Category Archives: History

The Evolution of Catholic Teaching on Sex and Marriage.

In “The Sexual Person“, the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler give a useful historical review of the substantial shifts in the orthodox doctrine on sex and marriage – while also illustrating how much of that teaching is stuck in the fourth century thought of Augustine, and that of Aquinas from the thirteenth century. (Is there any other field of human thought that is so rooted in those two distant periods?) This is an important book that I will be discussing regularly in small bites. For now, I simply want to point to the briefest summary of the main argument, in preparation for a specific extract referring to Pope Paul VI and Humane Vitae.

Two things strike me in this account. As I have frequently noted before, it is completely untrue that the Catholic Church has a “constant and unchanging tradition” on sexual ethics.  Rather, the tradition has been constantly evolving. Just consider the complete transformation of the view on sexual pleasure – from one that it is to be avoided at all costs, even while begetting children or in nocturnal involuntary emissions, to one where it can contribute to the sacramental value of marriage. What has evolved in the past, will surely continue to evolve. That evolution will surely be aided by the capacity of theologians and popes to retrieve, when required, obscure and forgotten pieces from history – and proclaim them of fundamental importance. In two thousand years of theological writing, there will surely be a plethora of documents now obscure, which contradict some current thinking. Some of these will no doubt be retrieved by scholars – and being rehabilitated, will influence further adjustments in the changing tradition of the Church.

St Augustine – 6th cent fresco, Lateran

Here follows my summary of the outline in “The Sexual Person”

For the early fathers of the Church, sex within marriage was seen as good, for the purpose of procreation only. However, virginity was praised as better – even within marriage. Where sex was undertaken for the purpose of procreation, it was acceptable, but undertaken for pleasure, it was sinful. From Augustine onward, there was some grudging recognition that there was more to it than just procreation, with some value also recognised for conjugal love, which would later be described as the “unitive” value.  Nevertheless, sexual activity for pleasure, even in marriage, was for centuries considered sinful.

The Catholic aversion to sexual pleasure reached its high point when Pope Gregory the Great banned from access to church anyone who had just had pleasurable sexual intercourse. We accept as accurate Brandage’s judgement of the effect of that patristic history: “The Christian horror of sex has for centuries placed enormous strain on individual consciences and self-esteem in the Western world.”

The medieval penitentials went even further, condemning as sinful even involuntary emissions during sleep, and placing tight restrictions on when intercourse with one’s spouse was legitimate – even without taking that dreaded pleasure in the act. One such prescribed continence during three forty day periods: during Lent, preceding Christmas, and following Pentecost. Excluding these one hundred and twenty days, that left a maximum of two hundred and forty five remaining.  But four days in every week were also proscribed – Saturday and Sunday (night and day), and Wednesday and Friday (daytime). This effectively leaves a maximum of one hundred and forty days available for legitimate relations with one’s spouse – but excluding further the entire menstrual period, and the period after conception.

The impact of these penitentials and their harsh judgements on sex was profound. They helped shape a moral focus on individual acts, turning moral reflection into an analysis of sin. They also shaped a focus on genitalia.




That focus and the act-centred morality it generated were perpetuated in the numerous manuals published in the wake of the Council of Trent. These manuals controlled seminary education well into the twentieth century and continued to propagate both an act-centred morality and Catholic ambivalence toward both sexuality and marriage.

Aquinas later expanded the “purpose” of marriage by recognizing both a primary purpose (which remained procreation) and a secondary purpose – not pleasure itself, but mutual support and faithfulness between the spouses. For believers, there is also a third end – a sacramental one. Aquinas also begins to modify the total aversion to pleasure, recognizing that “within the ends of marriage”, sexual desire and pleasure are not sinful.

By the twentieth century, the 1917 Code of Canon Law codified three notions of marriage: as a contract between spouses, in which the partners exchanged rights to their sexual acts, and whose primary purpose is procreation. That renewed emphasis on procreation was substantially revised later in the century, especially by the Second Vatican Council, but also before it.

In 1936, in response to the Anglican church’s approval of artificial contraception, Pope Pius XI publishedCasta Connubii“. This firmly rejected contraception and emphasized procreation – but it did more.

