Category Archives: Theology

Sexual Science and the Vatican: John Paul II Institute Upgraded

News from Rome is that the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family has been upgraded, to the Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Science. Much of the news commentary about this, has focused on the addition of “theological” to the name. I’m more interested in the addition of “science”.

What is immediately clear from the announcement, is that there is an important broadening of the institute’s field, from just moral and sacramental theology, to include much more of the real world:

With the decision of making it a theological institute, Paglia said, the pope enlarges its scope, from being focused only on sacramental and moral theology, to one that is also biblical, dogmatic and historic, and that keeps under consideration modern-day challenges.

Paglia said that, at this moment, the body of professors working at the institute will remain, with new faculty being added to respond to the enlarged curricula. Among other things, he said, the history of the family will be explored, as well as the many scientific aspects of the family, from anthropology to bioethics.

That alone is to be welcomed. Also to be welcomed, is Pope Francis’ recognition that marriage and family need to be studied in the context of the real world:

We do well to focus on concrete realities, since the call and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history, and through these the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family.

Faithful to Christ’s teaching we look to the reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights and shadows

The question in my mind, is whether this newly minted interest in science and concrete realities of families, will include serious consideration of queer families and the science of sexuality. Some years ago, the theologian James Alison wrote that it was an exciting time to be a gay Catholic – because science was demonstrating convincingly that a same-sex orientation was entirely natural, and non-pathological. In time, he believed, the church would be bound to adapt.

As yet, there has been no meaningful sign of the church is indeed taking account of that science. (Indeed, the Vatican’s attacks on so-called “gender ideology” amounts to an outright attack on the science of gender). In his analysis of the range of LGBT discrimination practised by the Vatican, Krzysztof Charamsa, writing with inside information as a former senior official, notes that far from assessing the science, theologians at the CDF were in effect prohibited from consideration of either the science or the theology of homosexuality.

There was in fact a time when the CDF did pay careful attention to the science. Sadly, that was way  back when the science still regarded homosexuality as a form of mental illness to be subjected to “cure”. Later, it was Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF who dispensed with attention to science, and replaced it with what he saw as the higher truth of the truth from Holy Scripture (more accurately, his own interpretation of that truth).

It is possible of course, that with this new development, things will improve. Pope Francis has replaced Pope Benedict XVI as bishop of Rome, Benedict’s protege Cardinal Mueller is no longer head of the CDF – and just as the John Paul II Institute has been newly upgraded to a theological institute, the importance of the CDF for the understanding and Catholic responses to marriage, family and sexuality has in effect been downgraded.

We shall have to wait and see.

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Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

A dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, who is be...
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David Ludescher, a regular OT reader, has put to me some important questions on the formation of conscience. These arose in response to my post on empirical research findings on the current state of British Catholic belief, and some observations I made on the implications for our understanding of the sensus fidelium (on sexual ethics and priestly ministry in particular).

These questions were put in a comment box, which I have reproduced in an independent post for easy reference. Just follow the link to read the questions in full. This is my response:

 

David, I cannot offer a “methodology” on the formation of conscience. I’m not sure such a mechanical, formulaic approach is possible or desirable. (If it is, I do not have one). I do however, have a few important principles that I apply, and some specific techniques and strategies that I apply, or have applied in the past. These I am happy to share.

Before getting to the important issue of conscience formation, just a word on how it applies to the sensus fidelium. I agree completely that this is not a concept that is useful for personal conscience formation. In raising it, I did not in any way want to imply that our decisions should be based on the results of opinion polls – that would be mere ethical mob rule, which is poles apart from my own thinking. However, it is important in assessing the validity of claims that one or other belief is part of “church teaching” – or is simply part of Vatican doctrine.

Your primary request was for my thoughts on resolving the first question you put:

So, how does a Catholic, wishing to be a faithful Catholic, Christian, and human, go about determining a methodology for discerning how to inform one’s conscience?

I fully accept and agree with your assertion that the primary influences on conscience should be (a) Holy Scripture, (b) assisted and guided by the teaching of the Magisterium. However, there are some serious caveats against relying on these alone, which is why (c) the final arbiter is the individual person – an observation which raises its own difficulties. I take these in three bites, before moving on to two other important considerations.

Holy Scripture

is a vast assemblage of texts, written in languages, literary idioms and historical contexts remote from the language and conditions we are used to. The Pontifical Biblical Commission has warned that there are grave dangers in simplistic readings of specific texts. Rather, a proper understanding of Scripture requires that we approach each with a true understanding of several contexts: the context of the passage in the Bible as a whole; the historical context in which it was written; and the modern context in which we wish to apply it. We also need careful attention to the language and literary idiom in which it was written. Few of us have the skills to properly apply all of these skills in our own study of Scripture. This is why we need the help and advice of specialists, notably in the form of the magisterium.

