Category Archives: Sexuality and gender

Homophobia Kills: Catholic Schools Must Counter It.

There is abundant evidence that homophobia kills, directly (as in hate crime murders) and indirectly (as in driving the victims to suicide).  As with all forms of hatred, what begin as thoughtless or careless language acquired at school, can mutate into something much more serious in later life. Conversely, good habits acquired when young, can prepare people for sound, healthy attitudes and behaviour as adults.  This is why for several years, Stonewall has been running an established, highly effective program in schools,  training staff in the importance of countering homophobia in school, and giving them tools and resources to do so effectively.

Further, the evidence from Stonewall’s schools research is that in general, pupils and staff believe that the problems are greater in faith schools than in their secular counterparts. For Catholics, this is a sad indictment on the failure of some schools (not all) to properly apply standard Church teaching, which is clear the obligation that “all forms of violence or malice, in speech or in action”, must be opposed. Teaching also insists that homosexual persons must be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”.

This is why I and three other members of Quest met with Stonewall in London today, for the first of two day’s training in how to take the standard Stonewall training on countering homophobia, into faith schools specifically. Tomorrow, we will be back to continue the training.  Next week, three more Quest members will do the same training with Stonewall in Manchester.

By March, we expect to begin visiting schools, delivering the training to those at the coalface.

It’s been a long day, and I have no more time to write more about this, tonight (it’ll be an early start to my day tomorrow, for an early train up to London for a 9am start). Later, I’ll report in more detail, on just why the program is needed, on the evidence that faith schools in general are under-performing in this area, how the program works, and on why Catholic schools in particular have a clear pastoral obligation to  oppose homophobia vigorously – and to support lgbt pupils themselves.

See also:

The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils

Catholic Teaching and Homophobia

Stonewall School Role Models visit

Free teacher training for schools with a faith character (Stonewall sign up page)

(Cross-posted at Quest LGBT Catholic)

The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils

This afternoon, I was up in London, talking to the staff of St Bonaventure’s Catholic secondary school about “The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support Lesbian and Gay Pupils”. Part of the headteacher’s regular program for staff continuing professional development, this kicked off the school’s annual commitment to LGBT  History Month.

I met the head,teacher, Paul Halliwell,  at Stonewall’s Education Day last October, where he was  a panellist in the Faith breakout group. Stonewall’s Dominic Arnall introduced him with glowing praise for the work that he has already done to promote LGBT inclusion in his Catholic school, St Bonaventure’s in Forest Gate Newham – and his leadership with other schools in the area. I was delighted to accept his invitation to bring a specifically Catholic dimension to his valuable work on LGBT protection and safeguarding.

This is what I said: Continue reading The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils

Transgender Children – Hopes For The Future

PHOTO: COURTESY OF NETFLIX.

When I was at school, a lovely boy with a mop of dark hair called me a pansy when we were playing kiss chase; I was running away from the boys in an apparent game of one. I heard him definitely call me Pansy though and, ecstatic that at the age of 8 someone had finally seen me as me,

I adopted the name with huge pride and wore it like an enormous, enamelled brooch. My name was Pansy.I convinced most of my classmates to call me Pansy – I didn’t notice or care about their sniggers or sneers, and after some persuasion my teacher, Miss Honey (not a word of a lie), agreed to call me Pansy during story-carpet time. One foot off dead name, one foot on Pansy. Home.

Source: Transgender Children – Hopes For The Future

Transgender children: the parents and doctors on the frontline | Society | The Guardian

In 1989, when the Gender Identity Development Service (Gids) at London’s Tavistock Clinic opened, it received two referrals in its first year of operation. As Dr Polly Carmichael, current director of the service, observes, it was considered a career-limiting option for a clinical psychologist to specialise in the field of gender identity in young people – there weren’t enough patients. That is not how it has turned out. Last year, 1,400 children under 18 were referred to Gids, double the number the year before. Of these 1,400, nearly 300 were under the age of 12, with some as young as three years old.

