Tag Archives: Changing Church

Queer Saints 6: Modern Saints, Modern Heroes – A Great Resurrection?

The active persecution of sodomites by the Inquisition gradually gave way to secular prosecutions under civil law, with declining ferocity as the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment and more modern times (although executions continued until the nineteenth century.) From this time on, theoretical condemnation of “sodomites” co-existed with increasing public recognition of some men who had sex with men, and records relating to queers in the church are less prominent than either earlier or later periods.  In the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried alongside Ambrose St John does not appear to have aroused any opposition.

In the twentieth century, the increasing visibility of homosexual men produced the horrifying backlash in Germany in the gay holocaust, with its echos of the medieval bonfires of heretics and sodomites – the modern gay martyrs.

Only after WWII did the Vatican begin to seriously address the question of homosexuality, with increasingly harsh judgements and attempts to silence theologians and pastors who questioned their doctrines and practice. (John McNeill, Sr Jeannine Grammick). Other denominations drove out existing gay or lesbian pastors, and refused ordination, or even church membership, to other openly gay or lesbian church members (Paul Abel Chris Glaser, Troy Perry). However, these victims of church exclusion, who can be seen metaphorically as modern martyrs, martyred by the church for being true to their sexual identity,  refused to be silenced. Like St Sebastian before Emperor Maximilian, they found new ways to minister to the truth of homosexuality and Christianity.

Today, these early pioneers for queer inclusion in church have been joined by countless others, who work constantly at tasks large and small, to witness to the truth of our sexuality and gender identity, and to its compatibility with authentic Christianity. In effect, that includes all of who identify as both Christian, and simultaneously as lesbian, gay trans, or other  – and the women who refuse to accept the narrow confines of the gender roles church authorities attempt to place on us.

In recent years, the sterling work of the early pioneers has borne powerful fruit in the decisions by an increasing number of Christian denominations to ordain openly gay, lesbian or trans pastors, and even to promote them to leadership positions as bishops or moderators. In parallel, there are also now many denominations, and local jurisdictions in others, which are now celebrating same-sex weddings in church. Others which are not willing to go that far, are offering as an alternative, church blessings for couples who have entered civil marriage or civil unions. While the Catholic Church has not yet moved on either of these issues, under Pope Francis there is an undoubtedly more gentle tone, at least in pastoral practice, and much of the previously hostile rhetoric and even doctrine has been quietly shelved.

Some years ago, Fr John McNeill wrote that the Catholic Church was entering a “Kairos moment” (ie, a moment ripe for change)  for LGBT people.  He was referring specifically to Catholics, but  with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that his words were prescient, for the Christian community as a whole

November 1st is the day the Church has set aside to celebrate All Saints – the recognition that sainthood is not only a matter of formally recognised and canonised saints, but is a calling to which we must all aspire. For LGBT and queer Christians, it is an appropriate day  to remember not the LGBT saints in Christian history, also but our modern heroes, who in facing and overcoming their attempted silencing are martyrs of the modern church.

Related posts

 

Germany Leads the Way, on Catholic Church LGBT Inclusion and Welcome.

For years now, some Catholic bishops’ obsession with opposing same – sex marriage has led to a vicious crackdown on Church employees who marry same – sex spouses, allegedly because they are in conflict with “Church teaching”. In the USA, there is little evidence of any progress being made, but in Germany, there’s been an important reversal. The German church used to have a firm policy in place which prevented people in same – sex relationships from being offered any Church employment. In Germany there is no legal provision for gay marriage, so this applied to any same – sex relationship, and in effect, was more stringent than most US practice: gay people in Church employment needed to stay carefully in the closet.

No more: in May, the German bishops formally, and overwhelmingly, approved the overturning of the regulation, which went into effect on August 1st, just weeks ago. Already, one lesbian who had been previously fired from her job, has been reinstated.

Bob Shine reports at Bondings 2.0 Continue reading Germany Leads the Way, on Catholic Church LGBT Inclusion and Welcome.

From the Daily Office: Doctrinal Development is Inevitable

In his long interview with the Jesuit publication La Civiltà Cattolica (published in English at America) Pope Francis noted that it is inevitable that Church doctrine will adapt and develop over time, in accordance with changes in human understanding of the world and of our own nature. The observation was immediately met with resistance in some quarters. Matters of discipline, some insisted, could change – but doctrine,  never. Pope Benedict XVII regularly included in his writing references to the “constant and unchanging” teaching of the Church. This constant tradition is pure myth, as any look at church history will soon demonstrate.

Not only has it changed, it is inevitable that it will change. In speaking of the inevitability of doctrine constantly evolving, Francis is in good company, with the early fathers of the Church. His Jesuit interviewer noted that Pope Francis’ observations were prompted by a quotation from one of the fathers in his breviary.

He opens to the Office of Readings for Friday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time and reads me a passage from the Commonitorium Primum of St. Vincent of Lerins: “Even the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws, consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age.”

Today is that Friday of the 27th week, and so the reading Francis referred to is the second reading in today’s office. Francis has picked out one extract from the passage by the 5th century St Vincent. Right at the beginning of the passage, Vincent puts the question, “Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ?” and replies quite explicitly that “Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale”

The full reading follows, taken from Universalis (with grateful thanks to reader Chris Sullivan, who alerted me to it in an early morning email).

Second Reading An instruction by St Vincent of Lerins
The development of doctrine

Is there to be no development of religion in the Church of Christ? Certainly, there is to be development and on the largest scale.

 Who can be so grudging to men, so full of hate for God, as to try to prevent it? But it must truly be development of the faith, not alteration of the faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself, while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another.

The understanding, knowledge and wisdom of one and all, of individuals as well as of the whole Church, ought then to make great and vigorous progress with the passing of the ages and the centuries, but only along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.

The religion of souls should follow the law of development of bodies. Though bodies develop and unfold their component parts with the passing of the years, they always remain what they were. There is a great difference between the flower of childhood and the maturity of age, but those who become old are the very same people who were once young. Though the condition and appearance of one and the same individual may change, it is one and the same nature, one and the same person.

The tiny members of unweaned children and the grown members of young men are still the same members. Men have the same number of limbs as children. Whatever develops at a later age was already present in seminal form; there is nothing new in old age that was not already latent in childhood.

There is no doubt, then, that the legitimate and correct rule of development, the established and wonderful order of growth, is this: in older people the fullness of years always brings to completion those members and forms that the wisdom of the Creator fashioned beforehand in their earlier years.

If, however, the human form were to turn into some shape that did not belong to its own nature, or even if something were added to the sum of its members or subtracted from it, the whole body would necessarily perish or become grotesque or at least be enfeebled. In the same way, the doctrine of the Christian religion should properly follow these laws of development, that is, by becoming firmer over the years, more ample in the course of time, more exalted as it advances in age.

In ancient times our ancestors sowed the good seed in the harvest field of the Church. It would be very wrong and unfitting if we, their descendants, were to reap, not the genuine wheat of truth but the intrusive growth of error.

On the contrary, what is right and fitting is this: there should be no inconsistency between first and last, but we should reap true doctrine from the growth of true teaching, so that when, in the course of time, those first sowings yield an increase it may flourish and be tended in our day also.

Responsory
Listen, O Israel, and take note of the laws and customs which I am teaching you. You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing away from it.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit, and they are life. You must add nothing to what I command you, and take nothing away from it.

Lesbian, Gay Catholics: Emerging From the Shadows

Here’s one more piece in an expanding pile of evidence that while formal doctrine on gay and lesbian Catholics remains unchanged, ordinary mainstream Catholics are making a welcome for them in church. “US Catholic” is not a source I would normally regard as particularly radical or progressive, but they have just published not just one article, but an entire special section, dealing with the place of Lesbian and Gay Catholics in church, some of them highly topical: for example, see the piece originally published way back in 1997 that argued that the church would benefit from permitting same – sex weddings, in church!

