All posts by Terence

More Worms (Sexual Abuse and Me: continued.)

Preamble:

Scroobious responded to my previous post by quoting Chandler from Friends: “Can – open. Worms – everywhere!”  Sorry to do this, Scrooby, but today there are more cans and more worms – and they’re breeding.

The content of this post does not belong on this blog.  It has (almost) nothing to do with the church, and nothing strictly to do with LGBT/queer.

It is also not easy to write (especially as my daughter is one of my most loyal readers), and may be disturbing to read. Those of a sensitive disposition – be warned. However, it is an important  sequel to my last post on the subject, and an essential prelimiary to my more important observations on abuse in general, and of the church in particular.  And so it must be done.




The Gang Show, Johannesburg, 1960′s.

In my early teens, I spent some very happy years as a boy scout in a troop affiliated to our Catholic parish (although the church connection is only minimally relevant here).  A highlight of these years was my annual participation in the local “Gang Show” – a variety concert produced annually as a regional fundraiser, by individual boys and adult scouters drawn from scout troops across the city.  From my own troop, there were three adults fully involved (sometimes more), and 6-8 boys.  Transport was provided for the whole group by the dedicated scoutmaster, who drove a typically 60′s VW ‘Kombi minibus, in which we all travelled twice a week to rehearsals, and later to performances.

During the third year of my participation, when I will have been about 13, I found myself being befriended by a man who was the District Commissioner for my own troop.  It did not occur to me to question why I should have been singled out for his attentions – although I did become aware that he had a reputation for having befriended other pretty young faces in previous years.  On a few occasions, he volunteered after rehearsals to drive me home in his smart red convertible.  These trips were without incident – exccept for the  icecreams he treated me with en route.

The climax of the rehearsal period always came with a weekend scout camp, for intensive rehearsals, wardrobe fittings, and technical preparations,  as well as more conventional scouting fun things – an evening campfire and the like.   Given the large numbers attending, there were not tents for all, so the boys and some of the adults spread our sleeping bags in a large shed of some kind:  30 or 40 boys, and perhaps 6 or 8 adults.  Surprise:  one of those adults was my district commissioner, who contrived to lay his sleeping bag next to mine.

After lights out, after quiet had begun to settle, he began to whisper endearments, then surprised me by slipping  his hand inside my sleeping bag, and caressing me – before giving me my first experience of fellatio.  I vividly remember two incidental features in particular:  his constant assurances that what he was doing was not wrong, as he was simply expressing his great affection for me; and the after action cigarette he lit up, the red coal glowing brightly like a beacon in the night.   (Complaints from the other adults about the smoking made it clear the other adults were not yet all asleep).

During the 40+ years since, I have never thought of the experience as particularly traumatic.  What I found remarkable, and want to stress now, is not that the event occurred, but the obvious (albeit passive) collusion of the other adults around us.

This man will have been well known to the adults of my own troop – he was our district commissioner. They must surely have known of his reputation – if I, in my innocence and naivety, overheard rumours of his attentions to other young boys, so would they.  Yet they went along with him in allowing him to butter me up on transport home.  Then, on the night of the camp, could the other adults n the shed really have been oblivious to what was going on amongst them?  Even if they did not realise the full extent, nor made out the actual words, surely they must have realised that the constant low murmuring was from an adult man addressing a young boy under cover of darkness?

Final reflection:

Whenever I have had cause to recall these events, I have felt and believed that I did not  feel particularly ‘traumatised’ or ‘victimised’.  That was certainly so at a conscious level. However, in starting to write this series of posts, and thinking about this one in particular, I have found myself emotionally affected at a level I have not done before.  I also now recall something previously forgotten – a deep feeling of confusion and panic as I realised he was doing down on me.

Now I have to ask:  if writing about psychological trauma is healing and therapeutic, but I have never before felt traumatised, why have I now felt the need for healing?

I hope this has not been too uncomfortable to read, but you were warned. Thanks for sticking with me.  Now there will be no more dirty lttle secrets – the next instalment will move on to the lessons and conclusions I draw from the experiences.

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Marriage Equality & the Church.

Wedding cake of a same-sex marriage, photo tak...

In the wake of the disappointing, but expected, Californian ruling on Prop 8, it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the gains elsewhere, and especially on the impact on the churches.

It is well known how rapidly legal recognition of same sex marriage has progressed: first in Iowa, by court order, then in rapid succession Vermont and Maine by legislative action. New Hampshire is not quite there yet, but it is likely just a matter of time – as it is in New York and New Jersey.  DC has voted to recognise marriages legally conducted elsewhere, Washington has approved expansion of their civil union regime to ‘everything but marriage’, and in many other states and city jurisdictions, there have been less dramatic, incremental gains.  These have been widely reported and celebrated.




One big advance, and the one that I suspect may be more important for its long term impact on the churches of the world, has drawn remarkably little attention.  The day before the Iowa announcement, and drowned out of the news by the drama of developments in Iowa and New England, The Swedish parliament, with the minumum of fuss or fanfare, and the support of all the major parties, voted to make Sweden the fith country in Europe to recognise same sex marriage.   For those of us in Europe, especially if we are committed to the ideal of ever closer union, this is obviously more significant than the stop-start progress in some minor American states and cities. But I believe that the siginificance for all of us is substantial, particularly if we are professed Christians.  Why?

In the US, and also here in the UK, the legal provisions for same sex marriage or civil unions/partnerships, where they exist, are quite specifically for ‘civil’ marriage or partnerships.  Indeed, the British legislation specifically prohibits the use of religious language or premises for the ceremony; increasinlgy, US legislators are cradting thier gains by spelling  out the the legislation proposed places no obligations on religious minsters, or even staff.

