Synod: Need to Welcome and VALUE Gay Couples!

Throughout the first week of the family synod in Rome, there have been tantalising suggestions that the Catholic Church is moving towards greater sensitivity and awareness of the real pastoral needs of lesbian and gay Catholics. Today, that possibility was confirmed, with the release of a formal summary document of the proceedings thus far, which goes way beyond a simple call for welcoming us, but even to raising the possibility of “accepting and valuing” our sexual orientation. There is also, for the first time the significant use of the term “partners” in referring to the couples in same – sex relationships, and recognition of the mutual support and sacrifice the partners give to each other.

family synod, opening

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.

Synod14 –  “Relatio post disceptationem”

From the moment that the synod was announced, it seemed probable that it would not lead directly to any change in Church doctrines any time soon, but that it could lead to an improvement in language and pastoral practice. It now seems possible that the anticipated change could be substantially greater than most observers had anticipated. Consider not only the specific words in the text above, but also what was NOT said. For example, it is stated that the Church cannot accept gay marriage, but there is no condemnation of civil unions, or of same – sex relationships in general, nor is gay marriage listed in the opening description of threats to the family.

New Ways Ministry has issued a statement welcoming the document, which the veteran Vatican watcher John Thavis has described (quite appropriately) as a “pastoral earthquake at the synod“, not only for the change of tone on lesbian and gay Catholics, but also for many other aspects of ministry to families. (A further sign of the hope contained in this document is that the conservative, holier than thou rule – book Catholic blogs are squawking in horror).

This important document should be studied carefully. It will form the basis of further discussion by the bishops, before being voted on at the close. The conclusion, quoted below, notes that final version, as agreed by the bishops, will then be taken away by the bishops for further reflection and sharing over the next year, in preparation for the final, general synod that will conclude the two year process.

Conclusion

The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialog that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015. These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view. All the same the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to find roads of truth and mercy for all. This is the wish that from the beginning of our work Pope Francis has extended to us, inviting us to the courage of the faith and the humble and honest welcome of the truth in charity.

(At the end of his post, John Thavis adds an important caution that there may be some translation issues in the English language text on the Vatican website:

A TRANSLATION ISSUE: Some people are taking issue with the English version of the relatio (a translation of the original Italian text that was put out by the Vatican press office but which is not “official”) and its treatment of the homosexuality issue. Specifically, this line: “Are our communities capable of providing that (a welcoming home for homosexuals), accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

The Italian text uses the verb valutare, which can mean a lot of things — to value, appreciate, consider, evaluate or judge. The English translators decided on “valuing.” I think “appreciating” would also fit. Given the context of the sentence (“welcoming” and “accepting”), I don’t think translating the word as “evaluating” or “judging” would make much sense. In any case, the sentence has apparently already caused some fireworks in the synod hall, so it will be interesting to see if it survives the revision process.)

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An ‘Intrinsically Disordered’ Cardinal.

At the synod, there have been numerous indications of a coming shift in tone and more sensitive pastoral practice in treating lesbian and gay Catholics and their relationships, including recognition of the harm done by the language of “intrinsically disordered”, a married couple’s recommendation that same – sex couples need to be welcomed by their families, and an observation by Cardinal Marx that we need to differentiate between “a faithful homosexual relationship that has held for decades” and endorsing“homosexuality as a whole” (whatever that means).

One cardinal however, is having none of it. Lifesite News and others of that ilk are celebrating Cardinal Burke’s absolute rejection of any tolerance for what he persists in calling an “intrinsically disordered” condition.

Cardinal Burke

Lifesite may rejoice, but numerous other sites have responded by slamming Burke’s response, sometimes in colourful language.

Here are two I most like:

Anyone with ears to hear knows that the “intrinsically disordered” language regarding homosexual relations has failed to achieve anything except make the Church look foolish and mean-spirited. The synod fathers apparently have discussed the need to find better language with which to convey the Church’s teachings in this area. But Cardinal Burke still thinks he is being pastoral when he deploys this language. His latest interview with LifeSite News is appallingly tone deaf, as was his interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN last night. …….This man’s inability to speak with even a whiff of human compassion is intrinsically disordered if you ask me.

via National Catholic Reporter

Some of the voices arguing for a change in tone and greater nuance in pastoral practice are among the most influential and senior in the Church: Cardinal Marx is one of the Pope’s eight cardinal advisors, and just before the synod, Cardinal O’Malley, another of that group, agreed that “something must be done” about the wave of exclusions and dismissals currently plaguing LGBT Catholics in the American church.

Not so Cardinal Burke, who is widely rumoured to be on the way out: Michael Sean Winters, in the piece quoted from above, notes that he is expected to be dispatched to the Knights of Malta. At the superb church history blog,”What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You“, we have this fun description:

At the Synod, Cardinal Burke is “pained” by the proceedings.  Just as well for him, then, that he mostly likely will over on Aventine with his Knights by the 2015 follow-up meeting where the input of this year’s synod will be discussed and acted upon after a year of reflection.  His Eminence can lead the Malta-teers in practice sword charges against imaginary Islamic hordes, unless of course, he gets his rapier tangled up in that 27 feet of scarlet silk he likes to trail behind him.

– What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You.

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Historically, October 7th was the feast of Saints Sergius and Bacchus – and so of particular relevance to same – sex lovers, and to all gay or lesbian Christians. In the modern Catholic lectionary, however, it is celebrated as the “Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary”.

rainbow rosary

The lectionary readings for today’s Mass (which do not refer directly to the rosary), have much fruitful material for queer reflection. Continue reading Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Sergius & Bacchus, October 7th: Patron Saints of Gay Marriage?