Here’s the US Catholic full listing of articles, with links. I will be picking up on some of these for more extended discussion and reflection in later posts, but for now – explore them for yourselves. I would be most interested in your responses: which do you think are the most important and/or interesting?

US Catholic Special Section: Gay and lesbian Catholics 

While legislation regarding same-sex marriage may have pushed gay and lesbian issues to the fore in recent years, the history of gay and lesbian Catholics and their relationship with the church has been a long, winding road. U.S. Catholic has been covering the issue for decades. We’ve collected a sample of articles from recent issues and from the archives by and about gay and lesbian Catholics. Read on to learn more.

Pride and prejudice

Gays and lesbians have made big strides toward acceptance in society at large, but many struggle to be at home in a church still unsure about their place at the table.

The mamas and the papas

The parents of GLBT Catholics have a lot to say about the church and their children.

Pride and prejudice: A timeline

A brief history of the relationship between GLBT Catholics and their church.

Mom, Dad: I’m gay

The news of a son’s or daughter’s homosexuality brings with it many challenges. Some parents move through the tears and isolation into helping the church do a better job of welcoming their children.

Mind the gap

Which path do we choose when the twain of experience and church teaching don’t meet?

A good fit?

Church teaching on gay and lesbian people must reflect their dignity as God’s daughters and sons.

What I learned from Father Dan

Many gay priests have served and continue to serve our church well. Let’s not make them scapegoats for the sins of others.

One gay priest’s story

Defying the current scapegoating and stereotypes, a priest shares his journey and struggle

Thoughts from a gay teacher in a Catholic school

A junior high teacher yearns to be a positive gay role model in her Catholic school. But she wonders, “Does the church love me as much as I love it?

Let’s watch our language about gays and lesbians

Official statements calling gays and lesbians “disordered” and “violent” do little to make them feel welcomed and respected in the church. A pastor argues that it’s time to stop the name-calling and start treating gays and lesbians as brothers and sisters in Christ

Gay and lesbian Catholics beg to differ

Recognition of same-sex marriage is only one of the hotly contested issues involving gay and lesbian Catholics. There are many sides of the debate about homosexuality and the church.

Why we never married

A Roman Catholic man, former gay activist, and veteran of over a decade in a same-sex relationship argues why he and his partner have chosen a celibate relationship.

Let’s invite gay and lesbian Catholics to a church wedding

In this 1997 article that accompanies the one above, one Catholic argues that same-sex marriage would allow the church to encourage more loving, nurturing, and lasting relationships.

I promise to do my best

How one community struggles with the Boy Scouts’ anti-gay policies.

We can be better than bitter

There is room in the church for all human beings, no matter which way your sexuality tilts.

Out of the closet and into your living room

For most of the 20th century, movies and television have cast gay and lesbian characters as deviant bad guys. But as attitudes in the larger public change, so has Hollywood’s portrayal of gays.

US Catholic.org.

(What I am not seeing, here or anywhere else, is comparable attention to the issues raised by gender identity or intersex, and the particular challenges  that these present to simplistic Catholic assumptions of a binary gender divide).

Bishop urges change in all church teaching on sexual relationships

Sooner or later, it had to happen. Ordinary Catholics living in the real world have known it for decades, moral theologians know it, priests in Austria, Germany, Belgium and Ireland have been demanding it, and an unknown number of bishops recognize it privately. Now, at least on bishop is saying it publicly: the officially authorized doctrine on human sexuality, in all its aspects, is fundamentally and intrinsically disordered, and has to change.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson will not be the last bishop to make this call – expect many more to follow. It will take time, but this will become the mainstream view. The only questions in my mind, are how long will it take, and how will they manage the admission.

At the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, retired Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson called Friday for “a new study of everything to do with sexuality” — a kind of study that he predicted “would have a profound influence on church teaching concerning all sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.”

“If [church] teaching on homosexual acts is ever to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,” he said.

Robinson, a priest since 1960 and auxiliary bishop of Sydney from 1984 until his retirement for health reasons in 2004, told the Baltimore symposium, sponsored by New Ways Ministry, that “because sex is so vital a way of expressing love, sex is always serious.”

That view, espoused by the church, stands in contrast to the general perception of modern society, which “appears to be saying more and more that sex is not in itself serious,” he said.

For the church to deal with sex seriously, however, does not in itself mean that the church must continue to accept uncritically its traditional understandings of sexual morality, he said.

National Catholic Reporter.

There are of course, several rebuttals to my confident prediction above. Many will be made, including some by my readers here/

Bishop Robinson is retired, and so no longer in the mainstream. His opinions, the sceptics will say, no longer count.

Yes, and that’s precisely the point. Because he is retired, he has more freedom to speak his mind, without fear of losing his job and home. We can be pretty certain that what he is saying publicly, many others are thinking or saying privately.

New Ways is not officially recognised

He was speaking at the New Ways Ministry conference in Baltimore, and New Ways has been routinely criticized by the oligarchs as not a “Catholic” organization – by which they mean, not one formally approved and sanctioned by themselves. Again, that’s precisely the point. Free from having to watch their words for fear of offending the oligarchs, the people of New Ways, and those who speak to them, are able to speak openly and honestly.

He is only one among thousands of bishops.

Yes, but see again the response above: what one is saying publicly, many others are thinking or saying privately. Besides, he is not the only one – just the first (that I know of) to address his call to all elements of sexual teaching. Others have said the same thing about specific parts of teaching. On homosexuality, Cardinal Schonborn said nearly two years ago that it is time to shift the emphasis from genital acts, to the quality of our relationships. In the many months since, he has still not been rebutted for the statement, and instead, a number of other bishops followed, saying much the same thing. In Westminster, Archbishop Vincent Nichols acknowledged that there is value in legal protections in civil unions or partnerships.

On contraception, it is well known not only that the majority of Catholics reject the teaching, but also that in many cases they do so with the support and sometimes encouragement of their priests, confessors or spiritual directors – many of whom are privately backed by their bishops.

It is not possible to separate the separate strands of sexual teaching into independent elements. Underpinning them all, is a demonstrably unsound claim that every sexual act must be open to procreation. Remove that assumption from one element, and you remove it from all. The whole house of cards collapses at a stroke.

There’s much, much more to say on this, and more evidence to produce to justify my conclusion. I will return to it later.

For now, I will simply repeat, that this statement by Bishop Robinson is not the end of the story. More bishops will follow, this discussion will be moving inexorably into more public debate.

Related Posts

 

 

Towards Full GLBT Inclusion in Faith: Some Signs of the Times.

Progress towards full queer inclusion in church has been remarkable in some Christian denominations, and familiar enough for the US Mainline Protestant churches, and also in the European Lutheran churches. In the former, the chief marker of progress has been the steady dismantling of barriers to ordination and ministry for openly gay or lesbian clergy, even in non-celibate partnerships, as long as these are committed, faithful and publicly accountable, in a manner comparable to conventional marriage. In Scandinavia, the marker is even more dramatic – the expansion of same  – sex church weddings (already available in Sweden and Iceland, coming to Denmark this years, and probably to Finland next year).

Progress in other denominations and faith traditions has been less visible, but is also very real. As illustration, I offer three stories I have come across over the past 24 hours, representing three very different contexts.

 

Remembering Joseph Colombo – openly gay theology professor at a Catholic university.

Tomorrow, February 10th, San Diego University will hold a “memorial” for Joseph Colombo, who passed away on January 2nd this year. An obituary in Vista, the college newspaper, says of him

“He was really one of the leading figures in the department,” Nelson said, “not only in terms of his excellence in teaching and the hours he gave to advising his students, but in terms of thinking about the direction of the department and mentoring young faculty. It’s a huge loss to the department in terms of an elder figure who really was a guiding light for us all.”

