“Campaigning”: That Word, Again.

When representatives of the then Soho Masses Pastoral Council met with their counterparts representing the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster to negotiate the move of the Soho Masses from the Anglican parish of St Anne’s to the Catholic parish in Warwick Street, one of the expectations put to us, was that the Masses should be purely “pastoral”, and not “campaigning”. We had no real difficulty agreeing to this, as the Masses never had been in any real sense “campaigning” – but I had serious difficulty in identifying precisely, what is the distinction between the two. That distinction might appear superficially obvious, but in practice is more blurred, as I well knew from my own experience of the Church under apartheid in South Africa. In the context of injustice especially, the pastoral is political, the political very often is pastoral, and sometimes its impossible to differentiate them.

Church of Regina Mundi (Soweto), interior

For example, consider the church of Regina Mundi, the major Catholic Church in Soweto. Throughout the troubled times of struggle before the introduction of democracy, this church was regularly the venue for community prayer meetings and vigils for peace, and for political detainees and their families, and for numerous funerals for political activists and those killed by police or in political violence. Prayers, funerals, and ministry to prisoners are very obviously pastoral – but to the authorities, they were seen as political, to the extent that it was often joked, that the police could not understand who was this “Regina Mundi” that was such a troublemaker. (Regina was a fairly common given name for Black women, and “Mundi” can easily sound like a family name in one of the African languages).

At much the same time, a friend of mine, the Jesuit priest Fr Tim Smithan, developed some fame for his efforts as a peacemaker in his rural parish in Natal, a province which was then experiencing high levels of political violence (widely believed to be stoked and aggravated by actions of the police force). Peacekeeping also, is obviously  pastoral – but in the context, was seen by some as “political”.

There were many, many other examples around the country of actions and words by Catholic clergy, laypeople and institutions that were primarily pastoral, but simultaneously political.

So it was with the Soho Masses. In all my time attending regularly, usually twice a month, I never heard anything during the Masses that could in any way to be said to be contrary to orthodox Catholic teaching, or campaigning against it. On the other hand, the simple fact that we were meeting together, worshiping in a Catholic Church as openly gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics, had a symbolic value which sent a powerful “political” message – as can be seen by the intense opposition it evoked from a small group of enemies.

So it is with this blog. It has never been my intention, or my practice, to “campaign” against Church teaching. That would imply I had some hope of achieving change, which I know is way beyond my capacity. Right from my opening posts, I have instead made it clear that my primary purpose is much simpler – to draw gay and lesbian Catholics (and other Christians) back into the life and sacramental practice of the church, without compromising on their personal sexual or gender integrity.

Necessarily, that requires at times criticizing some elements of Catholic teaching or practice – but always in a wider context. Sexual matters occupy a relatively low level in the overall hierarchy of Church teaching, and while I am critical of some elements of these (not by any means all), it is always within the greater structure of broader principles of teaching – on equality and inclusion, on justice, on respect and dignity, and on freedom of conscience.

So I find it depressing to be told, as I was recently, that I am not acceptable as a schools volunteer for Cafod, because I am allegedly “campaigning” against Church teaching. In my own mind, all I am doing is attempting to draw LGBT people back into the Church – and doing so by presenting alternative elements of Church teaching, and the Gospels, that are less familiar than the well – known offensive bits.

Now here’s another irony, arising from my exclusion from Cafod schools ministry. Because I’ve been falsely excluded on the grounds of so – called “campaigning”, when all I’ve been doing is attempting to write openly and frankly about matters of importance to queer Catholics, I’m now more determined than ever to campaign more actively. Because the problem, in this case, is not so much about sexuality, but about the right to free speech in the Church, much of that campaigning will be against the pervasive culture of clericalism that Pope Francis has himself criticized, but which remains so pervasive, and so intolerant of open and frank discussion within the Church.

