Tag Archives: testimony

“Queer and Catholic” – NOT a Contradiction

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.




Continue reading “Queer and Catholic” – NOT a Contradiction

“Positive Faith” – an HIV Video Resource

HIV/Aids is not a specifically gay problem. In Africa and elsewhere, it is primarily a heterosexual disease. However, in the UK, USA and other rich countries, for historical reasons it has disproportionately infected gay men. Among LGBT Catholics in these countries, a high proportion of our people have been affected (if not infected), through a disease which has hit their lovers, their families, their friends – or themselves. From the early days of what was known as “the plague”, LGBT Catholics and other Christians were prominent in offering help and support to those struggling with what was a life-threatening condition.

In London, the twin charities Positive Catholics and CAPS (Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support) have for years been delivering a great service to people affected, of all genders and sexual orientations, and including refugees and other migrants as well as local Brits.  In London last night, they launched a new extension to their service, a useful video resource.

In the clip above, founder of CAPS/Positive Catholics Vincent Manning introduces the service. Follow the Youtube channel, or this link, to see the rest.

Telling our LGBT stories is prophetic.

Telling our stories” is important because our experience directly contradicts the absurdities contained in official Vatican doctrines.

For example, the CDF “Letter to the bishops on the pastoral care of homosexual persons” consistently presents a false dichotomy, in which heterosexual relationships are described as loving, conjugal, mutual  self-giving, but the same-sex counterparts are seen as no more than indulgent self-gratification.

This is patently absurd. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention to the real world, that many heterosexual encounters are also no better than self gratification, or otherwise fall short of the noble ideal of loving, mutual self-giving. Conversely, the experience of many lesbian and gay Catholic couples shows very clearly that our relationships too, can be fully loving, mutual self giving.

Increasingly, some Catholic bishops are coming to understand this. During the 2015 bishops synod on marriage and family, Cardinal Christoph schonborn of Vienna described one gay couple he had come to know, and how their relationship was demonstrably about love and mutual support. As Fr James Martin SJ reports in his book Building a Bridge,

Around that time, Cardinal Schönborn spoke of a gay couple he knew who had transformed his understanding of LGBT people. He even offered some qualified praise for his friend’s same-sex union.

The cardinal said: “One shares one’s life, one shares the joys and sufferings, one helps one another. We must recognize that this person has made an important step for his own good and for the good of others, even though, of course, this is not a situation that the church can consider regular”.

It should come as no surprise that Cardinal Schonborn and others like him who have first hand knowledge of lesbian and gay couples, are in the forefront of Catholic leaders promoting improved pastoral support for LGBT Catholics, even to the extent of support for same sex unions. In the Protestant churches there are countless examples of pastors who have come to support gay marriage after conversations with gay couples in their congregations, which have shown them that these relationships have much in common with those pastors’ own marriages.

Telling our stories is furthermore important to bring home to our church leaders just how much existing doctrines are not merely misguided, but are also downright hurtful and damaging.  There is abundant statistical evidence that LGBT youth in particular have much higher rates of suicide, self harm and substance abuse than their straight peers. They are also more  likely to run away from home, and then perhaps to fall into prostitution as a means of simple survival. Furthermore, there exists solid research evidence that to some extent at least, these difficulties faced by LGBT youth are aggravated by real or perceived  church teaching and practice.

For still others, our stories tell of how the desire to comply has led us into inappropriate and ultimately destructive heterosexual marriages, or to simply walk away from the church entirely. Both of these are part of my own story.

In “Building a Bridge”, Fr James Martin S.J. expands on the established Catholic teaching that Catholics must show “respect compassion and sensitivity” to gay people, by pointing out that this is impossible without first listening to us and our stories. That, in turn, is impossible unless our stories are out there to be heard.

Related posts:

LGBT Catholics’ Prophetic Responsibility

Narrative theology: The value of LGBT lives

WHY Our Stories Matter

Our Stories As “Sacred Texts”.

