Category Archives: Catholic_Church

What IS a Gay Catholic to do? A Question Comes Out of the Closet.

At America blog last week, the Jesuit priest, Fr James Martin opened up a conversation that is well overdue, but which has up to now been conducted only among those most directly affected, or in obscure specialist theological circles: “What”, he asked, “Is a gay Catholic to do?”

Introducing his question, Fr Martin began by observing five actions that most people would regard as standard life experiences or choices, but which are prohibited to gay Catholics if they wish to conform to standard Church teaching.  Briefly, these actions are:
  • To experience  romantic, sexual love
  • To get married
  • To adopt children
  • To seek ordination
  • To take employment with the church or its agencies.
What, then, is a gay Catholic to do? Fr Martin raised the question, which I suspect will also be relevant in many other faiths, but did not attempt to answer it. Having had the question put before them, his readers responded with vigour – but they too had few answers, beyond the obvious one of simply “accept church teaching without questioning”, and so to accept this misfortune as one would any other disability or ill-fate bestowed by God.
This is not a response that I would consider constructive – and nor would most of the other gay men and lesbians who joined the discussion. (Christ himself said nothing at all against homoerotic relationships). Only marginally more helpful is the variation on the above, to pray to the Lord for help, accept His guidance – and then follow church teaching, quite overlooking even the possibility that the response to sincere, deep prayer might be to ignore church teaching (which, incidentally, was my own experience – but of that more later).
There can be very few heterosexual people who would voluntarily give up all five of these actions. The supposed grounds for setting the expectation, in Scripture and in the Magisterium of the church, are disputed by some significant modern scholars. Is  it surprising that some gay Catholics are refusing to just roll over and play dead?  This is a conversation that has been conducted quietly for decades by gay Catholics themselves, and more formally by an expanding band of reputable academics in “gay & lesbian theology”, in “queer theology”, or even in “indecent theology”.  If Fr Martin did not suggest an answer to his question, he did at least bring into public view the simple fact there such a conversation exists, and needs to be conducted more openly.
In the absence of any clear agreement on what a gay Catholic is to do, I would like to summarise what, based on my own observations, gay Catholics who have seriously considered the question, have in fact done.
Conform
This is obviously the approved response, actively promoted by the church as the “Courage” ministry, which aims to guide its members to live in complete chastity. I have no information on the numbers following this path, but suspect that they are low.  Many gay Catholics view this with scepticism, or even downright hostility, for its links to the discredited ideas of reparative therapy. (See “All You Wanted to Know About  Courage “, at the Wild Reed.)
Conscientious (silent) dissent
In setting its rules, the church claims that the basis lies in the clear voice of Scripture and the unchanging tradition of the church. However, as important decisions over the past summer of the ECLA, the Episcopalians and the Swedish Lutherans have shown, there is no longer a universal consensus among scholars that Scripture is as hostile as was once assumed.  It is now obvious that there is at least room for sincere disagreement on the relevance of the so-called “clobber texts”.
Similarly, the church’s own Magisterium is not, as claimed, unchanging. As gay Catholic historians like John Boswell and Mark Jordan have shown, the Magisterium on homoerotic relationships is anything but unchanging, and indeed may have followed rather than led popular intolerance which grew steadily in the centuries of urban decline in Western Europe after the fall of Rome.
Church teaching itself recognises the possibility of disagreeing, in conscience, with official teaching, provided that conscience has been properly formed.  For years, this was in effect my own position.  The challenge of course, is just what does “properly formed” mean? In my case, it included many different elements, including personal prayer, formal spiritual direction with highly qualified priests, several 6 or 8 day silent, directed retreats, and extensive reading, of Scripture, bible commentary, church history and sexual theology, and informal discussion with friends, gay and others. For me, the outcome was clear:  the official teaching, for whatever reason, is misguided, and I must live with integrity, in accordance with the way the Lord made me.
I would have thought that I had done about as much to form my conscience as most people could reasonably expect, but it seems not.  To judge by the comments following Fr Martin’s question, many orthodox Catholics simply argue that conscience cannot be properly formed unless it ends up agreeing with church teaching.  And even where there is agreement that I may after all have the right to dissent in private, this may not be in public, nor does it give me access to the five things named by Fr Martin – at least not with the co-operation of the church.
Conscientious (visible) dissent
The problem with silent dissent is that is silent –and therefore lonely. One yearns for the opportunity to talk openly, with other dissenting gay Christians, or with other Catholics (when we do, we usually find that they have their own profound disagreements with church teaching, but somehow their disagreements in conscience, over contraception for example, are deemed acceptable, while ours are not).  As it can be difficult to find safe spaces in most parishes to give expression to these issues, some Catholics seek to worship, where possible, in dedicated LGBT congregations.  As a “solution” to the problem, this is not satisfactory.  (The church should not be forming a series of ghettos.) Still, as a strategy and interim measure pending more welcoming responses by mainstream congregations, they are valuable.  But these too attract strong opposition in some quarters.  (Here in London, the regular Soho “gay masses” attract a steady band of protestors, praying outside the church for an end to the “heresy” that we too should be able to attend Mass.  How they argue that their Catholic duty is to prevent or discourage people from attending Mass, I fail to understand.)
External dissent: Prophetic Witness, or Sniping From the Margins?
One of the most penetrating discussions of the problem I have come across is by Michael B Kelly, an Australian writer and spiritual director, now working towards a PhD in Spirituality.  In a powerful reflection on the story of the road to Emmaus, he observes that this came immediately after the resurrection – which the religious authorities, holed up in Jerusalem, had not as yet accepted or recognised, in spite of the personal witness of the women who had met the risen Christ.  Two of the disciples, despondent, left Jerusalem, and made their way to the town of Emmaus.  The next part of the story is well known – on the road they met a stranger, walked with him, and offered the hospitality of their home, whereupon they recognised the risen Lord. This is where Kelly’s version becomes profound, because he makes the next part, usually omitted, the key to the story.  Having met and conversed with the Lord at a personal level, they then leave Emmaus, and return to Jerusalem, to deliver the news of the Risen Lord to the religious authorities who had so dismally failed earlier to recognise him.
This, says Kelly, is what a gay Catholic has to do.  First, to turn away (possibly literally, possibly figuratively) from the religious authority of the institutional church, and to meet Christ on a personal level.  Having done that, having formed a personal relationship, the task is to take the road away from Emmaus, back to Jerusalem, and then to speak up to the establishment in prophetic witness:  that Christ is not met among the religious “pure”, in ritual and religious law, but among the marginalised and rejected, in love and compassion.
There are an increasing number of gay Catholic dissenters who have followed this path in one from or another, who have distanced themselves from the institution and who speak up in prophetic witness (as they see it) against the sins of the church, and in support of the truth as they see it.  They still see themselves (and describe themselves) as “catholic” (just not necessarily “Roman”), but do not necessarily participate in regular liturgical services.  Whether they are indeed perceptive prophets who will in time be seen to have been right, or whether they are simply misguided fools sniping from the margins, time will tell.
Walk right away.
Right at the opposite end of the spectrum are those who have simply walked right away from the Catholic church, disgusted and repelled by the harsh words and treatment it has for them.  Some of these make their way to more supportive Christian denominations, some abandon religion entirely.  The ones that disturb me the most are those I often come across in the blogosphere, who describe themselves as “recovering” Catholics.
Still no answer.
I have still not given a clear answer: “What is a gay Catholic to do?”.  I have outlined a range of strategies that some gay Catholics have followed.  I now ask you:  if you are indeed a lesbian or gay Christian, in any of the hostile denominations, what strategy do you adopt (or have adopted) yourself? If you are not gay, but willing sincerely to consider the question from their point of view, putting yourself in their shoes, and without simply parroting out slogans, what would you do?

