Homoerotic Spirituality

Jesus Christ, in His recorded words, said nothing at all about sex.  Indeed, He spoke against adultery – which in Jewish eyes was a sin against a man’s ‘property’ (as women were viewed), not against sex.  He spoke against lust – at least, against lusting after another man’s wife; and He spoke against divorce.  But as far as we know, He never spoke a word against sex itself:  not inside marriage, not before marriage, not between unmarried partners, not between men, not between women. Nothing.  Zilch.
How is it then, that the Christian Church, and  Catholicism, in particular, have become so firmly linked in the public mind with the idea of sex as sin? For Catholics, all sex outside marriage is officially taboo.  Even inside marriage, sex is viewed with suspicion unless it is open to the possibility of procreation.  It is only recently that grudging recognition was given to the unitive value of sex – even inside marriage.  Yet it is clear to all that few Catholics pay any more than lip service to the official catechism on sin.  Whether as jerking – off schoolboys (or girls, or adults), as horny teenagers, engaged couples, cheating spouses, as faithful loving couples choosing to limit their families, as lonely divorcees, as gay men and lesbians, or as priests and other religious ignoring their vows of celibacy, the overwhelming majority of us are, in one form or another sexual transgressors in the eyes of the Church.
Is it any wonder that in the public mind, the equation “sex=sin” goes hand in hand with another:   “Catholicism = Guilt”?
The Confessional
But I do not want to dig deeper into the unpleasantness today.  (There is time for that later.  I will return to it soon, as part of my continuing series on clerical abuse.)




Other faiths do not make the same connection between sex and sin.  Judaism, for all that it has extensive purity laws and complex moral and legal codes, unequivocally supports and praises the unitive value of  sex, at least within marriage.  Part of the obligation of the spouses is said to include offering each other sexual satisfaction.   Muslims take a similar view:  part of the supposed motivation for suicide bombers in our day is the prospect of a martyr’s reward in heaven:  1000 virgins to satisfy their male needs.   Hindus celebrate sex as part of spiritual practice, with the promotion of tantric sex, the Kama Sutra, and famed erotic images on temple walls.  Many pagan religions employed temple prostitutes (of either gender) to heighten the spiritual experience of worshippers.Hindu Temple art
It is useful, then to recognise the increasing signs that more and more people are recognising that sexual expression is not only not necessarily sinful, but can be a positive expression of the sacred, and has a close association with spirituality. With great synchronicity, this message was brought home to me from four different sources over the past week.
At the Wild Reed, Michael Bayley has a great piece on this theme.

Shocked? Well, get over it.

Anyway, it’s really not such an outlandish idea – even for Catholics (actually, especially for Catholics!). I mean, if you’re going to dismiss what I’m suggesting, then you’d better be willing to also dismiss any number of saints and their highly erotic experiences of the sacred.

Erotic experiences of God?! (Okay, if you’re still shocked maybe this blog isn’t for you.) But seriously, I appreciate the perspective of Jean Houston, who points out that: “Eros has a mission with the soul. Without Eros, the soul cannot grow; the psyche remains infantile. Eros gives psyche its yearning, its impetus, its desire for the fullness of life.”

Much of the great tradition of mystical writing in the Catholic Church is expressed in clearly sensuous, even erotic language (see, for instance, St Theresa of Avila). Michael  quotes in particular St John of the Cross, whose wonderful mystical poetry is also frankly and explicitly homoerotic:
Nude couple profile

 

“Of course as a gay man, (Michael writes) the thing that appeals to me most about John’s poem is that it depicts his lover as another man:

(from ) On a Dark Night

……..

……..

“Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined
Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!

Upon my flowery breast,
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping,
and I caressed him,
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.

The breeze blew from the turret
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand
He caressed my neck
And caused all my senses to be suspended.

I remained, lost in oblivion;
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself,
Leaving my cares
forgotten among the lilies.”

Go ahead, cross to The Wild Reed and read the full poem, with Michael’s commentary.

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Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

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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:




Continue reading Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

Transgender in Church

Last SupperWhile helping out at our Catholic stall after this year’s Pride parade through London, I was approached by a woman who put a question that left me totally at a loss on how to respond:  What is the Church’s position on transgendered issues? She told me that her own local parish priest was very understanding and supportive, but she wanted to know more. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I clearly knew less than she did – she at least had been discussing the issue with a priest, but I in effect knew virtually nothing, beyond the harsh words of Benedict XVI in his Curial address last Christmas.

Now, we at the Soho Masses are quite explicit  that we serve(or aim to) the full LGBTspectrum (as well as friends, family and supporters), and one of our key people on the pastoral council speaks openly of her own transition.   The matter was raised in our pastoral planning workshop earlier this year, and since then, we have begun exploring ways to be more explicitly supportive, in particular by making provision for at least fairly basic changing facilities for those who want to use such a facility.  But these are essentially merely symbolic gestures, only just scratching the surface. Beyond taking the easy way out, referring questions to Lorraine, what on earth are we to say to people who are attempting to find a balance between authentic gender expression and living with integrity in the Catholic Church?

Many of us have felt anxious, intimidated or jsut plain terrified at the prospect of coming out as lesbians or gay men- sometimes even to ourselves.  Yet we have an increasingly supportive legal and cultural environment, role models and resources to help us.  Even in our struggles with the churches, the publicity over gay bishops and gay clergy, as well as an explosion of books an web resources, makes it easy to see that we are not alone in the struggle.  How much more difficult must it be to face the much greater challenge of dealing with a readjustment of gender identity, without that same supportive environment?  There  are not the same resources, nor are there the same role models and support structures.