Magisterium

That alone does not resolve the problem, as much the same difficulties arise. The full magisterium is an even greater assemblage of texts, written (except for the earliest materials) largely for specialists, and in language that is foreign to us. This is why we have the Catechism, which is an attempt to make the magisterium available in a more accessible form to non-specialists. The Catechism has the opposite disadvantage – in its simplification and distillation of a vast body of work, it has lost much of the subtlety and nuance of the full teaching.

There are also more serious difficulties with the entire concept of relying on the Magisterium. Unlike Holy Scripture, there is no claim that it is divinely inspired, nor is there any agreement (that I am aware of) on a fixed, unchanging selection of work that is agreed to be canonical to the exclusion of all others. We know that some key theologians and their works are fundamental, but we also known that some teachings that were once thought to be inviolable have been abandoned, while some secondary writers come in or out of favour, have been  forgotten or been  rediscovered.

We also know that it is human nature that the people in any institution will have a tendency to exaggerate their own importance. So, in evaluating the Magisterium we need to adopt at least some caution, if not outright scepticism, to Church claims about the importance of its own authority.

I have stressed some of the difficulties of simplistic reliance on Magisterium, especially as reduced to the Catechism, but I emphatically do not reject it. I welcome and value the teaching authority of the church: but that is teaching authority, not legislative power. Any good teacher will welcome and encourage a student who criticizes the teacher, provided that he can do so on well-reasoned grounds. Such critical evaluation of the magisterium in its application to conscience formation is appropriate to adult, educated Catholics.

The Individual Person.

Here we have the ultimate conundrum: if Scripture is too vast, remote and complex to yield to simple interpretation by non-specialists and requires the help of the magisterium; and if the magisterium is even more complex and inaccessible to ordinary people, requiring ultimate evaluation by the individual – where is that ordinary Catholic to find the resources to provide that evaluation?

External Knowledge

The first answer, I submit, is to recognize that the magisterium, as produced by Vatican-approved theologians, is not the only source of human knowledge, or even of theology. There was a time when the only theologians were priests or monks, and more specifically bishops and abbots. There was even a time when virtually all (West European) human knowledge was produced or preserved in the Church. Those days are long gone.

Today, we have countless important theologians outside of the Catholic clergy: both in other Christian denominations, and Catholics outside the priesthood, as religious women and lay people. There voices too should be read and considered.  We must also recognize that there is knowledge outside of theology: history, physical and biological sciences, anthropology, medicine and psychology all have useful things to say about the human condition. Some of their findings impact on theology – and so on conscience.

Theologians once accepted without question that creation occurred precisely within a space of seven days. In the light of palaeontology and cosmology, most people now accept that the “seven days” of Genesis are not to be read so literally. In the same way, we need to consider the findings from secular knowledge when evaluating traditional teaching on many issues of theological ethics.

But all of this is simply expanding the sources we need to draw on,  and we cannot possibly expect to have more than a superficial understanding of any single one, let alone the full range of sources I am now recommending: Holy Scripture, Magisterium, church history, secular history, natural history, anthropology and social science, medicine, psychology, and even more.

The task would be impossible, except for the most important source of all.

God, Heard Through Prayer.

I started by rejecting the concept of a mechanical “methodology” for conscience formation, which I did primarily for the connotations of the word as all “head stuff”.  One of the treasures that I took away from the dozen or so years of experience I had in a Jesuit parish and in the Ignatian –based Christian Life Community (CLC), is the importance of balancing “head” and “heart”. All of the foregoing is essentially intellectual head-stuff, but the Lord speaks to us in the quiet of our hearts.

Central to the Ignatian approach to decision-taking is the idea that we need to apply both. First, we must apply our intellects to gather and assess the factual information as best as we are able. Then (or in parallel, in an extended decision), we take  the factual material to prayer, and allow the Lord to speak to us directly in our hearts. It is entirely appropriate, I believe, that conscience is often described as the “still small voice” within us. It is the voice, I believe of God in God self – if only we can learn to hear it.

The Jesuit theologian has written that we all have the potential to find a direct experience of God. When we do, there is nothing that the Church, or even Scripture itself, that can countermand what we learn directly from the ultimate source. And so, to approach this final state of conscience formation, we need to set the neglected task of spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation.

For me, this is a badly neglected area of Catholic education. Perhaps times have changed since I was at school, perhaps it is something that cannot be really appreciated until we have reached a certain maturity. Whatever the reason, I suspect that most Catholics underestimate the importance of prayer not simply as a means of talking to the Lord, (or just asking for favours, in prayers of petition), but as a means of listening for guidance.