Colombo actively served the LGBT community both at USD and throughout San Diego. He served as the chair of the board of directors at the San Diego LGBT Center from 1991-1995 and served as the advisor of PRIDE on campus. He was the first openly gay chair of a theology and religious studies department at a Roman Catholic University in the United States.

“He was a pioneer here in that as an openly gay faculty member, he paved the way for every queer student, every queer faculty member, that we can be out at USD,” theology and religious studies professor Evelyn Kirkley said. “He really was a great mentor, role model and friend.”

There was a time when Catholic church leaders discouraged, or even prohibited, laymen and women from even reading scripture. Those days have long passed, but it is not that long ago that only priests (not even religious sisters) were expected to study formal theology. Nowadays, there are more lay people than clergy studying theology – and many of them have gone on to teach it. A fair proportion of those will be gay, lesbian or trans, just as in the wider community. As they take their places in theology departments, Catholic and other, and contribute to academic research and publication, it is becoming increasingly untenable for the traditional, clerical theologians to simply ignore the queer perspective on their field.

 

Openly gay chaplain at Evangelical college.

At “Bible – thumping Liberal”, Ron Goetz observes that

“Being out on an EFCU campus (Evangelical/ Fundamentalist College/University) used to be impossible. Even today it is barely tolerated, if is tolerated at all” 

but goes on to publish some of the story of Doug Johnson, who was a fellow student with him at Simpson College (now University), a  denominational school of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in California.  After his time at Simpson, Johnson went on to a mid-Western Baptist seminary, and now works as a hospital chaplain.

 

Then I went back to a Baptist Seminary in the midwest and started to come out.  That is also where I had my first sexual encounter, in the dorm of the Baptist Seminary. Eventually I came to the place of full acceptance, but it was a journey, especially in the institutional church where in the 80′s homosexuality was viewed as anything from some kind of heinous crime against nature to an embarrassment which could screw up one’s chances to fulfill one’s calling as a minister.

Thankfully, that is gradually changing. I am still single, but not because I think of that as more “Christian.” I am single because I haven’t met the right guy yet. I hope it happens someday.

Collectively, Evangelical Christians are known as the major faith group most closely opposed to recognition and acceptance of LGBT relationships or civil rights, but even here, there is change, far more than most people recognize. Research evidence shows that younger evangelicals, especially the millenial generation, have very different concerns to their elders, and a substantial minority do not share their strong opposition to homosexuality and same – sex relationships, or to marriage and family equality. Some are actively promoting lgbt inclusion in their writing (Jay Bakker) or advocacy (Kathy Baldock), and evangelical scholars have produced some good LGBT  – supportive books on scripture. Like  Doug Johnson, there are more pastors who have found ways to serve openly. There are Baptist counterparts to the Catholic organisations Dignity and Quest: The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists in the US, and Affirming Baptists in the UK. Some Baptists, as in all other denominations, are actively promoting marriage equality. (In South Carolina, lesbian pastor Nancy Petty at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church is refusing to sign marriage licences for any couples – until she can legally do so for all).

 

Orthodox Jewish gay wedding

Finally, just in case anyone imagines that progress to inclusion is limited to European and North American Christian groups, it is not. Change has if anything been swifter among Jews, and is beginning to stir also in Islamic groups, and in some African countries. I’m not going to give examples for all of these, but here’s one remarkable example from Orthodox Jewry:

Jewish gay wedding, Rabbi Steven Greenberg presiding

 

Yasher Koach to chatanim (חתנים or grooms) Yoni Bock and Ron Kaplan!

Standing in matching kittle’s (קיטלנים or traditionally white linen robes that Ashkenazim are known to be buried in after wearing it to their wedding as well as annually on Yom Kippur to signify purity, holiness and new beginnings) and orange kippah’s (כִּפוֹת or platter-shaped head caps worn for respect) the two men stood under the chupah (a symbol of the home that the couple will build together) in Washington D.C. holding hands.

– Lisa Finkelstein

(Presiding at this wedding was Rabbi Steven Greenberg, author of the groundbreaking study of homosexuality in Judaism, “Wrestling with God and Men“).

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Baptist Church Embraces Lesbian Minister

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The Transformation of Christian Response to Homoerotic Love

You’d never guess it if your only knowledge of the churches and homosexuality came from Focus on the Family, NOM or California Catholic Daily in the US, or from Christian Voice or the rule-book Catholic blogs in the UK, or from breakaway groups in the Anglican communion worldwide, but we are in the midst of a dramatic, wholesale transformation of the Christian churches’ response to homoerotic relationships. This is clearly leading in the direction of full inclusion in church for queer Christians, and for evaluating couple relationships and their recognition in church on a basis of full equality. This is bound to lead in time to profound improvements in the  political battles for full equality, and in the mental health of the LGBT Christian community.
These are bold statements. Am I mistaken? Am I deluding myself? It is of course possible that this is a case of wishful thinking, that I am misreading or exaggerating the evidence.  It’s possible – but I don’t think so. The evidence is compelling, if not yet widely noted. To substantiate my argument, I want to present the facts, and their implications, in some detail. As there is too much for a single post, I begin today with just a summary, as heads of argument. I will expand on the main sections in later posts, which I have in preparation.
(For now, I have made no attempt to supply detailed substantiation or links – these will follow, as I expand later on each specific theme).