This is why I was  delighted to find this report, in the Regal Courier on a Methodist priest who had the courage to tell his congregation about his earlier transition – and the congregation, who responded to his story with strong applause.:

Congregation embraces transgender minister as his secret is revealed

Rev. David Weekley hopes his story will help change United Methodist Church doctrine

Rev David Weekely and wife (pic: L.E. Baskow, Portland Tribune)

Until now, there has been just one openly transgender Methodist clergyman in the U.S. to retain his ordination (That man, Drew Phoenix, 50, had his ordination challenged by members of the church after coming out publicly in 2007 to his congregation in St. John’s of Baltimore United Methodist Church in Maryland.)

Today, Sunday, Aug. 30, Weekley – who leads the congregation at the Epworth United Methodist Church in the Sunnyside neighborhood in inner Southeast Portland – became the second.

Just months after telling his own children that he was not their biological father, Weekley, who is in his late-50s, came out to his congregation of 221 members.

Standing behind his pulpit, Weekley began his usual worship service. About halfway through, he paused to share a personal message he called “My Book Report.”

He told them that in 1984, just nine years after undergoing extensive sex-reassignment surgeries, he was ordained by the Methodist Church without telling anyone of his original gender at birth.

Following his story, the congregation, who had remained silent throughout his talk, broke into thunderous applause. Church members then proclaimed their support for their pastor.

This is impressive.  The United Methodist Church is one of the least supportive mainline Protestant denominations on lesbian and gay people generally, and despite strong pressure to change, voted against modifying their opposition, the last time this came up for discussion.  The strong support from the congregation shows once again that local communities can be far more supportive of individual people in their midst, than official doctrine suggests.  It is far easier to be hostile to an anonymous group, than it is to those nice guys in the pew next to you, or to an admired pastor in the pulpit.  This is why it is so important that wherever possible, we should try to extend our coming out processes (and they are processes, not single events), into our parishes, as well as to our families, friends, and workplaces.  Every such coming out makes it easier for those who follow:  but let me emphasise those words , “wherever possible“.  Quite obviously, sometimes the conditions are simply prohibitive, especially for clergy.

Footnote:  I have responded to my earlier embarrassed ignorance by attempting to track down more information on transgendered issues in the churches, and have started to compile a transgendered booklist for Sergius & Bacchus Books.  This is far from complete, but it is a start, and will be constantly expanded.  I would be very interested in feedback from readers who know more than I do.

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Cardinal Steps in His Carbon Footprint

(Taken from an on-line edition of the Irish Times 30th August 2009, read early in the morning, but later seemed to disappear.)

THERE are some businesses which, thankfully, are proving resistant to the recession.

Less thankfully, religion is one of them.

Whether it’s the uncertainty of the times which is making people turn back to the comforts of the Almighty, or a genuine spiritual yearning for something better after the era of untrammelled greed which the commentators insist we’ve all been living through, remains to be seen.

Maybe once wages and house prices start rising again, God will be relegated to His usual place on the back burner. But for now, the Church is bouncing back. A total of 38 young men entered the seminaries this year, almost double last year’s figure.

It’s too early to say if it’s a trend, insists an uncharacteristically modest Catholic Communications Office; but coming only a few months after the Church suffered its own version of the credit crunch — more of a credibility crunch, really — with the publication of the Ryan Report into institutional abuse, it’s a remarkable change of fortune.

If only the Catholic Church realised when it was on to a good thing, and didn’t push its luck.

Given all that’s happened, you’d think the hierarchy would say to one another: “Phew, lads, that was a close shave. Now let’s keep our heads down for a while till it all blows over.” Instead they immediately dive head first into yet another row — thanks to Cardinal Sean Brady’s homily last weekend in Limerick.

It all started out innocuously enough, this time as a sermon on climate change. Priests feel the need periodically to do this Save the Planet schtick. It’s embarrassing in a Kum Ba Yah sort of way, and, if left unchecked, has been known to lead to the nightmare of acoustic guitar playing on the altar, but probably harmless enough. The problem was what followed after Cardinal Brady had finished with the usual guff about how churches should measure their carbon footprints and offset the damage by helping baby polar bears to swim or something.

Tangential doesn’t even begin to describe the directions which one of Ireland’s premier churchmen took from his original starting point. Anybody who nodded off in St John’s Cathedral last weekend would have woken up to find that gay marriage was in the firing line, leaving them perhaps with the disorienting impression that homosexuals were responsible for global warming. His Eminence didn’t stop there either.

He might as well have called his homily “And Another Thing…” as he strayed far from carbon footprints to touch on such topics as the right to life, to the right to a “natural death”, through to research on embryonic stem cells. Meddling with the integrity of the human body and meddling with the environment were, in this light, both aspects of the same disorder.

To be fair, none of this was exactly new ground for Catholic prelates, who have traditionally not been big fans of reproductive interference, Indeed, large chunks of the text were lifted wholesale from the Pope’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

Plenty of what he had to say was also right on the money. Marriage and the raising of children in a loving two-parent environment as the cornerstone of a stable society? Nobody’s quarrelling there, not least the vast majority of people who already live in precisely that way — though the warning does invite a sarcastic response about what exactly the Church was doing to protect family life when it let its priests get away with molesting children.

More than that, though, it was the faint undertone of menace which stuck in the craw. Cardinal Brady’s homily was addressed not to his small audience of listeners in the cathedral that evening, so much as over their heads towards the politicians in Dail Eireann who have to make a decision on legalising civil partnerships for gay people, allowing them to avail of the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual married couples. This was against the Constitution, Brady claimed. It was against the common good, he added.