The reasons for this exponential increase are obviously complex. One factor seems to be a huge shift in awareness of transgender individuals in wider culture. The attention paid to Caitlyn Jenner in America, and Kellie Maloney here; a transgender actor, Riley Carter Millington, playing a transgender role in EastEnders; the historic tragedy of the story told in The Danish Girl and the many public controversies about respect for trans rights have all informed this awareness.

Source: Transgender children: the parents and doctors on the frontline | Society | The Guardian

The Apology, in Context

When Pope Francis spoke of an apology to gay people, he was responding to a question about an earlier, more specific apology by Cardinal Marx in an interview with the Irish Times:

A leading cardinal has said the Catholic Church should apologise to the gay community for its scandalous and terrible treatment of them, which had not changed until “very recently”.

Speaking in Dublin, Cardinal Reinhard Marx said: “The history of homosexuals in our societies is very bad because we’ve done a lot to marginalise [them].”

As church and society “we’ve also to say ‘sorry, sorry’ ”.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx: told a conference held in Trinity College that until “very recently”, the church and society at large had been “very negative about gay people . . . It was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible.” Photograph: Stefano Rellandini - Source Irish Times
Cardinal Reinhard Marx: told a conference held in Trinity College that until “very recently”, the church and society at large had been “very negative about gay people . . . It was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible.” Photograph: Stefano Rellandini – Source Irish Times

Continue reading The Apology, in Context

The Papal Apology: Keep the Conversation Going.

Reports of Pope Francis’ apology to the gay community drew extensive commentary in the press, with divided responses from LGBT sources. There many statements that this was welcome, but also many who pointed out that the statement was limited, and just didn’t go far enough.

On Sunday (3rd July) I had the privilege of participating in a live TV discussion about this, on BBC1 (available here on BBC iPlayer, at 30:41 from the start, to about 42:30).

SML

For the benefit of readers unable to access iPlayer, here’s a summary of my contributions.

My first point was that this statement needs to be seen in a broader context. Coming from the pope, this attracted the attention, but there have been other apologies before, from both Protestant and Catholic leaders. When I was in Sweden for the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian organizations,  the Bishop of Gothenburg said in his address to the opening ceremony that the Church should make an act of repentance to the LGBT community, for the past harm it has done to them. At the Family Synod in Rome last October, the entire group of German speaking bishops made a collective apology to lesbian and gay Catholics.

I went on to say that this apology was just one part of a much broader interview, which could explain why it was so brief – and so disappointed some LGBT Catholics. While welcoming the apology, some said that it should also have gone into some explanation of why the apology was needed, what needs to be done to prevent future harm, and how can we begin a process of healing. However, it’s important that the apology has been made, however limited it is at the stage.

After inviting contributions from the rest of the panel, the moderator brought up the popular but mistaken idea that homosexuality is regarded as immoral in Catholic teaching, asking me directly,  “Are you immoral?” My response was to point out that there is nothing in Church teaching against homosexuality – but only a few statements opposed to homosexual acts. The Church accepts that “homosexuality” as an orientation is entirely natural, and does not endorse attempts to change it.

There is of course, a great deal more than I could have said, given more time.  Even this simple idea that homosexual genital acts are contrary to Church teaching, is not as straightforward as it seems.  In a later discussion of the Anglican synod “Shared Conversations” process, I pointed out that this is not just about discussing “what the Bible says”, as one of the panellists had claimed, but also about hearing from the lived experience of lesbian and gay people themselves. To that, she quickly interrupted to talk about her second-hand experience of a gay man she knows, who she said had come to Christ and rejected his homosexual life. I deeply regret that I was not given the chance to reply that my own experience was the exact opposite: time had run out on us. Otherwise, I would have described how my attempt to live fully within the bounds of Church teaching on sex and marriage had left me steadily drifting away from all religious practice and belief. It was only later, after I had come to terms with my sexuality as an openly gay man in a committed, stable same-sex relationship, that I was able to return to the church. Since then, I have found, like many others, that fully embracing my sexuality in fact has enhanced my faith and my spirituality.

Looking back on my experience of how time severely limits how much one can say, I have more sympathy for Pope Francis’ failure to elaborate more fully in his apology. However, he has opened up a conversation. It’s now up to the rest of us, to keep that conversation going.

