We have written before of Quest’s new emphasis on engagement and advocacy work with British bishops. One of the visible fruits of this is a forthcoming Mass for LGBT Catholics, to be held in St Barnabas’ Cathedral, Nottingham.
Earlier this year, Ruby Almeida as Quest chair, accompanied by Claire Jenkins of the East Midlands regional group, met with Bishop McKinney. Later, Claire and other members of East Midlands had further meetings with the bishops, culminating in agreement on the forthcoming Mass, as described in the poster pictured above. We hope that Quest members, their family and friends from East Midlands and other regions, wlll support this notable Mass.
In Nottingham diocese, we hope furthermore that this initiative will lead to further engagement with the diocese, and additional pastoral outreach to LGBT Catholics in the years ahead. Beyond Nottingham, engagement and advocacy with Catholic bishops and other groups will continue.
Reports of Pope Francis’ apology to the gay community drew extensive commentary in the press, with divided responses from LGBT sources. There many statements that this was welcome, but also many who pointed out that the statement was limited, and just didn’t go far enough.
On Sunday (3rd July) I had the privilege of participating in a live TV discussion about this, on BBC1 (available here on BBC iPlayer, at 30:41 from the start, to about 42:30).
For the benefit of readers unable to access iPlayer, here’s a summary of my contributions.
My first point was that this statement needs to be seen in a broader context. Coming from the pope, this attracted the attention, but there have been other apologies before, from both Protestant and Catholic leaders. When I was in Sweden for the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian organizations, the Bishop of Gothenburg said in his address to the opening ceremony that the Church should make an act of repentance to the LGBT community, for the past harm it has done to them. At the Family Synod in Rome last October, the entire group of German speaking bishops made a collective apology to lesbian and gay Catholics.
I went on to say that this apology was just one part of a much broader interview, which could explain why it was so brief – and so disappointed some LGBT Catholics. While welcoming the apology, some said that it should also have gone into some explanation of why the apology was needed, what needs to be done to prevent future harm, and how can we begin a process of healing. However, it’s important that the apology has been made, however limited it is at the stage.
After inviting contributions from the rest of the panel, the moderator brought up the popular but mistaken idea that homosexuality is regarded as immoral in Catholic teaching, asking me directly, “Are you immoral?” My response was to point out that there is nothing in Church teaching against homosexuality – but only a few statements opposed to homosexual acts. The Church accepts that “homosexuality” as an orientation is entirely natural, and does not endorse attempts to change it.
There is of course, a great deal more than I could have said, given more time. Even this simple idea that homosexual genital acts are contrary to Church teaching, is not as straightforward as it seems. In a later discussion of the Anglican synod “Shared Conversations” process, I pointed out that this is not just about discussing “what the Bible says”, as one of the panellists had claimed, but also about hearing from the lived experience of lesbian and gay people themselves. To that, she quickly interrupted to talk about her second-hand experience of a gay man she knows, who she said had come to Christ and rejected his homosexual life. I deeply regret that I was not given the chance to reply that my own experience was the exact opposite: time had run out on us. Otherwise, I would have described how my attempt to live fully within the bounds of Church teaching on sex and marriage had left me steadily drifting away from all religious practice and belief. It was only later, after I had come to terms with my sexuality as an openly gay man in a committed, stable same-sex relationship, that I was able to return to the church. Since then, I have found, like many others, that fully embracing my sexuality in fact has enhanced my faith and my spirituality.
Looking back on my experience of how time severely limits how much one can say, I have more sympathy for Pope Francis’ failure to elaborate more fully in his apology. However, he has opened up a conversation. It’s now up to the rest of us, to keep that conversation going.
We must warmly welcome Pope Francis’ apology to gay Catholics, for the harm done to them by the Church:
In a press conference Sunday on the flight back to Rome after his weekend trip to Armenia, the pontiff said bluntly: “The church must say it’s sorry for not having comported itself well many times, many times.”
“I believe that the church not only must say it’s sorry … to this person that is gay that it has offended,” said the pope. “But it must say it’s sorry to the poor, also, to mistreated women, to children forced to work.”
“When I say the church: Christians,” Francis clarified. “The church is healthy. We are the sinners.”
“Who are we to judge them?” he asked, reframing his famous phrase from 2013 into the plural. “We must accompany well — what the Catechism says. The Catechism is clear.”
