Tag Archives: same-sex unions

Cardinal Kasper: We Must Respect Positive Elements in Same – Sex Unions, Reject Hurtful Language

Cardinal Parolin’s stupid and insensitive claim that the Irish referendum result is a “defeat for humaniy” has been widely reported in the English press. There’s been less coverage to rather more encouraging responses by others in the Vatican. Italian and French media have also reported on more encouraging responses by Cardinals Bagnasco and especially by Cardinal Kasper, who will have an influential role in October’s family synod. In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera he acknowledges that the Church must recognize the democratic decisions of voters, says that “now is the time to discuss” these things, and that the Church must find a “new language” in doing so, avoiding the hurtful language and discrimination that have been common in the past. These sentiments will be especially important for bishops in Italy in the months leading up to the synod, as the country faces its own prospect of civil unions.

The Irish result has galvanized Italian politicians, who have promised a civil unions bill “soon”. The political debate is likely to be played out precisely during, or immediately before, the October family synod. There will certainly not be any approval given to gay marriage, and even support for civil unions is unlikely, but we know that the possibility of some – form of recognition or valuing of same – sex couples has at least been discussed, for example by the gathering in Rome of bishops and theologians from Germany, Switzerland and France, called by the presidents of the respective bishops’ conferences. Coupled with the new emphasis on respectful dialogue, and the Kasper’s admission that democratic decisions must be respected, it seems probable that after the synod, responses to same – sex couples and their relationships will be substantially changed, in practice if not (yet) in actual teaching.

Unfortunately, the Corriere interview is behind a paywall.  However, at the French LGBT Christian facebook page LGBT et catholicisme, un lieu d’échange et de dialogue, there is an image of the front page.

I’ve been also been able to locate reports on it from the French La Croix, and also from a secondary Italian source (for which I’ve stupidly not noted the link), which with the help of Google, I’ve been able to translate.

First, the report from La Croix, in the original French, interspersed with my English translation. Thereafter, the Italian text and its translation:

Le cardinal Kasper affirme que des éléments de bien peuvent exister dans une union homosexuelle

Cardinal Kasper says that positive elements may exist in a homosexual union

Le président émérite du Conseil pontifical pour la promotion de l’unité des chrétiens s’exprimait mercredi 27 mai dans une interview au quotidien italien Corriere della Sera.

The President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was speaking Wednesday, May 27 in an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

 

Pour le cardinal Kasper, la miséricorde est la clé de l’existence chrétienne

For Cardinal Kasper, mercy is the key to Christian existence

 

« S’il existe une union stable (dans un couple homosexuel, NDLR), des éléments de bien existent sans aucun doute et il faut les reconnaître », affirme le cardinal Walter Kasper dans le quotidien italien Corriere della Sera mercredi 27 mai.

“If there is a stable union (in a homosexual couple, Ed), positive elements undoubtedly exist and must be recognized” says Cardinal Walter Kasper in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera Wednesday, May 27

« Mais nous ne pouvons pas comparer cela (avec le mariage, NDLR), poursuit cependant le président émérite du Conseil pontifical pour la promotion de l’unité des chrétiens en assurant que « la famille formée d’un homme et d’une femme et ouverte à la procréation est la cellule fondamentale de la société ».

“But we can not compare it (with marriage, Ed), however, the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity continues, ensuring that “the family formed of a man and a woman and open to procreation is the fundamental unit of society.”

« ATTENTION À NE PAS UTILISER DES EXPRESSIONS QUI PEUVENT PARAÎTRE BLESSANTES »

 

“BE CAREFUL NOT TO USE EXPRESSIONS WHICH MAY APPEAR HURTFUL”

Interrogé sur l’expression « inclination objectivement désordonnée » pour qualifier la seule tendance homosexuelle, utilisée par la Congrégation pour la doctrine de la foi en 1986, le cardinal confie qu’il faut « faire attention à ne pas utiliser des expressions qui peuvent paraître blessantes, sans pour autant dissimuler la vérité ». « Nous devons dépasser la discrimination qui a une longue tradition dans notre culture », ajoute le théologien allemand connu pour son ouverture en faveur d’un meilleur accueil des personnes homosexuelles ou encore des couples divorcés remariés dans l’Église.

When asked about the term “objectively disordered inclination” used by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1986 to describe the homosexual tendency,the  Cardinal says we must “be careful not to use expressions that may seem offensive, without concealing the truth”. “We must overcome the discrimination that has a long tradition in our culture,” added the German theologian,  known for his openness to a better reception in the Church for homosexuals or divorced and remarried couples.

