Thursday, 30 September 2010

Mormon Prop 8 Apology: A Lesson for Minnesota's Catholic Bishops

As the Minnesota bishops prepare for their determined campaign to prevent marriage equality in their state, they would do well to reflect on the experience of the Mormons in California over Prop 8. As is well known, the Mormons, like the institutional Catholic Church, were among the mainstay of the opposition to equality, donating substantial sums in cash and in kind to funding support for the ballot initiative.

Since the vote, there have been numerous indications that the Mormon leaders have begun to recognize the hurt their actions have caused to their own members. (I would be surprised if the Mormons were to make the same mistake again). In the clearest demonstration yet of this change of heart, a senior member of the Church  has apologised to lesbian and gay Mormons of California. In a move that Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches correctly describes as historic, the leader of the church in California invited Elder Marlin K Jensen to a meeting to hear the stories of pain and suffering the Church had caused to gay and lesbian Mormons, not just by the support for Prop 8, but by its entire approach to homosexuals and their place in the Church. At the conclusion of this testimony  - Elder Jensen apologized.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Church Idiocy in Minnesota.

Dunces and Scholars: Which Cap Fits Archbishop Nienstedt?
I've been wanting to write about the misdirected Catholic expenditure, by the Knights of Columbus and now by the diocese of Minneapolis St Paul, to fight gay marriage. Michael J. Bayly (who is right there in the Twin Cities) at The Wild Reed has correctly called the Minnesota campaign a scandal:

Thursday, 23 September 2010

“Out of the Shadows, Into the Light”:Blessed John Henry Newman, Soho "Gay" Masses

Last Sunday I went up to London for one of the regular LGBT – oriented “Soho Masses”. Earlier in the day, Pope Benedict had conducted the beatification service for Cardinal John Henry Newman. Cardinal Newman is now officially Blessed John Henry – and so the liturgy for used our Mass was, quite appropriately, the newly minted liturgy for his festal day.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

DIY Catholicism: Twin Cities "Synod of the Baptized".

The "whole church" self-evidently includes many more people than simply the self-appointed oligarchy of bishops and their clergy, but the Vatican has never made any serious effort to involve the rest of us in the affairs of the Church - beyond serving as fund-raisers and cheap labour for the simpler tasks. Questions of serious planning and decision-taking it keeps very carefully to its own. However, as I have noted frequently, there are abundant and increasing signs that ordinary Catholics, lay people, religious women, married priests now outside of institutional control, and some more progressive regular priests are recognizing the importance of making a full contribution to the life of the Church. Where they are not being properly involved by the institutional oligarchy, they are simply doing it for themselves.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="461" caption="One part of the "whole church", called into mission."][/caption]

One of the more impressive examples of this comes from the diocese of Minneapolis / St Paul, which has just brought to fruition their very successful "Synod of the Baptized". This has been the fruit of long months of hard work and preparation, so I was delighted to read how well the event seems to have gone off - and that the team are already engaged in planning for the next stage.

Taken from the Progressive Catholic Voice, these are some extracts from a report by Paula Ruddy:

Monday, 20 September 2010

LGBT Inclusion in Church: A Study in Contrasts

In Minneapolis, we have a fascinating study in contrasts, which illustrate the differences between churches, and divisions within them, on LGBT inclusion in Church. reports on a Lutheran celebration for lesbian pastors who can finally be formally recognized within the ECLA structures :
3 Lesbian Pastors Join Lutheran Roster 
In Minn. Saturday was a historical day for many Twin Cities Lutherans who believe people shouldn't have to choose between sexuality and spirituality.
Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) presided over a St. Paul ceremony that officially received three openly lesbian pastors onto the denomination's roster. Pastors Anita C. Hill, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart took part in a rite of reception service Saturday at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul.
Pastors Anita C. Hill, Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart took part in a rite of reception service Saturday at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul on Sept. 18, 2010. 

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Queer Ministry & Reconciliation

The principle of reconciliation is an important one in Christian and Catholic theology. For those denominations that are already starting to move beyond the historic automatic exclusion of lesbian, gay or trans Christians from full participation, there is a great need for formal procedures of reconciliation to help heal the pain, and to bring together in Christian unity those who may have previously been bitter adversaries in the struggle over major church decisions. The Catholic church, like others which are lagging behind, does not (yet) have this problem, but it will do when it is eventually forced to face the reality that its own members have moved way ahead of it.
For some insight into how one congregation that was directly affected by the earlier pain of struggle, read St Paul Rite of Reconciliation at "Spirit of a Liberal":
Ruth Frost, Anita Hill, and Phyllis Zillhart are three women well known in ELCA circles for their boundary breaking courage.  All three are lesbian clergy who bucked the system despite the certainty of official ELCA sanctions and personal opprobriation.   Here are snippets from a sermon delivered by Pastor Hill following one public act of civil disobedience against the former ELCA policies toward gay clergy:
There was disapproval raining down on our heads …  I heard the tension in the murmurs and groans of many voting members. … We risked our reputations, risked losing the respect of the church we’ve been nurtured in along with our families for generations.
Ruth and Phyllis are a lesbian couple who made national news in 1990 by accepting a joint call to the ministry as co-pastors of St Francis Lutheran Church of San Francisco.  In response, the ELCA kicked the congregation out of the denomination, and refused to recognize the ordinations of the two women.  This was the beginning of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM); by the time of the ELCA Church Wide Assembly of 2009 (CWA09) when the voting members reversed the restrictive LGBTQ ministry policies, ELM had ordained thirty or so extraordinary persons extraordinarily.  Here is a video about the historic events of twenty years ago.
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Saturday, 18 September 2010

Conscience Formation, Spiritual Formation, and The Holy Spirit

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"]A dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, who is be...[/caption]

David Ludescher, a regular OT reader, has put to me some important questions on the formation of conscience. These arose in response to my post on empirical research findings on the current state of British Catholic belief, and some observations I made on the implications for our understanding of the sensus fidelium (on sexual ethics and priestly ministry in particular).

