If ever we needed a demonstration of why we need an anti-bullying week, we got it this week, with the hostile reaction in some quarters to the entirely sensible guidelines issued to church schools by the Church of England.
Yesterday, I made my own contribution against bullying, speaking to students of Lord Wandsworth College, Hampshire. I was originally invited to the school as a Stonewall LGBT role model, but with a full 50 minute time slot to fill, and as it is anti-bullying week, it made sense to expand the brief. I began with a simple, brief outline of my personal story, which sets the background to my particular passions, and that led fairly naturally into a discussion of bullying: homophobic, transphobic (which is getting a lot more attention, currently) – and biphobic – which is still too often overlooked.
How did it go? I thought very well – apart from some minor technical glitches. It looked to me like just about all the 250 students stayed attentive right through the full twenty minutes. I was particularly pleased at the end, when two beaming pupils came up to thank me most profusely. The staff member involved seemed satisfied, so I came home feeling I’d had a constructive day.
Here follows a summary of my presentation, together with a selection of the slides used.
(The full presentation, together with the planned text, will follow).
At the end of this month, I will join LGBT Catholics and their parents in Munich for conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. This follows an earlier gathering in Rome, 2015, where we appointed a steering committee to formally set up the legal and procedural framework for a permanent body. The forthcoming conference will approve the statutes, and begin the serious work of expanding pastoral care for LGBT Catholics, extending dialogue and advocacy work with Catholic bishops, and countering church support for legal sanctions against LGBT people.
The German theologian Michael Brinkschroder has, for the past two years, been one of the two co-presidents of the steering committee. In this article published on the GNRC website, he discusses his experience of being both gay and Catholic, as well as his hopes for the GNRC.
The Catholic theologian, sociologist (PhD) and religious education teacher Michael Brinkschröder is gay. Instead of turning his back on the church, he is fighting for acceptance and equality for gays and lesbians in the Roman Catholic Church.
After the publication of his book “Building a Bridge” (between the Catholic Church and LGBT Catholics), Fr James Martin has received some vociferous opposition from certain quarters – leading to the highly publicised cancellation of a few previously scheduled lectures.
Much more important though, is the less well-publicised heavy schedule he has had, addressing well-attended meetings around the country which have not been cancelled, in parishes schools and colleges. Here’s Fr. Martin on building a bridge, during a large scale breakout session at the Ignatian Family Teach-In 2017 in Washington D.C.
Kids with same-sex parents are doing just fine, according to a new study.
In news shocking no one but homophobes, the study analyzed data from the American National Health Interview Survey from 2013 to 2015 and proved kids with same-sex parents do just as well as kids with straight parents.
The researchers looked at data for around 21,000 children between the ages of 4 and 17. The survey analyzed the emotional, mental and psychological health of both children and parents.
Coming out can be scary – especially to parents in a religious family
I found it possible, only because I knew that the nature of my family, was that we took it for granted that we would stick together, no matter what (I’d already seen this, with a couple of younger siblings). I had no real fear of rejection. Also, I was already in my 30’s, after a patently unsuccessful (opposite-sex) marriage. There was no way that my parents could suggest that for me, being gay was “just a phase”. So, for me, coming out in the end was no big deal – but even so, the prospect was scary.
Of course, the reason it didn’t happen until my 30’s, was that earlier, I had simply bottled it. I have a very vivid memory of walking home from university one day, thinking about an obviously gay couple on campus, and reflecting on how good it would be to be settled in a nice home with a loving manI – and how impossible to admit to that, in my Catholic family.
Instead, I simply avoided the problem. I refused to confront or deal with the truth of my natural orientation, and entered instead into what turned out to be a completely inappropriate, ultimately destructive marriage. Others who have avoided coming out to family, have made other destructive choices: leaving home, or even suicide.
The healthy thing to do, while young or later, is to embrace the old biblical adage, “the truth will set you free” – and come out to parents. But, as stated up front at the beginning of this post, that’s not easy – especially when young. That’s why a post by Susan Cottrell, at Freed Hears, is so welcome. She is the mother of not one, but two gay children, and regularly dispenses sound advice to LGBT Christian families.
