosexual behavior; during his campaign in Egypt, Napoleon rejected the idea of bringing along prostitutes for his army and instead declared: ‘Mes hommes se suffisent’ [My men can satisfy themselves].”

Monsignor Gallo then proceeded to argue that I was a “pseudo-homosexual” rather than a “real homosexual”—even though it was clear that, given freedom of choice, I preferred men and turned to women only to satisfy the church’s law—the reverse of the jailhouse (or Napoleonic) example that he cited.

Twice he compared homosexuality to kleptomania.

This was ridiculous. I was a gay man. God had made me that way. My sexuality was not a disease, like kleptomania. OK, I was also Catholic. And yes, I was willing to be chaste—to be “a eunuch for the Gospel,” to cite scripture. Maybe I was crazy to think that God might be calling me to be a priest (the judgment spent many pages pointing out how contradictory and misguided such a notion on my part must be). OK, maybe it was a crazy idea. But wasn’t I doing exactly what the church taught that we should do? I was asking the question and turning it over to God; and I was ready to submit to his will.
But this couldn’t be his will. This was stupid, a travesty of justice.

I had to fight.

◊ ◊ ◊

I went to the Canadian Appeal Tribunal, and found a very different court from Monsignor Gallo’s: open, intelligent, headed by a Redemptorist priest from Quebec who listened closely and did not rule out the admittedly strange possibility that God might be calling the unlikely me to serve him as a priest.
That court accepted my appeal. It helped me find an advocate—a red-faced, silver-headed retired public servant named John Burke: tough-minded, laconic and crusty, a former Treasury Board analyst, accustomed to seizing the heart of any issue and presenting it in a few concise words.

There was, however, one surprise.

As he prepared my petition, John asked me to review the evidence once again, and gave me a copy of the acts. I re-read Monsignor Gallo’s interview with Bev—and found that he had changed his closing text in a significant way.

Instead of his neutral original sentence—“Beverley seems to be a very nice person and I have no reason to doubt her word”—he had written this:

“This is Father Gallo. I am very convinced of the tragedy of the situation. Jerry wanted a parapet to defend his tendencies. The Respondent told me that the only thing the Petitioner wants is to become a priest…being a priest, he will have another possibility to master or attain his sexuality. His homosexual promiscuity with specific persons, who I have not put in the record because their names are known in our community, is clear and indicates that Jerry has a strong homosexual drive. It is also clear the exclusive heterosexual behavior required in marriage is impossible for the Petitioner. I do not doubt the truthfulness of the Respondents’s [sic] testimony. I believe that she suffered through tremendous deceptions, anxieties, but she is now healing little by little.”

The original date of the interview was unchanged (8 October, 1991), as was Bev’s evidence. There were no such accusations on the record. And in his judgment, Gallo had used my fidelity to the marriage to argue that I was not a “real homosexual.” But here, in a new personal statement, he was contradicting both what she told him in her formal deposition, and his own reasoning.

I never had sex with priests of the archdiocese—and there was no evidence that any of the men we knew were even gay. And yet, somehow or other, he had names?

What happened?

Both Bev and Monsignor Gallo told me that they had a further meeting, over lunch, outside the evidentiary process.

What did she tell him?

◊ ◊ ◊

In November of 1993, the Canadian Appeal Tribunal declared that Vancouver’s decision in my case was null, on procedural grounds, and directed that I could enter the case again in different court. Vancouver appealed to Rome, and on January 5, 1994 the Apostolic Signatura upheld the Appeal Court’s decision, but directed that Vancouver could re-try the case, with a different judge and a correct process.

Inevitably, it provided a repeat of its previous decision (4 April, 1995). so I appealed again, and this time the Appeal Tribunal undertook to re-try the case itself. Vancouver was outraged and appealed once more to Rome, but in vain. As before, my advocate was the sagacious and well-focused John Burke. The Tribunal sought further evidence, in the form of a lengthy psychiatric questionnaire and an accompanying three-hour interview as I answered the questions, all duly transcribed and entered into evidence. The court appointed a distinguished panel of five judges. On November 20, 1996, this panel met and unanimously affirmed the nullity of the marriage. I was informed of this decision on January 29, 1997.

◊ ◊ ◊

Much had happened in my life, since I first launched the annulment process, after that trip to Spain. Much had changed. Back then, I was sleeping on the floor on a yoga mat, in solidarity with the street people whom I saw in doorways. I was awake a lot, so there were hours of prayer, as I tried to be a mystic. In that initial year of the annulment, I made an icon (“wrote” it, to use the correct word), following as best I could the ancient, Zen-like steps of a long, slow process, sanding and chiselling the soft red wood, vesting it with linen, applying the gesso, learning to use egg tempera—the medium of Giotto and Botticelli and Michaelangelo and generations of anonymous iconographers; laying the gold leaf. I was no artist. My technique stank. But I knew that didn’t matter. What mattered was fidelity to a long process of prayer, and the humility—let’s say humiliation—of imperfection. Living in imperfection, but with faith.

