Housekeeping Note: Recovering Some History

A few years ago, I suffered a major technical problem here at QTC (possibly the result of a hacking attack), in which I lost access to my dashboard, and with it much of my historic archives.  To recover, I set up a new site with a new URL, and manually transferred what I could to the new site. Since then, I have been able to locate some but not all of the previously lost material at third party archives, from which I have been restoring such of the lost material as I can.

As I do so, the newly retrieved material will be appearing on my social media feeds (Twitter and Facebook) as if it were entirely new posts. I apologise for any confusion. With each of these “new” old posts appearing, please note the date of publication – which will be shown as the original date, not the current date.

I have now  attended seven consecutive Quest conferences, sometimes as a speaker or workshop facilitator, and except for the first time, always as a committee member. This year, after a lengthy period of reflection and introspection, I have not made myself available for re-election. At my personal blog, Queering the Church, I have been preparing a lengthy post on the reasons for this, which essentially involves substantial changes in my personal circumstances and in the external environment, which have led to a shift in priorities. That blog post at QTC will in due course appear under the title “Opening a New Chapter (A Long Read Confessional).

This does not mean, in any sense, that I am withdrawing from Quest. I have made it clear to the committee that I want to remain involved and available for specific tasks, as and where appropriate, but with a lower profile: from the sidelines and as a volunteer, no longer from the centre or with the responsibiliies of a formal committee member. During this conference, I’ve had a useful discussion with John Ashman, who in the past has often said that he was worried about me, because (in his view), I was trying to do too much. Now, he told me, I was looking different, as thought I had been through some kind of transformation experience.

There is some truth in that. The intensity of my commitment to LGBT faith activism has at times had something of the flavour of an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). Ruby has also at times reminded me that there are dangers of burnout in trying to do too much, and that sometimes, “less is more”. There was never a single event that has triggered the supposed “transformation” that Joh has seen,  but I could can agree that it has occurred, and can identify two specific experiences that made  significant contributions. One was attending the annual conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christians in Rome, the second was soon after,  participating in the Quest weekend retreat at Mount St Bernard’s Abbey, led by John Ashman himself.  In addition, I would add this 2018 conference itself, which has as its theme “A Time to Build”. I had come to conference with a greater sense of clarity about my changing priorities and implications for my continuing role in Quest. After a lengthy private meeting with James Alison, who for years has been a valued friend and supporter of my work at QTC and elsewhere, I came out clearer than ever that my new understanding of the most appropriate role for myself is indeed sound. (For more about this personal reflection, wait for the forthcoming post at Queering the Church).

However, the experience of this conference has also brought me greater clarity on the task facing Quest.  For some years now, we have been acutely conscious as an organisation of the heavy demands we make on some of our committee members – and the shortage of volunteers willing to take on the necessary tasks. Over the last year or two, we have seen the value of support from a paid part-time administrative assistant.  This was funded initially by money received as a grant from a donor agency, but will not be renewed. We are unable to continue paying the same amount indefinitely from our own regular funds, unless  our income increases. However, our membership and numbers at conference are gradually declining, and with it our primary source of income. This prompts the question, is it perhaps time to wind up our operations? Quest began largely as a support group for our own members, at a time when it was especially difficult to be both openly gay, and Catholic.

External circumstances have clearly changed. Over the years, public acceptance of gay and lesbian people, and the development of substantial legal protection and equality means that young people today find it much easier to be openly gay, even in the church, and feel less need for personal support in an organisation such as Quest. This is part of the reason for our declining membership and attendance at conference: our original members are aging and regrettably but inevitably, are dying off or are less able to attend physically at conference and regional meetings – but we are not attracting new members at the required rate. Perhaps then, it is indeed time to call it quits, and fold up?

Well, no. While there has been a substantial  improvement in the Church in terms of tone and approach to pastoral care, the fact remains that the language and content of formal Catholic doctrine on the subject remains as harsh and unrealistic as ever. In the secular world, homophobia and especially transphobia remain a serious problem in some circles, including at times direct physical or verbal violence – which the Catechism clearly states we have an obligation to oppose.