These questions were put in a comment box, which I have reproduced in an independent post for easy reference. Just follow the link to read the questions in full. This is my response:

Friday, 17 September 2010

Blessing Same-Sex Unions, in Church: Episcopalians move in W Virginia

If same-sex civil marriage is a contentious subject in many Christian churches, the idea of giving formal church blessing to such unions is even more so. Some denominations, and some congregations and dioceses though are seeking ways to bridge the divides while still moving forward, towards full inclusion. One of the ways that some are doing this is by simply recognizing the diversity of views that exist, and making provision for local decision taking, rather than trying to impose one universal standard across an entire denomination – or even an entire diocese.

In West Virginia, a resolution by the Episcopalian diocese does just this, recommending that local communities be permitted (not compelled) to conduct same-sex blessings. This is a recommendation to the bishop, not a binding mandate, but will have significance all the same even if the bishop rejects the advice. IT is one more sign of the remarkable spread, in many denominations, of widespread acceptance of the principle of LGBT inclusion in church.

The resolution was submitted by the Rev. Ann Lovejoy Johnson, associate rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Charleston. It "urges our Bishop to honor same-gender relationships by supporting public rites for the blessing of same-gender relationships in congregations where such blessings are supported and so desired."

Another resolution passed at the 133rd annual diocesan convention urged Klusmeyer to encourage the Legislature to include protections for gays and lesbians in the state Human Rights Act and state hate crimes statutes.

 A decisive factor in the decision was the personal testimony of a lesbian pastor:

However, an ordained minister who works at the women's federal prison in Alderson and who has a lesbian partner, stood up and shared her personal story with convention members.

"After she spoke, a majority of people gave her a standing ovation," said Walker.

(Full report at Charleston Gazette)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Minnesota Catholics For, Against Gay Marriage

The Minnesota Independent is reporting that "Catholic bishops preparing anti-gay marriage campaign in Minnesota". The opposition of Catholic bishops to same-sex marriage is well-known and will surprise no-one. What is interesting here is that they see the need for a campaign, that there is a real prospect of marriage equality coming to Minnesota that they believe is a credible threat they need to guard against. They will not have it all their own way.

"Minnesota Catholics Supporting Equality - Twin Cities Pride, 2009"

What Irish Catholics Believe

This is getting monotonous, but it must be stated again. What Catholics believe and practice on matters of sexual ethics, as a matter of empirical fact, is simply not what the (nominally) celibate bishops in their ivory towers would like us to believe, or falsely proclaim as “Catholic” belief, when it is in fact no more than Vatican doctrine.

The latest evidence, in a long line of similar research, comes from Ireland. This makes it all the more notable, given that country’s long reputation until recently as a “priest-ridden country”, where the dictates of the clergy meant that even contraception was forbidden by law, and people would journey across the island to Belfast just to buy condoms.

In a marked turnaround, the Irish people do not simply tolerate pre-marital sex, they believe it is desirable for young couples to spend time living together before committing to marriage. The bishops, on the other hand, maintain that all sex outside of marriage and not “ordered to procreation” is sinful, and presumably support their American colleagues’ pronouncement that cohabitation before marriage, like homosexuality, is gravely disordered.

The Irish politicians have come a long way in standing up to moral bullying by the church officials, notably over the investigations into clerical sexual abuse, but have some way yet to go. They have succeeded in passing civil partnership legislation, which will come into effect early;next year, but lag well behind their voters. Fully two thirds would support full marriage equality.

From the Irish Times:

Two-thirds support gay marriage, poll finds

JUST OVER two-thirds of people (67 per cent) believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, according to an Irish Times /Behaviour Attitudes social poll.

It is one of a series of findings in a poll on “sex, sin and society” that indicates Irish people have adopted a more liberal attitude towards personal relationships and sexual behaviour.

In addition showing strong support for gay marriage, a significant majority (60 per cent) also believe civil partnerships for gay couples will not undermine the institution of marriage. A large majority (91 per cent) also say they would not think less of a person if they revealed they were gay or lesbian.

These numbers are consistently high across most age groups, as well as in urban and rural areas.

People are divided, however, on whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children. Some 46 per cent support such a move, while more than a third (38 per cent) are opposed. Younger people, urban dwellers and women are more likely to be supportive of the idea.

The findings also indicate there is a growing consensus that living together before marriage is likely to result in a more stable marriage. A majority (57 per cent) believe cohabitation is a positive development. This view is reflected consistently across most age groups.

Even higher numbers (79 per cent) do not regard sex before marriage as immoral. When broken down by religion, most Catholics – again, 79 per cent – did not see anything wrong with the practice.

Just 15 per cent, mostly older people or those living in rural areas, see it as immoral.

There are also significant differences across the generations in attitudes towards issues such as celibacy and virginity. In total, just under half (48 per cent) of people admire those who choose to be celibate for moral or religious reasons.

A majority of older people (62 per cent) aged 65 or more are much more likely to admire celibacy, while this falls to well under half among younger and middle-aged people.

Even among Catholics, respondents are just as divided. While 51 per cent of Catholics admire celibacy, the remainder either do not (33 per cent), or say they do not know (16 per cent).