Initial reaction from the people most affected, gay and lesbian people themselves, illustrates how badly this apology was needed – there is a tone of bitterness in many responses that reveals the extent of the hurt. This is understandable. In many respects, it is indeed too little, too late.
However, as Frank DeBenardo points out at Bondings 2.0, a formal apology from the head of the Church, no matter how limited, will itself bring a degree of healing, putting into practice Francis’ vision of the Church as a “field hospital for the wounded”. There have been earlier, similar apologies from the German language small group at the family synod, and from the English bishops attending, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Bishop Peter Doyle. This clear signal from the man at the top will undoubtedly encourage many of their colleagues to follow suit.
For these reasons, I fervently welcome this apology, limited though it is.
Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of what is still needed.
We need recognition from the Church that gay and lesbian Catholics have not been simply “offended” – but in many cases severely damaged by the Church’s responses. This is illustrated by the high rates of suicide, self-harm, substance abuse and other mental health problems and internalised homophobia and self-hatred in many lesbian and gay people. The dangers of such self-hatred are clear from numerous examples of closeted gay men expressing their anger in acts of violence or murder.
We need recognition from the Church that the hurt and damage are not simply the result of careless and insensitive language, but are deeply embedded in formal Catholic teaching on sexuality, with its numerous internal contradictions on sexual ethics for gay men and lesbians. The Church claims that we need to “respect” the findings of science, and has accommodated these findings as they apply to the physical universe, and to evolution – but has conspicuously ignored any insights from physical or social science into matters of sexuality or gender identity.
We need recognition from the Church that the hurt and damage is not just historic – it continues today, both in the Church’s own documents, and in the profound damage done in parts of Africa. Catholic doctrine is clear: all violence against gay or lesbian Catholics should be condemned
It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.
(CDF, Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, para. 10)
Some African bishops tragically do the opposite, and instead encourage harsh criminal sanctions against homosexuals, which contributes immeasurably to popular homophobia and actual violence against gay men and women.
We need recognition from the Church that the hurt and harm perpetrated by the Church applies not only to gay men and lesbians, but also to transgender people, who continue to be damaged by the gender paranoia displayed by many bishops, and in the documents of the Family Synod and “Amoris Laetitia”, with its inaccurate labelling and condemnation of academic gender theory as “gender ideology”.
So, much much more is still needed.
However, we must recognise and value the enormous step that this in fact represents, in moving away from the practices of the past. A process of reconciliation has begun. It is now appropriate for LGBT Catholics to accept this in good spirit – and to engage ever more vigorously with their local bishops and pastors, to encourage an acceleration in the process, leading to ever increasingly emphatic welcome and inclusion in church.
I’ve been expecting this for some time – I just didn’t think it would come quite so quickly, even though it is desperately overdue.
Pope Francis: Catholic Church should apologize to gay people and others it has marginalized
Pope Francis says gays — and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited — deserve an apology.Francis was asked Sunday en route home from Armenia if he agreed with one of his top advisors, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who told a conference in Dublin in the days after the deadly Orlando gay club attack that the church owes an apology to gays for having marginalized them.
Francis responded with a variation of his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment and a repetition of church teaching that gays must not be discriminated against but treated with respect.
He said some politicized behaviors of the homosexual community can be condemned for being “a bit offensive for others.” But he said: “Someone who has this condition, who has good will and is searching for God, who are we to judge?”
Simply because there have now been a series of papal apologies to a wide range of groups previously attacked or persecuted by the Catholic authorities. Pope Benedict XVI apologised to Muslims for the Crusades, Pope Francis apologised to the indigenous people of South America for “ideological colonialism” (but not the the ideological colonialism in sexual and gender norms), and more recently to Protestants. LGBT people were at the back of the queue, but their turn had to come eventually. There are other examples too, which I do not now have time to enumerate.
As others have noted, a simple apology for “harm” is not enough, on its own. There needs to be an admission of how the harm was done, and how it is inextricably linked to core sexual doctrine. We also know from the theology of the sacrament of reconciliation, that simple confessing of sins is not enough to merit full forgiveness, unless it is accompanied by appropriate restitution for the harm done. In this context, restitution to those individuals already harmed is impossible – but restitution to the community would be possible, if it included an admission that the harm is a direct result of grievously disordered sexual doctrines, which need urgent reconsideration.
Now however, is not the time to carp. Let us first, offer profound thanks that Pope Francis has gone where none of his predecessors could – he’s asked of the entire Catholic community, “Who are WE to judge?”
