Tag Archives: lgbt

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.

Related Posts:

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.

Related Posts

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.

Polish Archdiocese Retracts Invitation for LGBT Pastoral Discussion

From the Tablet News

Westminster LGBT representative ‘snubbed by Krakow archdiocese’ on visit to encourage pastoral care

11 May 2015 14:23 by Paul Wilkinson

A member of the Catholic lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community in London has claimed he was snubbed by Polish church leaders during a visit last month.

Martin Pendergast, from the Westminster diocese, said his invitation to meet Krakow diocese representatives to discuss LGBT pastoral care was suddenly withdrawn, despite Cardinal Vincent Nichols providing a letter of introduction to Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Archbishop of Krakow.

Mr Pendergast said that although he knew that neither Cardinal Dziwisz nor his auxiliary, Bishop Grzegorz Rys, would be in Krakow at the time, it was agreed he would meet with diocesan officials. He said: “A range of excuses for cancellation was offered but successively contradicted – Cardinal Nichols’ letter of introduction had not been received, nobody was available for such a meeting, and finally that I and my hosts had failed to arrive.”

via The Tablet – News.

The Story of the Queer Saints and Martyrs

Prequel: Before Christianity

Studies of the animal kingdom, and of non-Western and pre-industrial societies show clearly that there is no single “natural” form for either human or animal sexuality. Homosexual activity  has been described by science for all divisions of the animal kingdom, in all periods of history, and in all regions of the world. Most religions recognise this. The monotheistic Christian religion teaches that God made us in His own image and likeness – but other religions, when they attempted to picture their many gods and goddesses, created their gods in human image and likeness, and so incorporated into their pantheon many gods who had sex with males – either divine or human.

The Hebrews’ concept of a single all-powerful God did not incorporate any concept of divine sexuality, but they did include into their Scriptures numerous passages that describe same sex loving relationships  as well as the books of the prophets who were eunuchs.

The Christian Gospels offer tantalizing hints at Jesus’ own sexuality which may have included some male love interest. However, more directly relevant to us are His teaching and example , which clearly show that His message is an inclusive one, that quite explicitly does include sexual minorities of all kinds.

After the Gospels, the most important Christian writings are the letters of Paul, who has a reputation as strongly condemning same sex behaviour – but a more careful consideration of his life as well as his letters, in their own context, can offer a different perspective.

The Early Christians.

The cultural context of the early was one where  they were political and even social outcasts, in a society of a bewildering range of attitudes to sexuality, ranging from substantial sexual licence for Roman citizens, to negligible freedom of sexual choice for slaves, to sexual abstemiousness for those influenced by Greek stoicism. The stories of queer saints that come down to us include those of martyred Roman soldiers, martyred Roman women, bishops who wrote skilled erotic poems, and (especially in the Eastern regions), cross-dressing monks.

In addition to the examples of individuals who were honoured as saints, there are also important examples from Church practice. Evidence from archaeology and written records shows clearly that from the late Roman period onwards, the Church made liturgical provision for the recognition of same sex couples. From Macedonia, there is extensive evidence of Christian same sex couples who were buried in shared graves. More telling evidence for church recognition of same sex couples comes from the existence of formal liturgical rites for blessing their unions. In the Eastern Church, these rites (known as “adelphopoeisis”)  date from the late Roman period. In the Western Church, where the evidence begins a little later, they were known as making of “sworn brothers”.

Medieval Homoeroticism

The early Middle Ages were once known as the “Dark Ages”, a disparaging term, which nevertheless is descriptive of the murky information we have about the saints: some of what is commonly believed about these saints is clearly mythical. Nevertheless, knowledge of the queer associations of saints like Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, George the dragon slayer and “Good King Wenceslas” is simple fun – and literal, historical truth or not, can provide useful material for reflection.

This period is also notable for the widespread use of specific liturgies for blessing same sex unions in Church. Even if these unions are not directly comparable with modern marriage, understanding of this recognition by the church deserves careful consideration, for the guidance it can offer the modern church on dealing with recognition for same sex relationships.

By the time of the High Middle Ages, influenced by increasing urbanization and greater familiarity with more homoerotic Muslim civilization, the earlier moderate opposition and grudging toleration of same sex love softened to a more open tolerance, with some remarkable monastic love letters with homoerotic imagery, more erotic poetry, and acceptance of open sexual relationships even for prominent bishops  and abbots – especially if they had suitable royal collections.

It was also a time of powerful women in the church, as abbesses who sometimes even had authority over their local bishops.

However, the increase in open sexual relationships among some monastic groups also led to a reaction, with some theologians starting to agitate for much harsher penalties against “sodomites”, especially among the clergy. Initially, these pleas for a harsher, anti-homosexual regime met with limited support – but bore fruit a couple of centuries later, with disastrous effects which were felt right through to the present day – and especially the twentieth century.

The Great Persecution

Symbolically, the great change can be seen as the martyrdom of Joan of Arc – martyred not for the Church, but by the Church, for reasons that combined charges of heresy with her cross-dressing. A combination of charges of heresy and “sodomy” were also the pretext for the persecution and trials of the Knights Templar – masking the naked greed of the secular and clerical powers which profited thereby. The same confusion of “sodomy” and heresy led to an expansion of the persecution from the Templars to wider group, and  also the expansion of the methods and geographic extent, culminating in the executions of thousands of alleged “sodomites” across many regions of Europe. This persecution was initially encouraged or conducted by the Inquisition, later by secular authorities alone – but conducted according to what the church had taught them was a religious justification. Even today, the belief that religion justifies homophobic violence is often given as a motivation by the perpetrators – and the fires that burned the sodomites of the fifteenth century had a tragic echo in the gay holocaust of the second world war.

Yet even at the height of the persecution, there was the paradox of a succession of  popes, who either had well-documented relationships with boys or men,  or commissioned frankly homoerotic art from renowned Renaissance artists, which continues to decorate Vatican architecture. This period exemplifies the continuing hypocrisy of an outwardly homophobic, internally.

Modern Martyrs, Modern Revival

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. Other denominations drove out existing gay or lesbian pastors, and refused ordination, or even church membership, to other openly gay or lesbian church members. 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.

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 recognized and canonized saints, but is a calling to which we must all aspire. For queers in Church, it is especially a day for us to remember our modern heroes, who in facing and overcoming their attempted silencing are martyrs of the modern church – and that we, too, are called to martyrdom, in its literal sense: to bear witness, in our lives, to our truth.