Tag Archives: lgbt

Is Aquinas’ Natural Law Gay-friendly?

A book in French (“Amours“) by a noted Dominican theologian, an acknowledged expert on the work of Thomas Aquinas, argues that yes, indeed it is.

The only English reports about “Amours” that I’ve seen, have been hostile responses from the right. However, there’s no doubt that a gay friendly reading of Thomas is not only possible, but quite possibly more appropriate than the usual argument that same-sex relationships are contrary to natural law, and Oliva’s book is not the first to point this out – just the first to do so at length, and with such impeccable credentials.

The problem is that the critics cling to a few paragraphs about “sodomy” in the Summa, embracing Thomas’ conclusions, based on the state of knowledge in the 13th century – and totally ignore his method, which emphasises the importance of reason, and respect for the findings of science. If he were living today, with all the knowledge from natural and social science now available, he would surely have reached very different conclusions.

But even in his own time, according to Boswell some of his writing is indeed gay friendly, Even then, Boswell writes,Aquinas recognized that for some individuals, an attraction to the same sex is natural, and so not after all “against nature”.

“Thus it may happen that something which is against human nature, in regard to reason or to preservation of the body, may become natural to a particular man, owing to some defect of nature in him. The “defect” of nature should not be taken as implying some contravention of natural laws. Aquinas compares this sort of innate homosexuality to hot water. Although it is natural for water to be cold, it may be altogether natural in some circumstances, for it to become hot.Although it may not be natural for humans  in general to be homosexual, it is apparently entirely natural.for some particular individuals.”  (CSTH, p326).

In Aquinas’ view, moreover, everything which is in any way “natural” has a purpose, and the purpose is good: “Natural inclinations occur in things because of God, who moves all things…….. Whatever is the end of anything natural cannot be bad in itself, since everything which exists naturally us ordained by divine providence to fill some purpose”.  (CSTH, 327).

There seems to be much more interest these days in more sympathetic serious theology of same-sex relationships. It’s been suggested that one of the reasons the topic was largely ignored at the family synod assembly, was a recognition that the whole subject needs greater study, with due attention to the science, and to hearing the stories of gay people ourselves. I’m convinced that as this study proceeds, this gay friendly Thomism will indeed become “the wave of the future”

 (I’ll be looking for more reports of this, from less hostile sources)

Recommended Books

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay … of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality
Oliva, Adriano: Amours : L’église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (French Edition)

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European LGBT Christians Gather in Poland

I am now in Gdansk, in preparation for a five day annual conference of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups.

Meeting here in Gdansk is a notable achievement for the Polish LGBT group, “Faith and Rainbow“. While the push for LGBT equality and inclusion has made great strides in many parts of Western Europe and North America, even including lesbian and gay bishops, and same-sex church weddings in some denominations, progress in Eastern Europe, African and the Caribbean has lagged far behind. For Catholics, Poland is widely seen as a bastion of the most conservative  elements of the faith, especially on matters of faith and sexuality.

And yet, founded just a few years ago, Faith and Rainbow has made impressive progress, and can boast of some significant achievements, of which hosting this conference is just one example. In a recent report at the National Catholic Reporter in the importance to the churches of standing up against homophobia and transphobia, Sr Jeannine Gramick described how in a visit to Poland she had seen signs of increasing acceptance and support for LGBT people:

A reconciliation effort initiated by the Campaign against Homophobia called “Let’s Exchange a Sign of Peace,” featured billboards with two clasped hands — one with a rainbow bracelet and the other with a Catholic rosary. This social awareness campaign moved the hearts and minds of many Polish people (but not, unfortunately, the Polish bishops, who denounced the campaign.)

Poster reading “Let’s exchange the sign of peace” from a social awareness campaign in Poland by Campaign Against Homophobia.

I was surprised by the degree of openness and acceptance I found among the Polish people for their lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. Polish Catholics are emerging not only from the political stranglehold of communism, but also from the grip of their authoritarian and traditionalist religious culture. From them I learned that I, too, need to emerge from the iron grip of my own prejudices, my blind spots, and the beams in my own eye. I want to be more open to those who “rub me the wrong way” and to be more welcoming to those with whom I disagree. My visit to the Polish people filled me with hope that homophobia is gradually decreasing in unexpected places.