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I have been thinking about this transformation for some time, but what really convinced me that this is a major, irreversible development was a result of an invitation I received to lead a session of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement’s 35th Anniversary Conference. The theme for conference is “Looking back, looking forward”. I will be giving a Catholic perspective on the last 35 years – and the next.
It’s looking at those next 35 years that is challenging. I don’t want to base my thoughts on guesswork, or on simple extrapolation, “if present trends continue“. The one thing we know about present trends, in almost any context, is that they never do continue. Feedback effects can either offset or exaggerate them. In reflecting on what could lie ahead, I considered only the changes that have already happened, the effects of these – and the very limited changes that we know for certain will happen over the next 35 years or so.  I did this initially for the Catholic Church specifically, and then realised that the method applies equally to the broader Christian churches as a whole. I begin by considering this broader church first.
The Past 35/ 40 years
“Out and Proud” Gay Visibility, Queer Families
The years since Stonewall have seen the rapid emergence of openly gay or lesbian, visible public role models far removed from the stereotypes of earlier years. This has included the emergence of well known same sex couples and queer families, in the news, on our screens, and in our neighbourhoods.  This has become increasingly visible over the years, and is now being given legal recognition in the movements for approval of marriage and family equality. The important consequence is that young people today have been raised, and are being raised, in environments where homoerotic relationships are seen to be entirely natural, and every bit as stable (or otherwise) than any other. Many youngsters are seeing this at first hand, in their friends and relations with two moms or two dads (just as others have single parents) – and are unfazed by it. Research evidence shows that young people are far more accepting of LGBT equality than their elders – and this applies within the churches, including even the evangelical churches, as well as in the general population.
Reevaluation of Scripture
Until recently, it was widely accepted that the Bible clearly opposed homosexuality, an assumption that underpinned the automatic denunciation of same sex relationships by most Christian denominations. Over the last thirty years, that has changed dramatically, with a substantial proportion – perhaps the majority – of modern Scripture scholars now agreeing that the evidence from Scripture is at best unclear, and that the traditional interpretations may be flawed by mistranslations or misinterpretations. Conversely, there has been fresh attention paid by some scholars to the specifically gay-friendly and affirming passages that have previously been neglected.
This re-evaluation began as the preserve of academics and specialists (like the growing number of openly gay or lesbian theologians), but is now starting to reach a popular audience as well.
Ordination of Queer Clergy
The re-evaluation of Scripture has underpinned the most dramatic manifestation of the transformation – the accelerating moves to accept for ordination as pastors or even as bishops men and women in public, committed and loving same sex relationships.
Traditionally, the churches could not countenance openly gay clergy, but in the days before Stonewall, when people in any case hid their sexuality, all that this meant was that gay priests and pastors where deeply closeted (just like their lay counterparts). That changed after Stonewall, as some men recognized that in honesty, they could not serve and remain closeted. Initially, the response of the churches was to refuse ordination to candidates who were known to be gay, and in some high profile cases, to remove from ministry priests and pastors who had already been ordained.
This has changed remarkably quickly. Today, almost all Mainline Protestant churches in the US, and the leading European Protestant churches, either ordain openly gay and lesbian pastors, or are seriously considering the possibility. The most recent example is that of 33 retired bishops of the United Methodist Church, who have signed a public statement calling for the full acceptance of ordination for openly gay or lesbian pastors in loving, committed relationships. 33 retired bishops urge end to gay clergy ban. Take careful note – these are retired bishops, not young hotheads, but the elder statesmen (and women) of the UMC. In parallel with this, the Presbyterian Church of the USA is at present well on its way to ratification of last year’s General Assembly resolution to formulate rules for ordination that did not discriminate against gay or lesbian candidates. (In Europe, it’s a dead issue: pastors of all sexual orientations are generally accepted).
Inclusion also applies at the highest levels of the clergy. There are now three openly gay and partnered bishops in the Episcopal and Lutheran churches, while others have been nominated, but not ultimately successful.
Gay weddings, in church.
Resolutions to approve ordination of queer clergy have often gone hand in hand with attempts to secure approval for church weddings, or blessing of same sex couples. These have been less successful so far, but I would think this is only temporary. The recognition of partnered gay or lesbian clergy is always qualified by the expectation that theses relationships be committed, faithful and publicly accountable, just as heterosexual pastors are by virtue of their church marriages. The simplest way to make gay partnerships accountable in the same way, is to provide the same structure – a wedding in church.
This is already being done in some churches and localities, but we should certainly expect the practice to spread, especially with more openly gay pastors ordained, and as civil marriage becomes more widely available for queer clergy.
Looking Ahead
These are the key developments affecting the LGBT community and the church over the past 35 -40 years. Looking ahead, I submit that there are only two things we can say with certainty: the past will have consequences that will affect the future; and there will be generational change. Let’s take these in reverse order.
Generational Change
Whatever else may happen over the next 35 or 40 years, the one thing we know with absolute certainty, is that everyone will get older. Benedict XVI will no longer be the Catholic pope, the Roman Curia will have a new set of faces. In the Protestant denominations, the present leaders will also have moved on, either to retirement, or to whatever awaits them in the afterlife. They too will have been replaced,
Who will these new faces be? Generally speaking, they will be the young men (and women) who are presently in training for ministry, who have been recently ordained, or who may even be still in high school. This the generation which is well known to reject the notion that homosexuality is a moral issue, and who are most enthusiastically supportive of gay clergy, gay marriage, and full LGBT inclusion in church.
Contrast them with the present generation of church leaders, who received their own formation for ministry at a time when it was regarded as axiomatic that homosexual acts were necessarily sinful, when the Biblical texts of terror were quoted without question, and when the notion of same sex marriage in church was simply unthinkable.
Can there really be any serious doubt that a future church led by today’s young adults will view homoerotic relationships very differently to that of the present?
The Speed of Change Thus Far
So, let us accept (provisionally) that profound change is on its way. How long will it tale? The generational analysis above suggests that it might not take too long at all – no more than the 35 years framework I adopted, somewhat arbitrarily. This becomes even more plausible when we consider the speed of change up to now, in respect of the spread of civil gay marriage, and of approval for LBGT pastors.
Personal homophobia and prejudice will linger – but institutional discrimination in all forms, whether by church or state, will disappear quite rapidly, exactly as institutional racism disappeared quite quickly in the civil rights era in the US, or following the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.
Some Thoughts on the Catholic Church
Broadly speaking, much of the above also applies to the Catholic Church, especially the implications of generational change, and the fresh examinations of scripture, but there are also some unique considerations as well. Some of these will mitigate against the underlying trend to change, some will complement it.
  • Hierarchical control, and the expectation of obedience would superficially point to the resistance of change – but this expectation is itself becoming rejected.
  • Humanae Vitae and its fierce rejection of artificial contraception has never been widely accepted by the Church as a whole. The resulting recognition that it is permissible to disagree in good conscience with official doctrine on this single issue, has leant support to others who disagree in conscience on others – like choice/ abortion, and on homosexuality.
  • The impact of Vatican II. Although it might appear that the Curia has successfully rolled back the conciliar reforms, sometimes there are effects that take time to become apparent. One of these is what Sr Joan Chittister called the “Ticking Time Bomb” of lay involvement. Another is the dramatic decline in priest numbers since VII,
  • Another ticking time bomb is the remarkable rise of lay theologians. Not that long ago, the formal study of moral theology was something done by priests, for other priests, based on the writings of theologians from many centuries ago, with little input from social sciences, or from people with real life sexual experience. That is no longer the case. Even religious sisters were routinely excluded from theology studies, beyond what they might need to teach school level catechism. The rest of us were simply expected to accept the moral rules as handed down to us from on high.
  • That has changed dramatically. Theology is now widely studied, to the extent that the majority of theologians today are not priests. Some are religious sisters, others are married men and women – or even openly gay or lesbian. Add to the generational process described earlier, that Catholic priests now in training are in some cases being taught their theology by lay people, and we see that the generational shift for Catholic clergy could conceivably be even greater for Catholic clergy than for others.
  • Finally, the sexual abuse crisis has clearly shaken the church to its foundations. The ultimate effects can not yet be clearly seen, but already it is obvious that one result is a greatly increased resistance by lay people to automatic assumptions about authority and obedience, and a corresponding willingness in some quarters to engage in open defiance – as in the womenpriests movement. Inside the institutional church, there are at least some promising signs of an increased willingness to take seriously the concept of the listening church.
Conclusion
Change is clearly on the way – quite possibly, rapid change, across all or most major denominations. It will not be long before openly LGBT clergy, including bishops and other leaders, will be commonplace, in most denominations if not yet in all. There will be church weddings for same sex couples, including the weddings of clergy and their spouses.
With the increasing visibility of partnered gay clergy and bishops, it will become difficult. Even impossible for the arguments that our relationships are necessarily sinful to be taken seriously.
I now believe that under the impact of generational change, this transformation will be rapid – probably with in a generation or two. To those who find this unduly optimistic, I would point to the corresponding death of overt racism, which equally moved from something commonly expressed, and even justified in pseudo religious arguments, to a private weakness, which it is now unacceptable to express in public.
(Note: I am fully conscious that the above analysis applies primarily to the countries of Europe and the Americas, especially North America. I have omitted Africa and Asia where special circumstances apply. But do not believe that including them would seriously affect the main conclusions – except in the matter of timing).

Pray, Don’t Pay, Disobey: The Catholic Revolution Has Begun

Prickly Pear, at Far From Rome, has written about a personal decision to remove himself from the sacramental life of the Church. He says that this was “precipitated” by moving house, but has been a long time coming – and was preceded by substantial time for reflection, during a time without easy internet access.  It’s important to note here, that this time was accompanied by an increase in meditation practice.  I was alerted to Pear’s post by a report on it by Jayden Cameron at Gay Mystic, who writes on his own experience outside the formal life of the Church for over 25 years. Anyone who is familiar with Jayden’s writing will recognize that he too may have left the institutional church, but retains a very strong spiritual, even sacramental life, with a strong devotion to the Eucharist. He simply chooses to practice his spirituality independently.  Pear quotes from a Commonweal article by Cathleen Kaveny (sadly, hidden behind a paywall I cannot access), on many others who are doing the same thing:

From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering. But why not stay and fight? First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don’t like what fighting is doing to them. The fight is diminishing their ability to hear the gospel and proclaim that good news. The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.