What, finally, would Jesus do?

Read More:

What is a Gay Catholic to do? Fr James Martin at America blog. (read the comments, too)

All You Wanted to Know About  Courage “, at the Wild Reed

Countering the Clobber Texts , here at QTC

The Church’s Changing Tradition , here at QTC

The Road from Emmaus:  A Reflection by Michael B Keely on the gay & lesbian Prophetic Role in the Church.

Recommended Books:

Alison, James: Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay (Darton Longman Todd, 2001) 239 pages*

Alison, James: On Being Liked (Darton Longman Todd, 2003) 168 pages*

Alison, James:  Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in (Darton Longman Todd, 2005)*

Alison, James: Broken Hearts New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal (Darton Longman Todd)*

Comstock, Gary: Queer(y)ing Religion

Glaser, Chris: Coming Out as Sacrament

Goss, Robert:  Jesus Acted Up

Helminiak, Daniel:  Sex and the Sacred

Kelly, Michael B:  Seduced by Grace

McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended

Schinnick:  This Remarkable Gift being gay and catholic

Stuart,  Elisabeth: Religion is a Queer Thing

Stuart,  Elisabeth:  Gay & Lesbian Theologies


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Good News from the Vatican?

Benedict’s Christmas address to the Curia provoked a firestorm of comment – but the important stuff, buried inside, was ignored.

Yes, the implied criticism of ‘homosexuals’, and more direct criticism of gender theory was disappointing. But the media frenzy overlooked a whole lot of stuff to encourage gay catholics. (Read the whole speech at ‘Whispers in the Loggia”). There was a long riff in the theme of the importance of joy as a sign of the Holy Spirit. Now I don’t know about you, but I have certainly experienced a great deal of ‘Joy’ (which Benedict reminds us is a sign of the Spirit) in physical, erotic love. So, by following the papal argument, I can claim to have found God in sex, gay sex. (No, I didn’t need Benedict to tell me what I already know – but it is good to have the Rottweiler agreeing with me for once.)

Benedict XVI

There is also more stuff on how Revelation is a continuing process in the modern world. – so there he acknowledged the possibility (I believe the probability) that theology can change to reflect a change in public understanding of sexuality.

In an open letter to the US bishops, John McNeill (writer, psychotherapist and former priest- letter reprinted at The Wild Reed) has railed against the iniquities done by the established church to gay and lesbian Catholics. But he also wrote of an emerging ‘Kairos moment’ – a moment ripe for change. He could be right – as gay Catholics, we need to encourage each other, and engage with the positive elements in the faith to force this change.

