The case to make Father Mychael Judge Saint Mychael doesn't lack ammunition. The front page photograph of the FDNY chaplain's limp body being carried from the wreckage by four anguished men mimics, almost exactly, depictions of the Deposition of Christ. Later, as his body lay stretched out on the altar of nearby church, firefighter's recall being reminded of La Pièta. His life was filled with good deeds, tales of redemption, and sacrifice (more of this later, a lot more). The defense can now also call on Glenn Holsten's new documentary entitled, perhaps a bit obviously, Saint of 9/11, premiering at the film festival.
The film is exhibit A in the case for sainthood and effective propaganda in the process of canonization, a process that--at least under John Paul II--proved susceptible to populism, canonizing 1,340 people, a record. Yet despite the film's apparent and blithe worship of Father Mychael, Saint of 9/11 manages to avoid, for the most part, lapsing into sentimental pap. This, though, is thanks mostly to Father Mychael himself and less to the poignant soundtrack, the poignant voiceover of Father Mychael's writings by the stentorian Sir Ian McKellan and the poignant shots of Ireland, Brooklyn, Lourdes, sunrises, skylines and sheep.
Father Mychael was, by all accounts, a righteous man. He ministered to those with HIV/AIDS when it was still called GRID; to the families of the victims of Flight 800, leading services attended by Jews, Muslims and Christians of all denominations; he walked around Northern Ireland pushing a paralyzed police officer Steven McDonald advocating peace. He gave coats to the homeless, hope to the hopeless and faith to the feckless. He was, in short, good. And, I hate to be the one to say this, but good is boring. Happy, as Tolstoy kind of wrote, is boring too.
More interesting is focusing on why Father Mychael, at least according to Catholic doctrine, will end up in hell. Father Mychael Judge was openly gay. A sticky wicket, to say the least, for his possible canonization. Fr. Judge was heavily involved in Dignity, an organization of gay, lesbian and transgendered Catholics and offered them the use of his church before the Vatican put the kibosh on the whole "God loves all Catholics" thing and amended it to "God loves all Catholics*" The * meaning "except for gays." He massaged the feet of men dying of AIDS at a time when even hospital staff avoided contact with their patients. He looked particularly fetching dressed up as the "Gairy Fodmother" in a Canterbury convent's "spoonerism" Halloween party. But, Fr. Judge was fegelah and no amount of goodness, as the Vatican sees it, ablutes the gayness.
The men and women who were touched by Fr. Judge are a disparate bunch: firefighters, the Clintons, frail gay men, homeless black men, nuns, Malachy McCourt. But their voices, almost without exception, break and fail as they strive to describe what Father Judge did for them. The unfortunate reality is that Father Mychael doesn't meet the criteria for canonization. Where are the miracles? If Fr. Judge died a martyr--he was, after all, victim 0001 of 9/11--only one miracle is needed. When Fr. Judge was working with Dignity, a Vatican official issued a letter concerning the pastoral care of homosexuals. Homosexuality represents, he wrote, "a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil." That official later went on to become Pope Benedict. If he clears Fr. Judge for canonization, it would be, simply put, nothing short of a miracle.