Our conference theme of building a bridge, as in the title of Fr James Martin’s  celebrated book and in his recorded video that opened the conference, remains important. Fr Jim described to us how he is sustained in his ongoing work, by the palpable sense of relief he sees in the people he meets, simply by the fact that the subject is being openly discussed, and the relief that many people experience at finding that yes, it’s OK for themselves or their family members to be both Catholic and openly gay. So, it’s important that we, as church, attempt to build a bridge, a bridge between the institutional church and the LGBT community.  As part of the local church, Quest has participated in this bridge-building, and in recent years we have started to see the fruits of this in selected dioceses – as illustrated by the participation in the conference of Bishop Peter Doyle, one of the panelists in the discussion that followed and developed Fr Martin’s opening video presentation.

 However, our second panelist Dr Clare Watkins pointed out that although the task of building a bridge between the  “church” and LGBT Catholics is obviously important, there is a problem with the metaphor. As a theologian and ecclesiologist, she is acutely conscious that the LGBT Catholic community are in fact part of the church itself. Where then, is this supposed “bridge”? Is it not in fact our shared responsibility to be building a bridge from the Church, to the larger world outside, to other LGBT people, and indeed to other marginalised groups? Or is the required bridge between us in the church – and God?

Continuing discussion noted how although Fr Martin’s book discusses both the need for the church to display greater “respect, compassion and sensitivity” to LGBT Catholics, and for the LGBT Catholic community to do the same, to the institutional church, in his video he addressed only the former, and left to us to resolve the second. And so the question was then asked, by the panel and from the floor, how best could we as Quest and as Quest members, most effectively play our part in building a bridge to the “church”. A common theme emerging, was that the key lay in the twin principles of honesty about ourselves, and in building relationships (with the bishops, and with our fellow Catholics in the pews).

I am left absolutely clear in my own mind that this is an important part of the task now facing Quest. At an important weekend workshop a few years ago, the national committee and representatives and regional representatives developed a strategic plan that identified the need to move beyond being a simple support group for our own members, to moving out into the wider world.. Since then, we as a committee have started to do just that. Ruby as our chair, has been having a series of meetings with a steadily  expanding number of bishops. We have also been going into Catholic schools,  in partnership with Stonewall or by direct invitation from certain schools, to talk about the challenges facing young LGBT people in the church. After many years of talking about it and then extensive discussion, we now have a firm commitment to co-host with Bishop Sherrington an important November conference on discernment, accompaniment and conscience, which will take these issues to a wider public audience. We are also collaborating more with other organisations, both locally and internationally (with the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, where Ruby is co-chair, and with the European Forum).

So no, it is emphatically not time to fold up and head gently into the sunset. Rather, the task facing us is to step up and expand our efforts, For example, we have for years been discussing the importance of going into parishes, to share our stories and describe our work. If we were to do this, it would fit directly into the principle of bridge building by honesty and relationships, identified in the panel discussion. Nor is this responsibility simply something that it would be “nice” to do. Alongside his notably improved pastoral tone to LGBT issues, Pope Francis has been stressing something important: the Gospel imperative to evangelise is not just one for our clergy: it’s an obligation that God has placed on us, individually and collectively, as part of that church “of all the people”. Quest is a vehicle for us, as LGBT Catholics, to play our part in that God-given obligation.

But we simply cannot sustain and expand our efforts with our current, diminishing membership and limited pool of exhausted committee members and regional coordinators.  We simply must expand our resources, possibly by finding entirely new ways of operating.

At the time of writing, we have not yet had our AGM. That is due later today, when the entire question of the future of Quest will be raised as a matter for serious discussion. I have some specific ideas of my own, which I will propose. I look forward to that discussion.

 

From 1968, America’s editors on ‘Humanae Vitae’ | America Magazine

This editorial originally appeared in the issue of Aug. 17, 1968 under the title “An Editorial Statement on ‘Human Life.’”