How we learn to do so is a vast subject itself, which I do not have either the space or the expertise to go into. But noting its importance, I can now summarize my approach to the formation of conscience:

  • Use Scripture, and the Magisterium, to the best of our ability. We will never achieve full understanding, but we can constantly extend the knowledge that we have.
  • Extend and balance that understanding with additional information, we can access it, from secular source.
  • Add in the one area where we are all experts – our own experiences. Share these with others, and learn also from their stories.
  • Take the whole lot to regular prayer – and listen to the Holy Spirit speaking directly to your heart.

LGBT Discrimination and the Catholic Church

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.

 

Krzysztof Charamsa (right) with partner Eduard

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.

 

In Praise of “Queer Virtue”

Last Thursday, I spent a fascinating evening in London, for an One Body One Faith meeting with Rev Liz Edman, author of “Queer Virtue”. I came away with a copy of the book which I will review later. For now, I just want to share some thoughts on the evening’s discussion, and the very concept of “queer virtue”.

The timing of this talk was interesting for me personally. A major part of Rev Edman’s argument was that Christianity, like queerness, is inherently “scandalous”, and should not aim to be “respectable”. (See for example Rev Peter J Gomes book, “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus”, in similar vein).  Earlier yesterday, travelling up to London for the meeting, I had begun reading a special edition of the journal “Theology and Sexuality”  which is devoted to the topic “Queering Theology’s Object”.  Right up front, early in the introductory editorial, I had read a quotation from Lisa Isherwood and Marcella Althaus-Reid  (in “Thinking Theology”) which left me well primed for the meeting:

Queer theology takes it place not at the centre of the theological discourses conversing with power, but at the margins. It is a theology from the margins that wants to remain at the margins. To recognize sexual discrimination in the church and in theological thinking… does not mean that a theology from the margins should strive for equality. Terrible is the fate of theologies from the margin when they want to be accepted by the centre.

That of course is referring to queer theology in particular, but Edman was proposing the principle as equally applicable to both Christianity in general, and to queerness.  In support of her claim, she noted that the Gospel story begins with a pregnant unmarried mother-to-be, accompanied by a man who is not her husband, finding shelter in a stable. Throughout his ministry, Jesus consistently associated with and reached out to people on the margins, and in his death on the cross, he disrupted all conventional ideas of how power works.

Explaining the meaning and significance of the word “queer”, Edman noted that it can be both a noun and a verb. Drawing on secular queer theory, she defined it in terms of the verb: to “queer” is to rupture false gender/sexual binaries. Further, queer virtue she suggested, requires us to undergo a period of intense self-reflection to accept and own our identity, to proclaim it, and to reach out to others. Christians have the same responsibility.

Christ himself made no attempt at respectability and was constantly disrupting false binaries, for example between the divine and the human in his own nature, in his dealings with women and the ritually unclean, and in his ministry (for example, with the story of the Good Samaritan). For us as followers of Christ, we too are required to be constantly disrupting false binaries (For example, we have Paul, writing to the Galatians, that in Christ there is no longer male or female).  The biggest binary in need of disruption, is that between the self, and others.

The lesson for us, therefore, is that theology that is good for the queers, will be likewise good for the church. To be truly authentic, Christianity must be “queer” (in the broadest sense of the word). Disruption of false binaries will be good for the queers, good for the church – and good for the world. Queerness becomes then a lens to interpret theology, and the world. Coming out can be powerful tool for Christian evangelism.

 

Conscience: Still the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, now for adults | National Catholic Reporter

This, at least, is how I read the doctrine of Protestants as well as of Catholics. The rule and measure of duty is not utility, nor expedience, nor the happiness of the greatest number, nor State convenience, nor fitness, order, and the pulchrum. Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself; but it is a messenger from Him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by His representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ, a prophet in its informations, a monarch in its peremptoriness, a priest in its blessings and anathemas, and, even though the eternal priesthood throughout the Church could cease to be, in it the sacerdotal principle would remain and would have a sway.

Thus, Blessed John Henry Newman in his famousLetter to the Duke of Norfolk.” The quote captures his brilliance as an essayist, the phrase “a long-sighted selfishness” a masterpiece of communication and construction. But, it does something else: While Newman is keen to differentiate conscience from any kind of subjective whim, the quotes captures the liveliness of conscience and the unmistakable fact that conscience speaks, as it were, inside of our lives. Not in any abstract categorization can it be affirmed or denied.

