All posts by Terence

LGBT Saints: Response to Fr James Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Advocate.com

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

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

Related Posts

Some Very Queer Saints and Martyrs

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

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

LGBT Saints Series (QSpirit)

English Bishops Oppose Homophobic Bullying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Posts:

Krysztof Charamsa, on masturbation

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

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

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

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

When masturbating did you have homosexual fantasies?

Yes.

That was not nice?

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

Some “#ThingsJesusNeverSaid”

A selection from Twitter:

Krysztof Charamsa: “”God loves me, because I love my husband”(German Interview)

It is always worth paying close attention to press interviews with Msgr Krysztof Charamsa, the Catholic theologian at the CDF who came out as both gay and partnered, on the eve of the 2015 Synod on /marriage and family. There have been several of these, initially on the occasion of his coming out, and later with the launch of his book, in the original Italian and the later translations.  Sadly, as far as I am aware, none of these have yet appeared in English.

I therefore provide below, my own free translation (based on a modified Google translation), of his most recent (German) interview with Berliner Zeitung. In this post, I present the interview in full, without comment. My responses will follow, in a series of follow-up posts.

Openly gay Msgr Krysztof Charamsa (left), with partner

Ex-Monsignore Krzysztof Charamsa “Gott liebt mich, weil ich meinen Mann liebe”

(Translation: “God loves me, because I love my husband”)

We meet in the breakfast room of a small hotel at Hamburg main station. Krzysztof Charamsa, 44, has presented his book here. He wears a light, waisted jacket, with a blue handkerchief, if I remember correctly. A white shirt. Blue jeans. He looks very elegant. The most striking however is orange glasses. Krzysztof Charamsa laughs and loves to cry. I had not imagined the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church so. Not even one of his staff. Krzysztof Charamsa is a Pole, but speaks German. Very rarely does he search for a word.

What is Spinning?

This is my sport: cycling in the gym. At the bottom I am struggling, everything is going through my head. I can think clearly.

One does not step forward. This is your favourite sport?

It is like liberation. You kick wildly into the pedals. They sweat. You are exhausted. But you do not have to worry about anything. Your head is free. It hits the spot.

That’s why you wrote a book about the “immutability of God”.

My dissertation. At that time I did not know Spinning. I was looking for security, for a solid foundation. It seemed to me to offer me a God who is self-sufficient. This was a God who does not lean toward his creature. No God of friendship, no God in the world, in history. A very sad image of God, I find today. I’ve been thinking about why we’re going to suffer during my studies. Where we have a gracious God. That was my determining question. I have no answer. But today I think it was my homosexuality, my suffering for it, which made suffering such a big subject. I did not know anything about the pleasures of love, nor of gay love.

When masturbating did you have homosexual fantasies?

Yes.

That was not nice?

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

You were ten, eleven years in Hamburg. You  must have seen homosexuals at least at the Hauptbahnhof.

I did not see them. Because I could not see them. In the world I lived in, there were no homosexuals. People just did not talk about them. They did not exist. As one says in Chechnya today: homosexuals can not be suppressed, because they do not exist. This is the way the Catholic Church behaved.

How many homosexuals are there in the Catholic Church?

Nobody can tell you. There are no surveys. I can only g. Based guess. Based on my experience. I was in priestly seminaries, I taught. I have always lived among priests. I was not a monk who lived in a single monastery. I believe that, cautiously estimated, fifty percent of the Catholic clergy is homosexual.

The total population is assumed to be 10%.

The priesthood is a fantastic space to conceal homosexuality when it is not socially accepted. For this reason the priestly life attracts many homosexuals. It does not matter that you are not interested in women. One is always in male company.

A homophobic organization of homosexuals

This is the dilemma of the Church. Hence much of the suffering and despair of the priests. Homosexuals are persecuted and at the same time homosexuality is celebrated. Aesthetic. Pope Benedict XVI has greatly aggravated the hatred of homosexuals. At the same time, however, under his pontificate, it was as gay as never before in the modern age: the red shoes, the peaks, tassels, and fringes that were on display everywhere. “Soon we will all have to wear lace underwear,” one of the papal ceremonial masters complained. See for yourself on Youtube how Ratzinger and other dignitaries of the Vatican look at the naked torsos of the brother Pellegrini! That same Ratzinger writes that homosexuals can not love. They have, he says, only this morbid desire.

Perhaps the Ratzinger’s own – deep-rooted – life experience … He is doomed to non-love.

That I do not know. But I do know that is precisely the situation in which many thousands of priests find themselves. The situation I was in, it took very long before I realized: it is not homosexuality that is sinful, but the church. Many, many homosexual priests are very good priests.