This alone will enrage his many detractors on the orthotoxic Catholic right to height not previously seen. Let us for now, recognise his remarkable first step – and postpone for a later date, consideration in more depth, of what issurely required next.
A notable and extremely welcome feature of last year’s family synod was the apology offered by the entire German speaking bishops’ small group to the gay and lesbian community, for the harm done to them by the church. That call was later repeated by Bishop Doyle of Northampton, on his return to the UK.
Now, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who is chairman of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference and also one of Pope Francis’ group of cardinal advisors, has repeated his belief in the church’s duty of apology.
We’re going to hear more about apologies and calls for apologies to lesbian and gay Catholics for past wrongs to lesbian and gay people. That’s good news.
The need for an apology should be obvious from just the most cursory reading of LGBT history and the Catholic church, from the active persecution and burning of (alleged) “sodomites” under the Inquition, to the virulently homophobic language used by some Catholics in opposition to marriage equality, and even to civil unions. It is very much to be welcomed that Cardinal Marx has acknowledged at least some of this harm:
Until “very recently”, the church, but also society at large, had been “very negative about gay people . . . it was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible,” he told The Irish Times after speaking at a conference held in Trinity College.
What would be better, if we could also hear apologies the continuing harms done to LGBT people by the Church in many parts of the world in its language and in its pastoral practice – not least in Ireland, over gay marriage, and in Italy, over civil unions.
Cardinal Marx would not be drawn when asked by The Irish Times for his view on Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Parolin’s description of the marriage equality referendum result in Ireland last year as “a defeat for humanity”.
Cardinal Marx said, “I don’t comment on others because that is not good.” As an outsider in the Irish context he was “hesitant” about making a judgment, he said.
It would also be good to hear this call for an apology, include the continuing wrongs to transgender people, with the recent Catholic paranoia over “gender ideology”, and for the continuing harms done to LGBT people by the Church by some elements of its core doctrine and language.
He (Cardinal Marx) said he had “shocked” people at the October 2014 extraordinary synod of bishops in Rome when he asked how it was possible to dismiss as worthless a same-sex relationship of years duration where both men had been faithful.
May I remind Cardinal Marx that the Catholic Church’s formal doctrine on homosexuality does not just “dismiss as worthless” committed, faithful same-sex relationships of many years, but declares them to be gravely sinful, if they include any physical expression of that love in sexual acts – which are described by the Church as “intrinsically disordered”? Or that the primary document on pastoral care of homosexual persons dismisses all sexual activity between gay people as mere “self-gratification”, but in marked contrast consistently refers to sexual intercourse between opposite-couples as “mutual self-giving”? The truth is, that heterosexual people can be just as guilty in their sexual lives of the pursuit of simple self-gratification, and same-sex couples in enduring, faithful partnerships equally capable of “mutual self-giving”.
In Spain, there is an ugly and escalating row between the Cardinal Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, and lgbt activists. Speaking “in defence of the family”, the cardinal spoke of threats to the family, coming from “actions of the gay empire, of ideas such as radical feminism, or the most insidious of all, gender theory”. A coalition of LGBT and feminist groups, interpreting this as an inflammatory attack, have. have responded by laying a formal complaint with the police against Cardinal Cañizares. The row has since escalated further, as described by Francis DeBenardo at Bondings 2.0.
Meanwhile, a similar row has developed in Sardinia, where a parish priest, don Massimiliano Pusceddu, has been accused of inciting murder of homosexuals, for a homily which quoted selectively from Romans 1:
“L’uomo ha iniziato ad accoppiarsi con l’uomo e la donna con la donna, così Dio li ha abbandonati a passioni infami. Sono colmi di ingiustizia, omicidio, malignità e sono nemici di Dio. Pur conoscendo il giudizio di Dio, cioè che gli autori di tali cose meritano la morte, non solo le commettono, ma anche approvano chi le fa”
(based on Romans 1, verses 26, 27 and 32)
In the aftermath of last week’s Orlando massacre, Italian LGBT groups have seen this as an obvious incitement to murder, and have laid charges with the police. The priest on the other hand, sees this as simply proclaiming the “prophetic” words of St Paul.
In both Valencia and Sardinia, both sides have a degree of right on their side – and both are making a tragic mistake. Catholic teaching about its response to LGBT people is clear – homosexuals are to be treated with “respect, sensitivity and compassion”. LGBT Catholics would be well advised to respond in kind in dealing with the words of Catholic priests and bishops.