Source: National Catholic Reporter

The Limits of Conscience | Commonweal Magazine

“Conscience” is a difficult term; it has an absolutely essential place in our construal of morality, but its place frequently becomes obfuscated by descriptions that are too broad and too narrow, especially when those descriptions are placed in service of social and ecclesiastical power games. Creighton theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler have written an article in NCR on conscience and Amoris Laetitia which recognizes one side of this problem, but then perpetuates the other side. They contrast two ways of construing conscience. The first sees laws as “outside the subjective conscience. The role of the conscience is to know and apply these norms as a deductive syllogism.” This approach is assigned specifically to Archbishop Chaput. The second “sees conscience as having both the objective and subjective dimensions.” Its subjective dimension involves “having inner knowledge of the moral goodness of the Christian” as created in the image of God and living in a constant relationship with God, while its objective role “gathers as much evidence as possible, consciously weighs and understands the evidence and its implications, and finally makes as honest a judgment as possible that this action is to be done and that action is not.” This approach is assigned to Pope Francis, and is interlaced with (selective) quotations from the documents of Vatican II.

Source:  Commonweal Magazine

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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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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.

Workshop: Sexuality in Theological Education

A One Day Workshop for Theological Educators on Classroom Strategies around Gender and Sexuality

The workshop will be held first in Manchester, and then repeated in London. The cost is £35, and bursaries available for students or unwaged persons. BSL interpreters are also available on request.


On behalf of BIAPT (the British and Irish Association for Practical Theology) and CSCS (the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality), I want warmly to invite you to attend the workshop, or to share this notice with any theological educators you know who might find it worthwhile.
The dates are:
Manchester, 20 June 2016

10:15am – 5:00 pm
Luther King House, Brighton Grove, M14 5JP
Please book by 1 June 2016
 
London, 24 June 2016

10:15am – 5:00 pm
Oasis College, 1 Kennington Road, SE1 7QP
Please book by 1 June 2016
The workshop will prepare theological educators, Diocesan Directors of Ordinands, and other theological teachers and trainers to handle hot-button issues around sexuality and gender. If interested, please read on!  Further information is also available at our website.
 
The Challenge
As theological educators, we help to form and to inform a wide range of professional and informal faith leaders: parish ministers, chaplains, teachers, parents, and a great many other adult faith practitioners. In a society often troubled or confused around issues of sex, gender, sexuality, and embodiment, how do we help our students to deal with these questions? How do we prepare them to deal with the people who will turn to them for insight, understanding, and support?

Issues and emotions around sexuality and gender are becoming more prominent in theological education. These issues can come up in our work with theology students, with ministers-in-training, and with ministers in the field. They can come up in classroom discussions around ethics, ministry, Scripture, and systematic theology; in discussions about Christian history and about contemporary life. They can come up in academic, ecclesial, and secular settings.

Some of the students in our classes may be wrestling with the doctrine and discipline of their different denominations. Some may be wrestling with challenging new perspectives on sex and embodiment. Some may be wrestling with their own experience of gender and sexuality; with sexism or other forms of discrimination; or with sexual trauma (whether their own, or the trauma of others).

The Workshops
Tackling questions about sexuality and gender calls for engaged, interactive, and experiential pedagogies. Our one-day workshops provide resources and practical training to help teachers tackle these challenging issues. Together, we will explore how to address sex and gender across social and cultural contexts; across differences in personal history; and across different denominational backgrounds. We will provide space and time to think through the challenges of raising these issues within our institutional cultures and settings. Process will be a key part of our content, as we seek to equip and resource each other in this challenging work.
 
The day will include:
  • Creating a safe, critical, and prayerful space for shared learning
  • Shared reflection on our current teaching practices
  • Finding a shared language around sexualities and gender
  • Practicing specific classroom strategies, including:
    • Creative Questioning
    • Embodied Theological Reflection
    • Topic Fishbowling
    • Comparative Models of Theological Reflection
  • Shared lunch and breaktimes
  • Educational resources and handouts
As I mentioned, please feel free to pass this information along to any others who might be interested in attending. If you are so inclined, you can also download an A5-sized, full colour flier at our website.
 
Please also feel free to respond to this email with any questions or comments. With warmest wishes from the whole teaching team,
 
John P. Falcone, Ph.D,
Convenor, BIAPT Theological Educators Special Interest Group

Editor, Journal of Adult Theological Education

“Amours”: A Supportive Reading of Aquinas

This book by an eminent theologian and expert on Aquinas caught my attention last year. Aquinas’ presentation of natural law theory is widely used as one of the cornerstones of traditional Catholic opposition to homosexuality, but in this book, Oliva finds a supportive reading. He notes that while Aquinas is clearly against same-sex genital acts in general, he does accept that for some people, an attraction to others of the same sex is entirely natural. Being a natural part of who they are, concludes Oliva, it is also natural, and acceptable, that they should express this in sexual love. This is not the first time the point has been made: John Boswell drew attention to it in his own discussion of Aquinas in “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality”, and Gareth Moore also touched on it in “A Question of Truth”. However, this is the first extended presentation, and the first by such a distinguished specialist on Thomas.
Oliva Amours

Continue reading “Amours”: A Supportive Reading of Aquinas