Also, a Platonic friendship had turned out to be an unrequited and somewhat masochistic love affair with a cruel ending. What does that word “Platonic” mean, anyhow? I had to wonder whether I was really cut out for celibacy.

I gave up the yoga mat and the sleeping bag, but I didn’t give up prayer. The icon hung, silent, in my room; its holy faces, timeless and serene, floated in a sea of gold.

◊ ◊ ◊

Before I could pursue a priestly vocation, another court had to confirm the Appeal Court’s decision, so my case had to go before the ultimate tribunal: the Roman Rota. I had no doubt of the outcome: the case was strong, and the best canonists in the country had made their ruling.

Confident of a speedy and successful final decision by that court, I approached the Oblates with my proposed vocation, confident as well of their eager acceptance of my candidacy. Wasn’t there a vocation crisis? And I came on the recommendation of their trusted colleague, my spiritual director and friend, Jean-Guy.

I met with the Director of Vocations, a precise, discrete francophone priest with hooded calm eyes and a pock-marked face. He listened closely and said almost nothing.

And then he politely and firmly refused my vocation.

It was March, and night. We had met in an austere, neo-classical stone building, part residence, part offices. It stood in a park by the river, well off the street. The sky was clear, and the cold air was sharp against the skin of my face. I got into my car and sat for a while, without starting the engine. Naked trees, moonlight, snow and sharp shadows; silence.

Six years.

He had given me a couple of articles outlining cases in which a religious order had found itself financially responsible for the children of a previously married member. That was the ostensible reason for the rejection, but it made no sense in my case. My kids were grown up—age twenty-three and twenty-one. Both were launched in their careers.

The real but unstated issue was the public nature of my homosexuality, and it was public precisely because of the annulment battle that I had undertaken.

Because of that six-year struggle, I had come to understand that my homosexuality was not a curse, or a disability, or a compulsion like kleptomania, or a disorder. It was a gift of God. It was my identity. And I had shared that understanding in several articles, which had been published in The Globe and Mail. I had spoken at a local conference. I was still celibate, but both Catholic and gay—publicly so. And the wonderful thing was this: only through fighting the injustice of the Vancouver court had I learned that big lesson.

I was already living my vocation.

◊ ◊ ◊

There was a coda to this story.

The case went to the Roman Rota for final review. Even though I had now abandoned the notion of seeking a religious vocation, I intended to finish the process. I wanted finality, and I wanted to prove that Monsignor Gallo and his court were wrong. There was a question of accountability as well: lacking a final judgment by the top court, there would be no official record that documented the contradictions and process violations of Vancouver. I wanted a win for the Canadian Appeal Tribunal, which had done so much on my behalf. As Jean-Guy LeMarier told me at the outset, successful appeals were rare.

One Saturday morning in May, a bit more than a year later, I got a call from Rome. A pleasant male voice with an American accent informed me that the case had been referred to him as my possible advocate, but his services had a price.

“I was told that it would cost about two hundred dollars,” I said.

“Oh yes, as long as you take someone from the Rota’s list. But while the people on the list say they speak English, most of them aren’t fluent—and there are six hundred pages of documents in this case.”
English was his mother tongue, and he’d be happy to take it on, he said; but he was in private practice and his fee was seven or eight thousand dollars, in US funds. That amount would include various court costs.

“I’ll have to think about that,” I said. “In Canadian dollars that’s ten or eleven thousand bucks. I didn’t expect that.”

“It isn’t just the question of language,” he said. “If you follow the public process, you have no priority. The court may take years.”

“I see.”

We agreed that he’d call the following Saturday at the same time to get my decision.

It was spring. My apartment overlooked Strathcona Park, which borders the quiet waters of the Rideau River. The windows were open, and the air was sweet and soft; the leaves on the trees were hazy clouds of yellow green. I could hear the murmur of voices and an occasional pock as somebody hit a baseball ten floors below. Ducks quacked and chattered by the river’s edge.

I didn’t have ten thousand dollars to spare, but even if I did, would I proceed? The discernment was over. My marriage was null, and I was not a priest. I didn’t need a formal declaration of nullity. If anyone could use that, it was Bev, if she married again—but she had quit the church. I would have liked to be an instrument of accountability for the Vancouver court, and I wanted to support the Appeal Tribunal. But really, was this my issue anymore?

Besides, I had a boyfriend now.

 

Jeremiah Bartram won a Jessie Richardson Award for his first play, The Wolf Within, about a gay priest coming to terms with his identity. He has been silent for a long time, but recently began writing again, with an MFA from University of King’s College and some work for CNQ. He is writing a book on puppet theatre and lives with his puppets in Ottawa. Visit his website at www.jeremiahbartram.com.

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