Now, the Italian source:

Cardinale Kasper: “è il momento di discutere”

Cardinal Kasper: “It is time to discuss”

 Più aperta invece, sembra la posizione del Cardinale Kasper, il quale ha affermato al Corriere della Sera che “uno Stato democratico deve rispettare la volontà popolare, mi pare chiaro, se la maggioranza del popolo vuole queste unioni civili è un dovere dello Stato riconoscere tali diritti”, sottolineando però che “una legislazione simile, pur distinguendo fra il matrimonio e le unioni omosessuali, arriva a riconoscere a tali unioni più o meno gli stessi diritti delle famiglie formate da uomo e donna” – e “per la Chiesa diventa ancora più difficile spiegare la differenza”. Nella Chiesa “si è taciuto troppo su questi temi. Adesso è il momento di discuterne”. L’occasione potrà essere il Sinodo di ottobre. Kasper ha poi precisato: “io non posso immaginare un cambiamento fondamentale nella posizione della Chiesa. È chiara la Genesi, è chiaro il Vangelo. Ma le formule tradizionali con le quali abbiamo cercato di spiegare, evidentemente, non raggiungono più la mente e il cuore della gente. Ora non si tratta di fare le barricate. Dobbiamo piuttosto trovare un nuovo linguaggio che arrivi «soprattutto ai giovani”.

However, the position of Cardinal Kasper seems to be more open. He said to the Corriere della Sera that “a democratic state must respect the will of the people, it seems clear, though the majority of the people want these civil unions is a duty of the state to recognize these rights, “stressing that” similar legislation, while distinguishing between marriage and homosexual unions, comes to recognize in such unions more or less the same rights as families formed by man and woman”- and “for the Church becomes even more difficult to explain the difference.” In the Church “has been silent on these issues too. Now is the time to discuss it.” The occasion will be the Synod of October. Kasper then stated: “I can not imagine a fundamental change in the position of the Church. It is clear in Genesis, it is clear in the Gospel. But the traditional formulas with which we tried to explain, clearly, no longer reach the minds and hearts of the people. Now this is not to the barricades. Rather, we must find a new language that comes through “especially to young people.”

​France’s Protestant Church Approves Blessings for Gay Couples

Two years after France legalized gay marriage, church blessings for same – sex couples have been approved by the main Protestant Church (formed after a 2012-2013 merger of the Reformed Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church).

The headline in the RT report quoted below is a little misleading. The church has not voted to “bless” or conduct gay marriages, but will permit pastors to conduct blessing services for same – sex couples. The scale of the support for this decision is notable – 94 votes for, just 6 against.

​France’s Main Protestant Church Gives Blessing to Gay Marriages

France’s largest Protestant Church, the fourth-largest religious group in the country, has voted for its pastors to give their blessing to homosexual couples. The move comes two years after Paris legalized same-sex marriages.

“The synod has decided to take a step forward in accompanying people and these couples by opening the possibility of celebrating liturgical blessings if they want,” said Laurent Schlumberger, president of the Church.

The decision was supported by 94 delegates out of 100. Only three voted against blessing homosexual couples. However, the vicars who oppose the practice won’t be forced to perform it.

— RT News.

Senior Bishop: “Catholic Church Must Welcome ‘Unconventional Couples’

ROME — The Catholic Church should make “unconventional couples” feel at home instead of making them targets of “de facto discrimination,” the leader of the Italian Bishops Conference and an ally of Pope Francis said this week.

“Couples in irregular matrimonial situations are also Christians, but they are sometimes looked upon with prejudice,” said Bishop Nunzio Galantino, an apparent reference to divorced and remarried Catholics.

“The burden of exclusion from the sacraments is an unjustified price to pay, in addition to de facto discrimination,” he said Wednesday (Aug. 27) in an address to a national conference on liturgy in the Italian hill town of Orvieto.

– full report at  The Washington Post.

Bishop Galantino’s thoughts are important, as he is the head of the Italian bishops’ conference, a post for which he was hand picked by Pope Francis himself. It is inevitable that his voice will be influential at the October Family Synod in Rome. In this interview, he seems to have been referring specifically to divorced and remarried Catholics, or to unmarried couples, but his observations are equally applicable to same – sex couples, especially as this is not the first time he has spoken along these lines. Back in May, he was specific about the need for the Church to take up a more progressive path, including a stronger welcome for gay Catholics:

The Catholic Church should listen to all the arguments in favour of gay relationships, Communion for remarried divorcees, and ending mandatory celibacy for priests, a senior Italian bishops has insisted.

The secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI), Nunzio Galantino, bishop of the southern diocese of Cassano all’Jonio, told the Florence-based La Nazione newspaper yesterday that he wanted church leaders to open their mind to different views on these issues.

He said: “My wish for the Italian Church is that it is able to listen without any taboo to the arguments in favour of married priests, the Eucharist for the divorced, and homosexuality.”

Tablet News, 13th May 2014

A few years ago, I reported that Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna had suggested that it was time for the Catholic Church to stop obsessing over the genital acts of gay people, and instead focus on the quality of their relationships, and also to consider welcoming those divorced people who want to remarry in church, at a time when so many other couples have no desire to marry at all. He was the first to voice such thoughts on same – sex couples, but when the expected reprimand from Pope Benedict, or a pushback from more conservative colleagues simply did not come, a handful of other bishops soon followed with similar sentiments. Later, this early handful became a trickle, then a steady stream. Just in the past month, for instance, Bondings 2.0 has reported on a call by yet another cardinal, said to be “close to the pope”,  for more openness in the Church to lesbians and gays, and also on a wish by an Indian lay leader for the October synod to “bring LGBT people in from the cold“. The gathering mood for reform is by no means limited to Europe and North America.

Meanwhile, the question of a welcome in church for divorced and remarried Catholics has become a major theme for the upcoming family synod. If indeed the synod finds a way, or prepares to find a way, to offer a more authentic welcome for such couples, sooner or later it must follow that a similar, more authentic welcome for LGBT Catholics must also be found. The issues after all, are similar.

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12th January: St Aelred of Rievaulx, Patron of Same Sex Intimacy

St Aelred,  whose feast we celebrate today, is recognised in all sources as an important English saint, who lived in the north of England in the 12 C. As a young man, he joined the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, later returning there as Abbott.  He is remembered especially for his writings on friendship, some of which have led gay writers such as John Boswell to claim him as ‘homosexual’. For instances, Integrity USA, an Anglican LGBT organisation, have designated him as their patron. From the website of Integrity, this Collect for the feast of Aelred:

Continue reading 12th January: St Aelred of Rievaulx, Patron of Same Sex Intimacy

Taiwan government to study same-sex marriage in Asia

Ministry of Justice commission study to attitudes to same-sex marriage in Asia

Taiwan Presidential Office Building
Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice will commission studies into attitudes towards same-sex marriage in Asian cultures as part of research looking into legalizing gay marriage on the island nation.
Chung Jui-lan, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Justice’s department of legal affairs said they wanted to enlist academics to study Asian attitudes to same-sex unions. The decision was made following complaints that a prior study only looked at Germany, France and Canada, Taipei Times reports.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice are currently examining whether to change their civil code to accept same-sex marriage or to legislate for civil partnerships.
Separately a gay couple are suing the city of Taipei to get them to recognize their relationship. A ruling is expected at a court hearing tomorrow.
Also pressure group Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) is working towards collecting a million signatures in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Leader of the opposition Su Tseng-chang confirmed publicly that he supports same-sex marriage at Taiwan Pride day on 27 October. 

Gay Bishops: Ralph of Tours and John of Orleans

With all the current fuss about the decision of the US Episcopal Church to consecrate openly gay bishops, and the Catholic Church’s declared hostility to gay priests and to gay marriage or even civil unions, we forget that in the older history of the church, it is not gay priests and bishops that are new, or gay marriage, but the opposition to them.  Many medieval and classical scholars have produced abundant evidence of clearly homosexual clergy, bishops, and even saints, and of church recognition of same sex unions.

gay bishops


Gay Bishops in Church History

 One story is particularly striking.  At the close of the 11th Century, Archbishop Ralph of Tours persuaded the King of France to install as Bishop of Orleans a certain John  – who was widely known as Ralph’s gay lover, as he had previously been of Ralph’s brother and predecessor as Bishop of Orleans, of the king himself, and of several other prominent men.   This was strongly opposed by prominent churchmen, on the grounds that John was too young and would be too easily influenced by Ralph.  (Note, please, that the opposition was not based on the grounds of sexuality, or even of promiscuity.)  Ivo of Chartres tried to get Pope Urban II to intervene.  Now, Urban had strong personal reasons, based in ecclesiastical and national politics, to oppose Ralph.  Yet he declined to do so. In spite of well-founded opposition, John was consecrated Bishop of Orleans on March 1, 1098, when he joined two of his own lovers, and numerous  others, in the ranks of openly homosexual Catholic Bishops.

