Family Synod: For Gay Catholics, Nothing Has Changed – Everything Is Changing

The familiar phrase, “La plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” is usually interpreted as “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. For lesbian and gay Catholics in the wake of the synod, this formulation could equally be reversed: “the more things stay the same, the more they change”.

In the entire proposed final “Relatio” of the synod, only one paragraph dealt specifically with homosexual people – and narrowly failed to secure the two thirds majority support required for approval.

The pastoral care of people of homosexual orientation

55 Some families live the experience of having within them people of homosexual orientation. In this regard, we have questioned with regard to pastoral care what is appropriate to deal with this situation by referring to what the Church teaches: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”  Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. “In this regard there should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination”

There are two parts to this, dealing in turn with gay marriage, and with the need for respect. Both are established principles, deeply embedded in Vatican teaching. The section on gay marriage is found in paragraph 4 of the 2003 CDF “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons“, the words about respect and sensitivity are found in both the Catechism and the CDF 1986 “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”. There’s clearly nothing new in either of these. As established teaching, the paragraph should surely have deserved unanimous support, but could not muster even two thirds. Why not? Continue reading Family Synod: For Gay Catholics, Nothing Has Changed – Everything Is Changing

Pope Francis’ Catholicism: Are Those Rainbow Pigments?

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

During the question and answer session with the Schoenstatt pilgrims held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall on Saturday, Pope Francis spoke particularly about the problems facing marriage in the modern world. For LGBT Catholics, it’s important once again to note that amongst these difficulties, Francis did not include any reference to same – sex marriage or other unions. On the contrary, he included observations that should encourage gay Catholics, notably this reminder that the Church is constantly reforming itself:

Asked about reform of the Church, the Pope said people describe him as a revolutionary but went on to point out that the Church has always been that way and is constantly reforming itself. He stressed that the first revolution or way of renewing the Church is through inner holiness and that counts far more than more external ways such as reforming the Curia and the Vatican bank. Pope Francis also spoke about the importance of having a freedom of spirit and warned against closing ourselves up in a mass of rules and regulations, thus becoming a caricature of the doctors of law.

via Vatican Radio.

and also his observations on the importance of “human bonds that bind us together”, and of “solidarity”. Logically, these must include bonds and solidarity with all who are marginalized – including sexual and gender minorities:.

The theme of our throw-away society was also touched on again by the Pope in another reply when he said our present-day culture is one that destroys the human bonds that bind us together. And in this context, he continued, one word that is at risk of dying in our society is ‘solidarity’ and this is also a symptom of our inability to forge alliances. Pope Francis also warned about the Devil, stressing that he exists and that his first weapon is disunity.

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Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Historically, October 7th was the feast of Saints Sergius and Bacchus – and so of particular relevance to same – sex lovers, and to all gay or lesbian Christians. In the modern Catholic lectionary, however, it is celebrated as the “Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary”.

rainbow rosary

The lectionary readings for today’s Mass (which do not refer directly to the rosary), have much fruitful material for queer reflection. Continue reading Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Sergius & Bacchus, October 7th: Patron Saints of Gay Marriage?

Sergius and Bacchus are by a long way the best known of the so-called gay or lesbian saints – unless we include as “saints” the biblical pairs David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi.  We need to be careful with terminology though: the word “gay” can be misleading, as it certainly cannot be applied with the same connotations as in modern usage, and technically, they are no longer recognised as saints by the Western* church, as decreed by the Vatican – but they are still honoured by the Orthodox churches, and by many others who choose to ignore the rulings of Vatican bureaucrats. The origins of saint-making lay in recognition by popular acclaim, not on decision by religious officials.

A modern icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus by...

 
Whatever the quibbles we may have, they remain of great importance to modern queer Christians, both for their story of religious faith and personal devotion, and as potent symbols of how sexual minorities were accepted and welcomed in the earliest days of the Christian community. Continue reading Sergius & Bacchus, October 7th: Patron Saints of Gay Marriage?

SS Galla (5 October) and Benedicta (6 May): Roman nuns – and lovers?