Bill Lindsey at Bilgrimage is another important Catholic blogger who writes specifically as a Catholic theologian, at his own site and at Open Tabernacle, and has frequently made clear his objections to participating formally in the sacramental life of the Catholic church. He has a useful summary of Kaveny’s piece, and includes this extract:

From the perspective of these Catholics, doctrine and practice are not developing but withering.  But why not stay and fight?  First, because they think remaining appears to involve complicity in evil; second, because fighting appears to be futile; and, third, because they don’t like what fighting is doing to them.  The fight is depriving them of the peace of Christ.

Prickly Pear, Jayden and Bill are far from alone. It has been widely reported that ex-Catholics, those who have either transferred to another denomination or simply ceased to identify as Catholic, are now the second largest religious denomination in the US. Similar patterns of disengagement are seen in many other parts of the world. (Research has shown that the most important reasons people give for leaving concern Vatican teaching on gender and sexual ethics, compulsory clerical celibacy, and the child abuse disgrace). I am more interested though, in another phenomenon: the abundant evidence that Catholics who choose to stay are simply ignoring official doctrine, on matters ranging from sexual ethics to church discipline.

A couple of months ago, an Irish paper asked, with reference to the call for a boycott of Mass, “Is this the start of a revolution in the Catholic Church?” My response is no, the start of a revolution is no longer possible. The revolution has already begun, and is well under way, in Ireland, in the US, and elsewhere.

Velvet Revolution, Czechoslavaki

Sexual Ethics

It is now commonplace to observe that almost nobody any longer pays any attention to official doctrine on contraception – obedience to other matters of sexual ethics is not much stronger. There is abundant research evidence that demonstrates that “What the church teaches”, in the sense of Vatican doctrine, and “What Catholics believe” (i.e. in real life) diverge dramatically, on all other matters of sexual ethics. On premarital sex, on divorce, on masturbation, and even on abortion, most Catholics disagree with the formal Vatican doctrines.

Not only are the laity disregarding the rules: even among the clergy, estimates are that a substantial number of priests are disregarding their vows of celibacy, and so also ignoring the Church’s insistence that genital sexual expression outside of marriage and procreation is to be avoided at all costs. Some conduct faithful relationships with regular partners, sometimes even with the knowledge of supportive parishioners, others have covert one-night stands, or pay for prostitutes.

Church Rules

How many Catholics still wrestle with their conscience if they miss a Sunday Mass? There was a time when it was axiomatic that loyal Catholics would be in Church for Mass every Sunday morning (or possibly on Saturday evenings for the vigil Mass). This was more than simply an occasion to demonstrate the numbers, and provide an opportunity for the priest once more to pound away at his message of obedience to Church authority – it was also an opportunity to rake in the money from the Offertory collections. Today, even those who continue to see themselves as faithful Catholics may attend Mass less frequently – and often deliberately withhold contributions to the Offertory collections, especially where there is a sense that the monies are to be used in an inappropriate, socially divisive way, as with the use of Church funds in Maine to support the campaign against gay marriage.

The practice of regular private confession to a priest has almost disappeared. When I was at school, I was taught that as Catholics we should be grateful for the gift of the confessional, which for many Catholics reduced or eliminated the need for psychotherapy. When it works correctly, with a wise and sensitive confessor, I am sure that the observation is sound. But far too often, over many centuries the confessional has instead been abused as a site of terror. For as long Catholics believed that without formal absolution for their sins they were doomed to hellfire for all eternity,  and that absolution could be obtained only from a priest in the confessional, many will have felt compelled to knuckle under to every command of the Catechism, no matter how ludicrous, or to submit to the scrutiny of a priest in the confessional.   The confessional was thus a source of power for the clergy, even in areas of sexuality where they had demonstrably less real-life expertise than the people they commanded. Fortunately, the whole concept of the confessional has been transformed, to one of reconciliation rather than simple confession of guilt, and ever since the publication of “humane vitae”, there has been a much stronger awareness of the role of individual conscience. The confessional has lost its power of intimidation, and many people now simply refuse to go, or go much less frequently.

Women priests

The emergence of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement is for me the most striking example of outright defiance within the Church. At America Magazine,  MICHAEL O’LOUGHLIN reflects on the image he saw in his local cathedral during a recent All Souls’ Mass. Of 20 people in the sanctuary, 18 were men. He asks,

What does an image like that say to girls and women sitting in the pews? That is, what do women and young girls feel while looking up at a sanctuary filled overwhelmingly with men?

The question has been asked before, and must be asked again, repeatedly. In the comments thread, one reader points to an appropriate response, to this and other examples of the inappropriate and outdated rules coming from the Vatican:

I wonder what qualities of ministry attach to a penis over a vagina, to put it graphically. My conclusion is that hierarchs feel threatened, and prefer to keep the status quo – not really out of any theological consideration, but as markers of their psychological dysfunction. The fear of the feminine is a powerful one. It poses too many centering questions.

I have since attended services where Episcopal women priests preside, and always welcome our female pastoral associate filling in at Eucharist services or whatever. A sign of the alarm women ignite is a recent chancery communique warning anyone to stay away from a woman priest in our area, and promising excommunication to those who attend her celebrations.

No matter, change is coming from the bottom up, and someday all this will seem like foolishness. Maybe that priest shortage is for an inspired reason, though married men come first, and when all other options are spent, women become acceptable. I don’t sweat it too much because the time is coming, and eventually, it will be, ‘What was all that fuss about?’

It is indeed remarkable, given the strong Vatican insistence on automatic excommunication for anyone assisting in the “attempted” ordination of women, that this movement continues to grow and attract support. As the number of male candidates for the priesthood continues to stagnate, how long will it be before the number of female ordinations exceeds that of men – at least in Europe and North America?

Obedience and dissent

Growing up in South Africa, I was taught that when faced with a choice between the demands of unjust laws and the prompting of conscience, the Catholic obligation is to follow conscience every time. When people have done so in sufficiently large numbers, they have frequently been able to overcome unjust laws: “the best way to destroy an unjust law is to ignore it”.

“From the bottom up” is an important part of how change came to South Africa, and to Eastern Europe, and before that how Mahatma Gandhi, with his campaign of Satryagraha forced change on the British in the Indian sub-continent – and hence on the rest of the British colonial empire. These examples, and many others, overcame forces with substantial military and political power. In the Church, the power of the episcopal oligarchy rests entirely on their control of our minds – and it is now obvious that that power is eroding rapidly. The manifest wrongheadedness of Humanae Vitae taught many Catholics the validity of following conscience before Vatican doctrine – and that lesson is now being applied elsewhere.

“That was a watershed. Up to that time, I think, practically all Catholics accepted that, whether they disobeyed Catholic teaching or not, the teaching was right. It was there that the questioning began.”

-Bishop Willie Walsh, quoted at Irish Times

Yet this doesn’t mean that people are turning away from God and religion – interest in spirituality and personal prayer remains high.