Inspiring First Day for LGBT Catholic Global Conference

It’s been a superb, inspirational day in Rome, at the foundation conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

We began early with morning prayer (before breakfast), structured around some biblical texts on the importance of listening, followed by two reflections, and prayers of petition.

GNRC opening day

Following up on last night’s brief introductions, today our delegates introduced themselves, their countries and the groups they represent, speaking particularly to three topics:

  • What are the challenges you are facing?
  • What has been your greatest success?
  • What support / help do you need?

After these group presentations, we were invited to reflect on, and digest what we had heard. Continue reading Inspiring First Day for LGBT Catholic Global Conference

WHY Our Stories Matter

I wrote yesterday about the new attention some theologians are paying to “narrative theology”, which draws on people’s life experience in their real world situations as a source for theological reflection. The importance of this was highlighted in the Rome study day for selected bishops from Germany, France and Switzerland in preparation for the 2015 Family Synod, when a third of the programme (and two of the six papers) were devoted to it.

One of these papers, by Prof Dr Alain Thomasett SJ of the University of Paris, had the title Taking into account of the history and biographical developments of the moral life and the pastoral care of the family”.  In this paper, Thomasett tackles head on the challenge presented by what Catholic doctrine  describe as “intrinsically evil” sexual acts, and the difficulties this doctrine presents for many Catholics in real life situation. This difficulty certainly troubles gay and lesbian Catholics, but not only them. (Thomasett also refers directly to those who have divorced and remarried, who will be a central focus of the Synod, and to married couples practicing contraception). The key to resolving the problem, he argues, lies in making a firm distinction between objective judgement of the acts, and the moral culpability of the people, which can only be assessed in the context of their particular situations and purpose. Continue reading WHY Our Stories Matter

Jeremiah’s Return

Over at Gospel for Gays, Jeremiah has written of his own return to the Catholic Church.  After being driven away originally in anger a the Canadian Bishops over their opposition to gay marriage he returned eventually after a discussion with a local pastor. Much of his experience resonates with mine:  the emphasis on the local parish (I and many others have never encountered any hostility in local parishes);  and his belief in dealing with the official church by living in constant conversation with the Holy Spirit. Extracted from “My Return”:

But do you ever really quit the church?  In my case, probably not.  I maintained a life rooted in prayer and scripture; I kept visiting a formal spiritual director, in his last terrible illness; in 2006 I made the first leg of the Camino de Compostela, beginning in the old medieval town of Vezaley in central France.

And little by little, I missed belonging to a deeper community, a community based on shared faith, a community centred on radical love – whatever its failings.  I fail too.

I tried alternatives, especially gay alternatives, but they seemed poor substitutes to me:  well meaning but, frankly, shallow.

So I decided to return.

*

But how?

Was there a place for an openly gay man in this community whose teachings on sexuality were focused on procreation to the exclusion of other possibilities?  That see gayness as an inclination toward an objective evil; that believes gay unions to be wrong, and societally dangerous?

Anglicanism offered a possible alternative for some – but not for me.  I watch with sympathetic sorrow as that kindred communion tears itself apart over the acceptance of gays.

I checked out my former parish, a famously liberal one, a wonderful place where gays and lesbians are “accepted”.  As in “Don’t worry about the mean old Vatican or the bishops:  we accept you, we love you, you’re welcome here.”

That’s very nice – but who is “we”?  I don’t want to be part of a splinter group.  I don’t want to belong to a ghetto.

*

I felt drawn to the serene and contemplative liturgies of a local monastic parish – but I was determined to establish some form of reciprocal relationship from the outset.  So I made an appointment with the pastor to introduce myself.

“I feel drawn to this parish,” I told him.  “I am a gay man.  I respect the teachings of the church, and I understand that Rome must be Rome.  But I also seek respect as a gay man.  Am I welcome here?”

Without hesitation, he said:  “Of course.  You’re right.  Rome must be Rome.  But there is also the doctrine of individual conscience, which is inviolable.”

A light came on for me when he said that.

*

I understood that there will always be conflict between formal church positions and the daily struggles of individual Catholics – and it’s a healthy tension.  The individual conscience is a crucible, where the demands of faith meet the issues of experience, and where each of us work out our salvation.  In fear and trembling – yes; but also with courage and joy.

