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).
In a notable contribution to a document on LGBT discrimination and belief for the UN Human Rights Commission, Krzysztof Charamsa lays out all the ways in which the Catholic Church actively discriminates against LGBTI Catholics. It’s not comfortable reading.
One of the key points in my own thinking about the Catholic Church and queer Catholics, came when I heard Charamsa speak at the 2019 conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups in Gdansk. Like many others, I’ve been delighted by the notable change in pastoral tone coming from the church, ever since Pope Francis took on the see of Rome. Charamsa’s talk in Gdansk however, was a sobering reminder that notwithstanding the changes in pastoral tone, core doctrines remain unchanged – and these can be extremely damaging, even dangerous, to the emotional, spiritual and even physical health of LGBT Catholics.
There are many strands to the dangerous Vatican doctrines. In his paper for the UN Human Rights Commission, he discusses in detail just one – the problem of discrimination. It is true, as he points out, that doctrine dictates its opposition to discrimination against homosexuals – but immediately qualifies that, to mean only “unjust” discrimination. What they term “just” discrimination, it turns out, includes just about all the forms of discrimination that civil law in many Western countries, aims to eliminate. This then becomes the rationale for the Vatican’s opposition to anti-discrimination in civil law.
Worse, for LGBT Catholics, is how the formulation of “just” discrimination does not only accept, but even mandates, active discrimination in the Church’s own practice. Most egregious of these of course, is Pope Benedict’s statement against the ordination of gay priests – a prohibition more recently endorsed even by Pope Francis. However, there are other, more insidious forms of discrimination, that many LGBT Catholic will not even be aware of.
For instance, there’s a clearly stated prohibition on offering premises for LGBTIQ persons to publicly pray and to form groups in the Church. Charamsa describes this prohibition:
The most eloquent expression of this fight against pastoral assistance is the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church: Homosexualitatis problema (October 1, 1986: thirty years ago!) which has effectively forbidden the pastoral care of homosexual persons. According to this document, the Vatican and local Bishops eliminate every Catholic organized pastoral care for gays, which had been done in respect for human dignity and scientific knowledge about sexual orientation.
A further prohibition that will be a surprise to many LGBT Catholics, one against even coming out and publicly affirming a gay or trans identity. This may not be as directly stated, but is implied in the argument that non-discrimination laws are not necessary – because discrimination can be avoided by simply remaining in the closet. All the evidence is that for one who has a natural same-sex orientation, acknowledging and coming to terms with this, is a path to emotional and affective maturity and growth. Several notable writers on spirituality, state that in the same way, coming out is a process even of spiritual growth. Conversely, staying in the closet and refusing to come out, is harmful to mental and emotional health – one of the many ways that Vatican doctrine is realistically described as dangerous.
Then there one further form of discrimination that I too was not aware of. This is what Charamsa describes as “the prohibition of serious and objective studies about LGBTIQ minorities in the theological field”. In effect, this is really two different forms of academic discrimination – in the fields of theology, but also of science.
In the last half-century the scientific and interdisciplinary progress about homosexuality can be consider the “Copernican revolution” in the human knowledge about LGBTIQ questions. This progress, with its hypothesis and thesis, should be investigated by the theology and by the Church for understanding the development and confronting it with theological/doctrinal position about homosexuality. This real, objective and serious confrontation was made impossible in the Church of Wojtyła and Ratzinger, and nothing has been changed by Pope Francis.
Some of these “prohibitions” will surprise many, because in some areas at least, they are clearly flouted. There are an increasing number of parishes and dioceses with strong, vibrant programs of lgbt inclusion in the life of the church, with various forms of LGBT support groups, retreats, and worship services – even including support for participation in gay pride celebrations. Many bishops, and some cardinals, endorse the value of coming out for LGBT people. However, these helpful practices are conducted not in compliance with standard doctrine, but in direct contravention of them.
The upside, which leaves me a little less disturbed by these harmful doctrines than Charamsa, is that for most people, it is pastoral practice on the ground that is more important than abstract doctrine. It is frequently pastoral practice that leads to changes in doctrine, and not the other way around. The simple fact that so many effective programs of LGBT pastoral support exist, and are growing, implies that in the long run, doctrine will inevitably change.
However, this does not change the fact that harmful doctrines are still in place. As long as they are, they will provide justification for those opponents of LGBT people, when they refuse sound support, or actively promote discrimination or outright homophobia.
Krzysztof Charamsa deserves thanks for so clearly reminding us of the problem that still remains.
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.”
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,
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.
In my first post after the news of the Orlando massacre, I asked “How have Catholic Bishops Responded?”, then followed up with an update on how at least some were acknowledging that this was a hate crime, and that some of Catholic language and pastoral practice may have contributed to hatred and violence. For Quest, I have since added a reflection asking how Quest members should be responding – and included some specific suggestions. The question though is equally applicable to all LGBT Catholics, irrespective of location or group membership – and the suggestions too, may be relevant to others.