The Swedish situation is quite different. The legislation quite specifically provides for legal recognition of either civil or church marriage. This has huge implications for the Swedish Lutheran Church, which until recently was the official state church of the country, with special status, even funding, in the legal system.  This has changed, but the informal ties and status remain strong.  So what was the response of the church?   Did they start weeping and wailing and gnashing there teeth? Did they lament the moral decadence of the country?  Did they offer grudging toleration, with ifs and buts to demand a right of opt-out?  None of the above.  a final decision awaits a full synod later in the summer, but the provisional, formal response was that the church would understand and ‘excuse’ any pastor who, as a matter of conscience,  felt s/he could NOT preside over same sex weddings.  That’s right – the specail consideration and understanding goes to those who are opposed:  the default position, buy Sweden’s major church, is to take in their stride same sex marriage conducted in church. Unless I have wildly misread the situation, this is likely to be the standard position after the synod later this year.

This will have important ripple effects, notably elsewhere in the EU.  Pressure for marriage equality will undoubtedly continue to spread across the EU, particularly in Western Europe.  When (not if), equality reaches Germany and Austria, the German Lutheran church, and also the German and Austrian Catholic churches,  will have to consider carefully their position.  All of them have special state recognition and funding.  Even in advance of legislation, just the propect of pressure for marriage, is forcing the churches into hard tactical consideration – faced with an emergin gay marriage lobby, the Portuguese Bishops proposed civil partnerships as a compromise solution – thus embracing the very proposal that there English counterparts strongly opposed a few years back.

In the English speaking world, the troubles caused to the Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopalians) by disputes over homosexuality are well known. But while skirmishing continues, it is clear that over the longer term view, the tide is clearly turning in the direction of greater acceptance. The continuning expansion of legal recognition of civil marriage across the USA is already forcing more and more individual pastors, and local jursdictions, into fresh consideration of their own stance – and an increasing minority are  coming down on the side of at least blessing, and possibly solemnising, these unions in church.  Every synod season sees new debates on these. Where there is not yet victory, the margins of defeat are generally narrowing.

For me, the most heartening aspect of this, is the increasing number of reports I am seeing of sincere religious clergy of goodwill, who have found themselves prayerfully re-examining scriptures, theology and church history in search of guidance – and concluding that established church strictures against homosexuallity are without scriptural foundation, and misguided. (The recently released survey of ‘mainline protestant clergy’ attitudes to SSM has some fascinating figures on this).

There is no longer any doubt:  marriage equality is spreading steadily across the world, and across the US.  As it does so, the churches will increasingly be forced to grapple with, and re-examine, their own beliefs.  In doing so, many will reverse long-standing opposition to same sex relationships, and see the value of recognising commitment, whatever the orientation or gender of the partners.

The Catholic church will be behind the trend – but will not resist indefinitely.  Here, too, truth will triumph in the end.

Same Sex Marriage:  coming (soon) to a church near you – but not yet to a Catholic parish.

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Marriage Equality & the Church – Sweden

Wedding cake of a same-sex marriage, photo tak...
In the wake of the disappointing, but expected, Californian ruling on Prop 8, it is worth stepping back and reflecting on the gains elsewhere, and especially on the impact on the churches.
It is well known how rapidly legal recognition of same sex marriage has progressed: first in Iowa, by court order, then in rapid succession Vermont and Maine by legislative action. New Hampshire is not quite there yet, but it is likely just a matter of time – as it is in New York and New Jersey.  DC has voted to recognise marriages legally conducted elsewhere, Washington has approved expansion of their civil union regime to ‘everything but marriage’, and in many other states and city jurisdictions, there have been less dramatic, incremental gains.  These have been widely reported and celebrated.




One big advance, and the one that I suspect may be more important for its long term impact on the churches of the world, has drawn remarkably little attention.  The day before the Iowa announcement, and drowned out of the news by the drama of developments in Iowa and New England, The Swedish parliament, with the minimum of fuss or fanfare, and the support of all the major parties, voted to make Sweden the fith country in Europe to recognise same sex marriage.   For those of us in Europe, especially if we are committed to the ideal of ever closer union, this is obviously more significant than the stop-start progress in some minor American states and cities. But I believe that the significance for all of us is substantial, particularly if we are professed Christians.  Why?
In the US, and also here in the UK, the legal provisions for same sex marriage or civil unions/partnerships, where they exist, are quite specifically for ‘civil’ marriage or partnerships.  Indeed, the British legislation specifically prohibits the use of religious language or premises for the ceremony; increasinlgy, US legislators are cradting thier gains by spelling  out the the legislation proposed places no obligations on religious minsters, or even staff.
The Swedish situation is quite different. The legislation quite specifically provides for legal recognition of either civil or church marriage. This has huge implications for the Swedish Lutheran Church, which until recently was the official state church of the country, with special status, even funding, in the legal system.  This has changed, but the informal ties and status remain strong.  So what was the response of the church?   Did they start weeping and wailing and gnashing there teeth? Did they lament the moral decadence of the country?  Did they offer grudging toleration, with ifs and buts to demand a right of opt-out?  None of the above.  a final decision awaits a full synod later in the summer, but the provisional, formal response was that the church would understand and ‘excuse’ any pastor who, as a matter of conscience,  felt s/he could NOT preside over same sex weddings.  That’s right – the specail consideration and understanding goes to those who are opposed:  the default position, buy Sweden’s major church, is to take in their stride same sex marriage conducted in church. Unless I have wildly misread the situation, this is likely to be the standard position after the synod later this year.
This will have important ripple effects, notably elsewhere in the EU.  Pressure for marriage equality will undoubtedly continue to spread across the EU, particularly in Western Europe.  When (not if), equality reaches Germany and Austria, the German Lutheran church, and also the German and Austrian Catholic churches,  will have to consider carefully their position.  All of them have special state recognition and funding.  Even in advance of legislation, just the propect of pressure for marriage, is forcing the churches into hard tactical consideration – faced with an emergin gay marriage lobby, the Portuguese Bishops proposed civil partnerships as a compromise solution – thus embracing the very proposal that there English counterparts strongly opposed a few years back.
In the English speaking world, the troubles caused to the Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopalians) by disputes over homosexuality are well known. But while skirmishing continues, it is clear that over the longer term view, the tide is clearly turning in the direction of greater acceptance. The continuning expansion of legal recognition of civil marriage across the USA is already forcing more and more individual pastors, and local jursdictions, into fresh consideration of their own stance – and an increasing minority are  coming down on the side of at least blessing, and possibly solemnising, these unions in church.  Every synod season sees new debates on these. Where there is not yet victory, the margins of defeat are generally narrowing.
For me, the most heartening aspect of this, is the increasing number of reports I am seeing of sincere religious clergy of goodwill, who have found themselves prayerfully re-examining scriptures, theology and church history in search of guidance – and concluding that established church strictures against homosexuallity are without scriptural foundation, and misguided. (The recently released survey of ‘mainline protestant clergy’ attitudes to SSM has some fascinating figures on this).
There is no longer any doubt:  marriage equality is spreading steadily across the world, and across the US.  As it does so, the churches will increasingly be forced to grapple with, and re-examine, their own beliefs.  In doing so, many will reverse long-standing opposition to same sex relationships, and see the value of recognising commitment, whatever the orientation or gender of the partners.
The Catholic church will be behind the trend – but will not resist indefinitely.  Here, too, truth will triumph in the end.
Same Sex Marriage:  coming (soon) to a church near you – but not yet to a Catholic parish.
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The Paddywhack and Me.