Good News for LGBT Catholics

The first time (as a young student) that I came across the title “Good News for Modern Man”, I did not realise it was an unconventional name for a new Bible translation. Later I made the connection, but could not see the relevance. “For Modern Man” I could understand, but in what sense “Good News”? After drifting away from the Church as a young adult, and later facing my sexuality, the description of the Bible as “good” news seemed even less appropriate. After all, ‘everybody’ knew how it was riddled with condemnations of any touch of sexual impropriety, most especially of the shameful sin of ‘sodomy’. There were a sprinkling of liberal churchmen, I knew, who took a more enlightened and tolerant view, but the Catholic Church in which I had grown up was implacable and instransigent. Like birth control, homosexuals were just not acceptable. So, like so many sexual minorities, I stayed outside the Church where I knew I was not welcome.

CB024386

Today, after some years’ journey of rediscovery of my faith, I find that the Bible is indeed “Good News”, including and especially for sexual outsiders; The Catholic Church really is the universal, welcoming community implied by that little word ‘catholic’ and LGBT people have an important part to play in it.

As I write, I can picture the jaws of my readers dropping in disbelief. In my experience, there are few people who believe that openly gay people can be accommodated in the Christian family: those of firm religious views reject out of hand the sinful ‘gay lifestyle’ (whatever that is), while people who have worked through the difficulties of coming out, have no desire to collaborate in ‘our oppression’ by religion. But around the world, more and more gay, lesbian and transgendered people are indeed finding that truth, as always, is more subtle and nuanced than the superficial perception, that they can after all find a welcome in a Catholic church, and that they do not have to renounce or compromise their sexual psyche to find it.

Naturally, we have some disagreements, even tensions, with the Vatican and some of our churchmen. The church and church people have inflicted great evils on our community in the past, and some smaller iniquities continue to this day. Likewise, Scripture contains some uncomfortable ‘clobber texts’ we have to come to terms with. But I submit that these texts are not as intimidating as we might fear, and in any case represent just a tiny fraction of the total Bible message. The Church, too, is greater than the clergy, the clergy greater than the Papacy and its attendant Vatican bureaucrats, and the Papacy far greater than its peculiar and disordered pronouncements on ‘homosexuals’.

If you remain sceptical, as I suspect many of you will be, I ask that you suspend your scepticism a little longer, as I share with you some of the experiences and insights that have led me to my transformed view of faith. I hope also to bring to your attention relevant topical news, information and comment.

But I do not wish to do this alone. The catholic church, after all, is above all about community. I have invited several of my associates too, to share their views, news and beliefs. Who knows? You may even find yourself stung into posting a comment or longer contribution.

I hope you do.

Terence.

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Cardinal Steps in His Carbon Footprint

(Taken from an on-line edition of the Irish Times 30th August 2009, read early in the morning, but later seemed to disappear.)

THERE are some businesses which, thankfully, are proving resistant to the recession.

Less thankfully, religion is one of them.

Whether it’s the uncertainty of the times which is making people turn back to the comforts of the Almighty, or a genuine spiritual yearning for something better after the era of untrammelled greed which the commentators insist we’ve all been living through, remains to be seen.

Maybe once wages and house prices start rising again, God will be relegated to His usual place on the back burner. But for now, the Church is bouncing back. A total of 38 young men entered the seminaries this year, almost double last year’s figure.

It’s too early to say if it’s a trend, insists an uncharacteristically modest Catholic Communications Office; but coming only a few months after the Church suffered its own version of the credit crunch — more of a credibility crunch, really — with the publication of the Ryan Report into institutional abuse, it’s a remarkable change of fortune.

If only the Catholic Church realised when it was on to a good thing, and didn’t push its luck.

Given all that’s happened, you’d think the hierarchy would say to one another: “Phew, lads, that was a close shave. Now let’s keep our heads down for a while till it all blows over.” Instead they immediately dive head first into yet another row — thanks to Cardinal Sean Brady’s homily last weekend in Limerick.

It all started out innocuously enough, this time as a sermon on climate change. Priests feel the need periodically to do this Save the Planet schtick. It’s embarrassing in a Kum Ba Yah sort of way, and, if left unchecked, has been known to lead to the nightmare of acoustic guitar playing on the altar, but probably harmless enough. The problem was what followed after Cardinal Brady had finished with the usual guff about how churches should measure their carbon footprints and offset the damage by helping baby polar bears to swim or something.

Tangential doesn’t even begin to describe the directions which one of Ireland’s premier churchmen took from his original starting point. Anybody who nodded off in St John’s Cathedral last weekend would have woken up to find that gay marriage was in the firing line, leaving them perhaps with the disorienting impression that homosexuals were responsible for global warming. His Eminence didn’t stop there either.

He might as well have called his homily “And Another Thing…” as he strayed far from carbon footprints to touch on such topics as the right to life, to the right to a “natural death”, through to research on embryonic stem cells. Meddling with the integrity of the human body and meddling with the environment were, in this light, both aspects of the same disorder.