Here follows the post, as it appears at the Quest website:
In the days immediately after the news broke of the Orlando gay nightclub massacre, I noted at Queering the Church that the responses by Catholic bishops, and even by Pope Francis, did not include any recognition that this was not just a crime of violence by an Islamist jihadist, but was specifically targeted at gay men. This was a clear act of violence against homosexuals – which Church teaching declares unequivocally that Catholics should condemn.
Since then, there have thankfully been reports of at least some bishops who have connected the dots, identified the homophobia responsible for the tragedy – and condemned it, (The bishops of St Petersburg, San Diego and Chicago are US examples. Notably, the Catholic bishops, conference of the Philippines is another).
It is not enough however, to condemn violence and lament the victims after the event. Explicit Church teaching says we must condemn violence and malice in speech as well as in action. Homophobic speech fosters hatred, hatred fosters violence, violence leads to deaths. By speaking out against gay slurs and other forms of malicious speech, we help to prevent the violence in the first place.
It is welcome therefore, that bishops who have made the connection between the Orlando massacre and gay hatred have acknowledged that there has even been some homophobia present in Church language and pastoral practice concerning gay and lesbian people, which has contributed to the problem. I welcome this, and congratulate those bishops. But that leaves a further important question for Quest: what are we to do, ourselves, to combat the homophobia that is is fostered within some sectors of the Catholic Church and its practice?
We must never forget that “the Church” is far, far more than just the bishops and priests, but includes all of us. When Catholic teaching tells us to oppose and condemn any form of violence or malice, in speech or in action, against homosexuals, that is a command to all of us, as individuals and collectively, as an organization. How have we responded up to now, to that command? How can we do so, in future? Is there room for improvement, in our response?
I suggest that historically, Quest has been primarily focussed on providing oasstoral support to our own members. The value of that was abundantly illustrated in the outcome of our “Icon of Emmaus Workshop” two years ago, and must not be underestimated. However, we have not been sufficiently attentive to looking outwards, as in fact required by a clause in our constitution, which state that among the methods we promote our primary aim (“to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ so as to sustain and increase Christian belief among homosexual men and women”), by:
(ii) establishing and extending a dialogue between homosexual Catholics and members of the clergy through which the insights and experiences of each may gradually be interwoven and so achieve better mutual understanding both of the moral teachings of the Church and of the characteristics of its homosexual members;
Recently, we have begun to do more, in respect of both of these. Increasing these efforts still further, offers at least the possibility of more directly combating both hate speech, and physical violence against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
We already have members working with the Stonewall School Role Models program, going into Catholic schools to talk about our own experience of being Catholic and LG(B) or T. That is helpful to young people beginning to come to terms with their own orientation or gender identity – but should also contribute to breaking down stereotypes and prejudice – and hence reduce hate speech and bullying. There is more we can do in this area: Hallam diocese has invited us to meet with their safeguarding team, and we are already discussing with Stonewall ways to expand still further our activities with schools.
We have also had constructive meetings with several bishops, and are planning to meet with others. What are we saying to them? Up to now, these discussions have been mostly just to introduce them to us and to our activities, but we could do more. We could certainly include active advocacy for lgbt Catholics – and remind them of the much neglected Catholic obligation to oppose all forms of violence against homosexuals – specifically including homophobic speech, which is itself a form of violence. We could also propose to them that, as in Hallam, we could contribute to improving their safeguarding practice, to include safeguarding from homophobic bullying.
Up to now, our advocacy has concentrated on the bishops, but we should do more – and are starting to do so. In Portsmouth diocese, members of their pastoral provision team have suggested that we should be going into parishes, to talk to them about lgbt ministry. (Pope Francis’ “Amor Laetitia” states that “special attention should be paid to families with lesbian or gay members”). When we do so, we should again draw attention of parishioners, some of whom will themselves have LGBT children, or be LGB or T themselves, of the obligation to oppose homophobia. We have plans in place at the level of our national committee, to further expand our advocacy work with priests, religious congregations and laity – but there’s no need to leave this exclusively in the hands of he national committee. Our regional teams are well placed to do the same thing in parallel with national, speaking to their diocesan bishops or ocal priests and parishes. Even single Quest members could contribute alone if so inspired, in their own parishes and deaneries.
Advocacy for LGBT Catholics, and against any form of homophobia, is not limited to direct discussions with bishops, priests schools or parishes. A second clause in our Quest constitution specifies that our aim of proclaiming the Gospel is also advanced by
(iii) seeking wider opportunities, in the Catholic press and elsewhere, to promote fuller and more public discussion of the spiritual, moral, psychological and physiological issues involved;
This is an are where we have not been particularly effective, and can definitely do better.
