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Theologians’ Revolt Deepening, Widening

When the German theologians last week released their declaration calling for far-reaching reform of the Catholic Church culture, structures and teaching on sexual morality, it had been signed by 143 leading theologians from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The publication of the declaration on Friday coincided with the resignation of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, in the culmination of sustained popular protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Since then, Arab street protests have spread to other countries of the Middle East, notably including Bahrain, Iran, Libya, Jordan and Algeria.
The theologians’ revolt has similarly been spreading beyond the original 143 German signatories.
  
A note by Bill Lindsey in the Open Tabernacle comments thread drew my attention to the current list of signatories, which as of yesterday (February 18th) had grown to 245 German theologians. Simple calculations demonstrate that if the original 143 represented about a third of the total, then 245 are more than half – an absolute majority. (There will still be others who agree with all or most of the points, but have withheld their signatures). Even more interesting to me, was an observation at the bottom of the German list, confirming what I suspected when I first wrote about this; theologians in other parts of the world are now adding their names.

 

Das internationale Interesse am Memorandum ist groß. Immer mehr Theologieprofessorinnen und -professoren aus den nicht-deutschsprachigen Ländern bekunden uns ihre Unterstützung.

(International interest in the Memorandum is huge. An increasing number of theology professors in the non-German countries are telling us of their support).

The site lists 22 foreign names – not yet many, but this will surely grow, once the word spreads that this is no longer an exclusively German development. Academics thrive on extensive personal international connections (several of the theologians are listed as associated with two distinct institutions, in different countries) International attention will spread rapidly.




Continue reading Theologians’ Revolt Deepening, Widening

Theologians’ Revolt Exposes a Vatican Myth

When I quoted Charles Curran last week with his statement that “the majority” of moral theologians want to see some revisions to Catholic teaching on sexual ethics, I could not have anticipated how quickly I would be seeing some evidence that Curran may even have understated the problem. At the end of the week, coinciding beautifully with the Egyptian”Day of Departure”, the German press published a statement by 143 theologians, titled “The Church in 2011: A Necessary Departure”, which called for fundamental, far-reaching reforms in the structure and moral theology of the Catholic Church.  In doing so, they dramatically demolished an important Catholic myth: that Vatican doctrine and disciplinary rules dictate the beliefs and conduct of the Church.

They do not. It has long been clear that Vatican pronouncements on sexual ethics and on the requirements for admission to the priesthood do not reflect the views of ordinary lay Catholics. It is now obvious that they also do not reflect the views of their own professional theologians. I suspect, indeed, that the Vatican oligarchs no longer believe their own pronouncements themselves. True Catholic belief, as reflected in the real life beliefs of real people, and not abstract words in a rule book, has been substantially reformed. All that is now required is an admission of the fact. What is now becoming clear is that, just like the Emperor’s New Clothes, the idea that the Vatican controls Catholic minds and speaks for their belief, is – a myth.

The revolt of the German theologians has attracted remarkably little attention in the Mainstream English press, which has largely been content simply to headline the calls for the ordination of married men and women, and some cursory references to the other reforms which were specified. This is a mistake: the document is far more important than  just a few academics making yet another call for changing the rules on ordination. It is, instead, a  demand for a wholesale restructuring of the entire culture and structure of the church, in which the specific reforms asked for are just some particular consequences, not the main thrust at all.




Continue reading Theologians’ Revolt Exposes a Vatican Myth

Pope Benedict, on the Queer Lessons in the Church’s Martyrdom of St Joan.

At Enhanced Masculinity, I came across a post which reported on an address by Pope Benedict about the martyrdom and later canonization of St Joan of Arc. I was pleased to see this, as I have written before of the importance of Joan as a queer saint who was first martyred by the church, and later rehabilitated and honoured. Much the same will surely occur in time to those modern queer heroes who have been professionally martyred, by the Church which has deliberately destroyed their careers, for the great sin of attempting to speak the truth on sexual ethics or LGBT inclusion.

Benedict’s frank admission of the patent error of the church theologians who presided over Joan’s trial and passed sentence on her, together with his quotation from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium on the constant need for purification, made a welcome contrast with the usual glossing over of past mistakes and the insistence on a constant and unchanging tradition. His words also immediately reminded me of the words of a much younger man, when he as Fr Joseph Ratzinger he wrote a commentary on the Second Vatican Council:

“Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition…. There is a distorting tradition as well as a legitimate tradition, ….[and] …consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”

So, in addition to the significance of this address to my own arguments about the relevance of the queer saints and martyrs, it also relates to the current theological ferment on sexual ethics and widespread criticism of the institutional church. When I then crossed to the Vatican website and read the address in full, I found even more in Pope Benedict’s words that can guide and inspire gay in lesbian Catholics in our struggles to withstand the hostility of the traditional, disordered teaching on homoerotic relationships. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Sexual Person” (Book Review)

I have just completed a first reading of “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions) “, by the Catholic theologians Todd A. Salzmann and Michael G. Lawler.  I stress here, “a first reading”, as I have no doubt that this will be for me one of those foundational texts that I return to again and again.  After just an introductory acquaintance, I have no intention of attempting here any kind of formal assessment or review, but I do want to share some preliminary thoughts, some of which I propose to expand into full posts a little later.