Not all the poll findings point to increasingly liberal attitudes, however. The average age most people feel teenagers should begin to have sex at is 18 years, above the current age of consent which is 17.


Survey reveals more relaxed attitude to sex

Two-thirds support gay marriage, poll finds

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Texas Baptist Church Takes a Stand FOR Gay Members.


As an ever-increasing number of denominations advance towards full LGBT inclusion as a Biblical and theological imperative, we have become accustomed to seeing some backlash, with some congregations voting to withdraw from their national bodies, to re-align with other groupings. We have seen it most dramatically in the US Episcopalian Church, where single parishes and even whole dioceses have withdrawn, to ally themselves (or to attempt to do so) with more conservative African bishops, in protest at the ordination of gay bishops. The ELCA, which last year agreed to recognize openly gay or lesbian pastors in committed and faithful relationships has also seen some congregations leave, to ally with other Lutheran groupings, or in a new body.  If the Presbyterian Church of the USA succeeds in ratifying their own similar decision that was taken this past summer, I am certain they will face the same prospect of some attrition and secession by unhappy members.

Now in Texas, we have an unexpected reversal of the pattern. Instead of withdrawing in protest at gay inclusion, a Baptist congregation is withdrawing from the Baptist General Convention of Texas – in protest against the failure to move towards inclusion.

From Dallas News:

Broadway Baptist Church of Forth Worth has pulled out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in yet another congregation-denomination split over homosexuality.

The church’s move ends a relationship that began in 1886, when the BGCT was formed.

Brent Beasley, Broadway’s pastor, called the break “sad” but necessary.

“We’re committed to welcoming all people here, and we would not want to do anything that would be hurtful to anyone just to please the BGCT,” Beasley said.

Broadway has long had openly gay members, a reality that became widely known in 2008. That’s when the church had a much-publicized internal dispute over whether same-sex couples should be included in the church’s photo directory.

The Southern Baptist Convention and BGCT hold that homosexual behavior is a sin, and media reports of Broadway’s acceptance of gays brought the church into conflict with both groups.

The SBC cut ties with Broadway in 2009, and Broadway chose not to participate in the BGCT’s 2009 annual meeting, avoiding a likely challenge to seating the church’s messengers.

Beasley said the church voted “without dissent” last Wednesday to leave the state’s largest Baptist group. On Monday, he delivered a letter with the news to Randel Everett, executive director of the Dallas-based BGCT.

“It is time for us to move forward and keep all of our focus on our mission – the worship of God, ministry to those in need, bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus, and welcoming all into our church,” Beasley said. “This is all too important for us to be spending this much time on denominational politics and distractions.”

Everett said, “It is a sad day for us that we are unable to continue this relationship. I don’t know of any congregation that has been more of a strategic partner to Texas Baptists than Broadway. Two former executive directors served as pastors of the church. They have been an example of ministry to the least of these among us.”

In May, the BGCT’s executive board voted overwhelmingly to cut ties with Royal Lane Baptist Church of Dallas, another congregation that has been welcoming and affirming to gay people.

Beasley said the Royal Lane controversy did not affect Broadway’s decision.

Beasley described Broadway, which averages about 500 for Sunday worship, as doing well financially, with giving “well ahead” of last year.

He said Broadway will contribute directly to Baptist colleges and charities that previously it helped fund through the BGCT. The church also will remain part of the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Monday, 13 September 2010

James Alison: Discovery of "Gay" = Good News For the Church

Wherever the Catholic sun does shine, there's love and laughter and red red wine

at least I've always found it so.  Benedicamus Domino*
– Hillaire Belloc.
Matisse Dancers

Not many people today would readily associate the above words with the modern Catholic Church, especially not lesbian gay, transgendered and other sexual minorities – i.e. in the eyes of the church, most of us.  But James Alison is one who clearly would agree with the sentiment.  In a fascinating and stimulating new article, James argues that thee “discovery” in recent decades of homosexuality as an orientation, part of the natural order of things rather than a lifestyle choice or pathology, should rightly be seen as Good News for heterosexuals and for the Catholic Church as a  whole.  For lesbigaytrans Catholics, this is likewise obviously good news – but it is much more.  It is an opportunity, he argues exuberantly, for fun and delight in the Church.
What I would like to share with you is a sense of fun. I think being Catholic is huge fun. A huge roller-coaster ride into reality propelled by God, borne up on safe wings, gestated by the loving self-giving of Our Lord in his crucifixion, watched and smiled over by his Holy Mother, played into being like a virtuoso first performance of an unknown masterpiece by the adventurous coaxing of God’s Holy Spirit.

And right now one of the best places from where we can get a rich sense of how much fun this adventure is, is by looking at matters gay and their incidence in the life of the Church.


This will be a novel and unexpected perspective for most of us, so used to seeing (and experiencing) our position in the Church in terms of accusations, lack of welcome or even outright rejection, often leading us to question our own inner selves.  This will be a hard sell for James, we think reading these introductory words, but James Alison is on his familiar ground of “delight”, and well up to the task.  In his previous writing, he has frequently emphasised the joy and delight of being catholic, and of being gay as well as Catholic.  Part of the key in retaining that joy, he believes, is to avoid the trap of responding to the Church opposition to us with an antagonistic relationship to the hiearchy.  Rather, he argued, it is healthier to approach the Church with an attitude of Ignatian indifference (an attitude I now aspire to of, but cannot always achieve) .  In this article, he expands on what others, notably John McNeill, have described as an emerging Kairos moment in the church, here thinking specifically of an impending transformation of the theology of sexuality, with gay sexuality at the centre.  (Kairos Moment:  from the Greek for a "an appropriate time, an opportune moment.")