In the same NCR article, Sr Gramick also wrote about IDAHOT, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia – and how in Europe, there are often religious groups participating in IDAHOT events with religious services. (In Malta last year, a Catholic bishop led a Mass for IDAHOT).

She also described specifically an action undertaken by the European Forum of LGBT Christian groups – whose conference I am attending this week here in Gdansk, on behalf of Quest LGBT Catholics, . This is just one of many important and valuable projects of the Forum.

I’ll have more on these projects, and of the proceedings of the conference, as the week goes on.

English Bishops Oppose Homophobic Bullying

At Bondings 2.0, Francis DeBernardo has reported on a new manual produced for the English bishops on combating homophobia in Catholic schools. In his headline to the post, DeBernardo  describes this manual as a “gift to the church” (and so it is).

A new manual for Catholic school teachers in England and Wales on how to combat homophobia and biphobia has caused a bit of a minor controversy based on its origin, perhaps because the document offers strong practical advice on how to stop and prevent bullying of sexual minority students.

The document, entitled “Made in God’s Image:  Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools” was produced by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, in partnership with St. Mary’s University.

As one who has (twice) participated in Stonewall training to combat HBT (homophobic/biphobic/transphobic) bullying in English schools, I can confirm that much of this material is not just “similar” to the Stonewall material – it’s identical to some of what was used in Stonewall’s own training. Some other material consists of direct quotes from Stonewall publications in the public domain.

The desire to combat bullying is in fact clearly required by Catholic teaching, which insists on the obligation to oppose “violence or malice, whether in speech or in action”. It is for this reason that Quest (the British association for LGBT Catholics) has partnered with Stonewall to deliver their well-established training to Catholic schools, funded by the UK government Department of Education. What is helpful in this document from the Bishops, is that it provides useful faith-based material which will be helpful in adapting the standard Stonewall material, to make it more directly relevant to Catholic schools.

What I find particularly striking about this initiative, is that deliberately or not, the English bishops have in effect entered an informal partnership with Stonewall. Not long ago, there were widespread perceptions (on both sides of the divide) that Stonewall and the churches were necessarily in opposition to each other. From Stonewall’s side, under the leadership of the current CE Ruth Hunt, Stonewall is actively promoting alliances with faith-based LGBT groups. Now it seems that Catholic bishops too, are seeing value in Stonewall’s work to combat homophobia and bullying.

However, The Catholic Herald reports,that some critics have questioned who contributed to the document:

The critics said that portions of the document are very similar to anti-bullying materials produced by Stonewall and lgbtyouth Scotland, two leading UK LGBT equality organizations. Stonewall denied any involvement but said their materials are public and they’d be glad if their ideas were used by others.

What is most remarkable about this “controversy” is that the criticism seems intended to discredit what is a fine document on how to educate Catholic students about respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

It is extraordinary that some, who would certainly see themselves as “faithful” Catholics, should be so critical of an initiative by their bishops, that is so clearly in accordance with established Catholic teaching in opposition to “violence or malice, in speech or action”. The only possible explanation must be that the critics are so obsessed with their opposition to “homosexuality”, that they are unable to see or accept those elements of Catholic teaching that are in fact inclusive and welcoming.

We, on the other hand, must welcome this initiative of the Catholic bishops – with a single reservation. While this document is strong on the importance of combating homophobic bullying, it is completely silent on the increasingly pressing issue of transphobic bullying.

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The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils

This afternoon, I was up in London, talking to the staff of St Bonaventure’s Catholic secondary school about “The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support Lesbian and Gay Pupils”. Part of the headteacher’s regular program for staff continuing professional development, this kicked off the school’s annual commitment to LGBT  History Month.

I met the head,teacher, Paul Halliwell,  at Stonewall’s Education Day last October, where he was  a panellist in the Faith breakout group. Stonewall’s Dominic Arnall introduced him with glowing praise for the work that he has already done to promote LGBT inclusion in his Catholic school, St Bonaventure’s in Forest Gate Newham – and his leadership with other schools in the area. I was delighted to accept his invitation to bring a specifically Catholic dimension to his valuable work on LGBT protection and safeguarding.