I understood that living the Faith is not a matter of meekly following a bunch of rules written by somebody else, for fear of making a mistake – but rather, a matter of daring to live in a kind of constant conversation with the Spirit.  Informed by church teachings of course – since they represent the wisdom of the centuries; but informed also by the challenges and needs and gifts that God gives to me each moment.  Informed by who I am, by the unique individual he has created in me.

So I returned – not as a furtive and shamefaced creature, and not as a man gripped by anger at an uncomprehending institution.  I returned merely as myself, feeling very much a member of a pilgrim community.”

A “pilgrim community”.  So should we all strive to be.

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New Mexico Religious Leaders in Support of Gay Marriage
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Natural Law, Pure Reason and Vatican Jargon.

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Sharing our Stories

In Redemptive Intimacy, Dick Westley argues persuasively that revelation is constantly being unfolded for us by the Holy Spirit, and that one way that the church can interpret this continuing revelation for our times is by listening carefully to our personal experiences, as revealed by honest and frank sharing in trusting small faith communities.  When I first encountered this idea, it hit me like a bombshell, but it is one I have come to hold dear (and I have since discovered is a completely orthodox notion).

It was very much in that spirit that I launched this site 6 months ago, so I was delighted earlier today to find a comment posted by Jeremiah, with some kind words, but also noting:

“…as Jim Alison teaches, we are NOT manifestations of a ‘disorder’; and therefore, our insights, our experience, our unique and gay approach to the Gospel have great value.

In that gay spirit I’ve just launched a site for shared reflections and experience.”

I have since had a look at Jeremiah’s site, “Gospel for Gays”,  which I found impressive.  It is technically polished, with great starting content.  I was particularly pleased to see how neatly it complements this site, with a strong emphasis on Gospel reflection, which I have long recognised as a glaring weakness on Queering the Church.   (Go ahead, take a look for yourself)

Jeremiah’s second emphasis is on sharing stories, beginning with his own.  I will shortly be adding a version of my own story, and urge you all to do the same.  We need to do more though:  in addition to sharing experiences, we need to add also reflections, beliefs and perspectives.  When I set up QTC, I specifically did not want it to become purely a personal soapbox, but envisaged it developing in time into a shared community resource. I invited my readers at the outset to share stories or other input.  As yet, I have had very limited contributions (thank you, Rob in Woking), but this was probably to be expected for a new venture.

Since then, I have seen the total page views pass the 5000 mark (thank you, all), with something over 500 sufficiently interested to come back for at least a second look, and a good share of those spending several hours on the site, over regular visits.   So I repeat my original invitation:  to any one who would likke to make a contribution, large or small, I undertake to publish.   My only stipulation is that these should be courteous and sincere, and at least coherent. They emphatically do not need to reproduce my own viewpoints – indeed, I would particularly welcome diverging voices.  Among my 500 + repeat readers, surely some of you have something to say?

I am now waiting for your contributions.

(If you’re interested, just add a comment below.  I will get back to you on how we can proceed)




Recommended Books

Ford, Michael: Disclosures

McGinley, Dugan: Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Texts

Stuart, Elizabeth: Chosen: Gay Catholic Priests Tell Their Stories

Westley, Dick: Redemptive Intimacy: A New Perspective for the Journey to Adult Faith

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My Journey in Faith  

 One of my readers has asked in a comment to meet and interview me about my experiences as a gay Catholic. In preparation for this meeting, I have put together a brief description of the key influences on my journey in faith, which I now share with you all.