The constantly evolving, ever-changing  Catholic tradition.

Whatever it is that Vatican spokesmen mean when they refer to the Church’s “constant and unchanging tradition”, it cannot be what the plain English words appear to mean. Across the full range  of sexual ethics, Catholic tradition has changed constantly. This is not only an historical fact, it is also inevitable and in fact demanded by the Magisterium itself. I particularly like the words of a certain Joseph Ratzinger, which highlight the importance of identifying and correcting the “distorting tradition” in the Church:

“Not everything that exists in the Church must for that reason be also a legitimate tradition…. There is a distorting tradition as well as a legitimate tradition, ….[and] …consequently tradition must not be considered only affirmatively but also critically.”

The Distorted Modern Teaching on Marriage and Procreation

The often repeated claim that marriage and sexual intercourse exist primarily for the purposes of procreation, is simply fallacious. It is clear from the Magisterium itself that there are several purposes to both. The additional claim by Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” that every sexual act must be open to the production of new life, is in fact a distortion of clear earlier statements that the requirement is for the marriage to be open to procreation – not every single sexual act.

The bizarre parallel claim in Humanae Vitae that marriages which are sterile, or which deliberately avoid pregnancy by “Natural” Family Planning, raise serious doubts about the validity of the simultaneous insistence that homosexual activities are necessarily prohibited as not open to procreation.

The Distortions of Natural Law

“Natural law” is widely used as a pretext for the condemnation of homosexual acts, but the concept itself is poorly understood.  Salzmann and Lawler present extensive evidence that a more accurate reading of the concept is in fact supportive of sexual activities between men or between women, in specific circumstances, for people who have a homosexual orientation.

The Distortions of Scripture

It is by now well established that numerous scholars have shown that the traditional use of a half dozen verses from the Bible as clobber texts to condemn all homoerotic acts is based on distortion, relying on misinterpretation, mistranslation, or plain misrepresentation. “The Sexual Person” summarizes these familiar critiques, concluding that the most important feature of the very limited Biblical references to homoerotic acts is that they simply do not take account of the existence of a homosexual orientation as we know it to exist. Recognizing such an attraction, the authors submit, leads to the conclusion that the references to “unnatural acts” in Romans must imply that for people with a natural homosexual orientation, sexual activities with others of the same sex are entirely natural, and so not condemned by Paul.

On the other hand, attempts to force us into heterosexual marriage are indeed attempts to enforce what for us are “unnatural acts” – and so condemned by Paul.

(I would go further, and add that by extension, even enforced celibacy is unnatural, and so condemned by Paul, and also a contravention of natural law, properly understood).

The Distorted Teaching on Cohabitation

Perhaps the most eye-opening chapter of the book for me, was that on cohabitation.  I grew up with the clear understanding from my Catholic education, which I often heard repeated, that all sexual activity before our outside of marriage was expressly forbidden – and that marriage in effect commenced with the marriage ceremony, as solemnized in a Catholic Church, by a Catholic priest, in front of witnesses.  More recently, I have recognized that this idea of marriage as an obligatory sacrament, required before legitimate sexual intercourse, was a relatively modern one.

Until reading “The Sexual Person”, I did not realize quite how modern an idea it is, or how far it is flatly contradicted by the practice of the church for at least three quarters of Christian history, right up to the Council of Trent and even beyond.  Previously, the church wedding (if it took place at all) was not an event that began the process of marriage and legitimized husband and wife living together in a sexual relationship, but merely a public acknowledgement of a partnership that may have begun long before, with mutual consent consummated by immediate sexual intercourse. What today we would call “cohabitation” did not precede the marriage – it initiated it. It did precede the public wedding – but that was of no importance to the sacramentality of the marriage itself, or to the legality of the sexual relationshipthat accompanied it.

For most of Catholic tradition, it is then clear that any conception of sin in cohabitation before marriage was impossible – as soon as cohabitation began, the marriage commenced. Applying this reasoning to the modern situation, where (for good reasons) we accept the importance of a public commitment in a wedding ceremony, we should also recognize that marriage is a process, not a one-day event. The process begins with the private commitment to each other. As long as the cohabitation is part of a nuptial process leading up to marriage, and not a simple shacking up, Catholic tradition suggests that we should recognize and accept cohabitation prior to the wedding as part of the marriage, and so fully valid.

Gay marriage and Catholic Tradition.

Here I move on to more treacherous ground, but as I read in this book so many extracts from Church documents on our sexual lives and on marriage and family, I was struck by how littleamendment is needed to extend church endorsement of the value of marriage, as sacrament and as an institution furthering both private and public good, to include same sex couples alongside all others.

The Theological Ferment Under Way.

“The Sexual Person” has made waves in the press, largely as a result of the US Bishops’ criticism of it. However, it is far from unique in highlighting the contradictions and failings of current orthodoxy on sexual ethics. It now becomes clearer than ever to me that there is a fundamental rethink under way. This has not yet broken through into major papal pronouncements or Vatican documents – but I am certain that they will soon start to do so. When they do, they will no doubt be accompanied once again by the comforting assurances that these new, more human and sympathetic understandings of human sexuality have been around for decades (as they have), and so form part of the “constant and unchanging Catholic tradition”.