“The Time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things:
Of school, and sex, of paddywhacks, and too, of boy scouting.”

Preamble

I have up to now steered clear of much commentary on the persistent and abundant stories of clerical abuse.  There is however a limit to how long one can hold one’s tongue.  The reasons for my silence up to now are simple:

1)   This is personal.

2)   The issues are far more complex and multifaceted then press reports, or popular commentary, would lead us to believe.

3)  Too often, those attempting to spell out in honesty the complexities and subtleties of the issues, are simply branded as apologists for evil.

So, silence has been easier. Now, however, reports are coming closer to home, and I can no longer bite my tongue.   Before spelling out my take, though, some obvious points in full disclosure.




First, I speak not from abstract knowledge, but from personal experience.  I was myself at the receiving end of some of these things, in two separate contexts.  To my own experience, I have added reflections on stories I have heard from others, and from published sources.

Second, I take it as axiomatic that any form of abuse of young children, whether sexual or physical, or evn simple neglect, is inexcusable and unacceptable.

I state freely that my own sexual orientation is primarily homosexual; – that is, I am attracted sexually to other men.

This attraction, however, is emphatically to men – adult men – and not in any way to children, adolescents, or even to young men.  My own attraction has always been to those of around my own age.

I have no intention whatsoever, of excusing, explaining 0r justifying sexual abuse by anyone.  And yet…..

The Problem

The problem as I see it is that too much of the standard reaction is one of near hysteria, bundling a wide range of behaviours into the catchall ‘abuse’, and assuming that all instances of inappropriate behaviour by adults with children are damaging to the child’s future development.  I am not so sure.  Further, there needs to be a little more recognition paid to the allocation of responsibility in these matters:  at least in the case of older children, some at least are at times complicit in welcoming,  encouraging or even inviting inappropriate attention from adults. there is surely a huge gulf in significance, and possilbe longer term harm,  between the vicious rape of a young child, and inappropriate touching or caressing of a flirtatious teenager.  Yet both of these extremes are loosely and carelessly lumped together, along with other behaviours, under the blanket term ‘abuse’. I am also a little cynical about at least some of the claims being made, and wonder if the case for substantial monetary compensation is always fully justified.  Finally, discussion of the problem of clerical abuse frequently struggles with the issues of just where, realistically, one can apportion responsiblity and blame, and what is to be done to prevent future problems.

Trying to spin out these complexities will take me down several byways, sharing experiences and reflections, and cannot be brief.  To avoid a tediously lengthy post, I will spin it out into several bites: my primary school experience with the Christian Brothers;   secondary school with the OMI priests; parallel experiences in the boy scouts; my thoughts on the lasting impact on my life; and my conclusions on the implications for the church.

My experience: Double abuse with the Christian Brothers.

Reports of clerical sexual abuse of children have been emerging for several years now, particularly from the USA, but also form other countries. The reason I have been personally stung in particular by the latest scandal, is that they emerge from Ireland, that great source of missionary educators during the 20th Century, and at whose hands I and my sister received a substantial a substantial part of our schooling in South Africa.  Much (not all) of what is described in the Irish reports is immediately recognisable to me, as having been directly replicated by Irish men and women transplanted across the globe.

My earliest schooling was in co-educational classes in local convent schools in Cape Town, later in Johannesburg, run by two orders of religious sisters, about which I have nothing to say – my memories are blurred but generally positive.  I was then removed from the increasingly female environment, to a Christian Brothers school some substantial distance from my home, where I stayed for two years, before transferring, with great relief to a small secondary school much closer to home.  Those two years with the Christian Brothers were, without any doubt, the unhappiest years of my school career.  Over the ensuing four decades, whenever I have met people who like me have experienced education with the Brothers, I have shared my views – and always found agreement.  ”The Christian Brothers are notorious”, has been a common response.

I freely acknowledge there were external, unavoidable reasons why I would in any case have been ill-disposed to the school:  a long, cumbersome journey involving a bus, a train, and a lengthy walk were too much for a ten year old;  I did not enojy compulsory participation in a sport (rugby) that I did not care for or understand; and suffered as an outsider for arriving as a painfully shy, sensitive bookish lad two years later than most of my classmates had done – by which time friendship groups and social routines had been long set.  I was never going to fit in too easily.

But those I could have coped with.  The real problem, shared by so many others I have spoken to, was the unrelenting regime of physical punishment. I make no claims to angelic virtue, but as a bright and naturally quiet student who enjoyed schoolwork, I cannot imagine that my behaviour can have been particularly bad, while my academic results were consistently good.  Yet my memory (probably faulty) was that scarcely a day passed when I was not beaten in one way or another, for some misdemeanour at least once during the day.  It must surely have been worse for naturally rowdy boys, or for those who were punished ( as some were) for simple ignorance or substandard work.

