'Liberation theology is nothing more than a standing for the freedom of people, self determination, the voice of the people' -- Father Frank Quintana
BY ANDREW BEALE
He might look the part, but Father Frank Quintana is not your typical Catholic priest.
Quintana, 63, is openly gay and outspoken in his denunciation of what he sees as injustices on the part of the church, the state and other power structures.
Dressed in black and wearing a collar, he’s frequently present at protests, including local demonstrations for gay rights and anti-police brutality marches.
“I’ve been involved in demonstrations where I foolishly – well, no, not foolishly, but I was shaking in my boots – called on the police present to put down their weapons,” he said. “To quit the killing. To recognize that they’re coming from among their brothers and sisters and they’re killing their brothers and sisters and to stop, in the name of God! Stop!”
As an ordained priest and founder of the Blessed Oscar Romero Catholic Community, Quintana preaches a gospel of justice rooted in the Latin American tradition of liberation theology. He came to Albuquerque last year to start the growing parish (it attracted around 50 people for Easter Sunday) on behalf of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion network.
He named his congregation for the Salvadoran Bishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against atrocities committed by the government of El Salvador.
Romero’s sermons and teachings helped inspire the liberation theology movement, an interpretation of the Bible that teaches a vision of Jesus as a revolutionary figure helping the poor fight back against oppression. Liberation theology was instrumental in several popular revolutions across Latin America, and was widely denounced by church leaders including Pope John Paul II.
The Vatican recently reversed its position on Oscar Romero, however, and he was beatified in May of this year.
“Liberation theology is nothing more than a standing for the freedom of people, self determination, the voice of the people, and liberation theology also has a certain slant on the oppressive nature of capitalism,” Quintana said. “We stand against this consumeristic, acquisitive, hoarding of wealth to the detriment of those who see nothing [from it].”
Quintana, like Romero, extends his criticism of injustice to the Catholic Church itself. Marching in Albuquerque’s first Indigenous People’s Day parade on Oct. 12, he described the role the church played in the conquest and oppression of native people across the Americas.
“There were a number of papal documents and bulls which established the doctrine of discovery, which stated that European conquerers had the right to lay claim to the lands that they invaded,” he said. “The conquerors had the right to subjugate those that lived here. And that’s immoral. That’s absolutely antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
While he sees Pope Francis as a positive force for change in the church, noting that the Vatican recently opened its own homeless shelter on St. Peter’s Square, he says the church still has a long way to go.
“While I applaud a lot of the things that the Pope has said, and many of the things he’s done, he’s still, you know, he’s actually really changed nothing, up to this point,” Quintana said.
It’s perhaps natural for Quintana to be opposed to some church policies. Many of the church’s policies throughout history have been opposed to him. Raised Roman Catholic and trained in a Roman Catholic seminary, Quintana was ordained in the Anglican Catholic Church in his early 20s, and spent many years trying to repress his attraction to men.
“Most of my adult life, I would cry myself to sleep asking God to change me,” he said. After more than 20 years as a priest, he finally heard a reply, and he believes God told him: “I didn’t change you because I didn’t need to. I created you as you are.”
Quintana left the priesthood when he came out as gay and spent ten years working for the phone company. He sang in the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus. “Then one Sunday I was on my way to buy a newspaper, and I saw this mass being conducted outdoors, which in the Roman Church was never really done, and so out of curiosity I stopped and checked out what was going on,” he said.
He had stumbled upon a congregation from the Ecumenical Catholic Communion, a network of interlinked but separate parishes preaching a progressive version of the gospel throughout the nation.
He started attending mass and after a time decided to rejoin the priesthood. Because he was openly gay, neither the Roman Catholic nor Anglican churches would accept him, but the Ecumenical Catholic Communion welcomed him warmly. After spending time at a parish in Tulsa, the ECC asked him to come to Albuquerque.
The Ecumenical Catholic Communion does not pay Quintana, and he subsists on payments from an annuity he cashed in when he rejoined the priesthood. He doesn’t know what he’ll do when the annuity runs out, but he has faith things will work out.
“As corny as it may sound to you, I really am trusting the Lord to provide for my needs,” he said. “And maybe I’ll prove myself foolish, but maybe not. I think not, let me tell you that.”
Before Quintana, known as Father Frank, started the Blessed Oscar Romero Catholic Community, there wasn’t a congregation in Albuquerque catering to gay Catholics, said Jimmy Gutierrez, who had belonged to a gay Catholic congregation in Washington, D.C., before coming to Albuquerque.
“I think that for many [LGBT] Catholics, they don’t have a spiritual home, and there’s been a lot of neglect in not being, the Church not shepherding them, in the ways of spirituality. Their spiritual welfare has been neglected,” Gutierrez said. “I’m very happy that Father Frank is stepping into this role. I saw that there’s a big need in the community for communities like Father Frank’s, communities that are responding to social-justice needs.”
Quintana’s message of equality and justice reaches beyond the Catholic community. Avowed atheist Gene Candelaria has been a supporter of Quintana’s work since the two met while volunteering at various “tent city” homeless encampments around Albuquerque. He was especially impressed by Quintana’s habit of spending nights at the encampment, sleeping on the street among the homeless.
“I have such a high respect for Father Frank, because the way he is as a preacher, a Catholic preacher, is so different from most preachers, you know? So he really tries to, I think, be as Jesus was. Or as we perceive Jesus to be as a symbol of helping the poor, social justice,” he said.
Andrew Beale is an Albuquerque freelance journalist.