Here’s a summary of the four steps she recommends for LGBT kids contemplating coming out to parents. (Read the full post at Freed Hearts)
How To Prepare for the Potential Hurricane of Coming Out!
Take Care of You.
Make a plan. If you’re in a position of risk—you’re still living at home, or your parents are paying for your college—then consider that carefully. It can be soul crushing to wait until you’re beyond your parents’ support before you come out, so you have to weigh the risk.
Take Care of Your Family.
Give them some time. Because here’s the deal: they did not go through all the preparation that you did, so their heads may be spinning. They’re afraid: for you, for them, and for what this might mean. They’re likely to be running the program the culture or the church has installed in them. They don’t yet understand God’s full love and inclusion. If you can stay calm—even if they’re not—it will help you… and them.
Recognize that your parents’ response reveals them, not you.
In other words, if they say terrible things to you, hateful, vicious words, that is because that is their worldview, NOT because you deserve it.
Remember the Truth About You! No matter how your family reacts, they do love you. They just may be so clouded with fear that they’ve lost sight of that. But it’s still true.
“Fr Dave” is yet another Australian arguing strongly in favour of legal recognition. His argument is that it the Christian thing to do: same sex marriage, like any other, contributes broadly to social stability, and provides a stable environment for raising children. (For those who dispute this on the grounds that children need a mother and a father, see the observation by cartoonist David Horsey, at Seattle PI:
Today, a couple of inebriated knuckleheads who happen to be boy and girl can impulsively get hitched any day of the week at a chapel in Las Vegas. A straight man or woman who has repeatedly failed at marriage can try, try again. The moral fiber of America will only be enhanced when two men or two women who have faithfully shared their lives for decades are finally allowed to do the same.
But back to Fr Dave, in Australia:
Why every Christian should be in favour of gay marriage.
Yes, I’m serious.
Yes, I realise that the majority of the world’s Christians are opposed to gay marriage and I recognise that many of those who most vocally oppose gay marriage do so in the name of Christ. Even so, this misunderstanding is easily resolved.
For Christians understand that marriage is an institution with a purpose. Others may believe that it was just a good idea that our forebears came up with on a lonely night, or that it evolved mystically out of our apparent need for soul-mates, but Christians believe that marriage is a God-given institution, designed to serve the good of the community, and this gives us a very straightforward way of assessing the validity of any proposed form of marriage.
Let’s be clear about this: from a Christian point of view, marriage is an institution designed to serve two social needs:
marriage contributes broadly to social stability; and
marriage provides a stable environment for the nurturing of children.
This may seem all very unromantic (as is the case with so much “biblical” thinking) but, in truth, I can’t see many people outside of the self-obsessed, chakra-balancing spiritualist fringe – Christian or otherwise – seriously contesting this, and a brief look at history confirms that it is the social purpose of marriage that is at the core of the institution.
The biblical record, certainly, is unambiguous in this regard. Sometimes marriage was monogamous while at other times multiple partners were involved. Sometimes marriages were arranged and at other times people were free to choose partners for themselves. The form of the institution varied, but the God-given role that marriage plays in the community has remained constant – increasing social stability and providing a safe environment for the nurturing of children.
If this is the case then the only questions Christians need to concern themselves with when it comes to the issue of gay marriage are these two:
Would gay marriage lead to greater social stability?
Would a married gay partnership be likely to provide a more secure environment for the nurturing of the children of a gay couple than an unmarried one?
I think the answer to both these questions has to be “yes”. If marriage entails faithfulness and long-term partnership, then allowing gay persons to marry will have to contribute something in both of these areas, even if the success rate of gay marriages turns out to be as dismal as heterosexual ones.
Now I appreciate that any number of Christian people will object at this point with words like “abomination” and “unnatural” – claiming that the Bible teaches clearly that all homosexual activity (including that between consenting adults) is an obscenity before God. My contention at this point is simply that even if this were true it wouldn’t detract from the value of gay marriage. For the issue here is not whether homosexual activity is desirable or undesirable or morally offensive or anything of the sort. The only questions that should concern Christian people are these two:
Will this form of marriage serve social stability?
