On Monday this week, I visited St Francis Xavier 6th Form College, on behalf of Quest, to talk about the experience of being both Catholic and gay (or lesbian). This was my third school visit. All have been different from each other, in how they were initiated and in the focus of the presentation – but all have been intensely rewarding, each in their own way.
This week’s visit was initiated by the school, with an invitation to Quest to speak to the school on the general them of “Catholic and Gay”. I arrived early, and after a brief chat with the deputy head Ciaran Graham, who had issued the invitation, he took me on an enjoyable tour of the school facilities . I was particularly interested in the school chapel, which has been a place of prayer and worship for over 120 years.
With just 20 minutes available for the talk, I could do no more than skim the surface of the subject. I began with a very brief outline of my own story, then described the three broad themes that had helped me personally to reconcile faith and sexuality: the Catholic insistence on the primacy of conscience, my experience of prayer and particularly Ignatian spirituality, and my exploration of the biblical evidence – both what Keith Sharpe refers to as “defensive” and “affirmative” scriptures.
I thought it went well. I could see that with a handful of exceptions, the kids were attentive and absorbed. There were no questions afterwards, but then I had gone over my allotted 20 minutes, so I think they were just anxious to get away. However, the staff I spoke to were enthusiastic, and on my way to the station afterwards, I met some of the students who thanked me, and said it had been enjoyable and helpful. That was confirmed later, in an email from the deputy head.
Once again a huge thank you for coming in. Indeed I’ve spoken to a few students who found it a very valuable talk and the teachers present have nothing but praise.
I’ll be in touch again to take you up on your very kind offer.
With his Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”, Pope Francis has placed great emphasis on the importance of pastoral accompaniment, discernment, and the interior forum for church responses to LGBT Catholics. The document also speaks of the importance of accompaniment and pastoral care for the families which include those LGBT people. But what does this mean, in practice?
The response to Fr James Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge” has shown that there is widespread hunger for this accompaniment – but also reveals the extent of public ignorance. Martin’s book focuses on just one simple part of church teaching, on the need for “respect, compassion and sensitivity”, but quite deliberately does not dig more deeply. There is a dire need for material which does indeed take a broader canvas, suitable for use in parish groups.
Fortunate Families, the USA group for the parents and families of LGBT Catholics, has just such a great “resources” page, structured primarily for the Catholic families and friends of LGBT people, but also immensely valuable for anyone who simply wants to know more about the facts, without the polemics.
One of these valuable resources is an 8 part series, “Let’s Talk About Homosexuality“, which is described as a “Catholic conversation” on the subject, for
• Parents of gay and lesbian children: parents still in the closet, alone with their secret; parents out of the secret; struggling with their questions, their fears, their faith.
• Parents of young children: moms and dads seeking information and insight for their own parenting role as teacher and counselor.
• Family members who may be struggling to deal with the hurtful stereotypes that exist within both society and their Church.
• Gay and lesbian people who may be searching for some sign of understanding from their Church.
• Anyone who is curious about homosexuality and wanting to learn more.
Permission is granted for you to download and print this copyrighted series for your personal use, for parish study groups, for adult education programs, for ministry support, for future reference.
Structured as an adult education program to be placed on a parish website over a period of eight successive weeks, it could equally well be adapted for use in a discussion group meeting weekly (or monthly) – or for personal study, over eight sessions, at any frequency you choose.
Grouped into 3 major parts, the weekly instalments, with their main focus areas, are:
In his report on the New Ways Ministries’ 2012 conference From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, Chuck Colbert summarized the main addresses, but also presented some questions by participants – and their reasons for attending. The reason given by one couple also offers insight into how they approach being lesbian and Catholic back home, in their parish:
Chicagoans Karen Allen and her partner, Mary Jo Hoag, attended the gathering, this their second one.
“What brings me here is the chance to be rooted in my faith and with the people of God and to be sent forth to create loving communities,” said Allen, who leads a gay and lesbian family-and-friends ministry at St. Nicholas parish in Evanston.
Allen said the parish group grew out the idea she and others got 10 years ago at the Louisville, Ky., New Ways symposium.