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Welcome the Papal Apology. What Next?

We must warmly welcome Pope Francis’ apology to gay Catholics, for the harm done to them by the Church:

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Yerevan, Armenia, to Rome June 26. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Yerevan, Armenia, to Rome June 26. (CNS/Paul Haring)

In a press conference Sunday on the flight back to Rome after his weekend trip to Armenia, the pontiff said bluntly: “The church must say it’s sorry for not having comported itself well many times, many times.”

“I believe that the church not only must say it’s sorry … to this person that is gay that it has offended,” said the pope. “But it must say it’s sorry to the poor, also, to mistreated women, to children forced to work.”

“When I say the church: Christians,” Francis clarified. “The church is healthy. We are the sinners.”

“Who are we to judge them?” he asked, reframing his famous phrase from 2013 into the plural. “We must accompany well — what the Catechism says. The Catechism is clear.”

Initial reaction from the people most affected, gay and lesbian people themselves, illustrates how badly this apology was needed – there is a tone of bitterness in many responses that reveals the extent of the hurt. This is understandable. In many respects, it is indeed too little, too late.

However, as Frank DeBenardo points out at Bondings 2.0, a formal apology from the head of the Church, no matter how limited, will itself bring a degree of healing, putting into practice Francis’ vision of the Church as a “field hospital for the wounded”. There have been earlier, similar apologies from the German language small group at the family synod, and from the English bishops attending, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Bishop Peter Doyle. This clear signal from the man at the top will undoubtedly encourage many of their colleagues to follow suit.

For these reasons, I fervently welcome this apology, limited though it is.

Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of what is still needed.

We need recognition from the Church that gay and lesbian Catholics have not been simply “offended” – but in many cases severely damaged by the Church’s responses. This is illustrated by the high rates of suicide, self-harm, substance abuse and other mental health problems and internalised homophobia and self-hatred in many lesbian and gay people. The dangers of such self-hatred are clear from numerous examples of closeted gay men expressing their anger in acts of violence or murder.

We need recognition from the Church that the hurt and damage are not simply the result of careless and insensitive language, but are deeply embedded in formal Catholic teaching on sexuality, with its numerous internal contradictions on sexual ethics for gay men and lesbians. The Church claims that we need to “respect” the findings of science, and has accommodated these findings as they apply to the physical universe, and to evolution – but has conspicuously ignored any insights from physical or social science into matters of sexuality or gender identity.

We need recognition from the Church that the hurt and damage is not just historic – it continues today, both in the Church’s own documents, and in the profound damage done in parts of Africa. Catholic doctrine is clear: all violence against gay or lesbian Catholics should be condemned

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

(CDF, Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, para. 10)

Some African bishops tragically do the opposite, and instead encourage harsh criminal sanctions against homosexuals, which contributes immeasurably to popular homophobia and actual violence against gay men and women.

We need recognition from the Church that the hurt and harm perpetrated by the Church applies not only to gay men and lesbians, but also to transgender people, who continue to be damaged by the gender paranoia displayed by many bishops, and in the documents of the Family Synod and “Amoris Laetitia”, with its inaccurate labelling and condemnation of academic gender theory as “gender ideology”.

So, much much more is still needed.

However, we must recognise and value the enormous step that this in fact represents, in moving away from the practices of the past. A process of reconciliation has begun. It is now appropriate for LGBT Catholics to accept this in good spirit – and to engage ever more vigorously with their local bishops and pastors, to encourage an acceleration in the process, leading to ever increasingly emphatic welcome and inclusion in church.

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A Catholic Obligation for an LGBT Apology

A notable and extremely welcome feature of last year’s family synod was the apology offered by the entire German speaking bishops’ small group to the gay and lesbian community, for the harm done to them by the church. That call was later repeated by Bishop Doyle of Northampton, on his return to the UK.

