EU Christians at Equality March, Gdansk (Poland)

On Saturday May 27th,  I was privileged to join the Gdansk “Equality March”, which I attended as part of the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian Groups, meeting here for their annual conference, “Forwards in Solidarity”.
This experience was quite different to London’s Pride Parade, in so many ways. First, it was definitely not a heavenly commercialised “Pride Parade”, so familiar in large Western cities.  Far from being besieged by vendors selling rainbow merchandise, organisers were giving away small rainbow flags. Nor were there any signs of corporate sponsorship: Poland is a long way from being sufficiently inclusive to make such sponsorship an attractive corporate investment.  With involvement in LGBT issues more of a risk than an opportunity, business (large and small) stayed away, leaving the heart of the event what (I’m told) London Pride was in the beginning, and many activists would like to see it again – very much a political event, drawing attention to ourselves, and demanding equality.
It was also much tamer: I saw only two drag queens, and no leathermen of bare-chested musclemen, that some opponents of Pride seem to think characterise all Pride Parades. Instead, there were just very ordinary people, mostly in very ordinary clothes, some carrying banners and rainbow flags.
It was also, not surprisingly, very much smaller the big city Western pride – but had a huge riot police presence – at least a hundred of them, armed (variously with truncheons pistols and rifles), wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying plexiglass riot shields and big round protective riot helmets. All very formidable. There were also additional conventional police on what appeared to be traffic control, some very well-muscled obviously plain-clothes police, a large convoy of assorted police vehicles on the ground, and a police helicopter above, keeping an eagle eye open for any sign of trouble.
We’d been promised police protection for fear of aggression from the crowds, which was very funny, because there were no crowds to speak of. There was on organised bunch of protesters with placards, but they were very much hemmed in by police, who outnumbered them something like 10/1. Still, I’m quite certain that if there had been no police presence, there could well have been more opposition, some of whom could well have turned violent. As it is, the worst we had to endure was some obvious anger and rude gestures from a handful of onlookers.  As a South African who lived through forty years of apartheid, and more in the aftermath, I’m never comfortable with too many armed police around. Today was an exception – for the first time, I actually felt grateful to have so many clearly armed police in plain sight.
The protesters were there, claiming to represent “Christian” values in this very Christian country. This however fails to see that the Christian Gospels are implacably opposed to exclusion in any form, and insist instead that “all are welcome in God’s house”. That is why we were there – as Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians from right across Europe, from Wales to Russia, and from Sicily to Norway, to show solidarity with the LGBT people of Gdansk in their pursuit of full equality and inclusion, in society and in the Church.
This will have been clear to onlookers, from the rainbow flags we waved – on which we had drawn black crosses, from religious slogans on some of our t-shirts, from the clerical collars worn by participating clergy – and especially from the sight of a bishop of the United Ecumenical Catholic Church, resplendent in episcopal purple, dashingly set off by a rainbow stole.

Gay Marriage, Malta: Catholic Bishops Stand Aside

Malta is considering the introduction of gay marriage, and some people in this traditionally Catholic country are strongly opposed. “Maltese Catholics United for the Faith” have published a full page newspaper advertisement denouncing same-sex marriage. This is consistent with the pattern in so many other Catholic countries and states which have introduced marriage equality. Usually, the bishops have endorsed these campaigns against, or even sponsored them.

Not in Malta. Instead, they have issued a statement explicitly distancing the archdiocese from the campaign.

The Archdiocese of Malta categorically states that, while respecting the right of freedom of expression of every person or any other entity, it is not in any way involved with the propoganda by the Maltese Catholics United for the Faith.

The Archdiocese of Malta conveys the teaching of the Church without resorting to any other name, and encourages everyone to fulfil their duty responsibly on the 3rd June, as outlined by the Bishops of Malta and Gozo in their Pastoral Letter for the General Elections 2017.

The advice to voters contained in that pastoral letter is remarkably restrained, Instead of weighing in on the specifics of the issues, it refers in much broader terms to the responsibilities of voters, and the importance of choosing people of wisdom and integrity. It urges voters to exercise their consciences in this decision – and to embrace the “ethical values we believe in.” The closest that the letter comes to specifying those values is to name “the protection of human life from its conception to its natural end”

This is a clear reference to abortion, and in so many previous instances, this would have been automatically followed by a reference to “the sanctity of marriage”. Not in Malta. Instead, the statement continues with the value of “respect for the dignity of each person”.

