The Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, late bishop of New York, was a major figure in the Episcopal Church. Born into great wealth, he was a Marine war hero who disappointed his family by pursuing life as a priest rather than a businessman. As an inner-city pastor, he was active in the struggle over civil rights. As bishop, he spoke and acted on behalf of the great cities, when they suffered from the flight of both money and people to the suburbs.
On a personal note, I might add that a New Yorker profile of Bishop Moore published in the 1980s helped move me on my way to seminary. Reading it, I said "That is the way I understand Christianity, and that is the kind of work a Christian ought to do."
There were, however, some things about Bishop Moore that were not covered in the 1986 profile. For better or worse, that was rectified this week by his daughter, the poet Honor Moore, in another New Yorker piece. She reflects on her father's life, death, and ministry, as well as on their sometimes difficult father-daughter dynamics. She also reveals that, in addition to his two wives, Bishop Moore had sexual relationships with men that extended over many years.
Reactions to this last revelation have been curious. A Times reporter found one of Moore's old parishioners who said, essentially, "We all knew, we just never said it aloud." Well, maybe. But it seems that most people, including his family, weren't part of that "we."
The excellent religious-press blog, GetReligion.org, has a good takeout, but the numerous comments degenerate into a meaningless semantic debate over whether Moore was "gay," "bisexual," or something else. Yawn.
At the other end of the spectrum, several of my friends have tried to draw attention away from the bishop's sex life, and toward his religious life -- noting especially his profound reverence for the Eucharist, which the article describes in a few lambent passages. But of course a bishop who loves the sacraments is not news; we expect that from our bishops. A bishop who hides something important about himself -- now that's news.
Honor Moore's memoir her father would be well worth reading even if there were not a hint of scandal in it. In quick, short strokes it paints a touching picture of Moore not only as a priest but as a husband and father. Her childhood understanding of his vocation is especially affecting: how his towering height made her think he was closer to God; how he seemed a different man when he changed out of his vestments or clericals. But, at least for now, most people will read it for the sexy stuff.
And surely Honor Moore knew that they would. When the entire Anglican communion is in upheaval about the ordination of a single out-of-the-closet gay bishop, the publication of evidence that one of its modern heroes lived at least part of his life deeply in the closet is surely intended to provoke reflection.
So let's reflect. Was Bishop Moore's ministry diminished by an attraction to other men? If so, one would be hard-pressed to show how. Or was his ministry diminished by the practice of deceit, carried on over many years? And what about his soul? Could Moore have been strengthened, both a bishop and as a human being, by a church and a society that permitted him to be honesty about who he was?
On the other hand, perhaps Ms Moore is trying to tell us that a public airing of one's deepest emotional life is not essential to effective spiritual leadership. She suggests pretty strongly that her father's two marriages were hurt by the conflict between his love for his wives and a certain -- ahem -- limitation to his physical interest in them. But she makes it clear that the sacraments he celebrated were still precious, and that his leadership in the church was still visionary. Keeping secrets hurt him as a man, but we cannot see clearly how it hurt him as a bishop.