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.
The diocese of Middlesbrough reported in the September edition of “Catholic Voice” that after reflection by Bishop Terry, clergy, and parishioners, the Diocese would be initiating a new process of pastoral outreach and inclusion for LGBT Catholics. That process will be formally launched on December 10th in York, with a Mass for LGBT Catholics, their families and friends, followed by time for discussion on pastoral needs and proposals.
It’s been rumoured for some time, and now it’s out in the open. Pope Francis could permit the ordination of married priests, at least in the remote Amazon region.
The Pope has requested a debate over allowing married men to become priests in the Amazon region of Brazil, a move likely to outrage conservatives in the Catholic Church.
The pontiff took the decision to put a partial lifting of priestly celibacy up for discussion and a possible vote by Brazilian bishops after a request by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, president of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon, Il Messaggero newspaper quoted the sources saying.
One of the many paradoxes in the story of the church’s response to same-sex relationships, is that during the rise of direct, active persecution of “sodomites”, in Europe and in the newly establised colonies, the church included in its highest echelons popes, cardinals and senior bishops who are known to have had male lovers, as well as others who may have done, and also some who did not, but tolerated or protected others who did. These are not in any sense to be regarded as “saints”, but they do present evidence that same-sex adventures or interests, were not always a barrier advancement to high church office.
Among the popes, there is little room for doubt about some, for whom the historical record is clear. There’s the notable and embarrassing death of Paul II (1464 – 1471) for instance. Sixtus IV (1471-84) appointed one of the young men he favoured as Cardinal archbishop of Parma, in part on account of his “gifts of the spirit and the body“. , Leo X( 1513-1521).Julius III (1550-1555) was another who was notorious for having appointed a young lover ( Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte, aged only 17) as cardinal.
For others, such as Boniface, Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503), Benedict IX and John XII (r. 955-964), the evidence is less clear. Julius II(1503-1513) was widely rumoured to have had many homosexual liaisons, Whether or not they were well-founded, what is beyond doubt, is that he commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Julius’s enthusiastic patronage of Michelangelo’s homoerotic depictions of the male figure also indicates that he may have fully appreciated the physical beauties of men.
Among other early popes who notably tolerated or protected people accused of homosexual practices, we should remember Pope Callistus, who was harshly criticized by Tertullian for his failure to condemn sex between men; Pope Leo IX, who implemented many of St Peter Damian’ s proposals for church reform, but rejected the appeals for harsh penalties against clerical “sodomites”, and also rejected appeals to prevent the consecration as bishop of the promiscuous John (or Jean) of Orleans. Later, Paul III (1534 -49) is said to have protected and bestowed honours on his son, Pier Luigi Farnese, who surrounded himself with male lovers, used Roman police to track down a young man who had spurned his advances, and was accused of raping a bishop and other clerics.
A passage from the glbtq archives is fascinating for the very different picture it paints to that prevailing elsewhere, at a time when the inquisition and secular powers were burning between them thousands of men across Europe and in the New World:
The papacy generally revealed in practice a relatively tolerant attitude to sexual “deviation.” Within the Papal States, penalties against sodomy were enforced less rigorously than in many other territories. By the fifteenth century, Rome had developed a vibrant subculture of men who enjoyed sexual relationships with other men. (The situation of women in Rome is less well documented.)
Thus, throughout the early modern era, men found refuge in Rome from the harsh punishment of sodomy, which was more “routine” in northern Europe and which was also vigorously prosecuted in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although popes at least acquiesced in the prosecutions under the Inquisition, the persecution of sodomites probably resulted from local animus and zeal rather than from directives from Rome. Protestant reformers consistently condemned papal toleration of homosexual acts.
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.
ROME LETTER: IS NOT the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexuality represents both a “grave depravation” and an “intrinsic disorder” a total hypocrisy? That oft-posed question has been doing the rounds in Italy in recent days following events at the funeral of the popular singer/songwriter Lucio Dalla.
The debate was sparked by the fact that a moving and emotional funeral oration was given at Dalla’s funeral in the Basilica of San Petronio by his 31-year-old partner/companion/lover, Marco Alemanno. Total hypocrisy, screamed commentators who suggested the semi-state basilica funeral and the lover’s oration had been tolerated not only because Dalla was a practising Catholic but because he was famous, successful and private about his sexual orientation.