Coupled with the earlier insistence on conscience, LGBT Catholics and their allies may read this as permission from the Archdiocese to support marriage equality.

Faith in Solidarity: European Forum 2017 in Gdansk.

Many people of a certain age will recall the central role of Gdansk in the story of Polish resistance to communist rule.  As the  birthplace of the Solidarity movement and the base of its leader, Lech Walesa, it filled our television news screens often enough throughout the 1980’s. As a gay Catholic, I am struck by the powerful symbolism of choosing this city for a  conference of LGBT Christians.

Hammering the message home, is the formal theme for the 2017 conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, is the formal theme for the conference: “Faith in Solidarity”. Further reinforcing it, is the prominent part in the program of the use as a secondary venue for the conference, the European Centre for Solidarity just a few blocks from the hotel which is the main venue. For one evening, we were at the venue for a screening of a documentary film about the life of a transwoman who had been a leading figure in the original solidarity movement, followed by and interview with the woman herself. Later in the week, there will be public workshops and a panel discussion in the centre, followed by  optional formal guided tours of the centre.

“Solidarity” here is used in two quite different contexts. The primary use, is a reference to the English translation of the Polish trade union and democracy movement “Solidarność“. A subsidiary meaning, is that the centre was built by the Europeans, “in solidarity” with Poland and their struggle for democracy – and as a wider symbol of the solidarity of all Europeans in a common cause. It is in that sense that the European Forum choice of Gdansk as the venue for conference 2017, is particularly apposite. The Forum as a whole, and in particular the well-established groups from Western Europe where LGBT inclusion and equality are becoming well-established in law and in social custom, are here to demonstrate our solidarity with our LGBT colleagues in Poland – and others in similarly difficult conditions elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

That sentiment of solidarity will be given concrete expression later today, 27th May 2017, when delegates to  the European Forum conference will join with the secular LGBT rights group “Tolerado” and other LGBT activists, for Gdansk’s annual “Tri-City March of Equality”.

Gay Marriage Comes to Taiwan

It’s been widely expected, and now it’s confirmed by the BBC: same-sex marriage is coming to Taiwan. Note though that this is “same-sex” marriage, and not necessarily full marriage equality. The court ruling has given the parliament two years to legislate for marriage between same-sex couples, but it’s possible that such legislation could provide only for marriage, but not for any of the contingent rights that normally come with heterosexual couples. It could also take two years or more, for this decision to take full effect. There will not be gay wedding bells in Taipei, just yet.

This is the first Asian country to approve gay marriage, in any form – but it won’t be the last. We now have same-sex marriage approved, at least in principle, on every continent. That surely deserves

Taiwan’s top judges have ruled in favour of gay marriage, paving the way for it to become the first place in Asia to legalise same-sex unions.

The highest court ruled that current laws preventing members of the same sex from marrying violated their right to equality and were unconstitutional.

It gave parliament two years to amend existing laws or pass new ones.

Wednesday’s landmark decision came as the LGBT community faces increasing persecution in the region.

In a press release following the ruling, the court said that “disallowing two persons of the same sex to marry, for the sake of safeguarding basic ethical orders” constituted a “different treatment” with “no rational basis.”

The court concluded that “such different treatment is incompatible with the spirit and meaning of the right to equality” as protected by Taiwan’s constitution.

More at: BBC News

European LGBT Christians Gather in Poland

I am now in Gdansk, in preparation for a five day annual conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups.

Meeting here in Gdansk is a notable achievement for the Polish LGBT group, “Faith and Rainbow“. While the push for LGBT equality and inclusion has made great strides in many parts of Western Europe and North America, even including lesbian and gay bishops, and same-sex church weddings in some denominations, progress in Eastern Europe, African and the Caribbean has lagged far behind. For Catholics, Poland is widely seen as a bastion of the most conservative  elements of the faith, especially on matters of faith and sexuality.