One lesson from today’s Gospel reading, on the encounter at Emmaus, is that having met the risen Christ outside the bounds of the institutional Church, we have an obligation to take the authentic Gospel message back to those left behind – to re-evangelize the Church. Much of my energies up to now have been focussed on matters of sexuality and sexual ethics, which remains the first concern here at Queering the Church. However, to address much broader matters of importance to the Church as a whole, especially matters challenging abuse of power, in Church and outside it, I will be posting also at a satellite site, “From Emmaus to Rome“.

Regina Mundi, Mandela window

Pope Francis' Lesson from Emmaus, for Queer Christians

 In the Gospel for the third Sunday of Easter, we read once again the familiar story of the Journey to Emmaus. What is less familiar, but of major importance for LGBT Christians, is the sequel – the journey FROM Emmaus, back to Jerusalem.

Jesus Appears At Emmaus, Gay passion of Christ series
Jesus Appears At Emmaus, Gay passion of Christ series (Source: Jesus in Love blog)

 While in Brazil for World Youth Day last year, Pope Francis also spoke to the bishops of Brazil, about the “Miracle of Aperecida”, about appreciation for the path taken by the Cburch in Brazil – and about the  “The icon of Emmaus as a key for interpreting the present and the future”.

Introducing the subject, Francis noted the context of the disciples who were leaving Jerusalem in a state of dejection:
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Continue reading Pope Francis' Lesson from Emmaus, for Queer Christians

“Phall if you but will, rise you must”

In this Easter season especially, we need to recall constantly the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, “We are the Easter people”.


This is particularly important for me personally this year, after the disappointment I wrote about yesterday (“Despised, Rejected”). That post told only part of the story: the rest was hinted at early, when I balanced the despondent phrase from Isaiah with the familiar, much more positive one, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

At the heart of the Easter story, and of Christianity itself, is the resurrection: with every fall, comes a “resurrection” of some kind – as Joyce puts it, repeatedly, in Finnegans Wake.

The Wake is often dismissed as an incomprehensible, monumental waste of literary genius, but to its admirers, it’s anything but.  It deals with profound themes, with resurrection prominent among them, but is also a great comic novel, filled with life, laughter and extraordinary verbal legerdemain. It’s the only book I’ve ever bought twice, the second time in hardback, for the simple reason that my first paperback edition was starting to fall apart from extended use.  At times of great stress and anxiety, among others when my then wife was in Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital  for an extended two month stay, and I was left with child care, running the home, and holding down a full – time job while also juggling hospital visits, I read and reread selected passages for comfort, healing – and laughter.

It’s emphatically not an easy book to read. To take one simple example relevant to my present state of mind, there’s this:

“Phall if you but will, rise you must”.

The literal sense of this is straightforward enough: if you fall, you must just get up again. But by combining “fall” with “phallus” to get “phall”, he’s turned a simple banality into a bawdy joke.

In my present position in respect of Cafod and the Catholic Church, I see several little ironies. One of these almost qualifies as a bawdy joke itself.

The reason for Cafod rejecting me as a schools volunteer, was my public profile as an (allegedly) campaigner against Church teaching – specifically, sexual teaching. But part of my motivation in wanting to become actively involved with Cafod in the first place, had been a sense that it was becoming time to back off the constant obsession with matters of sexuality and sexual ethics, and to become more involved, and outspoken, on the far more important elements of Church teaching with which I, and Cafod, emphatically agree – matters of social justice, the preferential option for the poor, and the like.

Because these are indeed pf fundamental importance in Catholic teaching, and the sexual issues relatively minor, it did not take me too long to conclude once again, that there really is no place for me to be, other than in the Catholic Church. This is where I belong, and this is where I shall stay.

But if, as I have found, I have been effectively prevented from broadening my focus away from “campaigning” on the sexual matters – the obvious lesson is that on the contrary, I must continue to do so, with redoubled effort and effectiveness.

The Church is stuck with me, whether they like it or not. This stone which the builders rejected, will indeed become a cornerstone.

(With heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful messages of support and encouragement. I did not need them in my decision to stay, as that had already been taken at the time of posting, but they were valuable as affirmation of that decision).


as affirmation




English Bishop Apologises for Hurt to Gay People.