He retrieved and gave a prominent place to a long-ignored item from the Catechism of the Council of Trent: marriage as a union of conjugal love and intimacy.  If we consider only the juridical definition of marriage, we could reasonably conclude that marriage has nothing to do with mutual love, that a man and a woman who hated each other could could be married as long as each gave to the other the right over her or his body for procreation.  By emphasising the essential place of mutual love in a marriage, Pius firmly rejected such nonsense and placed the Catholic view of marriage on the track to a more personal definition.

In this document, Pius XI quite explicitly describes the “chief reason and purpose” of marriage as the mutual love and interior formation of the spouses. This renewed emphasis on conjugal love was reaffirmed by Vatican II. The council clearly stated that marriage is “ordered” to the procreation and education of children, but also stressed that this does not imply any hierarchy of ends. The importance of the generation and education of children

“does not make the other ends of marriage of less account”, and marriage “is not instituted solely for procreation”.




LGBT Saints: Response to Fr James Martin

A brief  observation in a Facebook comments thread by Fr James attracted widespread media attention. In a follow up post this week, Fr Martin writes that he is surprised by this attention, and expanded on his argument. For LGBT Catholics, there are several points in this expanded observation that deserve comment.

It’s important to note, as Martin acknowledges, that the terms “gay”, “lesbian” “transgender” and “LGBT” are anachronistic when applied to the saints of history. Even the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” are relatively modern terms, and would have been incomprehensible to people of earlier periods. “Gay” and its associated terms are of even more recent introduction. Nevertheless, it’s possible to accept that when viewed through a modern prism, a certain proportion of the saints could be described with modern terminology – i.e., part of the LGBT spectrum.

The qualification though, is to recognise that “gay” describes an orientation, not necessarily sexual conduct, just as “transgender” is used to refer to a range of non-cisgender variations, not necessarily to surgical transitioning.

It’s also important to note that the two specific examples he quotes, Mychal Judge and Henry Nouwens, are people from the late twentieth century, who have not been formally canonised. The saints of heaven are emphatically not limited to those who have been recognised by formal processes in Vatican offices. Indeed, the complexity (and cost) of the processes required for formal canonization in effect means that a disproportionate number of those approved will be priests (and a smaller number of religious sisters). It is not a co-incidence that Mychal Judge and Henry Nouwens were both priests.  However, there will be many more unrecognized saints who were not clergy – including some who might reasonably describe as lesbian, gay or trans.

Finally, a quibble. In his insistence that accepting that some of the saints will have been attracted to the same sex, does not imply that they necessarily acted on it, Fr Martin is suggesting that any such sexual activity would disqualify them from sainthood. Many respected theologians would disagree. Just as sainthood is not reserved to the priesthood, it is also not reserved to the Catholic faith. Both the Episcopal and Lutheran denominations have their own declared saints recognised in their liturgical calendars. Both now include amongst their clergy, openly gay or lesbian and partnered priests and bishops. These and other denominations will surely accept that loving, sexual partnerships are no barrier to holiness – or to sainthood.

I’m surprised that a comment I made a few days ago on this FB page was deemed news. (Google it if you doubt me.) In response to another comment, I noted that most likely some of the saints were probably LGBT. Yes, I know that the term “LGBT” wasn’t used until very recently, and that even the concept of homosexuality is a relatively late cultural construct, but if a certain (small) percentage of human beings are gay, then it stands to reason that a certain (small) percentage of the thousands of saints were, because they are, of course, human beings. And holiness makes it home in humanity.

In other words, among the saints there were probably some who were attracted to people of the same sex. That’s not to say that they acted on it, but if you consider, to take one example, all the priests, monks, brothers and sisters who were ordained or entered religious orders, it’s certainly conceivable that some of them, even as they lived celibacy and chastity, experienced attractions to people of the same sex. In fact, the priesthood and religious orders have always been places for people who have felt those inclinations to live chaste and holy lives.

Which ones? Hard to say. Really impossible to say, given how little homosexuality would have been understood, admitted and discussed in the past. To my mind, though, there are some saints who, at least based on their writings, seem to have been what we would today call gay. But again, it’s hard to know for sure.

This shouldn’t be surprising. In fact the Catechism says, in a rather overlooked passage, that LGBT people can, through a variety of means, including through prayer and the sacraments, “approach Christian perfection,” that is, become holy men and women (#2359).