This is what I said: Continue reading The Catholic Obligation to Protect and Support LGBT Pupils

The Papal Apology: Keep the Conversation Going.

Reports of Pope Francis’ apology to the gay community drew extensive commentary in the press, with divided responses from LGBT sources. There many statements that this was welcome, but also many who pointed out that the statement was limited, and just didn’t go far enough.

On Sunday (3rd July) I had the privilege of participating in a live TV discussion about this, on BBC1 (available here on BBC iPlayer, at 30:41 from the start, to about 42:30).

SML

For the benefit of readers unable to access iPlayer, here’s a summary of my contributions.

My first point was that this statement needs to be seen in a broader context. Coming from the pope, this attracted the attention, but there have been other apologies before, from both Protestant and Catholic leaders. When I was in Sweden for the European Forum of Lesbian and Gay Christian organizations,  the Bishop of Gothenburg said in his address to the opening ceremony that the Church should make an act of repentance to the LGBT community, for the past harm it has done to them. At the Family Synod in Rome last October, the entire group of German speaking bishops made a collective apology to lesbian and gay Catholics.

I went on to say that this apology was just one part of a much broader interview, which could explain why it was so brief – and so disappointed some LGBT Catholics. While welcoming the apology, some said that it should also have gone into some explanation of why the apology was needed, what needs to be done to prevent future harm, and how can we begin a process of healing. However, it’s important that the apology has been made, however limited it is at the stage.

After inviting contributions from the rest of the panel, the moderator brought up the popular but mistaken idea that homosexuality is regarded as immoral in Catholic teaching, asking me directly,  “Are you immoral?” My response was to point out that there is nothing in Church teaching against homosexuality – but only a few statements opposed to homosexual acts. The Church accepts that “homosexuality” as an orientation is entirely natural, and does not endorse attempts to change it.

There is of course, a great deal more than I could have said, given more time.  Even this simple idea that homosexual genital acts are contrary to Church teaching, is not as straightforward as it seems.  In a later discussion of the Anglican synod “Shared Conversations” process, I pointed out that this is not just about discussing “what the Bible says”, as one of the panellists had claimed, but also about hearing from the lived experience of lesbian and gay people themselves. To that, she quickly interrupted to talk about her second-hand experience of a gay man she knows, who she said had come to Christ and rejected his homosexual life. I deeply regret that I was not given the chance to reply that my own experience was the exact opposite: time had run out on us. Otherwise, I would have described how my attempt to live fully within the bounds of Church teaching on sex and marriage had left me steadily drifting away from all religious practice and belief. It was only later, after I had come to terms with my sexuality as an openly gay man in a committed, stable same-sex relationship, that I was able to return to the church. Since then, I have found, like many others, that fully embracing my sexuality in fact has enhanced my faith and my spirituality.

Looking back on my experience of how time severely limits how much one can say, I have more sympathy for Pope Francis’ failure to elaborate more fully in his apology. However, he has opened up a conversation. It’s now up to the rest of us, to keep that conversation going.

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“Amours”: A Supportive Reading of Aquinas

This book by an eminent theologian and expert on Aquinas caught my attention last year. Aquinas’ presentation of natural law theory is widely used as one of the cornerstones of traditional Catholic opposition to homosexuality, but in this book, Oliva finds a supportive reading. He notes that while Aquinas is clearly against same-sex genital acts in general, he does accept that for some people, an attraction to others of the same sex is entirely natural. Being a natural part of who they are, concludes Oliva, it is also natural, and acceptable, that they should express this in sexual love. This is not the first time the point has been made: John Boswell drew attention to it in his own discussion of Aquinas in “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality”, and Gareth Moore also touched on it in “A Question of Truth”. However, this is the first extended presentation, and the first by such a distinguished specialist on Thomas.
Oliva Amours





Continue reading “Amours”: A Supportive Reading of Aquinas

Cardinal Nichols’ Apology to “All Those Who Have Left in Tears”

For the Feast of All Saints on Sunday, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, issued a pastoral letter to be read in all churches of his diocese. Drawing attention to the synod’s emphasis on mercy and accompaniment for those in difficulty, he included in his letter a clear apology to “all those who have left in tears.”