First, though he needs to prepare the way by establishing a frame of reference, and an analogy.

The frame of reference he applies is the "discovery" of sexual orientation as innate and natural.
So, to my first point. In the last fifty years or so we have undergone a genuine human discovery of the sort that we, the human race, don’t make all that often. A genuine anthropological discovery: one that is not a matter of fashion, or wishful thinking; not the result of a decline in morals or a collapse of family values. We now know something objectively true about humans that we didn’t know before: that there is a regularly occurring, non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, independent of culture, habitat, religion, education, or customs, which we currently call “being gay”. This minority variant is not, of course, lived in a way that is independent of culture, habitat, religion, education and customs. It is lived, as is every other human reality, in an entirely culture-laden way, which is one of the reasons why it has in the past been so easy to mistake it as merely a function of culture, psychology, religion or morality: something to get worked up about rather than something that is just there.

The analogy he draws is with the impact on human consciousness following the discovery of America at the end of the 15th century, and specifically the impact on map making.
And a richer example still: just think of the hugeness of what happened when Europeans made landfall in the Americas in the late fifteenth century. The sheer vastness, otherness, of what they had stumbled across by mistake, while looking for a fast trade route to China and Japan, would take decades, even centuries, to sink in. Every single feature of the way Europeans saw themselves underwent a radical shift of perspective in the light of the geological, anthropological, botanical, zoological and cultural “thereness” of something that had of course “always” been there, but of which Europeans had previously had no knowledge at all. But that shift of perspective didn’t happen immediately.
So why is this Good News, and for whom?

Well, first of all, obviously, for us as lesbian and gay people.  Recognising that we are an entirely “natural” part of creation, albeit a minority part, frees us from any sense of guilt or shame at being who we are.  We are clearly part of god’s creation, just as God intended us to be.  An important  corollary follows:
Each person finds their good by adherence to God’s plan for them, in order to realise it fully: in this plan, each one finds their truth, and through adherence to this truth, becomes free (cf John 8,22). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.”
Following this train of thought, the above words logically lead to the conclusion that gay people have not just a right to defend themselves, but an obligation to come out, to bear witness to their truth and to articulate it.  These are positions I have frequently publicised and argued here on QTC.  So which radical gay or lesbian theologian produced those words?  Benedict XVI himself, in the recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate”.  Of course,  in writing them, he wasn’t thinking specifically of the dreaded “homosexuals”, but that is precisely the point.

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

We are only now beginning to be able to tell what are some of the knock-on effects of having discovered that what we call being “straight” or “heterosexual” is not the normative human condition, but a majority human condition. ……And this has important consequences for understanding the relation between the emotional, the sexual, and the reproductive lives of those who are heterosexual. If there are some humans in whom, as a normal and non-pathological minority variant, the emotional and the sexual elements of their lives are not linked to any possible reproductive element, then the link between the possible reproductive element and the emotional and sexual element in those in whom these elements are linked is of a somewhat different sort than was previously imagined. We are talking about something within the sphere of the free, the intentional and the deliberate rather than the mechanical and the fated. The relationship between that which is simply “biological” and that which is available to be humanised has changed.
Alison argues from this that the “discovery of gay” thus creates circumstances of greater freedom for the straights as well as for the rest of us, by offering more choices, and removing the fear of being considered “gay”. Bit the really interesting and exciting part is where he goes on to spell out the implications for the church as a whole, and for gay Catholics in particular.
Where I would like to take this further is in the really very interesting field of how this is affecting, and going to affect, the Church. So, let’s look at the alterations in the map of the world which the discovery is producing.

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

But curiously, the very Church whose apparent “truth” in this area I’ve just recited for you, teaches very strongly ……that there is such a thing as something that is true independently of the perspective and wish list of any of us, and that that truth in some sense imposes itself on us. In other words, the same authorities who told us that we have to go along with their understanding of the homosexual inclination because it is true, are also, thank heaven, insisting that the truth doesn’t depend on them, and that they and their teaching are receptive to that which is discovered to be objectively true in whatever field it should emerge.
And the objective truth that is emerging is the discovery that homosexuality is in every sense natural, and not disordered at all.   By its own logic and teaching, the Church will have to redraw its maps of human sexuality to take account of this discovery.
Well, what has emerged with ever-greater clarity over the last twenty or so years is that the claim underlying the teaching of the Roman Congregations in this sphere is not true. It is not true that all humans are intrinsically heterosexual, and that those who appear not to be heterosexual are in fact defective heterosexuals. There is no longer any reputable scientific evidence of any sort: psychological, biological, genetic, medical, neurological – to back up the claim. The discovery that I talked about earlier, backed with abundant evidence, is that there is a small but regular proportion of human beings – somewhere between three and four percent - across all cultures who are hardwired to be principally attracted to members of their own sex. Furthermore there is no pathology of any psychological or physiological sort that is invariably associated with this sort of hardwiring. It is not a vice or a sickness. It is simply a regularly occurring minority variant in the human species.
In developing this new map, those responsible for drawing it will have to take account of one rather surprising phenomenon.  It is not simply the case, says Alison, that the official teaching on same gender relationships is flawed: rather, he claims:
It is properly speaking true to say that, appearances aside, the Catholic Church has no teaching at all about homosexuality.
This is because up to now, the theologians have not been writing about homosexuality as it is now known to be, but as something that previously existed primarily in their imaginations, based only on distorted reports – rather as medieval Europeans might have interpreted reports of a large, four egged mammal with a horn as a mythological unicorn, not as a rhinoceros.  This creates for us the opportunity to develop from the ground up, an entire new body of theology.
So here is a splendid, splendid opportunity for us to be able to say “yippee”! “Just in time”! Just as it was becoming clear that the whole way of talking about being human which has sustained official Church teaching for much of the time between the apostolic period and now is in deep trouble, here at last we have an objective fulcrum from which to be working out what it is to be Catholic. ......We find ourselves facing up to the fact that we have discovered something objectively true about being human which is going to re-write our maps.