Not all the Brothers were equally vicious, although there was a general expectation that most would use the cane or the strap as the first line of correction for any fault, whether of behaviour, academic slackness, or ignorance.  Two exceptions stand out in my memory:

The first, exceptional as being even more vicious than the others,  was one man who had a particular fondness for the “paddywhack”, an infamous Irish instrument of schoolboy torture constructed of strips of leather stitched together down the edges, containing within it pennies – hard coins to give  the instrument additional weight and bite. I can still see the distinct gleam in his eye as he caught sight of some poor boy caught out in minor wrongdoing.  ”Lookitt, lookitt”, he would cry at frequent intervals through the day, before bringing the weapon down hard on the miscreant’s outstretched palm.  This creature terrorised me for almost half my lessons, over both the two years I was there.

The other was exceptional in quite another way.  This was the teacher of religion, whom we saw for just one lesson daily, for one of my two years.  He was gentleness itself, seldom (if ever) resorting to physical punishment. Instead of the stick, he preferred to use the carrot of praise, with which he was generous to a fault.  If any one achieved any minor success in written or oral work, he would be sure to find himself called to the front of the class for public recognition, where he would find himself standing on top of teacher’s desk, for all the class to get a better look at the little saint.  To further show his approval, this teacher would then give the boy a gentle little pat on the knee, while explaining just why the achievement in question was so worthy.  In doing so, the hand would somehow remain in place on the knee, and then slowly sidle up the thigh, and under the shorts.  Even at ten years old, and widely ignorant of the ways of men, we knew just what he was doing, and snickered about it amongst ourselves.

The Irish report describes three broad categories of ‘abuse’:  physical neglect or harsh conditions, excessive physical punishment, and sexual abuse.  I have no experience of the first, but do have direct personal experience of both the others. What was the impact on my life?

There is no doubt I resent the beatings. Physical punishment of course was not unusual at the time, and I experienced it also in my later school – but not to anything like the same degree of frequency or severity, and I was able to take in in my stride.  But my experience of punishment from one of those Christian Brothers in particular was so gratuitous, so clearly sadistic, that it has always remained a bitter memory, colouring my recollection of the order as a whole.

The touching (more accurately, groping) was entirely different.   Viewed with adult eyes, this was clearly sexual in intent, and entirely inappropriate, as even at that age we recognised.  But to us at the time it was more a joke, the weakness of a sad old man, than actual harm.  I did not then resent it, nor do I now.  Indeed, it would be true to say that I welcomed the attention and delighted in the praise.  If the price was a little bit of touching up on my thigh, that was fine by me.

The nature of my experience was, of course, much less severe than that experienced by many others, nor can I imagine how others on the receiving end might have viewed their own experiences.  But given how so much of the standard media attention focuses on the sexual abuse, I have to point out that for me, this was not what mattered.  I condemn unreservedly any abuse of the very young, and of more substantive sexual contact.  But I do have to ask, in the light of my own experience, are the milder forms of inappropriate touching really as heinous as the public outcry usually suggests?  Ek vra maar net.  (Afrikaans:  ”just asking”)

I should also add, as an aside, that my sister says her own experience of what she saw as the sadistic punishments meted out by the convent sisters, was enough to turn her against the Catholic Church, and organised religion, for life.

More, later.

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Catholic ‘Dissent’

As a child in Catholic primary schools, I vividly remember memorising, page by page, the catechism of the church:  first a slim little red version, later a slightly fatter grey-green version for older students.

“Who made you?
God made me.”

“Why did God make you?
To know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world,  and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

But by the time I reached secondary school, Vatican II was in progress, enthusiastically embraced by the priest who taught me RE for the next 5 years. I never again saw that little catechism.

There is a quaint view in some quarters that to be a Catholic requires that one suspend all powers of the intellect, and meekly agree to believe, and to live, exactly as one is told.  This view I emphatically reject.  One of the key parables in the Gospels is that of the 10 talents. We are taught that the Lord requires us to use all the talents we are given, for his greater glory and to further His reign on earth.  Surely the intellect is one of the greatest talents He has bestowed on us?  (Another is our sexuality, which should also be used – but that is another story.)

Michael Bayley, at The Wild Reed, writes an impressive blog from what he calls a ‘progressive, gay, Catholic perspective.’  I am a regular reader, admiring in particular the way he has of presenting not only stimulating personal views, but also the best of writing from a range of others.  He also has excellent cross-references and links, so that I find that his archives alone are worth spending hours on, to explore specific themes.  But in yesterday’s post, he shares a letter he has received from a reader who states that

“this blog is just an exercise in false advertisement. For while you may in fact be progressive and gay, you are most definitely not Catholic.”




In making this assertion, the writer cites as evidence Michael’s regular criticisms of the hierarchy, his occasional writings on other faith traditions, and on some of his other activities, such as the work of the Spirit of St Stephen’s.  The comment boxes at the Wild Reed have been filling rapidly, with readers rushing to Michael’s defence.  I made my own response there, so I do not intend to elaborate further on Michael, and my support for him.  (Go to the Wild Reed yourself. Read the interchange, the recent posts which led to it, mull over the comments.  But also explore his valuable archives on dissent, and on what it means to be a Catholic).

What I do want to do here is to explore some of my own reflections on this interchange, as it affects me and this blog.

Ever since the approach of Lent, I have been struggling to get my thoughts down on the keyboard, and this is part of the reason.  I have never been one to see Lent as primarily a time of sacrifice:  rather, it is for me a time of reflection, in preparation for the great feast of the Easter resurrection.  My reflections this year have left me wanting to resolve some personal issues in developing a closer relationship with my local parish and diocese.   These do not lend themselves to public writing.

Furthermore, in setting up this blog in the first place, it was never my intention to devote it to reflexive, incessant attacks on the established church. This is what I wrote in my founding statement:

“….to all you who are gay Catholics or lapsed Catholics, a plea and invitation:  come in and come out. If you have lapsed, come back in to the Church, and help to make a difference.  If you remain a regular churchgoer, come in deeper – take on more active ministry.  Let there be no doubt of your credentials  as Catholic. Then, cautiously and gradually, come out as gay

…….. Coming out in the church will be more difficult, so you will need even more support.  I hope that this site will help you to find a suitable support network for face to face contact and discussion.  But the virtual society of the blogosphere can also represent support of a kind – and that, we definitely aim to provide.”