To be fair, none of this was exactly new ground for Catholic prelates, who have traditionally not been big fans of reproductive interference, Indeed, large chunks of the text were lifted wholesale from the Pope’s recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

Plenty of what he had to say was also right on the money. Marriage and the raising of children in a loving two-parent environment as the cornerstone of a stable society? Nobody’s quarrelling there, not least the vast majority of people who already live in precisely that way — though the warning does invite a sarcastic response about what exactly the Church was doing to protect family life when it let its priests get away with molesting children.

More than that, though, it was the faint undertone of menace which stuck in the craw. Cardinal Brady’s homily was addressed not to his small audience of listeners in the cathedral that evening, so much as over their heads towards the politicians in Dail Eireann who have to make a decision on legalising civil partnerships for gay people, allowing them to avail of the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual married couples. This was against the Constitution, Brady claimed. It was against the common good, he added.

Then the killer blow: those who supported the legislation, the Cardinal stated, would be making a choice to “depart” from God. That’s a heck of a sword to dangle on a thread over your opponents’ heads. Hilariously, Sean Brady then went on to insist that freedom of conscience must be respected.

So you respect your opponents’ right to disagree, but if they do disagree, then they’re to be denounced as having turned their backs on God Himself?

That’s a strange kind of respect, to say that anybody whose understanding of their faith leads them to sincerely espouse a different view is to be banished from the tent and ejected into some kind of godless wilderness. God’s not big enough to make room for people who think gay couples should have legal rights? Impertinent as it may sound to chastise a cardinal on matters of theology, I really hope God would beg to differ on that one, especially since the alternative for Him is spending eternity with a tiny group of smug, self-satisfied know-it-alls who think their particular ideologies make them the chosen ones.

Brady’s whole tone was one of righteous entitlement. The choices for Ireland, he averred, were between “personal greed” or the “common good”, a “civilisation of selfishness” or a “civilisation of love”, a “culture of death” or a “culture of life”.

No chance of merging shades of grey in the middle then? No space for honest disagreement among fellow Christians?

Basically, what he seemed to be saying is that anyone who differed from his interpretation of Christian teaching wasn’t a proper Christian at all. And the last person I heard talk like that was the Reverend Ian Paisley. Some role model.

It’s surely this arrogant air of proprietory rights regarding God’s mind which Fr Aidan Troy, formerly of North Belfast’s sectarian interface, now transferred to Paris, was referring to in a recent interview when he spoke of how the Catholic Church had thought simply saying sorry for the decades-long abuse scandal was sufficient, without facing up to the need to change its way. Fr Troy wants his superiors to “halt recruitment, reform and reorganise, then begin again”. Fat chance of that happening, as he well knows. To do that, they’d have to admit that they might be wrong, and Cardinal Brady’s homily made it abundantly clear last weekend that it’s only the hierarchy’s detractors who can ever be that.

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Gay Marriage, Climate Change – and Clerical Abuse.

Do you remember Benedict XVI’s infamous Christmas Eve address to the Curia, in which (to judge from press reports), he seemed to argue that gay marriage and gender theory lead to climate change?  It now seems that Ireland’s Cardinal Sean Brady has been rereading those reports, and using them as a model for his own rhetoric.  After noting that in spite of the Ryan report on clerical abuse of children, there has been a sharp rise in yong men entering Irish seminary life, Ellis O’ Hanlon writes in the Irish Times:

Given all that’s happened, you’d think the hierarchy would say to one another: “Phew, lads, that was a close shave. Now let’s keep our heads down for a while till it all blows over.” Instead they immediately dive head first into yet another row — thanks to Cardinal Sean Brady’s homily last weekend in Limerick.

It all started out innocuously enough, this time as a sermon on climate change. Priests feel the need periodically to do this Save the Planet schtick. It’s embarrassing in a Kum Ba Yah sort of way, and, if left unchecked, has been known to lead to the nightmare of acoustic guitar playing on the altar, but probably harmless enough. The problem was what followed after Cardinal Brady had finished with the usual guff about how churches should measure their carbon footprints and offset the damage by helping baby polar bears to swim or something.

Tangential doesn’t even begin to describe the directions which one of Ireland’s premier churchmen took from his original starting point. Anybody who nodded off in St John’s Cathedral last weekend would have woken up to find that gay marriage was in the firing line, leaving them perhaps with the disorienting impression that homosexuals were responsible for global warming.

Plenty of what he had to say was also right on the money. Marriage and the raising of children in a loving two-parent environment as the cornerstone of a stable society? Nobody’s quarrelling there, not least the vast majority of people who already live in precisely that way — though the warning does invite a sarcastic response about what exactly the Church was doing to protect family life when it let its priests get away with molesting children.

This is familiar stuff:  just about any excuse is enough for some of our churchmen to leap into an attack on the degenerate “homosexua”  lifestyle.  But note O’Hanlon’s reference to the Ryan report.  I will return to this later.