Now, I would say the fun lies in the challenge to discover Catholicity from within this process of learning, which is as it should be. ......We can relax into the discovery that God did something very big a long time ago, and is continuing to do exactly that thing, and that we are surfing the very big waves which are continuing to flow out from this in hugely creative ways.
But in doing so, we must resist the temptation to do it in opposition to the church, in argumentative or squabbling fashion.
Here we are dealing with something that is true independently of the positions and the authority of those speaking. Which means: its truth doesn’t depend on us, so we needn’t be in rivalry about it. And there is something marvellously freeing about this.

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

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

What this is saying, is clear in its implications for gay and lesbian Catholics:
  • Catholic tradition, and Benedict XVI in particular, insists on reason as a complement to faith.
  • Reason dictates that the Church must and will recognise the implications of the "recent" discovery that sexual orientation is innate, natural and not remotely disordered.
  • This will force a corresponding recognition that we, all of us together, need to create a brand new theology of sexuality. This will represent Good News for all in the Church, gay and straight alike.
  • We have the opportunity at this critical point in history, this Kairos moment, to participate in this exciting, even fun-filled, adventure.
Read the full text at  The Fulcrum of Discovery: how the "gay thing" is good news for the Catholic Church (Footnote: Years before I became involved with Jesuit thinking and Ignatian spirituality, back as a first year student in 1970 at the University of Cape Town, I developed a soft spot for the several Dominicans I met through the Catholic student chaplaincies at SA universities. This admiration grew further in later years as I began to learn of the sterling work done by Dominicans of the calibre of Albert Nolan in adapting Liberation Theology to the South African context.     So I was delighted to see that one of the occasions for presenting a version of this paper was a conference at the Dominican Priory in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. ) Further Reading: James Alison Website Brokeheart Mountain: Reflections on monotheism, idolatry and the Kingdom Letter to a young, gay Catholic. See also:  Mary Hunt on Dignity at 40: Faithful & Fabulous
James Alison's  Books:
Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay On Being Liked Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-in Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal (Forthcoming) Although we as gay Catholics know Alison primarily as a gay theologian, he describes himself as a theologian, who happens to write from a gay male perspective. He also writes more general theology - and we too need to read outside the box (or closet? ) of sexuality: Raising Abel: The Recovery of Eschatological Imagination The Joy of Being Wrong

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Soho Masses (and Me) on National Television.

The UK's rule-book Catholics who so visibly oppose London's gay Masses have been vocal in their fervent hope and prayer that Pope Benedict's impending visit will bring order to a wayward flock, and bring "unity" (by which they appear to mean whipping everybody else into conformity with their own, very narrow, understanding of Catholicism.) They will be disappointed. Already it is abundantly clear that our Masses will not be stopped, and may well come out of the Papal visit stronger than ever.

Friday, 10 September 2010

"Real Catholicism": Blind Loyalty, or a Search for Truth?

Since Archbishop Vincent Nichols repudiated Edmund Adamus' claim that the UK is the world centre of a "culture of death", John Smeaton at SPUC has worked himself up into a froth, once again:
The UK, not the US, China, North Korea or any other country you care to mention, has always been the main operating base and favourite milieu of the movement for abortion, contraception and eugenics............
Is he living on the same planet I am? China has a rigid policy enforcing the national limit of one child per family:
......authorities claim that the policy has prevented more than 250 million births from its implementation to 2000. The policy is controversial both within and outside China because of the manner in which the policy has been implemented, and because of concerns about negative economic and social consequences. The policy has been implicated in an increase in forced abortions, female infanticide, and under-reporting of female births, and has been suggested as a possible cause behind China's gender imbalance. Nonetheless, a 2008 survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center showed that over 76% of the Chinese population supports the policy.
- yet it is the UK which has the culture of death?

The problem with the rabid exponents of Catholic "orthodoxy" is that they can see teaching only in strictly one-dimensional terms. They latch onto one single element of Catholic teaching, and then condemn anybody or any institution that does not conform strictly to their own view of the teaching as being "anti-Catholic". So it is that Smeaton glibly dismisses the British Catholic publication "The Tablet" as "anti-life/anti-family" - a view that must seem bizarre to any one who actually reads  it.

I am however grateful to John Smeaton for one thing. Reading his rants has led me to some of hte things that have upset him - and which in fact are worth reflecting on. On of these was a partial transcript of an earlier BBC interview with Archbishop Nichols, from 2 July this year. What had specifically upset Smeaton was Nichols' "refusal" to rule out church sanctioning of gay civil unions at some future date. In fact, what happened was somewhat milder - the archbishop had simply not fallen for the interviewers attempt to trap him into an unequivocal stance. 