Now, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who is chairman of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference and also one of Pope Francis’ group of cardinal advisors, has repeated his belief in the church’s duty of apology.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx: told a conference held in Trinity College that until “very recently”, the church and society at large had been “very negative about gay people . . . It was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible.” Photograph: Stefano Rellandini - Source Irish Times
Cardinal Reinhard Marx: told a conference held in Trinity College that until “very recently”, the church and society at large had been “very negative about gay people . . . It was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible.” Photograph: Stefano Rellandini – Source Irish Times

We’re going to hear more about apologies and calls for apologies to lesbian and gay Catholics for past wrongs to lesbian and gay people. That’s good news.

The need for an apology should be obvious from just the most cursory reading of LGBT history and the Catholic church, from the active persecution and burning of (alleged) “sodomites” under the Inquition, to the virulently homophobic language used by some Catholics in opposition to marriage equality, and even to civil unions. It is very much to be welcomed that Cardinal Marx has acknowledged at least some of this harm:

Until “very recently”, the church, but also society at large, had been “very negative about gay people . . . it was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible,” he told The Irish Times after speaking at a conference held in Trinity College.

What would be better, if we could also hear apologies the continuing harms done to LGBT people by the Church in many parts of the world in its language and in its pastoral practice – not least in Ireland, over gay marriage, and in Italy, over civil unions.

Cardinal Marx would not be drawn when asked by The Irish Times for his view on Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Parolin’s description of the marriage equality referendum result in Ireland last year as “a defeat for humanity”.

Cardinal Marx said, “I don’t comment on others because that is not good.” As an outsider in the Irish context he was “hesitant” about making a judgment, he said.

It would also be good to hear this call for an apology, include the continuing wrongs to transgender people, with the recent Catholic paranoia over “gender ideology”,  and for the continuing harms done to LGBT people by the Church by some elements of its core doctrine and language.

He (Cardinal Marx) said he had “shocked” people at the October 2014 extraordinary synod of bishops in Rome when he asked how it was possible to dismiss as worthless a same-sex relationship of years duration where both men had been faithful.

May I remind Cardinal Marx that the Catholic Church’s formal doctrine on homosexuality does not just “dismiss as worthless” committed, faithful same-sex relationships of many years, but declares them to be gravely sinful, if they include any physical expression of that love in sexual acts – which are described by the Church as “intrinsically disordered”?  Or that the primary document on pastoral care of homosexual persons dismisses all sexual activity between gay people as mere “self-gratification”, but in marked contrast consistently refers to sexual intercourse between opposite-couples as “mutual self-giving”? The truth is, that heterosexual people can be just as guilty in their sexual lives of the pursuit of simple self-gratification, and same-sex couples in enduring, faithful partnerships equally capable of “mutual self-giving”.

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“No More Distinctions” – ALL Are One.

Today’s second reading:

Galatians 3:26-29 

You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.
To this we could add, no more distinctions between gay and straight, between cis and trans – all are one in Christ Jesus.

Lifesite “News” an Orthotoxic Echochamber.

Lifesite “News” is appalled that in Ontario,

the Waterloo Catholic District School Board asked all students and staff to wear purple shirts and for school flags to fly at half mast on Thursday as a way to “stand up to homophobia and all hate crimes” and to be in “solidarity with all LGBTQ persons.”

St Benedict's tweet

Lifesite portrayed this as an attempt to foist support for the “gay lifestyle” on the school, implying that this is in conflict with their responsibility as Catholic schools. Pointedly, they quote the lines from the Catechism that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law”.

What they pointedly ignore, is that the school board’s action has nothing to do with support for the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), and is instead about opposition to gay hatred – as required by established Church teaching.

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

(CDF, Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986 – also known as “HomosexualitatisProblema”, and to lgbt activists as the infamous “Hallowe’en Letter”)

What saddens me particularly about Lifesite News, is that much as they would like to think of themselves as defending and promoting Catholic orthodoxy, they are nothing of the kind. Their only concern is to push their own particular, narrow interpretation of that teaching, and will not tolerate any disagreement. This was abundantly proven to me this morning, when I attempted to respond to their piece with a simple comment pointing out the CDF statement on opposition to violence, as quoted above.  However, I was met with a note,

Blocked by Lifesite

The only conceivable reason why I should have been blocked by them, is that they know I disagree with their own gravely disordered presentation of Catholic teaching.