And yet, founded just a few years ago, Faith and Rainbow has made impressive progress, and can boast of some significant achievements, of which hosting this conference is just one example. In a recent report at the National Catholic Reporter in the importance to the churches of standing up against homophobia and transphobia, Sr Jeannine Gramick described how in a visit to Poland she had seen signs of increasing acceptance and support for LGBT people:

A reconciliation effort initiated by the Campaign against Homophobia called “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace,” featured billboards with two clasped hands — one with a rainbow bracelet and the other with a Catholic rosary. This social awareness campaign moved the hearts and minds of many Polish people (but not, unfortunately, the Polish bishops, who denounced the campaign.)

Poster reading “Let’s exchange the sign of peace” from a social awareness campaign in Poland by Campaign Against Homophobia.

I was surprised by the degree of openness and acceptance I found among the Polish people for their lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. Polish Catholics are emerging not only from the political stranglehold of communism, but also from the grip of their authoritarian and traditionalist religious culture. From them I learned that I, too, need to emerge from the iron grip of my own prejudices, my blind spots, and the beams in my own eye. I want to be more open to those who “rub me the wrong way” and to be more welcoming to those with whom I disagree. My visit to the Polish people filled me with hope that homophobia is gradually decreasing in unexpected places.

In the same NCR article, Sr Gramick also wrote about IDAHOT, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – and how in Europe, there are often religious groups participating in IDAHOT events with religious services. (In Malta last year, a Catholic bishop led a Mass for IDAHOT).

She also described specifically an action undertaken by the European Forum of LGBT Christian groups – whose conference I am attending this week here in Gdansk, on behalf of Quest LGBT Catholics, . This is just one of many important and valuable projects of the Forum.

I’ll have more on these projects, and of the proceedings of the conference, as the week goes on.

LGBT Saints: Response to Fr James Martin

A brief  observation in a Facebook comments thread by Fr James attracted widespread media attention. In a follow up post this week, Fr Martin writes that he is surprised by this attention, and expanded on his argument. For LGBT Catholics, there are several points in this expanded observation that deserve comment.

It’s important to note, as Martin acknowledges, that the terms “gay”, “lesbian” “transgender” and “LGBT” are anachronistic when applied to the saints of history. Even the words “homosexual” and “heterosexual” are relatively modern terms, and would have been incomprehensible to people of earlier periods. “Gay” and its associated terms are of even more recent introduction. Nevertheless, it’s possible to accept that when viewed through a modern prism, a certain proportion of the saints could be described with modern terminology – i.e., part of the LGBT spectrum.

The qualification though, is to recognise that “gay” describes an orientation, not necessarily sexual conduct, just as “transgender” is used to refer to a range of non-cisgender variations, not necessarily to surgical transitioning.

It’s also important to note that the two specific examples he quotes, Mychal Judge and Henry Nouwens, are people from the late twentieth century, who have not been formally canonised. The saints of heaven are emphatically not limited to those who have been recognised by formal processes in Vatican offices. Indeed, the complexity (and cost) of the processes required for formal canonization in effect means that a disproportionate number of those approved will be priests (and a smaller number of religious sisters). It is not a co-incidence that Mychal Judge and Henry Nouwens were both priests.  However, there will be many more unrecognized saints who were not clergy – including some who might reasonably describe as lesbian, gay or trans.

Finally, a quibble. In his insistence that accepting that some of the saints will have been attracted to the same sex, does not imply that they necessarily acted on it, Fr Martin is suggesting that any such sexual activity would disqualify them from sainthood. Many respected theologians would disagree. Just as sainthood is not reserved to the priesthood, it is also not reserved to the Catholic faith. Both the Episcopal and Lutheran denominations have their own declared saints recognised in their liturgical calendars. Both now include amongst their clergy, openly gay or lesbian and partnered priests and bishops. These and other denominations will surely accept that loving, sexual partnerships are no barrier to holiness – or to sainthood.

I’m surprised that a comment I made a few days ago on this FB page was deemed news. (Google it if you doubt me.) In response to another comment, I noted that most likely some of the saints were probably LGBT. Yes, I know that the term “LGBT” wasn’t used until very recently, and that even the concept of homosexuality is a relatively late cultural construct, but if a certain (small) percentage of human beings are gay, then it stands to reason that a certain (small) percentage of the thousands of saints were, because they are, of course, human beings. And holiness makes it home in humanity.