There is much that is wrong with Don Pusceddu’s presentation of the text in Romans, but the most heinous is its total lack of sensitivity to how it will be read by LGBT people as an incitement to murder – just as it has been interpreted. Conversely, LGBT people need to be sensitive to his own interpretation of his actions, as a simple proclamation of the biblical message, as required by his priestly ministry.
Writing about the situation in Valencia, Francis DeBenardo says
There is plenty of blame to go around here, and both sides share in it.
The lesson of Orlando that strong rhetoric can lead to strong and violent responses is one that both sides in this case need to learn before it is too late.
Exactly the same can be said, with respect to Sardinia.
In my first post after the news of the Orlando massacre, I asked “How have Catholic Bishops Responded?”, then followed up with an update on how at least some were acknowledging that this was a hate crime, and that some of Catholic language and pastoral practice may have contributed to hatred and violence. For Quest, I have since added a reflection asking how Quest members should be responding – and included some specific suggestions. The question though is equally applicable to all LGBT Catholics, irrespective of location or group membership – and the suggestions too, may be relevant to others.
Here follows the post, as it appears at the Quest website:
In the days immediately after the news broke of the Orlando gay nightclub massacre, I noted at Queering the Church that the responses by Catholic bishops, and even by Pope Francis, did not include any recognition that this was not just a crime of violence by an Islamist jihadist, but was specifically targeted at gay men. This was a clear act of violence against homosexuals – which Church teaching declares unequivocally that Catholics should condemn.
Since then, there have thankfully been reports of at least some bishops who have connected the dots, identified the homophobia responsible for the tragedy – and condemned it, (The bishops of St Petersburg, San Diego and Chicago are US examples. Notably, the Catholic bishops, conference of the Philippines is another).
It is not enough however, to condemn violence and lament the victims after the event. Explicit Church teaching says we must condemn violence and malice in speech as well as in action. Homophobic speech fosters hatred, hatred fosters violence, violence leads to deaths. By speaking out against gay slurs and other forms of malicious speech, we help to prevent the violence in the first place.
It is welcome therefore, that bishops who have made the connection between the Orlando massacre and gay hatred have acknowledged that there has even been some homophobia present in Church language and pastoral practice concerning gay and lesbian people, which has contributed to the problem. I welcome this, and congratulate those bishops. But that leaves a further important question for Quest: what are we to do, ourselves, to combat the homophobia that is is fostered within some sectors of the Catholic Church and its practice?
We must never forget that “the Church” is far, far more than just the bishops and priests, but includes all of us. When Catholic teaching tells us to oppose and condemn any form of violence or malice, in speech or in action, against homosexuals, that is a command to all of us, as individuals and collectively, as an organization. How have we responded up to now, to that command? How can we do so, in future? Is there room for improvement, in our response?
I suggest that historically, Quest has been primarily focussed on providing oasstoral support to our own members. The value of that was abundantly illustrated in the outcome of our “Icon of Emmaus Workshop” two years ago, and must not be underestimated. However, we have not been sufficiently attentive to looking outwards, as in fact required by a clause in our constitution, which state that among the methods we promote our primary aim (“to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ so as to sustain and increase Christian belief among homosexual men and women”), by:
(ii) establishing and extending a dialogue between homosexual Catholics and members of the clergy through which the insights and experiences of each may gradually be interwoven and so achieve better mutual understanding both of the moral teachings of the Church and of the characteristics of its homosexual members;
Recently, we have begun to do more, in respect of both of these. Increasing these efforts still further, offers at least the possibility of more directly combating both hate speech, and physical violence against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
We already have members working with the Stonewall School Role Models program, going into Catholic schools to talk about our own experience of being Catholic and LG(B) or T. That is helpful to young people beginning to come to terms with their own orientation or gender identity – but should also contribute to breaking down stereotypes and prejudice – and hence reduce hate speech and bullying. There is more we can do in this area: Hallam diocese has invited us to meet with their safeguarding team, and we are already discussing with Stonewall ways to expand still further our activities with schools.
We have also had constructive meetings with several bishops, and are planning to meet with others. What are we saying to them? Up to now, these discussions have been mostly just to introduce them to us and to our activities, but we could do more. We could certainly include active advocacy for lgbt Catholics – and remind them of the much neglected Catholic obligation to oppose all forms of violence against homosexuals – specifically including homophobic speech, which is itself a form of violence. We could also propose to them that, as in Hallam, we could contribute to improving their safeguarding practice, to include safeguarding from homophobic bullying.