In our own time, we can look to holy persons who were gay. I’ve certainly known many holy LGBT people in my own life. Or, to be more specific, think of someone like Mychal Judge, OFM, the Franciscan fire chaplain and hero of 9/11, who was also a gay man. Or Henri Nouwen, the Dutch spiritual writer, who fell in love quite suddenly, and turbulently, with a man towards the end of his life. Were these men saints? Also hard to say, but I’d argue that they were certainly holy and, therefore, they can show us how one can be an LGBT person and saintly.

As I said, I was surprised that this would surprise people. A few people were even offended. But those who were offended may be surprised to be greeted in heaven by more than a few LGBT saints, who will surely forgive them for being offended by their holiness.

Related Posts

James Martin SJ: “Some Catholic Saints Were ‘Probably Gay’ 

At The Advocate, Daniel Reynolds described Fr. James Martin’s response to an antigay Facebook comment as “an open-minded history lesson.”

Fr. James Martin said some Catholic saints were “probably gay.”The Jesuit priest — who was appointed in April by Pope Francis as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications — gave this history lesson in tolerance on May 5 to an antigay Facebook commenter.

Martin had posted a link to an article about a prayer led by Bishop John Stowe at an LGBT Catholic gathering coordinated by New Ways Ministry. An offended social-media follow responded, “Any cannonized​ Saints would not be impressed.” To which Martin replied, “Some of them were probably gay.

“A certain percentage of humanity is gay, and so were most likely some of the saints,” Martin added. “You may be surprised when you get to heaven to be greeted by LGBT men and women.”

Source: Advocate.com

For LGBT Catholics, it should be no surprise that some saints were “LGBT” in modern, anachronistic terminology. I discussed some of them in a brief address to Quest conference in Chichester, a few years ago, under the heading “Some Very Queer Saints and Martyrs“. I’ve also written much more extensively on the subject at my companion blog, “Queer Saints and Martyrs“. (Kittredge Cherry is another who has written at length, in a gay saints series at QSpirit (previously “Jesus in Love” blog). More important to me, is the source of the observation – the Jesuit priest, Fr James Martin SJ.

Martin is highly respected for his work as journalist covering the Catholic Church – so highly regarded, that as The Advocate notes, he was recently appointed to an advisory position in the Vatican communications department. As a journalist, he has covered the full range of Catholic issues. Among these, he has frequently written sympathetically about LGBT people in the Catholic Church – for example, in November 2009 he posed an important question in the Jesuit magazine America: “What should a gay Catholic do?” In the years since, the question has received ever increasing attention – and with it, sympathy for the very real dilemma in which we find ourselves. Initially, his writing was particularly concerned with “gay” Catholics – gay men, and by extension, lesbians. Trans issues originally were not covered. In this incident however, it is notable that his language has shifted to the more inclusive descriptor, “LGBT”

Related Posts

Some Very Queer Saints and Martyrs

What is a gay Catholic to do? A Question Comes Out of the Closet (Queering the Church)

The Story of the Queer Saints and Martyrs: Synopsis (Queer Saints and Martyrs)

LGBT Saints Series (QSpirit)

Unearthing The Surprising Religious History Of American Gay Rights Activism | Huffington Post

On New Year’s Day 1965, hundreds of gay San Franciscans arrived at 625 Polk Street in the city’s Tenderloin district for a much-anticipated “Mardi Gras Ball.”

The event organized by gay rights — or, to use the then-common term, homophile — activists was not unlike the thousands of public parties being held this June during Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month: There were drinks and music, hand-holding, flirtatious glances and kisses between friends old and new. But it was also a private affair — $5 tickets had to be bought ahead of time — in a city where gay people regularly faced threats and arrests for gathering together and showing affection.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the San Francisco ball, however, was its purpose beyond merriment: It was held as a fundraiser for pro-gay clergy.

Today, although Americans for and against gay rights cite their r

Source: Unearthing The Surprising Religious History Of American Gay Rights Activism | Huffington Post

Pope Francis’ Apology to Gay People

I’ve been expecting this for some time – I just didn’t think it would come quite so quickly, even though it is desperately overdue.

Pope Francis: Catholic Church should apologize to gay people and others it has marginalized

Pope Francis says gays — and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited — deserve an apology.Francis was asked Sunday en route home from Armenia if he agreed with one of his top advisors, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who told a conference in Dublin in the days after the deadly Orlando gay club attack that the church owes an apology to gays for having marginalized them.