In other words, among the saints there were probably some who were attracted to people of the same sex. That’s not to say that they acted on it, but if you consider, to take one example, all the priests, monks, brothers and sisters who were ordained or entered religious orders, it’s certainly conceivable that some of them, even as they lived celibacy and chastity, experienced attractions to people of the same sex. In fact, the priesthood and religious orders have always been places for people who have felt those inclinations to live chaste and holy lives.

Which ones? Hard to say. Really impossible to say, given how little homosexuality would have been understood, admitted and discussed in the past. To my mind, though, there are some saints who, at least based on their writings, seem to have been what we would today call gay. But again, it’s hard to know for sure.

This shouldn’t be surprising. In fact the Catechism says, in a rather overlooked passage, that LGBT people can, through a variety of means, including through prayer and the sacraments, “approach Christian perfection,” that is, become holy men and women (#2359).

In our own time, we can look to holy persons who were gay. I’ve certainly known many holy LGBT people in my own life. Or, to be more specific, think of someone like Mychal Judge, OFM, the Franciscan fire chaplain and hero of 9/11, who was also a gay man. Or Henri Nouwen, the Dutch spiritual writer, who fell in love quite suddenly, and turbulently, with a man towards the end of his life. Were these men saints? Also hard to say, but I’d argue that they were certainly holy and, therefore, they can show us how one can be an LGBT person and saintly.

As I said, I was surprised that this would surprise people. A few people were even offended. But those who were offended may be surprised to be greeted in heaven by more than a few LGBT saints, who will surely forgive them for being offended by their holiness.

Related Posts

James Martin SJ: “Some Catholic Saints Were ‘Probably Gay’ 

At The Advocate, Daniel Reynolds described Fr. James Martin’s response to an antigay Facebook comment as “an open-minded history lesson.”

Fr. James Martin said some Catholic saints were “probably gay.”The Jesuit priest — who was appointed in April by Pope Francis as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications — gave this history lesson in tolerance on May 5 to an antigay Facebook commenter.

Martin had posted a link to an article about a prayer led by Bishop John Stowe at an LGBT Catholic gathering coordinated by New Ways Ministry. An offended social-media follow responded, “Any cannonized​ Saints would not be impressed.” To which Martin replied, “Some of them were probably gay.

“A certain percentage of humanity is gay, and so were most likely some of the saints,” Martin added. “You may be surprised when you get to heaven to be greeted by LGBT men and women.”

Source: Advocate.com

For LGBT Catholics, it should be no surprise that some saints were “LGBT” in modern, anachronistic terminology. I discussed some of them in a brief address to Quest conference in Chichester, a few years ago, under the heading “Some Very Queer Saints and Martyrs“. I’ve also written much more extensively on the subject at my companion blog, “Queer Saints and Martyrs“. (Kittredge Cherry is another who has written at length, in a gay saints series at QSpirit (previously “Jesus in Love” blog). More important to me, is the source of the observation – the Jesuit priest, Fr James Martin SJ.

Martin is highly respected for his work as journalist covering the Catholic Church – so highly regarded, that as The Advocate notes, he was recently appointed to an advisory position in the Vatican communications department. As a journalist, he has covered the full range of Catholic issues. Among these, he has frequently written sympathetically about LGBT people in the Catholic Church – for example, in November 2009 he posed an important question in the Jesuit magazine America: “What should a gay Catholic do?” In the years since, the question has received ever increasing attention – and with it, sympathy for the very real dilemma in which we find ourselves. Initially, his writing was particularly concerned with “gay” Catholics – gay men, and by extension, lesbians. Trans issues originally were not covered. In this incident however, it is notable that his language has shifted to the more inclusive descriptor, “LGBT”

Related Posts

Some Very Queer Saints and Martyrs

What is a gay Catholic to do? A Question Comes Out of the Closet (Queering the Church)

The Story of the Queer Saints and Martyrs: Synopsis (Queer Saints and Martyrs)

LGBT Saints Series (QSpirit)

English Bishops Oppose Homophobic Bullying

At Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBernardo has reported on a new manual produced for the English bishops on combating homophobia in Catholic schools. In his headline to the post, DeBernardo  describes this manual as a “gift to the church” (and so it is).