The Kairos moment

Jayden Cameron at Gay Mystic, reflecting on the decline in allegiance to the institutional church offers his own explanation in theological terms – he sees this as a sign of the Holy Spirit at work:

There is a movement underway here and I’m convinced it’s a movement of the Holy Spirit – showing us in such lives that the ‘sacramental life of the church’ (and I would include the Eucharist) can continue, flourish and survive outside the present formal obediential structures of the Roman institution (though this was not exactly Prickly Pear’s intent in his statement, I’m enlarging here). Many of us are being called to witness to the life of the Spirit independent of the institution. When it is healthy, it can be an enormous help, but it is not an Absolute entity that is essential to the spiritual journey. When it becomes unhealthy, it becomes a danger – to young gay persons especially. The great Catholic tradition, however, is another matter, and here as well I feel many of us are being given the calling to maintain the living flame of this tradition in the wilderness of a very dark time

The Spirit is ahead of us on this one, way ahead. The bottom line for myself: peace and joy and the living face of the Beloved are found outside the door, not within the formal chamber of the church. And since so many of us are feeling this, what then is the Spirit saying by this powerful witnessing movement? We cannot claim credit for it ourselves, something very significant and powerful is being messaged here about the very nature of institutional religion. Peace, joy and love in the Spirit flourish on the margins of belief.

Change indeed is coming from the bottom up. The old slogan “pray, pay, obey” has given way to “pray, don’t pay, disobey.”

And I thank God for that.

James Alison: Discovery of “Gay” = Good News for the Church

Wherever the Catholic sun does shine,
there’s love and laughter
and red red wine
at least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino*

– Hillaire Belloc.

Matisse Dancers
Not many people today would readily associate the above words with the modern Catholic Church, especially not lesbian gay, transgendered and other sexual minorities – i.e. in the eyes of the church, most of us.  But James Alison is one who clearly would agree with the sentiment.  In a fascinating and stimulating new article, James argues that thee “discovery” in recent decades of homosexuality as an orientation, part of the natural order of things rather than a lifestyle choice or pathology, should rightly be seen as Good News for heterosexuals and for the Catholic Church as a  whole.  For lesbigaytrans Catholics, this is likewise obviously good news – but it is much more.  It is an opportunity, he argues exuberantly, for fun and delight in the Church.
What I would like to share with you is a sense of fun. I think being Catholic is huge fun. A huge roller-coaster ride into reality propelled by God, borne up on safe wings, gestated by the loving self-giving of Our Lord in his crucifixion, watched and smiled over by his Holy Mother, played into being like a virtuoso first performance of an unknown masterpiece by the adventurous coaxing of God’s Holy Spirit.
 
And right now one of the best places from where we can get a rich sense of how much fun this adventure is, is by looking at matters gay and their incidence in the life of the Church. 
james-alisonThis will be a novel and unexpected perspective for most of us, so used to seeing (and experiencing) our position in the Church in terms of accusations, lack of welcome or even outright rejection, often leading us to question our own inner selves.  This will be a hard sell for James, we think reading these introductory words, but James Alison is on his familiar ground of “delight”, and well up to the task.  In his previous writing, he has frequently emphasised the joy and delight of being catholic, and of being gay as well as Catholic.  Part of the key in retaining that joy, he believes, is to avoid the trap of responding to the Church opposition to us with an antagonistic relationship to the hiearchy.  Rather, he argued, it is healthier to approach the Church with an attitude of Ignatian indifference (an attitude I now aspire to of, but cannot always achieve) .  In this article, he expands on what others, notably John McNeill, have described as an emerging Kairos moment in the church, here thinking specifically of an impending transformation of the theology of sexuality, with gay sexuality at the centre.  (Kairos Moment:  from the Greek for a “an appropriate time, an opportune moment.”)
First, though he needs to prepare the way by establishing a frame of reference, and an analogy.
The frame of reference he applies is the “discovery” of sexual orientation as innate and natural.
So, to my first point. In the last fifty years or so we have undergone a genuine human discovery of the sort that we, the human race, don’t make all that often. A genuine anthropological discovery: one that is not a matter of fashion, or wishful thinking; not the result of a decline in morals or a collapse of family values. We now know something objectively true about humans that we didn’t know before: that there is a regularly occurring, non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, independent of culture, habitat, religion, education, or customs, which we currently call “being gay”. This minority variant is not, of course, lived in a way that is independent of culture, habitat, religion, education and customs. It is lived, as is every other human reality, in an entirely culture-laden way, which is one of the reasons why it has in the past been so easy to mistake it as merely a function of culture, psychology, religion or morality: something to get worked up about rather than something that is just there.

The analogy he draws is with the impact on human consciousness following the discovery of America at the end of the 15th century, and specifically the impact on map making.

And a richer example still: just think of the hugeness of what happened when Europeans made landfall in theAmericas in the late fifteenth century. The sheer vastness, otherness, of what they had stumbled across by mistake, while looking for a fast trade route to China and Japan, would take decades, even centuries, to sink in. Every single feature of the way Europeans saw themselves underwent a radical shift of perspective in the light of the geological, anthropological, botanical, zoological and cultural “thereness” of something that had of course “always” been there, but of which Europeans had previously had no knowledge at all. But that shift of perspective didn’t happen immediately.

So why is this Good News, and for whom?

Well, first of all, obviously, for us as lesbian and gay people.  Recognising that we are an entirely “natural” part of creation, albeit a minority part, frees us from any sense of guilt or shame at being who we are.  We are clearly part of god’s creation, just as God intended us to be.  An important  corollary follows:

Each person finds their good by adherence to God’s plan for them, in order to realise it fully: in this plan, each one finds their truth, and through adherence to this truth, becomes free (cf John 8,22). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.”

Following this train of thought, the above words logically lead to the conclusion that gay people have not just a right to defend themselves, but an obligation to come out, to bear witness to their truth and to articulate it.  These are positions I have frequently publicised and argued here on QTC.  So which radical gay or lesbian theologian produced those words?  Benedict XVI himself, in the recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate”.  Of course,  in writing them, he wasn’t thinking specifically of the dreaded “homosexuals”, but that is precisely the point.

In the years immediately following Columbus’ voyage, it took a while for the knowledge of this new world to sink into consciousness, and for people to begin to understand the implications.  Alison is arguing here that at the time of writing the infamous Hallowe’en letter on the “fundamentally disordered” nature of a homosexual orientation, the understanding of the discoveries by scientists and anthropologists had not yet sunk it.  The church at that time was still working with maps that had not yet been redrawn accurately to show the full extent of the discovery.  As it becomes better understood, as the maps improve, the number of people who benefit will expand.  After the LGBT community itself, the next to benefit will be their families, but later also all straights.

Again, the discovery is rather obviously good news for the parents and families of those who are gay and lesbian, since it means that the false guilt trips which have been laid on them can be shrugged off……………..


We are only now beginning to be able to tell what are some of the knock-on effects of having discovered that what we call being “straight” or “heterosexual” is not the normative human condition, but a majority human condition. ……And this has important consequences for understanding the relation between the emotional, the sexual, and the reproductive lives of those who are heterosexual. If there are some humans in whom, as a normal and non-pathological minority variant, the emotional and the sexual elements of their lives are not linked to any possible reproductive element, then the link between the possible reproductive element and the emotional and sexual element in those in whom these elements are linked is of a somewhat different sort than was previously imagined. We are talking about something within the sphere of the free, the intentional and the deliberate rather than the mechanical and the fated. The relationship between that which is simply “biological” and that which is available to be humanised has changed.

Alison argues from this that the “discovery of gay” thus creates circumstances of greater freedom for the straights as well as for the rest of us, by offering more choices, and removing the fear of being considered “gay”. Bit the really interesting and exciting part is where he goes on to spell out the implications for the church as a whole, and for gay Catholics in particular.

Where I would like to take this further is in the really very interesting field of how this is affecting, and going to affect, the Church. So, let’s look at the alterations in the map of the world which the discovery is producing.