More than that, though, it was the faint undertone of menace which stuck in the craw. Cardinal Brady’s homily was addressed not to his small audience of listeners in the cathedral that evening, so much as over their heads towards the politicians in Dail Eireann who have to make a decision on legalising civil partnerships for gay people, allowing them to avail of the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual married couples. This was against the Constitution, Brady claimed. It was against the common good, he added.

Then the killer blow: those who supported the legislation, the Cardinal stated, would be making a choice to “depart” from God. That’s a heck of a sword to dangle on a thread over your opponents’ heads. Hilariously, Sean Brady then went on to insist that freedom of conscience must be respected.

So you respect your opponents’ right to disagree, but if they do disagree, then they’re to be denounced as having turned their backs on God Himself?

And now we get to the crunch issue:

That’s a strange kind of respect, to say that anybody whose understanding of their faith leads them to sincerely espouse a different view is to be banished from the tent and ejected into some kind of godless wilderness. God’s not big enough to make room for people who think gay couples should have legal rights? Impertinent as it may sound to chastise a cardinal on matters of theology, I really hope God would beg to differ on that one, especially since the alternative for Him is spending eternity with a tiny group of smug, self-satisfied know-it-alls who think their particular ideologies make them the chosen ones.

Brady’s whole tone was one of righteous entitlement. The choices for Ireland, he averred, were between “personal greed” or the “common good”, a “civilisation of selfishness” or a “civilisation of love”, a “culture of death” or a “culture of life”.

No chance of merging shades of grey in the middle then? No space for honest disagreement among fellow Christians?

Basically, what he seemed to be saying is that anyone who differed from his interpretation of Christian teaching wasn’t a proper Christian at all. And the last person I heard talk like that was the Reverend Ian Paisley. Some role model.

And now the key, absolutely crucial, real point:

It’s surely this arrogant air of proprietory rights regarding God’s mind which Fr Aidan Troy, formerly of North Belfast’s sectarian interface, now transferred to Paris, was referring to in a recent interview when he spoke of how the Catholic Church had thought simply saying sorry for the decades-long abuse scandal was sufficient, without facing up to the need to change its way. Fr Troy wants his superiors to “halt recruitment, reform and reorganise, then begin again”. Fat chance of that happening, as he well knows. To do that, they’d have to admit that they might be wrong, and Cardinal Brady’s homily made it abundantly clear last weekend that it’s only the hierarchy’s detractors who can ever be that.

It is absolutely appropriate that O’Hanlon, after beginning with a remider of the Ryan report into clerical abuse, should have ended by pointing out the Cardinal’s insistence that he and his colleagues in the Irish hierarchy have a monopoly on truth, and Fr Troy’s belief that the clerical abuse could be eliminating by agreeing to “halt recruitment(presumably, eliminating recruitment in particular of those dreadful queers), reform and reorganise, then begin again“.

Here is the fundamental problem:  by using every opportunity to turn discussion of any problem to an attack on “the gays”, what they are really doing is the age old trick of scapegoating the sexual “others”, so as to deflect attention from the real problem with clerical abuse: their own institutional culpability.

In my continuing series on the problem, I have repeatedly referred to Bishop Robinson’s conclusions that the root causes are deeply embedded in church’s institutional structure: the insistence on compulsory celibacy,  the excessive concentration and centralisation of ecclesiastical power, and individuals who are personally immature with poorly integrated sexuality.  (Note that the insistence on celibacy and exclusion of openly gay candidates ensures a disproportionate number of sexually immature candidates – both straight and gay- remaining). Investigating additional books on the topic for Sergius & Bacchus books, I quickly found that many other writers clearly agree with Robinson.  I have not yet had the chance to read these, but just the titles (see below) and the few snippets or commentaries available on-line make the general conclusions clear:

Boisvert & Goss, “Gay Catholic Priests and Clerical Abuse – Breaking the Silence” is a powerful collection of articles by a range of writers addressing the fallacious connection between the abuse and gay priests.  In doing so, they make some very important points, which come across clearly, even in only a limited on-line preview.  For me, the most startling was the observation (which I have since come across elsewhere) that something like two thirds of the victims were not boys, but girls – and hence that two thirds of the perpetrators were not gay, but  ”straight”.  Couple this with the widely accepted guesstimate that something like half of priests are gay, and an important conclusion follows.  If half the clergy (the straight half) are responsible for two thirds of the crimes, and the other half, the gay half, are responsible for just  one third, then simple arithmetic shows clearly that allegedly “straight” (but psychologically and morally twisted) clergy are twice as likely as gay clergy to be responsible for the child abuse.

Clearly, my calculations are deeply flawed: both figures are based on crude estimates. Combine them , and they become even less reliable.  There are other problems as well, but one thing is clear – the figures we have cannnot support the idea that gay priests are the ones primarily responsible for the scandal.

The second important observation in this book is that the widespread public focus on abuse of boys has completly obscured the bigger problem: the abuse of girls.  This is sexism at its worst – belittling the experience of the girls to highlight that of  the boys, as well as scapegoating of gay clergy to deflect attention from the real issue:  the completely unwarranted attempts by the institutional church to usurp all control, under the pretence of a monopoly of truth, and the completely unscriptural, unhistoric and completely unnecessary insistence on comoplusory celibacy.