Francis responded with a variation of his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment and a repetition of church teaching that gays must not be discriminated against but treated with respect.

He said some politicized behaviors of the homosexual community can be condemned for being “a bit offensive for others.” But he said: “Someone who has this condition, who has good will and is searching for God, who are we to judge?”

Source:  – LA Times

What grounds did I have for expecting at all?

Simply because there have now been a series of papal apologies to a wide range of groups previously attacked or persecuted by the Catholic authorities. Pope Benedict XVI apologised to Muslims for the Crusades, Pope Francis apologised  to the indigenous people of South America for “ideological colonialism” (but not the the ideological colonialism in sexual and gender norms), and more recently to Protestants. LGBT people were at the back of the queue, but their turn had to come eventually. There are other examples too, which I do not now have time to enumerate.

As others have noted, a simple apology for “harm” is not enough, on its own. There needs to be an admission of how the harm was done, and how it is inextricably linked to core sexual doctrine. We also know from the theology of the sacrament of reconciliation, that simple confessing of sins is not enough to merit full forgiveness, unless it is accompanied by appropriate restitution for the harm done. In this context, restitution to those individuals already harmed is impossible – but restitution to the community would be possible, if it included an admission that the harm is a direct result of grievously disordered sexual doctrines, which need urgent reconsideration.

Now however, is not the time to carp. Let us first, offer profound thanks that Pope Francis has gone where none of his predecessors could – he’s asked of the entire Catholic community, “Who are WE to judge?”

This alone will enrage his many detractors on the orthotoxic Catholic right to height not previously seen. Let us for now, recognise his remarkable first step – and postpone for a later date, consideration in more depth, of what issurely required next.

Related Posts

Gender and “Ideological Colonialism”

In Washington D.C. for a National Prayer Breakfast, Cardinal Robert Sarah has escribed gay marriage as “poison” and attacked transgender rights as a form of ideological colonialism.

“[T]hrough a demonic ‘gender ideology,’ a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism.”

Cardinal Sarah, is an African, as am I by origin. I leave aside here his lamentable disregard for the Catechism’s plain instruction that homosexuals (and, by extension, transgender people) should be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”. Instead, I simply draw attention to the cardinal’s woeful ignorance of our continent’s history, of the the nature of colonial ideology – and of basic biology. Continue reading Gender and “Ideological Colonialism”

LGBT History Month (in Church)

In the UK, February is LGBT history month (unlike the USA, where this is October).  For LGBT History month 2014,  I will spoke at the University of East Anglia on “Saints, Sinners and Martyrs in Queer Church History: The continuing evolution of religious responses to homoerotic relationships“, as part of their LGBT History Week.

lgbt-history-month-2014-logo

I was in some distinguished company. Other speakers & topics in the series :

  • Music in Queer Fiction – Dr Clare Connors (3 February)
  • “Marriage is so Gay.” The battle for same sex marriage in the US and Britain: A comparative perspective – Dr Emma Long (6 February 2014)
  • Southeast Gaysia!: LGBT Heritage and Activism in the ASEAN Region – Yi-Sheng Ng (10 February 2014 )
  • Pitching Harmony: Thinking differently about the assimilation and difference debate – Dr Jonathan Mitchell (13 February 2014 )
  • “A Quiet Place”: Gay & Bisexual Classical Composers in 20th Century America – Malcolm Robertson (17 February 2014 )
  • The Homosexual Steamroller: Queer “Propaganda” through Literature – Dr B.J. Epstein (20 February 2014 )
  • Saints, Sinners and Martyrs in Queer Church History: The continuing evolution of religious responses to homoerotic relationships – Terry Weldon ( 24 February 2014)
  • Trans & Gender Variant History 1800s onwards – Katy J Went (27 February 2014 )

I’ve summarised the content of my talk as :

History contradicts the common assumption that Christianity and homoerotic relationships are in direct conflict. There have been numerous examples of Christian saints, popes and bishops who have had same-sex relationships themselves, or celebrated them in writing, and blessed same-sex unions in church. There have also been long centuries of active persecution – but recent years have again seen the emergence of important straight allies for LGBT equality, and a notable reassessment of the scriptural verdict.