La plus ça change…..

 

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Heed the Message of Christ: Queering Galatians

As we continue to consider the person of Jesus Christ, we must think also of what he expects of us. Above all he sends us out into the world to carry his message. This is what is meant by “apostle” – one who is sent as a messenger. We are all (or should be) apostles, and the world we are to carry the message to is our own, contemporary world, with its modern conditions and circumstances.

It is in this spirit that  Rev Steven Parelli, executive director  of Other Sheep, has posted an adaptation and paraphrase of Paul’s letter to the Galatians., that he prepared in the immediate aftermath of the Equality March in Washington D. C. This is a text that he once memorized in an attempt to fight against his same-sex attraction – but reassessing it in personal, modern terms has given it a very different complexion:

When I was in my freshman year of Bible college, I memorized most of the book of Galatians by heart (and filled five notebooks with personal study notes) ….for the purpose of helping me to overcome my “temptation” to same-sex sex (which I now realise is not a temptation but an orientation).

Last night while on the bus that brought us home from the National Equality March in Washington,  D. C., I went over chapter 1 of Galatians in my mind as well as read it from the NT Bible I had with me. …….Once I queered the very first word “Paul” as “we who strive for the equality rights of LGBT people”, I was off and running. And then the text spoke to me, as many texts from the Bible have spoken to other oppressed peoples of former and present times.

Apostles for Today

Parelli’s queering of Galatians is helpful for the result – but also for the method, as a technique for making scripture more immediately comprehensible and applicable to our lives, today.

I begin with a restatement of the first part of the passage, in the familiar King James translation:

1 Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) And all the brethren which are with me, unto the  churches of Galatia: 3 Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us  from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: 5 To  whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen

Now, Parelli’s paraphrase for today:

We who strive for the equal rights of LGBT people are sent ones – not because some pro-LGBT organization has enlisted us – but because Jesus Christ – his earthly ministry to the oppressed and marginalized – has called us to do, at this time, what he did then in his day.  We are sent by him and the life-giving Creator with the good news of liberty for all.  2 We are not alone in this mission, for there are many with whom we work and who work with us.  Now, it is to the churches at large in the United States that we write this letter.  3 We begin with this greeting:  Grace and peace to everyone from God the Creator and from Jesus our Lord 4 who lived for the oppressed in society to such an extent that he died at the hands of those who hated his mission; he gave his life in the pursuit of delivering us from a world where men do evil to other men; he died for a just world for all – a world as God originally intended it to be. 5 For this sacrifice we give him the glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

He continues:

8 Now, why would you want to do that?  No, you would not wish to destroy the good news that has come to the marginalized of society even if an “angel from heaven” were to pretend that you should do so.  Even if we ourselves, for some unknown reason, were to ask you to tell forth a message different than what we have been saying right along – that Jesus is the liberator of all the oppressed in society.  If we were to change the “good news,” than by all means tell us that we have corrupted the message. 9You see how important the “good news” is.


10 We are writing not because we need to persuade any one, or even God the Creator, of what we are about.  Both men and God  know:  we are about the good news of setting the captive free, that is the marginalized – the despised and rejected of society.  Obviously this is not about pleasing society who would keep the oppressed in their place.  This is about being the servants of Christ by doing what he did.  11 Yes, indeed, this good news that Jesus came into the world to show us how to live for one another (which we do tell to everyone) is obviously – not at this time – the way of humanity (but it is “the way” of Jesus).  12 Society so often fails to model before us this message of good news, and therefore, we did not receive it from observing society or any institution, but instead learned it from observing Jesus, the one who teaches us to give to others the rights, privileges and freedoms we would grant ourselves.

Like it?  Read the full paraphrase, parallel with the KJ version (no, it’s not my favourite either), at Other Sheep National Equality March

“The Last Judgement”, and the Homoerotic Spirituality of Michaelangelo.

One of the great paradox’s of queer church history is that a period of extreme persecution of “sodomites” by the Inquisition, directly at their own hands or indirectly by secular authorities at their instigation, largely coincided with a remarkable series of popes who had sex with men, who protected family and friends who did so, or spent vast sums commissioning major works of homoerotic art. Of these, the most obvious and best known of these is Michaelangelo’s magnificent frescoes for then Sistine Chapel, which remains one of the must see attractions for any tourist visiting Rome. (Pope Paul III who commissioned these works for the chapel, also commissioned an obviously homoerotic theme, the Rape of Ganymede, for his bedroom.)

For the thousands of daily visitors, this is a powerful depiction of the second coming of Christ, and so a source of religious inspiration – but may have been based, in part, on scenes of male and female prostitution the artist saw in the Rome of his day.

A new study claims that the huge painting is also based on the seedy scenes the 16th-century artist witnessed at Roman public baths which doubled as brothels for male and female prostitutes.