Sergius and Bacchus are by a long way the best known of the so-called gay or lesbian saints – unless we include as “saints” the biblical pairs David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi.  We need to be careful with terminology though: the word “gay” can be misleading, as it certainly cannot be applied with the same connotations as in modern usage, and technically, they are no longer recognised as saints by the Western* church, as decreed by the Vatican – but they are still honoured by the Orthodox churches, and by many others who choose to ignore the rulings of Vatican bureaucrats. The origins of saint-making lay in recognition by popular acclaim, not on decision by religious officials.

A modern icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus by...

 
Whatever the quibbles we may have, they remain of great importance to modern queer Christians, both for their story of religious faith and personal devotion, and as potent symbols of how sexual minorities were accepted and welcomed in the earliest days of the Christian community. Continue reading Sergius & Bacchus, October 7th: Patron Saints of Gay Marriage?

SS Galla (5 October) and Benedicta (6 May): Roman nuns – and lovers?

One of the curiosities of the Catholic tradition of honouring our saints and martyrs, is how hagiography seamlessly combines historical biography, myth with collective amnesia. The stories of Saints Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, for instance, are replete with well-known legends that have absolutely no verifiable foundation in historical fact, and the delightful story of St Wilgefortis (aka Uncumber), the crucified bearded woman, turns out to have a much more plausible basis in reality. For many other saints, the distortions of hagiography are not just the accretions that are added by popular imagination, but the important details that are so often omitted in the transmission down the ages. St Paulinus, for instance, is widely honoured for his missionary work and for the impressive quality of his Latin devotional poetry. The standard Catholic sources on the saints, however, discreetly omit any reference to his other poetic legacy – equally fine homoerotic verse addressed to his boyfriend, Ausonius.

The story of Saints Galla and Benedicta of Rome may be another example of this selective memory.  

 

Neither of these is particularly well-known, and Benedicta is even less-so than Galla, but I start with her. There are references to her scattered across the internet, but they all seem to come down to a few lines similar to these, from Catholic Online:

Mystic and nun. Benedicta lived in a convent founded by St. Galla in Rome. Pope St. Gregory the Great states that St. Peter appeared in a vision to warn her of her approaching death.

This seems innocuous enough, until it is set against the parallel warning of imminent death that St Gregory also gave to the better known St Galla.

From a large selection of on-line sources, Wikipedia sums up the key uncontested points of her story, those widely reported elsewhere:

Galla was the daughter of Roman patrician Symmachus the Younger, who was appointed consul in 485. Galla was also the sister-in-law of Boethius. Her father, Symmachus the Younger, was condemned to death, unjustly, by Theodoric in 525. Galla was then married but was soon widowed, just over a year after marriage. It was believed that she grew a beard, to avoid further offers of marriage. Being wealthy, she decided to retreat to theVatican Hill, and found a hospital and a convent, near St. Peter’s Basilica. Galla is reputed to have once healed a deaf and mute girl, by blessing some water, and giving it to the girl to drink. Galla remained there for the rest of her life, tending to the sick and poor, before dying in 550, of breast cancer. 

 Notice, please, that little sentence tucked away in the middle, and its cautious qualifier: “it was  believed that she grew a beard, to avoid further offers of marriage.” This strategy of a holy woman, to grow a beard to avoid marriage, is precisely that adopted by Wilgefortis. Her legend appears to have a much more mundane explanation. I have no knowledge of any firm evidence to either corroborate, or to contradict, Galla’s legendary beard. What interests me is the rest of Galla’s story, and its treatment in hagiography.

An article at Catholic Culture is a good example. It seizes on the beard, and uses it as a moral fable, encouraging us to “dare to be different”.  Catholic Culture, however, claims that the beard story was only a threat, and the beard never did grow.

A story about St. Galla of Rome, illustrating the importance to not follow the crowd, but to be oneself. Legend says that St. Galla, after becoming a widow, grew a beard to avoid any offers of remarriage.

Not only girls who want to be nuns, but girls who just want to be good have to ignore a marvelous lot of nonsense from those who “follow the pack.” Life will pass you by, they say, and you won’t have any fun if you don’t do as we do! About as fast as St. Galla grew her beard, it will!

 So, then dare to be different – the cause of following holiness. But there’s one little detail also included in the  same article, which they do not comment on – a detail that has been omitted from all the other accounts I have seen about Galla. These all tell how, as reported by St Gregory, St Peter appeared to Galla in her final illness to predict the date of her imminent death. The other reports omit the crucial detail that the deaths of Galla and Benedicta were directly linked – at Galla’s express request to Peter:

One night she saw St. Peter standing before her between two candlesticks and she asked him if her sins were forgiven her. St. Peter nodded and said, “Come, follow me.” But Galla asked if her dear friend Benedicta might come too. Yes, she might, said St. Peter, after thirty days — and that is precisely what happened. St. Galla and another holy woman departed this life for heaven three days later, and Benedicta thirty days after them.

 As Censor Librorum at  Nihil Obstat noted in her reflection on Galla last December, a woman who first grows or threatens to grow a beard to avoid marriage, and then implores Saint Peter to allow her female beloved to accompany her into heaven, is not displaying a conventional heterosexual orientation.

I have no hesitation in hesitation in adding Saints Galla and Benedicta to my collection of queer saints and lovers.

Queer Saints and Martyrs for October

October

  • Oct 2nd
  • St Poplia , woman deacon (Womenpriests.org)
  • October 31st
    • Hallowe’en?