In proposing the idea, she explained, “We were welcomed to do so by our pastor at the time, who said, ‘Where have you been?'”
The ministry is about education and prayer and not so much advocacy, Allen said, but “more about how can we as gay and lesbian Catholics live fully integrated, authentic lives in our tradition.”
“Many have walked away [ from the church ] but returned in mid-life,” she explained, while readily acknowledging, “struggling mightily” with “clericalism and the hierarchy.”
“The church is our church,” said Hoag, explaining why she stays. “Many of us are cradle Catholics who grew up with the rituals, sacraments, and the teachings and feel comfortable. We are gifts to the church and shouldn’t go away, as we provide those gifts of love and understanding and outreach.”
New Ways Ministry, Allen added, provides us “a shot in the arm” to keep up our work in ministry.
Pope Francis’ observation that “development” of doctrine means that we can now declare that the death penalty is unacceptable to Catholics, opens up an important debate on the very nature of “development” of Church teaching. Typically for Francis, when he introduces something seemingly new, he is in fact resting solidly on his predecessors, and on past practice. In Amoris Laetitia, the issues that have drawn the most strenuous opposition were in fact firmly grounded in Thomas Aquinas, and in the teaching of Pope John Paul II. Right at the beginning of his papacy, in a widely publicised interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, he said clearly that it is both inevitable and necessary that doctrine will constantly develop. He supported that statement, by quoting from the a reading for the daily office for the feast of St Vincent of Lerins – whose feast day was yesterday (Friday of week 27).
In his statement this week on the death penalty referring to the possibility of development in church teaching, he drew on Pope John XXIII and Vatican II:
The Jesuit pope began his talk by recalling that at the opening of the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 1962, John XXIII said, “It is necessary first of all that the church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time, she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world which have opened up new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.” Moreover, Pope John added, “our duty is not only to guard this treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing thus the path which the church has followed for 20 centuries.”
Mark Dowd’s impressive new book, “Queer and Catholic” is subtitled “a life of contradictions”. However, as the book itself demonstrates, there is no inherent contradiction between being queer and Catholic. Mark’s life has been steeped in Catholicism, from childhood in a deeply Catholic family, through education, to professional life as a broadcaster specialising in religion, to his current activities. At the same time, he has always known he was gay – from the age of eight, before he knew the word or what it meant – and at least from university, he has always been open about his orientation. This is a life fully gay, fully and deeply Catholic. The title however is not “Gay and Catholic”, but “Queer and Catholic”. This is significant. In its original meaning before it became a pejorative, or was later appropriated by queer theory, the word meant simply “strange”. There is something very strange indeed in the Vatican horror of homosexuality.
The only contradiction that exists between being queer and Catholic, as Mark himself states in his introduction, is within the church itself, where he states that the church is so anti-gay, because it is so gay. This is an internal contradiction that the church will in time be forced to resolve. Indeed, there are encouraging signs that even now, important leaders of the church, from Pope Francis himself, through senior cardinals and professional theologians, to lay Catholics in the pews, know that things must change. Pastoral practice in many dioceses and parishes is already vastly better than it was a few decades ago, even to serious discussions taking place about blessing same-sex unions. Changes in pastoral practice will eventually and inevitably lead to changes also in underlying theology.
In Dublin next year, there is an intriguing opportunity opening up for LGBT Catholics. Are our advocacy groups paying attention?
For the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, USA based LGBT groups and their allies attempted to secure formal accreditation. Philadelphia however, is the seat of archconservative Archbishop Chaput, and they were deliberately excluded. In spite of this, the coalition established an informal, non-accredited presence, and did some great work making the case for acceptance and inclusion church, of queer families.
Just last week it was Cardinal Schonborn saying to an Irish conference in preparation for the World Meeting of Families, that all families need protecting – including queer families. Also last week, another senior cardinal effectively acknowledged in a newspaper interview, that gay marriage is not a major issue for the Catholic Church.