There was a time, in the not too distant past, when loud voices from Rome, along with their local amplifiers, would tell people like us that the only acceptable form of discussion about, or pastoral work with, gay and lesbian people was one that was strictly in accordance with the truth, and that truth was properly set forth in the teaching of the Roman Congregations. This truth, as it turned out, was that “although the homosexual inclination is not itself a sin, it constitutes a more or less strong tendency towards behaviour which is intrinsically evil, and thus the inclination itself must be considered objectively disordered”


But curiously, the very Church whose apparent “truth” in this area I’ve just recited for you, teaches very strongly ……that there is such a thing as something that is true independently of the perspective and wish list of any of us, and that that truth in some sense imposes itself on us. In other words, the same authorities who told us that we have to go along with their understanding of the homosexual inclination because it is true, are also, thank heaven,insisting that the truth doesn’t depend on them, and that they and their teaching are receptive to that which is discovered to be objectively true in whatever field it should emerge.

And the objective truth that is emerging is the discovery that homosexuality is in every sense natural, and not disordered at all.   By its own logic and teaching, the Church will have to redraw its maps of human sexuality to take account of this discovery.

Well, what has emerged with ever-greater clarity over the last twenty or so years is that the claim underlying the teaching of the Roman Congregations in this sphere is not true. It is not true that all humans are intrinsically heterosexual, and that those who appear not to be heterosexual are in fact defective heterosexuals. There is no longer any reputable scientific evidence of any sort: psychological, biological, genetic, medical, neurological – to back up the claim. The discovery that I talked about earlier, backed with abundant evidence, is that there is a small but regular proportion of human beings – somewhere between three and four percent – across all cultures who are hardwired to be principally attracted to members of their own sex. Furthermore there is no pathology of any psychological or physiological sort that is invariably associated with this sort of hardwiring. It is not a vice or a sickness. It is simply a regularly occurring minority variant in the human species.

In developing this new map, those responsible for drawing it will have to take account of one rather surprising phenomenon.  It is not simply the case, says Alison, that the official teaching on same gender relationships is flawed: rather, he claims:

It is properly speaking true to say that, appearances aside, the Catholic Church has no teaching at all about homosexuality.

This is because up to now, the theologians have not been writing about homosexuality as it is now known to be, but as something that previously existed primarily in their imaginations, based only on distorted reports – rather as medieval Europeans might have interpreted reports of a large, four egged mammal with a horn as a mythological unicorn, not as a rhinoceros.  This creates for us the opportunity to develop from the ground up, an entire new body of theology.

So here is a splendid, splendid opportunity for us to be able to say “yippee”! “Just in time”! Just as it was becoming clear that the whole way of talking about being human which has sustained official Church teaching for much of the time between the apostolic period and now is in deep trouble, here at last we have an objective fulcrum from which to be working out what it is to be Catholic. ……We find ourselves facing up to the fact that we have discovered something objectively true about being human which is going to re-write our maps.


Now, I would say the fun lies in the challenge to discover Catholicity from within this process of learning, which is as it should be. ……We can relax into the discovery that God did something very big a long time ago, and is continuing to do exactly that thing, and that we are surfing the very big waves which are continuing to flow out from this in hugely creative ways.

But in doing so, we must resist the temptation to do it in opposition to the church, in argumentative or squabbling fashion.

Here we are dealing with something that is true independently of the positions and the authority of those speaking. Which means: its truth doesn’t depend on us, so we needn’t be in rivalry about it. And there is something marvellously freeing about this.


Now if we look at these officials not as people with whom we must be in rivalry, but as people who have a difficult job to do in the face of emerging truth, we can also learn to be much more sympathetic to them, without going along with their falsehoods………There is quite genuinely no firm tradition of Catholic discussion or teaching about human love and partnering other than that which is derived from the presupposition of universal heterosexuality and the goodness of marriage.


This is where we all come in. …..This seems to me to be the challenge for us now, and as I say continually, it seems to me to be a fun challenge: are we going to dare to be Catholics, not in rivalry with our office holders, grateful that they’re there, aware that they’re pretty stuck, but delighted to be beginning to take on board the contours of the new discovery about being human that goes with the term “gay”? Are we going to allow ourselves to be empowered to discover ways in which God is much morefor us than we had imagined, that God really does want us to be free and to be happy, and to rejoice in what is true as we are stretched toward and stand alongside the weakest and most vulnerable of our sisters and brothers wherever we may find them? Are we going to allow ourselves to discover the potential for Catholicity that is opening up alongside the discovery of the new richness in Creation that shimmers within the little word “gay”?

Conclusions

What this is saying, is clear in its implications for gay and lesbian Catholics:

  • Catholic tradition, and Benedict XVI in particular, insists on reason as a complement to faith.
  • Reason dictates that the Church must and will recognise the implications of the “recent” discovery that sexual orientation is innate, natural and not remotely disordered.
  • This will force a corresponding recognition that we, all of us together, need to create a brand new theology of sexuality. This will represent Good News for all in the Church, gay and straight alike.
  • We have the opportunity at this critical point in history, thisKairos moment, to participate in this exciting, even fun-filled, adventure.

Read the full text at  The Fulcrum of Discovery: how the “gay thing” is good news for the Catholic Church (Footnote: Years before I became involved with Jesuit thinking and Ignatian spirituality, back as a first year student in 1970 at the University of Cape Town, I developed a soft spot for the several Dominicans I met through the Catholic student chaplaincies at SA universities. This admiration grew further in later years as I began to learn of the sterling work done by Dominicans of the calibre of Albert Nolan in adapting Liberation Theology to the South African context.     So I was delighted to see that one of the occasions for presenting a version of this paper was a conference at the Dominican Priory in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. ) Further Reading: James Alison Website Brokeheart Mountain: Reflections on monotheism, idolatry and the Kingdom Letter to a young, gay Catholic. See also: Mary Hunt on Dignity at 40: Faithful & Fabulous

James Alison’s  Books:

Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

On Being Liked

Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in

Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal

 

John McNeill’s Message of Hope for Queer Catholics.

In an aside in my post “Some Hearts Close to Cracking: What Gay Catholics HAVE Done”  I noted that the question of what gay priests have done is rather different and trickier one.  For the rest of us, many people have used expressions like “exile” to describe their position. For priests, this exile can be extreme, very directly threatening their livelihoods and even the emotional support structures of friends and colleagues.  Still, exile is threatening but not deadening.  Many of those who speak of exile couple it with words like “grace” and “hope”.  So it is too, with many of the priests who have embraced their own exile. The intriguing thing to me, is the possibility (no more than a glimmer, at present) that the exiles from the institutional church are forming a new community, one which could well grow and flourish while the formal structures shrink from lack of interest, undermined by scandals and internal resistance to the medieval culture. If so, the possibilities for restructuring are fascinating.

John McNeill is one of the iconic figures among gay priests and in the story of the emergence of gay & lesbian theology.  Once a Jesuit, he was a founder member of Dignity, and published an important book on the topic- before eventually being forced to leave the order and the (formal) priesthood. Since then, he has if anything being more productive, finding that he was able to speak and write with a new freedom, released from the possibility of Vatican censorship.  The titles of two of his books are themselves revealing: “Freedom, Glorious Freedom”, and “With Both Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air”). He has also had an important practice as a psychotherapist.

When I first started writing on this blog, I was very much taken with some ideas that I had picked up in a letter he had written to the US bishops, which was widely posted on several sites. The letter in turn referred back to a seminal address he had given to a Dignity gathering in 2005, on the occasion of the infamous letter restricting gay candidates’ entry to the seminaries.  Prompted by a response he placed to a post here earlier this week, I realised that McNeill’s message in that address, delivered in response to a specific action at a specific time, nevertheless still has much to say to us now, at the end of 2009.

Advent is a time of waiting, of expectancy.  I have sensed from many of my fellow gay or progressive Catholic bloggers that in what appears superficially to be dark times in the Church, there is a perception that this could be a time in which the Holy Spirit is knocking down in order to rebuild.  This is leading many of us to what would otherwise be an irrational confidence that we may be seeing the end of the old hierarchical, control obsessed institution, and the emergence of something new, a reimagining or “reformatting” of the Church. If (as seems at first glance likely) the hierarchy is unable or unwilling to initiate this themselves, the rest of us my be forced to take the lead ourselves.  But the real work, actually effecting and implementing the essential changes, will not be done by either the “hierarchy” or by us as “laity” – but by the Holy Spirit.  As McNeill bluntly reminds us, s/he remains the Boss.

