Justice Fighter's Secret Life

BY ANDY HUMM | Paul Moore, Episcopal bishop of New York from 1973 to 1989 and a fervent champion of gay rights and social justice for all, led a closeted homosexual life for decades according to the poet Honor Moore, one of his nine children, in a new memoir, “The Bishop's Daughter,” excerpted in The New Yorker.

While Honor wrote that her father's bisexuality had become “an open secret” in the 1990s, the most stunning revelation in the book is that he had a sexual relationship for 30 years with a man who came to him for advice as a Columbia student in 1975, after which they became friends and and then lovers.

The publication of the story has set off a firestorm of reactions from friends, colleagues, and antagonists of Right Reverend Moore, a scion of a wealthy family and a World War II hero who died in 2003 at age 83. His first wife and mother of his children, Jenny, died of cancer in 1973 after the two had separated. His second wife, Brenda, died of alcoholism in 1999.

Poet Honor Moore reveals father, Bishop Paul Moore, was closeted gay.

The Right Reverend Mark Sisk, who is now bishop of the New York Diocese, responded to the revelations by issuing a pastoral letter calling Moore's apparent “decades' long violation of his wedding vows… an offense of the most serious nature.” Sisk also wrote that Moore's sexual relationship with someone who came to him for counseling was “inappropriate” and “a fundamental violation of an ordained person's vows.”

Sisk praised his predecessor as “a man of enormous personal courage, a passionate and tireless champion of the poor, the disenfranchised, and the most desperately helpless in society,” but also revealed that Honor Moore's revelations about her father's sexual life are “consistent with behavior recorded in complaints about Bishop Moore's exploitative behavior received by the office of the Bishop of New York.”

Sisk told Gay City News that the disposition of those complaints, which were referred to the then-Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, were confidential per the request of the complainants.

The Right Reverend Otis Charles, out gay and now rector of Trinity Church in San Francisco and the former bishop of Utah, in a letter to Sisk, praised Honor Moore's “courageous act of truth telling” and chided him for not using it “as an opportunity to respond with pastoral compassion… to this man who could never fully be himself because the Church denied the worth of his true self.”

Sisk told Gay City News that the Episcopal Church is “carefully noncommittal” on homosexual activity itself. “People have different understandings,” he said. “The preponderant view is that it is possible to have a [sexual] life as a gay or lesbian person that is entirely moral.” But “the Episcopal Church has not decided” the issue, Sisk said.

Sisk voted for the consecration of Gene Robinson, a gay man in a committed relationship, as bishop of New Hampshire, a step taken by the American Episcopal Church that has been roiling the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which it is a part, since 2003.

Sisk told the New York Times last year that while the Communion is important, “if the price of that is I have to turn my back on the gay and lesbian people who are part of this Church and part of me, I won't do that.”

Though Sisk criticized Moore for violating his marriage vows, the Anglican Church has not opened marriage to same-sex couples and his diocese has “no policy” on the blessing of gay unions, though they are performed in some of his parishes. “I trust our priests to act responsibly to care for the people in their charge. I know that means that some decide to bless same-sex unions,” even though there is no diocesan policy on it.

As bishop, Moore led his diocese in endorsing the New York City gay and lesbian rights bill in 1974 and testified for it passionately at the 1986 hearing when it finally passed. With the Reverend William Sloane Coffin of Riverside Church, Rabbi Balfour Bricker, and Father Bernard Lynch, a gay Catholic, he organized a press conference supporting the bill as most Catholic and Orthodox Jewish leaders rallied against it.

Moore ordained an out lesbian, Ellen Barrett, to the priesthood in 1975, causing an uproar in the Church. He wrote a book about it, “Take a Bishop Like Me,” in 1979, dedicating it to his second wife. (Full disclosure: I interviewed him about the book for Gaysweek and he inscribed a copy of his book to me “with affection and admiration,” but he never confided anything about his gay life to me then or as I worked with him on gay rights over the years.)

Paul Moore chaired Governor Mario Cuomo's Advisory Council to the AIDS Institute and dedicated an AIDS Memorial Chapel in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

It was at the opening of that chapel that the name of Paul Moore's longtime lover was mistakenly read from a list of those who had died of AIDS. Honor Moore quotes the man saying, “A friend of mine had died, and I'd submitted his name” and his own was inadvertently included. She wrote, “I had been at that service, and it was during the sermon that night that I felt my father almost transfigured in the power of his preaching… Now I'd learned that my father had preached that night believing a man he loved had died.”

In a podcast on the New Yorker website, Honor Moore talks about sharing with her father about her own “relationships with women,” not realizing that “my father himself had a private hidden life as a bisexual man.” She said his “life of divided desire could not help but inform his compassionate attitude toward other people.” While she is “disappointed” that he was never able to come out, he “was a man of his generation and was ashamed and embarrassed.” The podcast is at newyorker.com/online/2008/03/03/080303on_audio_moore.

Honor Moore told Gay City News that she once asked her dad about his male partners, inquiring, “Did you love any of them?” and he responded, “They were all nice people.” But she noted that her book, due out in May, is not a tell-all, “it's my search for some truth about my father so that I could have a wholeness in my relationship with him.”

Dr. Louie Crew, founder of Integrity, the gay Episcopalian group, an activist since 1963, and a friend of Paul Moore's, praised Honor's book as “deeply moving.” And while he “applauded the direction we've gone in” strictly forbidding sexual relations between counselors and counselees, “there are clear boundaries now that there weren't then.”

Sisk, while acknowledging the change in culture around such relations, said, “They were never okay.”

Father Lynch, now living as an out gay priest and therapist in London, said he was “surprised” by Honor Moore's revelations about her father's long-term lover and “surprised but glad” that his daughter had gone public with them. Lynch recalled the bishop bravely coming to a Dignity service at St. Francis Xavier church where they met in the Village, just before they were expelled by Cardinal John O'Connor, then the Catholic archbishop of New York.

Reverend Elder Jim Mitulski of the Metropolitan Community Church was welcomed from the Catholic to the Episcopal Church by Bishop Moore in the mid-1970s. He said he “greatly admired” him. “He was a role model for me.” But he said that Moore's witness and leadership could have been infinitely “more powerful had he been truthful about himself.”

“He was complicated,” Mitulski said, “and now, it turns out, tortured.”