Paul VI will clearly be remembered in history for his part in at least three great movements: Vatican II, world peace and development, and church unity. With the publication of “Human Life,” it seems certain he will also be remembered for his part in another great movement, difficult to name, which centers on the dignity and sacredness of family life and love. As a statement of the Dutch hierarchy declares: “Although this papal letter is not an infallible, dogmatic statement, it nevertheless is a real defense of the dignity of life as well as an appeal for responsibility in sexual relationships and marriage that is of the utmost importance to our society. May the discussion of the papal letter contribute to a better and better functioning of authority within the Church.”

Source: America Magazine

Finding wholeness: “The-Lord-our-integrity”. (16th of OT, year B)

When questioned how I reconcile my Catholic faith with being openly gay and partnered, part of my response is that it is all about integrity, being true to one’s own fundamental self. It is therefore helpful to me to see in today’s Mass readings, a message of integrity and wholeness.

In today’s first reading, (Jeremiah 23:1-6), he blasts  those who have  caused division among the Lord’s flock, causing them to be scattered. Insisting that it is the Lord himself who speaks, he calls down doom on those responsible:

‘Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered – it is the Lord who speaks! This, therefore, is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the shepherds in charge of my people: You have let my flock be scattered and go wandering and have not taken care of them.,

LGBT Christians will be only too aware of how so many false prophets have promoted a distorted interpretation of scripture, clearly in stark contrast with the Gospel message of inclusion and outreach to the marginalised. This they have used either to drive away LGBT people from the church, or to try and force them to live lives in conflict with their natural, God-given nature: to live lives lacking in integrity.  To those thus scattered, Jeremiah offers reassurance. Again speaking in the Lord’s name, he reassures them (and so us) that “I”, the “Lord our integrity” will gather them from their place of exile and restore them to the flock.

And this is the name he will be called:
The-Lord-our-integrity.’

European Forum – LGBT Youth Conference

The annual conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, held last week outside Rome, featured a strong presence by LGBT youth, in preparation for the Catholic Bishops’ Synod Assembly to be held in Rome later this year. Here follows a press release from the Forum:

“Hopes and expectations of young LGBT people towards the Youth Synod”

The 37th Annual Conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, organised by Cammini di Speranza and REFO (Evangelical Network Faith and Homosexuality), took place in Albano Laziale, near Rome, 9 to 13 May 2018. On 12 May, the Conference included an event specifically for young LGBT+ people to provide input to the Youth Synod organised by the Roman Catholic Church, to find possible ways to reach a state of inclusive pastoral care.

An international gathering

LGBT+ young people from over 25 European countries gathered in Albano Laziale (RM) to discuss their wishes and hopes regarding the ability of Christian churches to welcome them and enhance their contributions, at the Annual Conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, organised in partnership with Cammini di Speranza and REFO (Evangelical Faith and Homosexuality Network).

A public conference on Saturday 12 May, in the Aula Magna of the Waldensian Faculty of Theology in Rome, provided suggestions for understanding both the mood of young LGBT+ Christians and the possibility of a more open approach to pastoral care.

Fr James Martin addresses conference

Among the keynote speakers, the Jesuit Father James Martin, author of the recent “Building a Bridge” on LGBT Christians, presented by video his vision of inclusive pastoral care:

 

“Many young people tell me how rejected they feel from the church and also how difficult it is for them to enter into a relationship with God. The religious rejection that they feel from their families moves them into the streets sometimes. At least in the US, LGBT youth are five times more likely to consider committing suicide than their straight counterparts. We can say that this is really a life issue for the church.”

He continued with three messages to LGBT young people: “1) God loves you; 2) Jesus cares for you, especially when you feel at the margins; 3) The Church is your home.”

Positive stories of inclusive pastoral care

Other speakers spoke of their own experiences: the path towards inclusion of LGBT+ people proposed by Marco Agricola, of the Italian Evangelical Youth Federation, the story of the experience of a Christian mother of an LGBT boy, offered by Dea Santonico of the base community of  S. Paul of Rome, and the voices of some of the protagonists of the conference: the young LGBT+ Christians themselves. They shared their own experiences of inclusive pastoral care already in place in different communities in Italy, Spain, Germany and France.

In the end they expressed their hopes and expectations for an inclusive church: “We would like to fully affirm our attachment towards our Church founded on the body of Christ. This originates from our Roman Catholic upbringing and later on made decisions of being an active part in our Church’s future in a spirit of growing hope and faith.”