In saying nothing, he certainly avoided ruling out civil unions - but did not "refuse" to do so. Here's the relevant passage:
S. The Church of England for example in this country is taking a rather different view. They believe there has to be some flexibility. The church has to be a reflection of society's values to a certain extent and therefore we see women priests, women vicars, and there's obviously in some parts of the Anglican Communion, women bishops.
N. Certainly. S. Some of their vicars are also prepared to sanction gay unions. That church is showing flexibility. Is the Catholic church not going to have to do the same eventually? N. I don't know. Who knows what's down the road?
Who knows, indeed? He certainly did not "rule out the possibility", but that's a far cry from the claim that he "refused" to rule it out. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the tone of caution and moderation here. It was the rest of this interview thought, that I thought was really notable, with direct relevance to those of us who find ourselves outside the mainstream of orthodoxy.  for the interviewer repeatedly tried to categorize the Catholic church as one  distinguished by loyalty to the received truth of Catholic doctrine. Archbishop Nichols to accept this view, and emphasised instead that the most important feature of Catholicism was not blind loyalty, but a profound respect for truth. More, he made clear that it is incorrect to assume that the Church sees itself as the sole repository of truth to which all must submit - the point of "truth" is that it is a permanent search, a goal to which we all aspire but do not absolutely reach.
S. But I just wonder whether you sometimes feel uncomfortable because on the one hand your Catholic faith and your belief in the Pope and this Pope in particular leads you to a position where you want to be loyal. Loyalty is a fundamentally important part of the Roman Catholic tradition......
N. Well I think we start off here by wanting say, and this would be my most fundamental commitment, would be a search for truth, a search for what actually helps me to know who I am, what my destiny is, what my deeper origins are, what is going to make sense of this myriad of experiences that make up a daily life. And I think the church is misunderstood when the Church is represented as saying we possess the truth and from here on we'll give it to you. And Pope Benedict would never say that. He would say and I would try and echo that we are searchers for the truth. We want to be possessed by the truth - not possessive.

This implies that we must respect the possibility that others engaged in the same search may reach views that differ from our own. That difference of opinion does not make our opponents "anti-Catholic", still less anti-life. (The full BBC interview is available to watch on-line, at BBC Hardtalk)

Cardinal Schonborn: Four Months, and In Benedict's Favour.

It is now over four months since the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna made his remarks on the need to replace the Catholic obsession with homosexual acts with far greater emphasis on the quality of the relationships. For all those who expected a flood of outraged repudiation and denial, there has been  -  nothing, not a peep. There was a well-publicized meeting with Pope Benedict that some observers saw as a dressing-down - but the discussions appear to have been solely on the criticisms of Cardinal Sordano, not the remarks on sexuality. Even that, if it was indeed some kind of rebuke, is quite clearly now gone and forgotten. For the pope's annual gathering of his former theology students, Cardinal Schonborn had a signal place of honour, being invited to deliver the homily at the closing Mass, which Benedict himself celebrated.  This is what Rocco Palma had to say at Whispers in the Loggia:

Situational heterosexuality

"‘Situational heterosexuality’ is a term I’ve used for several years when people have asked how I could have been married for so many years and yet be gay. This term has also helped people gain a clearer understanding of what really happens when someone who is homosexual marries someone of the opposite sex and claims change. Confusion about what really happens in these situations still exists and often wrongly reinforces the ‘homosexuality is a choice’ and ‘homosexuals can change’ concept.

"How often have you heard someone say something like this ‘They couldn’t be gay, they’re married’. When someone says that to me, I just remain silent for a while with a smile on my face (having been a gay man in a heterosexual marriage) and wait for what I’m actually thinking to sink into the consciousness of the person who made the naive statement."

- Former "ex-gay" evangelical minister Anthony Venn-Brown, quotation found at Joe My God.

Brown, is described by Wikipedia as one of Australia's leading LGBT activists.   I do not (yet) have any supporting evidence whether this is a valid claim, or some clever self- promotion. Whatever his merits as a speaker and LGBT “ambassador” (the term he prefers to “activist”), it is clear from his own testimony that he is at the very least yet another evangelical preacher who has seen the errors in “traditional” teaching on sexuality, and is now promoting full LGBT inclusion in church.

In 2004 he published his autobiography, A Life of Unlearning - Coming out of the church, One Man's Struggle. The book detailed his struggle to reconcile his homosexuality with his Christian beliefs. It won the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association Literary award in 2004. The revised edition, A Life of Unlearning: a journey to find the truth was published in 2007.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Another Woman Priest – Santa Barbara


Roman Catholic Rebels

Santa Barbara Women Priests Defy Vatican Law

HEEDING THE CALL: Patricia Sandall (left) officially entered priesthood during a June ceremony, and Jeanette Love (right) will be ordained herself on Sunday, September 12. Members of an international movement called Roman Catholic Womenpriests, the two say their desire to serve God and the community is stronger than the threat of excommunication as decreed by church law.

After working for the Roman Catholic Los Angeles Archdiocese for more than 20 years, Patricia Sandall’s call to the priesthood came gradually. She considered being ordained as a Protestant minister, but could not bring herself to convert to another religious tradition.

“I [am] Roman Catholic to the bone,” said Sandall. “I could not leave my church.”

But there alone was the problem. The Catholic Church levies its ultimate penalty, excommunication, on women who attempt to become priests.

Right here in Santa Barbara, many devout women — including Catholic nuns, teachers, and professors — have acted against what they believe is unjust sexism by becoming a part of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) movement.