Back in October 2015, I was in Rome for the foundation conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, timed to coincide with the Synod of Bishops gathering on marriage and family. At that conference, a steering committee was elected to create a permanent foundation for the new body. That work has now been completed: the next conference will now take place in Germany, later this year. Read the details in this invitation letter, from the co-chairs Ruby Almeida and Michael Brinkschröder:
It is always worth paying close attention to press interviews with Msgr Krysztof Charamsa, the Catholic theologian at the CDF who came out as both gay and partnered, on the eve of the 2015 Synod on /marriage and family. There have been several of these, initially on the occasion of his coming out, and later with the launch of his book, in the original Italian and the later translations. Sadly, as far as I am aware, none of these have yet appeared in English.
I therefore provide below, my own free translation (based on a modified Google translation), of his most recent (German) interview with Berliner Zeitung. In this post, I present the interview in full, without comment. My responses will follow, in a series of follow-up posts.
Ex-Monsignore Krzysztof Charamsa “Gott liebt mich, weil ich meinen Mann liebe”
(Translation: “God loves me, because I love my husband”)
We meet in the breakfast room of a small hotel at Hamburg main station. Krzysztof Charamsa, 44, has presented his book here. He wears a light, waisted jacket, with a blue handkerchief, if I remember correctly. A white shirt. Blue jeans. He looks very elegant. The most striking however is orange glasses. Krzysztof Charamsa laughs and loves to cry. I had not imagined the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church so. Not even one of his staff. Krzysztof Charamsa is a Pole, but speaks German. Very rarely does he search for a word.
What is Spinning?
This is my sport: cycling in the gym. At the bottom I am struggling, everything is going through my head. I can think clearly.
One does not step forward. This is your favourite sport?
It is like liberation. You kick wildly into the pedals. They sweat. You are exhausted. But you do not have to worry about anything. Your head is free. It hits the spot.
That’s why you wrote a book about the “immutability of God”.
My dissertation. At that time I did not know Spinning. I was looking for security, for a solid foundation. It seemed to me to offer me a God who is self-sufficient. This was a God who does not lean toward his creature. No God of friendship, no God in the world, in history. A very sad image of God, I find today. I’ve been thinking about why we’re going to suffer during my studies. Where we have a gracious God. That was my determining question. I have no answer. But today I think it was my homosexuality, my suffering for it, which made suffering such a big subject. I did not know anything about the pleasures of love, nor of gay love.
When masturbating did you have homosexual fantasies?
That was not nice?
I was anxious. I spent my puberty in communist Poland, in the Catholic Church. Both hyper-homophobic facilities! With whom could I have spoken? How? I had no words for it. I had feelings of guilt. I would have had them, even if I had been heterosexual. But my gay fantasies increased my insecurity.
You were ten, eleven years in Hamburg. You must have seen homosexuals at least at the Hauptbahnhof.
I did not see them. Because I could not see them. In the world I lived in, there were no homosexuals. People just did not talk about them. They did not exist. As one says in Chechnya today: homosexuals can not be suppressed, because they do not exist. This is the way the Catholic Church behaved.
How many homosexuals are there in the Catholic Church?
Nobody can tell you. There are no surveys. I can only g. Based guess. Based on my experience. I was in priestly seminaries, I taught. I have always lived among priests. I was not a monk who lived in a single monastery. I believe that, cautiously estimated, fifty percent of the Catholic clergy is homosexual.
The total population is assumed to be 10%.
The priesthood is a fantastic space to conceal homosexuality when it is not socially accepted. For this reason the priestly life attracts many homosexuals. It does not matter that you are not interested in women. One is always in male company.
A homophobic organization of homosexuals
This is the dilemma of the Church. Hence much of the suffering and despair of the priests. Homosexuals are persecuted and at the same time homosexuality is celebrated. Aesthetic. Pope Benedict XVI has greatly aggravated the hatred of homosexuals. At the same time, however, under his pontificate, it was as gay as never before in the modern age: the red shoes, the peaks, tassels, and fringes that were on display everywhere. “Soon we will all have to wear lace underwear,” one of the papal ceremonial masters complained. See for yourself on Youtube how Ratzinger and other dignitaries of the Vatican look at the naked torsos of the brother Pellegrini! That same Ratzinger writes that homosexuals can not love. They have, he says, only this morbid desire.
