Last night (Saturday 2nd April), I was up in London, for a meeting at the Mount Street Jesuit centre, on gay priests. This was one of a series of meetings arranged by the LGBT Young(er) Adults group associated with the former Soho Masses, and now with the Farm Street parish of St Cecilia, where twice a month LGBTI Catholics are specifically welcomed, and where they serve tea and coffee after Mass for their communuity – and for any others of the congregation who want to join them. At 64, I hardly count as a young or even “younger” adult, so have not previously attended any others in the series. In fact, I was not even aware of their existence, until this specific meeting was thrown open to all who are part of the Farm Street/Westminster LGBT Catholics community, in view of its importance.
I was delighted that I made the trip, for some stimulating discussion during the formal part of the evening, and then more over coffee, with friends old and new.
The chair for the evening introduced the discussion by briefly listing some recent news headlines of gay priests who had come out as gay, and the mixed reactions they had received. There was the high profile case of the CDF theologian Msgr Krysztof Charamsa, who on the eve of the 2015 Family Synod came out as not only gay but also partnered – and was promptly fired, from his post at the CDF, and also as university lecturer in theology. There were also many less well-publicized examples of ordinary parish priests, and others. Some, like Msgr Charamsa, met immediate trouble with their superiors, others did not. Some even met direct and explicit support from their congregations.
The main speaker, a priest who has for many years been a supporter of LGBT Catholics, at the former Soho Masses and elsewhere, then expanded on some of the issues that gay priests have to deal with. Doing so, he drew extensively on his own observations of living in his own religious community, and also on his professional background as a psychologist, who for many years has conducted numerous workshops, seminars and other discussions on issues of sexuality and celibacy as encountered in the priesthood – for gay and straight priests alike. Some of the issues discussed were specific to priests, some were applicable to all LGBT Catholics, to a greater or lesser degree.
There followed a Q&A session with the chair and the priest, before the discussion was opened to the floor. I’m not going to go into the substance of the discussion here – that will come later. For now, I would simply like to point out the value of having this “Frank and Free” discussion, at all.
At one point in his presentation, the priest told the story of a large meeting on human sexuality, he led a few years ago for a particular diocese, with the bishop in attendance, as well as numerous priests and lay leaders. At the close of business, when enjoying a well-deserved cup of tea, he say an obviously angry priest approaching. When he arrived, this priest immediately confirmed it.
“I’m extremely angry”, he announced.
Our friend noted that as a psychologist, he knew how to respond (while wondering what he could have said or done to provoke such anger).
“Yes”, he said, “I can see you’re angry”.
“No”, came the response. I’m not angry with you. I’ve been a priest for 25 years, and in all that time this is the first opportunity I’ve had to participate in an adult conversation about sex.”
And so it is. It’s becoming a little better than it once was, but it remains the case that in the Catholic Church (and others) there are still far too few opportunities for honest discussions about sex – especially for priests, but also for the rest of us; for LGBT Catholics, and for others. Like the Portsmouth priest, we all have cause to be at least a little angry, at how honest discussion of such a constituent part of our human make-up (which even the Catechism agrees should be “fully integrated into our personality”) just doesn’t happen. Even at the two bishops’ synod assemblies on marriage and family, a notable feature was how little discussion there was about actual, physical sex. . Much of the published material on the synod could almost lead a casual reader to the conclusion that for Catholic bishops, love, marriage and child-bearing and rearing exist without the need to actually engage in the messy genital activities.
I’d like to thank the organisers for creating this rare opportunity to participate in just such an adult, frank and free discussion on an important topic.
Talking About Sex and Sexuality