Childhood & Education

I was born in a Catholic family in South Africa, and educated entirely in Catholic schools.  In particular, my secondary schooling was in a small school run by priests, in the ears immediately following Vatican II.  For 5 years, religious instruction was a daily part of the school syllabus, delivered by a man with a strong commitment to the VII reforms, and (for the time) an unusual emphasis on Scripture. I remember in particular an extended period of instruction on Biblical ideas on the nature of God, along the lines of “God is…..” , such as “God is Truth”, “God is Life”, “God is Light”, “God is Hope”, “God is Wisdom”, and above all, “God is Love.”   For each of these statements, we laboriously wrote out and memorised endless biblical texts in support of these themes, together with their chapter and verse references.   I regret that I no longer remember any more than a handful of these texts, but they strongly coloured my perceptions of the nature of God. If I have forgotten the details of the texts, I clearly remember and treasure the themes, as listed above.

At university, my religious education was continued less formally by active participation in student Catholic societies.  Against the background of strong student opposition to expanding apartheid repression, I developed a strong commitment to the social Gospel, and was influenced by ideas around liberation theology and what later became known as contextual theology.

Sexual Awareness & Marriage

From a very early age, I was aware that in many ways I was ‘different’ from other boys, sharing several interests more usually found in girls.  Through adolescence, I came to realise that this was based on sexual attraction to boys, and began to wonder seriously if I might really be ‘homosexual’.  By the time I reached university, I clearly recognised my ‘inclinations’ but very conscious of Catholic teaching on sex, attempted to repress them.  I then, with far too little thought or premeditation, at a young age rushed into marriage to an equally young Catholic woman. Adhering to Catholic teaching on contraception, two young daughters followed soon after.  The experience of parenthood while still very young, before either of us was properly ready for it emotionally or financially, soon placed the marriage under increasing stress.




After marriage, I found I was drifting gradually away from the church, attended Mass less and less regularly, and stopped receiving the sacraments altogether, largely over issues around sexual guilt.  In time, I came to see myself as specifically ‘agnostic’. (It is worth spelling this out now:  my clear attempts to follow church teaching on sex, from masturbation to premarital sex and contraception, led me into an inappropriate marriage, premature fatherhood, and in time to movement away from the Church, towards avowed agnosticism.)

After marriage, I found I was drifting gradually away from the church, attended Mass less and less regularly, and stopped receiving the sacraments altogether, largely over issues around sexual guilt.  In time, I came to see myself as specifically ‘agnostic’. (It is worth spelling this out now:  my clear attempts to follow church teaching on sex, from masturbation to premarital sex and contraception, led me into an inappropriate marriage, premature fatherhood, and in time to movement away from the Church, towards avowed agnosticism.)

Coming Out.

During the gradual breakdown of my marriage, I came increasingly to recognise that I was ‘probably’ primarily homosexual.  Once the marriage had ended, I finally recognised the truth, and came out:  first to myself, and then to others.  I became active in ‘Gasa Rand’ – the local gay activist association – where I met Bruce, who became a major part of my life for nearly 20 years.  During the time leading up to and after coming out, I sought out and read as much as I could find on ‘gay lit’, including fiction, gay history, and gay politics.  In South Africa in the 1980’s available supplies were limited (a function of censorship, significant relative expense, and a small market).  Still, my reading became extensive, if eclectic.

A year after meeting Bruce, we moved in together (sharing our lives for the next 18 years).  At the time we met, he too was not practicing any religion, but had been raised an Anglican. (As a young man, he had thought of becoming a monk) After a few years together, he began to attend church services once again, in an Anglo-Catholic parish.  Later, he became more interested in Catholicism, and began to attend the Latin Mass of the ‘traditional’ Catholics.

This left me increasingly uncomfortable, because it through into the foreground my conflict with the church over sexuality, and because the traditional Catholics offended my strong Vatican II sympathies.  Still, we agreed to differ on religion, while agreeing that in spite of religious teaching, homosexuality itself was not intrinsically immoral, and that our relationship, being committed and monogamous, was as valid as any legal marriage.

Return to the Church

Later, there came a point when I considered returning to the Church.  I learned that a former student friend had become a Jesuit priest, and was then parish priest in the university parish where I had been many years earlier. I went to see him to discuss my reservations.  Among the very important observations he made were that faith was a matter of experience, not of reason or dogma; that I should not prejudge the Lord’s (or the Church’s) response  to my sexuality;  but that he personally did not believe the Lord would expect me in a committed and loving relationship, to live to harsher standards than anyone else.  Above all, he urged me to make a leap in faith, and see how things worked out, which is what I did.