As long as we in the broader church community allow the church authorities to get away with these lies, we are all complicit in the problem of sexual abuse. Until we root out the fundamental causes, this problem cannot go away.

This logo, which I previously posted under the title of the “worst logo ever”, now seems uncannily apposite and symbolic:

“Via Afrojacks, One imagines that this 1973 design for the Catholic Church’s Archdiocesan Youth Commission would not make the cut today. “

Inappropriatelogo

NOTE:  the excerpts quoted above I took directly from the on-line edition of the Irish Times early this morning, Aug 30th.  Since then the story appears to have been removed: I can no longer find it in searches under the topic, or directly on the Irish Times website, so I am unable to  provide a  link.  The sections I have quoted are presented verbatim, except only some minor excisions to reduce the overall length.  For those  who might like to consult the full original report, I copied it in its entirety to a Word file, which I have since saved as a page under Catholic Church, Power & Abuse.  he headline I have given it may not be authentic – I have taken it from memory.

A small sample follows of some widely cited and commended titles on the problem that I came across in just an hour or two of on-line browsing:

Cozzens, D:                  The Changing Face of the Catholic Priesthood.

Crosby:                         Rethinking Celibacy, Reclaiming the Church

DOYLE & SIPE:          Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes- The Catholic Church’s 2000 Year Trail of Sexual Abuse

FRAWLEY–O’DEA:  Perversion of Power

MITCHELL, T:            Betrayal of the Innocents

RIGERT, Joe:              An Irish Tragedy

SIPE, A.W.R:               Sex, Priests and Power

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The Homoerotic Catholic Church

That’s right:  not homophobic, but homoerotic.  Sure, there is homophobia, especially in the official teaching, but if you peer beneath the surface, scratch the veneer, lift the skirts of the priestly vestments at what lies beneath and within, you find a very different picture. It is a common observation that the most virulent homophobia often masks a closeted gay interior. This may well be the case with the institutional Catholic church: there is much in the Church’s history, institutional character, liturgical style, church decoration, and mystical tradition that is way more than just gay-friendly:  much of it is at least camp, or even frankly homoerotic.

Let us begin with the fun stuff.

In his wonderfully funny but also pointed and touching bit of memoir, “Since My Last Confession“, Scott Pomfret adopts a delightfully camp tone to describe the personnel, priestly vestments and equipment of the Mass. (In an extended metaphor, the Mass becomes a white linen restaurant, the priest is the chef, Eucharistic ministers are waiters, the chalice is the wine glass.)

This camp tone is entirely appropriate: there is much in the liturgy itself, in church architecture and decor, with its blend of high art and low kitsch, which is itself high camp, and appealing to the gay sensibility (if such exists). Elsewhere, Pomfret notes that Sunday evening doughnut supper in a particular Boston parish, is the best place outside a gay bar to pick up a man on Sunday night.

On a similar theme, Mark D Jordan (“The Silence of Sodom”) describes a certain type of Catholic gay man who tends to get deeply involved in the minutiae of liturgy planning.  These men he describes as “liturgy” queens, drawing a clear comparison with that other well-known stereotype, the opera queen.  (In this context, the well-known Marian prayer, “Hail Holy Queen” takes on a whole new meaning!)

On the other hand, what is one to make of the display of the near naked Christ on the cross, and the depictions of the passion in the “Stations of the Cross” found in every Catholic church?  Do these have a special frisson for the SM /Leather sub-group of gay men?  It is certainly so that renowned mystics such as St John of the Cross have developed a whole school of spirituality on the idea of contemplation on the body of Christ – and couched it in language that is remarkably sensuous, even erotic.

Priesthood & Training

It’s not only the gay men in the congregation that respond to the camp. It’s well known that an astonishingly high proportion of Catholic priests are gay.  There are no reliable statistics, but the guesstimates I have seen tend to cluster around the 50% mark, give or take 20% either side. Nor are these all in the lower ranks, nor should we assume that they are all celibate:  rumours and allegations of sexually active gay bishops, cardinals, Vatican officials  and even popes are commonplace. (Some conservative factions in the Church even claim that all three popes immediately after Vatican II were gay, and that Paul VI in particular ushered in a “homosexual mafia” to the Vatican staff – possibly explaining the reactionary lurch under John Paul II and Benedict XVI?)

Why should this be so?  It is probably simplistic just to blame it on the desire to wear the priestly drag (where else can a gay men get to wear skirts public outside the theatre or drag shows?), but the camp style probably does have something to do with it.

More important though, as Mark D Jordan has persuasively shown, is that the entire culture of priestly training in all-male seminaries is deeply supportive, even encouraging, of a gay orientation, just as it discourages

straight men. Jordan also shows, scandalously, that it is not just the students in these institutions who are, or first become, sexually active in the seminaries: many staff members are sexual predators, taking advantage of the students in their care – even as they warn against forming “particular friendships” with each other.