The young LGBT+ Christian people are offering to us a new vision of a Church which gives space to them and their families, developing inclusive pastoral care, challenging LGBTIQ*-phobic attitudes and comments inside and outside the Church, creating reinforcing the dialogue between the Church itself and Christian LGBTIQ* people.

“Towards Welcoming and Affirming Christian Communities”

European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups: Conference 2019

 

Last week I spent a few days in the Albano hills outside Rome, at the 2018 annual conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian groups. As always, I found it useful to meet up once again with others to exchange views and news of our activities, but also found the actual content and worship stimulating, inspiring, and spiritually nourishing.  As always, there was much that deserves reporting and comment, but this cannot be done adequately in a single post. For now, I offer just some highlights.

Participants at conference 2018

Continue reading “Towards Welcoming and Affirming Christian Communities”

Belgian Cardinal: “Respect gay/lesbian sexual expression”.

Josef De Kesel, cardinal archbishop of Brussels, is reported to have told local LGBT Catholics that the church should respect gay and lesbian sexual expression.

“Respect” for gay and lesbian people is an established part of Catholic teaching (along with “sensitivity and compassion”). Sadly, this element of teaching has too frequently been neglected, and sits alongside the more widely known prohibition on any form of sexual activity outside of marriage, and open to procreation – which includes all same-sex genital activity.  Many gay and lesbian Catholics themselves, as well as many professional moral theologians, see the inherent contradiction in this. However, while an increasing number of prominent bishops and cardinals in recent years have been proclaiming the importance of “respect”, they have been notably reluctant to criticize the prohibition on gay sex,

Until now.  According to a report in a Belgian LGBT website, in a closed meeting with a local LGBT group, Cardinal De Kesel, archbishop of Brussels,  described a “paradigm shift” under way in the church’s teaching on homosexuality, and said that respect for homosexuals must include respect for their sexual expression.

(He also said that the church should be ready to “celebrate” same-sex unions – as long as such celebrations stop short of anything resembling marriage. He would accept a service of thanksgiving, for instance, but not a same-sex blessing or exchange of rings. )

For the first time, a Belgian archbishop indicates that LGBTs are allowed to experience their sexual orientation. Cardinal De Kesel took a very progressive position according to catholic standards during an informal meeting with the Malines LGBT association HLWM.

On April 24 there was a meeting between De Kesel and the Mechelen LGBT-association HLWM . This showed that the top of the Church is now prepared to accept gay relationships. “The Church must respect homosexuals and lesbians more, also in their experience of sexuality,” HLWM noted. The cardinal was genuinely concerned about the well-being of gays and lesbians and he also mentioned his meeting with a trans * woman.

According to De Kesel, the Church needs time to understand homosexuality. He made the comparison with the period in which psychologically disturbed people ended up in prison because they did not understand the phenomenon of mental disturbance. “Until recently, the Church was very dismissive of homosexuals and lesbians. But that was no different from society as a whole. Certainly in Europe much has changed for the better, but the Church in Africa and Asia in particular and in parts of Eastern Europe is not yet included. But we must also respect those opinions. “

Incidentally, the cardinal indicated that he also changed his position: “Twenty years ago I would have spoken differently about it than is the case now. I would then have followed the official teaching of the Church. I now look at it much more ‘comprehensively’. Where respect is central. “

Zizo online

Some Christian groups still promote ‘gay conversion therapy’ – but their influence is waning

Some Christian groups still promote ‘gay conversion therapy’ – but their influence is waning

Chris Greenough, Edge Hill University

The idea that to be gay is to be sick and in need of a cure might seem archaic and bizarre by mainstream standards, but among a few fundamentalist Christian groups, it lives on today.

Recently, one such group, the Core Issues Trust, booked a cinema in London’s West End for a film screening event which advocated conversion from homosexuality. The film, Voices of the Silenced, promotes the idea that people can be “rescued” from homosexual impulses and practices, and was also supported by representatives from Christian Concern. After an outcry, the screening was ultimately cancelled by the cinema, where the group staged a public protest on February 8.