The Church of England is gradually adapting to the reality of gay marriage – and one more bishop has publicly apologised for the hurt it has caused (in particular, for the hurt caused by the bishops’ January statement on same – sex marriage.

Right Revd Michael Perham
Right Revd Michael Perham

Bishop of Gloucester speaks out on Church of England’s attitude to homosexual people

THE Bishop of Gloucester, the Right Revd Michael Perham, addressed the Church of England’s attitude towards homosexuality at Thursday night’s Gloucester Diocesan Synod.

He apologised for the hurt caused by the ‘harsh’ House of Bishops’ statement on same-sex marriage.

Here is his full address.

“We are where we are. Same-sex marriage is here, here to stay.

“It will fast become part of the fabric of our society.

“The weekend of the first such marriages I wanted to rejoice with those who were rejoicing, recognising what a wonderful moment it was for them, and to weep with those who wept, recognising how for them a deeply held belief about marriage was being undermined.

“The House of Bishops’ January statement, when the first same-sex marriages were taking place did recognise that there needed to be room for conscience, that some gay or lesbian Christians would enter such a marriage and that the Church would continue to honour and accept them as members of the body of Christ.

“What it also said was that it could not extend that freedom to its authorised ministers or allow those who had contracted such a marriage to become one of its authorised ministers.

“There were those who, taking a more conservative position, felt that the statement went too far in its accommodation to same-sex marriage.

“But there were rather more who felt the statement struck an unnecessarily harsh and negative tone.

“The House of Bishops, producing a statement under some pressure, underestimated how uncompromising and hurtful the statement felt to some.

“The tone was harsh – there was not much sense of welcome to all as children of God.

“I am sorry for that and for the hurt I know it has engendered.

– more at Gloucestershire Echo.

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Growing Support for Gay Marriage: BECAUSE We Are Christian

More thoughtful commentary on how the disputes around gay marriage are no longer between defenders of human rights and of religious belief, but about what it means to be truly Christian:


Antigay religion: How Catholics and evangelicals are coming to accept same-sex marriage.

Throughout history, religion has sanctioned and fueled the persecution of homosexuality. That dynamic may be drawing to an end. Polls, clerics, and denominations are shifting. Theology is adapting. Resistance to same-sex marriage is dwindling, and there’s no end in sight.


Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right. Follow him on Twitter.


For 15 years, the Ethics and Public Policy Center has hosted the Faith Angle Forum, a regular conference on religion and public life. Several weeks ago, the group met again to discuss current issues. Transcripts of the conference have just been posted on EPPC’s website. They underscore the extent of the anti-gay collapse.

The first session, led by papal biographer Paul Vallely and Boston Globe editor John Allen, focused on Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. Vallely, the author of Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, noted that before Francis became pope, he supported civil unions in Argentina. “I think he sees that as a human rights issue,” said Vallely. Allen pointed to the pope’s comment in a March 5 interview with Corriere della Sera:

Q: Many nations have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?

A: Marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the demand to regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care. It is about pacts of cohabitating of various natures … One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety.

– full report at  Slate.

Religious Support for Marriage Equality – in Oklahoma

In North Carolina, the United Church of Christ has launched a legal challenge to the state ban on gay marriage, because it limits their religious freedom to decide which couples it may bless in marriage.

Also in the South,  United Church clergy have joined with Methodist and other religious leaders in a coalition to support gay marriage – because they are Christians, not in spite of it.

Oklahoma faith leaders form coalition supporting marriage equality

More than 50 Oklahoma faith leaders have formed a coalition in support of marriage rights for all couples, whether gay or straight.The Oklahoma Faith Leaders for Marriage group includes leaders of congregations of Mennonites, United Methodists, Unitarians, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ and at least one Baptist minister and two rabbis.

Standing in the sanctuary of Church of the Open Arms, Kenny Wright and Bo Bass are an Oklahoma City gay couple who say they will get married in Oklahoma if the state’s same-sex marriage ban is overturned. Photo by Jim Beckel, The OklahomanThe United Methodist and United Church of Christ denominations have the most coalition representation, with at least eight United Methodist clergy and at least eight United Church of Christ ministers among the faith network’s members.“Expanding marriage equality will finally remove a long-standing obstacle to our pastoral care — and allow us to minister equally to all families in our community,” the coalition said in a statement released after its April launch.