Read the full report at Santa Barbara Independent

Monday, 6 September 2010

James Alison on Responsible Gay Catholicism

From impossibility to responsibility: developing new narratives for gay catholic living

If, on a Sunday evening, I go down to the street on which my apartment block stands in São Paulo, of one thing I can be sure. There will be acres of kids. Actually, gay and lesbian kids. The fourteen-to-eighteen year old variety. Emos, Goths, Mohicans, piercings, visible designer underwear waistbands, every conceivable variety of sartorial demonstration of the rage and glory of adolescence. Why just there? Well, there’s a big club on the corner, in this, the more downmarket of São Paulo’s two principal gay neighbourhoods, and it holds a “matinée de menor”, an “underage matinée”, on Sunday afternoons. There are actually several such clubs, but this one is the best located. So from about 4 p.m. until about midnight, the kids, who wouldn’t be able to get into a regular club at normal night hours, can party. Which they do, both in the club and outside it, to the chagrin of local drivers, reduced to a crawl as the traffic lights become ineffective, and under the gaze of a discrete police presence mainly designed to protect the youth from occasional flare-ups. After all, from time to time skinheads decide to prove something or other by turning up for a little light Sunday Queerbashing. Rather to my surprise, I’ve never seen predatory adults hanging around on the prowl for underaged kids. Actually, I’m not at all sure that the kids would even notice if somebody tried, so completely in their own world do they seem to be. If somebody did try, then, well, attitude can be a withering weapon. And these kids have attitude in spades.
Why do I start with this picture? If you had told me, fifteen or twenty years ago, that something like this would be regarded as really quite normal in a major city, I would have thought “impossible”. The sheer normality, the cuddly, yet slightly hysterical adolescent banality of it all is what would have seemed impossible. Here is a generation for whom, as far as I can see, their introduction into the world of courtship, of dating, and of pairing, is happening at the same time as that of their middle-school and high-school contemporaries. With the background of the same music, fashions, waves of angst, shrieking contests and so on. Even though the kids are able to be particularly free in their self-expression in my neighbourhood, the fact that their relationship pattern is same-sex doesn’t seem to be, by any means at all, the most striking or important feature of what’s running their lives.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

John McNeill: Theology of Fallibility, Part IV

Reforming the Church

It should be evident to all that the paternalistic hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has lost contact with the Spirit of God and is no longer its instrument. The pedophile crisis, the effort of the hierarchy to cover that up and the attitude in the hierarchy that their primary objective is not to convey the message of Christ but to do anything to protect their own power, prestige and wealth has made their very existence idolatrous. The hierarchy as presently constituted is the exact opposite to the movement based on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that Jesus announced at the last supper.

This process whereby the hierarchy lose their commision from God and need to be reformed and replaced has occurred several times in the history of the Jewish-Christian church. Ezekiel (Chapter23) sees God in a vision detaching himself from the Temple in Jerusalem in the form of a chariot becoming flexible and mobile. Ezekiel then has a vision of God upbraiding the shepherds (the hierarchy) of Israel (the Temple Priests) for having failed to feed his sheep and abandoning them, to meet their own self interest. This is an exact parallel with what is happening in the Catholic church at this point in history.

Gay Marriage: The Fallacy of the Church’s Argument Against.

Writing in El Paso Times, Texan priest Fr Michael Rodriguez has launched an impassioned diatribe against all forms of legal recognition for same sex union. His ranting could easily be dismissed as the lunatic fringe, but as so many Catholic catechismophiles share his ridiculous claims and assumptions, I think it is worth responding in full. This is his key assertion:
Remember: Every single Catholic, out of fidelity to charity and truth, has the absolute duty to oppose (1) the murder of unborn babies, and (2) any and all government attempts to legalize homosexual unions.” 
Not content to invent a supposed moral obligation to oppose all forms of union, he goes even further:
“Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”
Furthermore, a Catholic would be guilty of a most grievous sin of omission if he/she neglected to actively oppose the homosexual agenda, which thrives on deception and conceals its wicked horns under the guises of "equal rights," "tolerance," "who am I to judge?," etc.
What has he been smoking? He claims to base his words on a pastoral letter of the US bishops, which says, in part:
"It is not unjust to oppose legal recognition of same-sex unions, because marriage and same-sex unions are essentially different realities. The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it."
Now I disagree with the bishops’ stance, but it as least an understandable, coherent position. It’s a big leap, though, to go from “it is not unjust to oppose…”, to saying that there exists an “absolute duty to oppose …“
He attempts to soften his position by stating
I urge all of the Catholic faithful to treat homosexuals with love, understanding, and respect.
In doing so, I fear that by his own standards, he damns himself. He has already insisted that a Catholic “would be guilty of a most grievous sin of omission if he/she neglected to actively oppose the homosexual agenda”. I have never been clear precisely what this notorious “agenda” comprises, but as one who actively promotes it, I am certain that a central part of it is precisely a demand to be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. By urging this part of it, Fr Rodriguez is himself promoting a key component of our “agenda”, and by his own standards is thus committing a “grievous mortal sin”.

By his standards, he also condemns not just himself, but the majority of US and European lay Catholics, and also a significant proportion of the clergy and some bishops. How so? He claims that Catholics have an obligation to actively oppose the homosexual agenda. But numerous (US) research surveys have shown that a narrow majority of Catholics approve of same sex marriage and gay adoption, while more substantial  majorities approve some form of legal recognition, and do not see same sex relationships as being morally wrong. Among the clergy, some individual priests and groups of priests have publicly supported gay marriage, and many more privately support either marriage or civil unions. In Portugal, when the legal process that led to marriage equality first began, the country’s bishops attempted to prevent its introduction by asking for the provision of civil unions instead. As civil unions are one form of legal recognition which the bishops were actively promoting, where they too guilty of the “grievous sin” Rodriguez describes?

In April this year, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schonborn, suggested that it is time for the church to reconsider its emphasis on “homosexual acts”, and instead consider the quality of the relationships. Since then three other bishops have said much the same thing. Are they too, condemned, for their “grievous sin”?