This was an unusually conspicuous appearance by what remains a relatively fringe organisation. Core Issues Trust, Christian Concern and similar groups claim that people identifying as non-heterosexual can be “converted” into heterosexuals. Presently, there is no ban on gay conversion therapy in the UK. But whereas “ex-gay” ministries have received plenty of coverage in the US, it’s unusual to see a Christian group like this operating visibly in the UK.

For many, non-heterosexuality and Christianity are still hard to reconcile. This is largely due to the long history of negativity towards non-heterosexuals from Christian groups. Today, the Church of England’s position is much more promising: in 2017, the General Synod voted in favour of not continuing with its ban on blessing or marrying same-sex couples – a major rubicon in its journey towards full inclusiveness. What’s more, the Church of England General Synod has also called for a ban on gay conversion therapy.

But while it might sound like a sea change is underway, there’s still a way to go. While the Core Issues Trust’s values and actions are clearly out of date and largely out of favour, they still find enough of an audience to sustain themselves.

Clash of identities

Some Christians find it hugely difficult to reconcile their non-heterosexuality with their faith. This often leads to negative feelings of fear, anxiety, loneliness, confusion and self-hatred. Conversion therapies recognise and exploit the resulting negative emotions and internal conflict, and offer to resolve the clash of identities by “freeing” people from homosexuality.

In my book Undoing Theology: Life Stories from Non-normative Christians, I spend a chapter exploring the emotional roller coaster of one individual’s journey with Christian “conversion” therapy. Desiring release and repair from negative, internalised feelings, non-heterosexual people essentially find themselves forced to bargain – challenged to accept such a “cure” in exchange for a better life.

While being involved in communities which offer such a “cure” can provide a space for the two incompatible identities of non-heterosexual individuals to temporarily coexist, the long-term consequences are damaging. Of course, throughout history, similar non-religious based “therapeutic” methods have been tried, among them extreme physical medical procedures: castrations, lobotomies, clitoridectomies and shock treatments. Then there are “psychiatric” procedures to deal with the mental state of the “sick” gay person, chief among them hypnosis.

As the protagonist in my book affirmed after spending 18 years within the ex-gay ministry, these extreme physical, psychological and spiritual attempts do not work. They are highly destructive and often painful – and their failure indicates that the very possibility of conversion is a lie.

Pushing back

Even for those who don’t undergo therapy themselves, the lie has pernicious impact. Proposing to “cure” or “convert” non-heterosexual people is a form of delegitimisation. It is wholly unethical. It is a denial of human rights. It encourages internalised homophobia and self-hatred. In the UK, both religion and sexuality are included in equality legislation as protected characteristics – but the screening in London shows that extreme religious views on sexuality are still being asserted in public.

Fortunately, a large proportion of both the clergy and the faithful who remain in the pews share inclusive, accepting attitudes more in step with the mainstream. And inside many Christian communities, efforts are underway to improve the situation further. Open Table offers an inclusive worship community and a safe sacred space for non-heterosexual and non-cisgender Christians. Many more groups offer bespoke opportunities for people to come together and practise their faith without negating their identity.

While the small minority of Christian groups spreading this negativity has not gone away, thankfully there are fewer examples of such hostility. (The Student Union at my own university recently celebrated pride week, and the Christian Union group publicly announced its solidarity.) Sexuality remains a controversial issue for the churches, but it also serves as a measure of inclusivity.

The ConversationEvidently, some fundamentalist Christian groups remain obsessed with non-heterosexuality, and put considerable energy into railing against it wherever they can. The cumulative impact of their actions is highly damaging and toxic to the people they reach. A broad ban on conversation therapy – whether relating to sexuality or gender identity – is long overdue.

Chris Greenough, Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religion, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

London Bishop Celebrates Mass Welcoming LGBT Catholics.

On Sunday 11th February, Bishop Nicholas Hudson was the celebrant at a regular Mass “with a particular welcome for LGBT Catholics” at the Mayfair parish of the Immaculate Conception, London – colloquially known as “Farm Street” parish. (These Masses, which have been held regularly twice a month since the end of the Soho so-called LGBT Masses, have an explicitly stated welcome for LGBT Catholics, their families and friends. After Mass, the LGBT community attending host refreshments in the parish hall.)