You were a member of the Congregation for the Congregation for twelve years. You persecuted the devil on behalf of the church. Then, on October 3, 2015, you publicly declared to the world : I, Krzysztof Charamsa, Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of the Faith, am gay, and this is my partner, Eduard Planas, whom I love. You changed from Saul to Paul.

I inherited the place, which became free, when Georg Gänswein became Ratzinger’s private secretary. I inherited his computer, his office, his chair. Paul followed the truth. When he persecuted the Christians, he believed that he had to do so for the sake of the truth. Then he recognized his error and became a Christian. I thought God was against my homosexuality, so I fought it. Then I discovered that God had nothing against my homosexuality. He had given something against which my love was strugling. I was an official of a truth office, a Stasi. I was perfect in this office. I put together, for every question, the views that the Church had represented over the centuries. The new knowledge of science did not matter. The church was in possession of the truth. This treasure was to be lifted. I did not do that as a cynic. I did it because I believed in it.

This was the purpose from one minute to the next.

I had nothing but a suitcase and my husband. That was a liberation. And peace. The first time: peace. A new security. I am a believing man, so I know: That was a gift from God.

You always have to get everything from the top!

Yes, yes. Of course I also have to develop energy and strength. But they also come from God. Life needs a foundation. If you have that, you can let go. This was the experience of Paul. This was also my experience. But it took me a long time to realize that the ecclesiastical texts against homosexuality speak about me. In the Catechism, for example, it says of homosexual relations: “They violate the natural law, for the transmission of life is excluded in sexual act. They do not arise from a true affective and sexual supplementary need. They are in no way to be approved.” Today I know that the catechism preaches homophobia and not the love of God. That’s why I introduced my partner at my coming out. This was a theological statement. I wanted to make it clear: I’m not looking for sex. I’m looking for love. Sex I can have anywhere. For me, it’s about love. Homosexual love.

Is the doctrine that the Father has the Son nailed to the cross in order to save mankind, not unloving?

The suffering, the self-sacrificing God – that is the mystery of religion.

This God, who always kills whole tribes of nations, would not you weep for the dead of Sodom and Gomorrah?

It is impossible to understand how God can allow this. But I believe it is his respect for human freedom. His respect for our freedom. It is the limit of the action of God.

But the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah did not perish because they were fighting each other. God eradicated them.

In the Old Testament there is this image of God. Jesus corrects this. The relationship between God, suffering and freedom is the greatest question of religion. That is their secret. I took the liberty to first acknowledge my homosexuality before God. He accepted me. When I did it before the church, she rejected me.

Sodom and Gomorrah?

When you read the text in the Old Testament, it was not about homosexuality – the later tradition shifted the emphasis to the sexual – but about xenophobia and the refusal of hospitality. Lot receives the strangers, in truth God’s angels, with friendship and is attacked by his fellow citizens. It is – in this the story is quite topical – about the correct handling of refugees and migrants. The Sodom of today is my home country Poland. No one is willing to accept refugees. There is no place for a Syrian family in all Poland. Poland is Catholic, but no one opens strangers to his house. This is just one example of the terrible confusion in the Catholic Church.

Homophobia Kills: Catholic Schools Must Counter It.

There is abundant evidence that homophobia kills, directly (as in hate crime murders) and indirectly (as in driving the victims to suicide).  As with all forms of hatred, what begin as thoughtless or careless language acquired at school, can mutate into something much more serious in later life. Conversely, good habits acquired when young, can prepare people for sound, healthy attitudes and behaviour as adults.  This is why for several years, Stonewall has been running an established, highly effective program in schools,  training staff in the importance of countering homophobia in school, and giving them tools and resources to do so effectively.

Further, the evidence from Stonewall’s schools research is that in general, pupils and staff believe that the problems are greater in faith schools than in their secular counterparts. For Catholics, this is a sad indictment on the failure of some schools (not all) to properly apply standard Church teaching, which is clear the obligation that “all forms of violence or malice, in speech or in action”, must be opposed. Teaching also insists that homosexual persons must be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”.

This is why I and three other members of Quest met with Stonewall in London today, for the first of two day’s training in how to take the standard Stonewall training on countering homophobia, into faith schools specifically. Tomorrow, we will be back to continue the training.  Next week, three more Quest members will do the same training with Stonewall in Manchester.

By March, we expect to begin visiting schools, delivering the training to those at the coalface.

It’s been a long day, and I have no more time to write more about this, tonight (it’ll be an early start to my day tomorrow, for an early train up to London for a 9am start). Later, I’ll report in more detail, on just why the program is needed, on the evidence that faith schools in general are under-performing in this area, how the program works, and on why Catholic schools in particular have a clear pastoral obligation to  oppose homophobia vigorously – and to support lgbt pupils themselves.