“The figures descending to hell and ascending to heaven are inspired by the virile, muscular manual workers and porters Michelangelo would have seen during his visits to the baths, which are well documented,” said Elena Lazzarini, a researcher at the University of Pisa and the author of the study. “It was here he defined the build of the working man as the ideal physique.”

The public baths which proliferated in Rome at the time offered steam rooms, massages and basic medical treatments with leeches, “but also rooms offering scenes of promiscuity and prostitution, both male and female”, she said.

Lazzarini pointed out that in the painting, which spans an entire wall of the chapel where papal conclaves are held, one of the damned is being dragged down to hell by his testicles while men heading for heaven hug and kiss “in an ambiguous fashion”.

-Guardian

In what sense is this image of men kissing “ambiguous”?

So, there appear to be two paradoxes here. One is the historical anomaly of open male prostitution and papal tolerance or encouragement of homoeroticism while simultaneously executing thousands of Sodomites, often by burning at the stake. The other is the apparent anomaly of placing erotic art,  homoerotic and otherwise, in a papal chapel.

On the historical anomaly, I do not want to go further here. On the spiritual / erotic element, there is no contradiction at all. Eroticism, and especially homoeroticism,  frequently goes together with spirituality. As Chris Glaser notes in his introduction to “Coming out to God”, sexuality and spirituality can support and reinforce each other. They are not in conflict. Outside the Christian tradition, many religions have explicitly embraced sexuality in religious worship, from Hindu erotic temple art, to male and female temple prostitutes in the Middle Eastern ancient world. Many societies even recognize a specific association between spiritual gifts and homoerotic attraction or cross-dressing, as seen in the American berdache, African sangomas, and Asian hijras – or even the “skirts” worn by many Christian male clergy, and the high proportion of gay Catholic and Anglican clergy. The history of Christian spirituality is filled with examples which use male erotic imagery, such as John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila, or images of male friendship -such as Aelred of Rievaulx’s “Spiritual Friendship”.

The homoerotic content of Michaelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel and elsewhere, is self-evident: all one has to do is to look at it. But this is not only erotic – it is also powerfully, deeply spiritual. Indeed, when the painter Veronese defended himself before the Holy Tribunal on charges of “inappropriate” imagery in his Last Supper, he cited The Last Judgement as precedent – and the Tribunal responded that Michaelangelo’s work was excused because of its great spirituality.

For most casual visitors today, the spiritual content of the “Last Judgement” is obvious: an inspiring image of the resurrection, and the prospect of everlasting life.  For observers of his own day, the message would have been more terrifying – a reminder of the danger of eternal damnation, and hence of the necessity of redemption through the Church. The frequent commissions by the church of scenes of the Last Judgement, Michaelangelo’s among many others, would thus have been a means for the church to remind the faithful of its own importance, and so consolidate its power over their minds. Robert Baldwin elaborates on this idea, and also observes that Michaelangelo himself, by showing his own self-portrait in a flayed skin held by st Bartholomew, sees himself as a victim of the Church’s obsession with control.

So, where is Michaelangelo’s spirituality to be found? I suspect that the clue comes in looking not just at his art, but at the man as a whole. His contemporary biographer Ascanio Condivi wrote that

Michelangelo ‘loved not only human beauty but universally every beautiful thing: a beautiful horse, a beautiful dog, a beautiful landscape, a beautiful plant, a beautiful mountain, a beautiful wood and every place and thing beautiful and rare after its own kind.. .’

-George Bull, at Catholic Ireland

This love of beauty was expressed not only in painting, but also in poetry, in sonnets (some of which are also clearly homoerotic in content).

A sonnet written when he was in his early seventies began with the declaration that every beautiful thing passed through his eyes instantly to his heart along a path open to thousands ‘of all ages and sexes’.

-George Bull, at Catholic Ireland

In his Mass to celebrate the restoration of the Sistine frescoes, Pope John Paul II had this to say of them:

‘The frescoes that we contemplate here introduce us to the world of Revelation. The truths of our faith speak to us here from all sides… The Sistine Chapel is precisely – if one may say so – the sanctuary of the theology of the human body. In witnessing to the beauty of man created by God as male and female, it also expresses in a certain way the hope of a world transfigured, the world inaugurated by the risen Christ, and even before by Christ on Mount Tabor…in the context of the light that comes from God, the human body also keeps its splendour and its dignity. .. If it is removed from this dimension, it becomes in some way an object, which depreciates very easily, since only before the eyes of God can the human body remain naked and unclothed, and keep its splendour and its beauty intact…’

-quoted by George Bull

In his praise for the paintings as presenting the “theology of the body”, John Paul is careful to select the representations of male and female, but the work itself also celebrates another element of beauty in the human body: that of male and male.

Recommended Books (Queer Spirituality):

Celibacy, Homosexuality, Jeffrey John and Cardinal Newman

The Pope’s visit to the UK later this year is turning the spotlight on Cardinal John Henry Newman – Newman’s scheduled beatification is the ostensible primary reason for the visit. There are many aspects of Newman’s life and work that will be worth considering: his story as a leading Anglican convert to Rome will focus attention on the relations between the two churches, on the privileged position of the Anglicans as the “established” church here, and on the legal disadvantages of the Catholic church. There will also be interest in his work as a theologian, which has led some to see him as a “progressive” for his insistence on the primacy of conscience, while paradoxically others hail him as an arch traditionalist. I hope to discuss both of these later. For now though, I want to consider another aspect of his life, his well-known intensely passionate love for a younger priest, Ambrose St John.