An earlier example was St Paulinus of Nola, whose feast day was celebrated earlier this month.  Paulinus was noted as both bishop and poet: his poetic “epistles” to his friend Faustinus are noted in the on-line Catholic Encyclopedia.  What the CE does not remind us, is that Pulinus ans Faustinus were lovers, and the “epistles” were frankly homoerotic verse, which may be read today in the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse.  Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations.  Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives.  Many clearly did not.

In England, there was Bishop Longchamps, the bishop that Richard the Lionheart made Regent. The well-known line on him was that the barons would trust their daughters with him, but not their sons.

Gay Saints in Church History

Church history for its first twelve centuries at least is littered with further stories of male and female clergy, some canonized or popularly recognised as saints, with clear homosexual orientations. Some of these, as clergy, probably lived celibate lives. Many clearly did not. Among many examples from Church history, some of the better known are:

Aelred of Rievaulx (probably celibate, but wrote intensely ardent love letters to male friends);

St Patrick (believed to have worked as a prostitute in his youth, and may have taken a male lover in later life);

SS Sergius & Bacchus( Roman soldiers, lovers & martyrs)

St John of the Cross (Well known mystic, whose metaphorical poetry of his love for Christ uses frankly homoerotic imagery)

Cardinal John Henry Newman (soon to be beatified, was so devoted to his beloved friend Aubrey St John, that he insisted on being buried with him in the same grave.)

Same Sex Unions in Church History

The earliest church, in Rome and in the Slavic countries, recognised some forms of same sex union in liturgical rites of  “adelphopoein” .  It is not entirely clear precisely what was the precise meaning of these rites.  They were clearly not directly comparable to modern marriage – but nor were the forms of heterosexual unions at the time.  Some claim that they were no more than a formalised friendship under the name of  “brotherhood” – but many Roman lovers called themselves “brothers”.  Some of the couples united under this rite were certainly homosexual lovers, but it is possible not all were.  What is certain, is that the Church under the Roman Empire, for many years recognised and blessed liturgically some form of union for same sex couples.  As late as the sixteenth century, there is a clear written report of a Portuguese male couple having been married in a church in Rome.

This recognition also extended to death.  From  the earliest church until at least the nineteenth century, there are examples of same sex couples, both male and female, being buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to the common practice of married couples sharing a grave – and often with the parallel made clear in the inscriptions.

The modern Church likes to claim that in condemning same sex relationships, and resisting gay marriage and gay clergy, it is maintaining a long church tradition.  It is not.  To persist in this claim, in the light of increasing evidence from modern scholars, is simply to promote a highly selective  and hence dishonest reading of history.

See also

and at “Queering the Church“:

From the “Lesbian and Gay Catholic Handbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also available on-line:

 

Burials in Greek Macedonia (Valerie Abrahamsen)


Books:

Jimmy Creech, Methodist Pioneer for LGBT Equality

On November 17, 1999 Methodist minister Jimmy Creech was stripped of his clerical status for presiding over a same-sex holy union.

In April of 1999, Creech celebrated the holy union of two men in Chapel Hill. Charges were brought against him and a church trial was held in Grand Island, Nebraska, on November 17, 1999. In August of 1998, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church ruled that the statement prohibiting “homosexual unions” was church law in spite of its location in the Social Principles. Consequently, the jury in this second trial declared Creech guilty of “disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church” and withdrew his credentials of ordination.
Since the summer of 1998, Creech has been travelling around the country to preach in churches and to speak on college and university campuses, as well as to various community and national Gay Rights organizations. Currently, he is writing a book about his experiences of the Church’s struggle to welcome and accept lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. He is the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Soulforce, Inc., an interreligious movement using the principles of nonviolent resistance, taught and practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to confront the spiritual violence perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by religious institutions.
(Read the full bio at LGBT Religious Archives)

 

Same Sex Unions in Church History

The earliest church, in Rome and in the Slavic countries, recognised some forms of same sex union in liturgical rites of  ”adelphopoein” .  It is not entirely clear precisely what was the precise meaning of these rites.  They were clearly not directly comparable to modern marriage – but nor were the forms of heterosexual unions at the time.  Some claim that they were no more than a formalised friendship under the name of  ”brotherhood” – but many Roman lovers called themselves “brothers”.  Some of the couples united under this rite were certainly homosexual lovers, but it is possible not all were.  What is certain, is that the Church under the Roman Empire, for many years recognised and blessed liturgically some form of union for same sex couples.  As late as the sixteenth century, there is a clear written report of a Portuguese male couple having been married in a church in Rome.

This recognition also extended to death.  From  the earliest church until at least the nineteenth century, there are examples of same sex couples, both male and female, being buried in shared graves, in a manner exactly comparable to the common practice of married couples sharing a grave – and often with the parallel made clear in the inscriptions.