One of the curiosities of the Catholic tradition of honouring our saints and martyrs, is how hagiography seamlessly combines historical biography, myth with collective amnesia. The stories of Saints Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, for instance, are replete with well-known legends that have absolutely no verifiable foundation in historical fact, and the delightful story of St Wilgefortis (aka Uncumber), the crucified bearded woman, turns out to have a much more plausible basis in reality. For many other saints, the distortions of hagiography are not just the accretions that are added by popular imagination, but the important details that are so often omitted in the transmission down the ages. St Paulinus, for instance, is widely honoured for his missionary work and for the impressive quality of his Latin devotional poetry. The standard Catholic sources on the saints, however, discreetly omit any reference to his other poetic legacy – equally fine homoerotic verse addressed to his boyfriend, Ausonius.

The story of Saints Galla and Benedicta of Rome may be another example of this selective memory.  

 

Neither of these is particularly well-known, and Benedicta is even less-so than Galla, but I start with her. There are references to her scattered across the internet, but they all seem to come down to a few lines similar to these, from Catholic Online:

Mystic and nun. Benedicta lived in a convent founded by St. Galla in Rome. Pope St. Gregory the Great states that St. Peter appeared in a vision to warn her of her approaching death.

This seems innocuous enough, until it is set against the parallel warning of imminent death that St Gregory also gave to the better known St Galla.

From a large selection of on-line sources, Wikipedia sums up the key uncontested points of her story, those widely reported elsewhere:

Galla was the daughter of Roman patrician Symmachus the Younger, who was appointed consul in 485. Galla was also the sister-in-law of Boethius. Her father, Symmachus the Younger, was condemned to death, unjustly, by Theodoric in 525. Galla was then married but was soon widowed, just over a year after marriage. It was believed that she grew a beard, to avoid further offers of marriage. Being wealthy, she decided to retreat to theVatican Hill, and found a hospital and a convent, near St. Peter’s Basilica. Galla is reputed to have once healed a deaf and mute girl, by blessing some water, and giving it to the girl to drink. Galla remained there for the rest of her life, tending to the sick and poor, before dying in 550, of breast cancer. 

 Notice, please, that little sentence tucked away in the middle, and its cautious qualifier: “it was  believed that she grew a beard, to avoid further offers of marriage.” This strategy of a holy woman, to grow a beard to avoid marriage, is precisely that adopted by Wilgefortis. Her legend appears to have a much more mundane explanation. I have no knowledge of any firm evidence to either corroborate, or to contradict, Galla’s legendary beard. What interests me is the rest of Galla’s story, and its treatment in hagiography.

An article at Catholic Culture is a good example. It seizes on the beard, and uses it as a moral fable, encouraging us to “dare to be different”.  Catholic Culture, however, claims that the beard story was only a threat, and the beard never did grow.

A story about St. Galla of Rome, illustrating the importance to not follow the crowd, but to be oneself. Legend says that St. Galla, after becoming a widow, grew a beard to avoid any offers of remarriage.

Not only girls who want to be nuns, but girls who just want to be good have to ignore a marvelous lot of nonsense from those who “follow the pack.” Life will pass you by, they say, and you won’t have any fun if you don’t do as we do! About as fast as St. Galla grew her beard, it will!

 So, then dare to be different – the cause of following holiness. But there’s one little detail also included in the  same article, which they do not comment on – a detail that has been omitted from all the other accounts I have seen about Galla. These all tell how, as reported by St Gregory, St Peter appeared to Galla in her final illness to predict the date of her imminent death. The other reports omit the crucial detail that the deaths of Galla and Benedicta were directly linked – at Galla’s express request to Peter:

One night she saw St. Peter standing before her between two candlesticks and she asked him if her sins were forgiven her. St. Peter nodded and said, “Come, follow me.” But Galla asked if her dear friend Benedicta might come too. Yes, she might, said St. Peter, after thirty days — and that is precisely what happened. St. Galla and another holy woman departed this life for heaven three days later, and Benedicta thirty days after them.

 As Censor Librorum at  Nihil Obstat noted in her reflection on Galla last December, a woman who first grows or threatens to grow a beard to avoid marriage, and then implores Saint Peter to allow her female beloved to accompany her into heaven, is not displaying a conventional heterosexual orientation.

I have no hesitation in hesitation in adding Saints Galla and Benedicta to my collection of queer saints and lovers.

Queer Saints and Martyrs for October

October

  • Oct 2nd
  • St Poplia , woman deacon (Womenpriests.org)
  • October 31st
    • Hallowe’en?