Nichols

Continue reading Cardinal Nichols’ Apology to “All Those Who Have Left in Tears”

Renewed Focus, Renewed Energy at “The Queer Church”

It’s been a difficult year for me,  medically, spiritually and technically – but with your support, I’ve been dramatically reinvigorated, and found renewed clarity and focus.

It was just about a year ago that I learned that the supposed bowel problem that had been troubling me for months, was in fact a rare form of cancer, a massive GIST wrapped around my stomach. Getting to grips with that, and with the major surgery I will need sometime in the next 6-8 weeks, has been a journey and a half.

Even before the onset of the medical trouble, I had been deeply troubled by what I had been doing here at QTC and elsewhere – and what I should be doing. I was asking myself deep questions about my purpose, effectiveness, and priorities. I was also convinced that the troubling abdominal pains I was experiencing (due to the GIST) were in fact stress related.

Then came the technical trouble, when my primary site appears to have been hacked, and became no longer accessible. With difficulty, I was able to retrieve some of my historic material and repost at a new URL (this one), but not all of it. I came to wonder very seriously, whether perhaps it was time to stop, to set aside the keyboard, and attempt to experience for once, some real life, outside of faith and sexuality.

All that changed,  a month or two ago, when I agreed to take on two new challenges: editor of the Quest Bulletin, along with my existing role as Quest webmaster, and responsibility for the new websites (in three languages) for the new Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, which has its foundation conference in Rome next month, to coincide with the start of the bishops’ Family Synod, 2015. Continue reading Renewed Focus, Renewed Energy at “The Queer Church”

Evangelising at Pride.

Lifesite News once again has become hysterical that LGBT Catholics from the Jesuit parish at Farm Street joined the Gay Pride parade on Saturday, complaining that in doing so they would

march alongside homosexual and transsexual rights activists, “gay marriage” supporters, drag queens, and a host of semi-nude dancers and sadomasochistic displays, amongst others.

This is ignorant scaremongering drivel. Of course their were rights activists present – that’s what Pride is all about – and what the Catholic social Gospel proclaims, that we should be constantly on the side of justice for marginalised and oppressed peoples. But the “semi-nude dancers and sadomasochistic displays” were not nearly as prominent on the streets, as in Lifesite’s fevered imagination – and definitely not alongside us, or anywhere near.

In fact, the people we were marching “alongside” were more Christian and other faith – based groups. There was a large contingent from “Christians Together at Pride”, Unitarians, Quakers, Muslims and Jews. In addition to the group from Farm Street, were three other Catholic groups – the LGBT Catholic Young Adults Group, Quest, and Positive Catholics. This was simple evangelising, as called for by Pope Francis in “Evangelii Gaudium”, a call taken up by the English bishops with the “Proclaim 15” initiative – spreading the word to the LGBT community that they too, are loved by God

god loves everyone

Continue reading Evangelising at Pride.

Couples win right to challenge NI gay marriage ban

From RTE News

Two couples have cleared the first legal hurdle in their bid to challenge a ban on gay marriage in Northern Ireland.

A judge in Belfast High Court granted them leave to judicially review the refusal to legalise same sex marriage in the region.

Grainne Close and Shannon Sickles and Chris and Henry Flanagan-Kane are taking the joint action.

They were, respectively, the first and second couples in the UK to enter into a civil partnership after Northern Ireland became the first part of the UK to make that option available to same-sex couples in December 2005.

However, the Northern Ireland Assembly has rejected a proposal calling for the introduction of gay marriage on four occasions since, with unionists opposed to the move using a contentious voting mechanism to effectively veto it.

Following the “Yes” vote in May’s referendum on same-sex marriage in the Republic, Northern Ireland is now set to be the only part of the UK or Ireland where civil marriage is denied to gay couples.

Earlier this month, about 20,000 campaigners marched in Belfast city centre demanding a change in the law.

 – RTÉ News.