I had hoped to attend personally, for the Mass and to meet some visitors from a Dublin LGBT pastoral initiative. However, as I had spent the previous day in London at a planning meeting for the 2019 conference of the European Forum of LGBT Catholic Groups, had a lot of work to do result of that meeting, and will be back in London on Friday for a funeral, I reluctantly decided that I could not justify another trip up.

Instead, I offer below a report received by email from the parish LGBT pastoral team:  

During the course of his Parish Visitation to Farm Street Jesuit Church (11 February 2018), Bishop Nicholas Hudson, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster responsible for the Central & East London areas, presided at the Mass welcoming LGBT+ Catholics. This was particularly appropriate, given the strong themes of inclusion, rather than exclusion, in the Scripture readings for this Sunday  

Bishop Nicholas also led the congregation in applause for the music provided by the Beacon Music Group, including piano, woodwind and violin accompaniment.

Concluding the Mass, Bishop Hudson complimented the parish on its inclusive mission and ministry, not least in its welcome to LGBT Catholics, parents and families. He said: The recently-installed glass doors at the church’s main entrance were a clear statement of being open to the world outside, and of welcome.

During after-Mass refreshments, joining in prayer with those gathered, he met a number of LGBT Catholics, parents, and families in the Parish Hall, including asylum-seeker members of the community, newcomers, and visitors from the All Are Welcome pastoral initiative in Dublin.

Human Rights Award for SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda)

Hearty congratulations are due to SMUG, (Sexual Minorities Uganda) who were one of the 37 LGBT and ally groups represented at the 2nd Assembly in Munich last week of the Global  Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC). For some time now, I’ve been following their twitter feed, and have been thoroughly impressed by the work they are doing, towards protecting LGBT and other sexual minorities in Uganda.

They’ve been awarded the 2017 René Cassin Human Rights Prize, for their work. The judges’ committee drew attention to the problem of criminalisation not only in Uganda, but also in other countries, and the importance of opposing it. This is of course, a primary focus of the GNRC, too. One of the working groups at the 2nd Assembly was devoted to the problem of criminalisation, with strong representation from the African countries present. At the business part of the meeting later, the assembly formally approved a motion urging the Catholic Church to oppose the scourge of criminalisation in African It is wonderful timing that in the week after our conference approved that resolution, one of our member groups has been honoured for their work to that end.

For more, see this Spanish language report (I’ve not yet found any English reports. Until I do, I’m dependent as ever on Google translate for the bare bones of the story):

El Gobierno Vasco concede el Premio René Cassin 2017 a “Sexual Minorities Uganda”, por su defensa de los derechos humanos del colectivo LGTBI en África (Consejo de Gobierno 05-12-2017)

El jurado se suma a la denuncia de la situación de la comunidad LGTBI en Uganda y llama, por medio de este premio, a respetar sus derechos, seguridad y dignidad

El Lehendakari entregará el premio el próximo 11 de diciembre, con ocasión del Día Internacional de los Derechos Humanos, que se conmemora el domingo 10 de diciembre

El Gobierno Vasco ha hecho pública hoy la concesión a ”Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)” del Premio René Cassin 2017 de Derechos Humanos, que otorga la Secretaría General de Derechos Humanos, Convivencia y Cooperación.

En esta ocasión, el jurado ha destacado la tarea de denuncia de la situación de la comunidad LGTBI en algunos países de África y de Uganda en particular, y el trabajo en defensa del respeto de sus derechos, seguridad y dignidad.

La ONG “Sexual Minorities Uganda – SMUG”  fue fundada en 2004 por el activista transgénero Victor Mukasa, y está integrada por 18 organizaciones de distinto signo que luchan por el reconocimiento y el respeto de la dignidad y derechos de las personas lesbianas, gays, bisexuales, transgénero e intersexuales. La entidad que ha propuesto a “SMUG” para el premio René Cassin 2017 ha sido la asociación vasca “Ortzadar LGTB” que promueve esos mismos fines en Euskadi.

More here