This love has led me, like others, to include Newman in my collection of“queer” saints and martyrs. At the Guardian, Jack Valero clearly disagrees. In his discussion of Newman, he complains, “It is symptomatic of modern values that we conclude Cardinal Newman’s intense love for a man meant he was a homosexual.” My response to this, is that it is even more symptomatic of the modern Church that we conclude that anybody identifying as “homosexual”, or as gay, is not celibate. This is an important issue for the place of gay men and lesbians in the Catholic church, and of the treatment we receive.

First, let us consider the bare facts of Newman and his love, which are generally agreed. His love for St John is beyond dispute. “He loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable,” Newman wrote after St John’s death. This love was reciprocated, to the extent that it was his explicit wish that he wanted to be buried alongside his lover in a shared grave. This wish was understood and respected by his colleagues of the Birmingham Oratory, and so it was done. However, there is no serious suggestion that the intense love between the two was given sexual expression. They were, after all, both priests. Yet from the same set of agreed facts, one side acclaims him as a “gay” saint, another as obviously not “homosexual”. To make sense of this contradiction, I now want to explore some of the nuances behind the bare facts.

A priest’s desire today to be buried in the same grave as another priest would certainly be extraordinary, possibly even scandalous but in earlier times it was uncommon, but less remarkable. Alan Bray in “The Friend” describes many English churches which have tombs holding male couples, some of them priests. What is significant here, is that this practice of burying couples in shared tombs was far more commonly practiced for married couples – and many of the male couples buried together that Bray described are known to have been “sworn brothers”, made so in a liturgical rite exactly comparable to the rite of “adelphopoesis” that John Boswell describes in “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe”. Boswell and Bray disagree on the significance: Boswell presents evidence that these rites included many elements exactly comparable to the rites for opposite-sex marriage of the day. Bray argues that they should not be seen as a form of marriage, but merely as a sign of deep friendship – some of the men undergoing sworn brotherhood were also married to wives. Most of these predated Newman and St John by many centuries – by the nineteenth century the practice had all but died out, and there is no evidence that the men had ever formalized the relationship in any form of written contract or liturgical rite, Still, the symbolism of the shared grave remains powerful, given its historical context.
Now, consider Newman’s celibacy. Recall that he started life as an Anglican, for whom clerical celibacy was not a requirement. He quite specifically approved of marriage as a general rule, and believed that “country parsons” too should marry. Yet, even at the tender age of 16, he knew that he personally would not, believing that a single life was the “will of God” for him. If this deliberate celibacy in a priest should mean that he cannot be considered “homosexual”, does this mean that he is necessarily to be thought of as “heterosexual”? Surely not. Celibacy in itself is no indicator of sexual orientation. The common words simply are not of any help. Personally, I no longer think in terms of any category of “gay” saints: the modern word does not work outside of the modern period, and so I use the term “queer” instead, to denote anybody whose behaviour or choices stand clearly outside the standard, gendered role models for “heterosexual” men and women. On this basis, I have no hesitation in describing as “queer” a man who early on praised marriage in principle, but eschewed it for himself without any religious obligation to do so, and whose major emotional investment was a passionate (if sexless) relationship with a man, with whom he desired to share eternity.
Now, I return to the implications behind the opening statement in the Guardian: “It is symptomatic of modern values that we conclude Cardinal Newman’s intense love for a man meant he was a homosexual.” The argument here, that celibacy denies “homosexuality”, can be turned on its head: there is an assumption behind it that “homosexual” implies sexual activity. This is a dangerous assumption, which leads to some of the more shameful aspects of pastoral practice in the institutional church. Vatican theory is quite different: the significant modern documents draw a clear distinction between the homosexual person, the “inclination” (or orientation), and actions. It is made clear that the “inclination” is not sinful, and that homosexual persons are to be treated with compassion, dignity and respect. Only homosexual “actions” are considered to be sinful. Yet Vatican teaching argues against protecting the persons from discrimination in housing or employment, even though such discrimination is clearly targeted at people for who they are, not for what they may have done. In defending this position, they claim that the “person” can remain free of discrimination by the simple expedient of keeping his “inclination” secret. “DADT”, in other words, in the Church.
This week, the English courts ruled on the validity of this argument as it applies to gay asylum seekers, looking for refuge here from serious homophobic persecution, even the risk of death, in their home countries. The British Border Agency, fearing that a sympathetic ruling would open the flood-gates to unwanted hordes of opportunistic refugees, had argued that gay Iranians, Sudanese and the like could escape persecution by the simple expedient of remaining closeted. The court sensible disagreed, stating that this was an entirely unreasonable and unjust expectation. It is even more unreasonable and unjust on the part of a Church which reminds us (in “Homosexualitatis Problema”, para 18) of the Scripture injunction to “Speak the truth in love”, and “the truth shall set you free”.
The problem is that the Vatican promise of “dignity, compassion and respect” does not apply to persons who are “homosexual”, but only to those who hidetheir sexuality. Why? Because if their “condition” is known, they are assumed to be not celibate – even when they give assurances to the contrary, as was the case of the Canadian altar server. This is not just a problem for the Vatican – it applies equally to the Anglican Church, and was the unstated problem that derailed the proposed selection of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Southwark. John declares that he is celibate. However, he is known to be in a Civil Partnership. British law on these partnerships is clear that they are in many respects virtually identical to conventional marriage, but there are a handful of key differences. One of these is that unlike traditional marriage, there is no requirement of sexual consummation for the partnership to be legally valid. In terms of law, it is entirely possible for two men to be in a legal Civil Partnership, and celibate, just as John says he is. His opponents, however, simply refuse to believe this. To them, the simple fact that two homosexually identified men are living together is taken as “proof” that they are not celibate. In the commentary around John’s nomination, it was asked whether there was any “proof” (such as video footage) that their relationship was “chaste”. Why?