-More at  News OK.


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“Despised and Rejected”: A Personal Anecdote

Holy Week has come and gone, and for many will by now be almost forgotten. But we remain in the liturgical season of Easter, and so it remains appropriate to reflect further on this great feast.


The Easter Triduum in particular can be an emotional and spiritual roller – coaster, plunging the depths on Good Friday, quickly followed by the exultation of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. This year, events in my religious life led me to feel this with unusual intensity – so much so, that I have felt simply unable to write about them until now. Write however I must,to bring some healing. In brief, I had cause to heel especially acutely two short lines from the liturgies for the Triduum: “He was despised, rejected..”(Isaiah 53:3, Good Friday), and later, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone”.

To make sense of the depths of this, I need to go back a little, into recent personal history.

Last year, I was increasingly jubilant at the changes pf emphasis being wrought in the Church by Pope Francis, and was especially inspired by “Evangelii Gaudium”, with its emphasis on evangelisation, and on concern and action for the poor. This is hardly surprising. For years, I have felt strongly that this passage from Luke 4:18, based on a similar one in Isaiah, amounts to Christ’s opening mission statement, at the start of his ministry:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…

By extension, I have written previously, this must include bringing good news to the queer, who also are oppressed, often by the Church itself. Evangelii Gaudium reminded me, uncomfortably, with the simple fact that it is not enough to “bring the good news to the queer”, which had been taking up much of my time and energy for some years, if I simply ignore the primary task, to bring good news (and relief) to those who really are poor and oppressed, in a direct, physical sense. The urgency of resisting church – based homophobia and exclusion seemed to be receding (at least in certain respects and countries), and I was in any case starting to feel that much of what I’ve been writing here, was simply restating the same issues, especially on gay marriage. I began to wonder if I should be devoting somewhat less time to writing as much about LGBT faith issues, and to commit more time and energy elsewhere.

New Year brought new clarity to these issues. In my parish bulletin, was an appeal for Cafod volunteers, as school visitors, parish representatives, and other roles. I immediately made a telephone call to sign up. There followed a total of three full days of training, several meetings at the Cafod Arundel and Brighton diocesan offices, and a trial school visit, in which another new volunteer and myself assisted the diocesan director in delivering a primary school Cafod assembly. On another occasion, attending a parish musical fund-raiser for Cafod, I was unexpectedly asked to say a few words about the agency, which I did.

Throughout this process of training, I had become increasingly enthusiastic about working with Cafod, and had thoroughly enjoyed the experiences of both speaking to the primary school children, and to the parish music audience. I began to think up a variety of ways in which I could contribute, even beyond my original intentions when signing up.

Then, at the start of Holy Week, this all came crashing down. The diocesan director had written to me, asking to meet to discuss further my role with Cafod. He came to my home for that discussion, and told me (with regret), that Cafod would not be able to use me as a school volunteer, after all, because I am publicly “campaigning against Church teaching”.

My initial response was to say that of course I understood his position and that of Cafod, forced on them by the rules of higher authority, and agreed that there remained the possibility of working simply within the local parish, where I am well known and accepted, and even find strong support for my activism.

However, the more I reflected on this later, after he had left, the more I found myself angry – not at him or at Cafod, but at the Church itself, which is so intolerant of any internal dissent or disagreement. Pope Francis has famously described one part of the mission of the church, as that of a “field hospital for the wounded”, but too often, it is instead inflicting the wounds, not healing them.

And so, feeling intensely, “despised, rejected”, I began to wonder again, as I have done from time to time before, whether my critics on both sides are not perhaps, correct. Do I in fact have a place in the Catholic Church – or should I make a move to another, one which allows for full participation in decision taking and regulation by laity alongside that of clergy, one that takes seriously the concept of a church for all the faithful that was promised for Catholics by Vatican II, but never implemented?