Then the killer blow: those who supported the legislation, the Cardinal stated, would be making a choice to “depart” from God. That’s a heck of a sword to dangle on a thread over your opponents’ heads. Hilariously, Sean Brady then went on to insist that freedom of conscience must be respected.

So you respect your opponents’ right to disagree, but if they do disagree, then they’re to be denounced as having turned their backs on God Himself?

That’s a strange kind of respect, to say that anybody whose understanding of their faith leads them to sincerely espouse a different view is to be banished from the tent and ejected into some kind of godless wilderness. God’s not big enough to make room for people who think gay couples should have legal rights? Impertinent as it may sound to chastise a cardinal on matters of theology, I really hope God would beg to differ on that one, especially since the alternative for Him is spending eternity with a tiny group of smug, self-satisfied know-it-alls who think their particular ideologies make them the chosen ones.

Brady’s whole tone was one of righteous entitlement. The choices for Ireland, he averred, were between “personal greed” or the “common good”, a “civilisation of selfishness” or a “civilisation of love”, a “culture of death” or a “culture of life”.

No chance of merging shades of grey in the middle then? No space for honest disagreement among fellow Christians?

Basically, what he seemed to be saying is that anyone who differed from his interpretation of Christian teaching wasn’t a proper Christian at all. And the last person I heard talk like that was the Reverend Ian Paisley. Some role model.

It’s surely this arrogant air of proprietory rights regarding God’s mind which Fr Aidan Troy, formerly of North Belfast’s sectarian interface, now transferred to Paris, was referring to in a recent interview when he spoke of how the Catholic Church had thought simply saying sorry for the decades-long abuse scandal was sufficient, without facing up to the need to change its way. Fr Troy wants his superiors to “halt recruitment, reform and reorganise, then begin again”. Fat chance of that happening, as he well knows. To do that, they’d have to admit that they might be wrong, and Cardinal Brady’s homily made it abundantly clear last weekend that it’s only the hierarchy’s detractors who can ever be that.

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Gay Marriage, Climate Change – and Clerical Abuse.

Do you remember Benedict XVI’s infamous Christmas Eve address to the Curia, in which (to judge from press reports), he seemed to argue that gay marriage and gender theory lead to climate change?  It now seems that Ireland’s Cardinal Sean Brady has been rereading those reports, and using them as a model for his own rhetoric.  After noting that in spite of the Ryan report on clerical abuse of children, there has been a sharp rise in yong men entering Irish seminary life, Ellis O’ Hanlon writes in the Irish Times:

Given all that’s happened, you’d think the hierarchy would say to one another: “Phew, lads, that was a close shave. Now let’s keep our heads down for a while till it all blows over.” Instead they immediately dive head first into yet another row — thanks to Cardinal Sean Brady’s homily last weekend in Limerick.

It all started out innocuously enough, this time as a sermon on climate change. Priests feel the need periodically to do this Save the Planet schtick. It’s embarrassing in a Kum Ba Yah sort of way, and, if left unchecked, has been known to lead to the nightmare of acoustic guitar playing on the altar, but probably harmless enough. The problem was what followed after Cardinal Brady had finished with the usual guff about how churches should measure their carbon footprints and offset the damage by helping baby polar bears to swim or something.

Tangential doesn’t even begin to describe the directions which one of Ireland’s premier churchmen took from his original starting point. Anybody who nodded off in St John’s Cathedral last weekend would have woken up to find that gay marriage was in the firing line, leaving them perhaps with the disorienting impression that homosexuals were responsible for global warming.

Plenty of what he had to say was also right on the money. Marriage and the raising of children in a loving two-parent environment as the cornerstone of a stable society? Nobody’s quarrelling there, not least the vast majority of people who already live in precisely that way — though the warning does invite a sarcastic response about what exactly the Church was doing to protect family life when it let its priests get away with molesting children.

This is familiar stuff:  just about any excuse is enough for some of our churchmen to leap into an attack on the degenerate “homosexua”  lifestyle.  But note O’Hanlon’s reference to the Ryan report.  I will return to this later.

More than that, though, it was the faint undertone of menace which stuck in the craw. Cardinal Brady’s homily was addressed not to his small audience of listeners in the cathedral that evening, so much as over their heads towards the politicians in Dail Eireann who have to make a decision on legalising civil partnerships for gay people, allowing them to avail of the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual married couples. This was against the Constitution, Brady claimed. It was against the common good, he added.

Then the killer blow: those who supported the legislation, the Cardinal stated, would be making a choice to “depart” from God. That’s a heck of a sword to dangle on a thread over your opponents’ heads. Hilariously, Sean Brady then went on to insist that freedom of conscience must be respected.

So you respect your opponents’ right to disagree, but if they do disagree, then they’re to be denounced as having turned their backs on God Himself?

And now we get to the crunch issue:

That’s a strange kind of respect, to say that anybody whose understanding of their faith leads them to sincerely espouse a different view is to be banished from the tent and ejected into some kind of godless wilderness. God’s not big enough to make room for people who think gay couples should have legal rights? Impertinent as it may sound to chastise a cardinal on matters of theology, I really hope God would beg to differ on that one, especially since the alternative for Him is spending eternity with a tiny group of smug, self-satisfied know-it-alls who think their particular ideologies make them the chosen ones.

Brady’s whole tone was one of righteous entitlement. The choices for Ireland, he averred, were between “personal greed” or the “common good”, a “civilisation of selfishness” or a “civilisation of love”, a “culture of death” or a “culture of life”.

No chance of merging shades of grey in the middle then? No space for honest disagreement among fellow Christians?

Basically, what he seemed to be saying is that anyone who differed from his interpretation of Christian teaching wasn’t a proper Christian at all. And the last person I heard talk like that was the Reverend Ian Paisley. Some role model.