Here are some extracts from the address to Dignity.  The original is clearly addressed directly to lesbian and gay Catholics, but in the present context they are also relevant to a wider audience. I have edited and abridged to highlight this broader significance. (I feel privileged that I have been authorised to post a copy of the full address here)

How Should Lesbian and Gay Catholics Respond to the Hierarchy’s Decision to Bar Gays from the Seminaries and the Priesthood?

On Sept 21st, I read in the New York Times that the Vatican, under Pope Benedict is considering the decision to bar all gays, even celibates, from the priesthood. …I then entered into prayer and asked the Holy Spirit to help me discern what this is all about.

First, the Spirit assured me that this decision has nothing to do with God or the teaching of Jesus Christ. Notice the total absence of any sense of love and compassion for all the suffering this will cause gay Catholics in general and, especially, gay priests. The hierarchy is aware that the child abuse crisis has seriously undermined their authority and power……

The Holy Spirit is still ultimately in charge of the Church and will call the shots on how the Church will evolve and be transformed and our task as gay Catholics (and all others – the crisis in governance affects us all, not just LGBT) is to prayerfully discern what the Holy Spirit is about in this moment of crisis and support that transformation.

I shall never forget the excitement we felt at the first meeting of New York Dignity some 35 years ago. We had put a small notice in the Village Voice. We had hoped for a few people. But over a hundred people crowded into the room we reserved at Good Shepherd Church in Gramercy Park. We had a simple plan: To bring the message of God’s love to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and transsexual people. Secondly, by giving witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we hoped to enter into dialogue with the institutional Church to bring about a change in its teaching on homosexuality; a change fully justified by our new understanding of scripture, tradition and of human psychosexual development. Our cry here was that “what is bad psychology has to be bad theology and vice versa.”

We were full of the hope and enthusiasm of Vatican II, which had redefined the Church as “The People of God”! Now almost thirty years later, although the Holy Spirit has abundantly blessed our ministry to bring the message of God’s love to our sisters and brothers, I am sorry to have to report that in terms of dialogue with the hierarchy, it has been mostly downhill.

The Church has adamantly refused our offer of dialogue and refuses to hear what the Holy Spirit wants to say to the hierarchy through the experience of faithful Catholic gays and lesbians.

Because of the incredible success Dignity and other gay liberation groups have had over the last 39 years, very few gay candidates for the priesthood today have an egodystonic (a psychological term for those who see their sexuality as something to be rejected and suppressed) attitude of self-hatred. So the Vatican felt forced to take a more radical stance. The hierarchy has decided to scapegoat the Catholic gay community, rather than to acknowledge any failure and sinfulness on their own part.

I admire the shrewdness of the Holy Spirit. The cultic priesthood, limited to professed celibate males, whether heterosexual or repressed homosexual, is rapidly disappearing.  I can think of no action the Vatican could take that would guarantee the total collapse of that priesthood – a collapse that will necessarily lead to a new form of shepherding in the Church.

In my own experience over the years, if I met a priest who was an exceptionally good pastor, loving and compassionate, I could be close to certain that I was dealing with a gay priest. Let me give two examples of that.  The first is my friend and colleague,  Father Mychal Judge, a gay Franciscan, who was Chaplin to the New York City Fire Department, and died while anointing one of his beloved fire-fighters in the 911 collapse of the World Trade Towers.  A second model of gay priesthood is Matthew Kelty, the gay Cistercian monk, until recently guest master at Gethsemane Abbey and spiritual director for Thomas Merton. In his book, Flute Solo: Reflections of a Trappist Hermit, Matthew wrote that he attributed the special spiritual gifts that God had given him to his homosexual orientation:

People of my kind seem often so placed, the reason, as I have worked it out, that they are more closely related to the anima (the feminine) than is usual…. Perhaps a healthy culture would enable those so gifted by God or nature (i.e. homosexuals) to realize their call and respond to it in fruitful ways.

We gay and lesbian Catholics must not let our enemies outside ourselves define who we are. We must let the Spirit of God, the Spirit of love dwelling in our hearts, define who we are. And then give witness to all the great things the Lord has done for us.

What, then, should be our attitude toward the institutional church? James Allison, a gay Catholic theologian, suggests that we should have the same attitude toward the institutional church as Jesus had toward the temple, total detachment and indifference. In his ministry, the Temple was always there in the background but appears to have little relevance to Jesus’ mission. As Mark noted, after the Palm Sunday procession, Jesus came into Jerusalem, entered the Temple and looked around but immediately left for Bethany with the twelve. Bethany was where the action was. Bethany was where the household of Martha and Mary, who I can imagine to be a lesbian couple and their gay brother Lazarus who was Jesus’ best friend. Here was Jesus’ church – a true community of love.

At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples that “it is necessary that I go away in order for the Spirit to come. I tell you this: unless I go away the Spirit cannot come to you. But when I go away, I will send the Spirit to you and He will dwell in your hearts and lead you into all truth.” Jesus was referring to a maturing process in our spiritual life, a process for which we gay and lesbian Catholics have a special need. We must detach ourselves from all external authority and learn to discern what the Spirit has to say to us directly and immediately in our own experience.

We must fight to free ourselves from any attachment to the institutional church,. We should see ourselves as equals and siblings to Church authorities and pray for them as they try to discern the Spirit of God in their lives. Leave the Hierarchical church in God’s hands. Be grateful to them for the gifts they helped bring to us like the scriptures and the sacraments. But do not waste one ounce of energy in a negative attachment of anger with the Church. Commit every ounce of our energy to the positive ministry of love to which God has called us.

Judaism and Christianity are both religions of the collapsing Temple. There is always a connection between the collapse of the Temple and God bringing into existence a new form of shepherding. In Judaism, it was the collapse of the Temple in the year 587 BC which led to the creation of text based Judaism. And again, the collapse of the Temple in 70 AD, which led to the creation of Rabbinic Judaism.  In every case, the collapse is part of God’s plan to get through to us and help us to get beyond something that is no longer worthy of us.

A recent example of this, a young man came to me in Fort Lauderdale. He was leading a gay life and had a lover, but he could not let go of feelings of guilt, shame and self-rejection. He was praying constantly to God to make his will known to him. As he was driving home to Boston still praying, suddenly he had a profound experience of God hugging him. This experience lasted a long time and when it was over he was sure of God’s love for him as a gay man and felt a strong need to share that experience with as many as possible.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are in a new stage of the collapsing Temple and the emergence of a new form of shepherding. Joachim of Flores prophesied in the 13th century there would come a day when the hierarchical church, becoming superfluous, would in time dissolve and in its place would emerge the Church of the Holy Spirit. Ministry in the Church of the Holy Spirit will come from the direct call of the Holy Spirit. The task of authority will be to listen prayerfully to what the Holy Spirit is saying through the people of God. This Church must become a totally democratic Church with no caste system, no higher or lower, totally equal: women with men, gays with straights; everyone possessing the Holy Spirit within them, everyone an authority.

John McNeill

2 October 2005

There is much more which is specifically relevant to LGBT Catholics. In 2005, this was prescient.  Today, McNeill’s thinkg seems to underpin much that I am reading from many other observers.  I strongly recommend that you read (or re-read) the full address.

Further reading:

Books:

John McNeill:

The Church and the Homosexual

Freedom, Glorious Freedom

Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair

Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and Their Lovers, Families, and Friends

Sex as God Intended

James Alison

Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay

On Being Liked

Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in

Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal