Margie Winters hoping to start a conversation with Pope Francis about LGBT Catholics

During rehearsal for a play based on dozens of interviews with LGBT Catholics, (from left) David Reece Hutchison, Terence Gleeson, Maria Wolf (playing Margie Winters) and Rhonda Moore read lines. (STEVEN M. FALK/Staff Photographer)
During rehearsal for a play based on dozens of interviews with LGBT Catholics, (from left) David Reece Hutchison, Terence Gleeson, Maria Wolf (playing Margie Winters) and Rhonda Moore read lines. (STEVEN M. FALK/Staff Photographer)

Margie Winters was waiting.

It had been three months since she was fired as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy because the archdiocese could not stomach her same-sex marriage.

Now, Winters was waiting to hear if she - or any other Philadelphia LGBT Catholic - might be granted an audience with Pope Francis, who was just days away from arriving in Philadelphia. Perhaps a small event, a chance for a conversation.

Even attending any of the official World Meeting of Families events would do. Winters, and so many openly gay Catholics like her, just wanted to start a dialogue. To engage with a church that has long shut them out.

"We just keep reaching out and haven't gotten anywhere yet," Winters told me Monday.

No surprise.

In July, when Winters and some of her many supporters from Waldron tried to deliver a petition to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput calling for Winters to get her job back, the archdiocese sent a security guard to meet the quiet, introverted teacher. They wouldn't even let her in the front door.

But despite our archbishop's brush-offs and dismissals, by speaking out, Winters has accomplished more than just highlighting the injustices of firing gay Catholics for whom they love.

She had the courage to stand up and, in an act of conscience, tie a very personal story to a cause championed by many Catholics and some clergy, the cause of LGBT inclusion.

A cause Pope Francis has tentatively addressed, if not embraced, with his groundbreaking, if simple, statements - most famously, "Who am I to judge?"

A cause that must lead to not only a change in how the church talks about gay Catholics, but how it talks to gay Catholics. A movement that must start with a change in tone, then build toward real inclusion.

But Chaput has been clear that it won't happen here. Not on his watch. Chaput's boiled-down message: The teachings are the teachings. If you don't like it, leave. It's as insulting as it is arrogant.

If I could grab a minute with our famously pastoral pope this weekend, I'd ask him what he thinks of Chaput's beat-it-on-out-of-here approach.

After talking with Winters, I walked over to the Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City to watch a rehearsal of Full of Grace: Journeys of LGBT Catholics, part of a series of alternate gatherings and workshops organized for the pope's visit by LGBT Catholics.

(You remember: The group originally had space at St. John the Evangelist parish center, before the archdiocese booted it last month.)

The play was on my mind because it's doing the same thing as Winters: building a conversation within the church.

All the dialogue in the docudrama - created by Robert Choiniere, who worked as a parish council planner for the archdiocese before leaving for the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the playwright Scott Barrow of the acclaimed New York-based Tectonic Theatre Project - is composed entirely from interviews with hundreds of LGBT Catholics.

People, says Choiniere, "living in the crucible of two identities."

The interview bits are woven together in a narrative that reads as if the interviewees are all in the same room. In the absence of conversation, the play creates one.

After performances at Fordham University and St. Francis College in New York last year, the playwrights interviewed Winters for their Philadelphia run, which stretches through Friday.

Winters told the playwrights what she wished she could tell Chaput. That they have colliding visions of the church. That while he seems to look at the world through the prism of strict church teaching, she views it through love and relationships.

That those teachings do not reflect who God is for her - that they do not reflect a God of love.

While the actors practiced Winters' lines, she got the call Monday night she had been waiting for.

Though her own archbishop would not meet with her, her president would.

Winters and wife Andrea have been invited to the White House for Francis' arrival ceremony on Wednesday.

Winters was pinching herself Tuesday.

There will be thousands at the ceremony. She doesn't expect to talk with Francis. But just to have their faces in front of the pope will mean so much for such an important cause, she said.

It's too bad their own archbishop won't afford them the same opportunity.