And now the key, absolutely crucial, real point:

It’s surely this arrogant air of proprietory rights regarding God’s mind which Fr Aidan Troy, formerly of North Belfast’s sectarian interface, now transferred to Paris, was referring to in a recent interview when he spoke of how the Catholic Church had thought simply saying sorry for the decades-long abuse scandal was sufficient, without facing up to the need to change its way. Fr Troy wants his superiors to “halt recruitment, reform and reorganise, then begin again”. Fat chance of that happening, as he well knows. To do that, they’d have to admit that they might be wrong, and Cardinal Brady’s homily made it abundantly clear last weekend that it’s only the hierarchy’s detractors who can ever be that.

It is absolutely appropriate that O’Hanlon, after beginning with a remider of the Ryan report into clerical abuse, should have ended by pointing out the Cardinal’s insistence that he and his colleagues in the Irish hierarchy have a monopoly on truth, and Fr Troy’s belief that the clerical abuse could be eliminating by agreeing to “halt recruitment(presumably, eliminating recruitment in particular of those dreadful queers), reform and reorganise, then begin again“.

Here is the fundamental problem:  by using every opportunity to turn discussion of any problem to an attack on “the gays”, what they are really doing is the age old trick of scapegoating the sexual “others”, so as to deflect attention from the real problem with clerical abuse: their own institutional culpability.

In my continuing series on the problem, I have repeatedly referred to Bishop Robinson’s conclusions that the root causes are deeply embedded in church’s institutional structure: the insistence on compulsory celibacy,  the excessive concentration and centralisation of ecclesiastical power, and individuals who are personally immature with poorly integrated sexuality.  (Note that the insistence on celibacy and exclusion of openly gay candidates ensures a disproportionate number of sexually immature candidates – both straight and gay- remaining). Investigating additional books on the topic for Sergius & Bacchus books, I quickly found that many other writers clearly agree with Robinson.  I have not yet had the chance to read these, but just the titles (see below) and the few snippets or commentaries available on-line make the general conclusions clear:

Boisvert & Goss, “Gay Catholic Priests and Clerical Abuse – Breaking the Silence” is a powerful collection of articles by a range of writers addressing the fallacious connection between the abuse and gay priests.  In doing so, they make some very important points, which come across clearly, even in only a limited on-line preview.  For me, the most startling was the observation (which I have since come across elsewhere) that something like two thirds of the victims were not boys, but girls – and hence that two thirds of the perpetrators were not gay, but  ”straight”.  Couple this with the widely accepted guesstimate that something like half of priests are gay, and an important conclusion follows.  If half the clergy (the straight half) are responsible for two thirds of the crimes, and the other half, the gay half, are responsible for just  one third, then simple arithmetic shows clearly that allegedly “straight” (but psychologically and morally twisted) clergy are twice as likely as gay clergy to be responsible for the child abuse.

Clearly, my calculations are deeply flawed: both figures are based on crude estimates. Combine them , and they become even less reliable.  There are other problems as well, but one thing is clear – the figures we have cannnot support the idea that gay priests are the ones primarily responsible for the scandal.

The second important observation in this book is that the widespread public focus on abuse of boys has completly obscured the bigger problem: the abuse of girls.  This is sexism at its worst – belittling the experience of the girls to highlight that of  the boys, as well as scapegoating of gay clergy to deflect attention from the real issue:  the completely unwarranted attempts by the institutional church to usurp all control, under the pretence of a monopoly of truth, and the completely unscriptural, unhistoric and completely unnecessary insistence on comoplusory celibacy.

As long as we in the broader church community allow the church authorities to get away with these lies, we are all complicit in the problem of sexual abuse. Until we root out the fundamental causes, this problem cannot go away.

This logo, which I previously posted under the title of the “worst logo ever”, now seems uncannily apposite and symbolic:

“Via Afrojacks, One imagines that this 1973 design for the Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission would not make the cut today. “

Inappropriatelogo

NOTE:  the excerpts quoted above I took directly from the on-line edition of the Irish Times early this morning, Aug 30th.  Since then the story appears to have been removed: I can no longer find it in searches under the topic, or directly on the Irish Times website, so I am unable to  provide a  link.  The sections I have quoted are presented verbatim, except only some minor excisions to reduce the overall length.  For those  who might like to consult the full original report, I copied it in its entirety to a Word file, which I have since saved as a page under Catholic Church, Power & Abuse.  he headline I have given it may not be authentic – I have taken it from memory.

A small sample follows of some widely cited and commended titles on the problem that I came across in just an hour or two of on-line browsing:

Cozzens, D:                  The Changing Face of the Catholic Priesthood.

Crosby:                         Rethinking Celibacy, Reclaiming the Church

DOYLE & SIPE:          Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes- The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Trail of Sexual Abuse

FRAWLEY–O’DEA:  Perversion of Power

MITCHELL, T:            Betrayal of the Innocents

RIGERT, Joe:              An Irish Tragedy

SIPE, A.W.R:               Sex, Priests and Power

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The Homoerotic Catholic Church

That’s right:  not homophobic, but homoerotic.  Sure, there is homophobia, especially in the official teaching, but if you peer beneath the surface, scratch the veneer, lift the skirts of the priestly vestments at what lies beneath and within, you find a very different picture. It is a common observation that the most virulent homophobia often masks a closeted gay interior. This may well be the case with the institutional Catholic church: there is much in the Church’s history, institutional character, liturgical style, church decoration, and mystical tradition that is way more than just gay-friendly:  much of it is at least camp, or even frankly homoerotic.

Let us begin with the fun stuff.