History

In the Church’s long past, carefully airbrushed out of official history,
are hidden numerous examples of gay, lesbian and even transvestite (FTM) saints, bishops, and popes. Fortunately, modern scholars no longer depend on clerical approval, and this gay past is now being recovered for us(See the work of John Boswell, Alan Bray, and Bernadette Brooten just for starters.)

Far from opposing gay marriage, for many centuries the church recognised and liturgically blessed same sex unions:  at the start of the relationships, by the ceremonies of “adelphopoesis” in the Eastern church, and by the “ordo ad fratres faciendum” in the West.  Both these terms referred to the making of “sworn brothers”, and may have been largely about contracts of property arrangements – but that is exactly what opposite-sex unions were about at the time.  The concept of marriage as the consummation of romantic love is a modern invention.  Many same sex unions have also been recognised in death, right up to the 19th century, by being buried in shared graves, often inside church buildings, or with grave monuments, memorials and inscriptions inside the churches comparable to the memorials to married couples buried together.

Does it matter?

That there is at least a strand of homophile or homoerotic culture, sensitivity, and activity in the Catholic Church is clear.  So what?  Should we care?  For those of us in the Church who are gay, I believe it matters immensely.  By recognising the hypocrisy, it becomes easier to stand up to the theological bullying, and to counter the lecturing with rational argument.

Further reading:

Books
Jordan, Mark D:  The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism
Boswell, John Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century
Boswell, John : Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
Alan Bray, The Friend

Brooten, Bernadette : Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism
Engel, Rangy: The Rite of Sodomy Homosexuality and the Roman Catholic Church

Pomfret, Scott: Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir

Abuse and Suicide: A Moving Reader’s Response

My post on the church’s culpability in youth suicide has brought this moving comment, which has brought me , quite literally, to tears. I reproduce it here for your consideration, with no further comment – I have no words that would be good enough:

Thank you Terence for posting this thought provoking post. I would not want to comment directly on the Unglo family’s actions, though I have a good idea of their anguish and pain.

All I would say is that sometimes (and more often than appears on the surface) your two threads of thought intersect, tragically.
My wife and I are firmly convinced that young gays and lesbians are far more likely to be clergy sexually abused than their straight peers.

Here is our story, which is the story of our beloved son: Remembering Eric – 2nd Anniversary Of His Death the associated links tell some more about him and us. I know we had to fight my then-Bishop to have Eric’s funeral service in the local church building ~ because ‘the canons’ forbade the funeral of ‘a suicide’ in church. Heaping insult upon injury.

May Eric, and all the other suicide-victims of clergy sexual abuse … rest in peace, and rise in Glory!

sincerely,

John Iliff

Eric’s story” concludes with these word:

It was there in 1935 that he told his students:

‘The one who does not cry out for the Jews has no right to sing Gregorian chant’.

Today, we forthrightly submit that:

‘The one who does not cry out for the victims of clergy sexual abuse has no right to say the Catholic mass nor sing the Orthodox Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom’.

Clerical Abuse: A Lesson From South Africa

In the aftermath of apartheid, an important part of the country’s transition to normality was played by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, magnificently led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

TRC logo

Among mountains of harrowing tales of huge personal tragedy and confessions of guilt from all sides of a long conflict, I was especially struck by one man’s testimony.

Dr Beyers Naude was a minister and theologian in the Dutch Reformed Church, who in his youth was seen as a rising star and future leader in that community. So it turned out, but not in the way then anticipated.  

Dr Beyers Naude

For long before his coreligionists, Naude came to see the evil of apartheid for what it was: harmful destructive and contrary to Scripture. He tried to persuade his colleagues of this, but instead of converting them, he found himself first ostracised, later actively harassed by the state. In spite of immense personal hardship, he contrived to continue working to an end of apartheid in whatever way he could. By the final end of apartheid, he was widely seen as one of many heroes of the internal resistance.

Yet in his personal testimony to the TRC, Naude did not speak to his achievements, nor to his suffering. Instead, this man who had contributed so much, apologised to the nation for not having done more. In earlier unusual testimony, white men who had served as conscripts in the South African Army and participated in many atrocities in the townships, spoke not of their guilt, but of their mental trauma they had experienced as a result.

Reflecting on this, I was struck by a thought that I still hold with conviction. Although the popular mind in South Africa and abroad tended to think of the apartheid evils simplistically, in dualistic terms of “perpetrators” and “victims”, I saw the reality as far more complex. If Naude, who had done so much, could see himself amongst the perpetrators, and soldiers who were widely condemned for their part, could describe themselves as victims, so could the same be said of all of us.

In one or way or another, in big ways and small, we had all been part of the problem, we were all victims, directly and indirectly. Equally, we all were part of the “system”, as beneficiaries and participants of the apartheid process directly, or by contributing to the internal divisions and violence that wracked the black communities. But most importantly, in many different ways, we were all contributing to the solution. We were not all heroes of the resistance: but in the small daily acts of simple humanity, of increasingly ignoring the laws of petty apartheid, by the little acts of simple friendship or mere neighbourliness across the colour line, and by increasingly speaking frankly among our friends and colleagues of the truth we were beginning to see, we all contributed to gradual breakdown of an oppressive “system”.