Later this month, members of the national committee, together with regional co-ordinators and a few others, will be meeting for a weekend’s “strategy workshop”, to deliberate on our priorities for the next few years – and seek to identify funding opportunities to pay for them. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions, but in the light of the Orlando massacre and reflections arising from it, I personally will be making a strong recommendation to the team, that those priorities should include strong attention to the fight against homophobia, and especially against homophobia in the name of religion, in both our advocacy work, and in an enhanced presence in the press and on-line media.
The killer in Orlando was a Muslim, and his target was gay men. It’s been reported that he had recently been “angered” by the sight of two men kissing.
Across the country, another man was arrested on his way to a gay pride parade, armed with an alarming cache of weapons. He was certainly not Muslim.
In the USA, research has found that opposition to homosexuality is stronger among evangelical Christians, than among Muslims.
Across the Atlantic, in Africa it’s very largely American Christian missionaries who are fanning the flames of hostility to gay men and women, encouraging politicians to sign on to ever harsher criminal penalties for homosexuality. That in turn is fomenting intense social intolerance, and widespread active violence against gay men and lesbians.
The real problem here is not “radical Islam”, but (along with easy access to powerful weapons), a belief by some religious fanatics, both Christian and Muslim, that persecution is part of God’s work. It is not, and it cannot be.
Even the father of the Orlando killer, in expressing his own grief, noted that especially in the holy month of Ramadan, killing is not part of the Muslim way. The question of homosexuality and it’s punishment, he said, should be left to God, not to man.
In yesterday’s post, I quoted from a CDF document which makes clear that the Catholic Church not only cannot support violence against homosexuals, but should actively condemn it – along with violence of speech (ie, homophobic language) that gives rise to it.
I also noted in that post, that up to the time of writing, I had not seen any report of responses by Catholic leaders that alongside their expressions of grief and prayers for victims, even acknowledged that this was a crime of anti-gay hatred, let alone followed the CDF instruction to condemn acts of violence against homosexuals. I’m pleased to report that has since changed. There have now been reports of such responses from at least some Catholic (and other) bishops, even admitting the role that Churches themselves have played in encouraging hatred.
In Florida, Bishop Robert Lynch of the neighbouring St. Petersburg, diocese, wrote on his blog,
“Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.
Archbishop of Chicago Blaise Cupich also acknowledged that the target were gay men – and in expressing condolences and prayers for the victims and their families, he included “our gay brothers and sisters”.
Shame. It says, “There is something fundamentally wrong with you.” It is the lie at the very root of our identity. If I did something wrong, I can apologize and make amends. But if I am fundamentally wrong, what hope do I have?
Our greatest need is to be loved, to belong, to be accepted as we are. Shame says the exact opposite – that we do not fit in, are not acceptable as is and, fundamentally, are not lovable. Shame is the fundamental lie that keeps us separate, and it wreaks havoc in self-hatred and self-rejection.
Neither does he give us permission to shame each other. Brene Brown has done paradigm-shifting work on shame, and one particular finding about men and shame is earth-shattering.
“When looking at the traits associated with masculinity in the US, the researchers identified the following: winning, emotional control, risk-taking, violence, dominance, playboy, self-reliance, primacy of work, power over women, disdain for homosexuality, and pursuit of status. Understanding these lists and what they mean is critically important to understanding shame…” says Brene Brown.
Isn’t that a shock? “For men,” Brown says, “there’s a cultural message that promotes homophobic cruelty. If you want to be masculine in our culture, it’s not enough to be straight – you must also show an outward disgust for the gay community.”
“People who say homosexuals are sick, are sick themselves”
Bishop Raul Vera of Saltillo, Mexico, is renowned for his fearless work in favour of missing persons, immigrants, children and juveniles, indigenous populations, prostitutes and marginalized people of all types. This includes standing up to the notorious and fearsome Mexican drug cartels, which has earned him frequent death threats, and speaking up against outrages of the Mexican government.
Crux reports that at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ mid-year assembly in St. Louis, there’s been some questioning whether their priorities reflect those of Pope Francis.
Archbishop Blase Cupich noted the effort US bishops have made on behalf of “individual employers, secular employers,” with religious objections to some laws. He argued Church leaders should give equal ranking to changing US immigration policy in their planning for the years ahead.
But Archbishop Lori explained that actually, the bishops really are helping the poor – by opposing gay marriage.
Archbishop William Lori, who spearheads the bishops’ religious freedom advocacy, said in an interview he found the discussion Thursday “helpful.” Lori said there is a link between religious liberty and the Church’s mission on behalf of the poor. If the US Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage in its ruling this month, Lori said the Church’s social service agencies, which employ thousands of workers and provide them benefits, may not be able to continue operating if they are compelled to recognize same-sex couples.
“In the crosshairs is the ability of the Church to serve,” Lori said. “We need the freedom to do this according to our teachings.”