In his wonderfully funny but also pointed and touching bit of memoir, “Since My Last Confession“, Scott Pomfret adopts a delightfully camp tone to describe the personnel, priestly vestments and equipment of the Mass. (In an extended metaphor, the Mass becomes a white linen restaurant, the priest is the chef, Eucharistic ministers are waiters, the chalice is the wine glass.)

This camp tone is entirely appropriate: there is much in the liturgy itself, in church architecture and decor, with its blend of high art and low kitsch, which is itself high camp, and appealing to the gay sensibility (if such exists). Elsewhere, Pomfret notes that Sunday evening doughnut supper in a particular Boston parish, is the best place outside a gay bar to pick up a man on Sunday night.

On a similar theme, Mark D Jordan (“The Silence of Sodom”) describes a certain type of Catholic gay man who tends to get deeply involved in the minutiae of liturgy planning.  These men he describes as “liturgy” queens, drawing a clear comparison with that other well-known stereotype, the opera queen.  (In this context, the well-known Marian prayer, “Hail Holy Queen” takes on a whole new meaning!)

On the other hand, what is one to make of the display of the near naked Christ on the cross, and the depictions of the passion in the “Stations of the Cross” found in every Catholic church?  Do these have a special frisson for the SM /Leather sub-group of gay men?  It is certainly so that renowned mystics such as St John of the Cross have developed a whole school of spirituality on the idea of contemplation on the body of Christ – and couched it in language that is remarkably sensuous, even erotic.

Priesthood & Training

It’s not only the gay men in the congregation that respond to the camp. It’s well known that an astonishingly high proportion of Catholic priests are gay.  There are no reliable statistics, but the guesstimates I have seen tend to cluster around the 50% mark, give or take 20% either side. Nor are these all in the lower ranks, nor should we assume that they are all celibate:  rumours and allegations of sexually active gay bishops, cardinals, Vatican officials  and even popes are commonplace. (Some conservative factions in the Church even claim that all three popes immediately after Vatican II were gay, and that Paul VI in particular ushered in a “homosexual mafia” to the Vatican staff – possibly explaining the reactionary lurch under John Paul II and Benedict XVI?)

Why should this be so?  It is probably simplistic just to blame it on the desire to wear the priestly drag (where else can a gay men get to wear skirts public outside the theatre or drag shows?), but the camp style probably does have something to do with it.

More important though, as Mark D Jordan has persuasively shown, is that the entire culture of priestly training in all-male seminaries is deeply supportive, even encouraging, of a gay orientation, just as it discourages

straight men. Jordan also shows, scandalously, that it is not just the students in these institutions who are, or first become, sexually active in the seminaries: many staff members are sexual predators, taking advantage of the students in their care – even as they warn against forming “particular friendships” with each other.

History

In the Church’s long past, carefully airbrushed out of official history,
are hidden numerous examples of gay, lesbian and even transvestite (FTM) saints, bishops, and popes. Fortunately, modern scholars no longer depend on clerical approval, and this gay past is now being recovered for us(See the work of John Boswell, Alan Bray, and Bernadette Brooten just for starters.)

Far from opposing gay marriage, for many centuries the church recognised and liturgically blessed same sex unions:  at the start of the relationships, by the ceremonies of “adelphopoesis” in the Eastern church, and by the “ordo ad fratres faciendum” in the West.  Both these terms referred to the making of “sworn brothers”, and may have been largely about contracts of property arrangements – but that is exactly what opposite-sex unions were about at the time.  The concept of marriage as the consummation of romantic love is a modern invention.  Many same sex unions have also been recognised in death, right up to the 19th century, by being buried in shared graves, often inside church buildings, or with grave monuments, memorials and inscriptions inside the churches comparable to the memorials to married couples buried together.

Does it matter?

That there is at least a strand of homophile or homoerotic culture, sensitivity, and activity in the Catholic Church is clear.  So what?  Should we care?  For those of us in the Church who are gay, I believe it matters immensely.  By recognising the hypocrisy, it becomes easier to stand up to the theological bullying, and to counter the lecturing with rational argument.

Further reading:

Books
Jordan, Mark D:  The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism
Boswell, John Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
Boswell, John : Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
Alan Bray, The Friend

Brooten, Bernadette : Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism
Engel, Rangy: The Rite of Sodomy Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church

Pomfret, Scott: Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir

Anglicans in South Africa Join the push for LGBT Inclusion

Anglicans in the Archdioces of Cape Town have joined the movement for ecclesiastical support for gay relationships.  Coming hot on the heels of important decisions by the US Episcopalians and Evangelical Lutherans, it adds to the momentum for  acceptance in church for sexual minorities. From Episcopal Life Online:

“The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, meeting in synod August 22, supported a resolution asking the bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to provide pastoral guidelines for gay and lesbian members living in “covenanted partnerships,” whilst “taking due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.”

The synod also resolved to ask Archbishop Thabo Makgoba to appoint a working group, representing church members of varying perspectives, to engage in a “process of dialogue and listening” on issues of human sexuality.”

On the face of it, the actual resolution from St George’s Cathedral is cautious, possibly disappointing.: but one has to understand the context.  The Archdiocese here is much more than just the city of Cape Town, and takes in Anglican commuinities also from the broader Southern African region.  Although South Africa itself has  a proud record in recognising LGBT rights, the neighbouring countries are far less accepting, with many of them still treating any form of homosexual expression as a criminal act.

The Anglican Diocese of Cape Town, which includes Anglican bishops from South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Angola, passed a resolution at the weekend asking the church’s bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for gay parishioners living in “covenanted partnerships”.