My track record since then has been less balanced.  (Unfortunately, simple responding to current news has left me with little choice).  Still, I am mindful that my intention from the start was to focus on the ‘Good News’ that is inherent in the Gospels, in the gift of our sexuality, and in the great tradition of the Catholic Church.

So, the debate at the Wild Reed has brought into focus how I can (belatedly) reflect in this blog, part of my own Lenten resolution. For the next few weeks, I will be attempting to present a more positive view of the Church which, for all its failings, remains my spiritual home.

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Benedict’s New Clothes

Michael Bayley, at The Wild Reed, and Colleen Cochivar-Baker at Enlightened Catholicism, show a fascinating exchange of views on the declining numbers in the Western church.  (Both are responding to a reported drop in numbers in the US /Canadian Catholic Church, but the same pattern applies even more in Europe.)  Colleenbelieves that this decline is a reflection of disillusion by baby boomers at the failure of Vatican II, coupled with an ingrained aversion by generation x’ers and millenials to enforced conformity; Michael argues that his ‘crisis’ is in fact an opportunity, and quotes examples of the  ways in which local churches are refusing to go along with the Vatican, and taking control of their own circumstances.

In general, I agree with Michael, but here I am tempted go even further. Reading and reflecting on his links, and on some related material, I began to wonder. In our outraged reactions to the events of the past few months, to Vatican excesses and stupidity, have we all been missing the point?  In seeking to assert and extend Vatican control, is not Benedict increasingly resembling the Hans Christian Anderson’s Emperor:  displaying to the world the new clothes he does not have?

Among Michael’s links, I was particularly enthused by the story from the Netherlands, reported in the National Catholic Reporter. Later, I came across a report in New Catholic Times on how Asian bishops are holding fast to the V2 reforms, and a story in Dignity’sQuarterly Voice called “The Gay Catholic Insurgency”.  In this, Brian McNeill reflects on a book about the Russian military’s struggle against Afghan insurgents, which he sees as an instructive analogy for the struggle of the church to contain gay Catholics.  Substituting the words “Church authority” for “the military” and “the Catholic faithful” for “the people”, he quotes:

“The church authorities can never defeat a truly grassroots movement of the faithful. We, the GLBT insurgents, never need to win, we just have to continue to fight. In fighting against us, the hierarchy is fighting its own people, which thwarts its stated purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, and creating the Reign of God. They will never win as long as we continue our efforts. The harder they fight us, the more they alienate the Catholic faithful and reveal themselves as hypocrites.”

Quite so.




From my own experience, I draw a different analogy.  Growing up in South Africa, the first 25 years of my life coincided with the relentless extension of apartheid repression into many areas of life.  In 1976, the Soweto youth revolt began a new phase of popular resistance.  Increasingly, the state attempted to counter with increasingly harsh security legislation and military control, but this was simply met with further resistance.  As years passed, it became obvious that real power was being transferred from the official apparatus of the state to the unofficial popular leaders in the townships. One after another, bits and pieces of apartheid legislation fell into abeyance as they were ignored or publicly flouted in passive resistance, until these laws were gradually repealed.  When the formal political transformation began in 1990, this was not out of the generosity of the government wanting to change, but out of simple realism – the recognition that political reality had indeed changed already, and there was a need to adjust to the new circumstances.

In “The pain and the endgame”, one of James Alison’s many insightful observations was that as a consequence of the bludgeoning we gay and lesbian Catholics have received, we have become highly sensitive to small slights, while tending to lose sight of the signs of progress. So let us take stock of current progress (not specifically on LGBT issues here, but more generally).

Whatever the stance of the Vatican on sexual issues, it is a common observation that at the local level, Catholic parishes and individual priests are far more tolerant and understanding of nonconformists (e.g. to contraception, to divorcees, or to young adults in sexual relationships before marriage) than they used to be.

At senior levels of the hierarchy, the fuss over SSPX, and over earlier controversies, saw unprecedented levels of public criticism from the ranks of the bishops.

Despite official insistence that the topics of married priests and women priests are off-limits, in practice such discussion is becoming widespread, even encouraged, in some national churches.

Despite vigorous opposition, the womenpriests movement is growing, and attracting willing congregations. At the Spirit of St Stephen’s, parishioners are doing it for themselves – just as the Netherlands’ Dominican order is actively recommending. And the full body of Asian bishops is insisting on continuing to implement the empowerment of the laity, and of local churches, as promised by Vatican II. This degree of resistance, public criticism, and non-compliance would have been unimaginable before the Council.

In lamenting the incomplete implementation of the council’s intentions, the failure of the laity themselves to accept fully the responsibilities they were offered, and current attempts to undermine the reforms, we lose sight of one crucial fact: The empowerment that was put into effect, cannot be undone. To switch from Hans Christian Anderson with whom I headlined this post to the Arabian Nights, the genie has been let out of the bottle, and cannot now be forced back.

There was a time when it was possible for church authorities to control all access to religious knowledge and influence, but those days have gone. First was ceded access to scripture, then to a vernacular Mass, to active participation in the liturgy and to ministry, and to formal theological studies. In the world of modern technology, theology, canon law, church history and scriptural study are all freely available to anyone, even outside formal training institutions, to anyone with a keyboard and internet connection.

In the secular world, democracy has spread even in Latin America and Africa.Organisations of all kinds have found, over the last few decades that the old hierarchical pyramids of control no longer work as they used to, and are being replaced by flatter structures and horizontal project teams. Osama’s victory was just the most dramatic, most public example, of the value of this.

No power can continue indefinitely to hold onto control without the consent, or at least the acquiescence, of the governed. Benedict’s attempts to further centralise control are flying in the face of modern realities. Unless he and shi successors recognises this reality, the greater the danger that they will find themselves controlling a shrinking, lifeless institutional church – but life and authority will have flowed to a real, living church beyond his reach.