So, it would seem that Fr Rodriguez has taken it upon his own authority to condemn a huge proportion of the Catholic church for the grievous sin” of not actively opposing the homosexual agenda. Just what is he condemning us to? Read carefully, once again:
Any Catholic who supports homosexual acts is, by definition, committing a mortal sin, and placing himself/herself outside of communion with the Roman Catholic Church.”
He cannot be serious. This sounds like the same automatic excommunication recently invoked by the Bishop of Phoenix, and by the Vatican, in the cases of abortion and the “attempts” to ordain women. Is he really taking it on himself to proclaim the automatic excommunication  of half the church, and more?

Let’s be clear on this: It is certainly the collective desire of the the Catholic bishops that we should oppose same sex unions, but it is by no means a moral obligation to do so. Nowhere in orthodox Catholic teaching is there anything that says there is any moral obligation to do everything the bishops urge, and there most certainly is not anything in the Catechism, in the creed, or in our baptismal vows that imposes such a supposed obligation.

On the contrary, one obligation that is stated very clearly in the teaching of the Church, is the obligation to follow one’s conscience. This was stated very clearly by one Fr Joseph Ratzinger, who insisted that conscience must take priority even over the demands of the pope.

When approaching gay marriage from the prism of sexual ethics, many people may well find that the dictates of conscience may lead them to oppose it. But sexual ethics are not the only, or even the most important, dimension of Church teaching. Many Catholics believe that teaching on social justice, and reaching out to the poor and the marginalized, is more important. Approaching marriage equality from the prism of social justice, many Catholics have been led by conscience to conclude that they must support it. This was certainly the case with some of the Argentinean senators who supported their family equality bill, and with “Catholics for Marriage equality in the US”.

So, in focussing exclusively on the approach from sexual ethics, Rodriguez is ignoring a huge chunk of orthodox catholic teaching – on the primacy of conscience, and on social justice. He is also ignoring the evidence of history.

By insisting on the spurious claim of an obligation to oppose all forms of legal recognition, he is including civil unions – but civil unions are just that, legal contracts to provide some protections to the partners in a relationship. They are not about sexual relationships – partners wanting a sexual relationship can (and do) have one without requiring a contract to authorize it. And liturgical recognition of same sex unions has a long tradition in the church, as amply demonstrated by both John Boswell and Alan Bray . To this day, there are echoes of these same –sex unions in the modern Mass, with the paired names of Felicity and Perpetua, Phillip and Bartholomew incorporated into the Eucharistic prayer – just as they were listed in the liturgies for same sex unions. (No, these were not “comparable” to modern marriage – but nor are modern civil unions, and nor were the the early heterosexual marriages comparable to modern marriage.) To the cynics who insist that in practice, civil unions are about sex, I reply that they need not be. In the early church, many saintly married couples committed themselves to voluntary virginity, even within marriage. In the nineteenth century, Cardinal John Newman, who will be beatified next month, was famed for the intensity of his (celibate) love for his dear friend Ambrose St John, even to the extent of insisting on being buried with him in a shared grave “for all eternity”. For any Catholic of homosexual orientation wishing to live strictly within orthodox teaching, which clearly states that the homosexual “condition” is not sinful, this celibate emotional bond might well make a fitting model of emotional friendship. If two such people chose to share their lives together, in chastity, is it in any way conceivable that there is a “moral obligation” to oppose legal protection for their relationship?

Finally, Rodriguez even ignores  the evidence of the Gospels.

By His own words and actions, Jesus Christ clearly showed that He did not reject people in homosexual relationships. He demonstrated this by agreeing to heal the Roman centurion’s “servant” (“paidion”), in a context that would have strongly suggested a sexual relationship. This too, has an echo in the modern Mass – the prayer shortly before communion, “Lord, I am not worthy  to receive you….” is a close variant of the centurion’s reply when Jesus started off for his house “Lord.I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”.

There is additional echo of gay unions in the Mass. Taken as a whole, theologian Gerard Loughlin has shown how it is an echo of the wedding at Cana, a wedding which in Catholic theology, is taken symbolically to represent Christ’s own wedding to his (male) disciples, and to the Church as a whole – including the men. There is even a tradition that the couple getting married were Jesus and His beloved disciple, John.
With three distinct echoes of gay relationships or unions, the Mass itself, the centrepiece of Catholic practice can be seen as promoting the “gay agenda” – or that part of it which seeks inclusion in Church.

Will Fr Rodriguez now cease celebrating the Mass?



To simplify: One would have to be ghastly morally decrepit to think that if 51 percent of Americans opine that rape is OK, then rape becomes, in effect, all right. Sure, the majority is politically capable of such a vote, but this could never make rape morally right.

This is typical of the garbage from the institutional Catholic Church, who blithely ignore their own history, which is full of recognized saints. ordained bishops and even popes who have had sex with men. For centuries (over half its history), the church recognized formal liturgical rites for church blessings of same sex unions, and also buried some same sex couples together in shared tombs, exactly as married couples.
The Mass itself contains three echoes of gay unions - the healing of the Roman soldier's "paidion" - i.e., his sexual servant is recalled in the words, "Lord, I am not worthy"; same sex couples named in the Eucharistic Prayer; and the Mass itself is commemorates Christ's wedding to his Church (male and female). Theologian Gerald Loughlin has noted that one tradition was that the famous wedding was that of Christ to his "beloved disciple" John.
Same Sex Unions
The Very Modern “Traditional” Marriage
Modern Inclusive Churches
The Queer Mass:
Gay Wedding at Cana
Same sex couples recognised
Gay Centurion.