(from Independent Online)

So the resolution adopted necessarily had to take account of widely differing sensibilities across the region.  Still, it is a move forward. who can doubt that it will end in full support for lesbian & gay unions? The full text:

“This Synod,

Affirming a pastoral response to same-sex partnerships of faithful commitment in our parish families;

Gives thanks to God for:

  • The leadership of our Archbishop Thabo Makgoba and his witness in seeking to handle these issues in a loving and caring manner; and
  • The Bishops of our Province for their commitment to the unity of our Communion and Province, working together seeking God’s way of truth and reconciliation;

Notes the positive statements of previous Provincial Synods that gay and lesbian members of our church share in full membership as baptized members of the Body of Christ, and are affirmed and welcomed as such;

Affirms our commitment to prayerful and respectful dialogue around these issues, mindful of the exhortations of previous Lambeth Conferences to engage with those most affected;

Asks the Archbishop to request the Synod of Bishops to provide pastoral guidelines for those of our members who are in covenanted partnerships, taking due regard of the mind of the Anglican Communion.”

(From Episcopal Life Online)

This warms the cockles of my heart.  I have very fond personal memories of  St George’s Cathedral, where this decision was taken.  For many years under apartheid, St George’s was known in Cae Town as a bastion of support for the anti-apartheid forces, serving often as a locus for protest, or as a haven and refuge for those seeking sanctuary from the forces of oppression.  I remember many ocassions in my youth when I stood with other students on the steps of the cathedral, ssoter in hand, in silent protest – while security police took photographs.

In later years, after I had started working, I remember a famous ocassion when police fired  tear gas canisters int a group of protesters on the steps.  With wonderful presence of mind, on of those students calmly picked up the canister before it released its fumes, and tossed it right back at the police – who were promptly overcome by their own tear gas.

Much later, St George’s became a focal point for the celebrations of the tiumph of democracy in the years following the unbanning of  the ANC, and the release of Nelson Mandela.

I have often noted that I see a strong parallel between the  struggle for justice and equality in apartheid South Africa.    This decision from St George’s Cathedral Cape Town, for so long a sacred space in the struggle against  apartheid, simply reinforces those parallels.

“The resolution was proposed by St George’s Cathedral clergy, as they said the parish had come to be seen as a “safe space” for gay Christians in Cape Town.”

(from Independent online)

One by one, denomination by denomination, jurisdiction by jurisdiction, the traditional barriers are being eroded.  The fundie arguments are losing credibility.  Gay marraige: coming soon, to a church near you.

St George's Cathedral, Cape Town

You might also like:
Dan Savage, Bullying, and the Catholic Church.
Another Sexual Abuse Cloud Drifting to the Conclave
Religious Freedom and LGBT Rights: London Meeting

Lutherans, Gay Clergy: Shifting Theology.

The decisions of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) this week have rightly received a lot of attention, and are clearly significant to Lutherans, and to the rest of us: but not only for the obvious reasons.Women meeting last week at the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in Chicago wore rainbow scarves to support gay clergy members. (NY Times)

First, it is hugely important to the openly gay & lesbian partnered pastors already serving the church, and to their congregations. In spite of the previous prohibition, there are many of these across the country, but because of the ban, they may not be officially recognised. The result is that there are listed “vacancies” where good people, who could not be recognised as legitimate simply because they were openly gay and partnered.

“To be able to be a full member of the church is really a lifelong dream,” said the Rev. Megan Rohrer of San Francisco, who is in a committed same-sex relationship and serves in three Lutheran congregations but is not officially on the church’s roster of clergy members. “I don’t have to have an asterisk next to my name anymore.” (NY Times)

Secondly, it is important for other recognised gay clergy who could not be open, or could not enter partnerships, for fear of losing their recognition. These people can now choose celibacy or marriage, as they prefer, without fear – provided they are serving, or can find, a supportive congregation (local approval remains important.) Note however, that the emphasis is on “committed”, as in legally recognised, permanent partnerships comparable to conventional marriage.

In essence, the vote puts gays under the same set of rules that have govern heterosexual clergy. They are required to be monogamous if married and to abstain from sexual relations if they are single. Individual congregations would not be compelled to take on pastors who are in same-sex relationships. (Washington Post)

The assembly also signed off on finding ways for willing congregations to “recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.” The church fell short of calling that gay marriage, but conservatives see that as the next step.(AP)

It will also pressure the Lutherans themselves to take further decisions on consecrating gay marriages in church. Else, how can they explain a requirement that gay clergy be married, but not allow them to be married in church?

Thirdly, it is important symbolically, encouraging gay and lesbian Christians, and lending momentum to similar pressures in other denominations and elsewhere. Over the past two years, American Presbyterians and United Methodists have declined to pass similar resolutions – but those votes will return in future years, and will be passed (sooner, rather than later, I would think).

“Those who have been actively campaigning for a change of this sort in the other mainline denominations will see this as a sign that they should intensify their efforts,” Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, said in an e-mail. (LA Times)

But the most important aspect of all, in my view, with the furthest reaching implications for all of us, has largely slipped under the radar. The biggest headlines have been on the clergy decision, and on the procedural vote before it, as these are the most clearly dramatic – but in effect, simply regularise an existing de facto situation. In this, the decision resembles the abolition in South Africa of the abhorrent Group Areas Act, which enforced residential separation, and other laws of so-called “petty apartheid”. By the time of the final repeal, these laws had fallen into such disrepute, that they were being widely ignored. Many of the people who could afford to move into the “White” areas had already done so. The law was not so much ground-braking change, as a simple attempt to come to terms with the plain reality. To some extent, so it is here.