Soho Masses

I spent last Saturday with a group of 20 LGBT Catholics on a pastoral planning workshop for the ‘Soho Masses’.  These Masses are now marking a double anniversary:  this week is the 2nd anniversary of their formal recognition by the diocese, and a move into a Catholic church, while April will mark the 10th anniversary of their inception, on a much smaller scale.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to tell you a little more about who we are, and why this journey has been important.

For American readers, bear in mind that here in the UK, we are way behind you – the British are well known for their national reserve in all things, which extends also to LGBT activism, and to the church.  (An American participant on Saturday noted how marked is the contrast she has seen, with British laity far more subservient, and less assertive in dealings with the hierarchy, than their American counterparts.)  So we have a long way to go – but it is still worth noting how far we have come.




10 years ago, a small group of lesbian and gay Catholics met in private domestic premises in North London for what was in effect a house Mass.  This became a regular monthly event, with a steady rise in numbers.  After a while,  the premises became no longer available, forcing a move.  This turned out to be beneficial, as we were able to make use of premises in the heart of Soho – London’ s gay mecca- in a modern Anglican church.  The nature of the physical space and the location  were ideal, and numbers continued to expand.  Frequency was also increased, to twice monthly. (Many of the congregation travel in from outlying areas, where they are actively engaged in local parishes of their own.)

Surveys of the congregation showed how highly the participants valued these services, for the simple affirmation that they represent, for the sensitive and intelligent homilies appropriate to our lives, for the impressive liturgies (thank you, Martin),  and for the warm welcome and community experienced over tea and biscuits.

Increasing success, however, also brought unwelcome attention from some more conservative opponents, who began agitating  for the Cardinal to close down the ‘heretical’ Masses which were being celebrated for ‘sinners’ in an Anglican church.  From our side, relationships with the diocese were confused and cautious, with decidedly mixed signals being received, so that we were were never quite sure whether we would in fact be shut down, or if we might achieve some degree of diocesan accommodation or recognition.

When the change came, it was the latter. Late in 2006, we received information that the Cardinal, through his representative, wished to open discussions with a view to offering us a permanent home in an inner London parish. – and made clear that he hoped to see the move concluded rapidly, within weeks.  We welcomed these discussions, but refused to be steamrollered.  After some months’ careful and frank discussions, we did indeed move into our present home in Soho. This parish has a long and notable history of its own, but as an inner city parish no longer has a significant resident population.  There were still regular Sunday and weekday Masses, but these were poorly attended.  The agreement reached was that we would be specifically welcomed, ‘within a parish context’, at the regular 5:00 pm Mass on the 1st & 3rd Sundays of each month – identical to our existing timing.

Although we welcomed the formal recognition and acceptance that this implied, we had some important reservations and suspicions, which involved intensive consultation and discussion with the community before we agreed, and celebrated (in grand style) our first Mass in the new home in March 2007.

The effects of the move were clearly mixed.  We welcomed the signs of acceptance and diocesan integration that it implied, but were equally cautious of the parallel implications that the diocese was attempting to exert control.  Opposition also increased (it is ironic that the group who tried to shut down the Masses because they were held in Anglican premises,  simply saw them transferred to a historic Catholic church, where the diocesan vicar-general is now the parish priest.)      Our opponents responded in a very traditional Catholic way – by a public prayer vigil outside the church, during our Masses.  Have you ever been prayed at?  Finding myself on the receiving end of prayer as an offensive weapon was distinctly disconcerting, even to me.  Several of the less brazen congregation were sufficiently put off to stop attending.  How on earth  do these people imagine they are doing God’s work by keeping people AWAY from Sunday Mass?

Still, they persevered (in all weathers), and so did we.  From a small group 10 years ago meeting privately once a month for Mass, to a larger group of 40-60 ‘squatters’ in an Anglican parish, we are now up to 70 – 100 at any one Mass, and an estimated total of regular participants probably exceeding 200, some of whom travel great distances to attend.  (My own journey of 4 hours travelling for the round trip is not exceptional:  others come from still further afield.)  We are now strong enough to have seen 20 people give up their Saturday for a lengthy meeting, which showed me convincingly that we are have overcome the difficulties of transition, and are not ready for planned further growth.

From our existing, narrowly focused programme of Mass twice a month, we have identified the need to find ways to offer LGBT retreats, and also some form of regular meetings for discussion of LGBT related faith issues.  With regained confidence, our liturgies are likely to become (still more) assertive in affirming our LGBT identity.  We have recently formed a young persons special interest group: an older persons group may soon follow. We are also slowly developing an internet based virtual community, to support those who are unable to attend, and for all of us between Masses. We continue to enjoy liturgies which are rich spiritually and musically (we have THREE excellent organists sharing honours.)  Our celebrants, taken from a roster of remarkably gifted priests, continue to provide excellent homilies.

There remain challenges.  We have still to work out quite how to develop the relationship with the parish for the other Sunday and Weekday Masses.  The diocese, after almost pleading with us to move into the Soho church, has been remarkably unforthcoming in publicly demonstrating support in print or on their website. We will soon have a new man heading the diocese, and we have no idea how he will respond to the situation he finds himself with. Will he encourage us, try to control us, or to shut us down? And what of all those people who cannot easily get in to Soho?  Is there potential to consolidate, then replicate, the Soho model?

We do not know.  What we do know, is that there has been remarkable growth and increasing acceptance over 10 years.  In the days before our very 1st Mass, London was rocked by a vicious bomb attack on a London pub, in what was very much a hate crime.  Since then, public acceptance and legal protection for the LGBT community have grown beyond recognition. Our position  within the church, while still fraught with difficulties, is also clearly stronger than it then was.  The quality of the discussions, the enthusiasm and the positive tone on Saturday leave me convinced that  the next 10 years will bring still further growth and opportunities.

Deo Gratias!