Up to now, our advocacy has concentrated on the bishops, but we should do more – and are starting to do so. In Portsmouth diocese, members of their pastoral provision team have suggested that we should be going into parishes, to talk to them about lgbt ministry. (Pope Francis’ “Amor Laetitia” states that “special attention should be paid to families with lesbian or gay members”). When we do so, we should again draw attention of parishioners, some of whom will themselves have LGBT children, or be LGB or T themselves, of the obligation to oppose homophobia. We have plans in place at the level of our national committee, to further expand our advocacy work with priests, religious congregations and laity – but there’s no need to leave this exclusively in the hands of he national committee. Our regional teams are well placed to do the same thing in parallel with national, speaking to their diocesan bishops or ocal priests and parishes. Even single Quest members could contribute alone if so inspired, in their own parishes and deaneries.
Advocacy for LGBT Catholics, and against any form of homophobia, is not limited to direct discussions with bishops, priests schools or parishes. A second clause in our Quest constitution specifies that our aim of proclaiming the Gospel is also advanced by
(iii) seeking wider opportunities, in the Catholic press and elsewhere, to promote fuller and more public discussion of the spiritual, moral, psychological and physiological issues involved;
This is an are where we have not been particularly effective, and can definitely do better.
Later this month, members of the national committee, together with regional co-ordinators and a few others, will be meeting for a weekend’s “strategy workshop”, to deliberate on our priorities for the next few years – and seek to identify funding opportunities to pay for them. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions, but in the light of the Orlando massacre and reflections arising from it, I personally will be making a strong recommendation to the team, that those priorities should include strong attention to the fight against homophobia, and especially against homophobia in the name of religion, in both our advocacy work, and in an enhanced presence in the press and on-line media.
The killer in Orlando was a Muslim, and his target was gay men. It’s been reported that he had recently been “angered” by the sight of two men kissing.
Across the country, another man was arrested on his way to a gay pride parade, armed with an alarming cache of weapons. He was certainly not Muslim.
In the USA, research has found that opposition to homosexuality is stronger among evangelical Christians, than among Muslims.
Across the Atlantic, in Africa it’s very largely American Christian missionaries who are fanning the flames of hostility to gay men and women, encouraging politicians to sign on to ever harsher criminal penalties for homosexuality. That in turn is fomenting intense social intolerance, and widespread active violence against gay men and lesbians.
The real problem here is not “radical Islam”, but (along with easy access to powerful weapons), a belief by some religious fanatics, both Christian and Muslim, that persecution is part of God’s work. It is not, and it cannot be.
Even the father of the Orlando killer, in expressing his own grief, noted that especially in the holy month of Ramadan, killing is not part of the Muslim way. The question of homosexuality and it’s punishment, he said, should be left to God, not to man.
In yesterday’s post, I quoted from a CDF document which makes clear that the Catholic Church not only cannot support violence against homosexuals, but should actively condemn it – along with violence of speech (ie, homophobic language) that gives rise to it.
I also noted in that post, that up to the time of writing, I had not seen any report of responses by Catholic leaders that alongside their expressions of grief and prayers for victims, even acknowledged that this was a crime of anti-gay hatred, let alone followed the CDF instruction to condemn acts of violence against homosexuals. I’m pleased to report that has since changed. There have now been reports of such responses from at least some Catholic (and other) bishops, even admitting the role that Churches themselves have played in encouraging hatred.
In Florida, Bishop Robert Lynch of the neighbouring St. Petersburg, diocese, wrote on his blog,
“Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.
Archbishop of Chicago Blaise Cupich also acknowledged that the target were gay men – and in expressing condolences and prayers for the victims and their families, he included “our gay brothers and sisters”.
In Germany today, Catholics gathered in Leipzig for the start of a three-day major event, the “Catholic Conference Day”, which has been held every two years since 1848 (except for an interruption during the National Socialist period). With over 1000 different exhibitions and events, some 30 000 visitors are expected. Organized by the Central Committee of German Catholics, the event is so important and influential, that in attendance are not only the leading members of the German Catholic Church, but also senior politicians.
For the Church, the President of the German Catholic Bishops Conference Cardinal Reinhard Marx, is taking part, and also Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the lgbt supportive Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, and other notable prelates. Pope Francis sent a pre-recorded message for delivery to the assembly.
For the state, the German President delivered the opening day keynote address, while a cabinet minister, a state premier, and others from all major parties (except one) were also present.