Now, let us return once more to Cardinal Newman. He never disclosed physical sexual activity, or its absence with St John, but in the absence of evidence, it is assumed that his close emotional relationship was suitable celibate. In the case of both the (Catholic) Canadian altar server, and the (Anglican) Jeffrey John, we have clear statements of both that their relationships with their partners are celibate, and so (presumably) exactly comparable to that of Newman and St John. Yet the popular assumption around these men is precisely the reverse of that applied to Newman. Whereas he is assumed to be celibate, they are assumed not to be. If modern standards had been applied to Newman, he should have been barred from the priesthood altogether, let alone raised to high office and a path to sainthood.

Books:

Boswell, John : Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Alan Bray, The Friend

Our Stories As “Sacred Texts”.

Our stories, in their simple unadulterated truth, offer the best defence we have against the lies that are the fragile foundation of formal Vatican teaching on same sex relationships. These plain lies are manifold, from the claim that our sinfulness is demonstrated in the story of Sodom (not so),  or the claim that it is “indisputable” that Scripture disapproves (immediately contradicted by the many theologians who have so disputed), or the bland assertion that homosexual “acts” are purely self-indulgent self-gratification. This last assertion, based on absolutely no evidence, is perhaps the most egregious of all.

Acts-of-faith

Even conservative Evangelical theologians, grounded in their own personal experience of how a personal, sexual relationship can lead both partners through mutual self-sacrifice closer to God, have recognised that precisely the same process can work in same sex couples. Vatican bureaucrats, starved in their own lives of this particular path to the divine, fail to recognize it in others.  Yet basic mathematics has a simple remedy: to disprove a proposed universal rule or law, all that is required is a single counter-example.

In my own life, I have already provided that counter example. My own experience was that the attempt to live strictly within Vatican rules on sexual ethics led me to drift away from the church. Living honestly as gay led me back  in.  Of  course, the counter argument could be that the proposition was never intended to be universal, just a general norm: then we need more than a single counter-example. We need a mass of them, all testifying and bearing witness to the error in the teaching.

The Vatican itself, in “Homosexualitatis Problema” urges us to remember the Biblical injunction to “Speak the Truth in Love“, and “The Truth Will Set You Free“. There are both theological and political reasons for telling our stories: there is a clear biblical instruction to do so, and doing so will go a long way to undermine the bland, entirely unjustified assumptions underlying Vatican hostility. Destroy the foundation, and we can pull down the entire edifice. This  Saturday, 12th June, I shall be going in to London for a meeting of the RCC of theLGCM (“Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement”), where this precise idea, of telling our stories. is the major theme for the day.

The principle, as I have summarised it above. is one I have long promoted. Duigan McGinley,   in “Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies As Sacred Texts“, goes one step further. He says that  telling our stories is not merely helpful, it is sacramental. The tales that we tell, he says, deserve to be taken seriously, as sacred texts.

“For too long, gay Catholic lives have been shrouded in the secrecy advanced by official Catholic teaching. For many gay Catholics, the “closet” remains a powerful metaphor for the secrecy and shame which keep many of us to keep our sexual identity hidden. At times, the decision to remain ”in the closet” is carefully calculated and deliberate. At other to,es, the closetis forced upon us from outside. Yet it is in this context that gay Catholic must reconcile their sexual and spiritual lives.  Gay Catholic autobiographical acts reveal the delicate interplay between  sexuality, spirituality, and the many other components of identity which make a person unique.These acts of self-disclosure – of confession – stand as revelations of God’s intervention and actions in hay Catholic lives.  I offer an interpretation of Matthew 10:27, on open and fearless confession:

What I say to you in the dark,  tell in the daylight. What you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.

When a gay Catholic takes the risk of narrating his gay identity, transforming what was once secret and publishing it for public dissemination, his public act becomes a “whisper from the housetop”.

So, I say unto you…….

Obey the voice of Scripture, obey the clear command of the Church: tell it like it is, even if (especially if) in this respect, it is not what the ivory tower Vatican moralists want to hear.