Perhaps the Ratzinger’s own – deep-rooted – life experience … He is doomed to non-love.
That I do not know. But I do know that is precisely the situation in which many thousands of priests find themselves. The situation I was in, it took very long before I realized: it is not homosexuality that is sinful, but the church. Many, many homosexual priests are very good priests.
You were a member of the Congregation for the Congregation for twelve years. You persecuted the devil on behalf of the church. Then, on October 3, 2015, you publicly declared to the world : I, Krzysztof Charamsa, Catholic priest and member of the Congregation of the Faith, am gay, and this is my partner, Eduard Planas, whom I love. You changed from Saul to Paul.
I inherited the place, which became free, when Georg Gänswein became Ratzinger’s private secretary. I inherited his computer, his office, his chair. Paul followed the truth. When he persecuted the Christians, he believed that he had to do so for the sake of the truth. Then he recognized his error and became a Christian. I thought God was against my homosexuality, so I fought it. Then I discovered that God had nothing against my homosexuality. He had given something against which my love was strugling. I was an official of a truth office, a Stasi. I was perfect in this office. I put together, for every question, the views that the Church had represented over the centuries. The new knowledge of science did not matter. The church was in possession of the truth. This treasure was to be lifted. I did not do that as a cynic. I did it because I believed in it.
This was the purpose from one minute to the next.
I had nothing but a suitcase and my husband. That was a liberation. And peace. The first time: peace. A new security. I am a believing man, so I know: That was a gift from God.
You always have to get everything from the top!
Yes, yes. Of course I also have to develop energy and strength. But they also come from God. Life needs a foundation. If you have that, you can let go. This was the experience of Paul. This was also my experience. But it took me a long time to realize that the ecclesiastical texts against homosexuality speak about me. In the Catechism, for example, it says of homosexual relations: “They violate the natural law, for the transmission of life is excluded in sexual act. They do not arise from a true affective and sexual supplementary need. They are in no way to be approved.” Today I know that the catechism preaches homophobia and not the love of God. That’s why I introduced my partner at my coming out. This was a theological statement. I wanted to make it clear: I’m not looking for sex. I’m looking for love. Sex I can have anywhere. For me, it’s about love. Homosexual love.
Is the doctrine that the Father has the Son nailed to the cross in order to save mankind, not unloving?
The suffering, the self-sacrificing God – that is the mystery of religion.
This God, who always kills whole tribes of nations, would not you weep for the dead of Sodom and Gomorrah?
It is impossible to understand how God can allow this. But I believe it is his respect for human freedom. His respect for our freedom. It is the limit of the action of God.
But the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah did not perish because they were fighting each other. God eradicated them.
In the Old Testament there is this image of God. Jesus corrects this. The relationship between God, suffering and freedom is the greatest question of religion. That is their secret. I took the liberty to first acknowledge my homosexuality before God. He accepted me. When I did it before the church, she rejected me.
Sodom and Gomorrah?
When you read the text in the Old Testament, it was not about homosexuality – the later tradition shifted the emphasis to the sexual – but about xenophobia and the refusal of hospitality. Lot receives the strangers, in truth God’s angels, with friendship and is attacked by his fellow citizens. It is – in this the story is quite topical – about the correct handling of refugees and migrants. The Sodom of today is my home country Poland. No one is willing to accept refugees. There is no place for a Syrian family in all Poland. Poland is Catholic, but no one opens strangers to his house. This is just one example of the terrible confusion in the Catholic Church.
GALA ND/SMC, the LGBT alumni group for the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, will be sponsoring a“Pilgrimage of Mercy” to celebrate and recognize LGBT faithful Catholics in the United States.
The pilgrimage is inspired by Pope Francis declaration last fall, “We are in the midst of anExtraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic faith”, decreed Pope Francis, during which we are to be “merciful like the Father” and perform acts of mercy and forgiveness to all.