The resulting experience was wholly positive and enriching.

When I told Bruce that I was thinking of returning to church, he immediately responded that he would abandon the traditional Catholics and join me at that same university parish.  My daughter Barbara, who by that time was herself a student and was then living with us to attend uni, also said that she would like to join us, and so we began regular Mass attendance as a family. Over the years, we were both drawn ever deeper into the life of the parish, assisting in many branches of parish life, and even serving together for several years on the Parish Pastoral Council.  Although we very much visible as a couple, in a relationship that was obvious to all, we found no hostility from anyone, and a very warm welcome from many.

As a Jesuit parish, we were also drawn gradually into exploration of Ignatian spirituality, and in time into deeper exploration thereof in the Christian Life Community (“CLC”).  Amongst the key Ignatian ideas that became of great importance to me were:

– the idea that the Holy Spirit is constantly attempting to communicate with us.  By learning to read, or ‘discern’ the movement of the Spirit within our hearts, we can come to hear God speaking to us directly;

– the importance of regular (ideally daily) ‘examen’ of consciousness.  This is a form of prayer, in which we reflect on our experience and the resultant emotions, in order to discern those movements of the Spirit.

-‘Ignatian indifference’:  the idea that the moral value of things or states lies not in themselves, but in what we do with them, and how we apply them to building God’s Kingdom on earth.  (The “Principle & Foundation” speaks of “seeking neither riches nor poverty, neither sickness nor health”)

– the value of communal sharing and reflection with others, to assist in the process of discernment

– ‘Mission’:  the idea that the Lord has a unique task for each of us, with which we are sent into the world to do his will.

A further idea that hit me with powerful force was not specifically Ignatian, although I did first encounter it in the CLC group.  This was the argument promoted in the book ‘Redemptive Intimacy’ by Dick Westley, that revelation is not something that was given in biblical times, and then static, but is continually unfolded by the Holy Spirit, and needs to be constantly reinterpreted for changing times.  (I have since learnt that this idea is widely accepted by theologians, and was restated by Benedict XVI in one of his Christmas addresses). Westley argues that all of us, laity as well as clergy, have a part to play in interpreting this unfolding revelation by communal sharing and reflection on our experiences.  In short, theology is constantly being remade, and we all have a part to play in making it.

Under the impact of Ignatian ideas, I regularly took into prayer, alone, under the guidance of Spiritual Direction, or on silent, directed retreat, the whole question of sexuality and faith.  On every occasion, the resulting conclusion was that I was reaffirmed in my existing conviction that homosexual expression in my relationship was not sinful, but on the contrary was good and life-giving. (I did not then explore issues of sex outside such a relationship).

Emigration

Eventually, we both reached a decision, taken after extensive research, thought and prayerful discernment, to leave South Africa and to emigrate to the UK.  We were then both teachers, and before departure secured posts in English schools.  However, the school year had barely begun when Bruce concluded that he had made a mistake in emigrating, and after a few months returned to Johannesburg.  I reached a different conclusion, and remained behind.

This put me into a very difficult emotional position, having to deal alone with the simultaneous stresses of adjusting to emigration, the sudden break-up of a long relationship, coping with a dramatically new and different school environment with more challenging pupil behaviour, and adjusting as a single person to dramatically different financial calculations to those I had expected.  All this in a country I did not know, where I had no personal friends, and indeed knew nobody other than school colleagues, and (fortunately) my daughter Robynn, who had preceded me to London a year before my own move.

With no existing support system, I deliberately set out to create one.  I sought out my local parish and parish priest (but signally failed to find the sort of community I had previously been accustomed to).  I joined a local gay friendship group, and signed on to Gaydar internet dating.  In time, I met up with the Soho Masses where I found a very strong welcome and sense of community, and where I became a regular participant.