The modern Church likes to claim that in condemning same sex relationships, and resisting gay marriage and gay clergy, it is maintaining a long church tradition.  It is not.  To persist in this claim, in the light of increasing evidence from modern scholars, is simply to promote a highly selective  and hence dishonest reading of history.

Continue reading Same Sex Unions in Church History

Gay Lovers in Church History

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

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

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In Scripture:

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



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

The Early  & Medieval Church

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

Here are some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renaissance to Modern

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

The Church’s Changing Tradition.

The CDF’s famous (or infamous) letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”  makes the claim “Thus, the Church’s teaching today is in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and with her own constant Tradition” , and later states “Scripture bids us speak the truth in love”.  This is the image that the established church so likes to proote – of an authoritative, unchanging tradition “speaking the truth” for all time.  The image favoured by the church, howeer, is a false one.

In the context of current arguments about the papacy and its authority, it is worth recalling just how false is this proposition: for the tradition has not been “unchanging”,  nor has it always spoken “truth”. Indeed, the only constant over 2000 years of church history has been that of constant change.

Josephus at “Salus Animarum” has been posting on reflections prompted by reading of Alan Bray‘s “The Friend”, and sharing thoughts on church history. This is a useful point then to remind readers of just how much church practice concerning same sex relationships has changed over two millenia.  The present intransigent attitude of the church against “gay marriage”, or even against civil partnerships, obscures the fact that in other times and places the church has sanctioned some form of same sex relationships, and even provided them with liturgical recognition.




John Boswell was the first scholar to establish in his research that the early church included a liturgical rite of “adelphopoeisis”, or “making of brothers”.  This he identified as having some of the characteristics pertaining to the marriage forms of his day.  In his two books, he also drew attention to the number of prominent churchmen and women in earlier times who are known to have had intimate same sex relationships in their own lives.  Bernadette Brooten has extended this research into same sex relationships in early Christianity with a particular focus on women, while Alan Bray approached the topic from a different angle:  in “The Friend”, he examined a number of instances of English and other churches where tombstones and church records tell of same sex couples buried in single graves, in exactly the same way that married couples sometimes were.  Like Boswell, he too finds evidence in the early church of a rite of “adelphopoeisis”. Like Bray, in tun, Valerie Abrahamsen has examined evidence of same sex burials – from Macedonia in the 6th Century.

Scholars, of course, differ amongst themselves about the precise significance of these findings – in particular, whether these relationships can be thought of as  resembling marriage rites, or even if there is likely to have been any erotic implications to them at all.  I do not wish to go into these nuances – it is enough for my purpose simply to show that liturgical practice concerning same sex relationships has changed.  Today they are vigourously opposed in any form, but in earlier times, from the early church in Rome and Byzantium, to much more recent periods in Western Europe, the Church has provided liturgical recognition for some form of same sex relationships at their formation, and at their dissolution at death.

Many other examples of changes in church teaching and practice could easily be produced – priestly celibacy was not required for the first millenium of history, marriage was not recognised as a sacrament, the church before modern times endorsed slavery and the inferior position of women (in its practice, it still does – but I am not going to venture down that path at present).

But most important, is to recognise that the papacy and the institution of papal power have themselves been subject to constant change.  It is worth remembering that the origins of  the current fuss lie exactly in the repudiation by the SSPX of the Second Vatican Council – a council notable, among other things, for its attempt to recast the balance of power within the Church, with a much enhanced role for the laity. Even the doctrine of papal infallibility, so widely known but so widely misunderstood, is of relatively recent origin.

Even the institution itself does not extend back to the earliest days of the church.  Before there was a pope, the Bishop of Rome was just one among many, then one of 5 patriarchs of equal stature.  After the rise of Islam placed the patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandra under Muslim domination, just two patriarchs, of Rome and Constantinople, remained. In time, the Bishop of Rome acquired special status and power in the Western church, while that of Constantinople did so in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

I have come across a fascinating series of articles by Tom Lee in the Australian internet forum “Catolica”, which has been tracing in weekly instalments, the story of the first 500 years of the Christian church and “the invention” of the papacy.  I have found the early chapters riveting reading, for the insightful picture they paint of the historical setting for the Gospels, and the beginnings of the spread of the Christianity.  I look forward to reading the rest.

As we continue to watch, fascinated, the extraordinary machinations in Vatican City over SSPX, or despair at ongoing stupidities on sexuality, we can perhaps take comfort from the changing past.  The one thing we know for sure is that the papacy and its teachings, as we now know them will certainly change.  What we don’t yet know, is how – or when.