Excluded From God’s People: The Problem with “Homosexualitatis Problema”

Question: Look carefully at this picture of assembled Catholic cardinals, and decide (carefully, now):  Which of these, in terms of Pope Benedict’s own reasoning, are “excluded from God’s People”?

Answer: If you are to follow the line of reasoning of Pope Benedict himself, in his earlier incarnation as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the answer should be plain to see:  all of them.

How so?

In the first Church document dedicated to the matter of homoerotic relationships, “Homosexualitatis Problema“, the “Problem (sic) of Homosexuality”, Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) quotes two verses from Leviticus which appear to condemn homosexual relationships, and then leaps to the completely unsubstantiated assertion that, because these verses describe such actions as an “abomination”, the people so described are “excluded from the Kingdom of God.”

If we are to accept the reasoning as sound,  we should be able to apply it equally to the other behaviours which are similarly described as “abominations“, and so discover who else are “excluded from the Kingdom of God.”

These verses include in their condemnation those well-known disreputable sinners as the eaters of shellfish and rabbits, those wearing clothing of mixed fibres, and (it pains me to say this), those who have shaved their beards.  Now,  the picture shown does not show a great deal of detail, but I fail to see a single beard among the assembled throng.   To be consistent, on the basis of this argument we have only two options:  either we must accept that the illustrious cardinals shown (and the overwhelming majority of all clergy) are likewise “excluded from God’s people “, or we must accept that the reasoning is flawed.  Which is it?

Homosexualitatis Problema” concludes with two wonderful verses from Scripture:  “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (Jn 8:32), and “Speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), both stirring verses that I would endorse fully.  What enrages me, is the deceitfulness, the utter dishonesty, of a document which purports to be about “Truth”, but instead bolsters its claims (for that is what they are:  claims, not reasoned arguments) with a long series of palpable falsehoods.

I could accept in good faith a document that submitted ts claims and supported them with clear reasoning.  This document does not. Instead, it provides us with an excellent example of what Dr Mark Jordan has described as the typical rhetorical style of the Church: to present statements as unquestionably true, without justification, and then to bludgeon us into submission by sheer force of repetition.  These are examples of the statements made in exactly this way, without demonstration, that are demonstrably untrue:

In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, in the course of describing the conditions necessary for belonging to the Chosen People, the author excludes from the People of God who behave in a homosexual fashion.

These verses from Leviticus are well known, and it is inexcusable that they should be so badly misrepresented. They do not condemn those “who behave in a homosexual fashion”, but a much narrower set of behaviors – men who lie with men “as with a woman”.  It does not condemn women’s relationships, nor does it condemn other kinds of “homosexual behavior” – such as caressing, or home-making, or cooking, or mutual love and support, or dancing, or…… Just what is behavior “in a homosexual fashion“?

“There can be no doubt of the moral judgement made there (in Genesis 19, of the story of Sodom) against homosexual relations”.

Note that this is not just a claim that the story is a condemnation of “homosexual relations”.  It is much stronger, and says that “there can be no doubt“. In fact the opposite is true – there is indeed a great deal of doubt.  Not only is there “doubt”, but even outright denial. Many reputable Biblical scholars now point out that there is in fact no condemnation of homosexual relations anywhere in Genesis 19. The story as told in Genesis does not in any way identify the infamous “sin of Sodom” – but it is identified elsewhere,  and it is not “homosexuality”.  (See “Countering the Clobber Texts” for more on the real sin of Sodom.)

The document goes on to claim that there is a “clear consistency within the Scriptures themselves on the moral issue of homosexual behavior. This is nonsense.  Among over 30 000 verses in Scripture, there are only half a dozen which appear to criticize some homosexual behaviors and even these verses are debatable.  (Over 300 verses carry admonitions against heterosexual behavior).  there are also very many texts which support loving same gender relationships (see The Gospel’s Queer Values) – but these the CDF simply ignores.

The Church’s teaching today is “in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and her own constant tradition.”

The Vatican likes to repeat this phrase about a “constant tradition” (or “unchanging” tradition) on “homosexual relations” at regular intervals.   In fact, there is no “constant” tradition, when you take a long view over history.  There is indeed “organic continuity”, but it has changed substantially over the two millenia of history, just as teaching has changed on many other issues:  on slavery, on usury, on women’s proper & expected subjection to the will of there husbands, on the sacramental nature of marriage, and the need for its solemnization in church (which was once required only for priests), on compulsory celibacy for priests, on the evils of democracy………..

On homosexuality, historians such as James Boswell, Mark Jordan and Alan Bray have shown just how much the teaching has evolved and changed over the centuries.  I have listed some of this at Queering the Church, in my post “The Church’s Changing Tradition“.