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Clobber Texts: A New Reading of Leviticus

As I continue to investigate the issues around faith and sexuality, I am constantly in search of reliable information and analyses to set against the misinformation, selective quotations and misinterpretations that masquerade as the conventional wisdom on the subject. Recently, I was delighted when three different readers brought my attention to two useful sources, which between them contain some important, thoughtful material that deserves to be taken seriously.

The first of these that I want to introduce to you is an article by Renato Lings called “The Lyings of a Woman: Male-Male Incest in Leviticus 18:22”, in the peer review journal “Theology and Sexuality”. This journal, edited by the renowned theologians Gerald Loughlin and Elizabeth Stuart, carries an impressive range of scholarly articles, many in the fields of gay and lesbian theology, and of queer theology. (A second article in the same issue is on “Queer Worship”, which I have scheduled for publication tomorrow).





It was the well known and highly respected theologian James Alison, (who writes “from a perspective Catholic and gay) who referred me to “The Lyings of a Woman.” He wrote to me that he considered it an important article, and suggested that I get a suitable person to write a full review of it, for publishing here at QTC. I agreed fully with his assessment, and plan to publish a couple of such reviews shortly – one by John McNeill, and one by an Old Testament specialist from the Pacific Centre for Religion. I will publish these commentaries as soon as I receive them) .

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Many people in the past have assumed that these two verses from Leviticus present a clear condemnation of all forms of homosexual activity. More recently, more careful analyses have shown variously that the passage is situated in the context of the Jewish purity laws, and so represent not so much a statement of sin as of transgressions of Jewish ritual purity, with only limited relevance to Christians; or refer only to sexual penetration, with no wider application to other forms of erotic activity; that the intended meaning is not against homoerotic relationships, but is tied up with the practice of male cult (or temple) prostitution; and apply only to males.

Lings’ analysis, based on close study of the specific Hebrew words and the broader context of the passage, argues that the apparent agreement among the standard translations hides the complexity and opacity of the original Hebrew. Specifically,he suggests that the translators have erred with the phrase “as with a woman”, which is central to the conventional modern understanding. He states that there is no equivalent in the Hebrew text to the words “as with”, which distort the original meaning. To recover some sense of what that original meaning might be, he provides a close analysis of the specific Hebrew words as used elsewhere, and of the more extended context of the two verses in the full chapters that contain them.

These two chapters, he shows, are about different forms of incest. The conclusion that follows, is that the sexual activity that is prohibited is sexual relationships with males who are close relatives ! Two possible translations he suggests are:

(a) You shall not lie with close relatives, whether male or female;

(b) With a male relative you shall not engage in sexual relationships prohibited with female relatives.

Concluding, Ling paraphrases these as

You shall not commit incest with any close relative, male or female.

I hope this has whet your appetite. Look out for more formal evaluation later, from commentators better qualified than I. However, the article as a whole deserves to be read in full. Unfortunately, it is not possible to carry it here, so you would need to get hold of a copy of Theology & Sexuality from the publishers.

Remember, in all of the Old Testament, there are precisely three texts which even appear to condemn homoerotic relationships. The passage from Genesis 19, telling the story of Sodom, quite clearly has nothing to do with sexual relationships, which leaves only these two twin texts from Leviticus, 18:22 and 20:13. Lings’ analysis, combined with the other modern interpretations as described above, at the very least shows that whatever else the precise words may mean, they do no exclude all forms of loving relationships between men – as long as they are not incestuous, not done as part of temple or cult rituals, non-penetrative, and not between Jews.

That leaves open quite a lot of possibilities, then

See also:

For a Quaker view of this paper, see the discussion at Friends World Committee on Consultation

Recommended Books:

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality

Countryman, William : Dirt Greed & Sex

Rogers, Jack Bartlett: Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality, Revised and Expanded Edition: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church

Helminiak, Daniel What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

 

 

 

 

 

 Church, Power & Abuse

Depressing church news over the past two months has led me to pick up and start reading a book which has been on my shelves some time, but which I have previously only dipped into.  The removal of  excommunication of SPXX  members has received wide and ongoing publicity; clerical sexual abuse is again in the news with the FBI reopening old investigations in LA Diocese, and fresh revelations over   Fr Marcial Maarciel Delgado of the Legionnaires of Christ.  Meanwhile, on the progressive wing of the church, there has been less coverage in the MSM of the silencing or excommunication of the priests  Fr Roger Haight,  Geoffrey Farrow and Roy  Bourgeois, or of bizarre goings-on in the parishes of St Mary’s, Brisbane and St Stephen’s, Minneapolis, where attempts to muzzle complete parishes have led to resistance (St Mary’s) or exodus (St Stephen’s).
Confronting Power and Sex

What all these have in common is that they are concerned with power in the church – its extension, its abuse, or attempts to defy or resist it.  so I picked up again  “Confronting Power & Sex in the Catholic Church”, by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.  I am pleased that I did.  Published in 2007, this book has much to say that is directly relevant to current events. Although I have not yet finished reading, and this is far from a formal review, I have already found much of value that I thought would be worth sharing.

Bishop Robinson was Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney from 1984, and in 1994 was appointed by the Australian Bishops to a position of leadership in the Australian church’s response to revelations of sexual abuse.  Following his retirement in 2004, he felt freer in speaking his mind, leading to the publication of this valuable book.





Continue reading  Church, Power & Abuse

Gay Lovers in Church History

At a time when some Catholic bishops are actively intervening in the political process to prevent gay marriage and gay adoption, it could be helpful to remember that in the long history of the Christian faith, outright hostility to same sex relationships has not always been inevitable. In the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and in the early, medieval and modern church, there have been numerous examples  of Christian recognition of same sex relationships, both as formal rites and procedures, and by personal example.

SS Sergius & Bacchus, Gay lovers, Roman soldires, martyrs and saints.
SS Sergius & Bacchus: Gay lovers, Roman soldiers, martyrs and saints.