Will it make things better or worse for the children involved?
If the answer to these two questions is positive then we Christians have no basis for objecting to gay people having access to the institution of marriage, regardless of how some of us might feel about such people and regardless of whether we judge such persons to be immoral or otherwise.
Personally I think we Christians need to get over what is going on in other people’s bedrooms, but if we are going to make pronouncements on what we deem best for the community, let’s do so on the basis of rational argument and biblical principle.
For Intersex Awareness Day yesterday, the internet was awash with numerous posts on the subject. One that I particularly liked was by Tony Briffa, an Australian writing about “My experience as the world’s first openly intersex Mayor“. Briffa writes candidly about life as an intersex person, one who is “intersex and am therefore not exclusively female or male”, and the difficulties presented by being perceived sometimes as male, sometimes as female. The simple physical fact is, that Briffa was born with some male parts, but a primarily female body. The social facts of living as partly both, is a different matter entirely – not simple at all.
In LGBT groups, we sometimes come across discussions about a possible need to expand to LGBTI, to provide explicit inclusion of intersex people, just as gay groups earlier expanded their own terminology to make explicit inclusion of lesbians, bisexual and trans people. One response to that, is to leave that decision to the intersex community themselves: it is known that many intersex people do not want to be lumped together with the LGBT community, as their problems and issues are of a different kind entirely. (But then, much the same can be said about transgender people – their issues are not about sexual orientation). In this respect, I note that Briffa does write, at one point early in the story, of having “felt very comfortable in the LGBT community, and I could openly discuss who I am and being intersex”.
However, it remains true that the issues are entirely different. It would be completely wrong for me as a gay man to even remotely attempt to describe the experience of an intersex person, and I’m not about to do it.
Read it for yourself, at Intersexday,org – where no doubt you can also find many other useful posts, to learn more about an important but widely misunderstood part of the human population.Y
Just sometimes, when a baby is born the answer to “Is it a girl or a boy?” the answer is simply, “No”. A small but significant proportion of people have bodies that just do not fit into that binary divide of either male or female. There are few firm estimates of the number of intersex people, because definitions vary. By one narrow definition, the proportion of the population who are intersex is 0.018%. In a world population of 7.6 billion, even this lower estimate is still an awful lot of real people – something like 1.4 million. A broader definition puts the proportion at 1.7%, or as many as 129 million, worldwide.
For Intersex Awareness Day, I share links to some previous posts on intersex. First, there’s the story of How a Woman Became a Dominican Priest, and Teacher of Moral Theology. Sally Gross was assigned male at birth, and as an adult became a Catholic Dominican priest and a teacher of moral theology in England. However, Sally was in fact intersex, with internal organs primarily female. When this became known, it led to a decision to transition – and the forced expulsion from the priesthood. Later, she returned to her native Cape Town, where she founded Intersex South Africa.
With his Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”, Pope Francis has placed great emphasis on the importance of pastoral accompaniment, discernment, and the interior forum for church responses to LGBT Catholics. The document also speaks of the importance of accompaniment and pastoral care for the families which include those LGBT people. But what does this mean, in practice?
The response to Fr James Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge” has shown that there is widespread hunger for this accompaniment – but also reveals the extent of public ignorance. Martin’s book focuses on just one simple part of church teaching, on the need for “respect, compassion and sensitivity”, but quite deliberately does not dig more deeply. There is a dire need for material which does indeed take a broader canvas, suitable for use in parish groups.
Fortunate Families, the USA group for the parents and families of LGBT Catholics, has just such a great “resources” page, structured primarily for the Catholic families and friends of LGBT people, but also immensely valuable for anyone who simply wants to know more about the facts, without the polemics.
One of these valuable resources is an 8 part series, “Let’s Talk About Homosexuality“, which is described as a “Catholic conversation” on the subject, for
• Parents of gay and lesbian children: parents still in the closet, alone with their secret; parents out of the secret; struggling with their questions, their fears, their faith.
• Parents of young children: moms and dads seeking information and insight for their own parenting role as teacher and counselor.