The church’s perspective “finds support in the more secure findings of the natural sciences

It does not.  The natural sciences, like the human and social sciences, clearly show the opposite view.  Zoologists have shown that homosexual behaviour occurs throughout the animal world.  (See “God is Slightly Gay“). Physiologists have found some differences between the brains of people with homosexual and heterosexual orientations. The professional associations of the medical and psychiatric professions agree that homosexuality is not pathological or in any way “abnormal”. (Anthropology and social history show the same, but let us stick with natural sciences for now, as the Vatican does.)   None of these natural sciences “support the Church’s perspective”, as the document fraudulently claims. But note the slippery rhetorical style:  it does not claim that all science supports it – just that the “secure” findings of natural science do.  In other words, those findings that do support Church teaching are “secure”, those that don’t can simply be dismissed as “insecure”, no matter what are the views of the scientific community as a whole.

“Homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfilment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God.”

This outrageous assertion is one that the CDF would no doubt like to believe, but there is no basis at all for accepting it – nor is any justification provided. On the other hand, there are two clear reasons for rejecting it, at least as applied to persons with a natural homoerotic orientation. First, if this is the way we have been made by the creator, how can its expression be “contrary to the creative wisdom of God”? God does not make mistakes. Does the CDF really believe we are called to somehow repair God’s mistakes? The truth here, as so often in this document, is precisely the opposite of the claim presented. The lessons from psychotherapy are clear:  what is dangerous to mental health, and prevents human fulfilment and happiness, is the denial of one’s identity and personal truth, including one’s sexual identity. As John McNeill, the notable theologian and psychotherapist, endlessly reminds us in his books, bad psychology is bad theology.

The above are the most obvious, clear falsehoods in the statement.  There are others which are less extreme, but are also misleading:

St Paul, in 1 Cor 6:9 “proposes the same doctrine and lists those who behave in a homosexual fashion among those who shall not enter the Kingdom of God”;

This text does not list those “who behave in a homosexual fashion”.  It lists rather, “malakoi” and “arseneketoi“. Do you know what those are? No? Nor does anybody else.  Accurate translation of these terms has puzzled Biblical scholars, because their meaning is unclear, but could be associated with idolatry, or the practice sometimes described (inaccurately) as “temple prostitution”.  It most certainly does not refer to people who behave in a “homosexual fashion”, whatever that might mean.

1 Tim 10 “explicitly names as sinners those who engage in homosexual acts.”

Again, it does not.  It “explicitly” names only “malakoi“, for which – see above.

There are numerous other nasty rhetorical tricks employed by Cardinal Ratzinger / Pope Benedict in this document, from the choice of language and false contrasts he sets up, for example, by contrasting “homosexual acts” with “conjugal relationships”. For balance, he should compare “conjugal acts”,  with all their associations with a loving marriage, with loving homoerotic relationships.  Of course he does not – he totally ignores all consideration of such loving same sex relationships, writing instead only of “homosexual” (historically, a medical term) acts and behaviour, of the “homosexual condition” , and of “disorder”.

The very title of the document is deceitful:  it is headed “Letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, but in fact the formal title of the work is “Homosexualitatis Problema“, again simply resenting “homosexuality” as a “problem”.  it is not.  The only problem here is the Vatican’s total failure to understand , or even to attempt to understand, the problem.

Even the choice of Scriptural verses is telling: “Speak the Truth”,  the document concludes. But what about listening? For all the claims of the modern church to be a “listening church”, there is not a shred of evidence in this document, or anywhere else, that the writers have made any attempt to listen to the people who know most about it – those who have learned from personal experience what it is to have a homoerotic orientation. Those churches which have in sincerity engaged in proper listening exercises have found that they have modified their previous views, and have recognized that their traditional views of Scripture on the subject were inadequate. There is a reason, though, why the Catholic Church refuses to do the same kind of listening,  and it is one that affects us all- straight or gay.

The lies, half truths and nasty rhetorical sleight of hand which the CDF has used in an attempt to stigmatize and condemn loving same sex relationships, under the pretence of pastoral care and speaking the truth, should be seen as much more than just a hostile act against a small minority.  It is, rather, just the most obvious symptom of a much wider malaise within the power establishment of the church, which threatens us all. This is of the utmost importance: the ecclesiastical obsession with control and power, and its frequent abuse at all levels, have been clearly shown to be one of the primary root causes behind the ongoing scandals of clerical sexual abuse – in Ireland, in the US, in Australia, and right around the world.

References:

“Homosexualitatis Problema” (CDF, “Letter to the Bishops of the Church on the Pastoral care of Homosexual Persons”)

Recommended Books:

Moore, Gareth OP: “A Question of Truth

Countryman, L William, “Dirt, Greed & Sex

Boswell, John: “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality

A Gay – Friendly Bible?

(The observation below is based on an e-mail newsletter I received from Other Sheep. Unfortunately, I have been unable to trace the full report on their main website, so I am unable to provide either confirmation or a link.)

There are an increasing number of scholars who are rejecting the traditional translations and interpretations of the Biblical  ‘clobber texts’.  Now there is a new translation from the Evangelical Theological Society, (The “People’s Bible”), which is reported to have the fascinating interpretative footnote:

“Romans 1:24-27:  Heterosexual men should not exchange their nature for homosexual practices . . . On the same principle, we might infer that homosexuals should not exchange their nature, or orientation, for heterosexual practices.”  (My emphases).

i.e: If you’re gay, then it is straight sex that is sinful.  Amen to that.