A new manual for Catholic school teachers in England and Wales on how to combat homophobia and biphobia has caused a bit of a minor controversy based on its origin, perhaps because the document offers strong practical advice on how to stop and prevent bullying of sexual minority students.

The document, entitled “Made in God’s Image:  Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools” was produced by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, in partnership with St. Mary’s University.

As one who has (twice) participated in Stonewall training to combat HBT (homophobic/biphobic/transphobic) bullying in English schools, I can confirm that much of this material is not just “similar” to the Stonewall material – it’s identical to some of what was used in Stonewall’s own training. Some other material consists of direct quotes from Stonewall publications in the public domain.

The desire to combat bullying is in fact clearly required by Catholic teaching, which insists on the obligation to oppose “violence or malice, whether in speech or in action”. It is for this reason that Quest (the British association for LGBT Catholics) has partnered with Stonewall to deliver their well-established training to Catholic schools, funded by the UK government Department of Education. What is helpful in this document from the Bishops, is that it provides useful faith-based material which will be helpful in adapting the standard Stonewall material, to make it more directly relevant to Catholic schools.

What I find particularly striking about this initiative, is that deliberately or not, the English bishops have in effect entered an informal partnership with Stonewall. Not long ago, there were widespread perceptions (on both sides of the divide) that Stonewall and the churches were necessarily in opposition to each other. From Stonewall’s side, under the leadership of the current CE Ruth Hunt, Stonewall is actively promoting alliances with faith-based LGBT groups. Now it seems that Catholic bishops too, are seeing value in Stonewall’s work to combat homophobia and bullying.

However, The Catholic Herald reports,that some critics have questioned who contributed to the document:

The critics said that portions of the document are very similar to anti-bullying materials produced by Stonewall and lgbtyouth Scotland, two leading UK LGBT equality organizations. Stonewall denied any involvement but said their materials are public and they’d be glad if their ideas were used by others.

What is most remarkable about this “controversy” is that the criticism seems intended to discredit what is a fine document on how to educate Catholic students about respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

It is extraordinary that some, who would certainly see themselves as “faithful” Catholics, should be so critical of an initiative by their bishops, that is so clearly in accordance with established Catholic teaching in opposition to “violence or malice, in speech or action”. The only possible explanation must be that the critics are so obsessed with their opposition to “homosexuality”, that they are unable to see or accept those elements of Catholic teaching that are in fact inclusive and welcoming.

We, on the other hand, must welcome this initiative of the Catholic bishops – with a single reservation. While this document is strong on the importance of combating homophobic bullying, it is completely silent on the increasingly pressing issue of transphobic bullying.

Related Posts:

 

Krzysztof Charamsa, on masturbation

According to Dr Dick’s Sex Advice, May is “Masturbation Month”. (Who decides these things?). With that in mind, I was intrigued by the brief interchange below, in the Berliner Zeitung interview with Msgt Krzysztof Charamsa.

To put it into context, recall that the official position of the Catholic Church remains steadfastly opposed to the practice, even though there is no clear biblical or medical evidence against it, and the evidence is that the overwhelming majority of people do so, at least occasionally. For Catholic priests attempting to live within their promise of celibacy, masturbation may be their only possible form of sexual release – yet, in theory at least, this too is forbidden.

Yet, when the interviewer raised the question, it is not in terms of “Do you masturbate?”, or “Would you masturbate?”, but an automatic assumption that, yes – he does: “When you did….” In response, Charamsa does not attempt to avoid or deflect the question, but in his simple reply of “yes”, he is in effect acknowledging that yes, he did  masturbate.

Would that other priests would be  so frank and honest, about a subject that is too often simply avoided.

When masturbating did you have homosexual fantasies?

Yes.

That was not nice?

I was anxious. I spent my puberty in communist Poland, in the Catholic Church. Both hyper-homophobic facilities! With whom could I have spoken? How? I had no words for it. I had feelings of guilt. I would have had them, even if I had been heterosexual. But my gay fantasies increased my insecurity.