No, the really important part for all of us as lesbigaytrans Christians came buried in just a few paragraphs in an earlier decision, approving a revised statement on sexual morality. This statement, after eight years of study and preparation, sets new parameters for the interpretation of Scripture in defining sexual morality.

“Barbara Wheeler, a former president of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York who is now director of the school’s Center for the Study of Theological Education, praised the ELCA for laying a theological foundation for Friday’s vote by first approving a broad social statement on sexuality.

“It’s a completely theological argument toward openness to the possibility of faithful, committed same-sex relationships,” said Wheeler, who has played a central role in gay clergy deliberations inside the Presbyterian Church (USA). “What you’re seeing is two things: The society is in the process of changing its collective mind about the moral status of same-sex relationships, and there’s a parallel theological movement.” (AP)

For far too long, the struggle for gay rights has been seen as one that pits civil rights against Scripture. By taking these decisions after long deliberation, including careful consideration of Scripture in the light of modern scholarship, the ECLA has shown that he two are not inherently in conflict. This will lead other open-minded church people of good will to take a further look at Scripture for themselves, and some of hem too will find that the typical resort to Scripture as a basis for opposition is misguided. on the other hand, the bigots who continue to fall back on knee jerk calls to Scripture as a cover for their prejudice or hatred, will find that they no longer receive he automatic support they once did.

The Scriptural argument against same sex relationships is being defanged.

(See also The Wild Reed on the same topic;

and for exensive coverage of events from the inside, see Goodsoil)

Further Reading:
Countryman: Dirt, Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today
Helminiak: What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

Catholic Church Consecrates Gay Bishop ( Gay Marriage & Gay Bishops in History)

Countering the Clobber Texts

A Healing Church

(This comes as a guest post from Irene, a dear friend who is a committed regular at the Soho Masses – travelling long distance to get there.  This is her account of a recent experience attending Mass, on the night when Mass was followed by a musical concert presentd by our own “Schola Assumptionis”):

The REAL PRESENCE.

A few weeks ago a tendon in my left leg became taut and painful to match the one in the right leg that has been damaged. After walking for hours around London I arrived at church early so I could take the weight off my feet before going up to mass. Lying on the chairs was such a relief. I didn’t manage to stand through all the appropriate parts of the service but the pain was less when I was chatting downstairs over tea before the concert. After the concert I helped distribute the wine and walking to Bistro 1 afterwards, I noticed I had no more pain in my leg – and I have had none since. I must have had a spontaneous healing during mass. I am delighted.

Some of you may know that I work as a healer. Once healing was part of the Christian and Jewish ministry but the Enlightenment put a stop to that! Witchcraft!! Healers, however,  have kept going, secretly though, as it is a gift and one which works. In Sarajevo, where there is no NHS  to limit people’s minds, people are open to it and have amazing reactions.Openness to holistic medicine has made it more acceptable but when I talk about it to Christians they are more than a bit suspicious. Now, something has happened to me during Mass, a total spontaneous healing, something totally unexpected and which has never happened during my healing and meditation sessions. Why? A stronger presence of God? I don’t know. I do know that I am no longer in pain and I am absolutely delighted.

(And we are delighted with you, Irene.  Thank you for sharing this.  And may I remind the rest of you, that I am always open to posting guest contributions from any other readers who have something to say.)

Secrets & Lies: Uncovering the Truth

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!”

(James 3:5)

*******

Indeed, this small member has potential for great damage – but also carries with it the potential to counter and repair the damage.  It is this potential for recovering truth that interests me more, but first, we must review the nature of the problem. There are many kinds of lies: outright falsehoods, lies of selective truth, and lies of omission among them.  For us as lesbian & gay Christians, some examples of each are well-known.ttongue

Perhaps the most egregious of the downright falsehoods is that the destruction of Sodom was God’s vengeance on the homosexual sins of its populace.  As many modern scholars have shown, there is absolutely no basis for this. The true sin of Sodom were pride, indulgence and sloth, which motivated the visit of the angelic messengers.

“As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done…. as thou hast done….. Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and her daughters,  neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy.”

(Ezek 16:48-49, KJV)

The direct trigger for the destruction, was either the refusal of the inhabitants to show proper hospitality to  travellers, or the threat of violent rape of the angels. There is no indication, anywhere, that it had anything do do with consensual same sex relationships. .

A good example of lies by selection are the often quoted verses from Leviticus, noting that for men to lie with men is an “abomination” – without noting at the same time that this is part of an extended list of  ”abominations” in the Jewish purity code, which also includes such other well-known abominations as cutting one’s beard, eating shellfish and rabbits, or wearing clothing of mixed fibres.  Nor do the people quoting from Leviticus remind us that in the Acts of the Apostles, it is made clear that the old Jewish purity laws no longer apply to gentiles – or to modern Christians .

And by the third type of lie, I mean the simple fact that our opponents steadfastly ignore what to me are the most important parts of Scripture – the message of love, inclusion for all, and redemption in Christ – for all. For those willing to look, there are also many passages in Scripture that endorse or support same sex relationships – passages conveniently ignored by our opponents.  But all these examples of lies in talking about Scripture and same sex relationships are well known, and have been extensively dealt with elsewhere.

I am more interested in other lies, less well recognised and discussed.  In investigating these, I should make clear that my starting point is the Catholic Church, with its strong emphasis on “tradition” and Magisterium.  This is my own particular branch of Christianity, but in practice many of the assertions I discuss are made explicitly by the Catholics, and assumed implicitly by many others.