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In Scripture:

  • God & Adam:  Chris Glaser (“Coming out As Sacrament“) has observed that the very first love story in the Bible, and certainly the most important, can be viewed as between two “males” – that between God and Adam. Yes, it is completely false and simplistic just to accept the conventional pronoun and to think of God in purely masculine terms, but the point is an important one. Whoever we are, male female or neither, we know that God loves us. We may think of God in whatever gendered terms we like – and that could certainly include a same-sex relationship.



  • David & Jonathan: Many people protest that there is no evidence that the relationship between these two took physical form, but a more compelling argument is that there is also no evidence that it did not – and there is substantial evidence of its emotional intensity. It is also one of the two relationships which represent the longest love stories in the Bible. The other is another which is about a same sex pair – Ruth and Naomi.
  • Ruth & Naomi Here too there are naysayers arguing that this is “just” a family relationship, but this misses the point. Whatever else it is, this is clearly a story of a deep emotional love and mutual commitment between two women.
  • Jesus &  the Beloved Disciple:  We cannot know precisely the nature of this relationship, but it was clearly a close one. We also do not know for certain the identity of the Beloved Disciple, although many people assume it is John the Evangelist. (There was even a long standing tradition in some parts of the Church, that the couple being married at Cana were Jesus and John). Others disagree, suggesting Lazarus, among other possibilities.
  • Martha & Mary – Described in the New Testament as ‘sisters’, but this may have been a euphemism for lesbian lovers.
  • Philip and Bartholomew:  Included in the Apostles, cited together in the Eucharistic prayer of the Mass, these were frequently named as a couple in the early liturgies of same-sex union.
  • The Roman Centurion and his “pais” (= slave/lover) represent the clearest possible evidence that Christ himself did not reject people in same -sex relationships, and was even willing to go into the home of the Roman  – an extraordinary thing for a Jew to do, in the  context of the deep resentment against the Roman military occupation.
  • St Paul and Timothy are sometimes named as possibly having a relationship that was more than just spiritual.
  • Euodia and Syntyche of Phillippi were a missionary couple active in the early church , mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:2-3)
  • Tryphaena and Tryphosa were a further missionary couple active in the early church, mentioned in in Rom 16.

The Early  & Medieval Church

In the early church, many saints and martyrs are remembered as pairs of lovers. The church also created and used formal rites for church blessing couples committing to each other in same sex unions. In addition to liturgical recognition of these unions at their start, some couple also achieved church recognition at their dissolution in death, by being buried together in church tombs, in a manner exactly comparable to that widely used for conventionally married couples.

Here are some examples:

  • SS Sergius & Bacchus, Roman soldiers, lovers, martyrs and recognised as saints by popular acclamation, are by a long way the best known of the so-called “gay saints” (although I prefer to use the descriptor “queer”).
  • SS Polyeuct and Nearchos, are not as well known as Sergius and Bacchus, but like them were Roman soldiers and martyrs who became recognized as saints. They are frequently named together in the liturgical rites of same-sex union.
  • St Paulinus of Nola was a Bishop who also wrote homoerotic poetry to his male lover, Ausonius

Other paired saints who were often named in these rites and other liturgies (including, in some cases, the Mass) are

  • The  ‘two Theodores’, one a foot soldier martyred in the fourth century, and the other a general invented in the ninth century to form a pair, are often depicted with their arms around one another, and they are paired together with Serge and Bacchus in Kievan icons dating from before the twelfth century.
  • Peter and Paul
  • Peter and Andrew
  • Jacob and John
  • Philip and Bartholomew
  • Cosmos and Damian
  • Cyrus and John
  • Marcellus and Apuleius
  • Cyprian and Justinus
  • Dionysius and Eleutheris
  • George and Demetrius.

Some couples who were found by archaeologists to have been buried together in Macedonia in the 4th to the 6th centuries were:

  • Faustinos and Donatos (at Phillippi),
  • Posidonia, and Pancharia,
  • Kyriakos and Nikandros,
  • Gourasios and Konstantios,
  • Euodiana and Dorothea (at Phillippi),
  • Martyrios, a presbyter, and Demetrios, a lector (at Edessa),
  • Eudoxios, presbyter, and John, a deacon described as “the sinner” (at Edessa),
  • Droseria and Eudoxia (at Edessa),
  • Athanasios and Chryseros: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.
  • Alexandra and Glukeria: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  6th century
  • St Patrick of Ireland:  after his escape from early slavery, Patrick worked for time as a male prostitute. A recent history of Irish homosexualilty suggests that he may have taken a male lover in later life
  • St Brigid of Ireland may have had a female lover, Darlughdach – although, as with many of the early saints, the historical details of her life are sketchy and unreliable.
  • Several Bishops of the medieval church are known to have have had male sexual partners. Archbishop Ralph of Tours even got his boyfriend John, who had a well-deserved reputation for promiscuity, named as bishop of Orleans. Other bishops were renowned for the poetry and love letters they wrote to their boyfriends. (SeeThe Homoerotic Flowering of the Medieval Church)

It was not only the Eastern church that sometimes buried same sex couples in shared tombs. The historian Alan Bray (“The Friend“) has described the shared tombs of the Irish and English couples

  • Dicul and Maelodran the wright (Delgany, County Wicklow);
  • Ultan and Dubthach (Termonfechin, County Louth);
  • John Bloxham and John Wyndham (Merton College Chapel, Oxford,  14th Century);
  • William Neville & John Neville:  English knights, buried together in Galata, near Constantinople 14th Century.
  • Nicholas Molyneux and John Winters: made a compact of ‘sworn brotherhood, made in the church of St Martin of Harfleur. 15th century.

Renaissance to Modern

  • John Finch and Thomas Baines were buried together in Christ’s College Chapel, Cambridge (17th Century).
  • Fulke Greville & Sir Phillip Sidney: the joint monument Greville planned for himself and Sidney in St Paul’s cathedral was never built.  But the simple intention alone indicates the natrure of the relationship, as also its recognition by the church.
  • Cardinal John Henry Newman and Fr. Ambrose St.John were buried together, 19th C. There is no suggestion that their deep love was anything but celibate, in keeping with their vows. All the same, reflection on this relationship raises important questions about the response of the Catholic Church to same sex relationships in our own day.