Skeletons

And so it is with the Church. Now, almost twenty years later, as I look at and reflect upon the horrors of the Church’s immersion in tales of sexual and physical abuse, I see strong parallels. To view the problem solely in terms of “perpetrators”, directly in the cover-ups, and of victims only of physical or sexual abuse, is grossly simplistic. We in the Church now, as we in South Africa then were, are all at some level victims, as we are all perpetrators.

But ultimately, we too can all be part of the solution. In later posts, I will expand on these to show just how this can be.

Desmond Tutu at TRC

UK Bishops Rejecting Church Teaching?

Once again, the Catholic Church, in defending its dogma, is in practice going against its own teaching.  The BBC has reported that the UK bishops have “reacted angrily” to a speech by Terry Pendergast, of Marriage Care, in a speech this past weekend to Quest.

 

The Roman Catholic Church has reacted angrily to comments endorsing gay parenthood from a charity with strong links to the Church.

Terry Prendergast of Marriage Care, which is partly funded by the Church, said there was no evidence children were harmed by having same-sex parents.

gay_adoption
Continue reading UK Bishops Rejecting Church Teaching?

A Church for Saints and Sinners

The Guardian Newspaper has drawn attention to an article which it claims shows that the Holy See is warming to Oscar Wilde.  This is a little over the top – what the newspaper did, was to praise a review of a book about Wilde:

“Despite the Catholic Church’s condemnation of practising homosexuality, the newspaper has now run a glowing review of a new book about the famously doomed lover of Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde was “one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects”, wrote author Andrea Monda in a piece about Italian author Paolo Gulisano’s The Portrait of Oscar Wilde.

In an article headlined “When Oscar Wilde met Pius IX”, Monda wrote that Wilde was not “just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England”; rather he was “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false”.

“Wilde was a man of great, intense feelings, who behind the lightness of his writing, behind a mask of frivolity or cynicism, hid a deep knowledge of the mysterious value of life,” he said.”

Nevertheless, it is true that both in the review and in publishing an earier collection of aphorisms, the Vatican has commented a pprovingly on the wisdom behind many of Wilde’s wittty remarks: in particular, that the Catholic Church is a  place “for saints and sinners alone” – and not for respectable people or conformists.

“The Holy See started its unlikely love affair with the Irish playwright and author two years ago when it published a collection of his quips in the book Provocations: Aphorisms for an Anti-conformist Christianity. Wilde’s famous comments “I can resist everything except temptation”, and “the only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it” were included in the book, edited by Father Leonardo Sapienza.

Wilde was baptised into the Catholic Church shortly before he died. L’Osservatore Romano said that the “existential path” which the author trod “can also be seen as a long and difficult path toward that Promised Land which gives us the reason for existence, a path which led him to his conversion to Catholicism, a religion which, as he remarked in one of his more acute and paradoxical aphorisms, was ‘for saints and sinners alone – for respectable people, the Anglican Church will do’.”

This is profoundly true.  The heart of the Gospel is precisely that it is about to reaching out to all  – saints and sinners alike – and not to the rich and respectable, unless they discard those riches and respectability.  Indeed, many of our most revered saints today were at one time or another either clear “sinners”, or viewed with great suspicion or outright hostility by the Vatican establishment.

In a useful comment on the article, Martin Pendergast, well-known in the UK for his outstadning work behind the Soho Masses and the RC Caucus of the LGCM, notes the many reasons why this should not be a surprise, arguing along lines similar to those used by Mark Jordan in “The Silence of Sodom.”

“Why should anyone be surprised at the Vatican’s official newspaper lauding Oscar Wilde? Its marbled halls are strewn with the finely sculpted, muscular youths of Michelangelo’s erotic fantasies. The erupting sexuality in the Sistine Chapel’s frescos are likewise testament to Wilde’s assertion that the Catholic church is “for saints and sinners alone” and that “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.”

What might have attracted Oscar Wilde to Catholicism? At one level it might have been the camp ultramontanism of 18th and 19th century liturgy and music. This attracted so many converts of the era, lingering into the early 20th century, with leading figures of the Oxford Movement and later Anglo-Catholic revivals turning to Rome. Cardinal Newman, his beloved Ambrose St John, the hymn-writing Father Faber, and Robert Hugh Benson, were all aesthetes to varying degrees. Was there something in the harshness of Victorian society that encouraged them to seek out alternative values in the Catholic church of those times?

…..

Wilde’s sexual life, which today might be described as exhibiting patterns of sexual addiction, gave him deep insight into what was good, and beautiful, and true, in himself and those whom he loved, from Constance Lloyd to Alfred Douglas. The Vatican newspaper is not romanticising Wilde but noting his real insights into the human condition, its vulnerability and its immense creativity. Wilde’s De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol are as valuable spiritual and theological classics as Cardinal Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, or the latter’s passionate letters on the death of Ambrose St John.”

Saint or Sinner:  which are you?

For the full Guardian article, read it here;

For Martin’s commentary, read it here.

Related posts:

Oscar Wilde, Queer Martyr (Queer Saints, Sinners and Martyrs)

Oscar Wilde: Gay martyr with complex faith journey recalled in new art