“Lucio Dalla’s funeral represents a very clear example of what it means to be gay in Italy today. You go to church, they grant you a funeral and they bury you according to the Catholic rite, just as long as you don’t say you are gay,” said television presenter Lucia Annunziata.
“Marco Alemanno embodied in a church and in a totally public ceremony all the dignity of love between men. However, you would have to ask yourself how many less famous Catholic homosexuals, less protected by the charisma of their art, would have been able to feel themselves so fully members of their community.
“We would like to think that Marco’s brief oration for Lucio has established a precedent. For those homosexuals who are not Catholic, church teaching on the subject does not matter a damn, they could not care less. But for Catholic homosexuals, it is a huge problem. And it is to them that the thoughts of all decent-minded people turn, when we see Marco Alemanno praying for his ‘man’ beside the basilica altar,” commented writer Michele Serra.
I don’t for a minute believe Dalla had special treatment from the Church because he’s a celebrity. There must be thousands of gay couples, constantly, who get similar respectful treatment within their own parishes. The only special treatment here, is by the news media. His celebrity status makes him newsworthy – not a different class of Catholic. What we lose sight of, in the media hype over stories like that of Barbara Johnson, is that they hit the headlines precisely because they are newsworthy. Unless they are celebrities, like Dalla, the only reason they are newsworthy is that they are exceptional. For every horror like the denial of communion to a woman at her mother’s funeral, there are far more that go unreported, because they are so ordinary. Even Johnson, in precisely the same circumstances, in the same parish, was given the communion on a previous occasion – at her father’s funeral. That was not reported, because it was normal. There are countless same – sex couples all over the world, worshipping and fully accepted in their parish communities. In my own life back in Johannesburg, my partner and I served openly as a couple on the parish pastoral council, without any comment or reaction at all. I am certain that in the many similar cases around the world, if one half of a gay or lesbian couple were to die, the parish community would respond in precisely the same way they would to any other couple – even if there is not celebrity status involved.
This story supports an increasingly strong perception I have that notwithstanding the strenuous opposition of Catholic bishops to legally recognized gay marriage, and regardless of the widely – publicized horrors perpetrated by some individual priests and bishops, there is a major shift under way in the Church towards tacit understanding and acceptance of loving and faithful same – sex relationships – exactly as there is tacit understanding and acceptance of the role of conscience in contraceptive use by married couples.
I am attempting to put together two parallel series of posts on Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s Baltimore address last week on the need to reform the whole of Catholic sexual teaching, heterosexual and homosexual, and on James Alison’s extended interview that I have previously referred to only in part.
Once I have done that, I will be able to substantiate more fully what I offer now only as an assertion:
In his report on the New Ways Ministries’ 2012 conference From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, Chuck Colbert summarized the main addresses, but also presented some questions by participants – and their reasons for attending. The reason given by one couple also offers insight into how they approach being lesbian and Catholic back home, in their parish:
Chicagoans Karen Allen and her partner, Mary Jo Hoag, attended the gathering, this their second one.
“What brings me here is the chance to be rooted in my faith and with the people of God and to be sent forth to create loving communities,” said Allen, who leads a gay and lesbian family-and-friends ministry at St. Nicholas parish in Evanston.
Allen said the parish group grew out the idea she and others got 10 years ago at the Louisville, Ky., New Ways symposium.
In proposing the idea, she explained, “We were welcomed to do so by our pastor at the time, who said, ‘Where have you been?'”
The ministry is about education and prayer and not so much advocacy, Allen said, but “more about how can we as gay and lesbian Catholics live fully integrated, authentic lives in our tradition.”
“Many have walked away [ from the church ] but returned in mid-life,” she explained, while readily acknowledging, “struggling mightily” with “clericalism and the hierarchy.”
“The church is our church,” said Hoag, explaining why she stays. “Many of us are cradle Catholics who grew up with the rituals, sacraments, and the teachings and feel comfortable. We are gifts to the church and shouldn’t go away, as we provide those gifts of love and understanding and outreach.”
New Ways Ministry, Allen added, provides us “a shot in the arm” to keep up our work in ministry.