• Family members who may be struggling to deal with the hurtful stereotypes that exist within both society and their Church.
• Gay and lesbian people who may be searching for some sign of understanding from their Church.
• Anyone who is curious about homosexuality and wanting to learn more.
Permission is granted for you to download and print this copyrighted series for your personal use, for parish study groups, for adult education programs, for ministry support, for future reference.
Structured as an adult education program to be placed on a parish website over a period of eight successive weeks, it could equally well be adapted for use in a discussion group meeting weekly (or monthly) – or for personal study, over eight sessions, at any frequency you choose.
Grouped into 3 major parts, the weekly instalments, with their main focus areas, are:
While Pope Francis and several leading cardinals have shown a welcome emphasis on pastoral accompaniment for LGBT Catholics and others in unconventional situations, it is disgraceful that others continue to insist on legalistic excuses for exclusion. The appalling directive in Madison diocese about church funerals for married lesbian or gay Catholics, and the recent firing of yet another teacher at a Catholic school not because she is gay, but because it became she was about to marry, are just the most recent examples of this.
Yet these practices, far from upholding Catholic teaching, are in fact contravening it. As Fr James Martin SJ has repeatedly pointed out, it is unreasonable to claim that such sanctions are required because people are acting in conflict with Catholic doctrines, when they do not apply equivalent sanctions to people acting in conflict with other Catholic doctrines. This selective treatment is plainly discriminatory, and directly contradicts the Catechism requirement to treat lesbian and gay Catholics with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” – and also the directive against unjust discrimination.
This point was made very clearly four years ago, even before the more pastoral tone introduced to the church by Pope Francis, by Cardinal Wuerl of Washington. I reproduce below a post from my archives, originally written in April 2013, as pressure for marriage equality was building across the USA – and some bishops were fiercely resisting.
It’s been obvious for a long time that as equal marriage becomes increasingly inevitable, as ordinary Catholics show their direct support for all Catholic relationships and families without discrimination on sexual or gender grounds, the bishops will be forced to consider ways to respond to the changing realities on the ground. Cardinal Dolan’s admission that the Church needs to be more supportive of gay and lesbian Catholics but doesn’t know how, has drawn widespread commentary. Somewhat slipping under the radar, even though it does point to part at least of a workable response, is this, from Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the cardinal archbishop of Washington, explained Sunday that gay Catholics who marry their partners may remain part of the Catholic Church even though the church will not recognize their marriage. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Wuerl explained this is similar to how the church treats Catholics who are divorced and remarried.
“We do that same thing with people who are married, divorced and remarried,” Wuerl said on the church’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages. “We say, you know, you’re still part of the family, but we can’t recognize that second marriage… and it’s never been a great problem.
The high profile campaigns by bishops and their orthotoxic camp followers against gay marriage, and the extensive publicity to the language used about homosexuality, especially the description as an “intrinsically disordered” condition, leads many of us to assume that Catholic doctrine is especially discriminatory towards us. In fact, this is not so. In its insistence that every genital sexual act must be open to procreation, Catholic doctrine on sexual matters is equally disordered, to all.
The problem comes in the application, in pastoral practice. Although the Catechism and other documents are clear that artificial contraception within marriage, sexual relationships before marriage or after divorce and masturbation are all considered “grave sins”, “intrinsically disordered”, or “great evils”, in practice in most parishes there is a great deal of pastoral sensitivity displayed on these matters. For some reason, it is specifically same – sex relationships that arouse the ire of the Catholic right, who may not approve of other sexual transgressions, manage to bite their tongues and refrain from judging those who trangress, or the priests who welcome them in their parishes.
So, Cardinal Wuerl’s recognition that married gay Catholics are in a position no different to those who have remarried after divorce, “and it’s never been a great problem”, is a helpful step forward. It’s not been a great problem not because the documents approve, but because in most parishes, the formal rules are ignored, and a more sensitive, pastoral welcome applies instead. I hope that married gay and lesbian Catholics will take Cardinal Wuerl at his word, and take their places in Catholic parishes alongside other married couples – and expect the equal treatment, without encountering “great problems”, that the Cardinal has given them grounds to expect.