Once again, I was forced to reconsider the question of reconciling faith and sexuality.  I took myself off to a rural monastery for a short private retreat, and steeped myself in prayer.  Once again, I found myself reaffirmed in the belief that my sexuality was not intrinsically immoral, and this time more:  I began to believe that finding other gay Catholics and working together with them for mutual support, was an important part of the ‘mission’ that I needed to undertake, indeed, was part of the reason that God’s plan had brought me here.

Reflecting on my experiences in the (gay) support network I was developing, as well as the few sexual experiences I had found, I saw that some of these at least had been enormously beneficial – good sex can be a powerful antidepressant.  And so, I came to recognise, in the light of experience and discernment, that sex does not necessarily have to be in the context of a relationship to be healthy and valid.  (But also, that not all sex is good).

Soho Masses

I have now been attending these regularly for almost 6 years, even though the journey into Soho from my home in Surrey is time consuming (for every Mass or meeting I set aside 4 hours total travelling time).  I have been gradually drawn ever deeper into the activities, first as a reader, then as a Eucharistic Minister, and then as a member of the Pastoral Council.  I have also joined other lesbian & gay Catholics in London’s annual Gay Pride March through central London.

The rewards are incalculable.

First of these is the Mass itself, which is always uniquely rewarding:  the liturgy is invariably rich, the homilies intelligent and thought provoking, the congregational singing vigorous and the occasional additional music superb.  The welcome, sense of community, and friendships formed are invaluable.

There have been specific, less routine highlights. First, I was privileged to have been serving on the Pastoral Council when the Diocese approached us about a move from the Anglican premises we had been using to a Catholic parish, and so was drawn into those negotiations, and into the process of discernment within our congregation of the most appropriate response.

In an ongoing attempt to wrestle with the tension between the gift of sexuality that the Lord has given me, and the formal teaching of the church, I have been deeply grateful for the extensive reading lists and direct access to selected books for sale, that I have had access to through the Masses.  These have been complemented by some intensely moving workshops, retreats, lectures and days of recollection on ‘matters Catholic and gay.’

At a strictly personal level, it was emotionally gratifying when my new partner (an Anglican) joined me for some of the Masses at our former home at St Anne’s, and when the civil partnership we entered into a few years back was noted in the bidding prayers.

A Paradox.

Arising out of the negotiations concluded with the diocese, there is one important paradox and source of tension.

During the discussions, it was made clear that the diocesan expectation was that the Masses should be strictly ‘pastoral’, and should not be used for ‘campaigning’ against church teaching.  This we were (broadly) happy to accept, although there was never any clarification of just what was meant by the terms. It is my belief that the distinction between them is not nearly as clear cut as the Bishops seem to assume. Also, the public statements from the Cardinal at the time and after clearly stated that there would be an expectation that those living would be living ‘in accordance with Catholic teaching’, that there would be no ‘ambiguity’ in our presentation of church teaching, which should be presented ‘in full’.

This presents an obvious paradox, as many of us, including myself, appear to be living in a manner clearly in conflict with official teaching, and some of us believe that we have a moral obligation to other LGBT Catholics to provide them with sound counter arguments to official teaching, and also to work towards changing this teaching.  (Does this constitute ‘campaigning’ against the teaching, or contributing to the development of new theology?)

Part of this tension, on living in accordance with teaching, I resolve precisely by looking to the teaching ‘in full’:  that is by looking not only at sexual theology in isolation, but also at teaching on conscience, on justice and peace, on how the process of making theology works, at the contextual background and history of how the theology was developed, and on the importance of prayer and personal discernment in the formation of conscience.  Against this wider background, I would argue that I am living not in a state of sanctity or free of sin, but certainly in as much accordance with church teaching as most other Catholics  – and with somewhat more reading and reflection than the average behind my decisions.

The second part, the restriction on using the Masses for ‘campaigning’, I resolve by recognising first, that in a very real sense the pastoral is political: our simple presence makes an important statement.  But further, there remains, I believe, an obligation to work more directly and actively towards countering and changing the standard official teaching.  This I resolve by separating my activities with the Masses, and elsewhere.  Specifically, it is to play my part in this respect that I set up this blog in the first place.

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