Let us start with the most fundamental:

On homosexuality, the catechism of the catholic Church states plainly,

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”  They are contrary to the natural law”

Now, these seem to be well-known and uncontroversial, but contain two direct falsehoods.  The medieval scholar Mark D Jordan has noted that the standard rhetorical device of the Vatican is not to attempt reasoned debate, but to simply repeat endlessly its own assertion until its opponents are bludgeoned into submission.  This is what is going on here.  We are so used to hearing that the Christian church has “always” opposed  homosexuality, that we assume it to be true, just as for so long we assumed the truth of traditional interpretations of the clobber texts.

In fact, Christians have not always been against us:  the historian John Boswell has clearly shown how in the early church, Christian emperors not only tolerated but even taxed homosexual prostitution; revered churchmen like Paulinus, 4th Century Bishop of Nola, wrote notably erotic love poems to his boyfriend;  and others revered as saints are known to have same sex lovers – some in celibate relationships, others not.  As late as  1098, the church consecrated as Bishop of Orleans a man who was known to be the lover of another Bishop, Ralph of Tours, and to have been previously the lover of other bishops. There was strong opposition to this appointment (on the grounds of his youth, not his sexuality) , but the Pope of the day did not stop the consecration, nor did his successor attempt to overturn the it.

There was of course some opposition – the Magisterium traces this back through Augustine, Alain de Lille, Peter Damian, and Thomas Aquinas, claiming this as support for the argument that the church has “always” opposed  us.  What they neglect to say, though, is that in their own day, all of these were minority views. Peter Damian in particular was notable for an impassioned plea to the Vatican for harsh penalties against clergy who indulged in homosexual acts (for he saw it as primarily a sin amongst the clergy), but his request to the Pope was firmly rejected. It was not until the 3rd Lateran Council, in the 12th century, that the church as a whole took a stand against homosexuality.

It would seem then that the opposition of the church as a whole goes back only eight  centuries – a long time, but a far cry from the two millenia implied by the Catechism word “always”.

The second outright lie often promulgated during the heated debates on marriage equality is that marriage has “always ” and “everywhere” been between opposite sex couples.  This is not a specifically religious argument, but can in fact be refuted on both religious and secular grounds.

The simple historical fact is that same sex marriages were contracted, and formalised in law, in Rome (by the emperors Nero and Elegabalus among others), in parts of classical Greece, among Egyptians, Assyrians, and Mesopotamians.  Some Greeks also reported that same sex partners were taken by the Celts, Gauls and Germans. In later history, and outside Europe, the native American berdaches, men who took on female roles and married male partners,  had an honoured place in society.  Same sex unions have also been recognised in Japan, in China, and in many other non-Western societies.  The claim that marriage was “always” between men and women is simply without foundation.

Nor is the claim true for the Christian church.  John Boswell and Alan Bray have both written of the existence of liturgical rites for church blessing of committed relationships between same sex couples. In the Eastern church, this was known as “adelphopoeisis“, or rite of “making brothers”,in the Western church it was known as “ordo ad fratres faciendum“, known as the “order of sworn brothers”.  Now, both writers are careful not to call these relationships “marriage”. Boswell calls them simply “same-sex unions”, and Bray is even more cautious, simply calling them “friendships”.  He notes that there could be three distinct reasons for entering such a commitment – they could be political,between heads of state or others in Royal families; they could be commercial arrangements to protect property; or they could be erotically based.

However:  I see no reason to assume that any single relationship need have only a single motivation, nor that one motivation applied universally – that between Edward II and Piers Gaveston was certainly erotic, as was that between James I and Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham.  Other nobles may have combined erotic attraction with affairs of state, those lower down the scale may have combined eroticism with property considerations.

We must also remember that if it is inappropriate to think of these same sex unions as directly comparable to modern marriage – the same must be said of opposite sex unions at the time.  Marriage as we know it, as the culmination of romantic love, is a modern invention.  In earlier times, marriage for the rich and powerful was about protecting property and commercial affiliations, or uniting royal dynasties. For the poor, often marriage simply did not exist – it was not considered a sacrament of the church until late.  Although same sex unions in the early church and medieval times clearly did not resemble modern marriage, they have resembled more closely opposite sex unions of the same period.

Nor are the lies and half truths confined to those against us as lesbians and gay men.  The church’s denial of ordination of to women is based on the claim that this has “always” been the practice of the church? This too is at best a half truth.  The womenpriests movement has pointed to evidence supporting the claim that in the early church, there were indeed female deacons, preists and bishops.  The church does acknowledge the existence of female abbesses – but is entirely quiet on the power they wielded in the medieval church, power which frequently rivalled that of bishops. This is a clear example of lies by omission. Worse, there is some suggestion that there may have been lying by outright falsification of the evidence.  Bernadette Brooten has written about Junia, who would appear from teh earliest evidence to have been female.  But it seems that later editors of the text have amended it to make it appear that Junia was a masculine name.

“Greet Andronicus and Junia . . . who are outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7): To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”

John Chrysostom (344/54-407)(2)

How, then, do we counter these lies, how do we uncover, or recover the truth?  Fortunately, for lying tongues to do their damage, they need to be partnered by listening ears.  As we open our ears to hear, we have the choice to open them also to other tongues, the tongues of history, enabling us to hear again some of  the truth. For centuries, voices from the distant past were buried. Official church history, forming the basis of the Magisterium of the Catholic church, and accepted without question by many others, was compiled only by clerical scholars selectively producing evidence in support only of their own preconceptions.

Fortunately, in the modern world we also have secular scholars delving into history, and thereby allowing fresh new tongues to speak.

Let us open our ears to hear them.

Bibliography:

earsBoswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality

Bray, Alan:  The Friend

Jordan, Mark D. : The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology

Jordan, Mark D. : The Silence of Sodom

Nissinen, Marti : Homoeroticism in the Biblical World.