To mark this month here at QTC,and also to help myself to prepare for this address, I republished at this site a number of earlier posts, revised and updated, on the history of LGBT people in church history. as well as some fresh material, in two series. Look out for the following (and possibly more):

People in the Church: The Story of the Queer Saints and Martyrs

  1. Before Christianity
  2. LGBT (Church) History: The Early Christians –
  3. Saints and Sinners in The Medieval Church 
  4. LGBT (Church) History Month: Martyred BY the Church
  5. The Renaissance Paradox: Gay and Gay – friendly Popes.
  6. Modern Saints and /Martyrs

The Distorted Christian Tradition on Sexuality:

  1. Marriage and Family
  2. Biblical Interpreation
  3. Natural Law

Recommended Books:

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“Take Back the Tradition” – the Video Series (Coming Soon)!

After spending last weekend in Rome for the founding conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, this week I am just outside Zurich, for some family time of my own with my daughter and grandchildren. This not however, just holiday time. It’s also very much a working holiday: keeping up  with news from Rome on the Family Synod, and pushing ahead with some new projects.

One of these new initiatives is to expand from simple blogging, to vlogging – video blogging. Continue reading “Take Back the Tradition” – the Video Series (Coming Soon)!

“Take Back the Tradition” – Outline.

I wrote some time ago, about a belief that LGBT Christians need to “take back the tradition” in Church history, just as others have begun to “Take Back the Word” in biblical studies (to use the title of a book edited by Robert Goss). The young Fr Joseph Ratzinger wrote about the dangerous “distorting tradiion” against which we must be ever vigilant. It it high time that we correct the distorted tradition.

Fr Joseph Ratzinger
Fr Joseph Ratzinger

For LGBT History Month in the UK next February, queer church history will be a major theme. As my contribution, I will be developing an extended series of posts on the subject, which I hope I will also present in audio – visual form, as well as conventional blog posts.

Here is my current outline for this project, which will be cross – posted at The Queer Church Repository, where it will be constantly updated and expanded.

“Take Back the Tradition”

Some Topics in Queer Church History

Introduction

Pope Benedict XVI was viewed by many LGBT people as “Maledict”, for some of his writing, especially the Hallowe’en letter he wrote when still Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the CDF – the modern successor to the Inquisition. But there’s another aspect to Benedict of importance to LGBT people, beyond his disordered language on sexuality, and that is his insights into church history – and the lessons we can draw from these LGBT Christians.

Benedict had some important words about St joan of Arc.  He once noted that she was tried, convicted and burned for heresy by the cardinals and theologians of the Church. (We should remember too, that part of the charges against her was for cross – dressing,  and gender non-conformity). However, he continued, centuries later she was rehabilitated and canonized, and now regarded as a saint. The pointed lesson he drew, was that Christian leaders, cardinals, theologians, and others, can be wrong.

This is just one pertinent example of a much bigger problem that he had written about years ago, when still the young theologian plain Father Joseph Ratzinger. This was that alongside the valuable tradition in church history, there’s a distorting tradition, against which we must always be on our guard. LGBT people have suffered grievously as victims of this distorting tradition.

  • There’s a distorting tradition in biblical interpretation, which uses spurious claims that the bible “clearly” condemns homosexuality, resulting in biblical abuse to support prejudice and discrimination.
  • There’s a distorting tradition of marriage, which falsely claims that marriage has always been between one man and one woman, for the purposes of procreation.
  • There’s a distorting tradition in theology, which abuses Thomas’ Aquinas of natural law to condemn allegedly “unnatural” sex.
  • There’s a forgotten tradition of queer saints and martyrs, in which men and women with a same – sex affectional orientation have been airbrushed out of history.
  • There’s a forgotten tradition of respect for the value of intimate male relationships.

It’s time to take back the tradition.

Some African Gay History

The common claim by African homophobes is that homosexuality is somehow “un-African”. The reality is just the opposite. Same – sex relationships have always been part of African culture, across the continent, just as they have been the world over, in every period of history (until European colonists and missionaries attempted to stamp it out, thus introducing homophobia).

Writing in the Guardian, Bisi Alimi gives some examples.

If you say being gay is not African, you don’t know your history

Continue reading Some African Gay History