See also:

The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils

Catholic Teaching and Homophobia

Stonewall School Role Models visit

Free teacher training for schools with a faith character (Stonewall sign up page)

(Cross-posted at Quest LGBT Catholic)

The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils

This afternoon, I was up in London, talking to the staff of St Bonaventure’s Catholic secondary school about “The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support Lesbian and Gay Pupils”. Part of the headteacher’s regular program for staff continuing professional development, this kicked off the school’s annual commitment to LGBT  History Month.

I met the head,teacher, Paul Halliwell,  at Stonewall’s Education Day last October, where he was  a panellist in the Faith breakout group. Stonewall’s Dominic Arnall introduced him with glowing praise for the work that he has already done to promote LGBT inclusion in his Catholic school, St Bonaventure’s in Forest Gate Newham – and his leadership with other schools in the area. I was delighted to accept his invitation to bring a specifically Catholic dimension to his valuable work on LGBT protection and safeguarding.

This is what I said: Continue reading The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils

Men’s Retreat, Spain

For many years now Fr David Birchall SJ has been running retreats for men by the sea in Calpe, Spain, on the Mediterranean. Fr David writes:

“These have always proved popular with the vast majority of participants. The dates are 14-21 of June, and the presenter is Fr Russell Pollitt SJ, a South African Jesuit who can be relied upon for a lively, thought and prayer provoking retreat. “

The men who have attended in the past, as i have done, would certainly confirm that these are indeed highly popular, and simultaneously valuable as both high quality spirituality, and also extraordinarily good value time to simply relax in amenable company, on the Spanish coast.

Calpe 2017The daily programme features a spiritual focus in the mornings, with afternoons left free.  From the brochure:

This retreat is a combination of mornings with a presentation of a theme and material for reflection, some prayer, time to ponder and share. A substantial lunch, with space for a siesta will follow. Early afternoon is free. Late afternoon sessions are followed by Mass. The day’s programme ends with a stroll to a restaurant for the evening meal.

This structure works well, enabling both formal time for prayer and reflection, and also time to relax with and bond with others (perhaps on the beach?), or in quiet time alone. When I first saw publicity for these retreats several years ago, I was puzzled: was this a genuine retreat, or just an excuse for a men’s holiday in the sun? In fact, it’s both, with good reason. The free time in the afternoons and evenings (often over a sing-song and drinks) is valuable in building community, and some informal sharing (including faith sharing) that reinforces the more formal spiritual work in the mornings.

The retreat director this year will be Fr Russell Pollitt SJ, director of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa.  Of interest to gay Catholics, is that during his time as parish priest of Holy Trinity parish, Johannesburg (my former home parish), he responded to a need identified by a group of parishioners, and started an LGBT support group within the parish. When the group later asked him for approval to join in Johannesburg’s gay pride march, he not only agreed, but joined the parade himself, for that part of the route within the parish area.  For this retreat, says the brochure,

Fr Russell will be helping us look at and ponder on our encounters with Jesus. He will do this by using scripture, some of the writings of holy men and women of Reform and Catholic tradition, as well as some of the major documents of Pope Francis whose writings are addressed not just to Catholics but all people of goodwill.

Fr Russell says, “In the book of Revelation we are told that Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Pope Francis suggests that he is knocking from the inside, wanting to get out of a Church that has locked him up. We are being challenged to think differently and creatively about God, faith, the Church and life in today – our personal encounters with Jesus will free him, free us, fuel our creativity and shape our vision”

It’s also worth noting that this retreat is extraordinarily good value. “All-inclusive” here, really does mean “all”, apart from airfare.

The cost of the retreat includes

✔ Accommodation in rooms with en-suite facilities. (Many rooms are twin-bedded but we shall allocate all rooms as singles unless requested otherwise )

✔ Full board, which usually involves a three course meal at a beach-side restaurant.

✔ Drinks – soft and alcoholic

✔ Transfers from Alicante airport to the house in Calpe.

✔ All costs of the retreat giver and materials.

For more details, see the full retreat brochure – Retreat for men in Calpe, Costa Blanca

 

Transgender Children – Hopes For The Future

PHOTO: COURTESY OF NETFLIX.

When I was at school, a lovely boy with a mop of dark hair called me a pansy when we were playing kiss chase; I was running away from the boys in an apparent game of one. I heard him definitely call me Pansy though and, ecstatic that at the age of 8 someone had finally seen me as me,

I adopted the name with huge pride and wore it like an enormous, enamelled brooch. My name was Pansy.I convinced most of my classmates to call me Pansy – I didn’t notice or care about their sniggers or sneers, and after some persuasion my teacher, Miss Honey (not a word of a lie), agreed to call me Pansy during story-carpet time. One foot off dead name, one foot on Pansy. Home.

Source: Transgender Children – Hopes For The Future