10 minutes with … Vincent “Big Mama” Capretta

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(RNS1-MARCH05) Travel writer Rick Steves came to Washington to lobby for increased 
international aid, and says America suffers from a ``rogue nation'' image abroad. For use with 
RNS-10-MINUTES, transmitted March 5, 2008. Religion News Service photo courtesy Rick 

(RNS1-MARCH05) Travel writer Rick Steves came to Washington to lobby for increased
international aid, and says America suffers from a “rogue nation” image abroad. For use with
RNS-10-MINUTES, transmitted March 5, 2008. Religion News Service photo courtesy Rick

(UNDATED) By day, Vincent Capretta ministers to parishioners as Father Anthony, rector of the Community of Charity Church, an Independent Old Catholic community in Columbus, Ohio.

By night, he’s “Big Mama,” an out and proud drag queen whose latest dance club singles include “Big Mama’s House” and a remix of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

While he sees no conflict in his career choices, the Ohio native’s growing fame has prompted backlash from Roman Catholics and members of other breakaway Catholic movements, clamoring to clarify that the 47-year-old priest is not affiliated with their churches.

Capretta recently spoke about his increasingly controversial music and ministry. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: There has been a lot of confusion about your label’s promotion of you as an “out and proud” Catholic priest. It turns out you’re an Old Catholic. How is that different?

A: I was raised Roman Catholic, but I decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church when I was a senior in high school, after speaking to a group of seminarians who were kind of disgruntled with the church over several issues. The Old Catholic Church accepts gays and lesbians. Divorce and birth control are not an issue. We discourage abortion but would not withhold the sacrament from anyone. We allow female clergy and priests to get married. It’s close to the Anglican Church, but more socially progressive.

Q: You recorded some dance music in the 1980s and 1990s, but you did not become a priest until a few years ago. What prompted the decision?

A: I had wanted to become a priest since I was about 10 years old, and that calling doesn’t leave you. After working on my degrees and waiting tables and being involved with my music for many years, I began to study with the United Reform Catholic Church International out of Hawaii, in 2002, and I was ordained two years later.

Q: Why pursue music as a drag queen, which seems intended to stir controversy?

A: Obviously, I’m not a pretty drag queen. Milton Berle did it and Jonathan Winters did it and now I’m doing it, and it’s all in good fun. I’m a trained opera singer, so I would love people to hear my real voice, but I also love the energy of the dance groups. This is a ministry, too. If I can reach people through dance music, then I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.

Q: How do your parishioners feel about “Big Mama?”

A: The public has a misconception that I’m out dressed in drag every night on the streets, but I only dress up when it’s time to do a theatrical performance. My parishioners are very supportive; several have been to my shows. I had one parishioner say, “You know, Father, whatever it takes to raise the money to feed the homeless. If you need to put those ChaCha heels on, go right ahead and do it!”

The only negativity comes from conservative Roman Catholics, because they’re not taught that there are other types of Catholics in the world besides themselves. But, they are not the only valid priests in the world.

Q: But several Independent Old Catholic umbrella groups have also distanced themselves from you. The Apostolic Catholic Church lists you and your church on its Web site, but its bishop says the affiliation ended in May. What happened?

A: Due to the media coverage, they have jumped ship. A lot of these groups have never dealt with having so much media attention, so they will shy away from standing behind their clergy. They’re afraid, and that’s their choice. But, all of these churches and groups are autonomous anyway. Every parish owns itself. It’s very Protestant in that regard.

Q: Much of the publicity for “Big Mama’s House” revolves around your coming out of the closet as a gay priest. When did you officially come out?

A: I knew that I was different at the age of about 6. I came out to my parents when I was about 19. As a priest, I had not announced it until recently, but my parishioners have always known. A great percentage of our clergy are openly gay, and there’s no reason to hide amongst ourselves.

Q: How is your music career impacting your ministry?

A: I’m up a little earlier, I’m up a little later, to crunch all the work in. We have a sister parish where my parishioners can go if I’m not available — we’re small enough that I can notify them in advance. We make sure that, sacramentally, our people are taken care of.

Q: What’s next for you and “Big Mama?”

A: I auditioned for “America’s Got Talent,” which is supposed to air sometime this month. People can watch my videos on YouTube, and the club dance version of the “Lord’s Prayer” will be available for free download from my MySpace Web site.

My intention is to extend the love of Christ and perpetuate his all-embracing message of acceptance through club dance music in the hope that this somewhat unconventional method inspires individuals to praise and worship God in any environment.